Loving the Messiness

In many instances when we embark on a journey of change and transformation, we do not expect it to be messy. When it does go this way, people are often tempted to throw their hands in the air and give up and declare the process a failure. BUT, there is another way of looking at things. While change may appear simple and easy to implement, practice suggests that, like all transformation, it is not all neat. It is indeed messy.


We must learn to love the mess.  The road ahead for South Africa may not be all rosy and smooth.  One cannot rule out a situation of serious conflict (God forbid), and perhaps fall of revenue and some other unanticipated developments, but one must learn to “dance” with the real complexity of living social systems.  The “One Way Forward” approach, states that the messiness requires that we learn to surrender to the unknowable, and to work with events as they unfold.  Most importantly to allow the “answers” to emerge from people representing the system.


It is important that the process of change and transformation is infused with joy and happiness.  I am glad that research supports this notion. Wells and Mclean state in their research that the sense of joy is critically important. There is something about happy and yet serious people at work. Change agents can become both provocateurs and nurturers of the human spirit. Any journey to the unknown has to have a very strong element of Ubuntu, and space where people can feel safe to tell their stories. For me this is the primary responsibility of community development practitioners.


We are so used to having timeframes, and in most cases, are forced to follow rigid deadlines. That is the way of the mechanistic approach to change management. However, according to the One Way Forward model, there is a new approach that we as development practitioners may consider, regarding time.The process of change will require many conversations not necessarily about the change itself but about the people who are part of the living system.


“One has to allow time to shape the process and not the other way around.”


Here is short list of some qualities that those who lead or are part of the process of change and transformation must possess:


  • Humility
  • Patience
  • Perseverance
  • Willingness to reconnect with their own wisdom
  • Willingness to connect with the wisdom of the complex, living system


I will conclude by quoting PS Ndebele as he inquires “Iphi’ndlela?” And then continues to say “I am humbled by the knowledge that there can never be one single definitive way.  There are many other possible paths”.


Wishing you God’s richest blessings as you navigate the complexity of life, and in the process, celebrate and enjoy the gift of life itself.


By Theo Mayekiso

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