Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Social Change: My View

My blog contains the title 'Social Alchemy' as a metaphor for transformation and social change. (See my post on Bodhisattva Revolutionaries and Social Alchemists, 6/22/08, for more on this.) If you've started reading this blog recently, you can be forgiven for wondering what I mean by social change. This year, just in the posts labeled 'Social Change', I've written about listening to people, having empathy for conservatives, gardening, healing, personal growth, spirituality, prisoner's dilemma, values, weatherization barnraisings, and complexity theory--and some things that are just hard to categorize. So what does this all have to do with social change?

Long term readers, please forgive me. (Or maybe you'll appreciate the recap.) Here is a lot of what I think about social change with references to some posts that say more.

My view of social change is based on two things: change needs to happen from the bottom up, not the top down, and the three things you need to create social change are analysis, vision, and strategy.

Top down social change has been tried--again and again. It results in dictatorships and doesn't accomplish the type of change I am advocating, that is '...a world that works for everyone.' Systems theory and complexity theory support this. (See my posts on Systems, 12/14/09, Original Virtue, 9/14/08, Catalysts and Network Weavers, 8/31/08, Clustering and Coping, 8/13/08, and Complexity Theory, 7/16/08.)

I talk about analysis, vision, and strategy in my very early post on Creating Social Change. (7/2/08) Basically I think that there is a lot of good analysis around (the bulk of which supports the idea that things are a mess) and a lot of pretty good visions. (Among other things, you can check out my two posts on utopian fiction, 7/12/08 and 7/14/08.) The problem area is in strategy--how do we get from here to there?

In my post on Creating Social Change I mention the slogan, "Agitate, educate, organize." I pointed out that while the left has been pretty good at agitating (and lately the right--in groups such as the Tea Party--has been picking up on its tactics), we have not been very good at educating or organizing.

If top-down change doesn't work, tearing down the system and expecting that something better will spontaneously emerge works even less well. (Just as some socialists still think we can create positive change if the right people got in power, some anarchist still believe that if we just 'smashed the state', a better society would appear.) I sometimes think of Alexander Berkman who thought that shooting corporate heavy, Henry Clay Frick, would inspire the workers to revolt. What actually happened was the workers beat Berkman senseless. (See my post on Robber Barons and the Gilded Age--1/29/09--for that story.) I believe that if alternative structures aren't in place, whether we tear down the system or it collapses on its own (see my posts on Peak Oil, 7/18/08, and Peak Everything, 7/20/08, for more on this possibility), people will try to replicate what they know, what we are conditioned to believe, and we will end up with more of the same, if not worse. (I like this quote from Audre Lorde: "For we have, built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures.")

Therefore, I think the most important work in social change is to organize and create alternatives and to educate people about them.

When I learned about Joanna Macy's vision of The Great Turning (11/15/09), I was interested in her 'Three Dimensions' of social change: Actions to slow the damage to the Earth and its beings, Analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives, and Shift in Consciousness. I immediately related these to agitating, organizing, and educating.

I do think that 'holding actions' (agitating, trying to slow the damage) are important and I want to support anyone doing them. But they are just not enough. We need to create and organize structural alternatives, and educate people, in order to create a shift in consciousness. We need to have structures in place (as well as a good deal of education done) before things really fall apart, if we want to have any hope of positive social change.

I've written in detail on my vision of the world I want to see and how I think we can get there. (See my posts from 9/22/08 to 12/19/08, also collected in my zine, Bodhisattva Revolutionaries and Social Alchemists, Volume Two, 'What I Believe'. Volume One, 'Some Theory' contains the early posts that talk about what I've learned about social change, complexity theory, peak oil, etc.) In addition, I have written a long sequence of posts (5/4/09 to 9/19/09) on what I think our real needs are and how to meet them. (I hope someday to collect these in a zine as well, if I ever get the time.) I think that meeting our real needs is social change, it is creating a world that works for everyone.

I've mentioned wanting to write a whole series on education, on what might accomplish a shift in consciousness, but I may never get to it--especially as I am getting busier helping to create alternatives. It's not my strong point anyway--my hope is that someone else, someone who knows more about this stuff, will write it. Or maybe they already have. I will certainly link to it if and when I find it. In the meanwhile, this blog is my own attempt to do a little education.

So I write about gardening, feeding people, energy-efficient housing, personal growth and spirituality, complexity and systems theory, community, simple living and sustainability, and anything else I am inspired to write, in the hopes that some of this will be useful as we slowly build the framework of a different way of being.

Quote of the Day: "...structural alternatives cannot take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them. They must mirror what we want and how we relate to Earth and each other. ...
"The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift are accelerating, and they take many forms. They arise as grief for our world, giving the lie to old paradigm notions of rugged individualism, the essential separateness of the self. ... And they arise in the resurgence of wisdom traditions, reminding us again that our world is a sacred whole, worthy of adoration and service." - Joanna Macy

Saturday, June 26, 2010


This is the third in a series of occasional posts based on Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I've written about his first 'Habit' in my post on Deciding (2/19/10). I tackled his second 'Habit' in a post called Goals (5/4/10). One of the first things Stephen Covey makes clear is that his third Habit comes directly as a result of the first two.

First, you have to decide that you are going to be the person you want to be. Then, you have to decide what your goals, your personal mission, your vision, is. Once you have done those two things, then, if you really want to achieve your goals, you need to prioritize.

My friend Susan should be famous for this quote: "Sometimes what you decide not to do is as important as what you decide to do." I've often said that people can do anything (almost) that they want; they just can't do everything that they want.

Steven Covey entitles this Habit as "Put First Things First". (And, in fact, he has co-authored another book entitled, First Things First.) This means deciding what you are going to do and what you're not going to do. It means establishing priorities and keeping them in mind as you go through your day.

He claims that most activities are defined by whether they are urgent and whether they are important. Obviously, the things that are both urgent and important get our attention first, as well they should. But Covey points out that things that are urgent but not important also easily claim our attention. And sometimes, when we are overwhelmed or burnedout, we escape into activities that are neither urgent or important. What gets neglected are the things that are important but not urgent.

When we prioritize, we focus on what is important to us--urgent or not. Covey makes it clear that when we take care of the stuff that is important but not urgent, we can cut down on the amount of urgent and important things, mostly because we dealt with them before they became urgent. He also urges that we cut the things that aren't important out of our life--urgent or not.

How do we know what is important? It's back to Habit 2--is this something that will move us toward our goals?

A lot of this chapter is about organizers and Covey's version of important and urgent as 'Quadrants' but I think what is important here is to find a way to focus your life, to establish and follow through on your priorities. He suggests weekly planning. I now start each week with a to-do list based on my roles in life (which are defined by goals) with columns for daily activities, things for the week, and long-term--but you'll need to find something that will work for you. The hard part, and the most important part, is to really focus on what is important to you and to priorize that and let go of most of the rest.

Quote of the Day: "Returning once more to the computer metaphor, if Habit 1 says 'You're the programmer' and Habit 2 says 'Write the program,' then Habit 3 says 'Run the program,' 'Live the program.' And living it is primarily a function of ... our self-discipline, our integrity, and our committment--not to short-term goals and schedules or to the impulse of the moment, but to ... our own deepest values, which give meaning and context to our goals, our schedules, and our lives." - Stephen Covey

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer—and Two Years

It's the summer solstice, and it's hot! This has been fairly warm year so far, and summer is just starting. It's enough to make you believe in global warming.

Two years ago on the solstice, I started this blog. It's been a busy couple of years.

And my life is getting busier. I notice that I don't post that often on my blog any more. It's not that I don't have anything to say--I've got a growing list of things that I want to blog on. And I still have one more zine (using the posts I wrote on our real needs) that I would like to publish.

But I am busy doing things, connecting with friends, building raised bed gardens, helping weatherize buildings, serving food, doing stuff at and for the co-op I live in, etc, etc--not to mention that it's been busy at work as well.

I do have some posts I hope to write soon, but we will see how busy my life remains.

I also have one exciting adventure later this summer. I have plans to attend the Radical Urban Sustainability Training (RUST) in Albany, NY, at the beginning of July. This is being run by the folks who wrote the book Toolbox for Sustainable City Living and helped found the Rhizome Collective. (I mentioned the book in my post of 10/18/08 on Sustainable Resources.) I'm very excited about this and will have to blog about it when I get back.

If I have time...

Quote of the Day: "This is the time of the rose, blossom and thorn, fragrance and blood. Now on this longest day, light triumphs, and yet begins the decline into dark. ...we have planted the seeds of our own changes, and to grow we must accept even the passing of the sun." - Starhawk

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Do Something

I read something on a blog a while ago that quoted Larry Santoyo, a permaculture teacher, as finishing his classes by saying: "Blame no one, expect nothing, and do something." Turns out that this may have been a quote from Bill Parcells when he was with the New York Giants. (I've also seen it attributed to other people.)

Regardless of the source, I think that it's good advice. I've been playing around with it a bit and now have my own version that reverses the order and adds some stuff:

  • Do something
  • Expect nothing
  • Blame no one
  • Love everyone
  • Do something more
  • and be patient and forgiving with everyone--including yourself

I've put it on my door. It's a reminder to me of how I want to live.

Quote of the Day: "Therefore the sages
act without doing anything;
teach without saying anything.
All things unfold without control
and emerge without possession.
The wise act but don't expect.
When their work is done, they forget it,
but it never goes away." - Lao Tzu

Monday, June 7, 2010

Listening to Each Other

Sometimes I think that the most radical, the most revolutionary thing that we can do, is to listen to people. We are at a point where people are being bombarded with folks telling them what they should think, what they should believe, and what they should do. If I go to people and tell them that they should be living simply and sustainably, I am just one more competing voice.

How much more radical it is to go to people and ask them what they think. And then listen to them.

I wrote in my last post about the need for compassion, even for conservative people. I also wrote about the need to understand them. But we need to try to understand everyone. I'm sure that I will write in a future post about Stephen Covey's 'Habit' "Seek First to Understand", but the principle is clear.

Margaret Wheatley, in her book turning to one another (which I also intend to write a post on at some point), lays out her principles of conversation--which I think are good points to remember as we listen to people:

  • we acknowledge each other as equals
  • we try to stay curious about each other
  • we recognize that we need each other's help to become better listeners
  • we slow down so we have time to think and reflect
  • we remember that conversation is the natural way that humans think together
  • we expect it to be messy at times

These are great principles to have both people in a conversation adopt, but even if the other person isn't ready or able to do this, I think that one person willing to listen and adopt these principles, will move change forward. It's worth trying anyway.

I believe that each person has worth--and so it is worth listening to each person. And I believe that sometimes someone may change, just because they were listened to.

Often, being listened to allows a person to think for themselves--thinking that they may not have been able to do when everyone is telling them what to think. Being supported in thinking things through may result in deeper and more profound changes than would happen if they simply changed as a result of you telling them to. And, who knows, the result may be a better one (for that person at least) than what you might tell them to do.

And, above all, even if they don't change, you will learn something. And that may help you change.

This means having faith in people. It means believing in people. And, above all, it means listening to people.

Imagine a world where we really listened to each other.

Quote of the Day: "When I'm in conversation, I try to maintain curiousity by reminding myself that everyone here has something to teach me. When they're saying things that I disagree with, or have never thought about, or that I consider foolish or wrong, I silently remind myself that they have something to teach me. Somehow this little reminder helps me to be more attentive and less judgemental. It helps me stay open to people, rather than shut them out." - Margaret Wheatley