theory: individual change is necessary to create systemic change26 Mar 2017
as i think more about change on individual, organizational, and societal levels, i’m developing lots of theories. one of them is about how to lead processes that result in structural change.
when i worked at iisc, a lot of the work the org did was helping other organizations to integrate an oppression analysis into their work. over time, i started to get a sense that there were two ways to lead work like this: you can teach people how to change rules and make better policies or you can show people how systems of oppression show up in themselves as individuals and work with them to change those things. or you can do both.
from my observations there and in a few other organizations, i think that latter is much more effective. maybe the former is also effective, but it runs the risk of culture in the long run overtaking the short term changes.
i think it was mlk jr. who use to say something along similar lines. i wish i could remember which speech, but i’m pretty sure the line went something like “even if we win the legal battles and the system remains intact, we have lost the war for the true battle is in the hearts and minds of people who believe that some are inherently better and others are inherently worse. until we can get rid of that root of separation, any victories will be undermined by the way people are treated.” this is part of what drove the campaign strategy of going to the craziest, most racist cities, and then making sure imagary of people being attacked in the streets got high national visibility. selma wasn’t an accident. the selma marches were strategic in hoping that if the public literally saw the brutality, the majority would be forced to change their hearts and minds. (was it successful? ish. but that’s another topic).
anyway, my point is, i think when teaching systemic change, if there aren’t elements of systemic and individual change incorporated, that is suboptimal.
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