This is a new beginning

How can you contribute to the necessary organizational change, personal change, and climate change? Alone we can do little, but together we can do a lot. Check what you can do and how you can start small and persevere until more people join in. Inspired by the book This is Not the End – A Good Life in the 21st Century, by philosopher Jan Drost.

You can read the first part of this article here: This Is Not the End

Drost uses the power of thought, asking questions, to help change and improve habits. In culture change, we also use questions to think, after which we develop new habits together. We can use questions to relate to climate change. How can we live a good life in the 21st century despite the threat of climate change? How do we help ourselves and our organizations change and prepare?

Four questions for living well

Drost argues that humans live in language: words create the world. Who you are is the story you tell yourself. Our shared culture and identity also lean on the stories we tell ourselves, such as the story of man as master of the world that serves as the basis for capitalist culture.

But the interesting thing about stories is that you can change them. You can ask questions and question the story. Drost suggests these questions:

1. Who am I?
2. How did I become who I am?
3. Who do I want to be?
4. How do I become who I want to be?

These are the four questions of the good life that we must answer not only individually but also collectively, as a society and as a world community. Especially important is the question of who we want to be and how we get there. As an organization it is great to spend a session on this.

  • Who do we want to be as an organization given the current challenges?
  • How do we get there?

Maybe you think change is happening too slowly. Many people do. Sometimes people get discouraged or frustrated. It can help to see the potential, “the better self” of others. Have faith in people: however they are now, they also have values and ideals. Many are still on their way to who they want to be and are evolving. Be patient and persevere.

Why is change so slow?

Mainly our habits block change. Habits are efficient because you don’t have to think all the time. In the busy everyday, we often continue doing what we always did. We are used to it.

But false oppositions also hold back change, such as the opposition of man versus the system. This applies to both organizational change and climate change.
Drost: On the one hand, people living in the systems say that change must come from the top down and that they can’t start anything until the system changes, so they don’t start anything and leave everything as it was. On the other hand, leaders at the top of the systems say that change must come from the bottom up, while they themselves do nothing or even try to stop that change from the bottom up.
In this situation no one takes responsibility; the ball is in someone else’s court. Many want change, but few want to change themselves.

It is not man versus the system. Man and system go together: the system permeates people, but the people also permeate the system: it rests on us, and we are everywhere. And when we want to, we are dynamite.

The same is true within organizations. Executives cannot make top-down changes, such as changing the culture or implementing a new strategy. For that, they always need plenty of help from others: bottom-up. It has to be done together, each from their own role or position, but no one can do it alone, without the others.

Theory U for lasting change

When dealing with blockages, also consider Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. Simply put, you go through a U if you want to understand and change a situation:

  • from understanding (sensing) to
  • being present, fully aware of the situation that needs to change (the bottom of the U, presencing) to
  • coming up with effective actions and solutions and implementing them (performing, you emerge with new energy at the other top of the U).

Fast-forwarding from one side of the U to the other doesn’t work well, Scharmer says. For change to be sustained, you have to go the deeper way of the U.

The biggest blockages against understanding and changing a situation are (pre-)judgment, cynicism, and fear. You hear those three blockages on the subject of climate change in phrases like:

  • Climate (or other topic/problem) is for tree-huggers, exaggerated.
  • We can’t do anything about it anyway!
  • Too bad, but I’m going to watch a nice series now (“they” have to fix it, it’s not my job)

Only when you get past the (pre)judgments, cynicism, and fear can you see what is “real” beyond your own mindset, and thus you can devise and implement effective solutions.

  • What blockages are you experiencing? Judgments, cynicism, fear?
  • Knowing yourself and your talents, what can you do, what do you want to do, what does it take?

Only then can you do something effectively.

The small beginning

Then, when you know what is effective to initiate the desired change, you start small. All things begin small, says Cicero. That may be a comfort to all the frustrated, impatient, and perhaps sometimes despondent change agents. I recognize it from culture change in organizations.
Doing something once is interesting, but it has to be done more often, consistently, so that it becomes a habit.
Then you do it automatically and it becomes easier for others to imitate you. But until you have enough “followers,” it seems like nothing changes. But maybe something is happening, it’s just not immediately visible yet.

Anyone who wants to work for a good change needs a long breath, Drost also argues. Time and again you will hear from people, or see them thinking: there he/she is again. Just remind yourself that these are the “status quo people”. Many people don’t like change.

You can also tell yourself Schopenhauer’s words, as encouragement: Every truth goes through three stages.

  1. First, it is ridiculed.
  2. Then it is fiercely contested.
  3. Finally, it is taken for granted.

Your power to change

Stoic thinkers distinguish between what is within your power and what is beyond it. To live a happy life, we should only concern ourselves with what is within our power and let go of everything else, they say.

But what is within our power is related to the big picture, according to contemporary systems thinking. If you align your small actions with what you want, and more and more people are doing that, then the big picture is going to change as well.

What matters is that you recognize that nothing stands alone, that everything is connected to everything, that nothing small is separate from the whole, no particle is separate from the whole.

As research shows (see also my article on civil disobedience), you need 3.5 percent of a population demonstrating openly to change a system. That 3.5 percent may correspond to about 20-25 percent of people who tacitly agree.
With organizational culture, you usually need 25 percent of the people to start doing things differently – only then do you start seeing results on the outside. But before that, all sorts of things are already invisibly happening. It takes a while in a team of ten people if two people do something different/better/faster before the rest consistently adopt that.

So, your actions can indeed make a difference and help change the system. Alone we can do little, but together we can do a lot.

But the larger system of government and economy around us must also change with us. Or in the case of your organization; the system of structure, strategy, managers, processes, procedures, goals, criteria….

Drost states: Along with our personal change, the good needs to take shape and become resistant in laws, systems, and institutions, and in such a way that the good can function independently of the whims of individuals.
In the case of climate and the environment, he says: We should not have to choose all the time between airplane or train, animal or vegetable, indifferent or caring, and so on, always putting the worst option first. Doing the right thing almost always takes more effort and thought.
Why does this choice exist? Why is it permissible and normal for companies to offer bad options? he asks passionately.

Keep asking good questions. Keep improving so that we respond to all changes, including climate change, timely and effectively.

Mantra against powerlessness
I may not be able to do much, but what I can do I must do. What I can stop I must stop. That is my duty.
Jan Drost, philosopher

> What will you do and persevere?

© Marcella Bremer, 2024

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