Q. Personal and Cultural Transformation

In this Chapter:

Change can come about on several levels: personal, interpersonal/social, and institutional. It can also come about in various realms: cultural, economic, and political. This collection focuses on personal healing, empowerment, and consciousness change as well as cultural transformation.

Study Questions

  1. What promising new efforts are bringing about personal or cultural transformation?
  2. Which works better in persuading someone to change her/his mind: solid facts arranged in a logical argument or deeply personal stories that touch the heart? How does the change process work and what is most persuasive?
  3. What is the best way to dispel a social myth?
  4. Overall, which is more effective in transforming society: personal change (such as people using therapy to learn to manage their anger or people becoming vegetarians) or cultural change (such as the increasing acceptance of gay people) or political change (such as Congress enacting new tax laws) or economic change (such as a the United Auto Workers negotiating a new contract with General Motors)?

Overview Articles Q

6 pages total

“Seven Great Ideas for Movement Builders,” by Grace Lee Boggs, Yes! Magazine, Summer 2005, 2 p.

Movement building is not just about winning on a particular issue. It is about advancing the evolution of human society.

“How Shall We Celebrate Martin Luther King's Birthday? — Conversations with Vincent Harding,” by Grace Lee Boggs, Yes! Magazine, January 15, 2006, 4 p.

People who are committed to change, who are change-makers, have to decide what kind of change they want to commit to.

Reading Set Q1: Cynicism, Hope, Empowerment

46 pages total

“Through My Enemy’s Eyes,” by Troy Chapman, Yes! Magazine, Winter 2002, 9 p.

Sometimes the people with the most to teach us about love are not behind pulpits. They’re behind bars. In prison, one man learns that love is possible in the worst of places, and that even when there is no way out, there is a way up.

“Hope at Midnight,” by Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch.com, December 24, 2004, 16 p.

Though the 2004 election was deeply depressing, Solnit argues against giving up, and for broadening the arena of evidence under consideration, since the world is larger than the United States and mostly in defiance of it, not to mention utterly unpredictable. Dated, but full of good examples of hopeful movements.

“The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Hope in a Time of Fear,” adapted from The Impossible Will Take a Little While by Paul Loeb, 2004, 6 p.

The importance of a defiant, resilient, persistent hope, where we act no matter what the seeming odds, both to be true to our deepest moral values, and to open up new possibilities.

“Hope is Not a Foolish Notion,” by Randy Schutt, Vernal Education Project, September 24, 2003, 4 p.

A brief historical perspective on big social problems being solved and things changing that offers hope for the future.

“Breakthroughs,” by Richard Heinberg, Yes! Magazine, Winter 2001, 5 p. Already included in collection N5.

Innovation, insight, and knowledge from the 20th century could inspire social transformation in the 21st.

“The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings Introduction,” from Interbeing by Thich Nhat Hanh, 1987, Community of Mindful Community, 6 p.

A brief overview of Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideas that link personal and social change.

Reading Set Q2: Lifestyle Changes

31 pages total

“Reducing Your Footprint,” Redefining Progress, 5 p.

A wide range of specific steps individuals can take personally and in the wider community to reduce our ecological footprint.

“Why the ‘Simplicity’ Movement Isn’t So Simple,” by Gerri Reaves, ZC Portal, November 18th, 2002, 13 p.

There is now a trendy commercial “Simplicity Movement” that is attempting to corporatize and co-opt the authentic message of autonomy, freedom, and spiritual well-being of the voluntary simplicity movement.

“50 Ways to Thrive and Survive in the Next 10 Years,” Yes! Magazine, Spring 2006, 6 p.

A chart with 50 positive small actions individuals can take toward a better world.

“A Consumption Manifesto: How to streamline your life and still enjoy the heck out of it,” by Umbra Fisk, Grist Magazine, Nov. 25, 2003, 2 p.

or reprinted by WorldWatch Institute as “Good Stuff? — A Consumption Manifesto: The Top Ten Principles of Good Consumption,” 2 p.

A brief, readable 10-point manifesto on responsible consuming.

“Kerala,” by Jay Walljasper, Conscious Choice, December 2000, 5 p.

In Curitaba, Brazil and Kerala, India, problems intractable elsewhere have been resolved by ingenuity and human will. The answer is hopeful for both humanity and nature.

Reading Set Q3: Cultural Change, Memes, Education, Persuasion

63 pages total

“Sheep Dreams and Kitten Memes,” by Shawn McDougal in Our Culture, Our Resistance: People of Color Speak Out on Anarchism, Race, Class and Gender, Volume Two, September 2004, 33 p.

A wide-ranging, insightful, and provocative look at social myths, the potential for radical transformation, and actions that can build social movements. Very long, but well worth it.

“Putting the Movement back into Civil Rights Teaching,” by Jenice L. View, The Black Commentator, Issue 123, January 27, 2005, 6 p.

How students can learn useful lessons about their role in the world, learn to develop strategies to address pressing problems in their lives and community, and learn to see themselves as agents of change.

“Truth is a Virus: Meme Warfare and the Billionaires for Bush (or Gore),” by Andrew Boyd, in Cultural Resistance, editor Steven Duncombe, Verso, April 2002, 18 p.

The Billionaires for Bush or Gore is a good example of culture jamming and guerrilla media provocations, a way to unleash a viral epidemic of truth.

“Winning the Battle of the Story,” by Ilyse Hogue and Patrick Reinsborough, in Loud & Clear in an Election Year: Amplifying the Voices of Community Advocates, The SPIN Project, 2004, 6 p.

How compelling stories and infectious memes can be used to amplify grassroots efforts to build a more democratic, just, and ecologically sane society.

Reading Set Q4: Healing Emotional Wounds

45 pages total

“More and More, Favored Psychotherapy Lets Bygones Be Bygones,” by Alix Spiegel, New York Times, February 14, 2006, 4 p.

There is no evidence that understanding the origins of your problems is necessary for effective psychotherapy, and some evidence that a preoccupation with the past can actually interfere with making changes in the present.

“ITI’s Vision: Fast-Forward to a Better World,” The International Trauma-Healing Institute, 2004, 7 p.

Many social and global problems could be solved if attention were focused on trauma healing.

“The Work That Reconnects,” an overview of Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, 1998, 5 p.

Our pain for the world is a natural affirmation of our connectedness; we need to feel that pain to rekindle our desire to act on its behalf.

“Emotional Healing,” by Paul Whyte, Manhood Online, 4 p.

Paul Whyte relates the story of how he came to become involved in men’s emotional work. He points to the need for men to be patiently listened to and for a safe space to be established so that men can start to heal themselves through their emotions.

“Compassionate Listening,” an interview of Gene Knudsen Hoffman by Celeste Adams, The Spirit of Ma’at, Volume 3, November 2002, 10 p.

Gene Knudsen Hoffman is a writer, therapist, and international peace worker who has developed a unique tool for reconciliation that she calls compassionate listening.

“Bringing Down Walls: A Native Elder’s Earth & Spirit-Based Prison Program,” by Tom Atlee, EarthLight, Number 28, Winter 1997-98, 15 p.

Talking circles, sweat lodges, and co-counseling are three components of a highly-successful program run in an unlikely setting: a state prison system.

Reading Set Q5: Finding Common Ground

39 pages total

“Who We Are,” Center for American Progress, 2 p.

Today’s progressive movement believes that an open and effective government can improve the lives of everyday Americans by playing an active role in solving social and economic problems.

“15 New Ideas,” Center for American Progress, 1 p.

15 progressive ideas that are grounded in values as old as our country: offering opportunity to all, building strong communities, creating open and fair government, and promoting a more just and secure world.

“The Global Marshall Plan: A National Security Strategy of Generosity and Care,” Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), 2006, 36 p.

Generosity and genuine caring for others can be a much more effective and morally coherent approach to human safety, peace, and development.

Additional Resources


“Buying Dreams: Visions for a Better Future,” by Michael Albert, Participatory Economics Project, 15 p.

Leftist visions have been too limited. For the future, we need a vision that includes participatory democracy, intercommunalism, participatory economics, and feminism.

“America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part I,” James Gustave Speth, Orion Magazine, March/April 2012, 9 p.

It’s not too late to build an American Dream that lives up to our highest ideals.

“America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part II,” James Gustave Speth, Orion Magazine, May/June 2012, 22 p.

Imagining a compelling vision of a better, happier country — and how to make it possible.


Next Reading Set Collection: R. Building Alternatives