The Art and Soul of Building a Movement

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Hayley Lever, GM Moving Strategic Lead
Added to All on 24 Jun 2019

A very wise friend sent me a book in the post- months ago. I started to read it straight away, but I was really busy at the time. It didn’t grab me in the first chapter and I put it to one side. A bit confused as to why she had sent it.

The busy time continued and I was in a reading drought for a few months. Not managing to read anything longer than a poem or an article I’d found online.

Yesterday morning, I managed to sleep in until 9.30 am. The longest lie in I’ve managed so far this year. I was delighted when I looked at the clock. Fist pumped the air at my achievement. What a result! I had missed a run and a kettlebells class with my friends, but I didn’t care. I relaxed back into my pillow and decided to have a lazy morning. 5 minutes later, I had been served a lovely brew, and I finally opened this book again.

I remembered that the first chapter hadn’t previously drawn me in, so I looked at the contents page and opened the book on the chapter that grabbed me (which totally messed with the head of my lunch guest later on that morning. She won’t even look at the photos in the centre of a book until she gets there).

On Simplicity and Complexity: Finding the Essence of Peace Building. The words simplicity and complexity grabbed me and within 5 minutes, I was gone. Oh my word. What a book. What a man. Why had I never heard of him before (heathen, I hear you say).

Two hours later and I was still in my PJ’s, reading, hilighting and scribbling in the margins. My lunch guests were arriving in 30 minutes. The kitchen was a bomb site and I hadn’t started cooking. I still carried on reading…

I was devouring the book, reading and re-reading sentences, and noticing that if I replaced ‘peace building’ with ‘movement building‘ throughout, this book could become a guide for my work and the work of others enabling positive social change in any sphere. The Art and Soul of Social Change could be an alternative title.

I get the feeling (and hope) that the author, John Paul Lederach would embrace the idea of me sharing of his wise words here, to show how he can help us in our movement building.

I hope that it will inspire others to read his books and look him up online. I feel grateful that I have been introduced to someone who is going to change the way I see the world, how I work, and how I parent. As I said- it’s widely applicable.

To set the scene, I’ll go back the chapter titled On This Moment: Turning Points. And a paragraph that reasonated with me.

“Following the events of 9/11, I heard that a perplexed member serving on a board of a major foundation that had contributed to a variety of initiatives in the field of conflict resolution had asked the question: ‘Have our investments not made any significant difference in the big picture of things‘?”

How often do we hear this? People in organisations, with investment and programmes, interventions and initatives that they claim, hope or wish would fix the problem of inactivity… if only they could roll them out, scale them up and everyone could see that they have found the silver bullet. In the not too distant past, I was still being asked to come up with that silver bullet.

The reality is that the challenge is more complex. There is not one thing.

“Thinking about and understanding the nature of a turning point requires a capacity to locate ourselves in an expansive, not a narrow view of time” (p.22)

Back to my start chapter…On Simplicity and Complexity: Finding the Essence of Movement Building

“Movement building is a complex task…an overwhelming challenge. How really, do we get whole societies wrapped in histories of [inactivity].. to move towards a newly defined horizon?”(p.31)

Lederach goes on to explore the paradox that something complex should begin with a discussion about simplicity. Great news. Surely less overwhelming than thinking that we have to somehow find complex answers and ways of working to wrestle with the complex issue?

Lederach draws on his observations in nature (p.33) to illustrate how flocks of birds flow in permanently dynamic, adaptive ways in response to the stimuli that emerge… but that all this complexity of movement and artful pattern boil down to a few, basic, simple rules. The revelation he had

“At the base of complexity, was simplicity” (p.33)

The essence of what I learnt from this chapter:

* Movement builders must embrace complexity, not ignore or run from it.

* Rather than focus on the complexity, it would be useful to locate a core set of pattern and dynamics that generate the complexity. In other words, simplicity precedes complexity.

* A reminder that relationships are central, and an explanation as to why.

* Movement building must experience, envision and give birth to a web of relationships.

* The art of web watching and web making is critical.

* Humility and self recognition are hugely important disciplines.

* Movement building requires a vision of relationship. “If there is no capacity to imagine the canvas of the mutual relationship and situate oneself as part of that web… [movement] building collapses”.

* Curiosity matters. Attentiveness and continuous inquiry about things and their meaning is vital.

* We need the capacity to live with a high degree of ambiguity. “Complexity is a friend. Not the enemy… for from complexity emerges untold new angles, opportunities and unexpected potentialities that surpass, replace and break the shackles of historic and current relational patterns” (p.37)

* We need to be creative, and provide the space for the creative to emerge. “Providing space requires a predisposition, a kind of attitude and perspective that opens up, even invokes, the spirit and belief that creativity is humanly possible” (p.38)

* We need to take risks. To risk is to step into the unknown without any guarantee of success…

I could write so much more… but before I spend my whole Sunday reading and writing… I have noticed that the sun is breaking through the clouds. The kids are off playing netball, working in the cafe, and doing homework interviews around the streets on animal cruelty (!). So I’m off to walk up a hill and watch the way the birds fly. I need to create some space for creativity and to let the learning settle. I have a feeling this journey needs to be taken slowly…

I’ll return to Lederach in posts to follow. To whet the appetite, some of the chapters I feel are worth exploring in this context are set out below.

Please buy the book. Read it and explore the ideas in it with me. It’s pure genius.. and serendipity that I have picked it up to read it at exactly the right time for me.

As is usually the case.