angel Kyodo williams

seven deadly sins of change

In culture, leadership, relationship, spirit on April 9, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Super Om, Courtesy of Students for A Free Tibet:

a superhero’s funding and field guide to transformation

While then-candidate Obama wooed the electorate into an oddly fleeting historic moment with his steady call for us to all be Agents of Change, those of us that have been stealthily exchanging our glasses for capes with only tepid results to show for it know that we need more than ordinary change to get us out of the one-step left, two-steps right shuffle our social justice agenda has been stymied by for the past 50 years. We need the kind of change that leads to deep-rooted, broad-based, sustainable lasting change that can’t be rolled back with the swirl of a pen or crushed under a wave of conservative backlash. We need Transformative Change.

We’ve been secretly biding our time in serene anticipation of the Fall of American Consumptive Ways. With a complex mix of dismay and satisfaction, we hold appropriate, compassionate empathy for the folks that are the least buffered from even subtle turnabouts in the economic winds, much less the comparative financial tsunami of the past seven months. This is expressed with The Deeply Furrowed Brow of Concern. But understanding that our collective faces hitting the floor may be our only Wakeup Call, that concern co-mingles with The Subtle-But-Knowing Smile of Approval.

Yoda would be proud.

Even Time Magazine’s cover pronounces “The End of Excess” with a picture of a great big reset button along with the rhetorical inquiry: “Is This Crisis Good for America?” Well, of course it is. When you view your life and the world through the lens of transformation, you recognize that any upset or tragedy is really an opportunity for another level of growth and deeper understanding. You run with it rather than away from it. The caveat is that because the Grand Designer made a package deal of Free Will and the Breath of Life, it’s entirely up to us to either seize the opportunity to find a new Way to become that which we all inexorably endeavor to become: a Whole Human. If not, we’ll return to our previous incomplete state: driven by fear and panic, desperately and pathetically groping for what is familiar but no longer viable, if it ever was. When that window of opportunity passes, the Universe has to conjure up another greater tragedy for us to get the message. Time’s rallying cry calls for us to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and be entirely ready to remove our defects of character.”

The Watchmen for Change are made up of Freedom Fighters, Organizers, Agitators and Activists paired with the folks that, like it or not, foot the bills. In a perfected partnership, they are our Supporters, Advocates, Advisors and Allies. Some of us pay with the currency of creativity, vitality, energy and soulforce. Others pay with hopefulness, steadfastness, wild cheering and dollar bills, y’all.

Together we are the Jedis of Justice. We are The Ones that We have Been Waiting for to illuminate the Matrix and reveal the passage out of Babylon. We are the Agents of Transformative Social Change. X-Agents for short. (Yea, I know, but X-Men was already taken and it’s chauvinist anyway…)

So what are our collective defects of character, the Kryptonite that saps our power, woos us to the Dark Side and is an impenetrable barrier to a movement of truly Transformative Social Change that we both envision and are beckoned by?

Here are Seven Deadly Sins of Change and their respective Virtuous behavioral antidotes:

1. Release Lust: Bigger is not better. Hasn’t the economic bubble splat taught us that? The organizations that have become the biggest are not necessarily the best. The day of the 900-lb Gorilla eating up all the resources because they can should be over. It leaves the rest of the creatures of the forest to fight amongst themselves for scraps. Real innovation gets crowded out by behemoths. We all lose.

Practice Chastity: Consume only what you need to sustain real, viable work, not just what will get you funding because its the buzz. Pass on the rest and pass the plate.

2. Release Gluttony: On the other hand, there’s just too many of us. We’ve got an organization for every issue, identity and incident, each scavenging for five crumbs. As a result, we’re disorganized, disconnected and still disenfranchised. We resist the natural cycle of organizational death because we’ve tied our livelihoods up with our causes. We start organizations to avoid corporate life but end up being slaves to those institutions, too. Creativity is curtailed and resources are spread too thin. Death, no matter how painful, gives way to fresh, viable life.

Practice Temperance: Is your organization serving you or are you serving your organization? Is your work changing THE World, not just your world? If not, Merge. Fold. Find your new path. Be Reborn in the next life. We’ll all benefit from a nimbler, better-resourced movement.

3. Release Greed: Grantmakers have lost almost one-third of their assets. Never mind that foundations are only required to give 5 percent of those endowments, most of which were ill-gained to begin with. I always say “when it’s your house that’s burning down, you don’t use 5% of the water you have to save the rest for the fire that might come in the future. You use the whole damn bucket…”

Practice Charity: Charity of common sense, that is. Raise giving to a mere 15% of that monopoly money. Even with 30% losses, you’ll be giving more than double what you gave when you were flush and we’ll all be twice as far along.

4. Release Sloth: When it comes to the task of being the change we wish to see, we’re pretty damn lazy. Our movements are constipated, our coalitions siloed, our collaborations fractured, our organizations top-down, and our personal practice is toenail-deep. We’re tall on rhetoric, short on application. We want sustainability while we work ourselves to exhaustion. We insist on Universal Healthcare and Ubiquitous McDonald’s. We want green job access and plastic bag convenience. We strive for environmental justice and allow “feed-animal” damnation.

Practice Diligence: We have to PRACTICE what we’re preaching for. It’s all connected and it starts with you: Eat healthy, Pray frequently, Love deeply. And to keep it all in perspective, Dance wildly.

5. Release Wrath: The lifeforce of our work is still choked by useless “us vs. them” ego-tripping and bad attitudes. These issues need to be addressed at the roots. We’ll never make peace with others until we make peace within ourselves. Transformative Change is only possible when the people doing the change are changing themselves.

Practice Patience: Heal and Love Thyself. Start working out your issues at your Inner Gym. Watch your mind and notice how it wreaks havoc on reality. Find ways to lower the volume on the internal noise that makes you a walking time bomb of contraction and imbalance. Do Yoga. Meditation. Centering Prayer. Better yet, let them do you. Save your heart, save the world.

6. Release Envy: Funders, you matter. So stop inserting yourselves to assert your Selves. While many of you live vicariously and combat boredom by dreaming up new projects, frontliners are busting their tails out there and still they’re relegated to using up to 40% of their energy to raise money for their work. Change will only take place through real leadership, partnerships and collaboration. Every good partnership is borne of knowing your role and contribution and honoring that of your partners. Stop hating on changemakers because you envy their courage while fearing the direct experience it arises from. Funders should fund and let the people that work the frontlines work…not scurry, scrape and suck up for funds.

Practice Kindness: With yourselves, first and foremost. Tend to the wounds that excessive privilege imprisons and burdens you with. Letting your money or control of it front as self-worth leads to narcissism, self-centeredness and a profound emptiness that compels you to a never-ending search for fulfillment. Give your burden away…even some of the sacred principal. You’ll be free to be you and not your money. I repeat: Save your heart, save the world.

7. Release Pride: The failure point of Pride, when it leaves good and turns sour, is “failing to acknowledge the good work of others.” If you really want change, enable people to do the work of change for real. If this is a platform for your personal whims, but you actually fear what real change looks like–yes, you’ll have to give things up: money, land, status, control, privilege, power, privilege–stay home, watch reruns of ER and stop wasting your own and our time.

Practice Humility: Fund what works broadly and deeply. But more importantly at this moment, fund risk. Fund bold efforts that are unknown, untested, untried. Fund creative solutions to intractable problems and expect no guarantees in return. If it makes you nervous, fund it.

Together, we, the Practitioners and Funders, Agents, Activists and Allies of Change need to be the “Real American Idols”(trademark pending), the New Super Heroes and Sheroes that take up our part day-to-day to do the ordinary work of changing the world while doing the extraordinary work of changing ourselves.

I know we’re up to the task of seizing the real opportunity that is at hand–to live, love and lead from heart–one by one kick-ass X-Agent at a time.

copyright MMIX. angel Kyodo williams.

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary and
founder of the Center for Transformative Change.
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  1. Hi, angel,
    It was great to see you the other night, and your practice community.
    Yes, some may find some parts of this harsh — but I agree with all of it. Perhaps the issue of harshness is partly that, pointing out people’s failings can cause reactivity rather than change, especially when there is not a clear path & good support for how to make the changes you urge.

  2. Profound and provocative. Every activist and funder should read this. Thank you.

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