This is part 6 of 6 in a series of posts about the Five Principles and Supporting Practices of Conscious Social Change.
Principle FIVE: Leveraging Inner Purpose to Create Social Innovation
Have you ever been asked what you really wish you could be doing? How many of us can say “I’m doing it!” The final key principle in initiating conscious social change is to listen for an individual calling and then explore how to leverage it to create social innovation. Bringing this same presence to our social justice work allows for radical creativity. Clarity among conscious change agents allows for personal agenda to make room for the best ideas to move forward. As an inherently interconnected and systemic approach, conscious social change invites collaboration with both the target population and the perpetrators. Finally, it ensures those working together are inspired by a common cause, and it energizes collective efforts by honoring individual needs for renewal.
Supporting Practice FIVE: Leveraging Gifts and Assets
I’ve actually posted this exercise as a downloadable workshop on this website under resources for Change Agents. The exercise is a simple method to engage teams in reenergizing the creative-problem solving process. Groups can work collectively to assess the specific gifts, capabilities, passions and assets the individual participants and larger community possess. It can be used with youth, educators, organization staff, community activists, and change agents. The first objective is to help participants see what tools they have to use in solutions-building by tapping into individual capabilities and passions. The second objective is to release the creative ideas of the collective body. By coming from a place of inner strength, the participants will be more likely to generate solutions that they will find inspiring and meaningful to pursue. Having understood the gifts, capabilities and assets they bring to a solution, they then will be more likely to design solutions which will be sustainable long-term and which maximize social value creation.
Even without a structured exercise, you can take a moment to close your eyes and sit in silence. As your mind quiets, then ask yourself a few of these questions and see what arises:
- What do I really want to be doing with my life one day?
- What am I seeking that I don’t have in my life right now?
- What do I feel most passionate about?
- What do I feel called to do right now?
- What are my unique gifts?
- What issue, activity, industry, type of work really moves me?
- When do I feel most satisfied?
I do believe that we each have a gift or gifts that we can choose to cultivate and make use of in contributing to the common good. When we do, in some way, we know we’re on the right path. We feel more alive, we experience more joy and meaning, some people even reach those “flow” states. Ultimately, we find out that we have everything we need to take each step forward.
But one of my teachers once shared a powerful teaching, that is worth keeping in mind: You must practice deep listening to hear how you are called in every moment. Because the calling could change. It’s not about finding our single purpose on the planet. It’s about listening to what feels like the highest truth or action (or non-action) in every moment.
If you are committed to creating change in the world, leverage this passion or gift to bring innovation, energy and creativity towards solving the issue you feel most passionate about. I’ve met a number of people who have done this when they were horrified to learn about the Darfur genocide taking place. Leslie Thomas, an architect and designer, saw a photo of a toddler who had been shot in Darfur. Having a child the same age, inspired her to take action. She used her design talent and network to develop the Darfur|Darfur Exhibit, a digital photography exhibit about Darfur which has since traveled globally to raise awareness by projecting images on the sides of buildings. Rebecca Davis, ballet dancer, choreographer and founder of the Rebecca Davis Dance Company, read The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur. She felt compelled to produce a ballet called Darfur, which offers a haunting and potent perspective on the crisis, and which is now touring college campuses. A group of university students who loved video games designed Darfur is Dying, in collaboration with mtvU,which allows people to experience what it is like to be a Darfuri woman trying to escape from Janajweed militia members. The possibilities are endless, when individuals combine deep personal transformation work, the cultivation of a gift or passion and societal transformation efforts.
Those of us who are called to advance a more just society, also have a responsibility to create change while embodying the same principles of integrity and justice we hope to see in the world. Conscious social change invites us to cultivate self-awareness for greater understanding of and compassion for suffering – even among our opposition. It asks us work on the unexamined parts of ourselves that cause us to act unconsciously to avoid or end our discomfort. It necessitates that we engage in self-care to protect ourselves from fatigue and disillusionment. It reminds us to use deep practice to stay attuned to the needs of those we serve before our own agendas. It allows us to transform oppressive structures by examining the underlying collective shadows. Finally, it opens us to our unique calling, and inspires innovation through an ever-deepening awareness. Thích Nhât Hanh, Buddhist monk and activist said, “Non-violent action, born of the awareness of suffering and nurtured by love, is the most effective way to confront adversity.”Consciousness-based approaches to social change, learned through direct experience, enable change agents to advance social justice more effectively, creatively and transformationally.