Neil Tambe

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I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Social Change and its nomenclature

I caught something on facebook the other day - someone being congratulatory about some friend's work which was exemplary "positive social change". Which is fine, social change is not something that's a bad thing, certainly.

But this whole enterprise of "social change" has to be better. The deployment of it, probably has a lot of room for improvement, I think. In fact, peering into the language of social change and how it's described is pretty indicative about some of its attributes I take issue with.

Here are two examples:

Let's first deconstruct the whole idea of "social change". When people talk about it, it's a pretty unfocused term. When people talk about wanting to be a part of social change they describe it as such. What the heck does this mean? What's the goal here? As it's concieved now, social change is this amorphous, non-descript idea where do-gooders seem to do what feels good or sounds good. Where's the specific mission statement or objective?

That being said, it doesn't have to be some very narrow mission and could be a very ambitious goal. But setting a goal in the first place of how social value will be delivered is prudent. There aren't enough resources to be fluffy about social change.

I also get it that "social change" people probably have goals and good intentions of hitting specific goals and targets with their work. That's great. But, kindly get serious enough about it to not be careless about communicating the change you hope to inflect.

Here's the second example

What's this focus on "change" as the operating word in the phrase. Why is "change" implied as a good thing? Admittedly, if we're not satisfied with the current-state of social affairs it stands to reason that some sort of change is necessary.

But, that's so reckless to talk about change. Change has no focus as a term. Change is something that you have to control. Change is a directionless word. To think about doing change seems like it would suggest that doing stuff, for the sake of doing stuff is advantageous, and conceptually sound.

But in my experience, change is really, really hard. It takes a ton of preparation and lots of investment. It takes a LOT of leadership / engagement and never happens for the sake of happening. So, don't focus on change - focus on a goal or outcome. Focus on a behavior. Not just change itself...focusing on change itself makes me think the social agent attempting to "change" things probably doesn't really know what they are talking about.

So to summarize - and this message goes to social change agents - get some plans together and set some goals. Kindly articulate the value you intend to create in the community. Don't hide behind the idea of "social change" and pretend like everyone should support the activities you're attempting because it sounds sweet. Think it through a little more.

A little harsh, I know. But really...we don't have community resources to waste that are not focused on something that really improves our communities.

Please do say hello: neil.tambe[at]gmail[dot]com