Dear Gandhi – You’ve got me in a muddle….

Last Sunday, I hosted the first See & Connect Sunday Lunch. The theme was that Gandhi quote I often refer to:  “We must become the change we want to see in the world.” I had asked guests to think about ‘What does this mean to you in practice?’ We had a lively discussion.  Much to my surprise, I’m finding it hard to write about – no shortage of topics, in fact quite a variety from which to choose. But the truth is, I’m befuddled by what took place on Sunday. I’m wondering right now “What would happen if everyone who was at the table became the change they wanted to see in the world? Would that really make the world a better place?” 

Well, frankly, one thing we didn’t cover in our conversation was exactly what it meant to everyone to be the change (I used a very light hand, as host, in steering the conversation). I gathered that one person has a focus on ethical fashion –  being the change means being an ethically conscious wearer of clothing. Another person has a focus on food awareness – being the change is to have an awareness of where your food comes from. For me, as I said in a previous posting (Responsibilty: where does Gandhi’s steer take you?), the change I want to see is in human relationships and I tend to focus on compassion – being the change means trying day in and day out to be a more compassionate person. 

We also heard about how some people promote anti-poverty efforts by taking on the challenge of living on £1 a day. This challenge can open our awareness to the challenges our fellow human beings face when when living in poverty. I translated this example to mean that part of ‘being the change’ is to try and understand and connect with other people’s struggles  – which sits nicely with my quest for greater compassion. But this topic raised a question for me: What if we want to see less poverty in the world? What does that mean for being the change we want to see?

I realised on Sunday that all of us probably slip easily into following Gandhi’s instruction – becoming the change we want to see – by working hard to encourage others to take up our cause, our passion for a particular type of change. The danger is that, in doing so,  we can become both myopic and alienating. 

Because something else we discussed on Sunday is how living by our values (which we equated with becoming the change) can bring us into conflict with people close to us. It brings tensions in to our relationships. For example, activities we once enjoyed with loved ones might not be so fun anymore now that we questions them based on our principles. It was a reminder of the importance of having awarenss of how different values are constantly at play in our lives – and the importance of pausing to reflect and explore them more deeply in order to resolve the conflict, e.g., the value of your relationship with your mother vs. your commitment to ethical fashion. 

When a conflict of values happens we have different choices. We can take a firm stand and push people away who don’t seem to share our values. We can fight with them, struggle with them. We can talk openly about what’s going on and what we are feeling in terms of what feels like a conflict between values. We can recognise that the conflict is both external and internal.  We might be thinking, for example:  “On the one hand, I love you mom. On the other, I feel uncomfortable spending time with you in the shops. What can we do about this?”

Let me return back that question about anti-poverty:  What if we want to see less poverty in the world? What does that mean for being the change we want to see? The matter of seemingly conflicting values and this matter of translating causes into ways of being seem linked to me. WIth the latter, I’m wondering how to distill a commitment to tackling poverty into a way of being. Where I land is with the idea that we live in a world where people are guided by instincts that go back to the basis of scarcity of resources and the need to hoard. A mixture of greed and insecurity mean that in large ways and small ways, many of us move through the world less inclined to share (especially without expecting anything in return) and we are always looking for a bargain.

The intersect: low-cost fashion comes at a cost – people being paid low wages to make it. As someone pointed out at lunch, people having low wages is better than no wages. Agreed. But I think the principle here is about distributing wealth more evenly. Why shouldn’t we pay for the real cost of our clothing? Why shouldn’t we value the human labour that has gone into it. Why are we so obsessed with spending less, even whe we have so much and others have so little? And that’s what becoming the change means, doesn’t it? If I want to see a world with less poverty, I need to become/be a person who believes in our collective abundance and seeks to share whenever I can. At the same time, recognising the value of our natural resources, I seek to make better use of what already exists in the world, i.e., recycle clothing. I can be someone who consumes less because I want everyone in the world to consume less, so as to leave a lighter footprint on the planet. And when I do consume, I need to pay a fair price for it.

And this brings me to a point which I hope will tie all of the above together; tie together the issue of the tensions arising from seemingly conflicting values, the ways in which we distill our activist passions into lessons for how we can move through the world differently to be the change, the steps we can take to understand the challenges different people face in this world (be it on our street or across the ocean).  A lot of what we do as change makers can seem like it is super clear as to its ‘rightness’ – and we often have little patience for people who don’t get it. But campaigns for ethical fashion, to eradicate poverty, to promote restorative justice (one of my favourites), to have greater awareness of our food sources, all have their grey areas.

These grey areas can take us into very challenging spaces. I love these spaces because they are where we can really delve deeply into questions about who we are are, what we value and how we can navigate our relationships with others – even those people who seem to have different values from us.  And these grey spaces also include having a more reflective commitment to social change by asking:  Who do I need to be on a day to day basis to help bring about this change?  I don’t think it is always easy to answer that question. But I think it is important to answer it. And I think it is really important we talk more openly about the tensions, struggles and confusion that come with trying to follow Gandhi’s instruction – that is, if we want the instruction to be its most fruitful.  

I told you – Sunday left me befuddled and in a bit of a muddle. And maybe this post reflects that – but that’s okay. I like this kind of muddle; it is a muddle (a disorganised state) of ideas that are there to be moved around, examined, discarded, opened up and ultimately unfold into wisdom.

Many thanks to my guests at the first See & Connect Sunday Lunch for this befuddling muddle!

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