On Gauging Change

One of the events this week is entitled “Gauging Change.” When I first this, my mind immediately leapt to the word “engaging.” At first I thought engage and gauge might come from the same root, but unfortunately their only etymological similarities are that they both come from Old French. Nevertheless, these two words are still linked in my mind. I can’t think about gauging, the quantitative measurement of change, without pondering social engagement and the active process of people creating change.

Gauging people’s opinions can be difficult, to put it mildly, as we all saw during BC’s last provincial election. How could the polls be so wrong? I was left thinking that someone had lied—either the people answering the polls or the people counting the votes. But what if, instead, the polls “lied” because of the lack of engagement in BC, because of the culture of apathy that seems to be creeping through my friends and peers.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve always felt more bothered by global and local events than my peers. Through high school I kept trying to talk to people about climate change and the evils of multinational corporations—but mostly they thought I was a bit odd, or on a good day, quirky. Most people I talked to shut down, some going so far as to cover their ears. Others listened for a while before turning away to pursue other more cheerful conversations. But why?

This all left me wondering whether there was something wrong with my schoolmates, or whether there was something wrong with my manner of presenting information. I now think it was as much my problem as my friends’. Information overload and despair is common reason for apathy: we become overwhelmed and frightened by repeated apocalyptic versions of the future (Conklin 2013). Sometimes we shut down and become disengaged because we care too much, not because we don’t care enough.

So my question is not how to measure, quantify and categorize change, at least not yet. First we need to create an engaged society, one that wants change and wants to measure it. How do we quantify when people are ripe to be engaged?

And how fitting that this event on “gauging change” is being held in the downtown campus of SFU—the university that aspires engages the world.

Conklin, B. 2013. Tips for Teaching Sustainability. The Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University.


Gavia Lertzman-Lepofsky is a student at Simon Fraser University.  She’s working on a degree in biology with an English minor, but is expecting that it will take her a long time—there are so many other interesting things to do.  Gavia enjoys gardening, mucking about in the intertidal and the forest, reading large tomes, and is passionate about playing jazz violin. Anyone want to talk about music theory, food politics, or renewable energy?

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