Monday, April 19, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change

During the late sixties/early seventies, I was into social change, at least peripherally. Later in the seventies, I became involved in humanistic psychology and the 'Human Potential Movement'. When the eighties came, I saw this as a time with the potential to fuse the personal and the political, to combine individual and social change. (Yes, I was disappointed.) In the nineties I was an important part of three attempts at building community based on personal growth, social change, and spiritual diversity.

Why do I see personal growth and social change as connected? One reason is that I saw too many organizers from the sixties that hadn't dealt with their own stuff, who ended up alienating people rather than inspiring them. I still see that, unfortunately. On the other hand, there are also people who believe that you can only change yourself, or that you have to get yourself totally together (an impossible project) before attempting to change society.

For me, personal and social change are inter-connected. There were political groups that I found in the seventies and eighties that got that. Movement for a New Society, a political group that I became involved with during the early eighties, saw personal growth as a part of its social change strategy. (For example, in the book Resource Manual for a Living Revolution, by Virginia Coover, Ellen Deacon, Charles Esser, and Christopher Moore, the authors point out that "A successful program for change depends on the self-discipline of its members, including their courage, patience, persistence, and skill level. The loving support of others provides the environment in which growth on a personal level takes place, but each of us is ultimately responsible for how and in what areas that growth proceeds." But they also point out earlier in the book that social change doesn't happen directly through personal change, and cite Charles Reich's The Greening of America as an example of that fallacy.) Another group that saw the connection was the National Organization for an American Revolution, a multi-cultural group founded in the seventies by James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs. One of the many pamphlets published by the organization is entitled "Change Yourself to Change the World".

In many ways, personal and social change have to happen together. We try to do work on the world, and we run into our own short comings. But as we work on ourselves, we become more and more aware, and one of the things we become aware of is all the things that need to change in this society. So it becomes a back and forth process--we work on the world and the world works on us. We work on ourselves, to prepare for our next engagement with the world.

Right now, having come up against my stuff, I am doing a lot of work on myself (thus so many postings on personal growth). Most of this is because I am readying myself to do more work in the world. I realize that if I want to build community and support social change, I will be the instrument doing this work--and I want to try to be the best that I can. But I also realize that I will never be free from stuff, that I need to plunge back into the fray, as flawed and imperfect as I am. I am looking for others to work with, because I think that together we can increase our impact. But as I work with others, their stuff and my stuff often collides. What I am learning is that I can't do much about their stuff (other than encouraging them to work on it and supporting that work). But I can continue to work on my stuff and model the change that I want to see.

Quote of the Day: "Of course, even when you ... posit a fundamental separation between liberation of self and transformation of society, you can still feel a compassionate impulse to help its suffering beings. In that case you tend to view the personal and the political in a sequential fashion. 'I'll get enlightened first, and then I'll engage in social action.' Those who are not engaged in spiritual pursuits put it differently: 'I'll get my head straight first, I'll get psychoanalyzed, I'll overcome my inhibitions or neuroses or my hangups ... and then I'll wade into the fray.' Presupposing that world and self are essentially separate, they imagine they can heal one before healing the other. ...
"It is my experience that the world itself has a role to play in our liberation. Its very pressures, pains, and risks can wake us up--release us from the bonds of ego and guide us home to our vast, true nature. For some of us our love for the world is so passionate that we cannot ask it to wait until we are enlightened." - Joanna Macy


Turil said...

We each are at a different stage of work. The growth process moves our attention and awareness through ALL the combinations of focus. So what is right for you to focus on improving right now, is different from what was right for you to focus on decades ago, and what is right for others around you to focus on. Each kind of awareness allows us to contribute something positive and necessary to the whole process of global evolution.

MoonRaven said...

Good points--thank you!