Connecting personal and social change

Initiatives of Change has always stressed the connection between personal change and change in society. It is at the core of our vision and mission. Our global website states: “Initiatives of Change (IofC) is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behavior, starting with their own.”Many social movements advocate change in the behavior of other people or groups. Initiatives of Change challenges us to ask whether our own attitudes and actions reflect a spirit of inclusion or exclusion, resentment or forgiveness, egoism or self-giving.When we talk about personal change leading to change in society, we mean that if we live out the principles expressed on our platforms and taught in our training program, they inevitably have an impact on the world around us – our families, our social circles, our work places and institutions, and sometimes in the larger economic and political arena. It will be different for each person: there are many ways in which this approach will mobilize individuals. In Trustbuilding I write: “In the Hope in the Cities model of honest conversation, dialogue is more than a tool, with which to exchange information. It can lead to transformation in individuals, in relationships, and – if sustained – to change in society. It moves us to action because it touches us at our deepest point of motivation. When we experience dialogue at this level we respond and behave differently. We relate to other people differently and choose different priorities in our lives. Our friendships, our interests, and our worldview are all deeply affected.” Those of us who strive for social justice need to ensure that our inner life is congruent with our goals for social change. Charles Marsh asserts in The Beloved Community that the early civil rights movement pursued a form of discipleship that was “life-affirming, socially transformative, and existentially demanding: a theology for radicals… A certain kind of contemplative discipline was an important disposition in building community and enabling trust.” As I write in Trustbuilding, “The most-needed reforms in our communities require levels of political courage and trust-based collaboration that can only be achieved by individuals who have the vision, integrity and persistence to call out the best in others and sustain deep and long-term efforts.” I also believe that inner transformation is only possible in the context of our relationship with others, with society and the world. That is where personal change becomes real. john powell, in his introduction to Racing to Justice writes, “Can we realize that working for the elimination of social suffering is an integral part of any spiritual project? Can we have a discussion about values that is grounded in hope and acknowledgment of our connected being?”Garth Lean, in his biography of Frank Buchman, quotes Cardinal Franz Koenig, who served as archbishop of Vienna from 1956 to 1985: “[Buchman’s] great idea was to show that the teaching of Jesus Christ is not just a private affair but the great force to change the whole structure of the social order of economics, of political ideas, if we combine the changing of structures with the change of heart. In that sense he opened a completely new approach to religion, to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and to the life of modern man.” john powell refers to Roberto Unger, social theorist and Harvard professor, who believes, as powell puts it, “that our religious existential project can only be worked out through engagement with others, by constantly remaking our context, institutions, and structures in response to the demands for engagement. It is not enough to remake ourselves; we must remake the world so that our selves can more appropriately think of the world as our home.” Buchman said about Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change), “It gives faith to the faithless but also helps men of faith to live so compellingly that cities and nations change.” At one point he said, “With the world still in the making, what does Moral Re-Armament aim to remake? Remaking what is wrong? It is more than that. It is adding to what is right. It is being originative of relevant alternatives to evil in economics, in government policy and so on. It is seeking God’s experience for the human race, and is open to everyone.”Buchman was speaking in the language of his era and from his own particular theological and religious standpoint. However, the core truth that personal change provides energy and sustainability for constructive social change remains valid. And failure to root social justice efforts on the bedrock of a strong inner life and lived-out values can endanger the most idealistic efforts. As a veteran social justice activist told me, “We spent so much effort in changing structures, but we had to keep going back and doing it again because we did not change the hearts of people.”