On Culture Breaking and Culture Making. For when you’re frustrated with other change-makers.
Written by Kelly Diels
“All you do is criticize and point out problems,” the email read, “but where are your SOLUTIONS?”
I used to get comments and emails like that, A LOT.
And it always mystified me.
Like, how do you solve a problem if no one points out there is one?
In order to arrive at solutions, you need people like me saying umm, hello, the emperor has no clothes…
At the time, I was a recovering political scientist and a writer. I was doing what I was literally trained to do: look for patterns, analyze, critique & synthesize, and then write beautifully about it. That was my JOB.
I’m not, for example, a surgeon — so it would be a terrible idea to ask me to solve your ACL problem.
And just because a knee surgeon might not know how to write hot copy doesn’t mean I should show up in her inbox and berate her for not teaching copywriting; nor would it be reasonable for her to criticize me for my aversion to scalpels.
But I’m sure we’re equally glad the other exists. We need each other.
[I’m happy to report that a lot of doctors with big books about to hit stores come to me for copyrighting help or marketing strategy 🙂 ]
My point: why be mad at someone for doing their job rather than something else?
Offering solutions is a particular skill-set; so is critique — and we need both if we’re going to do anything thoughtfully and well.
When I look at the people populating my life, I am AMAZED. I see my friends, clients and community members founding organizations, funding important projects, winning awards, making the news, making art, getting policy in front of legislators, getting their books on shelves, organizing protests, holding healing circles, educating, influencing, healing.
Most of us are NOT doing all of these things at once, thank heavens. (The Ghost of Burnout Past is haunting this email.)
Sometimes, however, my community members feel like they’re working at cross-purposes with each other. Sometimes the people in my life who are focused on growing new systems get frustrated with the people in my life who are reacting and protesting against the current system. Sometimes the people in my life who are burning it all down get fed up with the people in my life who are networking and organizing and rallying and compromising to get important legislation passed. And the reverse is true, too.
Each of these groups of people thinks the other ones are focusing on the wrong things.
But here’s what I see: we need each other.
We need culture makers and culture breakers. We need outsiders and insiders.
We’re not trying to change one thing. We’re trying to change EVERYTHING.
We don’t need only one kind of change-maker. We need ALL kinds.
The (secretly radical) pragmatic insiders who have the ability to influence policy need the militant radicals to normalize previously unthinkable agendas. The radicals on the margins need the policy-influencers to leverage their connections and relationships to get their demands into a bill that passes. The emergent future-growers NEED the demolition crew who protests and burns down the existing system. The rabble-rouses and protestors and critics need the emergent future-growers to build something to replace the systems they’re tearing down. And all of you need the writers to write about it 🙂
The very people you get most frustrated with, and think are getting it all wrong and wasting their efforts, are the people you need most.
Being a righteous, uncompromising radical isn’t ridiculous even if pragmatic insiders sigh and roll their eyes. In fact the radicals help shift the centre of political will, which can make it easier for the insiders to get lawmakers to say yes to demands.
Being a reformist insider isn’t being a sell-out; a well-placed insider can be the first hole in the dam…which leads to the whole thing coming down.
The people protesting and critiquing and fighting against our current system aren’t wasting their efforts, even if the people building new models think you shouldn’t bother with it and just build something new instead.
WE NEED EACH OTHER. When I do my job, it means you don’t have to do it; and often your success as a solution-maker or a critic depends on the person doing the opposite. Critics need culture makers. Insiders need outsiders. And vice versa.
Culture change needs many things.
We need people tearing it all down. The demolition crew. The culture-breakers.
We need people growing new systems and growing community. The emergent strategy folks.
We need outsiders and militants and weirdos to get radical ideas into the mainstream and make previously unthinkable proposals POSSIBLE.
We need insiders to leverage the relationships and influence to get those radical demands into legislation.
We need healers and writers and teachers and critics.
We need each other in order to have the space to OUR culture-making jobs.
And so we don’t need to be frustrated with someone or whole groups of someones for not doing the thing we think is important. We can do that thing, instead.
That way surgeons aren’t writing copy and copywriters aren’t opening up your knee.
Much love to the demolition crew. Big respect to the insiders. Kisses and cash to the outsiders. Massive shout out to the growers and makers.
I’m so glad you’re doing YOUR JOB and I’m going to do mine, too. I’m going to write about you and signal-boost you and help you with your copywriting and your marketing so you can get everything you need to create the change you’re dreaming of.
We need all of you, culture-breakers AND culture-makers.
Because together we rise.
love + justice,