By Gemma Perkins
The following piece is by Gemma Perkins who is in the School for Changemakers alumni. Here, she shares her thinking around transformation and what exciting things can come from being inspired by a moment of personal change.
One of the things that I enjoy the most about the School for Changemakers programme is the space and freedom to talk about big ideas and the challenging questions in life. I had one such conversation last Thursday with an old friend, Howard Grace – one of the SFCM elder alumni. Although SFCM is a youth programme we enjoy inviting some of the IofC elders to share their experiences, wisdom, youthful spirit and, in Howard’s case, magic tricks to bring generations together.
Howard and I were pondering on what it is that drives people to want to spend part of their life volunteering for a cause or dedicating their time to a particular passion. When we spoke of our own volunteering experiences what became apparent was that each of us had a key moment of transformation as the driving factor.
The School for Changemakers often get together to talk about big ideas and the challenging questions in life
Moments of Change
In my own life, at the age of sixteen I ‘accidentally’ stumbled on a youth leadership programme which turned out to completely shape my career path. I already had plans to be a teacher of sorts and was studying hard. The programme gave me new and valuable insights into my own personality type, priorities in life, strengths, weaknesses and personal values which I hadn’t considered before. It also gave me a lens with which to understand some of the challenges I faced with my family. This had such a massive beneficial impact on me and gave me such a deep sense of gratitude that I continued to volunteer with the programme for the next nine years and eventually set up a similar business to continue that work – side stepping from my original plan of teaching. Effectively, I wanted as many other young people as possible to benefit from the important life lessons that I had learned.
When Howard speaks of his own transformative experience, he often goes back to his student days as an activist and campaigner. Their student union was trying to pass a motion which Howard strongly believed in. As the chairperson of the meeting Howard was able to alter the voting figures to support the outcome he strongly believed in. Later discussions with members of IofC got him thinking about the idea of ‘walking the talk’ and being the change you wish to see in the world. Despite the discomfort and possible consequences, Howard went back and admitted to his actions and reversed the voting outcome to reflect reality. This helped him to discover his own sense of integrity and identity – something he later supported other young people to do through his workshop programmes.
You can read more about Howard’s story here: https://midthamesquakers.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/To-Thine-Own-Self-be-True-Howard-Grace.pdf
I have the pleasure of networking with a lot of purpose driven professionals, entrepreneurs and people in the charity sector. For them, their work is not just a job – they have a deep sense of passion about making a difference in whatever way they can. Again, when I hear their stories, I noticed that there is a common theme of ‘a transformational moment’.
For example, I know a woman who experienced domestic abuse which later led to her working in advocacy for other women. She provides education on toxic relationships to try and prevent future abuse scenarios as well as connects women to refuge services when they need to flea.
I know a gentleman who struggled to overcome his own mental health challenges and recognised that there are still taboos about men talking about their feelings. He now runs his own men’s mental health network.
A man who came to this country as a refugee and had a very difficult time navigating the immigration system and being able to study decided to share his story to raise awareness of refugee issues. He also does charitable work to help other asylum seekers use that same system effectively.
When I think to all of the people who I know doing fantastic, purpose driven work they all seem to be inspired by a moment of personal change. The exception seems to be that some people haven’t had a pivotal moment themselves, but have witnessed the transformation or the personal story of others. This sense of shared humanity can also be enough to spark people’s interest in supporting a particular cause.
It occurs to me that if we want to create a community of people passionate about change and who have a sense of purpose in life, then the key is to help them find their own transformational moments.
One interesting challenge to address is that for some people, their change is overcoming a period of suffering. I am not suggesting we inflict, glorify or excuse suffering – but rather acknowledge that for some, the challenges that are already present may be the catalyst for personal growth. And that where people feel able to share their stories of endurance and resilience, it can foster empathy and raise awareness so that others can hopefully avoid those same challenges.
Seeding and Incubating transformation
I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with IofC for the last 10 years: The School for Changemakers programme, Refugees as Rebuilders and attending conferences at Caux in Switzerland. I think for me, the secret ingredient to a good IofC programme is that it creates a space that allows transformation to happen. No one can force or guarantee transformation – it’s down to the individual to have a moment of realisation, clarity, change, forgiveness (or any other kind of significant change). But in order to facilitate that process, there are some key ingredients that we can bring to the table to make that more likely to happen.
It can be, by providing spaces of learning, keynote speakers and workshops that teach people a skill that helps them to overcome a barrier and move forward in one aspect of their lives.
Sometimes it can be about moments of community. Being able to meet diverse people and hear their stories can provide that moment of emotional magnitude and empathy that drives you to make a change… or to think ‘wow, I want to join their cause’ or ‘I have the skill set to help prevent that happening to others’
IofC also helps people to connect to their inner voice through moments of quiet, shared meditation, poetry, art, creativity or even multi faith prayer. Sometimes these moments of introspection are all that’s needed to allow the pieces of a puzzle to come together. People recognise the next step that they want to take in their journey, or maybe look back and realise how they have learned and grown from a challenge and how they can use it to shape their future.
I find it quite moving to think about how you can never guarantee that you’ll make a difference in someone’s life. You can’t promise to help people find their purpose. But by understanding the key ingredients of personal transformation and the human spirit, you can curate beautiful and well thought out environments where people have the best possible chance of personal change. Being around people and seeing those moments happening, (hearing from people years later after a slow transformation) is deeply rewarding, nourishing and feels like time well spent.
It’s a great privilege to have a sense of purpose in life, and to feel a commitment to a cause. If you are looking for some more clarity in your life, perhaps joining one of our IofC programmes will give you the time, space, empathic experience and sense of community you need to find your path forward.
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