What is the relationship between creating positive change in the world and personal development?
From my perspective, each leads to the other.
Positive change work leads to personal development
In our efforts to make a difference or have an impact, we will run into our personal barriers: limiting beliefs about ourselves, or about the goodness of humanity, limits in our interpersonal skills or in our capacity to effectively handle change or a large volume of inputs. Our personal limitations will rise up and try to stare us down.
We can back down out of fear. Or we can avoid responsibility and blame circumstances, people, or institutions for our lack of effectiveness. But then we have missed an amazing opportunity for growth, and the possibility of making an even bigger difference.
A limiting belief
Some changemakers hold a disdain for working on ourselves because they see it as a distraction from “the important work.” But as I alluded to above, holding on to this belief keeps in the shadows the exact things that will help me make a bigger difference.
Personal development leads to positive change work
I’ve met people in the personal development space who come across as aloof or even disdainful of creating positive change in the world. This is some of what Terry Patten and Marco Morelli, co-authors of the book Integral Life Practice were getting at in their article Occupy Integral.
However, even a surface glance at the writings of the saints and mystics the world over and throughout the ages shows a strong emphasis on compassion and being of service.
Working on ourselves helps to expand our compassionate embrace to grow beyond just ourselves, our families, or people like us, to encompass all of humanity and beyond that other sentient beings. From a place of enormous purpose and compassion comes service.
A bigger issue of spiritual confusion
In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality philosopher Ken Wilber points out that for thousands of years there has been a war between two strands of spirituality: one “ascending” approach that emphasizes transcendence (Spirit is beyond this world), and a “descending” approach that emphasizes immanence (Spirit is everywhere, here-and-now).
His main point being that both are true and that a more integrated approach sees the value of both ascent and descent, both transcendence and immanence.
Embrace them both
Thus, the two wings of the positive change agent are “making a difference” and “becoming a better person.”
I work with people who have this dual commitment. My private coaching clients understand the importance of both.
In case you were thinking that one is more important than the other, think of them as two wings of a bird.
And take flight.