Thursday, March 13, 2014

Moving Boulders, Changing the World

At round tables of 30 and in auditoriums of 600, the world is changing this week. Being at CSW means that I get to see not only what changes we are striving for, but how it is that leaders seek to bring about these changes.

At times it's like watching a crowd try to move a truck sized boulder up the side of a hill--not only impossible for any individual, but also impossible for any group lacking effective teamwork and negotiation. Whether it's conflicting power, vying for positions, or disagreeing on which course to take, there are dozens of ways to prevent a capable crowd from ever moving beyond the power of an individual. Sometimes the biggest issue is not so much how to get the boulder up the mountain, but how to get the crowd to work together to get the boulder up the mountain.

I think many of the issues we face in the world today are not unlike this scenario. For instance, we know that there is more than enough food in the world today so that no one should ever die of starvation. We, as a whole, have the capacity, but that boulder is clearly still sitting near the bottom of the hill.

Because how, really, do you change the world? How do you address issues that are the most important, but also the most subject to personal investment, differing opinions and wide stretching consequences? After hours of watching NGOs interact with governments and individuals lobby for different issues, two ideas in particular have built up about what it looks like to address important issues and work towards social change.

1. Assume that everybody has good in mind
Not everybody has the same idea about how to approach an issue, but one thing most social activists have in common is they want good for the world. One of the biggest mistakes we can make when our opinions differ is to forget this and start making our colleagues enemies. Excepting those few people we will always find who really don't have humanity's best in mind, chances are, if you're looking for a solution to a problem, the people who disagree with you probably want the best with every bit of passion and conviction as you do. Recognizing this is the first step to making alliances, and starting to push that boulder instead of just arguing about it.

2. Don't just criticize, bring your one piece
Many of the primary criticisms I hear one passionate world changer launch against another have more to do with incompleteness than anything else. One world changer announces their plan to address a problem, second world changer degrades said plan with a barrage of all the crucial things they failed to address. But what I've seen is that everybody's solution is going to have holes in it, because you can only ever be one piece of the puzzle. And if you can see the hole, then it's most likely one you should be filling. The most effective teamwork I have witnessed has been when the second person or organization comes alongside and says, "that's great! I love what you're doing here. But there's this really important component you're leaving out, and here's how I propose we can address that too. How can we work together?"

By and large, CSW is a massive feat in cooperation--a global attempt to get a world full of people on different pages to make a book. Some backs may bristle at the thought of politics and bureaucracy, mostly because of its reputation for stagnation. But when a crowd comes together and you see a boulder start to move, it's beautiful, even if it's moving slowly.

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