One of the reasons that I find the concept of expressive change so compelling is that it brings social change into a realm that I can engage with on a daily basis. It doesn’t deny that larger social and economic systems need to be changed, rather it recognizes that it is through our seemingly mundane thoughts and interactions that new institutional patterns are born. And it assumes that the change we seek to create in the world already exists within us.
What this all means to me in practice is remembering to pay sustained attention to the beauty and power of the interactions I have with others as I move through my work day. The more I nurture the life-giving qualities of these interactions, the more I find them begin to radiate throughout my work.
A few years ago, I worked on a community planning project that involved facilitating a number of difficult, tension-filled meetings. Several months into the project, I found myself riding home from the meetings with one of the more engaged participants who was quite adept at fueling debate and discord among group members. At first, I was apprehensive about getting a lift from her because I felt really frustrated by the way she behaved during meetings and often took what she said quite personally (to the point that it kept me up at night). However, I decided that focusing on her frustrating qualities wasn’t going to be helpful to me or to the process and that I should take advantage of our car rides to get to know her better.
As time went on, and to my surprise, I actually began to look forward to our rides. When I really listened closely to what she was saying, letting the frustrating, more superficial aspects of our exchanges wash over me, I discovered that she was an incredibly insightful person. She was constantly framing things in a way that helped me to understand the planning process in a brand new light. And we began to have the kind of dialogue I had hoped to facilitate in the group meetings. We found ourselves thinking together and learning from each other in really profound ways and developing a level of trust that would have never been possible through the formal group meetings. Our rides together became the highlight of my work with the organization.
Eventually I noticed the quality of our conversations spilling over into the group meetings. They became more dialogue-centred, which, in turn, contributed to a similar dynamic in the larger community meetings that we later organized. It was very exciting to watch this ripple of change take place without being driven by a formally structured process.
I find it hard to remember the importance of germinating social change in my daily relationships when I’m submerged in tasks, meetings, and challenging work dynamics, but when I do, it always feels fruitful.