As the story goes, The Times once sent out an inquiry to famous authors asking the question “What’s wrong with the world today?” to which author G.K. Chesterton replied:
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
Although there is no proof of this since neither letter has been found, The American Chesterton Society comments, “This story has been repeated so often about Chesterton that we suspect it is true.”
Regardless of its authenticity, the sentiment is right on, and pretty much captures the most humble, simple answer to a complicated question and complicated world. I also think it captures, in essence, the right attitude by which we attack social problems that appear insurmountable and firmly rooted in systems that will not change overnight. The only thing you can do is accept responsibility for any and every way you have ever said something, done something or failed to do something about a certain problem, and begin the process of change by changing yourself.
Take racism, for instance. None of us is going to be able to stop racism, but we can take responsibility for any way we have contributed to it, whether by sins of commission or omission, and we can dedicate ourselves to changing our attitudes and living in an open and dignified way, giving honor to all races, all religions (and none) and all ethnic groups — in other words, all human beings. Judgment stops here; and change starts here.
This isn’t to say we stop the process of identifying and eradicating the causes of the many systemic problems facing our society and nation — to be sure, this is a large part of the purpose of education (research) and government — but it is a way of stopping personal finger-pointing and prideful aloofness. Any problem we are trying to address must begin with an admission of our own contribution to it. We are all guilty of sin; we have all done something to contribute to the mess the world is in, even if this means only that we have done nothing to change it.