I recently finished writing a book on How To Change The World, and gave a talk immediately afterwards, at the wonderful Wigtown Book Festival. At the end, I asked people in the audience to write down:
a) the way they would like to change the world if they knew they couldn’t fail (ie, success was, magically, assured), and
b) what they would start to do, in next 24 hours ideally, to bring this to reality
I was really chuffed that so many did as I asked, and I decided to make a book to hold the tiny bits of paper they had written this on. (Thank you Colin Tennant for letting me use these copyright photos of the book, resting in my hand.) I became the custodian of their ideas, which were anonymous, so I can’t actually chase after anybody and say, ‘Why haven’t you done this?’, but by asking people to write the idea down I think I increased the likelihood of their actually doing something.
I was really pleased to see the wide range of ideas people have for improving things. They ranged from bright eyed and very earnest things like ending hunger around the world to narrower attempts to improve things in the individual’s own life (I should stress that I do not think these are in any way “lesser” aims). It really was rather moving to be left with them all.
I also liked the fact that the ideas were all brought together within one volume even though some of the people who submitted them might not have agreed with each other about very much.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t get a contribution from one of the other writers who was at Wigtown. Toby Young is a figure who elicits very strong opinions. Some people find him funny without agreeing with him. Some find him funny and agree with him. But quite a few just hate him, most recently because he has been prominent in his experiments setting up a so-called Free School, which they regard as an attack on the state system.
(On the first Saturday of Wigtown, visiting writers compete against each other and against more talented locals in a song and dance and comedy competition. Young performed a very brave and funny rendition of a rock classic (can’t remember which) but I was struck that some people watched him absolutely po-faced, and refused to applaud. (“Some of my friends are teachers,” one explained.))
The reason I wish that Young had written something in my book is that he absolutely is already trying to Change The World (though he may not use such a grandiose term), and he had (when I spoke to him) very specific ideas about what he needed to do in the next 24 hours. But I fear that a lot of people would refuse to accept that his particular project is “valid”, because it’s not an approach they share.
Are people only allowed to try to change the world if we agree with their approach? I hope not.