Have you ever had the feeling while reading a newspaper, listening to a lecture, or sitting around a dinner table talking with friends about current events, that “Something ought to be done about that”? Or perhaps you have felt appalled by an injustice of some sad event and thought, “What is to be done?”
Some events, especially those at the global level, seem insurmountable -- poverty, injustice, and environmental degradation, for example. And even in our local communities, we seem beset with problems -- destructive behavior, a lack education in the arts, cruelty to animals -- that may make us feel upset.
Such shock or sadness about the state of the world or even everyday problems signals our recognition that things can be otherwise. Differences can be made. Hope persists. Recognizing a problem and feeling that things can change is the beginning of change itself.
If you have had this experience, you can be part of the change; you can dream and develop a vision and a plan of action. Gandhi wrote that “we must be the change we wish to see,” and I agree. He meant, I think, that we must embody the change itself, but I would add that we must dare to dream of change for the sake of the world.
In this short article, I would like to share with you how I came to believe this idea. I hope the story will be helpful to you as you address issues that upset and concern you in your community and in the world.
Briefly, here is what happened to me: Back in 1987, I began to dream of creating an organization that would help women around the world be strengthened and empowered.
The idea became a passion, and I worked with others to put together The Global Fund for Women, which grew from the seed of an idea to a fully developed organization, now about twenty years old and the largest foundation in the world working to support the human rights of women. In other words, from a dream came the reality.
In the course of developing The Global Fund for Women, I came to know that the way an organization does its work is more important than what it does. I also learned that there can be some definable steps toward effecting change.
First you must dare to dream of positive change and then clarify that vision. Try to be as clear as possible about what you hope to do and why. As you dream of creating a program or an organization that will “change the world” at whatever level you may wish to work, people may suggest that you are being “unrealistically idealistic.” Never mind; that may be a good thing. Major change seldom occurs without seemingly “unrealistic” ideas.
Your dream will act to galvanize others. My dream of getting money directly into the hands of grass-roots women around the world in respectful, trusting, and flexible ways inspired a good number of people. My experience urges you to let yourself dream and then clarify the vision.
Very soon, however, our dreams must be turned into reality if we want to see real change. Here is a quote from the Baha’I writer, Abdu’l-Baha, which I like very much: “What profit is there in agreeing that universal friendship is good, and talking of the solidarity of the human race as a grand ideal? Unless these thoughts are translated into the world of action, they are useless. The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals and do not strive to put them into practice.”
In other words, as you seek to make change, you need to take very specific actions to give reality to your dreams.
I found that a good beginning is to meet with others, even two or three friends, and talk about your vision for change. Begin to write down your ideas. Decide to meet again to figure out how to proceed.
Take on different responsibilities for the program or organization -- deciding when, how often, and where you will meet and what specific programs you will undertake. One or two of your friends will begin to think about writing a brochure or a statement of the vision and purpose of your enterprise.
Another will begin to think of sources of money, including your own donations, if your activities are going to require funds (for publications, advertising, travel, or whatever). Begin as volunteers until you truly find that you need to hire people to run the project.
Most important, be clear about your vision and purpose. If people say that your dream is too big or that it “can’t be done,” try not to be brought down by such negative thoughts. Instead, address the central issue that they raise and think positively about whether or how to address their criticisms; it may be necessary to avoid negative people for a while.
Giving reality to a dream can be hard work, and one doesn’t want to be burdened with negativism. Make a note of constructive criticism for future reference; in the beginning, your ideas for change need to be nurtured. At this time of beginnings, think not only of what you want to do but the way you want to do it: what is the nature of the program or organization that you want to build? Do you want it to be an “idea factory”? If so, be sure to seek out people very different from yourself to ensure that they will bring in perspectives that you will not think of.
Do you want it to be a calm and gentle place? If so, think of ways that your group can set in place processes that allow people to feel safe and calm.
Are you working on issues of social justice? If so, make sure that your everyday practices in the group recognize and respect differences and that the day-to-day work practices are based on respect, trust, and compassion. The medium is the message: the way you do your work is more important than what you do.
I suppose that these thoughts on the very beginning of change may seem very simple. They are. But they will get you started to create change. There is no beginning too small.
Based on the book Paradigm Found: Leading and Managing for Positive Change by Anne Firth Murray. Reprinted with permission.
Anne Firth Murray, a New Zealander, attended the University of California, Berkeley, and New York University, where she studied economics, political science, and public administration, with a focus on international health policy and women's reproductive health. She has worked at the United Nations as a writer, has taught in Hong Kong and Singapore, and has spent several years as an editor with Oxford, Stanford, and Yale University presses. She is the recipient of many awards and honors for her work on women's health and philanthropy, and in 2005 she was among one thousand women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
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