Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Macro-Change Starts at the Micro-Level

Over the weekend, I was talking with a good friend about politics, justice and equality issues.  We come at things from very different angles politically and policy-wise, but we know that we want the same things in the world - less conflict, less injustice, more opportunity, more equality.  As we were talking, Mike (not his real name) kept citing data showing that many of the social programs (mostly in education - Head Start, college funding programs) are simply not producing positive outcomes.  We shared sentiments that there is too much bureaucracy and there is too much self-interest from professional organizations, lobbyists and politicians, and once programs are established, the cultural dependency often overlooks outcomes while keeping the funding going.  Mike kept referring to the fact that government-funded programs need to support programs that are proven to bring about change on the macro-level, and the simple fact is that many of our entrenched programs - many of which seemed like great ideas - are not producing the outcomes to justify their continued funding and policy control.

So much of this certainly resonates with my experiences.  I've seen first-hand a deeply-entrenched bureaucracy dictating policy and operating a rigid paradigm in AIDS services.  What I realized, as we were talking and finding that we were not in sync, is that we were talking at different elevations.  Mike stated that new ideas can get funded to ramp up if they are proven to work on a small scale.  While I know this is true, to be able to even get these preliminary outcomes requires a level of funding and administration that small organizations don't have.  Effectively, to implement totally new ideas requires a funding that few innovators have.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” - Rumi

More importantly, though, was recognizing that, while we absolutely need macro-level change - in education, in energy, in environment, in jobs and income - this change does not start at the macro-level.  It starts at the micro-level - with individuals, small groups.  You. Me.  It is at the macro-level that we can measure the success of the effort, but it is the individual action that the change really takes root.  Taking two issues of the day as examples:
  • Energy: As the Keystone Pipeline seems to be nearing approval the voices start to rise up against it, out of concern for the environment as well as the land rights of the Lakota.  But just as I saw after the BP blowout in the Gulf a few years ago, the focus is on the high-level of national and international policy.  To date, I have yet to see a call for less consumption to go along with this, and our consumption is just as complicit in the problem as is greed of the stockholders.  I remember the days when we were encouraged to lower our thermostats, and to "drive 55" not for safety but for fuel efficiency.  These days, the call for sacrifice in combination with better policy seems lacking. 
  • HIV/AIDS: Bank of America and U2 join forces during the Super Bowl evening to give $1 for every free download of U2's latest song (although, if you look at the fine-print, there was a $2 million - a drop in the bucket for BofA and certainly provides great publicity and revenue for both BofA and U2).  The people downloading a free song were feeling good that they were making a difference - by getting something for free.  All in the name of ending AIDS.  Except for one thing.  Not one message to encourage people to know their status, to act or think different. What a lost opportunity.  It is rare that you would have such a wide audience and could really change the message or at least challenge the status quo - raise the conversation, make people think.  Kudos to Coca Cola for doing just that with their ad.  
In both these cases, it may be true that we need more funding and/or better policy that considers the potential environmental impact.  But no matter what the policy - the macro-level work - it is ultimately going to take each one of us to DO differently as individuals on a mass scale - that will bring the change to that macro-level.
-Brad Ogilvie

1 comment:

Maggie Hess said...

Like your mentioned prior conversation, you and I spoke yesterday. Talking with you yesterday morning brought a new and "heightened" awareness to my macro sized concerns about how I can bring the mission of my Quakerism into action in this world. You never know where a stone might turn over.