'I think the vast majority of people who are working in the development sector are fantastic people deeply committed to, you know, progressive values, but you can't build accountable organisations just on that belief, right? .....(we shouldn't) create an institution that has a blind spot to the abuse of power, because we're so convinced that everything is going to be fine, we are good people'
Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CEO Oxfam GB in an interview with me for Healing Solidarity 2019 conference
Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CEO Oxfam GB in a conversation with me for the 2019 Healing Solidarity conferenceIf you are reading this you might feel that you are one of the Good ones.
If you are reading this you might feel that you are one of the 'good ones'.
And there's no judgement for having that thought.
Most of us probably think in sometimes.
Feeling that we are and want to do the right thing is a powerful motivator in our work, especially in work that is about creating change in the world.
And yet, As Danny says, or assuming that we are the 'good ones' is also a powerful impediment to our work.
Because if I imagine and believe that I am one of the good ones, I look for problems outside myself.
It's all those other people who are racist. (We also talk about this idea in relation to anti-racism in a podcast Ziada Abeid and I recorded with Holiday Philips last year which you can find here)
Other people who 'don't get it'
The problem can't be with me.
A powerful impact of thinking that we personally are, one of the 'good ones' can be to distract us from the things we can actually control, the things we can actually change. It can function to get us off the hook.
If the problem is with other people, my work is to argue with them, persuade them, critique them. But I can stay the same. I don't have to do the hard work of changing my own habits, feeling into my own blind spots, understanding more about my own reactions.
But if we are angry about injustice and serious about trying to create change it's important to recognise that, whilst we can't shift big systems all on our own, change can and should start with us.
Rather than striving to be good people, we can instead strive to understand and be part of a process of change.
This leads us more towards solidarity than critique.
That's not to say, there should never be critique.
But it's not the fundamental practice of change making.
Change happens when we are willing to welcome it.
If we can be people who understand more about how change happens, at the micro as well as the macro level, if we engage in it and get intimate with the idea of change in our own lives, that is the practice of change-making.
And that's why healing is such a critical element of this work for me.
Because once we see ourselves as part of the problem, for example as part of a white supremacist society or as people who sometimes perpetuate patriarchy even upon ourselves, then we are in a better position not just to start to shift how we show up, but also to understand more about how change might happen more widely too.
You might say that there are lots of big problems out there in the world and reflecting on ourselves isn't going to tackle them.
But I also think change often happens bit by bit, small decision by small decision, habit by habit as well as in the big political or cultural moments.
Covid may be a big news story but what has changed our lives is the things that we do differently hour by hour and day by day.
Likewise so many of the changes, we seek in the world and within our organisations will happen as a result of the choices we each make every day. on a massive scale.
That's not to say that personal choices are the be-all and end-all, it is a mistake to take this to mean that we aren't hugely impacted by systems and structures beyond our control.
But it is also true the actions of many human beings that ultimately can add up to the kind of watershed moments that we might recognise as a discernible moment of change.
In a conversation for the 2020 Healing Solidarity conference, Gagan Sethi shared this with Roshni Nuggehalli and Lysa John:
I use to use this metaphor which I borrowed from a book from Gareth Morgan, .. of a white ant colony. ... Their colony is built out of what they excrete after what they eat. If you see, they build at least 1,000 or more times, or 2,000 times their size, which is much bigger than what a human being builds. If you look very closely it seems chaotic, but when you look at a white ant colony from far, it's very grand. That, to me is the metaphor of reimagining the way civil society has to be organized. Each white ant is contributing to the change process. It's not organised. It just happens, and the design is then seen from far. ....That's what civil society has to be, huge white ant colonies across the world.
If we were to accept that as people committed to working for change in the world we are white ant colonies in which we have an important role but one that, oftentimes, we can't quite see, how much more important might it in fact be to let go of viewing ourselves as 'one of the good ones' and instead focus on how we can each, in our own particular way, practice welcoming and embodying change?