Change Starts with an Acorn

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” – Greek Proverb


Good morning from Westminster, MD!

The Greek Proverb above is something about which I have written in the past, but means more and more to me as time passes. As I consider the process of creating change, especially in areas as challenging as poverty and racial justice, the words of this simple statement ring incredibly true. It would be easy to dismiss them as a call to complacency or to “be patient” as some said to Martin Luther King, Jr. and others fighting for change over the years. However, I believe it is quite the opposite–it is a call to world-changing action.

Consider an Oak tree. How does it start? As an acorn, one to six centimeters in length. Does this seem significant? Unless you are a squirrel or a chipmunk the answer is probably no. You do not have to walk around an acorn, or worry about hitting it with your car. Unless you are looking for it, you will more than likely miss it. An acorn, on its surface, appears to be small and insignificant. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

It is not the acorn’s current reality that makes it what it is–it is it’s potential. What happens when you plant the acorn in fertile soil and invest in it, not for what is today but for what it could become in the future? The potential inside the acorn is released, sprouting a stem that goes from being almost unnoticeable to as grand as one-hundred feet tall and four feet in diameter. What once seemed small and insignificant becomes majestic and impactful to the world around it.

Was planting the acorn an act of complacency? No, of course not! It was an act of intention to change the environment in which is was sowed. This is what I believe the words of this Proverb are meant to teach us. Often, we gravitate to “solutions” that appear to make the biggest splash in the moment without considering the longevity of their impact. We treat the symptoms without rooting out the problem. It feels good in the moment, but leaves us searching for another “silver-bullet” when the symptoms return. In contrast, “planting trees” feels rather unsatisfying in the moment, but grows into generation-altering change in time.

If you find yourself “planting acorns” wondering if it will ever make a difference, take a walk and find an oak tree. Enjoy its shade and remember where it came from. Then, go back and keep “planting trees”, not for what they look like today but for the change they will make for generations to come. What may seem small to you may grow into something great for those who come behind you.

James Belt

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