One of my favorite novels, A Sharpened Axe, presents a fascinating question that I have many times asked myself. It’s the question of change, and how such a thing works.
Let’s slip into the story for a moment. This scene is between our heroine, Samiris, and her love interest and frenemy, Artem.
“It’s the same thing, over and over and over with you people,” she said. “You don’t have any good reasons for why things are the way that they are.” Samiris gestured toward the castle behind her, her movements jerky with her anger. “You’re all like overdressed sheep, doing things just because you’ve always done them, going through the motions of ridiculous social customs because that’s how things have always been done.”
“I don’t expect that you would understand the reasons behind the traditions we have…”
Samiris cut him off. “You don’t even understand why you do what you do. You people are the only ones with the real power to change things, and you don’t question anything!”
The Question of Change
The question of change. We all want it, don’t we? We want things to “change for the better”.
But what does that really mean?
Imagine yourself in a situation like Samiris’s. She’s a young woman from the southern regions of her nation, a hardworking woman who grew up taking care of her ill father and small sister. She is used to caring for herself and her family, but when she’s forcefully invited to the palace, she discovers a whole new way of life. It seems foolish, inefficient, and arrogant to her, especially when she notices the suffering of those less fortunate.
Much like many of us, Samiris rebelled. She refused to conform to the foolish rules and regulations of the time, choosing to live her own way. As expected, she was confronted multiple times about her behavior. She was angry, and it showed in her actions, words, and expressions. But she didn’t let this or anyone else stop her from doing what she could to help. She found ways to show kindness to her fellow man.
In one of my favorite passages, Artem speaks with her again. This time they’re alone, planting potatoes in a magical garden so that they can send the quick-growing plants to people in need. A sky full of stars is open above them…
Artem ran his fingers through his midnight hair again. “I want the same things as you. Freedom. The power to choose.”
Samiris turned to him. “I guess none of us are as free as people think we are. But you aren’t as backed into a corner as you make it sound, either, Artem. You have choices. Options. You have the power to make a real difference. Do you know how long I have wanted that power? The ability to do something to make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering?”
“You make a difference wherever you go, Samiris. You do.” His voice was earnest.
Samiris gave a sad smile. “The best I can do is sneak food out to those who need it. It’s not enough.”
He surprised her by clasping her hands in his large warm ones, his eyes searching hers. “It is enough. And… you… you’ve made a bigger difference than just delivering food. Your words are powerful. The way you defy convention is thought-provoking. You have the courage to ask why. Why are things they way they are? Why can’t they be better? You’ve changed things here, Samiris. You’ve changed me.”
What most people don’t realize–and what Samiris doesn’t realize here–is that change is happening all the time. All around us. We ourselves are catalysts for change in the people we interact with daily, because our words and actions affect others.
So what kind of change are we spreading? We see changes that need to be made, but are we influencing others in a positive or negative way?
Kindness reaches much further than angry words. Think about it: there is an organization that provides food and shelter for homeless people on the streets. Would you donate if someone glared and told you to man up and step in and serve food yourself? Or would you be more likely to donate if someone smiled and thanked you for noticing the organization, taking time to explain the mission?
In the words of Samiris, “Not all change is bad. Things should change. They have to.” Our words, expressions, actions, and even our inactions have the potential to change lives.
It’s up to us. We are the change that the world needs.
That’s the challenge today. Pick one person. It could be a family member, the lady who checks your groceries at the store, the police officer who pulled you over, your boss. Anyone.
Maybe all they need is an encouraging smile. Maybe your compliment is one they’ve never gotten. Or maybe a free cup of coffee will brighten their outlook on life.
Whatever you decide to do, own it. This is your change. Maybe you can’t change the world, but you can change your world.
Pick someone and be the change.
Wait up! Before you go, check out Jill Beene’s book, A Sharpened Axe. It’s one of my favorites for many reasons, but mainly because it addresses the righteous outrage that so many of us feel when we look at the state our world is in. Samiris learns an important lesson about the right way to change her world, and it was so encouraging and inspiring to read.
Check out Jill Beene’s website and other books here!