by Leslie MacKenzie, blog 6
Six years ago, Transition Longfellow hosted a year-long discussion group we called “Sustainable Finance, Sustainable Life.” The goal of the group was to talk about how members could bring their finances in line with their sustainability values.
The conversations were wide ranging, covering questions such as:
- Does the way you spend your money and your time reflect how you value the environment?
- How does our consumer culture make it difficult for you to make the changes you want to make?
- How would your life look different if you used less fossil fuel – if things slowed down?
- What would a steady-state (sustainable) economy look like? One that does not consume more resources than can be recreated, that doesn’t “borrow” from our children’s future?
- How can we invest our money and resources today to ensure a future for our children tomorrow?
(Looking back on that list, these were prescient questions for what we would face in 2020. What happened when the world slowed down? Quite literally, we could breathe again!)
In its first year, the group focused on personal changes – how people budgeted, where they banked, how they invested. In its second year, we went broader – how do we create bigger change in the world.
The Power of Influence
I remember sitting in a circle one evening in the church basement where we met, talking about our “circle of influence.” Who do you know who you might influence with the information you had been learning? Where might you bring in a new perspective or new ideas?
When we first went around the circle, most people said they didn’t have any influence, or maybe only with their immediate family members.
When it was my turn, I shared that I had been very concerned about the fact that the City of Minneapolis did its banking with the #1 home foreclosure bank during the recession of 2009-2011. This bank had done tremendous harm to our community and why were we not banking with a local bank with a better track record?
My City Council member had regular coffeehouse hours for constituents, so I went for a visit. I brought with me a packet of information about Sunrise Bank, a B Corp (a social benefits corporation), a certified Community Development Financial Institution, and a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. B corporations balance purpose and profits to drive “a global movement of using business as a force for good.”
I suggested he look into changing how the city banks and that he consider Sunrise as an option. (I also told the bank I would be talking with him.) He said the city would be examining its banking relationships at some future date (which I thought at the time would be sooner rather than later.)
Now we went around the circle again and the stories of influence potential were bigger. One woman said that her employer had recently surveyed employees about their retirement options. She hadn’t responded but now she would. Family members, neighbors, church friends, employers … everyone could think of someone. And everyone committed to talking to someone about something they had learned.
Lots of Ways to Create Change
For many people, when we think of the need for change, we think of protests and lobbying. Those are two ways that we can work for change. But some people are just not comfortable doing that, whether its fear, anxiety, uncertainty, shyness, or because they believe those techniques are ineffective.
There are other ways to move change forward… even if you are shy.
Everyone has a circle of influence. Even if your personal circle is small, it may include people who have a larger circle of influence. Sometimes it takes just one person in the right place to start a trickle of change that later becomes a torrent.
Influence is not the same as access. Just because you can talk to someone, that doesn’t mean they will listen to you or act. Relationship and readiness are going to factor into that equation.
But rather than think there is little you can do, it may be more empowering to think that there is something you can do within your sphere of influence, and like a raindrop in a pond, it can ripple out.
For the shy and anxious among us, you may find inspiration and direction in Frances Moore Lappé’s book, “You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear.” Amazon reviewer Trish Boyles said:
“This book is unbelievably timely and written in such a way that its inspiration easily translates into personal understanding and action. We truly are living in a culture of fear, and though the recognition of that is an important first step, “You Have the Power” explains the necessary subsequent steps we need to break out of that culture and live our lives in a powerful, authentic way… Like so much of Ms. Lappe’s recent work, the underlying sensation that change IS happening further inspires the reader to re-view the way he/she looks at fear. A society changes when individuals change, this book is a guide to making that individual change.”
For a more academic – yet still highly readable and practical book that touches on the power of influence, see Doug McKenzie-Mohr’s, “Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing.”