All around us we see many approaches to social change and transformation, including
- political advocacy – letter, phone and petition campaigns, demonstrations, political art and music, etc.;
- spiritual practices like meditation and prayer;
- charity and service to help the needy;
- community building, community organizing, and bridge-building among different groups;
- convening and hosting public conversations about public issues and concerns;
- alternative lifestyles practicing environmentally and socially responsible consumption, investment, and behavior;
- developing physical, digital, and social technologies that create opportunities for more effective responsible behavior;
- violent or nonviolent direct action to block imminent destruction or harm;
- financing change – strategic philanthropy and social entrepreneurship and venture capitalism;
- attacks on oppressive forces – using violence, laws, exposés, public relations, humor, or anything else that might work;
- doing and promoting research, education, training, journalism and other public awareness approaches to issues and action;
- promoting caring, kindness, forgiveness, and peaceful conflict resolution;
- creating more just and sustainable intentional communities and local institutions;
- working within existing systems to make them more socially and environmentally responsible;
- changing paradigms and promoting new cultural stories about who we are, about how the world works, about what is possible;
- challenging and unlearning the psychological and social patterns of oppression and developing respect for ourselves and others;
- reconnecting to nature at spiritual, psychological, physical, practical, scientific and aesthetic levels…
There are, of course, many more approaches to social betterment, and many different ways to articulate a full range of approaches. I hope the diversity of this particular list will at least hint at the scope of activities I’m exploring here.
I have for many years felt that all such diverse approaches fit together in ways most of us don’t fully appreciate, focussed as we each tend to be on one or a few of them. In fact we – and I definitely include myself in this – often see other approaches as inadequate or counterproductive, given our own strategic, tactical and visionary sensibilities. Someday I hope to participate in a project to map out all the connections and potential synergies among change strategies, perhaps in the form of a pattern language (an articulation of interrelated design elements that add up to a healthy whole).
All this came to mind again this morning as I read the article below. I tend to believe in the power of meditation to transform individual consciousness, to be agnostic about its ability to directly transform collective consciousness, and to be dubious about its power to transform social systems unless its practitioners also have well-informed analytic understanding of those systems. But I have to admit to being impressed by the power of love and consciousness embodied by certain remarkable people whose spiritual potency animates and empowers their social betterment work. Pancho Ramos Stierle is clearly one of those unique beings.
The tension between my list above and Pancho’s story below got me thinking that while there may be good arguments for or against the effectiveness of certain approaches to change, there can also be exemplars of any given approach that are so remarkable that their unique potency lifts them above any generalized analyses we can offer. Their presence in the world draws our consciousness out of business as usual – including our analyses and our expectations – and opens up a renewed sense of human capacity and possibility that reverberates into everything else we do and think and feel. That’s the key phrase for me: “opens up.” What was limited becomes bigger and more spacious…
Once again I find myself face to face with what seems the closest I’ve come to an ultimate truth in this universe – something that’s true in every circumstance and which I think may be the most important thing to always remember:
. There’s more to it than that…
May the following story inspire you as it inspired me.
Blessings on the Journey.
by Nipun Mehta