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Do You Want To Make A Point Or Do You Want To Make A Difference?

2020 April 12
by Greg Satell

I recently took part in an online open forum for thought leaders. While we were discussing a wide range of topics, including the economic and social impact of previous crises, somebody came out and said, “You know, when this is all over we’re probably going to have another #Occupy movement.”

It was an apt observation. #Occupy, after all, was a reaction to the Great Recession and it’s reasonable to expect that once we get the Coronavirus under control many will demand serious changes to be made. However we should remember that #Occupy was a massive failure that achieved little if anything at all.

Clearly, our government has failed us, but it goes far beyond that. Markets have also failed us. Technology and globalization have failed us. Perhaps most of all, we have failed ourselves. Collectively we have failed to make good choices as a society. So we need to learn the lessons of #Occupy. It’s not enough to get angry and make noise, we need to build a better future.

Going Beyond Grievance

On September 17, 2011, #Occupy Wall Street took over Zuccotti Park, in the heart of the financial district in Lower Manhattan. Declaring, “We are the 99%,” they captured the attention of the nation and then the world, eventually growing to encompass protests in 951 cities across 82 countries.

The protesters were angry and rightly so. A global economic elite had bilked us out of trillions and then gotten off scot-free. However, despite all of the self righteous indignation, they offered no alternate vision of how they wanted things to be. Instead, they became mired in grievance, pointing to problems but offering no solution.

Compare that to the Serbian youth movement called Otpor. Like #Occupy, they had a deep sense of grievance, namely that their country was ruled by a ruthless dictator, Slobodan Milošević and their country was mired in war, poverty and chaos. It was, by nearly all accounts, a hopeless situation.

But unlike #Occupy, Otpor offered a clear alternative vision they called the “Declaration for the Future of Serbia,” which laid out three clear principles: civil rights, peace with neighbors and European values, such as economic liberalization and the rule of law. These principles laid the foundation for an enormously powerful movement that swept Milošević from power.

We all have things we don’t like and it is natural to want them to change. Yet unless we can actually offer a clear vision of what that change should look like, we can’t expect anything else than more of the same.

Being Explicit—And Disciplined—About Values

Creating a clear vision for change is absolutely essential, but it’s only a first step. You also need to be clear and explicit about your values. While a vision for the future represents possibility, values represent constraints. Values make clear that we not only want certain things, but we’re also willing to incur certain costs.

For example, throughout his life, Nelson Mandela was accused of being a Communist, an anarchist, an extremist and worse. Yet when confronted with these accusations, he would always say that no one had to guess what he believed or what he was fighting for, because it was all written down in 1955 in a document called the Freedom Charter.

Importantly, the Freedom Charter wasn’t just an expression of Mandela’s values or that of his organization, the African National Congress (ANC).  It was the product of a multiracial coalition that joined together to create a true sense of shared purpose. Mandela would later say that the Freedom Charter would have been different if the ANC had developed it alone, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful.

#Occupy, of course, was never clear or explicit about its values and never sought to constrain itself in any way. Perhaps not surprisingly, its activists were often seen as undisciplined and vulgar. In a similar vein, the modern Women’s March movement also ran into problems because it wasn’t clear and explicit about its values.

Make no mistake. Change is always built on a foundation of shared values and common purpose. If you aren’t able to communicate clearly about what you believe and what you value, you can’t expect others to join you.

Designing Tactics To Influence Institutions

In October 2011, at the height of the protests, the civil rights legend, Congressman John Lewis showed up at an #Occupy rally in Atlanta and asked to speak. He was refused. Some attributed the snub to racism among the privileged white protestors. Others faulted Lewis himself, who didn’t understand the complex rules of the rally.

The protester who blocked Lewis, however, described a different motivation. For him, Lewis’s great crime was that he was part of the “two-party system” and therefore unworthy of trust. “Any organization that upholds the legitimacy of the two-party system simply buttresses interests opposed to those of everyday people,” the man said.

This is, of course, total nonsense. Every regime or status quo depends on institutions to support them. That’s why a key part of any transformation strategy is to mobilize people to influence the institutions that can bring change about. One major reason that #Occupy failed was that it mobilized people to do no more than sleep in a park and snarl out occasional epithets.

Now consider Martin Luther King Jr., who was able to bring considerable influence to bear on the US political system, just as Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston did with the US legal system and Nelson Mandela did with international institutions. These men had at least as much reason to be skeptical as any #Occupy protester, but understood that it is institutions that have the power to make change real.

That’s what made them effective and allowed them to prevail. As Martin Luther King Jr. himself put it, “A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.”

Building Change That Lasts

Change is hard. As I explained in Cascades, even legendary leaders like Gandhi, King and Mandela had painful failures along the way. Today, the Coronavirus epidemic has made clear that we need to significantly transform our society on multiple fronts, including healthcare, climate, emergency management and fiscal policy.

What makes this crisis especially maddening is that it was not only foreseeable, it was foreseen and ignored. While the epidemic gathered steam, our officials dithered and some even minimized the crisis. While they could have been procuring supplies and developing tests, they encouraged people to invest in the stock market. There’s no question that massive incompetence has played an outsized role and we have a right to be angry.

However, we should also learn the lessons of #Occupy. Anger will get us nowhere. Real change, change that lasts, is always built on common ground. That means going beyond grievance and creating a positive vision for the future, being disciplined and communicating clearly, and mobilizing people to influence institutions.

Most of all, we have to want to make a difference more than we want to make a point. You never create change by preaching to the choir. You have to go out and mix with the heathens, hear out their concerns and, to whatever extent possible, build a sense of shared purpose. That’s how you build a better future;

As the global activist Srdja Popović put it to me, you know that you’re successful when it becomes difficult to explain the previous order, because it comes to be seen as almost unbelievable.

– Greg


Image: Paul Stein


4 Responses leave one →
  1. April 12, 2020

    Once again, thank you Greg.

    I quite agree that beyond rage and regret, we must have clear ideas about what to do post this tragedy. We also need mutual recognition of massive loss all around, so as to set a discussion of means and ends that is grounded in some form of mutual respect. A return to the divisive positions on all sides will end with nothing, which is also why your article is so important.
    I hope everyone brings ideas instead of vitriol and a desire for payback as that will accomplish almost nothing. We have all been at war of some form or another for far too long, but now with a common enemy perhaps we can find the will to make peace. We make peace with our adversaries in order to make good for all. I hope this sad time gets us started.


  2. April 13, 2020

    Well said Robert!

  3. Kuldip Singh permalink
    April 14, 2020

    In order to make a change, people need to wake up. I have been commenting on your articles periodically. However, I have probably left you confused as to what my objective is.
    Basically, everyone is so entrenched in their views that a radical suggestion is most times ignored. Am I surprised by what is happening today? Certainly not. This following quote perhaps explains why –

    Way back in December 1985, Saint Scholar Giani Niranjan Singh Ji said, “ Come to the turn of the century, the economy of the world will start to go downhill.”
    To the question, “ Why?” the Saint Scholar replied, “ We will be moving from the Age of Falsehood to the Age of Righteousness.”

    The Snowden Tapes, WikiLeaks, Panama Papers, Me Too Movement, Epstein affair – there is a method to this perceived madness. Slowly, the crooks are being outed. However, their tentacles are very deep and wide. The good news is that they cannot win.

    The status quo cannot continue ad infinitum. Folks must realise that the Almighty is All Mighty. Yes, people are very confused about religion.

    Again, another quote –

    Many years ago, someone asked Saint Scholar Giani Niranjan Singh Ji, Shiromani Kathkar, Guru Nanak Ashram, Patiala –
    “All the chaos in this world, who is responsible for it?”
    The Master replied, “2 classes of people who live by the principle of divide and rule. One is politicians and the other preachers.”

    We need to find people who are neither politicians nor preachers to run this World. These leaders would have to be truly Spiritual Leaders.

    In one of his videos, Alan Watts said – “all mainstream religions are indistinguishable from the original.”

    Basically, we have been playing Chinese Whispers with all mainstream religions these last many centuries.

    Yes, science has benefitted humanity tremendously. However, we have also allowed ourselves to be blinded as to where the real wisdom comes from.

    “Science has spread scepticism among educated people. The hope of establishing a heaven on earth by means of material progress has led many to ridicule the search for the spiritual path. But, the god of material progress demands worship at its shrines. We worship the swift-moving machinery of our skills, factories and workshops-the temples of industry; we worship our office, our trade and commerce, banks and stock exchanges(the churches of high finance); we worship scholarship, our schools, and colleges.

    And in the midst of all this worship, we have forgotten the worship of the Lord.”

    Quoted from the book
    *Divine Mystic Reflections on Gurmat* by Saint Scholar Naranjan Singh Ji

    Gurmat (gur-mat, mat, Sanskrit mati, i.e. counsel or tenets of the Guru, more specifically focusing the mind towards the Guru).
    Etymologically, Gur means wisdom and Mat means Tenet/Belief.
    Gurmat – Wikipedia › wiki › Gurmat

    To finally, round off –

    “Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank, but give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.”
    Tyrell Wellick

    The fact that people will finally accept – ” The meek shall inherit the earth.” This will happen when all the current leaders are dethroned. Only then will there be ” Peace on Earth and goodwill towards all mankind.”

    Thank you for being patient with me all these past few years.

  4. April 26, 2020

    LOL. You have four topics in your email. The one about change I will probably post at work. The other topics are resiliency, making a difference and expertise. Lemme give you a comment on expertise…
    How much have you heard about the Covid 19? Lots I bet and you’ve done your best to filter and analyze it for truth. What if I tell you something important about it that you’ve never heard? It will be mostly simple logic, so you don’t have to fact check it. It’s a question. What is the place of Covid 19 in human ecology? It is obviously an effect of natural selection, but what is its significance? Well, every generation there are new mutations, called de novo, Latin for “fresh”. You probably know that most useful mutations are extremely rare and that being random almost all mutations are “bad”. They aren’t de novo, they are broken, whether big or small, most don’t work as well as they did before the mutation. Some are fatal, but many just weaken the individual some and hang around. The thing is they accumulate and biologists refer to these as “genetic load”. It is the job of natural selection, in its blunt brutal way, to remove genetic weaknesses so that the specie’s genes are healthy. Diseases like Covid 19 are the mechanism for removing bad de novo mutations before they accumulate too much. It’s a fascinating mechanism because diseases are uniquely general effects. They stress the body and if there is any weak links, natural selection… So what would happen if we reduced disease significantly, say by vaccines? Well, we get that genetic load thing. We do many things to reduce natural selection and we call it human progress. Worse yet, that we have children when we are older means that there are far more mutations like that. It is not sustainable. Something must replace those natural selection effects or they will come back and say goodbye to civilization. We’ll be lucky if we can have a feudalism, but natural selection will act and life will be short, hungry, violent, and ignorant like it is in nature.
    Now in high school, my biology teacher mentioned that there were tropical diseases we never encountered and know nothing about. That got me to thinking. One thing is that we all knew a pandemic was coming… except one guy apparently. Guess what, more are coming. So I’ve spent well over four decades analyzing what to do. I figured out a way to ethically and economically replace disease as a selective effect and, by the way, improve human genetics so we can better deal with the unknown future we are entering. I also figured out how we need to strategically adapt, because that’s the human schtick. I have described the existing human strategies that can provide the resiliency you mention. I tried to make that difference you mentioned, the difference between going back to the tribal human we were or creating and maintaining a civilization to become what we could be. As for expertise, I’ve written three books about it and am trying to finish the Strategy one.
    Change… I’m skeptical. I’ve tried to get traction with this idea for decades. I’ve made it into videos as well as the books. I’ve tried over and over to get interest in it and it’s not rejected, it’s not examined because it is unfamiliar. I’ve posted ideas from it here as replies to your topics and usually, you reject the comment. As a matter of fact, right now you’re wondering if you are just transferring this response to the bitbucket like usual. Hey, I understand. It’s unfamiliar.
    Or, you could wonder if maybe it was time to consider change and look to see if there is something new at

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