Social change by changing socially

Does social change, require changing socially?

Every thought-provoking tweet, crowdfunded project or inspiring social impact conference brings new ideas to our attention and catalyses interesting conversations. But have you ever wondered whether and how effectively sharing inspirational ideas and asking big questions really affect change in our social context?

During a recent conversation with a friend, we both made a recurring distinction: the response an ‘individual doing social change’ vs the response of ‘being the change in a social context’.

This post is dedicated to a few examples from that conversation. We’re curious to hear if the distinction we are making, the different way we were paying attention is noticeable and share with others?

So, here’s where it started. We committed to a few hours together on a Sunday morning, sharing some contemplations and challenges emerging from our respective practise areas. This was the sort of conversation that often starts in mutual appreciation, progresses through frank feedback and ends with agreement on a few ideas about how can improve ourselves be happier and (the theory goes) be more available and effective in contributing to positive social change. This sort of conversation could have affirmed our current self-identities as good individuals, selfless social entrepreneurs or martyrs leading social innovation.

But we took a different perspective and had a different conversation. We related to each other and the topic differently. Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate is through embodiment: Imagine that rather than facing into each other, probing and appreciating each others position and understanding the challenges we were each facing in our difficult positions, we turned shoulder to shoulder facing the vast open horizon. Instead of a Q&A across the table, we shared what we were noticing in the landscapes we’re encountering. Our different perspectives and situations are not what makes US meaningful and stand out in contrast to our surroundings, our difference is simply useful to have another perspective to help make different meaning from the context we share.

Here are a few more examples of what this shift in attention towards “changing socially” meant in that conversation.

We value our physical and mental health, and it’s challenging to make choices that create the conditions enabling of our present personal health at the same time as enabling future health of our communities. Instead of starting with concern about our self-image, our latest yoga routine and details of our diet, we spoke about:

  • If and how our health practises create the foudnations for good work,
  • How our learning through physical movement enables learning about how we and others learn that makes it relevant across multiple contexts, and
  • How what are considered appropriate types, timing and investments in health practices evolve and change depending on our context and purpose.

So a conversation that could have been judgemental comparison of poses and morning routines, instead generated new understandings about self-others-venture-community-humanity health alignment intended to serve service of a much wider audience.

We’ve spent years investing voluntarily in social ventures, and were discussing weekly incomes and long-term trends in our bank balances. Considering the trends in both were a little negative, we could have only focused on strategies to earn more through independent consulting, leveraging personal brands more strategically, or being more autocratic and decisive to get larger, quicker financial returns on investments.

Instead, most of our attention was how to effectively involving all the others already invested in the evolution of our business models. How to sustain people, grow the ventures and increase our social impact is not our personal issue alone. The financial un-sustainability of enabling certain types of social change is not a challenge unique to our ventures. In both cases these are systemic questions and dilemmas shared with many others. While the appropriate ‘answer’ or resolution may for each innovator, venture and sector, the quickest and most effective way forward on any of them is to share those questions, get alternative perspectives and models, so we learn quicker, collectively.

We love these types of boundary-spanning meaningful conversations, and are happy to spend hours in contemplation. And, instead of ending with a hug, farewell, mention of what we learned and share vague but sincere commitments (to do lists, for later), we shifted our attention to how we could relate and act differently, together, presently and in a way that may directly contribute to humanity.

As we opened: Every thought-provoking tweet, crowdfunded project or inspiring social impact conference generates so many incredible conversations and ideas, but what percentage of those result in in real change that leads to a social contribution? 

In this instance, considering the immediate social contributive value of our hours spent with each other meant being specific about the artefacts we could produce – like this blog post – and metrics: What change could be evidence that this conversation had really made a difference?

This could have been a conversation that was personally meaningful for us as individuals, and practically useful for our doing of social change. We could have stayed committed gazing at our navels, or at each others, focusing on personal challenges we had to overcome before we could really commit to doing social change. Instead we were changed socially, noticing: the context we were co-creating, the billions of others who share this vessel containing ‘humanity’ and ‘culture’, the open horizon that beckons and draws our gaze outwards, and the immediate opportunity to contribute usefully to the navigation as we move forward.

We experienced changing socially, is being all-together, more appropriate, practical, ethical, immediate and elegant.

We’re curious to know if you recognise or resonate with this experience?

Your comments and contributions are appreciated.

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