Every year since 2007, a friend and I have created themes for the year. I’ve declared 2012 my Year of Responsibility and Service. It isn’t witty, sexy, or funny. And it can be, I’ve found, a bit of a conversation stopper. Twenty-Eleven was Year of Abundance and Faith. When it would come up in conversation people tended to be curious, ask questions and consider what their own theme might be. In contrast, Year of Responsibility and Service renders people silent and – I get the impression – uncomfortable. If I’m talking with social change colleagues, I tend to move the conversation along by laughing and remarking: “I know, I know – it sounds so Big Society.“ But Big Society was not the inspiration for the theme. Rather, my time spent at a Vipassana meditation course in November 2011 led me to this year’s theme. What’s the purpose of the theme? I use my yearly themes as a point of focus. Throughout 2012, I will reflect regularly on the significance of responsibility and service to my life – to my well-being, to my relationships with others, to both my social and professional activities and commitments. Today, I’m reflecting broadly on responsibility and social change.
Back in the nineties, when I was working to promote the Human Rights Act and influence its implementation, I was frustrated with the language of responsibility. I was frustrated because it was being used in the phrase ‘rights and responsibilities’ with politicians and officials constantly talking about Joe/Jan public having responsibilities alongside having rights. I detested this language because I felt that it was distracting from the real issue: the government’s responsibility to secure people’s human rights (no, not citizens – this is the beauty of human rights, they are not linked with our passport identities).
Some fifteen years later, I am still not a fan of the phrase ‘rights and responsibilities’ – but I’m much more interested to talk about responsibility and not simply with regards to government action. Passionate about contributing to social change with an aim to creating more caring, creative and collaborative communities, I now want to talk – get excited by it, in fact – about the responsibilities we all have to this end.
Invariably, when I think about responsibility in this context I come back to the Gandhi quote: “We must become the change we want to see in the world.”
On a day-to-day basis, what exactly does that mean? We say it a lot, but what of it?
Well, the key to the change I want to see in the world won’t be found in policy documents – though I have some ideas on what kind of policies might make the world a better place. The change I want to see in the world distills down to human relationships – human relationships which are nurturing, supportive, expansive, compassionate, creative.
If I follow Gandhi’s steer, then I must accept that I am responsible for bringing these traits to life in me. Again, what does that mean on a day-to-day basis? Well, to try and capture that would make this a very long post. But I’ll start with the idea that it means constantly reflecting on how I move through the world – particularly on how I am interacting with others, from a stranger on the street to my mom and dad. It means exploring what each of those traits means to me in practice:
· How do I nurture and what am I nurturing?
· How do I create and what am I creating?
· What does compassion look like?
· How do I support others and what am I supporting them to do?
· How do I relate to people in ways that are expansive rather than constraining?
What does Gandhi’s oft-repeated steer mean to you on a day-to-day basis? What responsibilities do you claim when it comes to social change?