I feel like I am on a life journey in re-discovering what it means to me to be a social change agent. The following is an attempt to describe my reflections so far. There is much that I continue to be curious about and the journey is ongoing.
Throughout my life and in my role as a social change agent I have seen myself as the one who needs to know, the one who needs to provide insight, information and direction on how to do this that or the other, the one who can fix things, resolves problems, finds solutions. I appreciate that this approach resulted in projects being realised, goals being achieved and things getting done and something was being missed. I was too one dimensional in being the solution finder; what was being missed was the complexity in me and in others and therefore how I understood working with people.
In all of the communities, groups and organisations I have been a part of, my experience is that complexity is ever present. I myself have experienced what I have thought of as ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings. For example I have been unsure of myself, I have wanted to be noticed, I have felt competitive, frustrated with others, envious or jealous as well as many other ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings. Because I thought of these thoughts and feelings as ‘difficult’ I understand more now that this limited my willingness to name, welcome and work with these thoughts and feelings in myself and I believe this limited my work in these contexts as a social change agent.
Whatever my role, whether as a group member, an activist, a trainer, manager or facilitator I have struggled with these ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings. It is not just the struggling with these thoughts and feelings it is also that I have not openly named and spoken about them. I have not consciously owned them as mine, as part of me. I have witnessed too that others are also affected by a similar raft of ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings as well as the struggle to own and acknowledge them.
Now when thinking about my role as a social change agent I am focusing on transforming my understanding of these ‘difficult’ thoughts and feelings; they are just ordinary. Seeing them as ‘difficult’ rather than challenging to work with has got both me and those I come together with into trouble. This avoidance tactic often limited the work I (and we) were able to do together at best and at worst stalled the process or broke it down.
Something is changing and it is changing from the inside out. The difference feels both significant and subtle. My way of being in the world and how I see myself as a social change agent is changing. My old way wasn’t well rounded. It wasn’t embodied because I was reluctant to own, embrace and acknowledge my complexity. I am growing in confidence that handled well and with compassion, working with these challenges will aid us positively working together and achieving the social change we would like to see.
So this is where I am in my journey to understand what it means for me to be a social change agent. I recognise how challenging it is for me to change, but perhaps those of us who think of ourselves as change agents share this malaise, we see ourselves as being the facilitators of social change primarily and not as part of the social change we want to see happen?
The way I approach my work now is different. I feel clearer that change is hard, for all of us and I am working on equipping myself in ways that will support both me and others to acknowledge and work with this. I have a growing awareness of how I can work alongside others as a resource and this will mean different things depending on the context. Sometimes it is sharing my reflections, asking questions, sometimes it is simply getting out of the way; allowing others to find their way, and remembering to include complexity at every level. Currently I am finding it helpful to describe my role as a social change agent as a ‘reflective and critical friend’ to both myself and others. One who supports individuals or groups of people to be the best they can be in their context by being curious and asking open-ended questions about what is going on – exploring and identifying what is significant, what’s important, what works well and what needs to be improved. What is impacting positively and negatively on our lives and our work together. It is an opportunity to identify more clearly the issues, the challenges and potential for each of us and our work together.