Change Writer

be the change you want to see

Category: Stories (Page 2 of 2)

The Perspective of Travel

If you’re feeling stuck in the same old rut of desiring change, but not knowing how to get started, perhaps you need a change of scenery.

Movement gives us greater objectivity

I remember as a boy, pedalling up the closest, highest mountain I could find and looking down at Cardiff, the city I once called home.

As I watched the glimmering windows and faint strands of traffic, the flashing of the light at the top of the highest building, and even the shore of England in the distance, I felt liberated.

All my problems and frustrations and crises came dislodged.

I could focus on bigger things: ideas, theories, priorities and principles.

These bike rides helped me to learn what really matters to me, what makes me tick.

Somehow when our bodies start moving towards unfamiliar territory, and experiencing unfamiliar things, creativity gets unleashed.

It cultivates humility and open mindedness

When we get exposed to new people and new stories, those things shape us.

We realise that not everyone looks at the world the way we do.

Not everyone perceives our motives as purely as we do.

Some friends of ours live in a village in Zambia, situated alongside the great Zambezi, several kilometres from The Smoke That Thunders (the Zambian name for Victoria Falls).

When they first moved in, they noticed that every village had hollowed out concrete blocks that were being used as tables, benches or were just abandoned alongside the path.

On closer inspection they realised that these concrete blocks were water filtration systems. The water passes through sand, and in the process 98% of the bacteria is removed.

These filters offered a solution to the stomach aches and illnesses that the villagers caught from drinking straight from the Zambezi.

But the people already believed they knew what made them sick.

Their ancestors were unhappy with them.

The water wasn’t causing their sickness, so why would filtering it prevent it?

This taught our friends, who were working closely with the villagers, the need for slow change that is combined with transforming world views.

Instead of trying to solve the villager’s problems directly, they began by forming relationships of trust.

Through those relationships, they could offer new ways of looking at things.

Over time, the villagers themselves can initiate changes based on their new perspective.

It gives us appreciation for what we have

When I first travelled Europe, I Inter-railed with my friend Tim.

We travelled from the Czech Republic to Rome, often sleeping on trains to avoid the cost of hostels.

I would stuff my backpack into the bottom of my sleeping bag, and my passport into my pants to avoid the fate of the many travellers we’d heard about: stuck in an unfamiliar place, with no ID, no money and no way home.

I lived off bread and McDonalds milkshakes, to stretch my budget as far as it would go. And I cut the trip short in Rome because I was so homesick I felt compelled to get back to my Sister’s birthday.

(She later commented on how gaunt my face was from my meagre diet during those weeks.)

Although it was a chaotic trip, it gave me fresh perspective on myself. I realised that there was pain ahead. There would be goodbyes. I realised that I would be doing much more travelling, and because of that I’d better get used to change.

Moving gives perspective in a way that staying doesn’t.

You see your family and friends with greater fondness, your workplace with new compassion, and sights and sounds that have become mundane spring back to life.

As I prepare to leave South Africa, its beautiful people, life changing experiences, and awe-inspiring scenery, I eagerly anticipate the new perspectives that await me.

It Takes A Community To Spread An Idea

Watching Amazing Grace, you’d be forgiven for thinking that slavery in the UK was abolished singlehandedly by William Wilberforce.

It takes a community to spread an idea

Fortunately, the story isn’t quite so simple. Wilberforce wasn’t alone. He was part of a community that later became known as the ‘Clapham Sect’. They were a group of God-fearing activists who lived close to each other and rallied each other up for causes like abolition.

It’s this community that provided Wilberforce with the support he needed to last through the 18 years it took to get his Private Member’s Bill through parliament.

Had Wilberforce stood alone, he may not have persevered all those years.

The Ongoing Fight Against Slavery: Fairtrade

When I was a kid, back in the ’80s, the Fairtrade label hadn’t yet been invented. But the movement had already begun.

Depending on the congregation, after church on Sundays you’d find several old ladies peddling goods at the back. These goods were usually labeled ‘Tradecraft’, and had been produced somewhere in Africa or South America.

The items were often expensive and lower quality than you’d find in a supermarket, but the message was compelling: these goods are not produced by slaves.

Soon students got behind this movement, and injected it with extra energy. The message spread quickly from student union to student union, as this other group with time on their hands and energy to focus got behind it.

In time, the ethically produced chocolate started tasting better than the mass-market chocolate.

It turns out that if you pay a farmer a fair price, they are inclined to give you higher quality beans.

Today in the UK thinking as an ethical consumer is becoming normal. That doesn’t mean that the work is finished – there’s still a lot of unethical aspects to the consumer market. In some areas, like electronics and the car industry, we’ve barely scratched the surface. But the foundational idea that we consumers have power and can ‘vote’ with our money is firmly established.

The importance of community

If it wasn’t for communities like the Clapham Sect, Anglican grannies, or activist students, these important messages would never have spread. Their message wouldn’t be any less important, but they would never have made a difference in the world.

Some call these communities Tribes, others Hives. Whatever you call them, we need them to spread ideas effectively and to catalyse the kind of change that we want to see in the world.

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:

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.

 

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© 2014-2017 Jonathan Morgan