Four Principles to Understand if You Want to Change the World Around You

By Dwight Longenecker Published on December 3, 2020

One of my main complaints is complainers. If you see a problem, and have the power to fix it, get on and fix it. If don’t have the power to fix it, call someone who does, and if you don’t have the power to fix it and don’t know anyone who does, then live with it.

But don’t blame other people and don’t complain.

When the world seems upside down and nothing is going right, when the devil seems to be in charge and everything is going down the drain — even then don’t complain. Instead do what you can with what you have where you are.

You may not be able to change the world, but you can change your world. There are four ways to be creative and positive about almost every problem. The four principles all begin with the letter “s.”

Subsidiarity: Local is Real

The first principle is subsidiarity. Subsidiarity means the solution to problems and new ideas and initiatives should be taken at the lowest, local level possible. They say “Charity begins at home.” Every solution should begin at home.

Whether the problem is poor housing, low educational standards, unemployment, bad communication or any other difficulty — the solution begins at the local level. The people at the local level are the ones who experience the problem and can voice their concerns most realistically.

Talking to the people in the community gave us the answers we needed, and the people who knew the problems also had many of the solutions.

Our church is an a socially challenging part of town. When we decided to do something to attack the housing problem we started by talking to the “experts” at the governmental level. They were full of theories and ideologies, but they didn’t know what the local needs and challenges really were.

Talking to the people in the community gave us the answers we needed, and the people who knew the problems also had many of the solutions. We just needed to work together at the local level to put them into action.

Simplicity: ’Tis a Gift to Be Simple

The second principle for changing the world is simplicity. Most of the world’s problems can be solved at the local level with simple solutions. Complex technology and expensive social solutions can help, but if they do not have a simple soul they will be top heavy and ultimately fail.

Simple solutions are most often human solutions. Does a child struggling to read need more computers, complicated new learning systems, laptops and e-books? Maybe, but maybe he or she needs a volunteer to sit down and spend some extra time tutoring.

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Whatever the needs, whether they are educational, financial, health and welfare or spiritual help, the human solution is the simple solution, and the principle of simplicity is always delivered hand in hand with the principle of subsidiarity. If something is not local it is not real.

While the solutions are simple, they are not easy. In fact, the simpler the solution, the more likely it is to be very difficult in terms of human time, effort and talent. Climbing a mountain is simple. It’s just one foot in front of another right? It’s simple — but it’s not easy.

Self-Reliance: Stand on Your Own Two Feet

The third way to change the world is self-reliance. Human beings have free will, and when it is exercised we achieve personal dignity. Any accomplishment of our own that we to achieve raises our self-esteem and nurtures the natural dignity we all strive for.

When asked to be involved in our church’s food pantry one of the local pastors laughed and said, “Brother, we don’t give people stuff!” He went on to explain that his church has programs of fellowship and support in place for people in need to get back on their feet and learn self-reliance.

This principle also links with the other two. Self-reliance is a strength of subsidiarity. It is a local strength. The more people in a locality are self-reliant, the more the whole community becomes self-reliant, proud and united. Self-reliance also holds hands with simplicity. Self-reliance is a simple and strong virtue. One that takes time and effort, but which is far more rewarding in the long run than more hand outs.

Solidarity: Stand Together

The final principle that changes the world is solidarity. This simply means “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper.” Self-reliance is good, but solidarity balances that principle. Solidarity means standing together — not one person better than another, but each person with his own unique gifts and capabilities belonging to the community.

In our modern, individualistic, fragmented world we too often stand alone and isolated. The old community structures that were local have broken down. The extended family with its self-reliance and solidarity has disappeared.

The principles of subsidiarity, simplicity, self-reliance and solidarity can be rebuilt, but the work must be from the ground up. The effort to be local, to work together simply to be self-reliant is the work of families, churches, schools and local communities.

If we all understood these principles and each in our own locality tried to put them into action, we would truly change the world.


Fr. Dwight Longenecker is a pastor in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness. Visit his website at

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