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Working with the Status Quo Not Against It

P4P is honoured to feature Al Etmanski as our first guest blogger! Please visit Al's blog to enjoy more of his inspiring posts. 

Sooner or later, you will have to stop challenging the status quo and start working with it.

Why? Because at best challenging the status quo only pries the door open. Then comes the much more difficult work. Which is walking through the door and sitting down with representatives of the status quo.

By status quo I mean those habits, attitudes, traditions, policies and values that comprise the way things are. The status quo is a codification of the current state of affairs most visible in political, corporate and social institutions.

Even if you change a law, create a new fund or have massive success with a social media campaign the status quo seldom changes. The status quo has the capacity to isolate your innovation, prevent it from going anywhere and round off its sharp edges. If you let it, it also has the capacity to infuse your beliefs and values into popular culture.

Working with the status quo instead of against it requires a change in mindset. Yours in particular. It could mean swallowing your pride and simplifying
 a complex concept for the sake of making it more accessible. Or using the vernacular, the language of the people. Or skillfully blending the old and the new. Or relying on mainstream cultural vehicles to make your point.
That’s what Leonard Cohen did when he decided to expand beyond the discipline of poetry and become a pop singer. There is no denying that his wisdom reached a broader audience as a result.

That’s what George R.R. Martin is doing in The Game of Thrones by including a significant number of complex major characters who happen to be disabled. He is flipping disability stereotypes on their head.

That’s what former US VP 
Joe Biden meant when he said that the tv show Will and Grace, “probably did more to educate the American public on LGBTQ issues than almost anything anybody has ever done so far.”

And that’s what the poet Octavio Paz was referring to in this quote from his Nobel Lecture: “Between tradition and modernity, there is a bridge. When they are mutually isolated, tradition stagnates and modernity vaporizes; when in conjunction, modernity breathes life into tradition, while the latter replies with depth and gravity.”

Working with the status quo is not the usual practice of fervent advocates, community organizers and social innovators. Perhaps because it is outside your comfort zone. Or you risk criticism from your peers. However, the status quo is not outside us but within us. Once you recognize that reality you will breathe new life into your advancement of social, economic and environmental justice.

Nothing in the universe ever grew from the outside in. (Richard Wagamese)

This blog is re-printed with permission from Al's blog page.

Al has been a proud member of the disability movement since the birth of his daughter Liz. He is a community organizer, social entrepreneur and author. He is a founding partner of Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and BC Partners for Social Impact. As co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) he proposed and led the campaign to establish the world's only disability savings plan - the RDSP. Al is an Ashoka fellow, and a faculty member of John McKnight’s Asset Based Community Development Institute (ABCD). He was recently awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.  

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