Sunday, September 15, 2013

Changing Lives

Transforming lives is the heart of meaningful change.  So it's worth reflecting what has impacted on our own lives to get a sense of how we can enable change for others.

I was reminded of a few of my own, hearing Sam Manger's story of how he ended up doing Transitions Film Festival Adelaide - inspired by his experience of TFF in Melbourne.

I'm sure you can think of many examples in your own life similar to these...

Learning about the politics of social relations on 'year 13' exchange in Russia in 2004
High school social systems can be turbulent and unpleasant, but there is a wonderful simplicity to them.  It's something else trying to manage relationships in an exchange position living with families and schools with their own complexes, different cultures and a diverse (often perplexing) set of expectations.  I was totally unprepared, didn't realise how consciously I needed to manage these relationships, and I failed.  I learnt my lesson the hard way.

Attending my first Australian Literature lecture with David Brooks
David Brooks is amazing, and I certainly hope Australian Literature is still kicking along in the backwaters of University of Sydney so that other students have the opportunity to learn with him.  Nevermind that the classes were interesting and engaging - I was inspired by being so directly connected to the actual world I lived in, studying writers who lived and wrote about my city, learning from a lecturer and tutor who knew them and often edited their journal submissions and published commentary on their work.  The only other time I remember doing anything that really connected to the broader world was reviewing the newspaper in year 12 economics.  It was inspiring to feel for the first time that I was a real human being with a right to engage in the world.

Taking up civic responsibility with the University of Sydney Motorcycle Club
A little later in my first year of uni I stumbled into my first real role of civic responsibility, as Treasurer of the university motorcycle club.  I went along because I wanted to hang out with some fellow bikers, and I put my hand up cos they needed it - and I could add and subtract.  As far as I can tell, this is the first time I exercised any civic agency, having previously taken a lot of interest in social science, economics, the labour market and other fun things - but only at an idealistic level.  I haven't looked back.

Having my assumptions turned upside down by the movie Economics of Happiness
I'm pretty grateful for the grounding year 12 economics gave me, but the Economics of Happiness was the first time I'd had my core economic assumptions challenged.  Much of the film is pretty dogmatic and suspect itself, this is true, but it did open my eyes to some of the limitations of economic rationalism that I'd previously taken as gospel.  Many of you will know my general disdain for mainstream economics, and its impact on decision making and our social and business structures.  Much more than just academic questions, this film forced me to reassess all of my own values relating to our economic systems.  I can see in this brief experience the seeds of my present respect for localism, sustainability, and probably even my passion for agency.

Economics of Happiness was going to be my very first post on this blog - but that ended up an unpublished draft owing to my first experience of really making something amazing happen, at the Global Sustainability Jam 2011.  You can read about that on my very first blog post.

While my writing is much better, the threads of inspiration are still clear.  A dozen other examples have come up in the writing of this... not least of which are moments of inspiration offered by the heroes I wrote about in my last post.  My past blog posts offer insights into many more as well.

So what can we take from this?

I don't know about your examples, but mine make a few things pretty clear...
  • the most transformative experiences are very rarely planned or predictable - all of the above were serendipitous
  • tiny things can make a big difference to the right people at the right time (butterfly effect)
  • most of the time when you enable a transformation in someone's life, you'll never know about it - and you won't capture any of the value you create either

I'm not sure what this really means though.  It suggests to me that philosophies of change need a level of sophistication higher than we're accustomed to. I have been reflecting recently on culture, memetics and planning for serendipity, and I sense that these are the types of things that will bring that extra level.  But we need to understand how to wield them.

In the meantime, keep creating experiences and and opening up possibilities for people - and keep learning how value flows out of them.