What attracted me to attend Social Change Institute (SCI) 2012 at Hollyhock, British Columbia, was the opportunity to be within a circle of like-minded professionals, business people, organizations, as well as visual and performing artists, who share the same intentionality in our respective pursuits – co-creating a better world that inclusively benefits the human family and planetary well-being.
The first aspect of SCI’s uniqueness is the phenomenon of such a gathering of multi-faceted knowledge, experience and talent – across sectors – to learn together and collaborate.
For different sectors seldom come together to exchange knowledge and make the effort to understand each other’s contributions more fully, particularly to address the bigger picture of improving the quality of life for all. Even within a single sector or, indeed, single organization – individuals’ conflicting priorities and a focus on short term needs, can short circuit larger long term possibilities.
Regardless, I believe the imperative question of this historic moment, for each and every human being is: “Which story are you caught in?” Here I repeat a quote by visionary philosopher Jean Houston, whom I cited in my previous blog.
In other words, are we holding on for dear life to the story that is familiar to us, namely, practicing the same professional and personal practices and habits in the illusion of security, even as the natural environment and climate exhibit radical changes, and the economic base is crumbling under us, evident most obviously in increasing job losses and growing nation state crises?
The significance of Hollyhock’s SCI, and its affiliated institutes, is that the participants pro-actively want to write a new story. This story is not linear, yet instead circular, to take humanity on a life-affirming, spiral journey of page-turning planetary possibilities.
Some folks already have become the characters of the beginning chapters of this new story, experientially living and manifesting it, modelling what is possible in this moment’s planetary project. These folks are from all generations.
In fact, an SCI `intergenerational’ dialogue one evening offered a safe space for everyone to voice the widespread problem in getting jobs and their mixed experiences with other generations. The dialogue circles were healing and unifying. For everyone had a story of feeling discriminated against because of age, regardless of how young or how old each of us happens to be.
Participants also challenged the negativity of mainstream news stories which tend to pit different generations against each other. One future task became self-evident, the need to encourage or initiate group and community dialogues wherever we live, to discuss ways to value and apply the skills and wisdom of all generations.
Judy Rebick, veteran activist, and host of the `intergenerational’ opening presentation titled The Art of Social Change Leadership, introduced a wonderful example of working across generations, documented in her latest book Occupy This!
Tzeporah Berman also numbered among the several inspiring keynote speakers. In a morning presentation, she regaled the SCI participants with tales from the days of the Clayoquot Sound protest and being imprisoned, among other anecdotes from her recent book This Crazy Time, Living Our Environmental Challenge.
Silas Balabyekkubo is a hip hop artist and co-founder of Luba Flow, a positive form of hip hop in Uganda. He brought tears to our eyes through the gentle love that he expressed, singing about why and how the lives of the children of Uganda can be transformed. He is dedicated to that pursuit. I will speak more about Silas in my next blog.
What impressed me overall at SCI was the emphasis on what is possible. In that engagement, we rose above the common human tendency to spin our wheels in repeating what is wrong with the world, and getting stuck deeper in the mud of self-induced powerlessness.
In the yin-yang of life, however, we cannot ignore the perceived obstacles, but instead need to recognize and name them clearly. Next, the more difficult work essential for making change requires us to shore up courage, integrity and our other higher qualities, to help us move past the inevitable resistance of human nature to change.
The second aspect of the SCI’s uniqueness, in that spirit, was its holistic approach to professional, and more specifically, leadership development. For five days, change makers in social justice and environmental advocacy and activism came together to shore up each other, and also be nurtured and reinforced by advisors and supporters who recognize the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual toll of doing this work.
Too often – and I know from life long experience – choosing to work towards a bigger vision can be lonely and disheartening, even crushing, when surrounded by so many people either indifferent in the cocoon of their own comfort or shut down from fear, despair, bereft of vision, feeling overwhelmed just to get from one day to the next.
At the opening morning focus forum, guest speaker Gibran Rivera set the holistic tone for the SCI experience by inviting the inclusion of the soul. True to an authentic spiritual way of offering something to reflect upon, in his follow up role to begin the evening sessions, he raised heartfelt questions for us to explore, such as: What brings you joy? What are you seeking?
The range of SCI participatory interactions, from serious to playful, addressed the strengthening of both outer and inner capabilities of each respective participant, whether an emerging or veteran change maker. In this way, the SCI demonstrated the mandate of Hollyhock, as `Canada’s Lifelong Learning Centre’: “to inspire, nourish and support people making the world better.”
The SCI program, first of all, included a diversity of skill-building workshops, focus forums, and one-on-one sessions, in which participants received hard-nosed, practical advice about effective strategies, financial accountability, and how to achieve clearly identifiable goals.
As an example of a `focus forum,’ on each of three mornings, a case study of a nonprofit organization was examined (after a presentation by its founder), based on its good work to date and how to move it forward. Selected 2012 organizations included Shark Truth, 350.org, and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
Also integral to the SCI’s holistic approach were: the inclusion of pre-breakfast very early morning meditation and yoga; free choice to take time out through the day for private moments in the Sanctuary and/or going for walks on the beach or in the woods; and evening sessions that included dialogue circles and experiential exercises to explore our inner emotional and spiritual condition in a respectful atmosphere. Later evening music and dancing was optional for anyone who still had the energy.
Something extraordinary happens when people choose to bring all of who they are to be present in a compassionate circle of fellow human beings. I believe it was the photographer Andre Kertesz who once said: “The eyes are the windows to the soul.”
In safe spaces of intimate conversation, when people make eye contact and totally pay attention to another human being, it is a beautiful gift. For the sad reality felt by many people in our troubled world is that the soul very often is not welcomed. Indeed, we witness the consequences of a neglected soul so painfully evident in mental health problems, addictions and other misguided acts of destruction.
The third aspect of SCI’s uniqueness speaks to the present moment of technological obsession in the larger society. A growing number of people are so attached to their communication gadgets that these inanimate objects become 24/7 virtual appendages.
How refreshing, throughout the SCI, to experience a non-beeping environment, and instead immerse oneself in the joy and power of personal encounters in which our innate skills such as `active listening’ could be awakened.
A computer lab was available at SCI and participants could use their own gadgets, privately. But, in the sessions, mobile technologies were blessedly absent, in order to give full attention and respect to the processes. Discussion about the creative and valuable strategies in applying social media to support social and environmental change happened, appropriately, in some sessions.
A fourth, yet not necessarily final, aspect of SCI’s uniqueness was the authenticity in which the natural beauty, peace and sacredness of Cortes Island is enhanced by the conscientious development of the physical operating systems at Hollyhock. Moreover, residents, workers and guests all are requested to abide by environmentally sustainable practices.
The implicit message, in regard to all our activities, was to acknowledge our co-existence with all forms of life, upon which we depend. Therefore, in living quarters particularly, the plumbing system ensured that we would be frugal in our use of water. Minimizing any waste was proactively encouraged. We removed our outdoor footwear whenever we entered buildings.
Our meals mostly came out of the gorgeous garden next to the dining hall and the ocean, to offer a pesco-vegetarian diet. After each nutritious meal, each person was responsible to bring all dishes, utensils and leftovers to the appropriate bins for cleaning and compost disposal.
To sum up, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, every participant would depart the SCI fortified personally, and also enriched by new insights and tools to bestow in their respective services to humanity and planetary healing.
The next blog will outline personal SCI highlights and why they had special meaning related to the trajectory of my own work.