If we are going to be the change, how on earth do we get started? It’s easy enough to think, it’s easy enough to reflect that we might be able to change ourselves and even change the world, but that first step to action can feel daunting. Or even impossible.
Last night I was filled with anxiety about the world, the direction of my life, my family and pets, and financial worries. As I look back at the year I see the steps that I’ve taken, some seemingly impossible at the time. What pieces of experience might I find to help with my own next steps, or to encourage others? As I embark on this writing today, I think and hope that that in itself will help me with sense-making.
Recognizing our stuckness
I’ve worked hard over the past year to get my business and personal life back on track. As I think about the actions that I wish to take now in my life, as things start to turn the corner, in a number of ways, I’ve come to realise how stuck in negativity I’ve become – almost bitter about some things. I’d like to return to positivity and hopefulness, which were so much more strongly part of my identity a few years ago.
I could identify so many things that led to my negativity and unpack each of those. I’ve become hard on myself, cranky with the people I care about, extremely critical of the city I live in, and despairing of the world. My expectations are high and I more often see failure than appreciation. I see the negative everywhere, from world ‘leadership’, to society’s failings to handle the climate crisis. I watch as the global shift to the ‘political right’ is undoing years of protection for our shared environment, our prosperity, our health etc.
It’s easy for us to be complacent about our attitudes and issues, never mind those we see in the world. Our unique set of relationships carry with them an inertia that wills us to take the same direction. It may lead us to feel stuck. This same inertia can be put to work for our benefit however. I’ll get to that in a moment.
Acknowledging our doubts
All of this feels heavy and I question my own role in making things better or worse. I fear that we haven’t seen the worst that humanity will do. It’s just coming up to 80 years since the beginning of the second world war. September 1, 1939 is considered the start of the second world war, but the events that led up to it might be included and started several years before. We could think of the war as something that we slipped into over time.
I could think of my own negativity and doubt as something that I slipped into over time. It was likely brought on by a lack of awareness of my relationships and the direction they were taking me. It’s okay to doubt whether we can correct the course of our own lives, or help society take a better path. In acknowledging our doubts we must also recognise that we have relational resources which can help us foster change. In resourcing ourselves we must become aware of both the positive or negative influence that relationships may have.
We’re not alone.
I recently watched a film called The Aftermath which was set in Hamburg, Germany a few months after the war ended. It was about how the English and Germans were trying to make meaning in their lives, reassemble Hamburg and its social fabric, and find a way of being together after so much destruction and death. It’s a story about love, reconciliation, and humanity’s nature to cling to assumptions and ability to change. Be prepared to weep, be angry, and ultimately feel your heart swell with hope.
Like now, before the last war the world seemed to be function under the influence of individualism, us-and-them thinking, where everything is apart and separate, that people, places, and things exist with identities of their own creation. Today, we’ve being slipping again and inertia is blocking us from our goals of peace, prosperity, and happiness. Prevalent thought then was that we had complete control over ourselves, our society, our environment, or places etc. This may have set us up to fight with everything and with one another. These beliefs may be what leads to hierarchical systems of control which give dominion and power to a few – sometimes very evil people – including the belief in all-powerful gods.
There is more to say about how and why we might give our power to another and ultimately how each time we do we set ourselves on a path to destruction that can only be repaired by working together, cooperating, and abandonment of individualism. I will explore this in much more depth in future chapters.
Breaking through judgment – enlisting others.
When we have have deeply bought into the individualism paradigm, even within our internal struggles we might hear ourselves say things like… ‘you can do better than this’, ‘if you just tried harder’, ‘just stop’, etc. Decisions and actions seem so simple when we believe that we have individual control within us to change. Personal change takes influence from outside ourselves. We know this and yet often berate ourselves for our failings and cling to the belief that self improvement is a solo activity.
What humanity may need now is a fundamental shift away from individualism toward relationalism – to begin to see that things change for the good and the bad only in relation.
Relationalism is a theoretical position that is based on supposition that all things exist and can only exist in relation, that everything in existence moves and changes as relational entities. If we consider this as a possibility we might be able to rethink how we engage and influence the world currently. We might come to see ourselves as the world leadership rather than beholden to the world leadership. Our involvement with one another is perhaps the only way to shift the discourse, redirect the inertia, and discover new windows of possibility that remain illusive on our current course. The same is true with ourselves.
The thread I hang onto is a belief that a difference can be made by shifting what we are in relationship with, including our own thoughts. In addition to making physical changes in my personal and business life. I’ve come to a place where I need to use my skills to make changes to my psychic landscape, particularly if I wish to see positive changes in my community, our city, and the world generally. The interconnection between the physical world and the world inside our heads is perhaps much stronger than we consider it to be.
If we can see the possibility that we are a composite of the relationships of which we are part, rather than a solo actor in a corporeal body, sitting at the helm in complete control of its destiny… then we might be able to let go of the judgement we hold for ourselves and others, and even the world. We might be able to see how strengthening connections with what is good could help us make course corrections. Harsh judgment of ourselves and the world may stem from that individual belief that we alone are in control of our destiny – individualism vs relationalism.
As an aside, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we do neither abdicate responsible for personal and global change nor dismiss our part in unhappiness, sorrow, and despair. Even though we are not solo actors in the world, it does not mean that we are not influential and responsible. We must share the things we’ve created with those around us, whether they are good or bad, divine or evil, invite joy or cast misery.
As I muster the strength to attempt a return to positivity. As I work to weaken the bonds of negative thinking I’m aware of the difference between negativity and critical thought. It’s important to catch oneself being negative and perhaps reframe our thinking in ways that lead to positive action by critiquing with honesty and appreciation.
Where to start? – the simple things that power up your relational change potential.
Once I realized that my life had become a shambles I had no idea where to start to rebuild. I just knew that I needed to start somewhere and so I did and I learned in the doing.
I started with the simple things that would help me correct the direction I was headed and build momentum that would take me to bigger decisions and actions. The potential we have to create change for ourselves is immense when we realize that we are fully supported by our relational network, and that we have the ability to shift it as we need. We do however need to learn and practise to become good at using it to our benefit otherwise we will go with the flow of others and the world. We risk slipping backward as individuals and society.
Here I’m dividing the next section into two parts, principles that would be worth remembering, a touchstone of sorts, AND actions that we might take as we things we work toward making positive changes.
Principles to remember.
- Your superpower. Understanding that in relationships you have influence, remember it’s your superpower.
- Fear exists. Acknowledge that fear may exist in making changes. In the spirit of relational thought however, I believe that too much attention paid to exploring fear may increase your stuckness, just as too much exploration of issues may result in further despair. Thinking about what can go wrong may prevent us from seeing what can go right. This is not to say that spending some time thinking about your fears and what may have led to your circumstances is not good but rather than they need to be balanced with good forward-looking thinking that help us to see the possibilities for our futures. Fear and possibility are related. In the end there will be a tomorrow with a different set of circumstances. And it never hurts to hear that: today we have only today.
- Language creates momentum. Language we use creates change and gives power to inertia that can take us in the right or wrong direction. We use language to give action to our intentions. If our language isn’t congruent with our intentions we create a intended consequences. We may give power to the very thing we are trying to change.
- Self-care matters. Caring for yourself as you make changes is so important. Remember that each person is unique and that self-care needs to be tailored to fit you, where one person might think self-care is going to a fun party, another might want to be alone with a good book. Self-care might be thought of as a way to care for yourself as you would for another in need. What often prevents us from good self-care is:
- not acknowledging our worthiness for it,
- thinking we are strong so we don’t it need as much as others or
- feeling guilt that we should be doing something more productive.
- Simplicity is always a good place to start. If ever you experience that stalling feeling like you just don’t know what to do next, do something simple, EXTREMELY simple. Build momentum by doing the simple things that can grow into bigger things. Steps not great leaps. When you start out with simplicity you support and guarantee success for yourself by changing things that you absolutely feel you can.
- Quietness is essential. To make thoughtful change we need quiet, time to think, reflect, and ponder. Quietness is most effective when it becomes a habit.
- Sanctuaries. We need a place and time to retreat. It’s hard to be quiet if we have no place to go. This is a place and time you can call your own so that you can think, be, and do some of the self-care that is so important. It may be a room in your home, a place in nature, or a time of day.
- Reward yourself. Even the smallest steps need to be recognised and acknowledged before we take another. It’s important to identify an action, undertake the work, recognise what was accomplished, and then plan the next action. Move slowly and carefully.
- Celebrate. Involve your relationships in what has been done. This strengthens the bonds, makes it more difficult to undo, and helps build new energy for the next action.
From principle to action
You may recall the poem Sweep I wrote that suggests, in troubling times, the best place to start is with the simple things. Sweeping and decluttering have tremendous influence to give us the ability to tackle bigger challenges. They build up our confidence and help us see other steps we need to take.
- Plan it.
- Choose something that has been standing in your way of change.
- Break it down into steps, remembering that you don’t need to know all the steps, only the first one or two, the others will appear. Can you identify the first step?
- Name one or two new possibilities that this one step will open for you in the future? Say them out loud, or write them down.
- Do you have any fears about doing this one step? If so, say them out loud or write them down.
- Do it.
- Notice how are you are talking about this step as you do it? Is it positive, negative, practical, fearful, joyous etc. Again say it out loud or write it down.
Praxis is a non-judgemental practice of purposeful reflection on what you’ve done with the goal to learn, appreciate, and care for yourself. We reflect on the actions we’ve taken, and also think about the what it’s like to reflect on the actions you’ve taken. It’s helpful to make notes or talk about it with another.
- Notice how you feel after the changes you make. Acknowledge the fear, relief, pride etc. Remember you want to nurture that wee sprout of change you’ve just started. Give it sunlight and water.
- What kind of language seemed most present as you worked to make a change? Was it language that keeps the bad parts of a relationship alive? Does it feed the good parts?
- Did you give yourself quite, time and space to think about what you were planning and how you did with the action? What was that like for you? How could you reward yourself better? How did you celebrate your success?
Until next time, I wish you much peace, thoughtful pondering, and strength in being your own best guide. As always people, do comment below, share this post or others with anyone whom you might think it could be of interest.
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