Reflections on “How Do We Get There?”

The most popular topic recently on the Great Transitions Network forum was “How Do We Get There? The Problem of Action.” In their 45 comments, the contributors made many points that grabbed me, sharpened my thinking, or introduced me to new ideas about how to advance global transformation. Some of the comments with which I agree are posted here.

However, the forum disregarded the emotional world. Words such as “feelings” and “emotions” were rarely used. Merely influencing thinking is insufficient. Feelings shape ideas. Progressive activists need to learn how to connect on deep emotional levels.

More specifically, from my perspective, the discussion was weak with regard to open-ended mutual support for personal transformation. There was little consideration of the need for individuals to engage in honest self-evaluation, examine their strengths and weaknesses, acknowledge mistakes and resolve not to repeat them, undo social conditioning, and support one another in those efforts. Many of our problematic feelings are deeply ingrained habits. Undoing or controlling those tendencies -- such as implicit bias or being judgmental -- requires us to fully face those negative realities. As Asoka Bandarage has said, "Transformation of the self and the society are inseparable.”

There were some exceptions to that neglect of emotions. Debbie Kasper commented, “Developing understanding and skills around how to build and live in resilient communities is a non-negotiable necessity. Given climate change, our tumultuous politics, and the widespread alienation-anxiety-depression of individuals in our society, it will be essential.”

Mimi Stokes wrote:

[There] are a variety of strategies for overcoming despair and paralysis, that include ritual, art, spiritual practices, therapeutic, psychological interventions, and, within my own range of knowledge, two forms of political activism specifically designed to overcome despair.

David Korten contributed:

Earth’s survival as a living organism may depend on humans transitioning from our role as Earth exploiters to a role as facilitators of Earth healing....If we were successful in so transforming ourselves, it would truly be a Great Transition.… Many people now find it impossible to acknowledge Earth’s distinctive beauty and wonder without being overwhelmed by unbearable grief and despair at what humans—in our anthropocentric arrogance—have done to her. ...It is a human awakening [that] for me demonstrates the positive potential of our nature…. Might we, by willful choice, transition from Earth exploiters to Earth healers? ...Might we muster sufficient commitment to serve as loving healers to two of creation’s most extraordinary miracles—a living planet of spectacular beauty and a species with a unique capacity for conscious choice? (emphases added)

A detailed proposal for nurturing personal transformation was John Wood’s recommended “Relational Empowerment strategy,” which challenges social movement organizations to “examine their motives and interests constantly” and suggests that “their own activists’ individual and collective points of view are simultaneously legitimate and fallible.” Wood says this approach

goes beyond a simple allies-versus-enemies approach based on fear, fueling a self-fulfilling prophecy. The strategy is built instead on activists’ deeper, once unarticulated hopes and imagination through free spaces with consistent deliberation that allows for ambiguity, empathy through recognition, communicating values and visions. From the articulation of shared hopes and dreams to that of collective fears, emerges shared ground – our humanity. This strategy is a beginning, shifting empowerment from a stance focused on taking power over to an emphasis on sharing power with.

Alan Stewart reported on Conversare, a project he developed to facilitate social interactions that

invites friendliness and opportunity to explore our common yearning for deeper and more meaningful connection with one another…  [through] hosted face-to-face conversations with someone they have not met previously. Essentially [a method] to explore their common humanity...this way of engaging could be means of transforming ourselves.

And another contributor asked, “How to tap this reservoir of human caring, so suppressed and corroded by the current economic and political order?” His answer included:

Imagine a multi-tiered structure bound by a common credo of caring and collaboration. In this decentralized global movement, individuals find space as both activist citizens as well as affiliates linked to kindred spirits. Mobilization for change occurs through both spontaneously and informally as well orchestrated and managed through institutional initiatives. ...The emergent movement operates to continuously nourish and expand participants. The caring/collaboration credo is the thread that binds a broad spectrum individual interests—e.g. human rights, climate disruption, economic justice—into a cohesive whole. Such multi-tiered connections, enabled and accelerated through state-of-the-art communications platforms, lay the groundwork for a gradual rising that is at once unified and pluralistic.

I remain inspired by the Great Transitions Network, though I wish more members would make explicit what is implicit in their thinking: we need to nurture mutual support for self-development. The more we change, the more the world changes; the more the world changes, the more we change.