From Me to We, a Book Review

Future Hope column, April 15, 2012

By Ted Glick

“Change happens one person at a time. This means there is only one way to alter the trajectory of the troubling conditions the world faces today, and that is for you to make the shift from “Me” to “We.” You must see for yourself the truths inherent in the natural laws of sustainability and the power of the five commitments. If you focus on the broader “We” that makes all life possible, and think and act sustainably, you will find great peace and happiness and become a role model that others will follow.”

-Bob Doppelt, “From Me to We, the Five Transformational Commitments Required to Rescue the Planet, Your Organization, and Your Life”

A number of years ago someone recommended that I read “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz, and I did. It was a valuable book, kind of a how-to for how to live a healthy, balanced, peaceful and productive life. The four agreements were very basic: be impeccable with your word; don’t take anything personally; don’t make assumptions; and always do your best. I benefited from reading the book and have encouraged others to read it.

It is absolutely essential that those who want to be agents of social transformation, revolutionaries in the best sense, take this “personal” work seriously, always remembering that the personal is political. How we live our lives day by day, hour by hour, how we interact with others, whether we are genuinely practicing what we are preaching, as individuals and as a movement for change, will have much to do with whether the kind of changes urgently needed in the world actually come to pass.

We need to consciously develop our emotional and spiritual staying power. We need to provide an example for others as to how to be a positive and productive person despite being fully knowledgeable about what we are facing, the very real threat of catastrophic climate change and the certainty of continuing crises of various kinds in the years ahead.

Bob Doppelt’s book is a valuable contribution to help both those who are just getting into social change work and those of us who have been at it for a long time. I have gotten to know Bob over the last half-year or so in connection with our work together in the Climate Ethics Campaign, which Bob directs, and Interfaith Moral Action On Climate, which is organizing actions in D.C. and elsewhere April 24th and during Earth Week.

Doppelt’s five commitments are similar but more explicitly political than Ruiz’ four agreements. He summarizes them in this way:

-See the ecological, social and economic systems of which you are part
-Be accountable for all of the consequences of your actions on those systems
-When responding to those consequences abide by society’s most deeply held universal principles of morality and justice
-Respond to those consequences as well by acknowledging your trustee obligations and taking responsibility for the continuation of all life on the planet.
-Break free from the false beliefs that control your life and your organization and choose your own destiny.

Doppelt combines critical and historical analysis of society with useful insights into human behavior and psychology and specific ideas on how individuals can change. As I have heard him say several times in the process of working together in Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, he writes about how individuals change as a result of three primary processes:

1) People must feel a level of tension or dissonance between their current thinking and behavior and deeply held moral values or personal aspirations;
2) People need to feel a sufficient level of “efficacy” or confidence in their ability to do what is necessary in order to reduce the dissonance; and,
3) People must believe that the advantages of making a change far outweigh the disadvantages.

As far as his broader “macro” analyses of society, he prioritizes the issues of sustainability and ecology: “most importantly, we have overshot the limits of our ecological systems and produced climate disruption and ecosystem degradation that now threatens the very basis of human civilization.”

An overall strength of the book is its specific articulation of the ways in which individuals, organizations and businesses can and must change. There is less said about strategies for changing government, though it is addressed, and Doppelt doesn’t mince words:

“We must elect governments that put real social and environmental sustainability at the forefront of their policies and work for all people and future generations. Just as species that improve the habitability of their environment flourish, and those that foul it become extinct, if it comes down to it we must refuse to cooperate with governments that fail to effectively perform their duties as trustees of the most important of all living trusts. As a last resort we may need to dismantle governments and establish truly democratic institutions.”

We are currently in the middle of the much-too-long process of electing our next President and Congress. Because we have a two-party-and-corporate-media-dominated political system, a lot of that process is alienating and discouraging. That’s why so many people don’t vote. It is our job to do what we can to bring substantive issues—such as the need for action now on the climate crisis—into the political debate, to help new people see the need for change from “Me” to “We.” We can use this political time to inspire them to speak up and be about substantive change. Bob Doppelt’s book is an important resource for doing that both this year and in the years to come.