Before we can hope to shape the next iteration of our society, we need first to acknowledge the work of those that have gone before us, and accept our current society as it is —warts and all— in order to bring about lasting and inclusive change.
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- Society, like every system, is dynamic and evolving
- Acknowledge those that came before us, and be grateful for what they’ve contributed
- Focus on changing ourselves. It’s the only starting point
- When we see clearly what currently is, the way forward will present itself
About Anne Tannam
Anne Tannam is a Creative Coach and Writer. Through her coaching business she helps clients harness their creativity across all areas of their lives. Anne is the author of two poetry collections with a third forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2021.
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By Anne Tannam.
‘The only true constant is change’
Everything in the universe is in a state of constant flux, from the biggest galaxy to the smallest organism. The same rules apply to society. We live in a dynamic, sprawling system that defies our notions of neat truths and clear cut beginnings and endings. Of course our linear brain is begging us for the certainty that after 1:0 comes 2:0, and after 2:0 comes 3:0, but our lateral brain comfortably sits with the messiness of two steps forward, one step back, and a little shimmy to the side.
‘Well we know where we’re going, but we don’t know where we’ve been’
I remember as a child hearing the story of the traveller who sought directions from an old man sitting on a bridge. On hearing where the traveller wanted to go he said ‘Well, I wouldn’t start from here.’ Even as I laughed along with the teller, I knew there was something in the story that touched on something important. How many times have we done that – wished somehow that we could begin from a different place than where we actually are? But where we are is the only place to start from. Society 3:0 can only begin to slowly evolve if we are clear about what society 2:0 is, and how it evolved from earlier iterations. That’s not always easy when we’re impatient to move on and leave behind what’s not working. But as anyone involved in systemic work will tell you, the first step to moving forward is to first acknowledge what is, and to recognise the contributions of those that came before us. Only then can we see clearly what we need to leave behind, and what we’ll gratefully bring forward with us. Otherwise we may end up making similar mistakes to our predecessors. As Mark Twain reminds us ‘History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.’
‘Yesterday I was cleaver. I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the pandemic hit; about the part I play, and the decisions I make that contribute to shaping society and the world I inhabit. If there’s one positive that’s come out of this year is that it’s forced me to assess how I’m spending the very short time I have on this precious earth. As a woman I’m acutely conscious of the incredible work and effort of those that have gone before me that allow us enjoy freedoms and privileges that even our grandmothers could not have imagined. And we still have a long way to go, not just on issues of gender, but on issues of race and class, and the pressing issues around sustainable and responsible co-existence with the rest of life on earth.
The question I’ve been posing for myself is: how can I, to paraphrase Gandhi, ‘be the change I want to see in the world’? That question is keeping me up some nights, but then I’m reminded that I’m already standing on the shoulders of giants, and I’m not alone— there are so many people doing what they can to take small steps towards a better society. Congregation and the values it embodies is one such step. Writing this article and gaining insight from what others have shared in their articles, is one such step for me this week. The woman I saw earlier along the canal, scooping up rubbish so that passers-by could enjoy a clean path to walk on, was taking one such step. It feels good to take small steps. They build momentum and point us in the direction of better. And the days that I struggle to take any steps I reach for the words of Brenè Brown ‘Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.’
Acknowledging what is. Recognising the contributions of those that came before us. Leaving behind what’s no longer useful. Showing up. Taking one small step towards better. Then another. And another. Building momentum. Building a better society. Are you in?
‘Out beyond ideas of right and wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’
Note: Thanks to John Whittington and all at Coaching Constellations for their teaching on systems, which I’ve used as the basis for some of this article.