Saturday, May 19, 2018

Gretchen Steidle on Leading from Within & Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation

In this interview, Gretchen Steidle talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, Leading From Within: Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation.

“The most important thing you can do before you decide to establish your own work in the world is to listen deeply to those who are affected by the issue.” ~Gretchen Steidle

Gretchen has been working in the international non-profit sector as a social entrepreneur as well as in the mindfulness sector for the past fifteen years. Even when she started out, it was obvious to Gretchen that investing in one’s well-being and personal wellness were important to do the work necessary to create sustainable, positive change. She realizes that, in the present environment of division and burned out activists, mindfulness is a tool not only for oneself but also influences how relationships are built and problems solved - which is vital for leaders.

Gretchen had started working on different components of Leading From Within for around three years before she was asked if she wanted to write a book, and her answer was “yes,” which has resulted in the book being so published.

Gretchen believes that those organizations and individuals which seek to advance the world in some way use methods to influence or force others to effect the change desired. She notes that we, as individuals, look to someone outside of ourselves to make changes, and when that other person doesn’t change permanently, we get frustrated and fall into the blame game, which runs counter to our need to understand each other at a deep, human level. Gretchen remarks that knowing what drives change, what it is within us that resists it, and the dynamics at the root level of an issue are necessary, and using mindfulness enables one to become an expert in both internal and external change and, thus, lasting, long-term transformation.

Gretchen gives, as an example, the tax on smoking, which is intended to limit the number of people who smoke. She points out that this only affects those who aren’t serious smokers, and if the tax is removed, those non-serious smokers will be more likely to take up smoking again. Serious smokers won’t stop smoking, even if the tax were levied, because of the addiction underlying their smoking habit. Gretchen’s method would take into account how smoking begins, how to treat addiction, and the challenges facing people who are in this situation.

Mindfulness is at the basis of Gretchen’s methodology and philosophy, and her definition is that stated by John Kabat-Zinn: “Paying attention on purpose in this present moment.” This means being aware, in the present moment, of all that is happening within and around oneself, such as one’s mood, mental activity and physical state as well as what is ongoing around oneself. She also notes that mindfulness is “practiced with a quality of curiosity and non-judgement,” which means that we notice all this without judging oneself or the world around.

Gretchen notes that there are many different ways to cultivate mindfulness, which she notes is a form of training one’s brain, as one exercises one’s brain by being mindful. She also notes that science is presently showing that the structure and function of one’s brain changes when one does so, and that, while meditation can be used to become mindful, one can also use cues throughout the day to become mindful.

There are five aspects to Gretchen’s movement of Conscious Social Change, and these are:
  1. Cultivating presence, which is about practicing to become more mindful. This enables one to figure out how to change, as well as how difficult change actually is.
  2. Becoming whole, which is when one begins to change the way one interacts with the world. This is critical to allowing one to deal with others as allies, rather than as opponents.
  3. Ensuring balance, which is when one becomes aware when one needs to restore oneself, which is necessary to not being burned out.
  4. Engaging mindfully, which is when one uses the skills one has developed and apply these to dealing with others. This enables one to put aside one’s ego and bias to understand others and the common ground between oneself and others, which creates a deeper understanding of issues and collaborative solutions which create long-term transformation.
  5. Leading from within, which is when one is driven by one’s own passions rather than personal gain and when one is oriented to benefiting others as well as inspiring others to meaningfully function in deference to a common cause.
Where results are concerned, the biggest example of a success that Gretchen spoke of was when, some ten years back, Global Grassroots dealt with a village that wanted clean, drinking water. A normal non-profit would have just dug a well and turned it over to the village, but Gretchen and her people spoke to the women in the village to get the context of the situation, as the women had more information than they had. The present situation was that women needed to travel several miles and up and down a steep slope to get water from a questionable source, and that, along the way, they were vulnerable, while carrying such heavy water, to being physically and sexually attacked. Some of the village girls could help out with this, but because the trip took literally hours the girls would come to school late, fall behind in their lessons and eventually drop out. This also led to a practice within the village of women, particularly the disabled, exchanging sexual favors with men so that the latter would be the ones to draw water; and this was the main issue that the women wanted to work on.

The solution Gretchen’s group provided gave the village a good source of clean water, and the village could sell the water to those who could afford it and give it to the sexually exploited women for free. This led to a shift in the relationships between the men and the women in the village, particularly when the men saw how valuable the project was, with the men volunteering to take shifts with elderly women so that the latter’s water wouldn’t be stolen. With the money they got from selling the water, they were able to buy women’s health insurance and pay for orphans’ school fees, as well as provide loans to start small businesses.

It didn’t stop there, for the villagers shared their solution with other villages, and other villages adopted their model. The village started off by serving a hundred households and, ten years later, some 9,000 people have benefited from the solution Gretchen’s group provided - a solution which was borne by the collaborative, mindful and patient methods Gretchen espouses.

Purchase from Amazon: Leading From Within: Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation by Gretchen Steidle

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