Why do many social change efforts fail in places like India? (Part 1)
A Perfect Order or Progress By Degrees
One of my favorite movies is Amazing Grace. It is the story of William Wilberforce and his efforts to eliminate the slave trade and slavery in England. One scene in that movies reminded me of what can happen as a natural result of when we see clearly injustice and failings of the system.
Wilberforce and his colleagues had just suffered a defeat on a slave trade vote that was particularly painful and bitter. His friend, Thomas Clarkson, begins to vent about the loss and talks about the pending revolution in France and what Clarkson believes the revolution means for the common man. Wilberforce counters with an “at least we are making progress by degrees” remark. He further states that an imperfect order (which allows for progress by degrees) is better than no order at all. Clarkson then loudly interjects, “No, we must fight for a perfect order.”
I think as an outsider, the impulse to change everything we see as “wrong” can be very strong. We, like Clarkson, want a perfect order; to make everything better. I believe that this is one of the tendencies that gets in the way of being able to effectively help developing countries like India make social, economic and political progress. We see the malnourished child begging in the street or the adult defecating near water or the cop taking a bribe in broad daylight and we want to fix it all overnight.
But by in large, change doesn’t happen that way. Wilberforce spent decades of his life working, pushing, and sacrificing before he was able finally remove the internal barriers to ending the slave trade. Likewise, Ghandi, the great Indian reformer, spent decades of his life endeavoring to bring about India’s freedom and improved conditions for the India people. Their patience, their perseverance, their faith was rewarded with lasting change. Any effort to further their work in India or anywhere else where we see injustice, major environmental concerns, abuse, corruption, etc. will take the same kind of time, perseverance and faith that our efforts will yield results.
The quick and violent (by violent I mean sudden and drastic change) remedy, history sadly shows, too often fades almost as quickly as it appears.
Next Post: Why do many social change efforts fail in places like India? (Part 2)