When, a few months ago, I came up with the title “at the edge” for this website, I could not really have imagined how in-tune it would be with the realities so many of us are living through. We are all at the edge now.
In the midst of COVID19, life has changed for millions and the journey over the coming months and years remains profoundly uncertain. Many of us are searching for a sense of security and a clear path where there is unlikely to be one. Uncomfortable though it is, we need to acknowledge that fragility and embrace it.
Our leaders need to stop trying to claim that they have all the answers, and thank God for those who have said that, and instead journey with us through choppy waters. One of my favourite writers about leadership is Meg Wheatley. She writes: “We need to abandon our reliance on leader-as-hero and invite in the leader-as-host. We need to support those leaders who know that problems are complex, who know that in order to understand the full complexity of any issue, all parts of the system need to be invited to participate and contribute.”
I have heard some talk eloquently of the need to build back better and I profoundly agree because what we had before all of this was profoundly unjust, unequal, and unsustainable. However, I am also nervous when people seem to be grasping this as a short “overton window” of opportunity which will close within weeks or months.
I am nervous for two main reasons.
The first of these is that too many of those who need to be involved in the change are currently even more isolated and marginalised. Although the aspirations to do something different are genuine, if the people designing them are largely the same people as before, it is unlikely to be as different as is needed.
The second is that change, real change, tends to come slowly. The opportunity for change might be sudden but the process that leads up to it is normally more deliberative. The classic example of this, for me at least, is that it was no accident when Rosa Parks refused to move seats and the many changes that flowed out of that courage. The movement had been a long time in the building.
I think that means that instead of looking to those who have arrived lately – too late – and at their opinion that things need to change, we need to search out those who have been living at the edge for a long time. They are the people who have some of the resilience we all need to learn. They also have the wisdom to know what a different, better future might look like.