The power of thinking differently

The first step to positive change is simply being willing to do something differently. And sometimes, that first step can be the hardest step of all.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Students eat lunch in Hutchinson Commons at the University of Chicago, which has adopted a test-score optional admissions policy.

Just in the past few weeks, my wife has become a convert to the concept of zero-waste living. For those of you not yet aboard the bandwagon, zero-waste living is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Every single day, apparently, the United States uses 500 million plastic straws. Imagine how much other waste we produce, and with foreign countries no longer taking our recyclable plastic, what does all that mean for the planet?

Zero waste is obviously about changing behaviors to produce less waste. But as my wife shared with me all the inventive ways people are getting around using plastic or reusing clothes or curbing the desire to accrue things we don’t really need, I realized that, really, zero waste starts with something else. It starts with consenting to change thought. The first step, in other words, is simply being willing to do something differently.

In many ways, that first step can be the hardest step of all.

This came to mind as I read our cover story by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo. Ostensibly, it’s about more and more colleges agreeing to drop standardized tests as a mandatory measure of student aptitude. But at its heart, it’s about something more fundamental: how we judge individual value.

That is always going to be hard. But in recent decades, colleges have realized that the old ways of judging individual value, while not necessarily wrong, were narrow. While they identified one kind of student well, they did not account for a wide array of experiences, skills, and qualities that were no less important to achievement and success. In short, they left a lot of amazing people out and didn’t even know it. The tests weren’t good enough. Schools could do better.

So what has happened? Schools are increasingly consenting to think differently about admissions. They have resolved to do the best they can to see the whole individual. Undoubtedly there have been missteps along the way. Some think dropping mandatory standardized tests is a mistake. But the individual steps along the way are, in many respects, less important than an honest commitment to the outcome. Once that first step is taken – once we consent to do something differently – the onward pull of reason and conscience speed progress.

At a time when there appears to be so much turmoil in the world, it is possible to look out and instead see something else: the world struggling with the perpetual task of consenting to new ideas. Politics today show how easily we can become stuck in the mentally familiar. Polarization is groupthink turned inflexible.

The world, on the other hand, is constantly demanding that we be kinder and more connected – that we think ever larger. That can be an admissions officer wanting to be more thoughtful in extending the benefits that her school offers. Or it can be a zero-waste blogger asking us all to think differently about how we contribute to greater balance in the world.

The only constant is the universal need for progress, and that will never leave us where it found us.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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