Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I noticed on one of the DC buses recently an ad for Ikea. The message of the ad was “Embrace Change. Change begins at home”. I’ve also recently noticed both Coke and Pepsi are latching on to the “community” and “change” message. British Petroleum, the gas company, changed their logo a few years ago to look like some combination of sun and leaves, promoting a feeling of environmental awareness. Some other company had a “pay-it-forward” kind of ad (where a good deed comes around). All around us, the corporate world seems to be creating a feel-good message of change and community. Clearly, they are responding to something that is going on in our society and world. But we need to be careful. Yes, change is afoot, but the change that I think we are facing, is not just to feel good about drinking coke or shopping at Ikea. It’s got to be something much deeper, and I don’t know that I’ve seen much of that. Yet.

What I have seen is this: the same unfriendliness, impatience, and mean-spiritidness. Walking down the street and greeting people still garners no response. Bikers on the bike path still rarely announce their passing (except for the occasional bell-ring). Most amusing (and disappointing) is seeing the impatient, racing, horn-beeping driver with the “Yes We Can” and “Change” bumper sticker. It reminds me of the tail-gating Sunday morning driver in Wheaton IL who, when given the marginal opening to pass, displays a Christian fish on the back. Impatiently and rudely racing to church to be a good Christian.

See, the kind of change I think we need to be making is not a transactional change, but a transformational change. Transactional change is all externally-focused. It’s replacing a gas-guzzler with a hybrid. For someone like me, it’s taking HIV-medication to stay alive. For our society, it’s electing Barack Obama. For the above-mentioned corporations, it’s about buying their products.

Transformational change, however, is much more difficult, but is also much more lasting. For me, it includes:
• Being kinder, more loving.
• Not just driving a hybrid, but driving less and using alternative transportation more.
• Don’t just buy differently (paying attention to the social and environmental impact of the purchases), but perhaps consume less.
• Not just taking medication, but taking care of the spirit and soul, as well as doing exercise and attending to nutrition. And also increasingly being ok with the impermanence of life. Everything here could be a whole book.
In essence, transformational change really is an internal change, one that moves from being eternally dissatisfied to being eternally grateful, with a commitment to making all that we see in the world as kinder, better, less harmful, more peaceful. It is part existential – there is no “there” – and very spiritual.

It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out in the next two to four years. Clearly, the election of Obama creates an opportunity for change. But, are we going to look to him to be all the change we need, or are we going to look at this time as the opportunity to truly, fundamentally change the way we all live and work? Crisis is always a good time to look at these things, and we are certainly facing one of those, financially. Already, Obama has challenged us to be more open, more inclusive. He’s got Rick Warren and Bishop Gene Robinson (the “gay bishop”) participating in inaugural events. He’s going to call on us to make the change happen. Are we going to be there to make Obama a success? Or are we going to sit by, and watch with disappointment as we let him fail? As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Now is the time. If we want to see a more peaceful, more kind, more friendly, more just world, it’s going to be up to us to start living it.

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