When teaching about the possibility of change (especially being realistic about changing strong opinions and prejudice) Thompson: Promoting Equality had a very useful concept – PCS – which stands for personal – cultural – structural. Roughly speaking, if the interaction was ‘personal’ there was some probability of change, each of us could have influence; if it was ‘cultural’, change would be possible but less likely; and if ‘structural’, then change can happen, but the probability is low and change in this arena seems slow. (Internet, communication and social media may be making a difference here, we have more contact with different parts in a system.)
We feel hopeful when we think that we can act – whether on our own or on others’ behalf.
We feel despairing when we think our actions are useless, that they have no effect.
Another wise book Bessel Van der Kolk: The Body Keeps the Score shows over and over that being able to act, in some way, physically or psychologically, enables us to come through difficult circumstances, but NOT being able to act where the power of the circumstance is overwhelming, is traumatic. At the time of trauma, the difference between “can” and “can’t” has effect , then later, when circumstances have changed, the outsider sees “won’t” that is actually “can’t”. The effect lasts.
This is one of the messages from Black: Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires, that the effects within cultures and structural institutions last. History repeats, long after the initial lurch to destructiveness. It seems to be “can’t” rather than “won’t” that ties the actions of politicians and decision makers.
What would allow a change from “can’t” to “can” and then to “will”?
As one thing known is that future cannot be planned and controlled (though the notion that it could be is one of the toxic cultures that ruins planning of all kinds) the question is more “What will increase the probability of the change we want?”
Where does any one ordinary person have the greatest effect? First, within self, often neglected as the space for action towards change (who is this for?). Second, within their own sphere whatever that sphere is as related to this change (understand your role and your power here, means see how others see you). Third, look what just happened, where did the ripple from this go, how did it spread beyond oneself.
However small this seems to be, this shifts despair into hope, and that is a big change.
From here, the process becomes “can”, and the what, becomes where one works. Push the boundaries there, influence as one can. Remember, memo to me: others may see me differently from the way I see myself, so I take what they say – not as gospel but as information, feedback about what is going on in the holosphere that is a h**l of a lot bigger than I am.