This weekend, I went out to Hout Bay harbour with the Agents of Change Project. Walking out into an area where boats came in, seals played in the water, and children were fishing with hooks and lines, we could smell fish, engine oil and the salt of the sea in the air. The water, near the shore line was a deep green, and seals tumbled.
Earlier this year, and the very first time I facilitated the project myself, I thought a lot about what it means to share work, and the contempt people sometimes show for ideas they may not understand, and I thought about the value of kindness and compassion. At that time, I spoke about the power of sharing and caring, and a willingness to listen and engage with the ideas of other people. I also thought a great deal, after that first intervention, about the value of simplicity and the importance of letting go of expert language, so that all people could be free to share or have a voice, without feeling intimidated or uncertain.
I went into the project at a time when I truly believed in the importance of dialogue, sharing and co-creating new possibilities. But I didn’t realize how alive possibility can become when we take time to listen, share and explore ideas together. The very act of giving each other space to speak, share and explore, respecting and valuing each other, has showed me how rewarding the work can be when we allow space for all voices, without trying to make anybody else uncomfortable or self-doubting. Each of us helps to create our community, and each of us brings something unique.
Listening and exploring the ways live (and are able to live) in the world has helped to make me re-view what power actually means. I used to think of power as an ability to control the options available to other people. Power was something I didn’t really want. It was something held up by social norms or perceptions. Exploring alternatives or different voices was important.
I still think these things. But I realize how free we are when we question, explore new options and bring them to life. I realize what it means to listen, and how much we can learn from each other. And more than anything, I realize the value of compassion and care, which helps us to put new ideas into action. Tenderness, a quality so undermined in our modern world, means the ability to nurture new insights or shared possibilities, bringing them to life, so that a new world is always possible.
Perhaps, I’ve begun to think, our power lies in remembering what is really important to us. Maybe bringing these forgotten thoughts or intuitions to life helps us remember how we’d like to live, or work in the world, what our own lives, communities or the natural world actually means to us, and how we’d like to take these insights into the future. To do this, we have to nurture them and recognize how important they are. We have to give them space, and create communities where they are supported and explored.
Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone (In Active Hope) explain:
“Shared visions, values and purposes flow through and between people…this type of power can’t be hoarded or held back…it is like a kind of electricity which lights us up inside and inspires those around us. When a vision moves through us, it becomes expressed in what we do, how we are, and what we say. the alignment of these three creates a whole that is more than the sum of its parts…By recognizing the ways we contribute…to our world, we identify choice points at which we can turn towards its healing…power happens through our choices, through what we do, say and are…”
(Active Hope, p 112-113).