Feeling of Making a Difference

Activists, philanthropists, and progressives. These are all people who want to reach out and change the world. It is a common desire, but it is very difficult to accomplish. Any one individual can often only make a small difference. When that goal is finally achieved, it can feel very good: pride, power, and the glow of being a good person.

But the feeling of making a difference doesn’t always correspond to actually making a difference. Furthermore, even when change is accomplished, it might not always be the change one wanted to make.

For instance, one might set out wanting to make a difference against systemic racism, and end up pulling down a statue which is only loosely connected to racism at all. But the feeling of making a difference will still exist. Convincing people to your point of view makes a difference, but posting angry messages on social media can feel similar. Buying a poor person overseas a farm animal feels like making a difference in someone’s life, even if giving that same person the money directly might help their life more.

Is the feeling of making a difference a necessary part of actually making a difference? How can we ensure that both the feeling and the reality occur? What are patterns of behavior that chase the feeling over the reality? How can we change our patterns of social praise and opprobrium to closer tie the feeling of making a difference to its reality?