Principles of Facilitating Social Change

By CNVC trainers Dian Killian, Martha Lesley, Gina Cenciose and Henry Wai, and NVC trainer Marc Scruggs

We are 5 trainers who offer a program on facilitating social change through the consciousness and skills of NVC and other compatible practices. In this article we would like to share the basic philosophy and beliefs about social change, based in the practice and principles of NVC, underlying of our work.

Social Change is the conscious, concerted, and strategic effort to transform society, including institutions, practices, policies and beliefs, so that human needs and the needs of all life matter and are held with balance, mutuality, interdependence and care.

Violence can be seen as a tragic response to unmet needs and/or the perception/belief that an individual's or group's needs do not matter or matter "less" than another's; "justice" in this context can be seen as a restoration of human connection and a willingness to act on meeting everyone's needs; true and lasting peace comes from acting on the belief that all human needs (and the needs of the planet and other living beings) are inter-dependent and of value.

In seeing how human needs can be met, we are not attached to any particular strategies; as Gandhi suggests, "That which meets the most human needs comes the closest to truth."

Martin Luther King, Jr., commented, "You can have no influence over those for whom you have underlying contempt." We believe radical transformation of society will take place in the context of activism and change that is free of moral judgment, contempt, enemy images, power-over and blame. In the context of Riane Eisler's work, we seek social change action (and a society and culture) that is collaborative and "partnership" based (where power is shared between men and women and all "groups," "classes," and "nationalities" of people). In practical terms, this means supporting coalition and collaboration, including exploring ways to dialogue with people we have judgments about or a history of disconnection and distrust.

Social change is meaningful, effective and sustainable when the way we go about creating change patches our values and vision for the world so that our very acts to create change are the change. (In the terms of rhetorical theory, this could be considered a "mimetic" way of doing social action, where form and meaning are consistent and reflective of each other.)

Community, connection, appreciation/gratitude, support, celebration, joy, self-care, beauty, play and fun are vital human needs; to paraphrase Emma Goldman's desire to "dance at the revolution" and the concept of "bread and roses," we celebrate these human needs, seek to create social change movements that integrate and reflect these values, and believe such movements will be satisfying, effective, and sustainable.

The ability to be fully present and hear another human being is at the basis of all social change and can be seen as a form of social change in itself. We don't assume to know other people's needs or the strategies that will support their needs being met; we trust those strategies will emerge organically, from/by the people involved, when we fully hear their experience and support them in hearing their own "truth" and experiences. As Lila Watson commented, "If you have come here to help me then you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together." We are also inspired in this context by John Heron's definition of love: "To love a person is to help provide the conditions in which that person can, in liberty, identify and realize his or her own true needs and interests, wherever possible in association with other persons similarly engaged." Inspired by this definition, we seek to bring "love" into social action.

True and lasting social change integrates and addresses a diversity of human needs-physical, social, spiritual, and psychological-and impacts society both on a material level (the meeting of physical needs and changes in institutions and practices to do so) and on an ideological (consciousness/belief) level. To put in terms coined by Foucault and familiar to those in Cultural Studies, creating sustainable change involves addressing both "power" (institutions, policies, practices) and "knowledge" (concepts, belief, ideology, language, perception).

While our culture can focus on the "lone hero" as an agent of change and the one to quot;save the day," lasting change actually comes from movements and collective action drawing on a community of "leaders" sharing power, skills, and vision. While history books focus on Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, the Civil Rights movement would not have gained momentum and power without the strategic insight of Bayard Rustin or the courage of Rosa Parks, among numerous others.

Just as there are no lone heroes, as (I) An-ok Tai Chai has commented, none of "us are "experts" in social change, because if we were, we would have changed the world already! ...We are all learning as we go along-assuming we are open to learning. We are all fallible and "ignorant, ... breaking new ground (or such is our intention)." If we are exploring change and what it truly means to meet human needs in each moment and situation. In this sense, the process of social change is forever evolving: it is a continued exploration of what will meet the most needs. It is never a finished story, or one set model.

At the same time we seek a continued exploration of what serves life and the meeting of needs, we seek to celebrate the evolution, change and achievements that have taken place over the course of human history and at this particular moment of human development. We seek to learn from the efforts and experience of others (including those who have gone before us), live in connection with our vision for the world and our delight in creating it, and celebrate what we are doing and achieving today to live and create that vision.

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