Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Me" or "them": The tension between institutional and individual change

"Peacemaking is a healing process and it begins with me but it does not end there." Gene Knudsen Hoffman

I love this quote. I focus a lot on individual level practices like reflection and deep listening that can help people to be more successful and satisfied by their work, particularly in engagement, as scientists and practitioners. And, ultimately, they are many of the same types of things that I believe help to propel the work itself forward. But there is a real tension there with the fact that there are also larger institutional and systemic changes that need to happen in concert with individual level change for things to truly progress.

For the natural sciences in particular, my general feeling is that we have focused very little on the role of what we as unique, feeling individuals bring, and have the potential to bring, to our work - beyond our intellect. And we're far from the only ones - I see a fairly consistent calls to "be the change you want to see in the world" in many of the circles that I am a part of. So, while I deeply support systemic change work, I also see a real need in my small portion of the world to allow more room for discussion of the role of the individual, for the role we play in creating the situations that we tend to think are about "other" people who, for example, are "in denial" or just need more facts and *then* they'd understand.

There is also something to be learned in holding the tension between the two - as a person you may be more drawn to working deeply on systemic change or self change while feeling resistant to the other. Just the act of noticing that can be insightful. But, at the end of the day, it's all important, and interconnected.

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