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What kind of change agent are you?

Awareness. Commitment. Action. One person alone can’t alter an entire economic system, but working with others who are committed to take action to change it can make a difference. That’s one of the messages of The Story of Change, the latest in environmental activist Annie Leonard’s animated video series The Story of Stuff.


In this six-minute short, Leonard blames bad policies and business practices for our current western economy, which values profits over people and the planet, and creates enormous inequities in taxation and income. It’s not enough, she says, to be a smart shopper and stop buying stuff that you don’t need that will end up in a landfill. We need to demand changes from politicians, regulators, and manufacturers.


The movie explores what effective change-making has looked like over time, presenting two world examples of successful mass change: the U.S. civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr., and India’s shift to independence, spurred by Mahatma Gandhi. Neither of these pivotal events of social transformation would have happened, Leonard says, if the respective leaders, King and Gandhi, had pursued their quest as loners.

Annie Leonard

She emphasizes that any significant effort to build a better future shares three key factors: a big idea, a commitment to work together, and the ability to turn the big idea and commitment into action.


I wholly agree, and yet the movie fails to acknowledge the value and power of inner growth and change, which often creates the launching pad for external action. The spiritual beliefs of both King and Gandhi were major influences behind their desire for change and their commitment to peaceful resistance. If King and Gandhi were themselves violent people, they could not have inspired and led others towards peace and dramatic social change. Their inner change had to come first.


That’s one reason, in my view, why many collective attempts at change fail. The so-called leaders haven’t done enough inner growth work (whether it’s in aid of maturity, anger management, compassion, forgiveness, love etc) to walk the talk and inspire others without creating emotional meltdowns, hatred, resentments, and disillusionment. The resulting hypocrisy and contradictions between their espoused views and goals and their daily behavior become too discordant for many followers, who often quit in disgust.



As they say: Never underestimate the power of one human being to make a difference. As Gandhi said: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Someone’s presence, demeanour, and attitude, even with no words spoken, can alter any atmosphere or group.


I believe in the approach Heal Yourself, Heal the World. Yet, as Leonard points out, it’s not enough to remain isolated after changing yourself for the good. Only when you join with like-minded others for a larger cause can widespread change take place.


What kind of change agent are you — networker or nurturer, builder or resister? Discover your “changemaker personality type” (communicator, builder, networker, nurturer, investigator or resister) in the short quiz following the video.

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July 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm
1 comment »
  • July 24, 2012 at 10:18 amFrank McElroy

    While I understand your comments about leaders needing to have integrated and spiritually sound beliefs, I don’t think any effective leader has had to find or work at such. The greatest leaders, like Ghandi, King, even Hitler, had the conviction of their beliefs inherently. The only leader I can think of who became same through spiritual and intellectual contemplation is Bobby Kennedy – he was learned leader, not simply of the choir in his church, but lots of doubters disenchanted and disenfranchised. Certainly there are lots of people who have tried to be leaders and have failed for the reasons you observe. And there seems to be a sea of those types now, but that has always been true.

    Annie Leonard is a leader, and her well-articulated observations about the failures of modern society seem completely credible, as do her suggestions for change. But change, like politics is ultimately realized locally. Endless local activity and battles preceded King’s march on Washington. And the Story of Stuff is in many ways part of the precedent activity to change our culture.

    I think many people hoped Obama would be a grand leader, but there is some disappointment and the reality that he is a black man, something many won’t countenance. But there is a great truth, which is that Obama has had no support in Congress, is in fact the focus of its Tea Bagger ire, and he has had little support from those who elected him. In the face of a Romney presidency, one would expect local activity to grow and focus into national activity. It has not, indicating that the electorate is stupid enough to act against self-interest. This is when a leader counts. There is still time.

    In the meantime, I’m going to focus on making sure kids going to school on the Sunshine Coast have enough to eat. That’s my local objective for change. And I’ll keep writing letter and comments to the Times, Globe and Mail and Sun as my contribution to the national elements.

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