Social Transformation – Inside and Out!

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment


Photo by: John Baez

As we continue to explore the inner side of collaboration and social change, I wanted to share a few highlights from a recent conversation with my colleague Roy Martin. I met Roy in my role as a faculty member of the Massachusetts Institute for Community Health Leaders program sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts. He spends his days (and nights!) intervening in the lives of young people who are caught up in the drug trade and gang-related violence. He knows them intimately, loves them deeply, and puts himself out there personally to guide them towards a positive future.

Our conversation meandered between exploring the problems and imagining how to fix them. We were on familiar ground. It’s not a matter of systems change or personal transformation. It’s all two both!

Public and private agencies need rebuilding so that they actually support the success of the youth they engage. Helpers (social workers, lawyers, service providers, health workers, and more) need a deep understanding of the youth they serve, a strong belief in their capacity for change and a network of reliable partners to which to refer young people. Parents need material and moral support to stand in the gap for their kids and model loving, nurturing authority. Community members need practical entry points to become active parts of the child-raising “village.” Young people need relationships with caring adults who can help them to grow beyond their current pain into mature adulthood.

Meeting all of these needs requires both internal and external work. The external work is not easy. It involves transforming a complex web of institutional practices, policies and material resources that shape the opportunity structures in our society. The internal work is, I believe, both simpler and harder at the same time: building a sense of hope and possibility, supporting the conviction that positive change is possible, and living out the belief that every human being has the capacity for healing and wholeness. It’s tempting to think of doing the internal or external work alone as incomplete. Increasingly, I think it’s impossible. What do you think?

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  • Gibran says:

    I DEFINITELY think it’s impossible, the relationship is symbiotic. I need a context, a social structure, that supports my inner work while my inner work makes me a better contributor to the ongoing evolution of that very structure. I think that one of the most harmful aspects of the “still dominant but dying” industrial paradigm is that it has compartmentalized life.

  • Cynthia Parker says:

    True that!

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