Status quo is a formidable force. And there is nothing quite as hard as an introduction of a new (and improved) order of things. Because the changemaker has vicious enemies in all those who have profited shamelessly from present conditions, and ambivalent advocates in those who may do very well under the new. This ambivalence comes partly from the fear of opposition, who quite likely have power on their side, and partly from the incredulity of average minds, who do not readily believe in new ideas until they have had long enough experience of them.
Change is, therefore, not for the faint of heart. Its champion must overcome apathy, habit, incomprehension, and disbelief, while simultaneously warding off the heated resistance of those with vested interests.
When the World Was Flat
It wasn't all too long ago that most people believed the earth was flat. This began as an assumption and had, with ample time and little question, been crystalized into the formidable force of Status Quo. This imagined notion shaped our daily behavior and our practical reality.
When the world was flat, there was very little exploration. People feared that if they traveled too far they might fall off the edge of the earth. So for the most part, people stayed put.
It wasn't until that minor geometric clarification - suggesting that the world was less like a pancake, and more like ball - that our resulting behaviors changed, on a massive scale.
When the world was round, entire societies began to traverse the planet. Trade routes flourished, spices exchanged. New ideas, like math, science, and pasta, were shared across societies, which unleashed all kinds of innovations and advancements.
Challenge a single false assumption - and changing a sturdy status quo - moved the human race forward by leaps and bounds.
Assumptions lull us into a lethal lethargy. They prevent us from exploring, experimenting, experiencing, and ultimately from innovating. Assumptions keep us trapped in the reinforcing ruts of status quo. And while some of those assumptions may be perpetuated by our own complacency, they may actually be our own unwitting echos of nefarious narratives crafted by those who have vested interests in the status quo.
Assumptions suck the oxygen out of the optimism that is necessary for positive social change. We have to work to overcome the constraints of dogma that foster what Thorstein Vebien calls 'trained incapacity.'
These assumptions have allowed bad capitalism to run rampant, for aid efforts to remain ineffectiveness, and for our society to turn a blind eye to the marginalized.
We undervalue people when we define them by deficits and deficiencies. We rob them of their basic human dignity, and we rob ourselves of a far richer society.
Social entrepreneurs flip the lens. They fundamentally challenge the assumption of inadequacy and impossibility, and unleash human potential among individuals who have systemically and systematically been viewed as incompetent, expendable, or beyond rehabilitation. Changemakers notice and nurture the strengths, resilience, creativity, resourcefulness, and moral agency of the marginalized and disenfranchised they are uniquely positioned to serve - which include the poor, illiterate, disabled, drug addicted, incarcerated, children, and elderly.
And the research confirms that individuals and institutions that presume most people to be competent and honest regularly outperform those which assume the worse. The proof is in the putting.
So it's time we start asking questions, instead of making assumptions. Only then will we realize how much of what we're doing as a society isn't effective, because those actions aren't based on reality, but rather on false and suffocating assumptions. And when we start challenging our own assumptions, and asking better questions, our world will start to look a little less flat, and a lot more round and ripe with possibility. Then your work - and impact - will begin to take shape.