Exploring the origins, ethics and future of changemaking

Cultural constellations (and a marriage) of change

In Personal Reflections on May 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Today I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Mike and Rosie Kennedy. Mike is Australian born, and Rosie of Maori heritage. They have been married for a number of years and lived in both Australia and New Zealand. As changemakers and community leaders, they have had to grapple with and understand each other and the world through the lenses of their different cultures.

Mike shared some interesting stories about first going into cultural situations in New Zealand and needing to learn quickly around how to talk, how to LISTEN, and how to behave. He talked about learning aspects of Maori spirituality and language. While we live so closely in the world, there are some strong distinctions in how community works, and how leadership and change happens.

Mike shared how when he first landed in New Zealand so many years ago, he was reading Machiavelli’s The Prince. This classic text talks about an approach to changemaking based on power, politics, corruption and violence; glorifying the ethical maxim that the “end justifies the means”. Mike described how surreal it was to be reading this philosophy while being introduced to such a contrasting view of how power and community can work.

According to Rosie and Mike, the Maori way has its own sense of power. It is a spiritual and cultural way of being in the world deeply rooted to land and water, to family and community. While we didn’t unpack ethics in relation to Maori culture, I got a strong sense that their culture has a good sense of justice and doing right by people. It seemed that in working with individuals and communities, both Mike and Rosie had a strong ethical framework and spiritual reference point to refer back to.

I grew up in Australia,¬† have Irish heritage (way back), and a bunch of influences from Germany and Switzerland, including my partner who is Slovak. I grew up Catholic, but didn’t have a particular ethnic cultural influence in my upbringing. I wonder what cultural influences have informed my own views of how change works and what is good in the world. Aside from a strong spiritual practice that is universal in orientation, I am not grounded in a particular cultural set of practices aside from the consumerist, technology and media culture that I find around me. When we don’t have these historical cultural orientations, what do we refer to as our guides for how to be in the world?

Mike has a strong intellect, and an open and generous heart. Rosie is an intellectual force of her own, and possesses grace, powerful silence, empathy and intuition. Despite their individual wonders, my sense in being with them is that their combined strengths are what makes them powerful. It is a true marriage of service. Mike says that Rosie helped him become an anthropologist in his work. They work with people of all backgrounds, including some folk who are living right on the edge in terms of experiencing homelessness and addictions. They see beyond the illusions of the physical shell to help them create the lives the want to live.

How has your family lineage or constellation informed your view of doing good in the world? What could you learn from other cultures to gain a greater insight into being of service? Who in your own constellation could you work with to bring about a marriage of collective service?

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