These days I find myself giving a lot of conference presentations. It’s always a little nerve-wracking and exhilarating when I am about to take the stage. To steady myself, I utter the mantra ‘OK, let’s do it. Let’s go and change the world!’ I should qualify this by saying that my audience is more often measured in numbers closer to 100 than 1000. I have never ‘gone viral’ anywhere and my TEDx presentation from 2013 has a modest 2500 or so views on YouTube. But the important point about changing the world is that often quality is better than quantity.
I was not always an incrementally world-changing, conference-presenting, Autistic overachiever. Twenty years ago I was a homeless criminal druggie messed up person who most people would have judged as being on a short path to an early death and shameful memory, loved only by my family (and probably only a few of them). Obviously something happened to change my life. Actually it was a few somethings. I found myself a recently-free woman in February 2000. I had decided that a new millennium should equal a new life – the only time I have ever made anything approximating a new year’s resolution. I decided I wanted to be ‘ordinary’ – the get an education, a job, a mortgage and a suit. But more importantly I decided to put back some good in place of the thoughtless and impulsive acts, the pain I had inflicted on those close to me and on the wider society. This was quite a challenge. I didn’t really know how to be ‘good.’ So I went back to my Sunday School theology from so many years ago. I understood the idea of ‘do unto others what you would have them do to you’. That seemed a good basis for ethics and morality. So if I was doubtful as to whether something was ethical, I would run i through the ‘do unto others’ test. If I wouldn’t want another person to do that to me, I didn’t do it. Surely this was something of a tenuous link to ethics but it worked for me. I didn’t know good and evil at first. I had little connection to other humans but this rather logical approach to ethics really did work.
So that was my first conscious effort to change the world for the better. As time went on I achieved more things than any single person should be allowed to. One of those achievements was to write an autobiography. At the time the book was released, people told me that it would help other people and make the world better for Autistic people involved in drugs and crime but this was meaningless to me. All I cared about was that I was an author and that little fact changed how I saw myself. I was still rather selfish and self-focussed.
Years went by and life changed. I don;t know where the connectedness came from but almost as if by magic I started to care for others. All that making myself ‘do unto others…’ now made sense to me in a moral way, much as others described that they felt. I wanted to help people. I wanted to change the world.It suddenly mattered that my book was helping people. I wanted to change the world. At first I thought I needed to have a huge audience. However, after observing my friendships I soon realised that the important thing is not to reach a lot of people, it is to reach people.
These days I spend a good proportion of my time trying to make the world better. I don’t know if I’ve somehow ‘cancelled out’ the negative acts of my past – I don’t really think that’s how it works. Whatever the reality, I feel that my past experiences have given me a huge drive and imperative to help others to avoid the kinds of disasters I found myself in when I was younger.
When I tell myself to change the world at conferences, it is a little tongue in cheek, but there is a lot of truth to it too. Life in the past twenty years has somehow become less about me serving myself and more about me helping others. And I love it. It’s almost addictive. I figure the main test we need to pass in life is to leave the world a little bit better when we depart than how it was when we enter. So lets’s do this thing. Let’s go and change the world!
Me changing the world, just a little bit