The personal is political: You can’t change the world without changing people

Two people are walking while carrying a banner that says "system change." The personal is political means that without individuals being willing to change their behavior, systemic change is not possible.
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

In 2012, my hope for the future of the world died. And yet, in that same year, the seeds of a new hope were also planted. On the Berkeley campus, I attended a talk by Aric McBay, Derrick Jensen, and Lierre Keith, the authors of Deep Green Resistance – Strategy to Save the Planet. After attending the talk, I read the book. Its basic premise is that industrial civilization is incompatible with life on this planet and that nothing short of radically reducing the human population and changing our way of life can save us. One of the mantras of the book, and the movement that it gave rise to, was “personal change does not equal social change,” a far cry from “the personal is political.” Meaning that none of our recycling and electric-car-buying is going to make a difference when the biggest sources of pollution are multinational corporations. Their proposed solution involved a lot of monkey wrenching and PR.

Oddly enough, in that same year, also on the Berkeley campus, I began attending meetings of a new group called The Conscious Network, which sought to be a community of changemakers grounding their work in personal development and spiritual growth. That was also the year that I began learning breathwork and meditation from The Art of Living Foundation and did a yoga teacher training. Clearly there was a seed of hope inside me fighting to hang on.

Now, almost a decade later, the connection between these two approaches is undeniable. The personal is political, and personal change alone does not translate into social change. Yes, the behavior changes that society encourages us as individuals to make in order to stave off environmental destruction are pitifully inadequate. But the behavior changes required to fundamentally change our way of life back to one that is in harmony with the planet are so huge that trying to accomplish them without a fundamental shift in consciousness is a pipe dream.

Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Martin Luther King, Jr, said that we need to “undergo a radical revolution of values.”

Consciousness. Values. The personal is political. When two Nobel Prize winners, one for physics and the other for peace, both tell us that the answers we are looking for lie within, we should take heed. Because the world will change. That is a given. The fossil fuel economy will end, one way or another. And when it does, life on this planet will be radically altered. 

When talking about transformation at this scale, the word “revolution” is not far from mind. In his “Ballot or the Bullet” speech from 1964, Malcolm X said that the United States was at a very special moment in history. All revolutions prior to that had been bloody, he said, but we were at a moment in history when the US could see the world’s first bloodless revolution. I’d like to hope we’re at such a moment again in our history.

But hope isn’t enough. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to take a whole lot of us working together, making the internal and external changes necessary to save our children’s future. To get a head start on this process of leveraging your personal growth for political change, sign up for my upcoming 6-week course on the connection between personal growth work and social change. Details below.

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Upcoming Course – Thursdays, 12-1pm PST, May 20 – June 30, 2021: “Befriend the Change – A 6-week course uncovering the connection between personal growth work and social change”

Are you distressed by all the division and conflict that exists between people today? Do you find yourself avoiding “touchy subjects” like COVID, systemic racism, and climate change with certain family members or friends? Does all this leave you feeling hopeless for humanity’s future? On May 1, 1992, Rodney King asked, “Can we all get along?” Today, 29 years later, it seems like the answer is no. But what if the solution to humanity’s problems were actually simpler than you thought? On May 20, 2021, join us for a six-week online course on how personal growth and healthy relationship skills can save the world. Befriend the Change. Click here for more info.

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Nauser Bear is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California (LMFT#123099; licensed with the BBS as Nicholas Jon Reynolds). To work with Nauser, send an email to nauserbeartherapy@gmail.com, call (510) 394-5373, or schedule a free 20-minute consultation by clicking here.

Disclaimer: This blog and comments on it do not constitute medical or mental health advice. If you are in need of support and live in California, contact me to set up a consult to see if working together is a fit. Otherwise, seek mental health support in your area. If you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention hotline, which is available 24/7, at 800-273-8255.

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