This week’s question “how do we act as catalysts of change within our present circumstances?” is one I think about everyday. I am constantly attempting to be an effective catalyst of change, and have had some successes and many failures.
- As a customer I worked with Whole Foods to remove paper products from their shelves that were made using virgin pulp from clear-cut, old-growth boreal forests.
- As an employee I created a sustainability initiative within the company.
- As a social worker I implemented a restorative justice program for homeless and at-risk youth.
- As a citizen, I vote, regularly contact my representatives, and push passionately for things I believe. I also speak out against things I believe are not in the best interest of people, animals, or the planet.
- As a teacher I demonstrate loving kindness towards my students and colleagues. I examine topics with passion, depth, and perseverance, helping my students to do the same.
My point is that no matter where you are you are a part of a system. This is a favorite saying of ecologists and it is absolutely true.
You are always able to leverage change. It should begin authentically following Gandhi’s creed, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Inform yourself about issues you care about and act responsibly based on what you learn. Keep learning and keep refining your actions.
Inevitably, you will reach the point where you know you can’t do this on your own, and that is true. The point is never expect others to do what you don’t do. Talk in the famous, “I” language that we tell kids to use. Tell people what you are doing, but be a pompous hot air blower.
“I learned that there are 49,000 gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico every day as a result of the oil rig explosion, I can’t believe that. I am going to learn about ways I can authentically reduce my consumption of oil so that we don’t need oil rigs anymore.”
“I can’t stand the thought of animals being tortured so that I can eat, so I learned more about nutrition and how to eat an animal product free diet.”
Once you have this down, here’s what I have learned works:
- Talk. Talk to people about the things you are passionate about. Don’t sit silent. Don’t let conversations about “American Idol” rule the break room. Don’t get on a soapbox, just open your mouth and speak like a human being who is thinking about things deeply.
- Let other people see what you are doing to make change. Talk about bike commuting or your awesome new classroom practice. Share the joy you feel, make sure you let other people know you are not special per se, and anyone can make changes.
- Ask people questions about what they are passionate about, what they value, and what they want their life to mean.
- Find connections between passions, values, and missions to work towards common goals.
Approach others as if they are going to help you solve a problem, don’t take an adversarial approach until the other person has proven to you that’s what they are–opposed to change. Otherwise, expect everyone you talk to, to be a potential ally in making change.
Don’t make assumptions of values, allow others to articulate their values themselves. In fact, do this early on, because working from this level of understanding helps to push through misunderstandings and more difficult times. You can also use it later as a tool to push for change, like I did with Whole Foods. They published their missions and values and kept putting it their face (politely) how they weren’t living up to them. If you can join with others through common values and mission, you will more effective and give your efforts the duration they will need. Get the largest common vision you can such as The Earth Charter.
More points that work:
- Be informed. Being educated has great value (imagine that educators!). Talk intelligently about issues. Be firm but not hard-headed.
- Keep talking, find little victories that you can quickly gain. Celebrate these moments.
- Be persistent. Just enough of a pain in the neck that you don’t allow the issues to fade from view, just enough so that the pressure is always there to change. But not so much that people shut you out because they are tired of hearing you.
- Be compassionate. Life is multi-dimensional. We all deal with many layers of stress and responsibilities each day. You never know who may be dealing with a terminal illness, or going through a divorce, or…
- Learn how to be an effective citizen activist. Learn how bills are passed, what bills are in session, how to get bills introduced, how to contact your representatives, and how best to be heard by them. I have my representatives and senators numbers (Local and D.C.) stored in my phone. I call regularly. Use the system, don’t let it use you!
In the end, it comes down to enacting traits of being a growing human being–compassion, reflection, and timely action. Find allies who are committed to growth and development of a sane and beautiful culture. Share tough conversations as well as big laughs with one another. Engage in activities that truly feed your soul, breathe deep and dream big.
Oh and if you try something and it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that you failed does it? (Wink, wink, Chad)