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The story of change: Personal transformation OR social change?

We have an interesting debate at the office right now and we would like to have your opinion on this question:

If we want a better world, on what should we focus the most?

a. changing ourselves?

b. changing the unfair political and social structures?

Currently, does the civil society sector focus too much about changing the world and not enough about changing ourselves? 

Food for thoughts with this quote of Tolstoy:

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Looking FW to your feedback :-)

 

Helene

Comments

  • Admin 1154 days ago

    Hello everybody, 

    We are proud to announce you the publication of our first Think Piece "The story we tell ourselves", written by Rene Susa, steering group member of the CONCORD DARE Forum and participant of the Global Conference.

    image

    This reading will probably shake your mind and turn your vision of change into something new...

    Enjoy the reading and please share your thoughts with us here under.

  • Maarten Coertjens 1153 days ago

    Interesting comment by Joe Brewer, one of the Global Gurus of culture design, on the think piece: 

     On the topic of stories we tell ourselves, I'd love to hear your thoughts about our effort to replace three cultural mythologies about humanity -- (1) humans are bad for the planet; (2) humanity is fragmented and polarized; (3) We are unable to solve global problems -- with hopeful alternatives.

    We are embarking on a journey of discovery to find the stories that spread well and build up the societal belief that humans are good, we are coming together, and we are equipped for this crisis.

    Would love to hear your thoughts!

    http://www.culture2inc.com/thrive/

     

  • Tobias Troll 1153 days ago

    "Everybody thinks of changing him- or herself, but no one thinks of changing the world." - isn't it rather like this?

  • Amy Skinner 1153 days ago

    But isn't it all connected? Are "we" as people not part of the world, we are trying to change? We are not isolated beings, so any changes we make to ourselves will influence the ways we interact and relate to others around us in the world and the kind of choices we make. The unfair political and economic structures have not been imposed upon us from nowhere, but have been created by people, by us. So surely trying to change them, must require changing ourselves at the same time?

     

  • Rene Suša 1153 days ago

    Hi, this is a bit long response to Joe Brewer's question:

    I had a look at culture lab website and I think that is full of great ideas.I would certainly agree that we need to look for new stories that will inspire us, but I also think that we should be careful of becoming too attached to them, no matter how positive or convincing they are. In the end, they are again just stories...

    What I tried to express with the thinkpiece, but perhaps it could have been more pronounced, was the general idea of making all stories less powerful and that when we replace one myth with another, we should be aware that this is again just a myth.
    I have no idea whether humans are good or bad for the planet, but I am very curious as to what it may mean to be good or bad in this context? A virus or a predator may be good or bad for the ecosystem (that is a perception), but it is certainly necessary for ecosystems to have both.
     
    Maybe that is all we are - a huge virus to make place for another (more evolved) species.
    And maybe we are not. Maybe we are great. :) 
     
    My voice would go for the space in between myths - for the elusiveness of constant exploration. Like the video on culture lab website explains: We fail, we try, we fail again, we try, we fail again etc.- but I am not sure if there is success at the end. Or what that success would mean. If we ever reach the final conclusion (42 or something similar :))
    than what would be the point of existence? The game would be over. It may even happen
    once, I don't know. I could be beautiful or terrible.
     
    I think that the attempt of cultural engineering / culture design is something that
    opposes the idea of us being dominated by our culture and seeks to reverse the trend. But the flow of influence is I think twofold. It is important to test what kind of new memes our cultures are currently capable of absorbing. Those that are acceptable will stick, others will fade away. In that sense I think that culture lab experiment is actually very good for measuring the current state of affaires. And of course all paradigmatic shifts began with a small group of people that was able to articulate something that a majority of people were concerned with. However, given the data on climate, when you mention that 95% of people are not concerned with that at all... Maybe we should look for things that those 95 % are concerned with. Because this is where they will be touched - personally. 
     
    Taking a lesson from physics evolution. Regardless of what quantum theory may say - our everyday lives are still deep in a Newtonian world. Quantum physics teaches us that the world is mostly made of void and small bits of probabilities for matter/energy to emerge (and sink back into nothingness again). However inspiring that may be - I still perceive and feel when an apple hits me on the head - no matter how empty the apple and me are. :)
     
    There are simply some ideas that we can't wrap our minds around (yet) and they have been around for a long time. They don't click. So we look for things that do click and I think it is important to test what does and does not click.
     
    Again - especially in times like this I strongly support stories that give us hope, but I do remain cautious of the dangers of false hope. I think that apart from replacing stories it is even more important to become more aware of the thickness of myths and stories (old and new) that we live by and we should be looking at how to make them thinner, otherwise we run the risk of being caught in the thickness of new - admittedly better stories.
     
    It is not a very comfortable way of doing things (at least not in the beginning), but it does lead to the more 'outrageous' frontiers of who we are and I think that it does offer wider ground to explore. Though this ground may have less of the perceived stability than other strategies.
     
    If we merely try to replace one narrative of the world with another one (which is essentially the program of epistemic colonialism) then we loose the ability to learn from both and we narrow down the potentials of our existence and we become again that against which we fight for. The road to hell is paved with good intentions - I am sure of that. I know that this is murky water, because it can sound like defending injustice and exploitation and manipulation and all these dreadful things.
     
    It is a very difficult challenge to look for an ethical ground, if radical openess, acceptance, compassion as the driving forces, because that means embracing your 'enemies' as well.  
     
    If a story is like a fresco-painting on a (facebook :) )wall, then I think it would not be good to paint the new story over the old, but rather to use the paint thinner to see what the wall is made of and what is beyond the wall. And paint the new one next to the old. But using crayons instead of oil. :)
     
    Sorry for this excesively long mail, but your question raised a torrent of thoughts in my mind.
    I hope Joe will join us here on the platform for further sharing of ideas.
     
  • Rene Suša 1153 days ago

    Now a much shorter response to Tobias - this time with a quote from P.J.O'Rourke:

    “Everybody wants to save the world but nobody wants to help mom with the dishes.” 

    I think this is where the journey starts... In the home kitchen. :)

  • Admin 1153 days ago

    Thanks to all of you for your reaction and more specially to Rene for his enrichiching input!

    As we want to continue this challenging discussion, we organise on March 20th a webinar "Changing the World or changing ourselves" in which Rene, the writer of the Think Piece, will be one of the speakers.

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    More information about the webinar here.

    You are invited to share your thoughts, questions and reflections here under. Some of the questions raised here will be selected for the webinar.

    Looking forward to it!

  • Maarten Coertjens 1152 days ago

    An interesting approach is the one of Alberta, Canada where students get Wellness Education:

    https://education.alberta.ca/teachers/program/wellness-education.aspx

    "Wellness education nurtures the whole child and enhances students' capacity for achieving their full potential—intellectually, physically, socially, spiritually and emotionally."

    Which made me wonder: can you teach Personal Change?

  • Rene Suša 1141 days ago

    Hi Maarten,

    thanks for sharing the link above. While I see the benefits of a more integral approach to education (not sure I am so keen on the word wellness - due to the spa associations that it brings up in my mind :) )I think that there is a danger involved in pushing the personal/ individual dimension too far as to now counter-balance the emphasis that was put on the social and political dimension before. Such a sweeping shift may see us marching further on the road towards either slavationism (we have it all figured out and we're great, because we are now also emotionally and spiritually developed) or towards self-complacent withdrawal from the world (I am happy within myself and I am no longer touched by the injustice of the world). Having read through the wellness education programme I failed to notice any significant ethical references for individual or collective action to address the inbalances of the world. And I would that there is a great danger hidden in there and I'd like to take the topic up in the webinar discussion - so thanks for bringing it up! 

  • Admin 1138 days ago

    Hello everybody,

     

    The webinar is now finished! But the conversation is not over, let's use this space to keep it ongoing... 

    We would like to thank the speakers for their participation. The discussions were interesting and very fruitfull in only one hour of time. 

    If you missed the webinar, you can watch the video on

    We wanted to share here the other questions that were raised in the chatbox during the webinar:

    1. To be honest I loose track of what it is we want to achieve - what do we want to transform ourselves or society into?

    2. Relativity, acknowledging difference, compassion and, fundamentally, solidarity are essential for educators and campaigners. But, to engage meaningfully with global justice issues, there is a need to take positions. There seems to be a danger here of in trying to correct one type of thinking, going to a completely different type of thinking. There is a danger of propogating the absolutism you criticize in rationalism, and replacing it with an absolutism in emotionalism / relativism. How do you propose these can be balanced – the need to work within ambiguity, and the need to take positions within ambiguity?

    3. Human frailty turns spirituality into religion, which goes on to achieve the opposite of its intentions. 

    Feel free to add your contribution and questions here under.

    Enjoy the International Day of Hapiness and we hope this session was a small contribution of your daily bliss ;-)

     

    Helene

  • Martin Kirk 1138 days ago

    On Marteen's link and question: How to approach education is so thorny and, unfortunatley, political in most places. To my mind, the challenge is to help people (kids or adults) to build the skills necessary to be able to 'be' in the world, as much as 'do' in the world. This is partly about letting go of some of our obsession with external reason and rationality. Partly about providing an antidote to the cult of individualism we are encouraged to glorify. I agree with Rene, the problem with some approaches seems, to my little brain, to be that it promotes the belief that everyone has the duty to stand out, be special, succeed at your wildest dreams (because everyone can, right!) in a way that is really grounded in the ideas of competition and status.  It's actually about being MORE special than your friends. Or MORE successful at reaching that dream. Or just HAPPIER. That's an externally focussed motivation, and has more in common with consumerism than it does with mindfulness and awareness. 

  • Rene Suša 1135 days ago

    Hi, I'd like to share some thoughts on the questions that were left unheard in the webinar and I'll do it just in points - 1,2,3. I think that they are all very relevant and it would be great if we had the opportunity to discuss them in the session. So...

    1. What do we want to transform our society or ourselves into? I think that there are many ways on how to even approach answering this question, but I would start by saying that I doubt that we have to have a single answer to it. The single answer to what our society should look like has been at the core of all imperialistic/(neo)colonial exploits. It think that we have some common values that underpin all actions, but probably nothing more than that. Form should be as diverse as possible, so that we don't all suffer the blow when one mechanism isn't working right. I think we can compare this situation to a monoculture plantation vs. a forest. If we only grow bananas (of single origin) than a potential disaease can wipe them all out and we are left with a barren land. A banana disease in a forest will only affect bananas (and not even them to such a big extent probably), while everything else will continue to thrive. So, form should be diverse, but values such as justice, compassion, understanding, peace... can be to some extent common. However... we should engage in very deep conversations about how we understand each and everyone of them. We might be very much suprised at how differently they can be understood by different people.

    2. There is a danger of propogating the absolutism you criticize in rationalism, and replacing it with an absolutism in emotionalism / relativism. How do you propose these can be balanced – the need to work within ambiguity, and the need to take positions within ambiguity? 

    I'd absolutely agree. Balancing the pendulum by pushing it to another extreme is very very dangerous. I think that this is a point that will come up a lot and it is again a result of our socialization into wanting single answers. While it may be obvious that I am very much in favour of increased engagement with non-rational or non-discursive knowledge that does not mean that we should be unreasonable in doing that. Personally I would be terrified of any action that we may take that is made on purely emotional grounds. All totalitarian regims and cults of personality were/are built on this and some of the greatest horrors of the world were committed out of some perverted form of love (for God, for a leader etc.). Kurt Vonnegut wrote a plea once: Please, a little less love and a little more common decency! :) Also there is big difference between the emotional and the existential (or spiritual if you prefer) domain. There is a danger in conflating the two, some authors (like Wilber) would differentiate between the pre- and the trans- rational, which I think is a useful distinction. I this context I would argue that we need to move beyond Cartesian rationality (I think therefore I am) because of its totalizing nature (Martin spoke about us drinking a bit too much of Enlightment Kool-Aid) to include also other notions of existence (perhaps begining by playing with a mirror version: I am therefore I think). But reason is not without function, it is also a safeguard that protects us from doing dangerous things. It is however occasionally (or quite often) an obstacle for us to learn and experience more profound things, because it tells us about what is and what is not possible. However, if we try to forcefully suppress it, it will only come back in its more violent form. I would argue that we should look for more plural notions of rationality, rather than an annihilation of rationality. Slow the pendulum down and make it spin in different directions and new patterns, rather than push it to the other extreme. However this is much easier said that done. And the path is not without pain it seems.

    3. Human frailty turns spirituality into religion, which goes on to achieve the opposite of its intentions 

    This point sounds like a very important warning and I think that Einstein said something similar: "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." And in our understanding of the world science is probably the most powerful religion of all. It certainly is able to provide us with the most tangible miracles. However what we understand by religion has many faces and while I would agree that some of the more widespread (and certainly monotheistic) religions have managed to achieve a formidable suppression of human spirit you can always find in any of them the mystical traditions which emphasise the directly and personally experienced connection between us and the divine over any cannonized interpretion of that force (God, Alah, Brahma, Great Spirit etc.) wants us to do. If I may borrow from an unknown author: God created Man in his image. But Man certainly returned the favour. :) Religions and other systems of beliefs are like maps that help us orientate. But we would do ourselves a great misfavour by again mistaking the map for the territory. The territory can be experienced I guess, but not narrated. Not really.

  • Maarten Coertjens 1122 days ago

    Another case against focussing on personal change in Orion magazing:

    http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4801/