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An unfinished journey

As part of my “reorganizing and downsizing” after 40 years of work I came across an old paper I had written almost 20 years ago: Embracing the Paradox of Transformational Change: exploring the occupation and new-found spirituality of an international development professional. I remember the original sub-title of the piece was going to be “reflections of a burnt-out rejuvenated development worker”!

I was taking some courses in Occupational Therapy at the time as part of an interdisciplinary PhD program and I was inspired to write this essay for publication (which never actually happened). When I found the paper recently I found much of it still relevant and decided to post it here. Originally, I thought I’d title the blog post, “A blast from the past”, but my good friend Anuj Jain, suggested, “no, you are still learning about this stuff, call it “An unfinished journey”. So, here it is.

The paper shares some vignettes from my first 20 years of work in community development and social change and explores ideas on transformational change. Here are some quotes from the paper:

“The paper draws upon the literature and my recent personal transformational learning journey as an international development professional. I have worked in community development and social change in Canada and on the African continent for 20 years, and in the last couple of years what constitutes my occupation has changed. I now occupy much more of my time on personal transformation rather than direct activist work for social change. I am starting to understand and interact with the world through new eyes.” (P.2)

“Occupation as an international development professional is challenging and rewarding. This is occupation in the true sense of the word, much more than a job, it is a way of life that combines one’s paid work, volunteer and social time, recreation and sense of being. It is more than “doing” international development work, but nurtures “being” a human on this planet of diverse cultures, working, sharing and learning cooperatively with others in a respectful way to overcome injustice and oppressions. It also includes “becoming” - the focus on transforming oneself and becoming whole and healthy as an individual as a prerequisite for working with integrity to make the world whole and healthy.” (p.21)

In the paper I propose:

“… transformative learning needs to be an integral part of the occupation of all international development professionals. Professionals need to combine an outward oriented societal change model with an inward focused personal change model. Professionals have to spend time on their own transformation - their own process of becoming - and recognize that this can be both a reflective and an imaginative process …” (p. 21)

“…personal transformation can help individuals get more in-touch with their own and universal values, can enable them to understand their underlying assumptions, and can help them perform not only in a socially responsible way, but with deeper purpose and meaning.” (p. 18)

“A shift from social to personal transformation is not being advocated, but an acceptance of the tension between the two and a valuing of how social transformation can only occur through personal transformation and personal transformation is empty if it does not lead to actions supporting the transformation of society towards justice and equality. Transforming the self is not an alternative to, but a pathway towards transforming the world.” (p.19)

I also claim the paradox I’m naming and encourage others to do so as well. Maybe now, 20 years after these original reflections, it is time to reflect and write an update on where I am in this journey. Stay tuned!

“[Acknowledging] oppression, domination and the constructivist understanding of society, and the spiritual essence of our life as human beings must be considered. It is critical to respect local culture and belief systems and promote endogenous change. Part of this change must be pragmatic in regards to a shift in power imbalances in interactions between individuals and groups and in the systems of the world which are unjust. Philosophically these learnings are incumbent upon an acceptance of interpretivist and critical / constructivist social science. At the same time there are core values - the essence of our being as humans - that are universal truths. Claiming this paradox - respecting multiple realities and power imbalances, while at the same time pursuing core values we share, and honouring the sacredness of life and the potential immanent and transcendent power of a higher being - is essential.” (p.20)


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