For the many millions of us working to create a better world, it is easy to feel discouraged by the seeming insignificance of even major successes relative to the scale of the problems we face as a nation and a species. Consumed by the details and challenges of our daily engagements, we may easily lose sight of the big picture of the powerful social dynamic to which our work is contributing.
Step back from time to time; take a breath, look out beyond the immediate horizon to bring that big picture back into perspective. Reflect in awe and wonder at the power of the larger social dynamic to which your work contributes.
In my career in international development, I saw, time and again, that the most successful projects were not the largest or the most carefully, centrally planned; they were the ones that arose from the bottom up. Likewise, successful social movements are emergent, evolving, radically self-organizing, and involve the dedicated efforts of many people, each finding the role that best uses his or her gifts and passions. Their scope and their success may not, at first, be readily apparent. Social movements grow and evolve around framing ideas and mutually supportive relationships instead of through top-down direction. New ideas gain traction, or not, depending on what works for those involved in the movement. Some alliances are fleeting; others endure.
The organism, not the machine, provides the appropriate metaphor. The relevant knowledge resides not in the heads of outside experts but in the people who populate the system. The challenge is to help them recognize, organize, and use that knowledge in ever more effective ways.
This is the model I think of when I think about what it will take to build the New Economy—one based on fulfilling the basic needs of people and planet—that we need. It’s also the way that that economy is already being built: step by step, in creative and surprising ways, by people looking for alternatives to a system that isn’t working for them.
To bring down the institutions of Empire, we must begin to build the rules, relationships, and institutions of a New Economy. These must be lived into being from the bottom up.
So how do you know whether your work is contributing to a big-picture outcome? If you can answer yes to any one of the following five questions, then be assured that it is.
- Does it help discredit a false cultural story fabricated to legitimize relationships of domination and exploitation and to replace it with a true story describing unrealized possibilities for growing the real wealth of healthy communities?
- Is it connecting others of the movement’s millions of leaders who didn’t previously know one another, helping them find common cause and build relationships of mutual trust that allow them to speak honestly from their hearts and to know that they can call on one another for support when needed?
- Is it creating and expanding liberated social spaces in which people experience the freedom and support to experiment with living the creative, cooperative, self-organizing relationships of the new story they seek to bring into the larger culture?
- Is it providing a public demonstration of the possibilities of a real-wealth economy?
- Is it mobilizing support for a rule change that will shift the balance of power from the people and institutions of the Wall Street phantom-wealth economy to the people and institutions of living-wealth Main Street economies?
These are useful guidelines for setting both individual and group priorities. Bear in mind that in a systems-change undertaking of this magnitude, there is no magic bullet and no one is going to make it happen on their own, so don’t be discouraged if the world looks much the same today despite your special and heroic effort yesterday. It took five thousand years to create the mess we are in today. It will take more than a few days to set it right.