Does changing the world start "from within", or "in between"? Some wisdom on activism from the late Alessandra Pigni


Useful and sharp Open Democracy blog highlighting the work of the late Alessandra Pigni, whose book The Idealist’s Survival Kit: 75 Simple Ways To Avoid Burnout is an essential read. This blog focuses on one of her posts for OD which asks a sceptical question against the belief that inner change is the foundation for radical societal change.

In A/UK we try to operate within a schema of change called “I - We - World”, which assumes that an ideal active citizen should be resonating on each one of these levels, individual, social/community, global. This works upwards and downwards - addressing Alessandra’s anxieties, but also doing a subjective check on activisms that simply assume the subordination of self, and the personal dimension, to wider goals.

But it’s interesting to read Pigni’s thoughts here:

Meditation was never about some ‘feel-good, love yourself, go girl’ attitude, nor about enhancing productivity as one might be led to believe by a quick web search on “mindfulness and productivity” (I’ll spare you the links). Sitting in silence may help me to pause, take stock, reflect, and rest so that I can bring constructive disruption and not exhaustion to my actions. What remains is that poverty, injustice, war and occupation are structural problems that require political solutions. But again, if I’m constantly stressed and all doom and gloom, not only does the system remain unfair, but I become part of the problem too.

Today I’m not as convinced as I was in my early days, that ‘changing the world starts from within.’ Instead I wonder if changing the world starts ‘in between’—between people, in relationships, and in the way we treat each other, as well as in the radical transformation of the way our institutions operate. So yes, I do have some agency, but no, the world does not dramatically change just because I’m more kind and compassionate.

I don’t believe that I can transform the world because I think positive thoughts, or ruin it by radiating bad vibes on an off day. But my attitude and behaviour do matter for sure, and if you think otherwise try a toxic work environment day in and day out, or an abusive boss or partner. You’ll soon experience how people do have the power to make your life a heaven or a hell.

So while I share the view that positive thinking is useless for most, helpful for few and possibly harmful for some (see this great animated video for more), I do hope we won’t now be invaded by a stream of cynical negative thinking, just to balance things out. If positive thinking won’t change the world, I doubt that negative thinking and ranting over the state of the system will either.

I, for one, am interested, not just in exploring but in living in that space where critical thinking and reflective practice meet justice, and the capacity to love oneself and others. How? I don’t know. I just envisage this as the activism and humanitarianism of the 21st century, not just rallies or charity, but something new, where institutions don’t break people’s spirit, where personal wellbeing is not chased in isolation, and where ‘doing’ and ‘being’ are not mutually exclusive.

More here. And here’s a bio of Pigni.