Once each year a large group of bloggers agree to write on one theme related to social change. This is called Blog Action Day; if you want to know more you can find out at blogactionday.org.
Self Development (personal development, self improvement etc) can be awfully individualistic. And one of the limitations of a blog is that it is read by individuals on their computer (or other device).
This focus on the individual has a strength I think – it encourages people to claim their agency (the power they have to shape their experience and their environment). In my experience we tend to underestimate how much we can do. This is the healthy part of focusing on individuals.
There are also a number of drawbacks
- It can lead to grandiosity (overestimating ourselves) – the ‘you can do anything’ line (that so quickly leads to blaming the victim).
- It can encourage narcissism – some self development people even encourage subordinating people and your relationships with them to your goals – the ‘don’t hang around with those who don’t support you’ line.
- It can lead us to be tunnel visioned and to ignoring the world around us (with all the joys and beauties – as well the injustice and suffering – that it contains).
The biggest drawback to individualism is that it gives a false idea of who we are and how we are related to people and the world around us.
All of us started out totally dependent on another. We continue to be completely reliant on natural elements supplied free and (at least) very reliant on social infrastructure built by previous generations (I don’t think I’d make it as a survivalist and even the hard core survivalists buy stuff from the wider society).
Each one of us is part of a network of relationships that is vital to how we experience our life (for better or worse). In my view our relationships (past and present) are part of who we are. To imagine a person without relationships would be to imagine a person without speech, who possibly wouldn’t know what is food and what is poison; they would be a very strange person.
I and We
Which is to say that who I am is shaped to the core of my being by the relationships I have had and am now a part of. (And I am an active part of these relationships – a We needs to be made up I’s).
We need huge changes – and they needed to start happening decades ago. We are now, for instance, needing to look at how to mitigate the effects of global warming not prevent it (that option passed several years ago).
This is where the power of collaboration is especially important. None of us got here alone – and it is certain that none of us will bring major change alone. All the figures who brought important change to our world (Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa) had their impact through their followers.
And most of us will be followers. Most of us will make an impact by adding our energy to causes that we believe in. In healthy groups we will be able to make our unique contribution on the basis of our gifts. In others we will put up with some stuff because we believe in the cause.
Sustaining Our Commitment
Social change can be slow and draining. And the forces arrayed against worthwhile change are huge (the Australian government recently caved in to the vested interests in the polluting power generating industries).
Which means that sustaining commitment can be difficult. Here are some ideas to help.
1. It is idealists who get burnt out. The cause can encompass the whole world and be endless – but you and your energy levels aren’t. The way out of the dilemma of the endless demands of the change and my limitations for me, was seeing that to some extent we need to be the change we want to see.
A world full of stressed out, burnt out, miserable people is not the kind of world I want to create. The way we bring change needs to have some consistency with the change we want to bring. Part of bringing the change is living a joyous life now.
2. It will help to be clear about what it is you are wanting. (You may only get clear on this after you have investigated the cause or been part of a group for a while.) If you don’t know what you want it is hard to be satisfied. If you want something impossible you will never be satisfied – so you will either persevere just through grim determination or end up burning out and leaving.
3. It will help if you can see change where you are. We can’t see the global food market but we can see sharing locally grown produce with our neighbours. We can’t see climate change we can see change in rainfall and vegetation in our local area and see the results of collecting rain water and growing a community garden. It is much easier to maintain motivation when you can see that your action has made a worthwhile difference. And for most of us this will be at a local level.
Which are the causes you care about and how you invest your energy will vary.
Non-Violent Communication is working for a more peaceful world. NVC World is a good place to start – lots of links to resources.
These are just some of the organisations I know (chosen because they are widespread and often have a network with lots of local initiatives).
It is only by our understanding how closely we are related to each other and how much we can do together that we will bring worthwhile social change. It is hugely important that we, each individually, understand the power of we.