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The arc of the moral universe is long,
But it bends toward justice.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
How do we stay engaged in work that we may never see completed?
For those of us in the sustainability and social change arena—perhaps across many fields—there can be a sense of working for change perpetually. At the 25th Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony this week, multiple speakers mentioned that many of the critical issues linking the environment, poverty, and democracy that we were working on 25 years ago (when my work in this arena was just starting) are still threats.
There has been progress—and we can point to landmark legislation and a shift in cultural consciousness and behavior to prove it—though it is hard to see this when the change can easily get lost in the “so much more to be done.”
We must work at the challenging confluence of the change we have seen and can celebrate, and the vision we have that has yet to be achieved. Forsaking one for the other would either undermine how far we have come or overwhelm us with the magnitude of the problems yet to be solved.
E.B White wrote “I awaken each morning caught between the desire to savor the world and the desire to save it. It makes it hard to plan the day.” As difficult as this makes our work, we can’t move forward without celebrating and building upon the efforts of those who have come before us.
I know that I can easily get caught up in feelings of the progress we’ve seen not being “good enough”—and it’s not. Yet I also feel a tremendous solace and am energized by the victories and more importantly the people who have contributed to a strong a growing movement for positive change.
In his inaugural address in 1961, JFK said: “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
This is the spirit we must have to navigate the long arc of change.