There’s a contradiction that I can’t figure out: More and more people seem to recognize that living the life that their society prescribes them, as well as endless consumption regardless of the consequences for nature isn’t exactly fulfilling, but destructive to the planet we live on. More and more people seem to discover their connection to what gives them joy, to nature, and to whatever gives their lives meaning.
On the other hand, the current global situation is pretty shitty and it seems the noose around our necks is slowly tightening on us: economic crisis, destruction of the environment, surveillance and loss of the right to privacy, hunger, poverty – we live in a self-destructive system.
The world is getting worse and worse. Or is it getting better and better?!
Given depressing media reports about all these problems and many more I have often gotten involved with charities and human rights organizations. These organizations have the habit of working with such shocking pictures and messages that (together with the daily media terror) I have often felt worn out, broken and sometimes even traumatized – which is why I tend to stay away from them nowadays.
That’s why I’ve been wondering for a long time:
How can you, as a single individual, change the world
if you don’t want to wear yourself out in activism against the worst flaws of the system and end up depressed and with your nerves at a breaking point?
if you want to dream up and implement new models of living, doing business, running an economy etc. that arise directly out of your values, passions and interests?
if you want to do it in a way that feels good and is fun?
How the world would be if I called the shots
I want people to live their lives with their whole being, to feel alive and to no longer (be forced to) split their time and their lives in two areas:
- what they need to do but do not really want to do (work perceived as meaningless or even unethical, social obligations, consumption as a substitute for true aliveness), and
- their leisure time.
I want the resources on earth to be distributed and used by means of efficient, sustainable technologies in order to make a good life in dignity possible for 100% of humanity, in the process not only not destroying nature, but restoring it.
Why can’t we simply live like this, but instead create a system that is leading us to global destruction?
To change a system most effectively and most profoundly, we have to focus on one leverage point: the world view, or paradigm from which a system arises, says Donella H. Meadows in her excellent article “Places to Intervene in a System”. (1)
„The shared idea in the minds of society, the great unstated assumptions, unstated because unnecessary to state; everyone knows them, constitute that society’s deepest set of beliefs about how the world works. There is a difference between nouns and verbs. People who are paid less are worth less. Growth is good. Nature is a stock of resources to be converted to human purposes. Evolution stopped with the emergence of Homo sapiens. One can “own” land. Those are just a few of the paradigmatic assumptions of our culture, all of which utterly dumbfound people of other cultures.
Paradigms are the sources of systems.“
„People who manage to intervene in systems at the level of paradigm hit a leverage point that totally transforms systems. (…) In a single individual [a paradigm change] can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click in the mind, a new way of seeing. Of course individuals and societies do resist challenges to their paradigm harder than they resist any other kind of change.“
So how do you change the basic world view from which a system, a society arises?
Generally speaking, it works like this:
„[Y]ou keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm, you come yourself, loudly, with assurance, from the new one, you insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You don’t waste time with reactionaries; rather you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.“
But first, an important question: What exactly is the paradigm that creates our society and the current world order?
The environmental activist and author Frances Moore-Lappé (2) says that we believe in the paradigm of the lack: “There is not enough of anything: not enough of the things that we need, and not enough goodness in us humans. Our true nature is that of selfish materialist competing for limited resources . We believe in a “lack of goods and goodness”. With this world view, it is understandable that many people feel powerless to change things and leave the responsibility for positive change in the world to the seemingly wiser and more powerful (politicians, managers, “the invisible hand of the market”).
Moore-Lappé says this, knowing that there are actually enough resources to feed and take care of everyone. Still, I realize that me and other people live according to this paradigm. As an experiment, I tried to imagine that I have enough of everything: enough money, time, love, freedom, friendship, good food, options etc. I felt as if my head was about to explode. Which is probably a sign that I had reached the limits of a mental filter that dominates my thoughts and feelings:
According to Moore-Lappé, we always see our world through a particular filter that determines what we perceive and what we don’t, for example in terms of what people are like and what is possible for us. However, the filter which prevails in the majority of people’s heads is killing us, as we can see by the state of the world .
What are tangible ways for us as individuals to overcome this world view and to take courage to act according to what we really think and feel?
Frances Moore-Lappé says:
1) The first step towards change is to see how much this life-destroying message of lack is drummed into us by our socialization, advertising, etc.
2) Our conception of power must change. Power is not a thing we have or don’t have – power is always connected with relationships: Everything I do affects you. So each person has power that they can wield. (I think this applies to relationships of any kind, also to indirect relationships we have to the people who grow our food and make our clothes).
An example: I became aware that I could do something about environmental destruction and climate change even within my currently limited finances, apart from separating waste and other small things like that: As a consumer I have the power to choose who provides me with electricity, so I changed my provider from a regular one to one of electricity from 100% renewable sources. I’m even saving money!
3) Courage: We have to realize that evolution wired us to respond to anxiety with fight or flight, and to greatly fear being excluded from our group when we do something they object to. This fear always comes up when we criticize the status quo and try to change it. Nowadays, however, departing from the destructive path of the majority no longer means being excluded, but a step towards the survival of the whole group. Because our fear prevents us from doing what we think is right, we need to change our definition of fear.
Fear is just information. Fear tells us that we are on the right track, it is not an order to run or fight. (3) The energy of fear that arises in us when we are doing something different from everyone else – we don’t have to overcome it first (!), but rather walk with it, endure it and see it as applause and a message: Yes, you are doing the right thing!
An example: When I started my own business, I was afraid every step of the way: afraid of making mistakes, financial ruin, failure, being laughed at. I had strayed from the flock, so fear is and was a constant companion. But I knew I wanted to live this way in order to be as free as possible. In my business, I help other people, and I might even inspire others to do their own thing – which is, in my opinion, a contribution to a better world.
4) Humility: We should not believe from the outset that a better world isn’t possible, as in the past, none of us was able to foresee the positive developments of today. Equally, we can’t know what will happen in the future, and we can’t control everything. This humility frees us to consider a better world possible We can’t know if we’ll make it, but we can do out best to get there.
So do the thing you feel called to do and listen to this great piece of advice:
“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person. ”
― Buckminster Fuller
(1) Donella H. Meadows: “Places to Intervene in a System”. 1997. I have written a blog post about this article before (about goals as one possible leverage point to change systems), see here.
(2) From the book “Zukunft entsteht aus Krise”, Geseko von Lüpke. 2009, as quoted in Tau – Magazin für Barfußpolitik, Nr. 00/2011.
(3) To me, this is about the fear you feel when you are sure you are doing the right think but are afraid of being rejected. It’s not the fear you feel in situations where you are in physical danger etc.
Copyright: “NASA Blue Marble” by NASA Goddard Photo and Video. Licensed under Creative Commons License Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-4386822005
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