How to change the world? First, let’s rethink value.

Automation will drastically change the work that we do. In a matter of time, humans will no longer have to engage in repetitive, manual tasks. We have all heard that we should be tapping onto human values that are irreplaceable by machines to create future work. Values like empathy, relational skills, kindness and creativity will open up potential work in areas like community building, human connection, communication, social care. But here’s the thing. These jobs cannot be created until we are willing to pay for such services.

Value shifting

If we want the world to change, if we want people to devote their time to create change, we have to make sure that they can have their basic needs met too. Paying people for the work they do in areas like community care and ecosystem restoration is an investment into our future and our communities. But also, paying for these services means that we value the work that they are doing. There is work to do to restructure the way we value products and services. In essence, this might seem a little like paying taxes, in which you are paying a part of your income in faith that the government will use the money on work that will produce positive externalities to society. It is not like buying food or clothes, in which you pay and own a product. Paying for a service that benefits not just you, but also the community and future generations, is in part an act of giving. This touches on another element: egocentric to ecocentric perspective.

Image from Barrett Values Centre valuescentre.com

Change starts from the self. We need fundamental personal transformation. The Barrett Model is inspired by Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The climate crisis at hand requires a large enough shift in society in order for it to be tackled properly. It requires contribution and purpose. In other words, learning to give to something greater than ourselves. We can all play a part in creating change. It starts from the individual and then it expands into the collective consciousness.

Theory U taken from presencing.org

Theory U talks about illuminating the blind spot and tapping on our collective capacities. Institutional failure is not leading us anywhere. We see the start of a systemic collapse. We need to be more conscious, intentional and strategic if we want to tackle global challenges. How can we evolve together?

Communities

We all need human connection. Having a local community is beautiful in so many ways. It opens up space for intergenerational exchange. It allows people to hear stories and experiences completely different from theirs. It cultivates empathy and care. It builds stronger social bonds. It gives the kid from a dysfunctional family a space to breathe and some form of stability. It allows the elderly who is living alone to have people to talk to and connect with. Perhaps it’s a much more effective cure to loneliness and mental health issues.

But here’s the thing. This is not just a badminton club or rockclimbing society. It’s about creating intentional communities. It’s about opening up safe spaces for personal exchange. It’s about connecting as humanly as possible. It’s about community care. This requires a facillitator to bring people together in a way that a 2 hours badminton session wouldn’t. This requires a committed and accumulative effort to build the community.

Now, let me talk about socially engaged art.

Socially engaged practice, also referred to as social practice or socially engaged art, can include any artform which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction.

Socially engaged practice can be associated with activism because it often deals with political issues. Artists who work within this field will often spend much time integrating into the specific community which they wish to help, educate or simply share with.

The artists’ aim could be to help this community work towards a common goal, raise awareness and encourage conversation around issues, or perhaps to improve their physical or psychological conditions.

-Tate.org

Improvised Theatre Project ‘Generations’ I did with seniors from Claremont Project, photographed by Monica Alcazar-Duarte

In the project ‘Generations’, I saw how the seniors gained confidence over the weeks. We brought in all sorts of materials and there was a whole lot of creativity, fun and laughter during the improvisation workshops. Some were timid and shy at the start but at the end, all stood confident and proud on stage when we were applauded. There was something powerful about being seen on stage. The performance was beautiful because it showed our teamwork, chemistry and fun — all of which were built during the development process and because all of us were invested in building genuine relationships with each other.

Socially engaged art is a beautiful art form. It is not about the product. It is about the process. It is about being genuine, honest and emotionally present. It is about purpose and intention, often to service a community. It is about co-creation. If there is an art that requires you to put aside your ego, this is it. My experiences organising and starting socially engaged art have been nothing short of amazing. Each project brought people together in a way that was so human and sincere, you’d leave the project with a family. But the process is not always easy. The artist or facilitator has to be equipped with various soft skills, not just organisation and administrations skills, but also skills like mediation, facilitation and communication. This is the person who will ease tension, bring people together, actively listen and make sure that everyone is heard, ensure the wellbeing of every participant, create a safe space and be able to navigate vulnerability. It is a bit of a social worker, a bit of a therapist but really, more like a friend who will be there for you.

At the end of 2017, I started INSEP (International Network For Socially Engaged Practitioners) and over the years, connected with various people who are working on the ground with communities to create change. In there are artists, theatre makers, urban planners; many of whom struggle with financial sustainability, especially when projects are funding dependent. (Listen to my podcast to find out more about the work that practitioners are doing and the impact that was created.) The key to financial independence lies in the way we change our spending and the value we give to socially engaged work.

When I left France back in February, I genuinely thought that we have run out of time and that we are soon all doomed towards an apocalyptic end. I thought our best bet was if everyone quits cities and starts eco-villages to live more sustainably. I spent the past 5 months in Canada learning permaculture and organic farming in various farms and homesteads in the countryside and realised that it’s not a very realistic solution. Not everyone can or want to become farmers. It requires physical dexterity, knowledge, commitment and a complete change in lifestyle. I began to wonder how we can create an alternative to shift us away from consumerist product based economy to learning based and human based services, which are also environmentally more sustainable as they aren’t reliant on exploitation of natural resources to create a product.

If we want to change the world, we first need a change in mindset. If we can change our purchasing habits, we can create new jobs.

Demand and supply — the price we are willing to pay indicates the value we give to a product or service. So, if collectively, as a society, we begin to value personal development more, we will be more willing to spend on services and trainings that teach empathy, kindness, social awareness, therapy, mindfulness…

I think moving forward into the future, the three critical areas to focus on are environment, communities and personal development. There are many initiatives by socially engaged art and the non-profit sector that focuses on purpose finding, human connection, community building, environmental awareness and ecosystem restoration and regeneration. But many of them struggle financially. I believe the key to change in an urgent time like now will lie in finding financial models that can work to support such initiatives. So, these soft skills that socially engaged practitioners have developed in empathy, community building, eco-restoration etc are actually valuable skills that can be transformed into trainings and education materials. This can then generate income for self sustenance. In addition, such trainings open up a field of self/social betterment that will collectively raise the consciousness in the world. But first, we have to be willing to pay for them.

What can you do to change the world?

You have the power to create new sustainable jobs.

Fié Neo is an interdisciplinary artist and cross sectional thinker.

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fié neo

Fié Neo is an interdisciplinary artist and intersectional thinker. Instagram @feeyeh_neo | Podcast: OnionsTalk