Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


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Making A Difference

Failla, St Helena, California, USA

October 17, 2021



"ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS, EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE. USE THEM TOGETHER. USE THEM IN PEACE."
... Arthur C Clarke embodying astronaut David "Dave" Bowman, in the closing words of the grand finale of "2010: Odyssey Two"

"Speak softly, and carry a big stick."
... President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt - often misquoted as "Walk softly, but carry a big stick."

"Making a difference is being in a way that allows something new to become possible that forwards the greater good, which before that way of being, wasn't possible."
... Laurence Platt

"Choose a problem that's worth your time. World hunger is worth your time. Making a million dollars isn't."
... Sandra "Sandy" Bernasek (1951 - 2018), Landmark Forum Leader, quoted by the Pittsburgh City Paper
This essay, Making A Difference, is the one thousand six hundred and fiftieth in this Conversations For Transformation internet series.

It is also the companion piece to Junction: A Pre-Possibility.

It is also the seventeenth entry in The Laurence Platt Dictionary: I am indebted to John Taylor who inspired this conversation.




After forty three years of being around Werner both face-to-face and by default, I've experienced on many occasions with multitudes of people who've unleashed an enormous collection of projects locally and worldwide, what it is to make a difference. And in so doing I've noticed it's easier to recognize "This person / this project (quote unquote) makes a difference"  than it is to articulate  exactly what it is to make a difference. What is it (and I mean what is it really)  to "make a difference"?

In the colloquially deployed sense of the phrase, "making a difference" means little more than making a change  / improvement / betterment - making a big  change / improvement / betterment maybe, but making only  a change / improvement / betterment nonetheless, with no real transformation  coming to bear. In this way, making a difference doesn't make any difference!  How so, Laurence? Like so: we've been changing the world (or at least we've been trying  to change / improve / better the world) for decades if not for centuries, and it hasn't made any difference - the evidence for which is glaring: look at where for the most part, we are today.

The question captured both my attention and my interest. I committed to examining my experience of people and projects that make a difference, to see if I could distinguish the abstracts and ideas which comprise "making a difference" in a broader domain than merely making a change / improvement / betterment, then see if I could articulate a definition of that way of making a difference which would be suitable for inclusion in The Laurence Platt Dictionary.

What I discovered in this inquiry may not be "the truth"  definitively. At worst, it's a long shot. At best, it's a springboard for a deeper, ever more rigorous inquiry into what it is to make a difference really. After a number of passes in which I worked and re-worked my definition many, many times over, I came up with this:


"Making a difference is being in a way that allows something new to become possible that forwards the greater good, which before that way of being, wasn't possible."


I've chosen each of the clauses in this definition and the ordering of each clause within it, carefully. What's critical here is to distinguish the full, real possibility of "making a difference" as a possibility senior to / profounder than the colloquial deployment of "making a difference" as change / improvement / betterment. Look: in researching the subject matter for this essay, I found something akin to "This toothpaste makes a difference  in whitening teeth.". Let that be the yardstick for what the colloquial deployment of "making a difference" is - and exactly what the full, real possibility of "making a difference" (in the way in which I'm articulating it) isn't.

On the other side of that yardstick of what the full, real possibility of "making a difference" isn't, is what the full, real possibility of "making a difference" is. These six clauses and the order in which I've articulated them, distinguish this possibility:


Making a difference is
       being in a way
             that allows something new to become possible
                   that forwards the greater good,
                         which before that way of being,
                                wasn't possible.


The six clauses and their ordering in this definition of "making a difference" evoke a new context  for making a difference, a context in which "making a difference" can show up. The colloquial deployment of "making a difference" manipulates content only. The full, real possibility of "making a difference" brings forth / nurtures a new context. And here's the thing: when the truth's told, bringing forth and nurturing a new context is the only thing that's ever made any real, lasting difference. Really.

Let's expound each of the six clauses, and in so doing distinguish that the full, real possibility of "making a difference" makes a difference:


1)  MAKING A DIFFERENCE IS

To get the full, real possibility of "making a difference", you have to be willing to let go of / look beyond "making a difference" as the colloquial change / improvement / betterment. Look: there's nothing wrong with making a difference that way. It's simply mis-characterized. Articulated accurately, it's "making a change". And you can only change / improve / better that which already is  ... whereas the real possibility that "making a difference" brings forth, is something entirely new. What could that "something entirely new" be?


2)  BEING IN A WAY

The full, real possibility of "making a difference" comes from a way of being  ... not from a way of doing. It comes from a way of inventing, being, and bringing who we really are  to bear ... not from a way of changing anything. While the full, real possibility of "making a difference" as a way of being may result in an altered way of doing, any new way of doing / changing in and of itself  is not enough. If we tell the cold, hard truth about it unflinchingly, making a difference as a new way of doing / changing doesn't make any difference.


3)  THAT ALLOWS SOMETHING NEW TO BECOME POSSIBLE

The full, real possibility of "making a difference" allows something new to become possible  (you could distinguish it as a possibility that allows for new possibilities). The hallmark of people and projects that really make a difference, is that they bring forth new possibility where before there was no possibility of new possibility. Making a difference by changing on the other hand, simply re-arranges the same old same old  pieces on the same old same old game-board without really bringing forth anything new.

In its purest form, what the full, real possibility of "making a difference" allows to become newly possible, is context  - secondarily, the context for what we do / change; primarily, the context of who we really are. With the advent of this new context, we get to see the tired, old, unworkable, erroneous, unexamined contexts in which we live and work.

Changing the content of the tired, old, unworkable, erroneous, unexamined contexts in which we live and work only produces more tired, old, unworkable, erroneous content. Trying to make a difference by changing the content of the tired, old, unworkable, erroneous, unexamined contexts in which we live and work, doesn't make any difference. Bringing forth a new context in which to live and work allows something new to become possible: who we really are comes to bear on what we do. This isn't the same old same old anymore. This is something new, something extraordinary. This is living life transformed.

Bringing forth a new context in which people can live and do what they do transformed, makes a difference. The truth (much to our own chagrin) is that almost all of our (well-intentioned) changes / improvements / betterments have in contrast, never made one iota of difference.


4)  THAT FORWARDS THE GREATER GOOD,

Now as an important point of note, I assert the full, real possibility of "making a difference" only  occurs in the domain of the greater good.

In the colloquial sense, a toothpaste may make a difference whitening teeth - but only in the colloquial sense. In the colloquial sense, a book on how to pick stocks may make a difference to investors' portfolios' bottom lines - but only in the colloquial sense. The full, real possibility of "making a difference" only occurs in the domain of the greater good where it powerfully leverages ideas and current political will in resolving issues like world hunger, homelessness, and climate change for the greater good. Whitening teeth and expanding investment portfolios don't make any real difference in the full, real possibility of "making a difference". Bringing forth new possibilities for resolving issues like hunger, homelessness, and climate change makes a profound difference.

The plethora of newly-minted cyber-billionaires may not make any real difference doing what they do in a world in which a penniless Mother Teresa makes an enormous difference bringing forth the possibility of new possibilities for feeding and housing the poor, simply in the way she be's.

So as a matter of distinction, I say it's essential to locate the full, real possibility of "making a difference" in the domain of the greater good, a domain senior to what's merely good for you  or merely good for me  or merely good for our teeth or for our investment portfolios.


5)  WHICH BEFORE THAT WAY OF BEING,

I include the clause "... which before that way of being ..." in my definition, to emphasize and highlight it's a way of being  that's the source of the full, real possibility of "making a difference". Bringing forth this new way of being (transformation) demonstrates it, which makes it possible for / available to others. Merely changing things doesn't bring forth the possibility of transformation for others. Hence merely changing things has never made any difference. Again, all that does is re-arrange the same old same old pieces on the same old same old game-board in the same old same (tired) old context / way of being.

Simply put, if whatever "making a difference" is deemed to be (colloquially or otherwise) isn't sourced by a new way of being, then it falls short of what "making a difference" really is. "Making a difference" is the natural outcome of the advent of a new possibility coming from / sourced by a new way of being, not by a change in a way of doing, nor by doing anything differently or doing it better or doing more of it.


6)  WASN'T POSSIBLE.

It's called "making a difference"  because it shifts / alters something fundamentally, profoundly. People and projects that make a difference, are those that shift / alter something for the greater good. And whatever they shift / alter, once wasn't possible for the greater good, and is now possible for the greater good. It's the power to shift / alter what once wasn't possible to what's now possible, that makes a difference. And we distinguish those people and projects who are committed to exercising this power (if "exercising  this power" is too dichotomous for you, then substitute "being  this power") as those who are making a difference.


With all that said and done, here's my entry for "making a difference" in the Laurence Platt Dictionary:

<quote>
Definition
making a difference

phrase
being in a way that allows something new to become possible that forwards the greater good, which before that way of being, wasn't possible
<unquote>



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