Exploring the origins, ethics and future of changemaking

The world doesn’t need to be changed

In Theories of Change on May 21, 2012 at 10:48 am

A conversation with my friend Ehon on the weekend prompted this post. I shared with him a story of a girl I recently met in San Francisco who by way of introducing herself, asked me a question: “So what are you doing to save the world?”

This kind of question usually grates on me, and probably because when I was her age I also had this drive in my life to “save the world”. When I hear it spoken I recall my own innocent desire to be of service in the world; a drive that while having good intentions actually came from a very limited perspective. Of course, to cut-some-slack and be a little graceful towards myself and the girl I met in San Francisco, it is not surprising that we came to the view that the world needed to be changed.

The world is currently facing many ‘challenges’ including food security, health crises, climate change and in some parts of the world – war and economic collapse. On top of this, the social consciousness is littered with images, stories and examples of this need ‘to save’. From superhero stories to the modern day samaritan-come-changemaker, we celebrate people who save others from vulnerability. It is no wonder that when we see images of vulnerability and suffering, that our first instinct is to save them.

It is difficult for me to pinpoint the moment that I realised the world doesn’t need to be changed, but it started somewhere around the discovery of the principle of Soul. I discussed this in the post on Ego and Entrepreneurship, whereby I can identify myself not in the human consciousness, but in the spiritual consciousness. I have a higher identity beyond myself as Benny Callaghan. This is a kind of “I am a spiritual being having a human experience, rather than a human being having a spiritual experience” kind of thing.

Part of this realisation was that there is more to the world than the human consciousness. Until this time I had succumbed to the popular worldview that humans were the most powerful force on the planet. This is very naive, and one only has to look at the trouble we collectively got ourselves into to see that. There are many forces affecting the world today beyond physical forces (geologic change, climate, physics) and human forces (politics, economics, societal change). There are also powerful forces that are largely invisible to many on the planet, making them no less powerful or significant.

Ehon and I got talking on the weekend about theories of change. We both shared the idea that the only person we could change was ourselves. I would also suggest that ethically the only person we should change is ourselves. Who are we to know what is best for another, or why they are experiencing the challenges they are facing? Even if we did have such wisdom about others and the world, it is only the Ego that thinks it is the one doing the changing.

So what does this mean? Do you just sit back and watch the world and its blessings unfold?

There is a strong distinction between interference and involvement. Taking a higher view of a situation and realising that there are more factors at play than us as humans does not mean that we don’t get involved. The ethics of when and how to act is one of the purposes of this blog. I believe that there are powerful ways to act and get involved in ‘change-work’, and have witnessed some beautiful and creative ways that respect the freedom of others. That aside, the one thing that we can do regardless of our situation is to change ourselves.

I am not here to change the world; I am here to be of service to the greater good as the world changes. I know that this journey involves me primarily changing myself. There is a distinction here which I am still trying to understand. And bless the energy of wanting to ‘save the world’. It is still a beautiful thing to step outside of yourself and see yourself as part of something bigger.

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  1. Indeed, if we operate from the premise that the world needs saving or that we need to save someone, then that attitude will color any interaction or intervention we engage with the world or that person. If we want to benefit the world or any person, it makes sense to me to get to know more about the world or the person. I have the value in my work practice to only help if asked. And even then, my instinct is to find out, within time constraints, what that person really, really wants. But thats another story. Great post Benny!

    • Hi Mike, thanks for your thoughts. I am really interested in the little ‘rules’ people use for themselves to determine when or how to engage. The only helping if asked is one that I have adopted for myself also. Sometimes it is a discipline though, especially if I really intuitively feel something. I have sometimes wondered about whether to remain silent or when to speak. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. I was originally a little threatened by what “the world does not need to be change” as that has been my whole ethos for as long as I can remember. But you are also right in that the change needs to happen within myself first.
    As someone who has been a part of the social change movement in Australia for quite a while now I have also been on a long journey of personal development and not sure of my place in the space.
    The perspective for change has recently started to shift, at the same time as making some massive advances in my own personal journey.
    Again, it is about language and what is used to describe the work one will do could also be reflective of the change that needs to happen on this inside.
    Now I am happy to be someone on the edge, I am at peace with myself and desired role as a trailblazer and innovator and will do all I can to make positive impact on systemic issues that could help shift the self centred dialogue I see.
    I do believe that we are now transitioning into the era of creativity. Where it’s no longer about being self centred and ‘what’s in it for me’ but self expression and ‘what can I give back to the world’…. and what can I do as an individual to enable societies transition.
    Is that still me trying to change the world?

    • Hey Michelle, thanks for your reflections. The blog’s title was deliberately provocative – even in not trying to change the world, the world is still changing. So yes, you are still changing the world. I guess what I was wanting to explore is the whole thing that you brought up – who is the “me” that is doing the changing. Is it the “little me” (Ego), or am I acting from a higher place. I think that the personal growth journey that you are talking about is critical in our work; we need to understand ourselves through the work we do, and in order to do the work we do.
      When you talk about the next era being one of creativity, I think that says a lot. My sense is that the creative faculties help us to access that higher thinking. So I guess what this whole journey with Ethics for Doing Good is about for me, is wanting to bring consciousness to the changemaking process. I am seeking to be more conscious as I bring about change.
      Thank you for articulating so beautifully the personal dimension of what I was trying to write about.

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