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I’ve watched several films that document extraordinary individuals who led epic change – modifications to the status quo that amounted to life enhancement for many people.

What are the characteristics that comprise their personalities? What compels them to move forward in the face of ever mounting obstacles and behemoth sized push back? As I’ve stated in previous blog posts, change agents are the opposite of “yes men” in that they have an unwavering commitment to following their conscience.

In many cases they knew that death was a possible outcome of their efforts, but they persevered. They were unafraid to stand in the out-group – to suffer ostracism, sabotage, unfairness, absence of connection, and in some cases loss of everything they owned.

They possessed a single mindedness, a steel willed determination that set the stage for protestors who followed. As trailblazers, they were ridiculed (and shunned) by those in the opposition, and even by others who would benefit from their efforts [note: few like to associate with rabble rousers, especially when they’re in the minority]. Being a first responder to social injustice comes with a price.

I would imagine that change agents possess an uncanny knack for finding chinks in the system through which they make entrée. They are necessarily high in emotional intelligence. Although Mandela was incarcerated as a political prisoner, he later chose to forgive, and to focus his energy where it could benefit others.

In a similar vein, he established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to put the past in its proper perspective so the business of change could proceed. This is an astonishing attitude for someone who was jailed 27 years for attempting to extract his own freedom. He (and others like him) realized that hatred and vengeance simply drain energy that could be spent fulfilling their dreams in more productive pursuits. They envisioned a more perfect way to live.

If there is one quality that is paramount to initiating change, I would say its singular focus – plowing forth into new frontiers, being a trailblazer despite the odds and in spite of the circumstances.

To all the change agents throughout history, I salute you. Your courage is a beacon which lights the way.


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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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One Response
  1. I think it’s not so much a lack of disire people have to take a stand for what they feel is right, but more the fear of facing associated consequences for doing so, which makes this a powerful force to overcome in any society. We all have a conscience but more often than not, its not enough to fire up and drive the commitment

  2. Charles Barnett on January 30th, 2012 at 11:04 am