Sunday 17 July 2011

Walking alongside to create change

Two inspirational men I've been fortunate enough to spend small bits of time with over the last couple of years are Satish Kumar of Resurgence Magazine and Andy Middleton of The Do Lectures. I want to discuss something they've both taught me about creating change.

I'm reading 'No Destination', Kumar's autobiography. I was very lucky to share a meal with him in Cheltenham last year. I'm on chapter three, which describes the time he spent walking around India with Vinoba Bhave, a student of, and successor to, Ghandi. What Vinoba taught Kumar about creating changes to land ownership resonated with something Middleton explained to me about inspiring sustainable lifestyles and made me think about how we're reacting to Rupert Murdoch right now.

It was 1957, Vinoba was seeking to revolutionarise land ownership in India in the years after the Ghandi inspired removal of British rule. Vinoba wanted the land to be more fairly distributed to help the poor, he was seeking to create this change through peaceful persuasion, it was a lengthy process. Kumar was asking Vinoba why he wasn't calling for a radical civil disobediance campaign. Why wasn't he trying to force the landlords to adopt the principle of community ownership of land or force the government to change the laws of private ownership? Vinoba replied:

'Gandhi used civil disobedience successfully against the British only because the British government was not an elected government but an imposed authority. The situation is different now. We are living in a democratic set-up. The people have elected the government. If we want a change in government we should convince the voters, who, after all, are the masters. It is no good going to the government which is a servant of the people. My task is to create revolutionary consciousness in the minds of the people.'

According to Kumar, Vinoba believed that 'to overcome landlordism, we should not resist the landlords but assist them to act rightly.' Vinoba did not believe in 'opposition' arguing that it reduces the chances of a change of heart. 'It creates insecurity through which a man is drawn to defend himself just at the point when he should be taking a new impartial look at society.'

I spent time with Andy Middleton while doing my PhD, he told me something similar that has guided my approach to conversations and education around sustainability ever since: 'if you want to create change don't square up to those you want to change, don't confront them face to face. Instead walk alongside them, find common ground and try to guide them along a different pathway.'

Vinoba used an analogy to illustrate this to Kumar: 'Take the example of a house. You want to enter the house, but it has high walls around it. You go to the wall and fight to get past [through] it. You can not. What happens? Your head is broken. But if you find a small door, you can get into the house and go wherever you want. But you have to find the door. Like that, when I meet a landlord he has many faults and shortcomings, and his egotism is like a wall. But he has a little door. If you are prepared to find this door, it means you have risen above your own egotism and you can enter his heart. Don't worry about his faults, only try to find the door. I am in search of that little door in every capatalist landlord. If sometimes I can't find the door, it is my fault, my fault that I am banging my head against his shortcomings.' Vinoba successfully managed to encourage thousands of landlords across India to donate a total of over four million acres of land to the poor to create villages with communal ownership of land, the gramdan.

If we want to change the behaviour of Rupert Murdoch should we square up to him, attack him with accusations of selfishness, greed and corruption? Or, should we open those small doors he has offered us, get alongside him, applaud his public apologies and his promises of reform? Will this, rather than knife twisting, encourage him, News International and the rest of the free press to change the way they operate?

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