Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 7)

by Miki Kashtan

Part 1 of this topic was posted on Aug 8, and links are provided from there onwards to all the other parts of this mini-series. This is the last segment. If you would like to participate in a real-time conversation with me about these topics (this Sunday, 9:30 - 11:00am Pacific Time), click here for more details, or here to register.

I started this mini-series with noting that none of us ultimately knows what would (will? could?) bring about significant change, beyond our experiments with alternatives, beyond a vision absent material resources, beyond the smallness of our efforts. Before concluding, just a few comments about these unanswerable challenges.

Scaling up
To inspire confidence – both for ourselves and for others - in our ability to create significant change that affects large numbers of people, we need to find a way to continue to operate in radical, visionary, uncompromising ways while scaling up. We need to find ways to break out of the conviction that we can only do radical experiments with small numbers, and that becoming more visible, increasing our numbers, and gaining power and influence are bound to bring corruption, and/or bureaucracy, and/or inefficiency, and/or all other social evils. This conviction will either keep us small and ineffective, or become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t know the answer. I am convinced it exists. I will continue to look for it, and to keep imagining and encouraging everyone I know, including myself, to move towards it without fear of falling.

Who is “we?” I use this word loosely to refer to everyone who is in the grips of the heartbreak about our beautiful planet being destroyed by the actions of human beings like us. After all, all of us, regardless of our beliefs and affiliations, are, ultimately, struggling to make sense of the world and attend to our own, our loved ones’, and others’ needs in the best ways they know how. All of us are implicated in the destruction, whether we want to or not.   

Building Alliances and Coalitions

"It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual.
The next Buddha may take the form of a community--
a community practicing understanding and loving kindness,
a community practicing mindful living.
This may be the most important thing we can do for the earth."

Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, and peace activist)

The days of one-person operations appear to be largely over. The Lubavitchers, the largest Hassidic movement, now operate without a new Lubavitcher, because the tradition held that only seven generations of leaders would be guiding this movement, and now no one knows what comes next. This is not about giving up leadership. This is about many more people taking leadership all around them.

Working our way out of charismatic leadership will require us to work with others who are not members of our specific movement. As we reach out to create such connection, we will encounter people who will agree with us on some bits and not on others. And we will still need to work with them. If we are to be truly effective, we will need to work with people who are far from our positions. We cannot make significant change without connecting with people who are in fundamental opposition to what we are proposing (if we even propose anything rather than simply protesting). The Department of Peace Campaign has been working hard for some years now to support the establishment of a federal level Department of Peace in the US government. As of a few months ago, they still hadn’t crossed the Democrat/Republican divide. There will be no Department of Peace Legislation for as long as that divide is not crossed in the constituency that operates the campaign.

How? We need tools to dialogue, to come more present, to know to separate strategies from needs, to see the underlying vision of opposing views, and to know that more is in common between us at the level of vision than we may be comfortable admitting. We need to learn to listen with a willingness to be changed, and take on the hard and thankless work of listening to our ideological enemies, no matter where we are, so we can learn and grow, so we can create bridges, so we can find ways of collaborating, and thereby begin, now, the work of the future. Because in that future there will still, and always, be people that disagree with us. There will always be people who will see our implementation of our vision as an absolute threat to what they hold most dear. And we will need to include and embrace their needs and well-being in full if we are to operate with integrity.

What to do now
Since we cannot, as the Talmudic Jews said, “press the end” (meaning force things to move faster than they do), and since acceptance of what is is part and parcel of our work, we cannot escape the reality that, for now, we don’t know what will create change. In fact, taking seriously the fundamental uncertainty and unpredictability of life in part means that we don’t and can’t plan change. We can only be ready for it. Two years before the Berlin Wall was taken down no one would have predicted that outcome. And it happened. What might happen within the next two years that we cannot imagine now?

If we cannot predict, cannot plan, and cannot implement large scale social change, we can only keep working to be ready for opportunities when they arise. Every once in a while, we never know when, how, or for how long, the existing order of things is put on hold, and much more is possible. At such times many more in the world are hungry for direction, for hope, for tools, and for possibilities. I’d like to believe that we can use our small-scale efforts at obstruction, creation of alternatives, and consciousness transformation to get us all ready, so that when the window opens up, we will be available to respond to the call to lead and to offer inspiration and clarity that can make a decisive difference. I hope I am still alive when that day arrives.