8 Laws of Change | Stephan A Schwartz | TEDxVail


Four times in my life, I've been involved in massive social transformation. In the 50s and 60s, it was a civil rights movement, and I think my job was mostly to get arrested. I've seen the inside of a lot of southern drunk tanks and slept in a lot of choir lofts in black churches. In the 70s, it was the transformation of the American military from the leaders conscription organization of the Vietnam era to the all-volunteer meritocracy we have today. In the 80s and 90s, it was what came to be known as citizen diplomacy. A group of us working through the Esalen Institute began trying to set up back channels to keep the Soviet Union and the United States from blowing each other up. I can remember very clearly as I came down on Christmas morning, and after Christmas breakfast checked my email, and there was an email from a close friend who was on the staff of Mikhail Gorbachev, and it said, "The Soviet Union is no more." And it made me realize how ephemeral change of things which we think of being fixed actually is.

And it set me in motion for what is now almost two decades of research about how social transformation can happen, and how individuals like us can make it happen. That's what I want to focus on today, because I think many of you would agree we are a nation that is in crisis, with all kinds of threats and changes that are coming, that are creating difficulties and stress. You talk about it with your neighbors, you hear it at parties, you talk about it at sports events. How can we create change? Well, I can tell you from doing now almost two decades of research – over two decades of research – that change comes in two forms. It's violent, coercive, or it is non-violent. The interesting thing is that violent change actually – we now know from scientific research – doesn't last very long. If you think about it for a moment, the Soviet Union just lasted a little over 70 years, less than a single person's lifetime. Nazi National Socialism in Germany lasted, depending on how you calculate it, either 10 or 20 years.

So even things which seem incredibly fixed and powerful can be altered, and they can be altered by ordinary people. I want to share with you what I have learned in the research that I have done about how that happens. And it comes in two stages. First is the individual, and then is the social. The individual begins with something so simple you can hardly believe that it could actually make a difference. It is the quotidian choice. "Quotidian" means daily, mundane, ordinary, and these choices are the kind of thing we do when we go into the store; we buy a particular kind of toothpaste, or cat food, or a roll of toilet paper. Do we really think what is the nature of the company that is producing this? Are we conscious of what we are really buying? Because buying is a kind of voting. If we are unconscious – and most people are; they don't even realize they're making choices.

So first of all, we need to become aware that we are making choices. And second of all, we must commit of the options that are available to us to always choose the one that is most compassionate and life-affirming. None of them may be great choices, but inevitably one choice is always slightly better than the one that – than the others; it is more life-affirming, it is more compassionate, it is more productive of wellness. Because as we look at these changes that are facing us, and we can see them in climate change, in the fact that we will become a majority-minority country, that we are a country, that we are a post middle-class society. Forty five million people are in poverty. We have 17 million children with hunger issues. What kind of world do we want to change into? This change is going to happen.

Is it a dystopian world, or is it a world that is oriented toward wellness? I want to suggest to you the change toward wellness, and that's what I favor – I don't know about you, but I find most of these dystopian movies very bleary. I don't want to live there. (Laughter) I want to live in a place where people feel good, and happy, and prosperous, and healthy. I want wellness, and I mean by "wellness" just what you think I mean. So quotidian choices are where the individual begins. And if you don't think this actually can make a difference, look at – Just to give you one example. About 18 months ago, there was a decision that was arrived at by thousands and thousands, and millions of little choices, and that was to choose "LGBT" over "gay". Nobody passed the law. The president didn't go on television. But people just made a decision, "Yes, I will do this, I will say this." It's not just a change in term; it's a change in concept about what it means to be a human being.

So quotidian choice is how we begin. If you, the people in this room and the people that see this video will make the commitment, "I will commit that, first of all, I will become aware of the implications of the choices that I am making, and that out of the choices that are available to me, I will consistently choose that option which is the most compassionate, and life-affirming, and productive of wellness", I can tell you that the people in this room and those that hear this can change the course of history. Once we move past the individual to the group, I began studying how do groups become successful? Why do some social movements do better than others? Why do they become better? What emerged out of that was eight laws. I didn't invent these laws. They are simply patterns that successful, transitional organizations which are socially compassionate worked out for themselves. But here they are. When you start a group, or you join a group, or you become involved in something, if you will help nurture these eight laws, your group statistically will become more successful than it would otherwise be.

So here they are. The first one: become aware you're making a choice, choose the compassionate and life-affirming option as you understand it in the moment, and that the individuals in the group, and the group, collectively, must share a common intention. If you've ever been part of a group, you know that getting common intention is not easy. Law number 2: The individuals and the group may have goals, but they may not have cherished outcomes, that is, you don't know what's going to happen. When I was reading the diaries and correspondence of abolitionists, they would say, “I want to end slavery. I don't know how it's going to happen, but it must end. It is a moral evil.” Law number 3: The individuals in the group must accept that their goal may not be reached within their lifetimes, and be OK with this. That's something else I learned from the abolitionists. They didn't know that it was going to happen, but they were committed to its happening. Law number 4: The individuals in the group must accept that they may not get either credit or acknowledgement for what they've done, and be OK with that. You know how hard it is when you don't feel like you got recognized.

But if the thing that you are serving is productive of wellness, that is the goal, and you can do it. And you will ultimately reap the benefit. Law number 5: Each person in the group, regardless of the gender, religion, race, or culture, must enjoy fundamental equality even as the various roles in the hierarchy of the effort are respected. We are all fundamentally equal, and if you hold a higher position in any particular organization, that does not make you a superior being. Law number 6: The individuals in the group must forswear violence in word, act, or thought. I confess, for me, this is the hard one, (Laughter) because when I see somebody do something hurtful to another, I cannot always tell you that I have peaceful thoughts.

(Laughter) Law number 7: The individual in the group must make their private selves consistent with their public posture. I do a daily web publication called Schwartzreport.net, so I read about 80 journals and newspapers every day. And almost every day, it's just as regular as clockwork, there’s somebody who has set themselves up as a moral authority, as the teacher, as the arbiter of what proper behavior is. That's their public self. They talk about it all the time. And yet, in the back room, behind the curtain, all sorts of very unpleasant things happen. Law number 8: The individuals in the group, and the group collectively, must always act from the beingness of life-affirming integrity. We are at a crossroads. We're at a crossroads as a culture, we're at a crossroads as a country, we're at a crossroads as a world.

You can look at the scientific research and see that this change is coming. The question that I leave you with is, are you prepared to stand up, to stand up and say, "I will be an agent of change that produces wellness"? "Wellness, as I understand it in this moment. I may understand it differently a year from now, but at this moment, day by day, minute by minute, I will serve the creation of wellness, so that my children, and my grandchildren" – I have two grandsons – "will live in a world that has wellness as a social priority." Thank you. (Applause).