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civic engagement community engagement engagement MLK personal engagement personal engagement social change society

Change The World? Change Yourself!

In order for any community engagement to be successful, it must be deeply rooted in personal engagement. We have to have lasting connections to the world within us before we can be connected outside ourselves. The 21st century provided many great examples of social change leaders who did this work thoroughly, including Caesar Chavez, Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, and many others around the world. 

Many of the major social change leaders throughout the ages worked from Heartspace. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. both taught their followers that change began within them personally, and echoed out socially. They urged people to change themselves in order to change the world, and that’s what Heartspace reinforces.

Gandhi focused on personal engagement by calling on his followers to make their own clothes, as this was the surest way to throw off the shackles of the Empire. This connected people directly to the humongous issue of overthrowing the English Empire by having them focus on something they contact everyday- their clothes. That simply charge- and massive metaphor- was demeaning to Indians who were successfully dressed in rich Western clothes. However, in wearing simple homemade shirts or pants or whatever, Gandhi believed every Indian could play a role in independence. He made meaning of the simple, humble act of making your own clothes. In this way, the Mahatma taught a direct lesson from Heartspace: By developing lasting connections with the issues that matter with you, you can directly affect those who would treat you superficially and ignore you entirely. Personal engagement ensures the deepening of purpose and meaning, securing clear understanding of complex social issues though directly connection with the apparent challenge. Gandhi’s work freed one nation and birthed another, and his connection to Heartspace was obvious from the connections Indians developed within themselves.

When Dr. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he moved the African American community in his city towards personal engagement. He simply asked people to stay off public busing until public busing was integrated. While that came at an expensive cost to working class African Americans throughout the city, the economic crisis nearly crushed the city government in the city. The whites controlling the buses were forced to recognize African Americans as a powerful economic and human force within their community. That human force was realized through Heartspace as the community increasingly succeeded by relying on their neighbors, church mates, and other places people met people. Their personal engagement deepened by necessity, and the human power in the community surged.

Students cleaning a school in Japan. This
is a process through which participants in the
learning community can become personally
engaged in their buildings.
This same action can occur within your own life, right now, without a Dr. King or Gandhi to lead you. Instead, you can change your life right now. Go out and consciously connect to something you’re engaged with. No matter what you do, anytime you are personally engaged you will benefit your family, neighbors, nation, and planet, whether it is entirely private, community service, business, religion, or art. In the course of those actions we become more personally engaged, and the depth of our feeling becomes richer and more rewarding. This is true of anyplace, anyway you become connected: Some schools in Japan engage students deeply by having them clean classrooms. Dr. King engaged his followers by getting sprayed with firehoses, sicced on by police dogs, arrested, and beaten. Many of these people say this personal engagement was the most meaningful thing in the lives 

The world does not need us to change it. Despite it’s dire circumstances and apparently worsening conditions, the Earth is fully capable of taking care of itself. It has already done this over a million years, and it’s ability to recover is so thorough that it disallows us from finding physical evidence of existence earlier than trilobites. Who knows what existed before? Nobody can say for sure. Now, if you’re concerned about saving the manatees or stopping genocide or fighting government corruption now is the time to deeply connect within those issues. However, don’t mistake your desire and want with the world’s needs. They are two different things.

Living in Heartspace requires us to explore what we’re lastingly connected to throughout our lives, and then becoming more engaged in those things. No matter what the size of the action, idea, issue, or outcomes you’re engaged in, you can change the world by changing yourself.

In case you’re interested, here’s a post I wrote about a year ago my journey into this process.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

By Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker, writer, trainer, researcher and advocate who researches, writes and shares about education, youth, and history.

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