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I Am Ecological: changing the story of ‘self’

The Common Cause report shows us that intrinsic values, such as equality and connection with nature, are associated with actions and attitudes towards a fair and sustainable society. Our ability to act for a greater good – as individuals, as a society – in other words depends on how altruistic or unselfish we are, how important it is for us to act in the interest of others than ourselves. In Schwartz´s model, those that he calls ‘self-transcendent’ values are in tension with the ‘self-enhancement’ values on the other side of the circumplex.

The self seems fundamental here. How do we perceive the self? Here is one perspective.

The story of the Separate Self

At the roots of our society is the story of the Separate Self: ‘You are not necessarily a part of anything; you are alone in a world of other separate selves.’ This is an old story, but it has become more obvious in the light of today’s globalization and erosion of community. If you don´t get what you need, you can buy it. If the person who grows your food, builds your house, or takes care of your kids, moves or dies, you can just get it from someone else. If all the fish in the seas get eaten, you can just buy fish from another sea. We don´t belong anymore (and for want of belonging, we instead focus on belongings…).

The notion of ‘self-transcending’ values can be said to be part of this story of separation. Because we are separate from others, we must transcend self-interest in order to care for them.

This logic is often reflected in the way NGOs present issues such as climate change or world poverty. We should do something about it because it is the right thing to do. We should care about other people, even if they are far away and we have never met them. Sustainability becomes a moral issue, and this can feel pretty overwhelming.

How powerful are morality and altruism as motivations for social change?

Picture taken from http://ecowe.org/2013/01/29/the-ecological-self/

Picture taken from http://ecowe.org/2013/01/29/the-ecological-self/

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International network: A trip to the Nordic Countries

“Let’s make it a movement! For the first time in many years, I feel we can actually change things if enough people want to.”
Camilla Sjöström, Uppsala

In our whistle-stop tour of the Nordic Countries we’ve sea-kayaked through the Stockholm Archipelago, watched the aurora light up Icelandic skies and walked barefoot through Norwegian forests.  Along the way, we met up with the wonderful people who already work on Common Cause, and made contact with others who might. We’ve also spent a surprisingly long time in foreign bookshops looking for large dot stickers to stick on values maps…

Dot exercise

Now we’re back, footsore and fancy-free! We’re ever so slightly disappointed by the endless rain in Wales, and the non-double-decker trains (why can’t we just rebuild all our train bridges?) but rather inspired by what is happening in Iceland, Sweden and Norway.

So what’s going on, and how can you be involved? Read more

#ThePowerOfHashtags and the difference between #Kony2012 and #BringBackOurGirls

You’re the Prime Minister… Put the hashtag down and do something real about it if you care.
MT @JosephLWalker

Another complex, socio-political situation, another hashtag, another debate about the merits and pitfalls of clicktivism. #Yawn. And yet there’s a conversation going on at Compare Afrique about the #BringBackOurGirls campaign that I’m finding particularly compelling.

Marissa Jackson argues that rather than a classic case of slacktivism, what we’re seeing this time is something different. She writes:

“The movement to #BringBackOurGirls, which actually originated in Nigeria, has thus far demonstrated the virtues of solidarity and grassroots international cooperation, within and beyond the African diaspora. It has shed much meaningful light on how to make visibility and voice to the invisible and voiceless. It has reminded us all of the value of naming and shaming–naming the girls to remind the world that they, too, are human beings, and shaming terrorists, Nigeria’s incompetent government, and the structural and institutional racism and misogyny that allowed an atrocity of this magnitude to go unnoticed two weeks and unresolved for over three.

As a black woman in the United States, this movement has become as meaningfully encouraging as it is frustrating because for the first time ever, I am witnessing men and women come together to notice when a group of black girls goes missing, and demand decisive action.” Read more

Anti-social media?
Why NGOs should treat their supporters more like people

What’s the point of social media? Liam Barrington-Bush of more like people recently characterised the way third sector organisations answer this question with three crude (his word, not mine) categories.

In his own words, organisations see social media as:

1. The new fax machine. It’s a tool that gets given to a low-ranking member of staff to handle, with little-to-no autonomy or recognition of its significance. ‘One tweet per week’ kinda thing. Where lots of organisations were a few years ago, and at least a few still are… The point tends to be to keep up with the Joneses, ‘cause others are doing it. Nothing more.

2. The social engineering project. Highly specialised digital teams that add up lots of metrics and then conflate them with campaign success or failure. This tends to involve lots of assumptions about the people who support us, boxing them into demographic groups and feeding them lowest-common-denominator (clicktivist) actions based on those assumptions. The point to this approach tends to be bigger numbers, and that more = better. This is obviously true in many situations, but can be a misleading metric of success in many others, if it is a kind of involvement that minimises what people feel they are able to offer to a cause, to give people something that is likely to boost total figures.

3. The more like people organisation. Everyone who wants to tweets, blogs, shares, etc. The tone is less managed, the line between staff, members, beneficiaries, supporters, etc is blurred as freer conversations emerge within and around the organisation. There is an honesty and openness rarely found in many more traditional organisations. These conversations lead to freer collaborations and faster responsiveness, as important information tends to travel where it needs to more effectively through networks than hierarchies. The point becomes about nurturing stronger relationships, which lead to more resilient networks. This stuff is far harder to measure, but comes from a deep belief that if we aren’t building stronger networks amongst those who care about our work, we are making ourselves very vulnerable to a range of outside shocks that might make top-down campaigning models more difficult or impossible (laws, tech changes, natural disasters, etc). It also recognises that there is vast untapped potential within and around organisations, that our structures prevent us from realising, and which social media has the potential to open-up, through freer connections between people, ideas, and those needed to make them happen.

This last one is much closer to how social movements tend to organise, and I’d argue that it offers the most potential significance and impact for organisations, because it can start to model new ways of organising that move beyond the Industrial-era hierarchies most of our organisations have ended up adopting over the course of several decades, which have come at massive cost to the people and causes we champion.

What can this tell us about the values likely to be engaged in staff and supporters by these different approaches, and what are the implications? Read more

Common Threads, March 2014

  • Economics and greed - a round-up of research illustrating how the study of economics can push people towards selfishness and distrust of others.
  • The Big Picture at Friends of the Earth - A campaign that takes over large screens at Waterloo station and invites people to submit images of ‘What makes the world special to them’. Nice!
  • ‘Cash for the Cure’ - a critical look at Kohl’s breast-cancer campaign: encouraging consumption, fear and all things pink.
  • How can advocacy NGOs become more innovative? It may be a tired buzzword, but this Oxfam blog has some pretty good advice. We particularly like the suggestions for shifting staff culture, e.g. ‘give people a day a month to visit ‘the outside world’ with no greater agenda than to look and learn.’
  • On rising inequality - it’s deep-seated psychological impacts, and why it damages the social fabric of our societies. From the authors of the Spirit Level.

The special theory of relationships – or why you accidently called your teacher ‘mum’

The desire to understand and classify different types of human relationships isn’t new; we’ve been pondering it for thousands of years. What rules govern our interactions? And how do relationships shape us into the people we become?

The answers aren’t immediately straight forward, because the way we interact with each other is influenced by many things: how well we know and trust people, who’s got more power, the agreed understanding of reciprocation or exchange, and whether we converge around a common interest or selfish need. These things can be very fluid, too. Think about how you’d interact with a friend, a colleague, your grandmother, in a range of different situations. While you might see these people as being in different ‘categories’ of relationship, you probably have a rich variety of ways you interact with every one of them. Moment to moment, mood to mood, you’ll be laughing, arguing, teaching, ignoring or sharing with each other, although perhaps not in equal measure.

As social creatures, our experience of relationships is a huge part of how we develop. Our values, personalities and tastes are strongly influenced by our interactions with our parents growing up, with our colleagues at work, with the natural world. And this influence goes both ways. Not only do our values inform the types of relationships we seek, but our values also change over time as a result of our relationships. By understanding this feedback loop a little better, we gain useful insights into social and environmental problems.

Relationship theory is a tool to guide better ways of talking to each other, organising our workplace, and supporting campaigns or causes. Read more

From single issues towards systemic change: Tearfund’s ‘Project Doughnut’

This blog was written by Lara Kirch and Micha Narberhaus at Smart CSOs.

As we have experienced in the Smart CSOs community over the last two years, changing an organisation to work on system change is far from an easy task. Most civil society organisations are deeply entrenched in the current system. We might irritate partners and constituencies if we don’t fulfil their expectations and we have a reputation and trust to lose. Most available funding schemes are far from supporting the type of uncertain work needed for long-term system change. But the most difficult part is to change the organisation’s culture, its structure and way of doing things. It requires a change in mindsets and developing the right capacities.

Maybe it is not a surprise that recently some church and faith-based organisations have been among the most progressive pioneers in starting to promote and communicate an alternative vision for a socially and environmentally sustainable global society that is based on sufficiency, solidarity and community. They are grounded on exactly these values.

The advocacy department of Tearfund, a UK Christian relief and development agency founded in 1968, has recently embarked on a change process aimed at aligning its strategic focus and internal structures with a vision of an economy that works for people and the planet. Sarah Anthony and Tom Baker from Tearfund’s advocacy team have told us how they have approached this challenge and what they have learned so far. Read more

Common Threads, February 2014

  • NGO sitcom! - Kenya’s first mockumentary takes on the NGO world. Worth a watch: “In Episode 2, their task is to come up with an acronym before figuring out what the grant’s about”.
  • Climate change and equity: whose language is it anyway? - In his winning entry for the Gavin Mooney Memorial Essay Competition, Sydney GP Tim Senior argues that language, and different ways of knowing, have been getting in the way of action on climate change.
  • Facebook’s ‘dark side’: study finds link to socially aggressive narcissism - Researchers have established a direct link between the number of friends you have on Facebook and the degree to which you are a “socially disruptive” narcissist. The research comes amid increasing evidence that young people are becoming increasingly narcissistic, and obsessed with self-image and shallow friendships.
  • Foundations should become the change they want to see in the world - A great piece by Jo Confino: “By not sticking with programmes over the long-term, they fail to give the opportunity for projects to mature. Development, as we have all discovered can take at least a generation to embed. Foundations have the potential to be powerful change agents in our society. But they will only be able to take on that mantle if they recognise that the approach they have taken over the past 40 years has not led to the changes they were hoping for.”
  • The Evolution of Empathy - Jeremy Rifkin’s animated talk about empathy’s impact on our our society.
  • The Nature Moral - We love Project Wild Thing, but it has to be about more than access rights and the provision of green space…

Common Cause training in June

In June, we’re running a Common Cause training course in the beautiful hills of mid-Wales.

It will comprise an exciting three days of participatory learning, exploring creative, values-based tools for social or environmental change.

Find out more here.

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Common Threads – January 2014

Interesting things we’ve been reading, watching or listening to this month:

  • Empathy vs. sympathy - connection vs. disconnection. Empathy is “I know what it’s like down here and you’re not alone.” Sympathy is “Ooh. It’s bad, uh huh. Do you want a sandwich?”
  • The status quo is not values-free - ‘realism’ is a value-laden position. ‘We have lost faith in any of the large available understandings of how structural change takes place in history, and as a result, we fall back on a bastardised conception of political realism, namely that a proposal is realistic to the extent that it approaches what already exists. This false view then aggravates [our] paralysis. What hits you like a hammer is that word “realistic” – it’s the thing people say when they actively don’t want change. It’s the avoidant atrophy of the miniscule reform, the circularity of entitlement – “Who decides what’s realistic?” “Me, because I’m in charge.” “Why are you in charge?” “Because I’m so realistic.”’
  • Paul Piff: Does money make you mean? - A great TED talk on the psychological impacts of getting rich, even with monopoly money. How does temporary wealth make people behave? (Hint: badly). Includes gem research headlines like “people who feel wealthy are more likely to steal sweets from children.”
  • Climate change & stealth denial - A new report from the RSA: ‘The point is not so much to change values, as to strengthen those already latent values that are most useful with respect to dealing with climate change’.
  • Materialism in children’s books - Has risen over the past 15 years…
  • New Progressive Development Forum Charter - “The organisations and institutions that we work for, with and through in the UK and worldwide must take on a more critical analysis of power and engage in political processes to tackle the inequalities of power, wealth and resources that create and maintain injustice and poverty.”
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