I hear alot of talk on blogs that centers on trying to figure out how to change people. Its not so much psychobabble as it is trying to figure out how we can get people to open their eyes and see things differently. But its also about trying to figure out how we can get people to make the kind of changes in their lives that will save the planet, reduce consumption, vote for the right person, protest unjust wars and policies, etc.
Today I’m going back to square one and asking whether or not this is possible…do people really change? Those of you who know a bit about my story might find that a strange question coming from me. I was raised mostly in East Texas in a family/community that is extremely right-wing fundamentalist christian. And up until I started openly asking questions in my 20’s, I bought it all. So if I’m any example, of course people can change…and alot!
But the question for me is not so much did I change, but did I find what was there in the first place. This might seem like a distinction without a difference to some, but I think its extremely important when we think about how we approach the goal of trying to increase the ranks of people who are willing to stand up and fight for the causes we espouse.
That’s because when we want people to change, we tend approach them by giving them information and trying to convince them that the way we see the world is the right way. And that’s actually the easy part (even though we know its not easy). Because then people have to commit to changing how they live their lives. We all know behavior change is possible, but its an uphill struggle and most people can’t sustain it over the long haul.
The process of how I got from there to here did not happen because someone convinced me to live my life differently. It came, first of all, by noticing that what I believed and what happened in the world did not jibe. In other words, I experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance. And so I began asking questions.
Just as an example, right after graduating from college, I worked in a residential treatment program for chemically addicted kids. My world view at the time was that I was a christian and, therefore, had a corner on the “love thy neighbor” market. If this was true, I should have been the most effective counselor that agency employed (because the others weren’t real christians you know). But that world view turned out to have no connection whatsoever to reality. I was a naive “goody two-shoes” with no training or experience in what these kids had been through or what they needed from me. And pretty much every other staff who worked there was able to connect and be more effective with them than I was. So I began to ask myself, “What difference does it make that I’m a christian?” These other staff, by living out their commitment to the young people in that program, began to help me see that my life was a lie. None of them ever tried to change me or my world view. They just lived out theirs in front of me and I was left with questions.
Molly Ivins (may she rest in peace) describes a similar, and yet more concrete experience of recognizing the lie. She also grew up in East Texas and as a child was told not to drink from the “colored” water fountain because it was dirty. In her innocence, she noticed that the “white” water fountain, due to more usage, was the one that was actually dirty. Thus began her questioning of everything she was taught…starting with racism.
Over the years, there were many other people who had a huge impact on me. But the ones who helped me the most never tried to convince me of anything. They tried to help me find myself and what I believed to be true about the world based on my experience. In the end, my process was not so much one of change, but of discovery. I can’t speak to that as the universal experience, but it is mine. And, as Earth, Wind and Fire said, its all there and waiting…written in the stone.
Deep inside your heart for you to keep
lies a spark of light that never sleeps.
The greatest love you’ve ever known
Yea is written in the stone.
In the stone you’ll find the meaning
Why you’re not standing tall.
In the stone the light is shining,
forever touching all.
Never, never my darling,
never you’ll be alone.
Ever, forever my darling
True love is written in the stone.