The first lesson for those who want to change the world is to realise the paradox that we can’t change the world. So, do we just give up? No, it’s all to do with ends and means.
We can’t change the world if our intention is to change others, to change the way in which others think or to change what others believe.
Years ago, soon after I had begun working in the fields of community development and social justice I found myself participating in various campaign meetings or networking forums. What I heard often disturbed me. There were instances of personal attacks and people telling others what they should do or what they should think. I began to wonder why it was that this group of people who all espoused a better, more peaceful and just society could not behave well with one another.
It was only years later that I began to understand how to answer that question for myself. Many of us seeking a better world are looking forward to that better world being in the future. Therein lies our second mistake. The better world will be if we allow it to be right here and now. That means that we must act as if we already live in the better world of our dreams.
Before I am misunderstood to be recommending the “you can’t change anything unless you first change yourself” let me assert that that is not what I am suggesting.
The “change yourself first” notion is the third mistake. The mistake is to assume that we are all individual and disconnected selves. We are inter-connected beings. Thich Nhat Hahn calls us inter-beings. Thus, we must find ways to act now both as individuals and as connected beings. That should be our quest. For, until we are able to do that we will not be able to change ourselves, and we certainly will not be able to change the world – not in the future, nor in the now.
The fourth mistake and lesson that we need to learn is that we cannot convince, coerce, force or bully someone else or some other community into adopting our beliefs, ideas, or ways of behaving. Indeed, attempting to do so may stimulate the opposite reaction.
Saying and Doing
What we say and what we do can also send mixed messages and it is our behaviour that often gets the attention of others. A recent study from Harvard University found that almost 80% of middle and high school students ranked achievement and the pursuit of individual happiness above that of caring for others. Ninety-six percent of their parents however said that they wanted to raise ethical, caring children. What was going on? The parents were acting in ways that suggested that achievement was the greater value, even though they told their children that compassion was important.
We can behave in such a way that the other may come to accept that our way may be better for the world. Equally, we may come to realise that the other person or community may be behaving in a way more conducive of a better world.
So, what am I advocating?
- Inviting others into dialogue and joining in dialogues with others,
- Acting in compassionate ways when we witness injustice, to both the victim and the perpetrator,
- Discovering the true meaning of forgiveness,
- Practicing empathy,
- Making our speech and our behaviour congruent,
- Being open and honest in our relationships
- Having the courage to change our minds and ways of thinking,
- Accepting that everyone brings an unique perspective and that no-one of us has all the answers,
- Sharing our skills, knowledge and resources,
- Promoting inclusive and open decision-making processes,
- Encouraging others in their quest for honest empowerment,
- Continue to be curious and open to making mistakes.