"Founded in 1993, DoSomething.org is the largest not-for-profit exclusively for young people and social change. Our millions of members do good in every US area code and 131 countries around the world. Learn more about DoSomething.
It is the idea that true, definitive change can only be realized through solutions that address the root cause of an issue. Those in charge of establishing solutions must look at revolutionizing current perspectives that typically only address the symptoms of systemic issues by incorporating a holistic view when looking at solution-building. The issues we face today are interconnected, presenting themselves due to a multitude of overlapping factors that must be analyzed to determine the root of the issue, not just the tip of the iceberg.
Thus, solutions to these issues that only address symptoms are, at best, ineffective. This is why individual change alone will not result in long-term solutions for the future. Actions such as recycling, boycotting single-use plastics and shifting to renewable sources of energy are important, but they do not get to the reason why these issues must be addressed. Instead, the Institute for Ecological Civilization desires to look deeper than the surface and recognize why these individual changes must occur. Identifying root causes of issues is the first step towards a sustainable future; acting on them will ensure that solutions will be long-lasting. EcoCiv exists on the basis that systems change is the best lens to which today’s problems can be properly addressed and acted upon for the wellbeing of both people and the planet.
This systemic perspective underpins EcoCiv’s goals and priorities as an organization committed to taking a critical and holistic approach to navigating the world’s problems and their many solutions. All programs within EcoCiv use this approach to guide their methodology and project planning...more
But Systems Change is not Enough
Volunteering and Community Service as Transformative Practices
A hearty “yes” to what Juliana Arnold says above. As a process thinker I'm all about incorporating what she calls a "holistic view" of the world and looking for root causes. Take a look at the slide show above on Ecological Civilization and Just and Compassionate communities. See also the fourteen transformations of which the Cobb Institute speaks and the process worldview in the slides at the bottom of this page. They are all about systems change.
But I wish Juliana Arnold had titled her essay "Systems Change and Individual Change," not "Systems Change vs Individual Change." She leans in that direction. She writes: "individual change alone will not result in long-term solutions for the future." This phrase suggests that individual change in combination with systems change is what is needed in our world today. Systems change and individual change.
Here's why this is important to me:
If the hope for "systems change" is to gain any kind of foothold in popular culture, including youth, it must be connected with small, empowering practices in which we engage at a local level: volunteer practices and community service, as listed below by the editors of DoSomething, a youth-led network for doing something good.
Four points are important here.
Empowerment. First, those of us, young and old, who seek a different kind of world - a world of justice, sustainability and joy - rightly feel a need, in the words of the folks at Do Something, to "do something" besides talk and advocate, engaging in the public sphere. We want to add a little light to the world in small and local ways, through creative acts of kindness and service. Planting a community garden, for example, or visiting people in nursing homes, or raking leaves for an elderly neighbor, or volunteering at a food pantry. If we overemphasize systems change at the expense of individual change, we become lost in an array of slogans and dwell in a world of abstractions.
Climate of Compassion. Second, "adding a little light to the world" through volunteering and community service does make a change in the world. It helps those served and it helps create a climate of compassion which is important for society today. At least this is what we in the process world believe. We believe that life unfolds in moments, in small acts, that have a ripple effect in the larger world, in quiet ways. Small acts make a difference in ways "systems thinking" sometimes misses.
Spirituality and Character. Third, if we do indeed need something like a new system, then we must be the kind of people, at an individual and small group level, who can live in and sustain the system. As Wendell Berry pointed out many years ago in The Unsettling of America, the environmental problem is not simply a problem of what we do, it is a problem of who we are: a problem of character. It is at the level of small practices and community service that character is built. Volunteering shapes the heart and mind in constructive ways that mere advocacy cannot quite touch. Volunteering and community service are soul-making or spiritual practices.
Living in a New System. Fourth, volunteering and community service are part of any kind of "new system" we might hope for. The Institute for Ecological Civilization calls it "Ecological Civilization." This kind of civilization cannot be about environmentalism alone. It cannot just be about loving the Earth. It is about loving people, too, and other animals as, as individual sentient beings. And, in truth, it is about loving ourselves as well. Aspirations for an Ecological Civilization must speak to four hopes for which human beings all over the planet yearn: whole persons, whole communities, a whole planet, and holistic thinking. My suggestion is that, if these four hopes are to be approximated in our world, people need "practices" to help bring them about. Volunteering and community service are among the most important practices needed today.
In short, "yes" to systems change and "yes" to individual change, understood as volunteering and community service. They go together.
I play singalong music several times a week at assisted living centers in my area. Often I bring a friend with me: the therapy dog in the photo. When I sing he sits at my feet, a calming and gentle presence. When I stop singing he walks around and lets people pet him. Sometimes he gives kisses. Always he brings joy to the moment. Often I sing You are My Sunshine. He is the sunshine.
I think of my own volunteer work as one way of practicing process-relational thought or, to say the same thing, embodying a process outlook on life in my own local setting. I am not alone in a desire to volunteer. Many younger people do the same in other, complementary ways. The purpose of this page is to celebrate them.