This is a copy of a giveaway I’m offering to new subscribers in return for their email. It shows the crucial role of group practices in making a difference.
How can little’ ole you make a difference? You’re just an individual and there’s one big world out there. Can you really make a difference?
And, related, how can you make a difference in here?
I think the answer to both questions is a great big “Yes!” The purpose of this little-big paper is to have you see clearly that this might indeed be possible for you – and not in the future but now. Invest 10 minutes and see if it’s not true. If I’ve oversold, I’d really and truly like you to write to me and tell me why. The link’s at the end.
OK, here goes. It doesn’t matter what your personal goal is or even whether you know what it is. You could want to bust personal loneliness and isolation, to find meaning or be an artist, to teach what you’ve learned or be a better activist, to fight for a local issue, to take on a project like connecting seniors or millenials in your neighbourhood, be a vegan activist and end animal suffering . . .
If you’re reading this, there’s something you’d like to change, a difference you want to make. My experience in exploring value with many people, and I bet it’s been your experience too, is that people do have a deep sense of purpose, and they want to make a difference with it.
It’s a universal hunger and it’s good.
And satisfying that hunger is simple. But not at all easy. However it’s possible and possible for you. That’s what I’m setting out to make clearer, in a way you perhaps haven’t heard before, in the next few moments.
First I’ll show you what the model our society currently has for making change. Then I’ll point to why this model is no longer sufficient for the times we have.
And then I’ll share what better can look like.
And you can decide if it makes any sense for you.
The fatal flaw in the current model
There’s a fatal flaw in the current model of “how to make a difference,” and it comes from the past. It takes the form of an assumption that we all know must be true but have never examined as a society. It wasn’t the time yet but this is the time. The fatal flaw is an assumption that almost all talk of change in papers, books and philosophies are based on. See if you recognize it as I point to it.
The assumption is that making the correct analysis and acting on the basis of it do will bring about healthy change.
Let me say that again.
The assumption is that making the correct analysis and acting on the basis of it do will bring about healthy change.
In other words, if we only understand that problem out there, what its moving parts are, who did what to whom, then we’ll be well-enough informed to do something useful. The billions of words published daily to analyze the situation better are all are based on this assumption. The innumerable data bits that make up FaceBook commentary, numerous as sand on all the world’s beaches are based on this assumption too.
But the world remains the same, or perhaps sinks a little lower beneath the horizon of sense and hopefulness!
Analysis doesn’t make change. It’s interesting. It’s fascinating! But in and of itself it, essentially, never leads to transformation. Think of all the people we’ve changed because of our analytical arguments!
Some perceptive readers will be pointing out that what I’ve written so far is analysis. So it is, my friends, so it is!
The fact remains that analysis is not a sufficient change agent. Please stay with me as I hope to make this clear.
Analysis is interesting but it’s not transformative. And only transformation makes a difference.
You’re probably familiar with what Mr. Einstein said: You can’t solve a problem with the consciousness that made it? That’s what analysis is doing, trying to figure out a problem with the mind that created it.
And he’s right! We can’t solve the problem within the current set of assumptions. We can’t bust our own loneliness or isolation, can’t be effective activists (as I hope to show in a moment), can’t understand major or minor world events, can’t revitalize our neighborhood or town, can’t deeply collaborate with others who hold a different analysis.
There’s a new consciousness and a new assumption out there and it’s already alive and thriving. But our analytical fixation tends to miss it.
Here’s what analysis misses, and why it’s so important.
The data for my friend Heidi Hendersson’s Master’s thesis was derived from in-depth interviews with Swedish students who wanted to make a difference. They were planning for a career in sustainable living. These were bright young people, highly motivated and interested enough in the problems of sustainability that they were preparing to make it their career.
She interviewed them as to their feelings and attitudes and beliefs about the work they would do. But here’s the thing: When interviewed, not one of the students actually believed they could make a difference in bringing about a sustainable future.
Oops! Not a single one!
There was a profound disconnect between what they were working toward, and what they actually felt.
And they felt very badly about the disconnect. They felt a lack of alignment between their actual experience and what they imagined they should be experiencing. And they felt alone and something like shame. Many felt guilty as if it were their fault. They also imagined that they were the only ones who felt that way!
The students had analyzed the problem up, down and sideways but that didn’t make into people who felt they could make a difference.
What was missing?
The telling point was that their thoughts and feelings about the relevance of the analysis to their own life was completely missing: No one had ever asked them. And moreover, they had no context in which they could bring it up for discussion.
There was no place or time.
There was no invitation.
Thre was no social support.
We can summarize these by saying there was no context for change.
But isn’t that just exactly us as we look at the world out there? Isn’t that us as we’re reading the daily news if we still do? Or watching the telly if we still do? Or splashing about in the blogosphere or youtube?
What’s missing from the analysis, even if it’s “college level,” is us.
You, my friend, you.
You might be different, of course. I haven’t met you yet. But I haven’t met the exception yet.
What’s missing is us, our heart, our mind, our shoulder to the wheel. What’s missing are our feet going where only we can go.
Two realms of knowledge
I’ll use the students to illustrate my point, and focus on climate change rather than the whole of sustainability. Imagine two sets or realms of data the students were carrying (and by implication, that we’re all carrying). You and I carry them too because that’s what the culture offers us.
In one realm are the facts, everything we know about climate change: the extent of climate change, melting Arctic ice, international accords, the falling price of renewables, the math of CO2 emissions, extreme weather events, everything.
In the second set of data are everything about their personal experience of climate change: the adequacy of personal response, whether they were doing enough, whether they believed the government or felt demoralized by climate deniers. Also in this realm are the raw feelings themselves: despair, anger, fear, isolation, the need to hear from others, shame. Their personal story about all this.
Only one of these data sets was allowed in public discourse: the analysis. The entire personal context wasn’t welcome but the feelings associated with it didn’t go away. The students carried them privately and alone.
For most of us the two data sets have never been in the same “room” at the same time. The two sets of data have never talked to each other. Analysis thinks that the problem IS a problem of description. The feelings typically feel unheard and resentful. Two solitudes. Neither side moves; neither side can move. It’s hard for them to grow or change or evolve.
I’m speaking of climate change but is this two-realm experience different from whatever issues that touch you deeply, be they local or global?
Of course not!
And it’s not just the feelings of alienation and the low end of the emotional spectrum that’s impoverished and unheard. It’s the high end as well. Just like we can’t really surface and explore the more painful feelings without a social place to do it, we can’t collaborate richly or experience the higher register of our feelings – the joy, the celebration – all by ourselves either.
We can’t see the possibilities for making a difference.
We can’t feel the juice and excitement, the possibility the of change.
When we’re connected with others beyond analysis we’re at least potentially available to a set of positive feelings that include love, surrender, grief, harmony, gratitude, primal anger, courage. All of these and more are qualities of our connection to others.
When we’re disconnected and stuck in analysis alone, we’re likely to be feeling resistance, denial, anxiety, nervousness, depression, titillation, addictive craving. And we’re likely to be experiencing it on our own.
A great number of people in our society are running on those secondary feelings, running on the feelings that result from disconnection.
A rich connection that allows for personal experience and the second realm of knowledge will make a difference for you.
It means bringing in the part that analysis conveniently leaves out.
It means not only being isolated observers of the situation but also being directly and personally connected to it while in the company of others.
And if we really want to go deep for change, then the more painful voices inside us can be welcomed too. It’s the parts that we habitually exclude from inclusion that carry the most powerful medicine for us. (If you’re interested in this, my book Evolutionary YOU opens this area up wide.)
The “company of others” is a crucial component. On our own we’re much more susceptible to the pull of habit and the status quo, so as not to make ourselves socially unpopular. To go beyond the status quo, we need the company of others who are willing to risk it also.
Doing it on our own all the time can be played as independence but it’s most often a form of playing it safe. We don’t want to be excluded for our unorthodox thoughts and feelings. And deep down we are unorthodox. No one has ever seen the world as we do. Our contribution is unique and there is a difference in the world that only we can make.
We can – and many of us do – go our entire lives without being fully heard and seen or even feeling that that’s possible.
The social norm is more like walking alone in a dry desert with a stone in our shoe while being bombarded with messages that things are fine or at least that you can do nothing about it. We don’t even have a place to talk about this and after a while many of us learn to forget.
Everything shifts when lived experience and personal feelings are given the respect that they deserve, when they’re welcomed into the room just as they are. Not fake-words welcomed, either. Really welcomed.
Of course, none of us do this perfectly.
This happens best in small groups for that purpose. “The small group is the unit of transformation,” in the words of Peter Block. We can do much of this online too.
There is really nothing in the way of our accomplishing this, nothing but our willingness.
Collectively we know quite a bit about how to do create the conditions. I’m not going into them here but you can come explore for yourself.
(An important, even crucial distinction about what works and doesn’t. I’m speaking for a form of radical free speech in which how it really is, is welcome and explored. Feeling language can, and is, used in identity politics to censor groups and individuals we disagree with the right to speak. This is really a form of tyranny that insists that “we” have the right analysis, the truth, you don’t. This is the kind of crazy thinking that really listening to each other is good at breaking through.)
Yet for many of us this, a genuine free exploration that includes analysis and the personal dimension seems deeply unfamiliar, and even slightly suspicious.
That’s natural enough. Historically we all come from societies in which people’s lived experience of problems and issues was not allowed into the room. Ever. It was as true in ancient China as it was until yesterday in America: A received analysis was the accepted version of the truth.
But beyond analysis is the change we want. Beyond that is “collective intelligence” and conscious evolution. Beyond that is the difference we want to make for ourselves and for those we care about.
The bottom line
Here’s what I’ve observed to be true.
If you can find a safe-enough place to bring what’s hot and alive and true for you into an exploration with others, and start speaking about it and listening to others as you do, your life will change. Everything will change.
It’s really important to have that “safe-enough” space where people are committed to listening and respect. But when this is the case, both your personal “in here” problems and your “out there” problem start to shift. Imagine how it would have been for Heidli’s interviewees had they been able to be transparent with each other about the work they were undertaking. What new projects, friendships and alliances could have come? The inner and the outer are related, really part of the same thing. The notion that that the whole realm of what I carry personally about things isn’t welcome or wanted, is a description of the common problem we face.
It’s just what’s wanted.
Bringing ourselves forward in this way isn’t a quick way to make a difference. It’s not an easy way either. I don’t think these exist. It’s just that we’ve come down to the issue and been more real with ourselves and others about what’s really going on.
And, surprisingly, it turns out that that really does makes a difference.
——————————————————————————————————————–What to do next?
Strike while the iron is hot. Join an online exploration group and get started.
Take good care,