A few days ago, I was speaking at UC Davis School of Law for an event that highlighted some moments from my journey to the Supreme Court. After the presentation, I spent some time with student leaders of APALSA, the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, where we casually spoke about music, Joss Whedon’s Firefly, and more personal questions about my work with The Slants.
As they were thinking about everything we shared, one of them asked me what kind of advice I had for a young law school student who was hoping to make a difference but didn’t have a big platform or influence. I shared with them two things I that I’ve been contemplating on recently:
One: there’s a proverb that says “If you ever think you’re too small to make a difference, then you’ve never spent time in a dark room with a mosquito.” Too often, we discount ourselves when the reality is that small pushes can often make big changes. The only way to guarantee the status quo is to do nothing – and that status quo is more often than not, a disservice to the most marginalized of communities.
Two: Roger Bannister, the first person to run a mile in four minutes, passed away last week. The interesting thing about his accomplishment is that prior to him doing so, it was considered impossible for humans to run that fast. When he set out to break the record, he didn’t just run aimlessly or “work harder.” He analyzed every step so he’d know the exact length of stride. He had specific sections of the mile paced and timed – for example, knowing that to meet the record, he’d have to run a quarter mile in one minute or less. In other words, he focused on the larger picture, then worked out smaller, possible steps to make that impossibility a reality.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously paraphrased Theodore Parker’s thought: “the moral arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Just remember that the moral arc doesn’t bend on its own. It requires patience, persistence, and people willing to look at impossible goals like a mosquito eyeing a relatively gigantic creature and taking that first step to making a difference.