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The Power of Small Ripples


Wow! I have been reading the blog posts from the four ongoing cCHALLENGEs and am feeling so inspired. A ninth-grader spots someone throwing a plastic bag into the lake – she tells the person it is not good for the environment and asks them to pick it up and throw it away. A mayor wonders why we are so precise with our recycling, then happy to hop on a plane for a long flight. A bicyclist notices that there is no place to lock up his electric bike safely – the infrastructure is not yet in place. The next day he sees that his workplace has actually set up a great system in the garage, complete with washing and maintenance equipment. Changes are happening!

A high school principal wonders why it is so easy to talk about change, yet so hard to remember to take a shopping bag to the store. A teacher rides 45 km to work to avoid driving his car – then back home again at the end of the day. Many participants are avoiding plastic bags and packaging, realizing that we live in a world that is overwhelming wrapped and carried in plastic. One student wonders why she has to pay more than five times the price to buy nuts that are not packaged in plastic. Many of the posts highlight the power of conversation – It makes me think that talking about bicycling, plant-based diets, alternatives to plastics, and other solutions may one day be more popular than talking about the weather. Or climate change.

The challenge of change
For thirty days, people are sharing their experiences with change. By focusing on one small change, they are seeing connections between their personal actions, social and cultural norms, institutions, infrastructure, and transformative change. They are recognizing that they are creating ripples of change that influence others and contribute to much larger changes.

The skeptic in me suddenly pops up and says, where’s the evidence? Can you prove that individuals really do make a difference, and that small ripples create big waves? Hmm… let’s start with a metaphor. Right now I am reading a fascinating book called The Jazz of Physics by Stephon Alexander. Linking music and physics, he stresses the beauty and value of seeing and applying similar patterns from one field to another. He champions analogies and improvisation, including the bold willingness to make mistakes. Maybe that is why experiments are so important… In his chapter on vibrational energy, Alexander talks about how waves constructively or destructively interfere with each other. When the high points of waves coincide, they add up, creating a wave with a higher amplitude but the same frequency. If the crest of one wave contacts the trough of another, they cancel out. No change.

From Ripples to Waves
Every day we have the possibility to amplify the ripples of change and create bigger waves. One way to do this is by reflecting on change and sharing our experiences, insights, discoveries, concerns and failures with others. We know that narratives, stories, and metaphors shape our perceptions, feed our imagination, and influence what we think is possible or likely. We live our lives through stories, and as we see every day in the news these days, sharing them can create a powerful force for change.

A fun book to read is The World We Made: Alex McKay’s Story from 2050 by Jonathan Porritt, who chronicles “the great turning” through the eyes of a teacher born in the year 2000. Porritt’s postscript at the end of the book reminds me that we are all part of a growing wave: “Amongst the many reasons to be cheerful about our prospects is the growing readiness of people to do what they can personally to make a difference. This might be a small thing when set against the immensity of the challenge in hand, but it all adds up. Small actions multiplied many, many times over can make a big difference.”

Research shows that we are social beings – wired to connect and be influenced by others, as Matthew Lieberman writes in his book Social. By connecting with others, we can turn personal change into collective change and systems change. For this reason, the ripples and waves that the cCHALLENGE participants are creating is music to my ears!

Follow our current cCHALLENGE rounds (in Norwegian):

  • cNyeAsker – We’re following 30 people  in Asker, Røyken and Hurum on their 30-day experiment with sustainability.
  • cHverdagen – 16 people in Fredrikstad and Sarpsborg are going car-free for 30 days.
  • cUngt Klima – 31 young people in Hurdal leading the way in climate solutions.
  • Sundskiftet – A 30-day change sustainability change journey with the students and staff at Sundfolkhøgskole in Nord-Trøndelag.


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