On Sunday, May 26th I was joined by David Gershon, one of the world’s most thoughtful and innovative social change agents, for a dialog entitled “Let’s Evolve the Way We Change the World”.
Our dialog was profound for being tremendously hopeful and deeply confronting as we faced the existential core of our world crisis, and of how and why we change (and don’t).
One of the things I most appreciate about David is the intelligence and sensitivity with which he flows when working with people who don’t share worldviews or vocabularies. We’re both members of the Evolutionary Leaders group founded by Deepak Chopra and I have seen this skill in action. It is no wonder David has been described as a “graceful revolutionary” and has been able to facilitate sustainable change at all levels of society, between individuals and groups and within communities and governments across the globe.
But perhaps most impressive is the rigor of his thought. David’s book, Social Change 2.0 which I highly recommend, is a detailed blueprint of the lessons he has learned over his many decades as a change-agent, broken down into practical principles. It is a step-by-step guide in virtually every stage of world-changing. It is consistently insightful, compassionate, visionary and street-savvy, and truly breathtaking in both its granularity and in its scope. It puts the power (and accountability) to change in the hands of change agents, calling for change agents to “upgrade our skillset.” Rather than blaming failure to change on the apathy or self-interest of others, David focuses on creating a “pull” in the system, as opposed to a “push.”
During our dialog, David offered a clear articulation of a topic very dear to me—the weaving together of the inner and outer work we do, the spiritual underpinning of activism. David sees the inner work of awakening as necessary for expanding our identity beyond narrow self-interest and limiting patterns. The inner work inspires us to greater levels of impact, skill, and effectiveness.
However, there is a limit to only doing “inner” work. Our outer work in the world and with others means growing beyond just the ability to envision change, to actually making it happen in the world, on larger and larger scales. Becoming effective change-agents requires another level of inner transformation.
We also looked at why so many well-intentioned efforts at change fail and whether or not the kind of 2nd order change we need is even possible. David referred to the last page of Social Change 2.0, where he answers a question he is often asked- Do you feel hopeful about the future of humanity? Is it possible for us to really change?
What David said gives him hope is that every single person on the planet wants to have a better life. This is a motivation that spans cultures and communities across the globe. David says, “If they can see how to do that while also improving the larger conditions above them, piggybacking on their own self-improvement motivations, they will act. If we can help somebody see a possibility, a vision, we have the means to move things to a new place.” Vision and motivation is the true lever of change and the organizing principle of Social Change 2.0 and all of David’s work.
I was also curious to hear David’s thoughts on what I call “existential disorientation”, or the challenge of holding onto the profound inquiry of our global crises with a beginners mind and gratitude for life. Even in the moment shortly before a catastrophe, it is possible—and appropriate—to enjoy the sunrise anyway. We can hold onto the wonder of life and evolution. And yet we must also think meta-systemically, which means facing overwhelming challenges, but it’s best to do it with a light heart.
David summarized this paradox in a neat phrase, “savoring life and existence while saving life and existence.” He pointed to Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest which suggests that we can either see this moment as the worst possible scenario, leading to a dystopian future, or as an extraordinary time for those of us who are transformationally oriented change agents to change the world. This is an unprecedented time to step in and be a part of the solution.
I agree with David that a transformational moment of truth is upon all awake people. It is not possible to be neutral anymore. We can no longer just rant at the corruptions of business or government, and feel that we are contributing that way. If we understand the influence and metaphysics of thought, we will realize that this only diffuses despair and contributes to the contraction of the species.
We are now called to be part of the solution.
I invite you to listen to the full dialog here, which one of our listeners called “a powerful spiritual experience of being present in a global, even Kosmic, evolutionary sangha.”