Change Writer

be the change you want to see

Month: May 2014

Change Makers Avoid Insulation

If you want to stay alive to the world, it’s important to avoid becoming segregated from the needs around you. Wholeheartedly embracing a life of change means opening your eyes to the pain of the world and letting it shape you.

Homeless Afghan Refugees by Zoriah
Image by Zoriah

That’s one of the reasons travelling can be so good. It helps us to break out of our normal habits of who we usually talk to and where we usually go. Surrounded by a world we don’t recognise, we do things that are outside of our ‘comfort zones’ and we feel great because of it.

A recent study showed that the 20% most wealthy Americans give away an average of 1.3% of their income, while the poorest 20% give away 3.2%.

What is it that makes the wealthy so stingy?

According to the researchers, it has to do with being insulated from need:

“when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical…insulation from people in need may dampen the charitable impulse.”

This is an important lesson for us wannabe Change Makers.

If we want to be the kind of people who cause change, we must expose ourselves to need and pain. Once we know people who are suffering, we’re more inclined to identify their needs, and to make decisions about what we should do about them.

I live in South Africa, a place that has turned segregation into an art form. Back in the days of Apartheid, cities were designed to keep the different racial groups separated and to make civic areas predominantly white. A recent article in The Guardian describes Cape Town’s original planning strategy:

“Cape Town was conceived with a white-only centre, surrounded by contained settlements for the black and coloured labour forces to the east, each hemmed in by highways and rail lines, rivers and valleys, and separated from the affluent white suburbs by protective buffer zones of scrubland”

Boys during Apartheid
Image by UN Photo

Although this segregation is no longer vested in the law, the infrastructures remain the same. Black people live in black settlements, mixed race people in mixed race settlements, and white people in areas of prime real estate inhabited mainly by whites.

It’s rare for white people to have relationships of equality (real friendships) with people of other races. The black people they encounter are gardeners or domestic workers, cashiers or waste collectors. They are relationships with an unequal balance of power, in which the black person is subservient to the white person.

This setup fosters insulation, and works against the progress of change. The design of the city encourages and enables the rich to turn a blind eye to the day-to-day realities of the poor. They don’t see their pain, and therefore don’t feel motivated to do anything about it.

Of course South Africa is just an extreme example of a natural habit of the human condition. We push those on the margin out of sight, and those with power and riches to centre stage. We naturally choose the path of least resistance, where we won’t be inconvenienced by someone asking us for change, or expressing their pain.

We close our eyes and hope that someone ‘higher up’ will do something about it, forgetting that those ‘higher up’ are elected as our representatives and will only focus on things they believe matter to us.

Do you find yourself insulated from the needs around you?

Is there a small step you could take to connect more with the world’s pain?

Are You Living a Good Story?

If your familiar with Donald Miller, you’ll know about his passion for good storytelling. While he was researching story as a way of growing his writing, he developed the idea that if we consciously plan our lives using the elements of story, we will live better, more focussed lives. The kind of lives that our kids and grandkids will want to retell to their kids and grandkids.

How To Tell A StoryLast week, I downloaded Miller’s free eBook, How To Tell A Story. The premise of the book is simple: all of the greatest, most inspiring stories in the world follow a pattern that appeals to the human mind. If we learn to tell stories using this pattern, we’ll find ourselves telling more compelling stories.

Here are the 7 steps he uses when telling a story:

  1. A Character
  2. Has a problem
  3. Then meets a guide
  4. Who gives them a plan
  5. And calls them to action
  6. Which results in either a comedy (joyful outcome)
  7. Or tragedy

This got me thinking about change makers and whether having a great story to live is the key to being a force for change…

What do you think? Are you living a good story?

Are we going the way of the buffalo?

Here’s a stirring call to action from Antonie Fountain, former director of STOP THE TRAFFIK in the Netherlands:

5 Totally Selfish Reasons To Become A Change Maker

You may think that you have to be a self-sacrificing saint to become a Change Maker. That’s not true!

Here are 5 good reasons for selfish people to pursue change:

  1. You meet amazing people
    I’ve met some of my favourite people in the course of pursuing change. These people have courage, determination and amazing stories. They live all over the world, so I have somewhere to stay wherever I go!
  2. You gain a sense of purpose
    I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying “it’s better to give than to receive”, but you might not know that research shows it to be true. Focussing on something bigger than yourself is really good for your outlook on life.
  3. You find belonging
    When you start going after change, you discover others who carry the same desire. You realise that you’re not alone in the world but actually belong to a likeminded tribe of people.
  4. You learn to turn your dissatisfaction into action
    A healthy sign of maturity is being able to convert your frustrations into action. Being a change maker means learning to do this well and to communicate it effectively to others.
  5. You leave a legacy
    When you invest in something bigger than yourself, and connect with others who share the same passions, you ensure that your investment isn’t wasted, that you will leave your mark on the world.

That’s my list. Can you think of any other selfish reasons for becoming a Change Maker?

Why Awareness is for Pussies

One day a friend of mine, who knew I had a blog about human rights violations and injustices, sent me a post from the Stuff White People Like blog, entitled Awareness. Here’s the gist:

An interesting fact about white people is that they firmly believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved through “awareness.”  Meaning the process of making other people aware of problems, and then magically someone else like the government will fix it.

My friend’s point was clear: awareness doesn’t solve anything and only makes those who are not affected by [insert issue/cause] feel like they’re doing something about it. It creates that smug feeling of self-satisfaction.

When I first received this critique from my friend I felt judged and was annoyed at him, but the more I thought about it I realised that there was some serious truth in his point. If I claim to care about a particular cause, I need to go out of my way to do something about it. I don’t know what motivated him to send it, but I’m glad he did.

Real change happens when awareness is converted into action.

What do you think? Do you feel like there’s way too much ‘awareness’ and too little being done?

Switching the focus

Last December I was reminded of how much I value mobilising and facilitating change when I was asked to speak to a group of 14 and 15 year old school kids in Sweden. They wanted to know about the baby rescue project that my wife and I had been involved with, and our plans to work with refugees in the Middle East.

When I started preparing for the talk, it struck me that I didn’t really want to speak about myself, or to leave them with the idea that I was somehow special, exciting or noble. I wanted to leave them with the thought that if they are determined, they can make a difference in the world around them.

When I was 14 years old, I didn’t want to hear about how inspiring this or that person was, I wanted to hear that I could do the things that I found inspiring. I wanted to be encouraged to pursue my dreams.

So, instead of just telling my story, I unpacked a few simple lessons I’ve learned about how to pursue change.

Once I was done, we broke the class into small groups and discussed issues or injustices they have noticed around them, and skills they have that they could use to address them. One girl said she could use her love of music to organise a fundraiser. A boy who likes football considered coaching refugee kids.

 

Let’s get this show on the road

Welcome to the first post on Change Writer, a blog that will be exploring how you can become a change maker in the world around you.

When I first started asking this question, I was very aware of the problems and pain around me, but had no idea where to start. As I travelled and asked questions of people a few steps ahead of me on this journey, I realised that we need connection points where we can share ideas without feeling judged.

Change Writer is for you if:

  • You long for change, but don’t know where to start.
  • You’ve tried out a few things, but have become disillusioned.
  • You’re a seasoned change agent wanting to share your ideas.
  • You’re coming with an open heart and open mind and an eager desire to learn.

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© 2014-2017 Jonathan Morgan