The Ripple Effect of Change
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa
As we proudly present this second edition of our Horizons publication, we can’t help but reflect on how much has changed since the inaugural issue was released. In the summer of 2020, then-Human Services director Susan Brooks introduced the publication at a time when the human services community grappled with the combined crises of soaring unemployment, a global pandemic and the violent personification of systemic racism. Susan has since retired, while the overlapping crises have not so much subsided as they have evolved. Some things got worse before they (arguably) got better. In other areas, such as racial equity, a long road ahead remains to achieve true and lasting change.
And yet, much has changed in the last three years, hasn’t it? This does not feel like 2020, and that feels like a very good and promising thing. But even as the pandemic has trudged toward less tragic outcomes, human services agencies face perhaps more daunting challenges than in 2020. Many counties maneuvered the complexities of COVID successfully, but now find themselves navigating the post-pandemic impact of cavernous staffing vacancies in the wake of a wave of workers reconsidering their careers and their callings. Those who stayed have been left to grapple with more sweeping changes than our systems have seen in years: CalAIM, CalOAR, CalSAWS, FFPSA Part IV, FFPS, CPPs and the rest of the array of alphabet soup initiatives—all well-intended, just so much at once. Workers and leaders alike are burnt out, or at the very least, tired.
Change in our circumstances requires change in us. We adapted to the pandemic, and now we must adapt to current challenges. We must do things differently if we want staff to stay in this work—and even if we ourselves want to stay in this work without burning out and forcing our own exits. We cannot control changes in the outside world, but our own change is a different story.
One of our amazing UC Davis instructors, Laurie Ellington, says that people often want to change by doing a 180—a complete turnaround—when the truth is that change happens in one- or two-degree increments.
As much as we desire to be different, change requires building new neural pathways, tiny neuron by tiny neuron. And it is these almost imperceptible changes, the one- or two-degree increments, made consistently over time, that eventually add up to the 180-degree change we seek.
And so, as 2023 begins, I invite you to consider: what would one degree of change look like for you in your work? What would help you make an even greater difference while sustaining your well-being? If you are in a staff position, you might aim to have one degree more impact on the children, youth, families or vulnerable adults you work with each day. This could mean one new solution-focused question you practice asking. One more time that you pause to consider the impact of trauma on a client’s behavior, and respond with an open heart. One more time that you pause and ask a family you are working with to share their perspective first, before you share yours.
If you are in a leadership position, aspiring to improve retention of your staff, your goal might be striving to have one degree more compassion for the people you work with. One minute that you stop in the hallway to say hi to someone and ask about their weekend. One more time you consciously take a moment to send an email recognizing good work. One more time you truly listen when someone expresses a challenge or concern. One more time in a meeting that you ask staff to share their ideas and solutions before you offer yours.
The world outside of us will continue to bring changes we didn’t ask for and wouldn’t choose, but we can choose every day to change ourselves, our work and our world, one degree at a time. And so, my invitation to you is to pick the one degree of change you will practice today—the one small, lovely stone you will cast in the water to ripple out to those around you. This is how we change agencies, systems, and lives, including our own.