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Viewing entries tagged with 'unique'

Depressed, hopeless, purposeless...but it's ok, I've been here before.

Posted by Philip Patston on 28 March 2008, 3:08 pm in , ,

Having just emerged from the Closing Plenary of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, I feel a sense of depression and hopelessness that I've not felt for many years. I'm left questioning my own purpose and motivation, even the value of the work I do. I'm struck with an incredible sense of irony and, despite all this, I have an overwhelming trust that everything will be ok - for me at least; after Al Gore's rousing address at the plenary, I can't vouch for the planet.

Where to start? Purpose is something Gore angled towards in his tale of doom and gloom about global warming and environmental sustainability. He urged all social entrepreneurs not to see the green lobby as competing for airspace. Rather he asked that all efforts to alleviate social injustice - whether poverty, disease or cultural stigma - be reframed as an act of purpose towards saving the planet. Although I can see the merit of his argument, I fear he may be slightly missing the point.

Dr Paul Farmer
, who spoke before Gore, came closer to my own beliefs on the issue. In a warning against becoming too self important, he posed the classic conference challenge to our group of socially moral heroes sitting among the hallowed halls of Oxford: Where are all the poor people? Where are all the people with AIDS? Where are all the people that this stuff is actually about. I and others certainly resonated with this - from my own perspective, the last three days has confirmed my silent doubt that high level social entrepreneurs would be any more comfortable than anyone else with the evidence of disability so obviously within their midsts; it's been a long time since I've elicited so many averted gazes.

So, Farmer said bring it home, make it about you, not them. Begin your quest to change the world's terrain with a damn good look at your own back yard before you start messing with gardens across the street. A claim that, perhaps, he could justify more strongly than Gore as he let it drop that he was heading back to Rwanda in the morning (Gore was swanning off to France).

Despite some witty, self-effacing repartee between the two journeying heroes, I felt uncomfortable and am now searching for answers to questions in which even I am implicated:

- How big is Al Gore's carbon footprint as he flies around the world promoting his agenda of global warming? How much have I added to the demise of the planet with my own self-important journey of social enterprise?

- At a world forum at which environmental issues and poverty are identified as the leading concerns, why was not more effort put in to using technology to bring presenters and delegates together by video/satellite conferencing? Could I have done what I've done via webcam from my desk in NZ? Indeed, what kind of viable conferencing system could I have invested in with the thousands I have poured into travel and currency conversions?

- Why are philanthropists and entrepreneurs more interested in engineering acclaimed systems for fighting social issues than in just sharing wealth with those in need? If enough of the world's wealthiest people (some of whom, perhaps, were involved in putting this Forum together) collectively agreed to pool their resources, how much change could they effect through a simple philanthropic act as opposed to a complex enterprise? But then, what are my own (sub)conscious, empire-building motivations for the work I do?

These are the questions I left the Forum asking myself (and others). They may sound like the scathing skepticism of a cynic (and maybe they are in part), but I prefer to think of them as "honesty propositions" - I need to constantly question myself to ensure my integrity and I encourage others to do the same.

But back to global warming and, hell, all social issues for that matter. To cut to the chase, I think the current environmental crisis has far more to do with human beings than the planet. I think the issue we need to grasp is our relationship with ourselves and each other, not our relationship with the Earth. Until we value, respect, and love ourselves and each other so much that we would never do anything, either in the short- or long-term that would hurt anyone, I fear we will never eradicate environmental harm. I suspect that only when we recognise and truly believe that we are completely and utterly connected to every living thing on, of and around this planet, will social, environmental and economic change really happen.

If social innovation were a Hollywood movie, here's how I might describe it: Reversing global warming is fashionable. Fighting poverty is romantic. Combating HIV and AIDS is, dare I say, kind of sexy. Alleviating famine and disease is downright cool. These issues get funding, media, notoriety, even status. But other issues aren't as groovy. Disability isn't sexy (other than my Orange Programme session I'm not sure it got a mention, other than in the context of impairment prevention, as mentioned by Jimmy Carter). Truly challenging the accumulation of individual wealth is not hip (what if, instead of rhetoric about the gap between rich and poor, we began proposing that governments outlaw the accumulation of individual fortunes beyond a certain percentage of the global GDP?). Certainly exploring notions of self-love, self-acceptance and the love and acceptance of others' experience is not, how you say, de rigeur.

Why not? In the pursuit of a short script, I'll summarise a complex storyline: the fashionable/sexy/cool issues are external, out there, separate from ourselves. The others require a more intimate examination of self. The former is far safer, emotionally and existentially, than the latter.

My work on Constructive Experiential Diversity challenges notions of empathy and understanding of others, replacing it with the exploration and awareness of self. Also required is the complete acceptance of others in an environment where everyone has not only self knowledge, but the knowledge that harmful thoughts, words and especially actions harm other life as well as our own, because of our connection.

This is the simple yet intriguingly complex plot facing humanity at the moment, by my reckoning.

Yet this screenplay (ok, enough of the metaphor) is the source of my angst. Up against the glamour of global warming, the romance of the rich divorcing the poor, the outrage of AIDS, famine, terrorism and disease, not to mention the woes of water supply, my humble thesis seems trivial, perhaps even as pathetic as I suspect some of my more lofty colleagues considered me (as a disabled person) in the last three days.

Perhaps I'm getting above my station - I'm no former vice-President. Perhaps these are the ravings of a lunatic. Or perhaps I'm as right as Al Gore was when officials laughed at his early writings on the environment. If so, how do I promote my treacherous, unchartered terrain next to the secure, established landscape of the mainstream?

The only way I know how - the same way I always have.

"When we are no longer able to change a situation... we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Victor Frankl
Man's Search for Meaning

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Changing the past

Posted by Philip Patston on 27 March 2008, 10:36 am in , ,

I've always thought it's possible to change the past. This morning I've had evidence of that.

I used my experience of last night to introduce a workshop on Experiential Diversity - it set the scene perfectly. Then I had a very constructive conversation with Liz Nelson, Development Manager of the Skoll Center at Oxford, about access at this and future World Forums. In the space of two hours, last night seems more like an experience of exploration and opportunity than of disrespect and disempowerment. Using the past constructively myself as an example of the need for change and the prompt and positive response of Forum management have effectively changed my experience of last night.

I think it is useful to remember this phenomenon - we can't change the events of the past, but we can change our experience of it and its impact on the future, by acting constructively in the present and future. We also create a better past by intentionally constructing the present and future.

Thanks to Liz, vivian and others for their supportive responses.

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Thinking on the hop

Posted by Philip Patston on 22 March 2008, 10:08 am in , , , , , ,

So much for regular blogging - my three days of working and hanging out with the folk at arcadea was so intense that writing about it was really out of the question. Even now it's hard to know how to do the experience justice without giving myself an overuse injury. I'll start with a really brief synopsis and then add the contents of an email I've just sent to Vici, arcadea's director.

On Tuesday I spent the morning with Vici in what we tried to make a structured mentoring meeting. It ended up as the beginning of a three day tangented, organic and, at times (testament to an instant and strong mutual rapport) hilarious, discussion on cultural equality, the state of disability arts in the UK and our shared passion to inject renewed vitality into individuals and a movement experiencing changes in arts funding policies, apathy, identity confusion and what I might term loosely social fracture (difficulty in meeting together, organising, agreeing on focus etc). These discussions threaded through into a meeting with arcadea's board (only three of whom were able to attend) on Tuesday evening, a full day seminar with artists on Wednesday, and a seminar with council and arts facilities staff on Thursday morning followed by a concluding dynamic brainstorm about the future on Thursday morning. The energy created by about a dozen people who came to all or most events was palpable, of which I was honoured to be a part. I left inspired by the generation of ideas and vision that sprung from my visit.

If I were to summarise my input by way of justifying my presence, it was:

  • Presenting my story as inspiiration and testament to creating internal and external change in unison.
  • Introducing the idea of functional diversity as a reframing tool for the experience of disability. This generated intense discussion about language and identity, including the nature of the word 'function', which I agreed has limits due to clinical connotation, as well as a pragmatic and width of meaning. This debate has already inspired an evolution in my thinking described below.
  • Reframing 'disability arts' as part of the realm of creative and social entrepreneurship, attributing barriers and resistant attitudes to the innovative aspect of the work and landscape, rather than the content of the issue. I was also able offer social entrepreneurship theory - standing still, resiliency cycles and the call to engage repetitively in complex rather than simple pursuits - to make sense of the challenges the group was facing as individuals and as a movement.
  • Observing the connection between individual, internal reality and collective, external reality and using deliberate creation of the former to influence change in the latter.
  • Consciously combating fatigue and weariness by observing and changing negative and patterned beliefs into useful, constructive ones.
  • Capitalising on relationship building, persuasion and constructive thinking to build future direction, balancing without devaluing activism, cynicism and victim-based approaches.
Thursday's final brainstorm was testimony to the success of the three day Inspiring Internationalists event. I witnessed individual changes Vici and her three executive colleagues that bouy me in my outlook for the future for arcadea and the movement in the North East region.

The rest is taken from the email sent to Vici this morning, focusing on my thinking on functional diversity and the future:

I had a very relaxing day yesterday, barely got out of bed, and woke this morning at 5:30 with "the answer" to the functional diversity dilemma - a better term I think is EXPERIENTIAL DIVERSITY, where the enquiry is into the VALUE of UNIQUE EXPERIENCE (physical, social, emotional etc) vs COMMON EXPERIENCE - but also the EXPRESSION of Unique Experience vs Common Experience. This allows for disablement and therefore the "disabled" identity to be simply one facet of Unique Experience and Expression. I think the idea of experience also lends itself well to the idea of internal and external experience - the difference between how I experience myself and how others experience me - and using expression as the bridge.

All this makes the WISE SPECIES™ model (which just didn't have time to emerge in the 3 days) more coherent. I'm really quite excited about this conceptual development because it speaks so perfectly to my wider interest in social change. It allows a language and enquiry into the Experiential/Expressive Diversity of all social groups, creating an equal space to explore a constructive/ creative perspective on experience and craft it into useful expression, without overlooking marginalisation and discrimination, powerlessness and oppression. By definition it must also include privilege, power and even criminal deviation and anti-social roles.

So, going back to the disability arts aspect and our discussion about the future on Thursday night, it seems to me this could form the basis of some more focused professional development work I could offer to artists with unique experience (informed by impairment and disability). It would be great to work with a group of artists wanting to explore their unique experience in the context of their creative/expressive work, over a longer period, perhaps a week or more, and maybe have it culminate in a public showing.

ARTS COUNCIL SYNERGY
This article came through on an IFACCA newsletter. Maybe there is a chance to strike while the iron is hot and offer dialogue for new ACE CEO in terms of his "mission to see “excellent” arts and culture made accessible to all" - I note he also mentions Newcastle/Gateshead as doing things differently - so he'll be expecting a different take from you!?!?
New arts chief on a mission to change people’s lives for better - nebusiness.co.uk

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