Agents of Change

The tension between those who led and those who lost

Modern leaders are praised as agents of change, but do they ever stop to think of those who suffer through transformation, who lose their privileges but also the simplest expectations of their way of life? What is the price of creating losers without an opportunity for redemption in a new reality that doesn’t belong to them? Here is a timeless excerpt of an amazing talk by Anand Giridharadas that beautifully captures the tension between those who led and those who lost, and offers a glimmer of redemption beyond the grief and the fear.

To you who have lost in this era. I heard that the fabric of your life was tearing. I know that feeling hurt is often prologue to dealing hurt. I wonder if you would be less eager to deal it now if I had stood with you when you merely felt it. I became entranced by the gurus of change. Once change became my totalizing faith, I could be blind to change’s consequences, I could overlook the importance of roots, traditions, rituals, stability, and belonging. And the more fundamentalist I became in my worship of change and openness, the more I drove you to cling, to freeze, to close, to belong. I now see there is a subtle, quiet disadvantage in having some privileged traits and yet feeling history moving away from you, that the world is growing less yours, day by day. I will not concede for a moment that old privileges should not dwindle, they cannot dwindle fast enough. It is for you to learn to live in a new century in which there are no bonuses for showing up with the right traits. If and when your anger turns to hate, please know that there is no space for that in our shared home. But I will admit that I have discounted the burden of coping with the loss of status, I have forgotten that what is socially necessary can also be personally grueling. I see now that what I was doing at times was buying your pain on the cheap, sprucing it up, and trying to sell it back to you as freedom. I have condescended to you with the idea that you are voting against your interests, as if I know your interests, and ignoring things like the desire to send a message to those who ignore you. So here we are, in a scary, but not inexplicable moment of fracture, resentment and fear. I worry for us both if we continue down this road: me not listening, you shouting to get me to listen. I worry when each of us is seduced by visions of the future that have no place for the other. There is always the hope of redemption, but it will not be a cheap, shallow redemption that comes through blather about us all being in it together. This will take more. It will take accepting that we both made choices to be here. We create our others: we witness and sometimes ignore each other into being. You were not born vengeful, I have some role in whatever thirst you now feel for revenge, and that thirst now tempts me to plot ever more elaborate escapes from our common life. We face a problem not of large impersonal forces. We face a problem of yours and mine relations. We chose ways of relating to each other that got us here. We can choose ways of relating that get us out. But there are things we might have to let go of, starting with our own cherished versions of reality. If there is hope to summon it is this: we could dare to commit to the dream of tending to each other, of unleashing each other’s wonders, of moving through history together. Let us dare.