Learning and growth

Nov 24, 2021 | Insights

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Every year, several million pilgrims gather on the banks of the Ganges at Prayang for the Magh Mela pilgrimage, one of the world’s largest mass gatherings. Some stay for a few days, bathing in the river at auspicious times. Others, who seek merit through a routine of religious ritual and renunciation, stay for the whole month to become kalpwasis.

The site is vast, crowded, noisy, and conditions are primitive. Yet, a sense of calm pervades in the chaos as enacted shared values and mutual intimacy foster a sense of collective shared identity (CSI).

Today, CSI informs crowd management and community building globally. Indeed, I find it helpful in achieving my goal of making a difference by building a community at Crazy for Change.

How do I know this? In 2015, Nick Hopkins from the University of Dundee joined the pilgrimage and wrote a detailed case study on the event. I learnt from the study and applied its findings to my practice.

Learning from others

Personal growth is essential in your journey to become a change maker, and growth comes from learning. Hopkins’ case study is a story that uses the experiences and wisdom of others to teach us.

Similarly, the ancient myths and plays of William Shakespeare remain popular because they explain human nature to us through stories. Biographies and role models with solid stories also make inspirational teachers.

Of course, your own experiences, successes, and mistakes are your most accessible source of learning and growth – in theory. It seems easier to pat yourself on the back for your successes than reflect on your mistakes. However, as author Anne Lamott tells us, even successes are events you have to recover from.

All the knowledge in the world

Whilst real-world experience is invaluable as a source of growth, author Elif Shafak suggests that books are as important. ‘A library of books is worth a thousand teachers,’ she has one of her characters declare. Books can be a source of learning and growth. As we absorb a book, we die to our old self and are reborn into a new self.

Growth and change come from learning. Your experiences, the experiences of others, and the collective knowledge of the world are all sources of learning, and each will help you grow in different ways.


Explaining effervescence: Investigating the relationship between shared social identity and positive experience in crowds by Nick Hopkins and others

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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