In this book, I have taken you on a journey of discovery, to explore a simple idea. If you care about meaningful change – whether at home, at work, or in your community – you will get there faster by travelling at the speed of trust and empowerment. Trust and empowerment, these are big words. In writing this book, I have learned that they are inseparable. How can I empower my daughters without trusting them? How can waste-pickers in Peru rise from poverty and abuse, unless we treat them as fully capable humans, and trust their capabilities to help fix our urgent environmental problems?
Over seven chapters, I have explored how people, movements, and even governments practice the Slow Lane Principles. By doing so, they challenge established behaviors and preconceptions that are deeply ingrained in our day-to-day life, economy, and society. At home, I realized that I was boycotting my desire to empower my daughters for as long as I asked them the seemingly innocent 'Saturday question', instead of trusting them. I didn't notice how loaded this question was, for years, until I connected the dots in new ways. Similarly, it took decades for me to shed my preconceptions, nurtured since childhood, about people in the environmental movement.
Journeys of Discovery
Every story in this book is a journey of social change, as well as an often deeply personal journey of discovery. Our protagonists came from different places and backgrounds. Some, like Albina Ruiz and Rosanne Haggerty, were brought up with strong belief systems that helped them see the dignity of even marginalized people like Peru's waste pickers, or the homeless. For Mark Johnson and Dorica Dan, it was their lived experience that formed their sense of mission to change something, to spare others what they had lived through. And Dr. Sanjeev Arora found his calling by actively looking for a deeper purpose for his life. They in turn shifted the expectations of countless others, like Edilberto Delgado, a waste picker who was born poor, and had lost his self-esteem as a small child. Albina's movement gave him a pathway out of poverty, celebrating the contribution he was making to the environment. With time, he began to believe in himself and his purpose. He too, found his way into the Slow Lane. As do the thousands of prisoners who were inspired by Mark Johnson to help improve prisons in the UK. Or the million students, who find their power when they tailor their classrooms around new learning experiences with Serlo.
No one comes to the Slow Lane fully equipped, with all the skills and strategies in place.
The Slow Lane is a messy place when you look at all these journeys of personal discovery and change. And yet, there is a pattern here, too. No one comes to the Slow Lane fully equipped, with all the skills and strategies in place. Some are invited, others spark movements that extend the first invitations. Some come as strong listeners, others come with curiosity, others intuit how true empowerment works. What they all have in common, is that the Slow Lane is a place for them first to experience their power to contribute, and then to make a difference by inviting others in to share this experience.
Social Imagination is the Love We Give
Our mindsets can begin to change at anytime, anywhere. One morning, you may wake up and ask yourself if your children are likely to lead a fulfilled, loving life if you edge them on in a futile race to the top. Or whether your prison will really be safer if you impose more pain on your prisoners, instead of treating them as capable partners. Or whether your government really can responsibly care for all people at times of crisis, instead of treating them as equal partners with solutions. By asking these questions, you are allowing yourself to challenge your ways. The Slow Lane provides new answers, and offers a path for you to turn these doubts into action. Maybe you can invite others into your journey, leading by example, and showing your trust in them. Alternatively, you may discover some invitations, long overlooked, for you to join others. They may even have helped you get to this point, asking nothing in return.
People were bursting with love and joy when they spoke about working with their respective communities. I am not a doctor, but I would bet that these interactions release endorphins in our bodies, relieving pain and making us feel great. Whatever the chemistry, it works.
Imperfect as we all are at the beginning, the Slow Lane Principles will reveal themselves with time. Albina didn't fully share leadership until, twenty years into her journey, she realized that speaking on behalf of others was holding her movement back. And it took Rosanne about thirty years to realize that solving for the homeless might work, but to help Brownsville, she would have to solve with, and build on a long tradition of community organizing to chart their course. The Slow Lane is self-correcting in that way, meaning that successful movements will gravitate toward a common set of principles.
Story #7 is all about the joy of practicing social imagination. I believe that it is the glue that is holding the Slow Lane together, the limitless joy of empowering others, free from expectations. People were bursting with love and joy when they spoke about working with their respective communities. I am not a doctor, but I would bet that these interactions release endorphins in our bodies, relieving pain and making us feel great. Whatever the chemistry, it works. Fear, by contrast, makes us feel miserable and anxious. Social imagination is the practice of these relationships that give us joy, which in turn leads us to (re)imagine what good looks like. These audacious ideas developed by some high-flying genius, but by discovering new capabilities among us. As we share, we reframe the world around us.
Enjoying the Slow Lane, Fast.
I am writing this, as millions of people flee Ukraine to escape a senseless war. In a recent post, my colleague Kenny Clewett wrote that contrary to the pervasive narrative that refugees are passive subjects, people on the move are powerful changemakers, eager to contribute to the good of all in their new communities. They deserve to have power, and be heard. They deserve our help, as well as our invitation to experience their power to contribute. Many of the hundreds of thousands of people, families, businesses, and organizations offering to help as this tragedy unfolds, this will be their own first experience of their power to contribute. Done right, their help will also be an invitation to let refugees become a leading part of the new solutions we need. Won't this complicate matters at a time of urgency? Kenny does a fantastic job of presenting the many Slow Lane movements can hold the tension, ready to help quickly, whilst also beginning the slow work of empowerment.
Contrary to the pervasive narrative that refugees are passive subjects, people on the move are powerful changemakers, eager to contribute to the good of all in their new communities. They deserve our help, as well as our invitation to experience their power to contribute.
As we have reached this final chapter, the epilogue, I want to invite you to share your thoughts with me as I am concluding the Slow Lane. Maybe this is a good moment to look at the full collection of stories, and refresh your memory of the ground we covered. In my next post, I will reflect on what the Slow Lane means for your life, movement, work, or engagement in society.