What's the connection between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dimensions of change?
8 July 2016 - Impact Hub

What’s the connection between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dimensions of change?

How does change happen? Think of a change you’ve made in your life that you are grateful for. It could be a move to a new place, a new job, a change in your relationship or even a new habit such as a meditation or running. What led to this change? Was it circumstance, an event, a conversation, a feeling, a desire?

At Feedback & Falafel this week, we explored both ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dimensions of changes we’ve experienced both at a personal and at a collective level. By the ‘inner’ dimension I mean beliefs, thoughts, feelings etc. – things that cannot be observed by a third party. By contrast, ‘outer’ dimensions are things you could record with a video camera. For example, an argument, a low bank account, a relocation, new friends. Let’s say I’ve taken up running as a new practice. An example of an ‘outer’ dimension leading to that change could be that my local gym is closing down. An ‘inner’ dimension could be my desire to spend more time outdoors.
But how do these two dimensions play out at a collective level? Inevitably, we talked about Brexit as a major ‘change’ happening right now in the UK. Although nobody really knows what will happen next, what is clear is that we are in a period of dramatic change. Something major has shifted with the referendum result. What led to this change? Brexit also has ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dimensions of change, which have been heatedly debated in the past two weeks. An ‘inner’ dimension that has been highlighted is people’s frustration and dissatisfaction with the lack of care from Westminster in areas outside the big cities and feeling of deep disconnect from the EU as an institution. Some of the ‘outer’ dimensions include divisive media campaigns on both sides as well as huge social and economic inequality across the country.
The ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dimensions of change are fundamentally interconnected. In our discussion of Brexit, we realised how crucial a role the inner dimension (to a large extent invisible) has played in the outcome of the referendum – which perhaps nobody had quite anticipated.
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Drawing inspiration from Ken Wilber’s four quadrant model, we mapped Inner/Outer and Me/We dimensions on a simple diagram. All of these continually interact with each other: we influence and are influenced by both what’s happening at the individual and collective level (Me/We) as well as internally and externally (Inner/Outer). It’s important to note that the We level is not singular – there are multiple nested levels of a collective.
So what does this mean for people wishing to bring about positive social change? Perhaps consider which of these quadrants you are focused on in your work. How might they interact with the other dimensions? One of the things I have learnt through my work as a leadership facilitator and coach is that if an organisation is solely focused on bringing about external changes, it will have less leverage than if it engages both the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dimensions that will facilitate the desired change. Post-Brexit, I feel a ‘new internal story’ of who we are now as a society is as important a task ahead as the new institutions, structures and ways of living together that will need to be built.
This also applies to ourselves as individuals – what’s moving in us will affect the work we do out in the world – and vice versa. In other words, our impact doesn’t just come from what we do, but also from how we are as we work for change: the place we’re acting from, the values and beliefs we hold, the cultures we create and the ways we interact with each other. In relation to our response to the EU referendum, I feel an important inner dimension of change is to stop ‘othering’ people who disagree with us and start listening deeply to different perspectives. I believe collectively we will have most leverage from consciously working on all levels – Inner and Outer, Me and We.
Debbie Warrener is a leadership facilitator and coach who works on both inner and outer change and is passionate about supporting the change maker community to leverage its fullest potential.