The Centre for Welfare Reform, in association with Compass, recently published a paper: [R]evolution Road – travelling the terrains of creativity, power and love. The paper is the first one I’ve written about my journeys into being the change I want to see in the world, creating changes within my self and the relationship between individual internal change and a collective dismantling of oppressive systems, structures and institutions.
I think of this paper as a part of various experiments I am conducting, all of which are underpinned by a desire to live in ways that are more nurturing and restorative. I am experimenting with my relationships with my self and others. I am experimenting with my relationship with the planet. I am experimenting with rooting social activism in the practice of love. I am experimenting with how I write about these experiments.
For over fifteen years, I was a professional in the social policy industry. As time passed, I increasingly struggled with being in a culture dominated by rigid directives, manifestos and explicit, time-limited plans and for fixing social and economic problems. In contrast, I wanted to enter into meandering explorations of what is it about who and how we are being that is giving rise to the problems which keep plaguing us.
In 2010, I left the social policy industry and turned my attention to thinking about movement in hearts and minds – which I now think of in terms of evolution and shifts in consciousness. To paraphrase Einstein: the same consciousness that created the oppressive systems and institutions, which guide how we live together, is not the one that will create meaningful alternatives.
In the spirit of being experimental, I consciously chose in [R]evolution Road to focus on presenting reflections and questions rather than outlining a change model or making explicit recommendations.
Some people – mainly male readers, I’ve noticed – have said they find the lack of explicit conclusions, recommendations or templates perplexing and awkward. One reader questioned the utility of such an honest personal disclosure. He suggested that, in the future, I go the route of anthropological Margaret Meade-esque cultural anthropology. He advised that personal stories can be offered up as useful lead-ins, but not be the main content.
So why have I written the paper the way I’ve written it?
I am inclined to believe that how we experience change in ourselves – shifts in how any of us go about being human – is mirrored at the collective level. In [R]evolution Road, I tell a very personal story about a radical shift (a.k.a., revolution) in how I relate to fear, hate and sadness. I tell this story to illustrate a type of struggle with oppression.
I tell this personal story because I believe that my, your, everybody’s stories are heavily entwined with the oppressive cultural norms many of us say we are trying to dismantle. I tell it because I believe my story is non-unique and potentially informative about different journeys that might be part of collective liberation from the toxic and oppressive ways of living we have created for ourselves.
I also share my story in the hope that [R]evolution Road draws people to step into a set of questions which I do not explicitly pose within it: To what extent and in what ways, do we root our collective creativity and power in fear, hate, loathing and separation? What results from this kind of rootedness? How are these roots reflected in our organizations, systems and institutions?
[R]evolution Road is meant to be what it says on the tin – a discussion paper. I hope it encourages its readers (individually and within groups) to explore and reflect on its themes openly and with a sense of daring.
I’ve just read your blog post – and your full article on The Centre of Welfare Reform’s we site – and feel really inspired, uplifted and excited because I’m not alone with exploring questions about how to live life truthfully. And not alone with wanting to change the big picture – systems that reproduce social injustice – through the small steps that I can do and that inevitably begin with myself and the people around me that I can influence. (Funnily, I’ve just published a post about ‘cycling’ and actually realise only now that in the past 10 years of living in London I’ve inspired 3 people to re-connect with cycling: they’ve all gone to buy themselves a bike again after years, even decades of not cycling, and now cycle everywhere and feel much happier in themselves and much more connected with life around them. It’s a very small change but it’s one that I feel very humbled by.)
And I’m not alone in appreciating vulnerability, pondering & curiosity, and the personal as an authentic way of engaging with those big challenges. I’m disappointed (because in my gender-aware mind I’d like this not to be a given) that male readers commented on your article with reference to missing conclusions, recommendations and templates because allowing complexity and not-knowing, accepting getting-it-wrong-ness and imperfection, staying in inquiry and shying away from ready-answers often seem to be challenging for the mainstream (and, let’s face it, patriarchal) culture around us. The culture I’d like to contribute to is very much about not having to be certain, about not needing the safety of getting it right, about being able to take risks and not take ourselves too serious when we mess up – at least we’ve tried!
I’ll share your article with my colleague Katharine from deep:black because it touches on a lot of things that are important to us in our work with creativity, community and change – and discovering ‘Little Globe’ feels like finding deep:black’s big sister out there in the States!
I replied to you in an email, but I thought I would reply here, too. I really valued taking in your comment, particularly in how it reflected back to me that I’m certainly not alone on this road.
I’m very glad the reading of it left you feeling inspiring, uplifted and excited and I look forward in the future to hearing more stories from you and your communities – as we all trundle along the spiral together.
In solidarity. Veena
Great to read your post and [R]evolution Road.
I like what you suggest about revolution and evolution going hand in hand, and that the road is a spiral – the imagery of going over the same terrain is really helpful, especially when you feel you are going around in circles or continually going up and down. Your questions and observations about power are so helpful. I’ll be revisiting those.
And similarly to Petra who commented above, I like that we can move forwards with ‘I don’t know’.
Lots of love to you, L x
Thanks – as ever – for taking the time to read my writing and for commenting. At some point I’d love to know where the questions about power take you. I’ve continued to explore the relationship with power. Currently, I emphasize these questions – What does it mean, right now, to be standing in my power? Who and how would I be, right now, if I were standing in my power?
lots of love to you, too. Veena
Great paper Veena! I was sucked in from the very beginning. The personal stories threading throughout the paper really resonated with me on many levels. The quotes, the questions, the insights all were beautifully used and presented. So happy to have read this and sitting with the reflections and questions that are popping up for me. Thank you for this!
Thanks for taking time to read the paper and and I’m delighted it grabbed you. I look forward to hearing one day where your reflections and questions have taken you.