When we have the time to reflect on our lives, we can make a choice. We’ve explored a lot of tactics and ideas in the Buzz Tour, and for New Year I’d like to bring them together to look at an overview.
It could be that you’re seeking inspiration on what work to give your purpose to, or it could be that your work has begun to take, rather than give, you energy. A change is as good as a rest, so I hope this summary is a useful tool for your reflections.
I use three categories when thinking about change work: System Change, Inner Change and Protection & Restoration. They overlap and we need all three types of work. Different people and at different times in their life will act through different methods. System Change involves changing the system and the choices we live within, Inner Change is about changing the way that we and others think and feel, Protection and Restoration is drawing a line to protect earth’s remaining resources and bringing them back. These categories are similar to Joanna Macey’s three dimensions of the Great Turning.
A great deal of the environmental work that we are familiar with would come under Protect and Restore – traditional environmental ‘conservation’ as well as protest/protection for specific places. With the devastating collapse in biodiversity and life around the planet it is essential that life be protected if we are to have anything left by the time we succeed in changing our culture’s direction. However, Protection and Restoration work only slows the erosion of the planet – there are too few of us to defend everything, all the time.
Inner Change would include facing and processing our thoughts and emotions so that we can work more effectively and make better choices in our lives. We could change a system to one less harmful, but if we do not change ourselves, we will eventually change it back and repeat our mistakes. Joanna Macy’s Active Hope or the courses at Embercombe are work of this kind – to assist people to change themselves. If a group of people experience an inner change leading to shared behavioural change, we effectively see a cultural change in that group. However, Inner change is usually slow. We can not expect the majority of people on the planet to have a change of heart in time to save us.
System Change work is harder to pin down. Most of what we do in our lives is predetermined by the system of choices we are presented with. The emotionally connected planning officer who agrees with the protectors and doesn’t want to see a ‘development’ will still approve it, if that is what the remit of her job and rules dictate. So what does it take to change a system?
The power to change a system is dispersed amongst different roles and people who make up the system. Usually each member of the system believes the power to change it sits with someone else. Believing you have power, and using it, is the first step.
Let’s say that our planning officer speaks up to other officers around the country and they agree the planning system is wrong. They coordinate and within their councils, internally call for the system to change…but nothing happens. Then they publicly call for it to be changed…and are disciplined, bringing members of the public onto their side and involving trade unions. Then they publicly resign in protest, leaving councils in turmoil, making news and leading to sympathy strikes. The escalating public pressure leads to a change in development legislation.
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will…If there is no struggle there is no progress… I am aware that the insurrectionary movements of the slaves were held by many to be prejudicial to their cause. This is said now of such movements at the South. The answer is that abolition followed close on the heels of insurrection in the West Indies, and Virginia was never nearer emancipation than when General Turner kindled the fires of insurrection at Southampton.
Frederick Douglass from his “West India Emancipation” speech, 1857.
We all believe we are powerless on certain issues we care about. But it is a lie. However much others may use the threat of power to contain us we always have some measure of choice and power. How can you use your power with others to change our future?
MPs may believe they are powerless to change the law without large public pressure against the pressure from developers. In the story of our planning officer, she doesn’t make law yet she takes the power to change it. If we want to change a system, we must believe that we can. If we want change, we must reclaim and use our power to get it. Standing together, we must step out of silent acceptance and into the future that we create.
I wish us all a happy new leaf.