Transform the System Dialog

I just posted this to folks I’m working with on “Transform the System with Compassion:
A Workbook.”

Report on Responses to “A Mutual Support Community (11/26/17 Draft)

Sixteen people responded to the “A Mutual Support Community (11/26/17 Draft)” email, which  asked folks if they “want to help form, or join” a mutual support team. I’ve posted all of the responses and my responses here. Most of those responses were positive. Two were particularly encouraging.

Michael Carano, an activist who was recently elected to the City Council in Tallmadge, Ohio said, “I do admit I need to be more conscious of what you have clearly outlined in the list and likewise put it at the heart of what I am engaged in,” and reported that he will ask the Council “to ‘check in’ by briefly reporting on their personal change efforts.”

And Steve Gerritson, who’s on the executive committee of Clean Technology Alliance in Seattle, said:

Yes, we do talk about personal goals, successes, failures, and change efforts, although the discussions are not structured and participation is voluntary. But using your guidelines I think we might make a more systematic effort at it. I don’t want to scare anyone off, so we’ll probably have a discussion about the merits beforehand.

Myself, at a recent Love Army forum with about 10 people, I initiated an experiment with a reporting format that evolved into the format I’m now recommending. It seemed to go well. As part of the planning process at Glide Church where I’m active, I submitted the idea and await a response. One of the respondents who came to the November 18 workshop said he wants to help form or join a team. I look forward to talking with him about possibilities in San Francisco when his time frees up.

Partly due to the holidays, the school semester, travel plans, health issues, and geographical factors, other respondents don’t plan to experiment soon. Some would like to later.

But other respondents address a common resistance. Kitty Myers made an important point when she said, “For the invitation, I suggest a de-emphasis on personal revelation with that being on a potential area of growth for the groups as they coalesce into a comfortable source of support. One step at a time!” I replied, “I agree that groups often need to coalesce — establish trust — before engaging in personal revelation. However, I’d like to figure out how to nudge those who are ready to do so.” I also wonder whether there are ways we can nurture more trust more quickly.

In a similar vein, Dan Brook suggested that (confidential) personal reporting be a recommendation rather than a requirement. He also suggested that “the entire endeavor have the feeling of ‘inviting a type of commitment’ that is lightweight and based on agreement with the spirit of the goals, rather than any technical sense of agreement.”  And Mary Kay Magistad said she prefers “informal interaction” rather “reporting to a team of people.”

Those points strike at the heart of the matter: the need for intentionality and accountability. That’s why married couples, for example, affirm vows and religious communities affirm a written expression of their core beliefs. Those are “technical” agreements.

For decades I’ve heard activists promise to do personal work and informally support one another in those efforts. But I don’t see it happening. They let it slide. They align with Michael Carano when he said, “I do admit I need to be more conscious of what you have clearly outlined in the list and likewise put it at the heart of what I am engaged in.” And Steve Gerritson (see above) who said, “It may be that getting to the endpoint you desire is easier if the starting point is a little more focused…. [Our] discussions are not structured and participation is voluntary. But using your guidelines I think we might make a more systematic effort at it.”

WHY NOT commit to take 60 seconds once a month to report to several trusted friends about your efforts — and listen to them report about theirs? Knowing during the course of the month that you would be asked to give that report would serve to remind you to reflect and work on your personal development. It would help hold you accountable to your commitment.

In Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, Tina Rosenberg reports on how, “from the affluent suburbs of Chicago to the impoverished shanties of rural India,” intentional mutual support groups have helped smokers stop smoking, teens in Africa fight AIDS, worshippers deepen their faith, activists overthrow dictators, addicts overcome addictions, and minority students learn calculus. I believe such groups could also help activists overcome their own activist-related addictions and become more effective.

Again, why not? James Baldwin said:

A day will come when you trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. We will trust each other…. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet willing to pay.

What is that price? What are people afraid of? I’m not sure. I only have some sense of answers. But it seems we need to address that question directly, develop methods for relieving fear, and help one another “pay the price.”

As Mary Kay said, “The challenge now, I guess, is to find people who function best when reporting to a team of people.” Given how deeply individualism is embedded in this country, I don’t know how many such people we can find — people who also share a commitment to systemic social transformation. But I believe it’s important we try.

Once the workbook is finished and we circulate it widely, including personal visits to organizations, we may generate more interest in mutual support teams that operate within a transformative worldview. In the meantime, hopefully some of us will experiment with teams whose members report to one another about personal and political change efforts. The results of those experiments could then go into the hopper, along with reports from Michael and Steve. We shall see!


Also, to the “Report on the Feedback on the Draft Booklet  I’ve added a comment from Michael Nagler:

I confess, the most I can do is take a few minutes here and there to look through the document.  So two comments for now: 1) the section on ‘Nonviolence’ should be titled ‘Against the use of violence,’ or something to that effect.  It says nothing about nonviolence, and could reinforce serious misconceptions that nv isn’t real.  2) This sentence should have a dash inst. of a comma, otherwise ambiguous: “Systems thinkers avoid ideology, getting locked into visionary theorizing…” Hope that helps a little at least. Michael

And my response:

I prefer common usage. Merriam-Webster’s defines “violence” as:

    1. the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy
    2. an instance of violent treatment or procedure
  1. injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation : outrage
    1. : intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force the violence of the storm
    2. vehement feeling or expression : fervor; also : an instance of such action or feeling
    3. a clashing or jarring quality : discordance

And it defines “nonviolence” as:

  1. : abstention from violence as a matter of principle; also : the principle of such abstention
  2. :
    1. the quality or state of being nonviolent : avoidance of violence:
    2. nonviolent demonstrations for the purpose of securing political ends

I believe my use of those terms in the draft booklet is consistent with those definitions. When we refer to a particular form of nonviolent resistance, I believe we should use some other term, such as “philosophical nonviolence” or “Satyagraha.”… Thanks for the feedback and the copy-editing suggestion.


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