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July 26, 2016

Knowing that We Can Change Society

Knowing that We Can Change Society
by Mark Fennell

original date: 1995

The following is a dialogue demonstrating how we know that complex systems in our society can indeed be changed.

We can certainly make our society more pleasurable and more rewarding. We can create an environment of greater personal freedoms and greater quality of life for all. We can do all these things and more. Yet to achieve these changes, we must believe the changes are possible. We must develop the best solutions to each problem. We must work together effectively.

The first step is believing that changes are possible. We must believe, we must know, that we can restructure each aspect of our society into something better. Without this belief, then no plan - no matter how perfect - will become implemented. Therefore, the following discussion has become necessary.

This modern dialogue will help illustrate my point. The dialogues were a teaching method developed by Plato and Socrates. This is a modern dialogue, with modern problems, and modern personalities.

I have used versions of this dialogue over the years to convince regular people that we can indeed make our complex world more humane and profitable...if we truly believe it.

How we Know for Certain That We Can Change Society

Characters: Bob the Bureaucrat, Lazy Laura, Professor Know-it-all

 Professor:      Do you believe that systems can be more humane?

 Bob:                No, systems cannot become more humane.

 Professor:      Why not?

 Bob:                It just can't be done.

 Professor:      That is not a reason.

 Bob:                Well, things just aren't done that way.

Professor:      That is not a reason, either. Just because an activity is not usually performed in  a certain way does not mean that it cannot be performed that way.

Bob:               The manager would not accept it.

Professor:     True, but what of the people you manage?
                       Couldn't you manage your employees humanely?

Bob:               It just can't be done.

Professor:     Let us approach this from another angle.
Do you think that a flower can grow to 3 feet in diameter?

Bob:               No, I do not.

Professor:     Why not?

Bob:               Because I have never seen one, and all the flowers I know grow
to only about 3 inches in diameter.

 Professor:     I have climbed the mountains of Borneo and seen the flower
                        known as the Rafflesia. It grows to 3 feet in diameter and weighs about
                        20 pounds. Do you now believe such a flower could exist?

Bob:                No, I do not. I have only your words to go on.

Professor:      Just because you yourself have not seen something, this does not mean
                        that the object can't exist. In other words, the flower can exist without
                        you ever seeing it your entire life.

 Bob:               True enough, but have you not brought any souvenirs?

Professor:      The flower is too large to carry. Furthermore, let us assume we live
                        in a time before photography. What are your choices then?
                        You have only two choices: climb the mountain yourself to verify
                        what I say, or simply believe that I speak the truth.

 Bob:               I think I'd rather assume you are lying, and not bother to verify.

Professor:      If you doubt that I tell the truth, and yet you do not investigate it yourself, then you cannot refute my claim. By default, then, I must be correct.

I tell you that this flower exists. If you do not take the effort to try to disprove my claim regarding the flower, then you cannot refute my statement that systems can be humane.

Bob:               Given the options, I'd choose to climb the mountain.

Professor:     Good. While you are climbing, notice that finding a humane system is similar to finding the flower. You must do some searching to find the humane systems, just as you must search to find the flower. However, in both cases, the work will have been worth it.

Professor:     Laura, do you trust me or do you wish to verify as Bob is doing?

Laura:            You've never lied to me before. Therefore, I'll prefer to take your word that the flower can exist.

Professor:      Good. Then can you also take my word that humane systems can exist?

Laura:             Yes, I can, for you have never lied, and because I do not wish
                         to spend the time required to investigate.

Professor:      Laura, while Bob is climbing the mountain to see the flower,
                        let us continue. You have agreed that the flower can exist?

Laura:             Yes, I do.

Professor:      Do you also agree that it can exist, even though you have never seen it?

Laura:             Again, I do because I trust what you say. You have never lied to me before.

 Professor:     Laura, notice that this flower does not exist in this country, nor even on this continent.
Could this explain why you have not seen the flower?

Laura:             Yes, that makes sense.

Professor:      Could this be true for systems as well? That is, could it be that the reason you
                         have not seen a humane system is because there simply are none in the area
                         in which you live? And yet, a humane system might exist in another area
                         of the world, or in another industry?

Laura:              Yes, I would agree.

Professor:      Here in my hand I have seeds from the flower. Do you agree?

Laura:             I agree they are seeds, but whether they will become the flower you speak of
                        remains to be seen.

Professor:     Yes, indeed. And is this not the same for any changes we want to make? That is, if I offer ideas (seeds) on how to make systems more humane, and we plant them (instill the ideas among a group of people), then the ideas might truly become the humane system I spoke of at the time of the planting.

Laura:             If I understand you, you are saying that your ideas for making a system more humane are the seeds. If the ideas are indeed correct, then a humane system will be the result. The only way to truly verify if the ideas are the correct ideas, is to try them. This process occurs much in the same way that we verify that the seeds are the correct seeds by planting them.

Professor:     Yes, that is correct. Now, do you think it is possible to take seeds from the flower,
                       plant them, and have the flower grow here in this country?

Laura:             You can take the seeds, and you can plant them,
                        but we do not know that they will grow in this soil.

Professor:     True. And is this not the same with our ideas on making systems more humane? We can offer the ideas, but if the people are not ready to believe that such a system is possible, the ideas sit idle like seeds on stone.

Laura:             So, you are saying that if the people do not believe that a system can be altered,
                        or if they do not believe it can be altered more humanely, then we can never truly 
                        prove or disprove that the ideas you offer will make a humane system.

 Professor:     Yes, indeed.
Now, what other items are required for a flower to grow?

Laura:             Water and sunlight.

Professor:      What happens if you do not water the flower?

Laura:             The flower will die, of course.

Professor:      And what happens if we do not help the system along as it is developing?

Laura:             The system will not develop the way it should, or at least not be as healthy as it might.

Professor:      And what happens to the flower if we deny it sunlight?

Laura:             Again, the flower will die.

Professor:      What will happen to our humane system if we do not continue to talk enthusiastically 
                       of our vision?

Laura:             The system will revert back to the old methods.

Professor:       Laura, let us now review what we have agreed.
                         I told you I had seen a flower that is three feet in diameter.
                         You believe me because I have never lied and because the flower exists far away.

I have seeds in my hand. We agree that if we plant the seeds,
if the soil is fertile, and if we give it plenty of water and sunlight,
the seeds will  become the plant of which I spoke.

In terms of systems, I say that I have seen humane systems.

You believe me, again because I have never lied to you, and because investigating systems requires time which you do not wish to spend. We agree that a humane system might exist elsewhere in the world. We agreed that if such a system does exist, then we might be able to transplant it here.

I proposed ideas and principles for making systems more humane. We agreed that the best way to see if these ideas are correct is to try these ideas. We agreed that we must not only try these ideas, but also be diligent in nurturing the systems.

Everyone must support the vision, or we will not have given our ideas a fair chance for success.

Laura:             Yes, I agree to each of those statements.

Some time later, Bob returns.

Professor:      Bob, did you find the flower?

Bob:                Yes, I did. The flower you spoke of does exist.

Professor:      So, I spoke of an object, an object which I had seen, yet which you had not.
                        You doubted that the object existed, yet you could not refute my claim.
                        You finally traveled to visit the object itself. Now you know that I was telling the truth.

Bob:               Yes, all that is correct.

Professor:      Are you ready to believe other things I say?
Or will you doubt those, too?

Bob:                I will give you more leeway, but not totally.

 Professor:     Can you believe that things can be changed?
Can you believe that things can be different from what they are? Can you believe that a possibility may become a reality?

Bob:               For most things, no, I do not.

Professor:     Yet, you saw that the possibility of the flower was a reality.

Bob:               Yes, but most possibilities are not realities.

Professor:     Do you believe that a company can improve its product?

Bob:               Yes.

Professor:     Do you believe that a man can earn a college degree?

Bob:               Yes.

Professor:     Do you believe that a man can tinker with objects, such as cars,
                       and improve their performance?

Bob:               Certainly, I've done it many times myself.

Professor:     Why then do you not believe in possibilities or in the principle of change?
                       Everything you agreed to is an action of change.

                       In every case, there was a sequence of:

                         1. Believing that something can be improved,

2. Going that direction, even if you were unsure of what the final destination would look like, and

3. Actually achieving that improvement.

Do you agree? Or are there any of these three steps that do not apply?

Bob:               Okay, I guess we do believe in the possibility of change in certain areas. Yet, I'm still not convinced that all areas can be changed, particularly complex systems of our society, and especially not with making work more pleasant.

Professor:     You are proficient in fixing cars, are you not?

 Bob:              You should see my Mustang parked right outside.
I take great care of her.

Professor:     Good. Suppose I bought a Mustang of my own, and wished to improve it. Yet I know nothing about cars. What might I do?

Bob:                Ask me. I could show you everything you'd need to know.

Professor:      So, you agree that you are knowledgeable in certain areas?

Bob:                Yes.

Professor:      How did you become so knowledgeable?

Bob:                I've been working on cars since I was 15. I've had years of practice.

Professor:     Then, based upon your ability to fix cars, would you agree that a person could be so knowledgeable in an area, that he can make improvements in that area?

Bob:                Certainly.

Professor:     Would you agree, that a person could know something which you do not?

Bob:                 Yes.

Professor:     Would you also agree that this person could make changes or suggest improvements that are valid and feasible?

Bob:                 Yes.

Professor:       Therefore, we must agree that changes can be made in ANY area.

Bob:                I think I see your point. You are saying that for every conceivable area of life, there are experts. They are experts not merely by any credential, but by the fact that they have been working with the subject for years.

From my personal experience in fixing cars, an area where I am an expert, I know cars can be improved. Therefore, I can extend this to other areas: the experts of other areas can offer valid suggestions for improvement.

I guess this means that almost anything can be improved, right?

Professor:     Yes, Bob, that is it.

Any system in society can be improved. For whatever system being discussed there are experts – not just from credentials, but from years of experience and special insight. Gather these experts together, and they will find elegant solutions to any problem.

This includes the restructuring of the complex systems in our society.

These systems can be improved not only for effectiveness, but for
allowing humans to live freely and grow to their full potential.

You now see that there practical solutions available, as created from the people themselves. You also see that no matter how complex the system might be, such changes are indeed possible.

Almost anything can be improved. Anything at all.

Conclusions From our Dialogue
The following items are important conclusions we can take from our dialogue:
*Anything, including complex systems of our society, can be changed.

*Just because systems have traditionally operated in a certain way, that does not prevent better ways from being practical and successful.

*An object or an idea that may seem fanciful can exist, even though you have never seen it.

*In the final analysis, the only method of proving or disproving ideas is to try them.

*If you believe in technological progress, then you must believe in the progress of organizations in our society becoming more humane.

*You must also believe in the progress of systems of our society becoming more efficient.

*Experts are experts not merely by credential, but because of their experience in the field.

*There are enough people with practical experience in any field that we can gather such a group on any topic, and they, in turn, will create real solutions.

*This is the way that we - the people - will make real and lasting changes in our society.




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