The Long Now of Impact

Impact can be assessed programmatically or culturally. It can be measured with statistics and numbers or by chronicling shifts in habits, beliefs and values. It can also be gauged using the clock of the long now. That’s what former Premier of China Zhou Enlai did when asked about the historic impact of the French Revolution. His answer, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Here is my three-part answer to a recent question about how I measure the long-term impact of my work.

  1. The moral arc of the universe favours peace, justice and equity. Our role is to keep the momentum going. Here I am guided by Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

  2. Evil exists and is a force to be reckoned with. Evil is easy to spot in the search for wealth, power and glory. It is also alive in habits, attitudes and beliefs. Here I am guided by Goethe: “I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.” He also said, “There is no crime of which I do not deem myself capable.”
  3. We may not resolve our tough challenges in time. Therefore the guiding question becomes what is the right thing to do regardless of impact. In other words, can it be done with love and without panic or haste? Here I am guided by Aung San Suu Kyi: “You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.” 

No one intuits this last point better than young people. What a terrible conundrum my generation has left for them. May they be guided by these words from Ivan Illich who explained them to me when I was a lot younger: “We must discover the distinction between hope and expectation.”

NOTE: Click for more information on The Clock of the Long Now.


“We have a choice in life. We can choose how we are going to behave. We can determine whether we reflect the good around us or lose ourselves in the darkness.” (Wab KinewThe Reason You Walk)

Musical accompaniment this post is ‘Good Advice’ by Basia Bulat. Listen to her live here. Purchase here.

Originally posted at, July 7, 2016. Reposted with permission. Home page image Bernard Spragg

About the Lead Author

Al Etmanski
Al Etmanski
Al Etmanski is a community organizer, social entrepreneur and author. ( (@aletmanski ) His latest books are Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation and The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving and Changing the World. He is a faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development Institute (ABCD), an Ashoka fellow, senior fellow Social Innovation Generation and Co-Chair of BC Partners for Social Impact. Al is co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), a family run social enterprise assisting families address the financial and social well-being of their relative with a disability, particularly after their parents die. He proposed and led the successful campaign to establish the world’s first savings plan for people with disabilities, the Registered Disability Savings Plan. John McKnight endorsed Al's book Impact by saying: Impact is a chronicle of the wisdom Etmanski has gained in exploring the keys to long-term social change. His findings lead us out of the past and onto a pathway for progress in the 21st century. Once describing Al as an Abundant Community Pioneer, Peter Block wrote: Al Etmanski is one of North America's best social inventors. He has looked beyond traditional institituions and their failures to create new means of achieving a better life. His analysis of the forms of organization that enable local communities while avoiding rigid hierarchies is groundbreaking. His book A Good Life is a wonderful and practical guide to the potential for neighbors to grow strong through the power of hospitality. Michael J. Fox said of Al's latest book, The Power of Disability: This book reminds us of what we have in common: the power to create a good life for ourselves and for others, no matter what the world has in store for us.

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