Human Stories

Changing a culture

Changing a culture is a challenging task. When a group of people behaves in a certain way, whether consciously or unconsciously, it becomes ingrained as the ‘norm’. Challenging this ‘normal’ (or, more accurately said, it is ‘habitual’, not ‘normal’) behavior and establishing a new habit or culture is a Herculean effort undertaken by activists.

There are millions of examples, some became famous such as Black Life Matters, #Me Too, Greta Thunberg and the Schools Strike for Climate, Gender Fluidity and more. It takes great courage to confront these issues, to stand alone against the current, and to move towards life serving strategies for all.

Today, I would like to focus the attention of this newsletter on changing small culture in daily life, where it requires a similar courage to embark on the quest for ways to care for individuals and the community, even when it is not the norm. During a community meet-up I organized last weekend, I encountered one such issue that I’ve been grappling with for a long time: the culture of ‘breaking agreements’ or ‘changing appointments’. In the following paragraphs, I will share the situation and some thoughts surrounding it:

My girlfriend and I organized a ‘community meetup’: we invited 13 friends to join us, to live, drink, and eat NVC together for 3 days in our house. When extending invitations, our aim was as much as possible to include those who could commit to being present for the entire duration. This way, we hoped to cultivate a ‘community-building’ experience. We made an effort to communicate this by discussing the agreed arrival and departure times with each person, shaping our program accordingly.

However, the day before the event concluded, two members of the community unexpectedly informed us that they had decided to leave. This triggered a rising sense of anger within me, immediately followed by feelings of shame. Both parts were speaking in my head in Jackal (a common occurrence in the mind of an activist):

The shame was whispering, “Come on Yoram, don’t be so picky’ (it actually said, ‘Don’t be a ‘Nazi’), and it continued: Be more flexible, people are free to leave when they want.”

My anger immediately retorted, “But we invested so much energy in communicating it! Their departure has an impact on me and the entire community. While they have the freedom to choose, I don’t. If I had known they were leaving midway, I might have chosen not to invite them!”
Shame attempted to silence me; nevertheless, I was fueled by my desire for transparency about my emotions and my commitment to advocating for cultural change. So I spoke up. Speaking up wasn’t just about expressing my frustration about their departure; it was also about advocating for a cultural change regarding cooperation. I witnessed so many projects falling apart due to a lack of clarity regarding mutual engagement. Gathering people and engaging them in collective activities, whether it’s planning a vacation, working on a project, or coordinating with assistants during training sessions, can be extremely challenging. Maintaining cohesion within a group is no easy task.

I’ve often experienced disappointment with friends. We’d make plans to do something together, only for people to cancel or change their plans last minute.

Many years ago, I had a girlfriend who would often cancel plans. We’d arrange a vacation, and just a week before, doubts would arise, leading to her cancellation on the evening before. It was driving me nuts. It took many dialogues until she finally clarified: “I say YES to the plan because I am afraid to lose the opportunity. But if I am to be fully honest, I would answer: “At this moment I wish to be there. Knowing myself, there is about a 50% chance that I will actually be there.”’

I appreciated her honesty, as it gave me the choice: Do I want to take the risk or do I prefer making other plans for myself? Sometimes I chose one, sometimes the other, and there was so much more peace between us. For me, it’s about clarity in communication and choice for everyone. 

Here are few principles I hold dear around breaking agreement (or changing appointments), whether it is with friends, or when running projects:

  • I hold agreements dear. I find cooperation and engaging in shared activities with people to be extremely valuable and delicate. Therefore, I recognize that any change I propose can impact others and potentially break our sense of togetherness.
  • If a strong desire arises within me to modify an agreement, I express my wish and check for openness to incorporate my proposed change. It’s not a unilateral decision but a dialogue where I am open to understanding its impact on others and willing to shift towards something that works for everyone. For example, I might communicate: “I wish to go home a day earlier than planned because I am feeling some stress around the start of the working week. Before making a decision, I would like to hear the impact on the group, in order to find a solution that works for everyone”.

The key aspect of this approach is shifting from unilateral decisions, where I decide before including others, to multilateral decisions. Every time a unilateral decision is made, it poses a risk of causing a certain level of damage to the trust within the relationship.

With dedication to the creation of life serving culture,