Last week I was part of a training session facilitated by Esther Foreman of The Social Change Agency, see http://thesocialchangeagency.org/ The theme was building a movement for change and the group were Quakers.
I think the desire to change the world is laudable, but how do we ensure that the change we make will have the effect we desire? I, along with thousands of others, was persuaded that diesel cars were more efficient for cars driving high mileage and more environmentally friendly. Now we hear that this advice was a mistake and diesel cars are a curse. Another example of change that was held up as a great leap forward was the development of atomic power. I remember visiting a nuclear power station as part of my A Level Physics course. It was a great example of the ‘white heat of technology’ the famous phrase uttered by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Now we worry about how to dispose of the radioactive residue which will be around for a very, very long time. A third example, is the effort by the United Nations to provide drinking water to the poor regions of Bangladesh. It turns out that many were drilled into layers contaminated by arsenic and caused terrible illnesses. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/how-the-west-poisoned-bangladesh-1924631.html
It put me in mind of a saying attributed to Jesus, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16-17). The message could be that some good intentions end up making things far worse.
We need change, for example, to bring about greater equality. But equality is a difficult concept to put into practice. What exactly do we mean by it? Is it equality of opportunity? Or perhaps equality of health treatment or equality before the law, or equality of resources? Or something else entirely?
We also need change to bring about peace. But what means are appropriate to use? Should we use violence, economic sanctions, the force of law, or should we be patient and work slowly to build trust and work towards reconciliation, or some combination of each?
Or again, we might want a world in which everyone lives more simply, or to affirm truth speaking, but what counts as simplicity and whose truth do we mean?
This might sound as if I am against change, far from it. But throughout my life I have been aware of grand ‘development’ schemes promoted for example by the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund which have had terrible consequences for some of the poorest sections of the world community. So I am wary of the arrogance of the powerful who think they know best.
What was inspiring about the session on movement building was the collaborative approach, the need to listen carefully, the openness to alternatives, all of which accompanied the passionate commitment to make a difference. There are different ways to approach being a movement for change, and examples were given of charitable funding, co-operative movements, and a variety of structures that can link partners.
I was helped to think about my contribution to the process of change. I thought about my efforts to create the possibility of a new allotment association, my role in a faith group hoping to have a more significant impact on the community through service, and being a trustee of a learning charity that might create more formal as well as informal relationships with other bodies. One comment which resonates with me is “live the change you want to see”.