These are the words of Patricia Thompson. In her paper Being the Change We Want: A Conversation about Vocational Renewal for Nonprofit Leaders she writes passionately about the connection between vocational vitality and social change. Through the telling of her own personal experience of burnout and renewal in the nonprofit sector, she makes a case that our ability to create social change in the world is dependent on how rooted we are to our own vocation: “the place where our deep gladness and the world’s great hunger meet.” (from Theologian Frederick Buechner).
She goes on to describe how too many social change organizations forget this and, as a result, create organizational cultures that sap rather than feed vocational vitality. An excerpt from her own experience:
As the volume of work increased, so did the need for some space in between activities. But I had lost my sense of having any control over the volume of work or pace of my days. I carried my undigested experiences around like excess baggage. There was less and less room for anything new. The lack of reflection had the same effect as a lack of exercise. I grew sluggish in my thinking, sloppy in my writing, and irritable with colleagues. I no longer recognized myself. I forgot why the work was important or what it had to do with me if anything. I felt like a pack horse, an economic unit of production, a machine. I was on autopilot.
One of the author’s core inspirations for how to reclaim her vocation was the transformative work of Parker Palmer and his colleagues who, through their Courage to Teach Program, seek to create a deeper coherence in the education system between individuals, organization, and mission. Palmer’s philosophy is beautifully simple: “We teach who we are.”
It’s not clear from the article the extent to which the Courage to Teach Program focuses on organizational culture- the idea that everyone involved in a school, not just the teachers, contributes to learning by teaching who they are. Rennie and I are feeling pulled to the idea of an experimental project focused on creating (or re-creating) schools where learning is at the core of everyone’s experience- kids, teachers, administrators, parents, janitors, neighbours, funders. Perhaps there will be opportunities to collaborate with the Courage to Teach Program and schools like South West Baltimore Charter School and St. George’s School of Montreal.
I agree with the author that “social transformation is not possible without personal transformation”. We are not separate from the social patterns we want to change. We do not act on them. We act with them and through them. The social problems that we are so passionate about eradicating aren’t just “out there”. They exist inside us. They exist inside and between the very organizations, networks, and gatherings we create to eradicate them. And so do the possibilities for social transformation.
(Thanks to Nancy Pole for sending me this article and for Sue and Tony’s highlights of Parker Palmer’s work in their comments to a past post)