What do we know about change?
He'll never change.
She's so changeable.
I used to really like: he/she/them but they changed.
It's time for a change.
Nothing ever changes around here.
I thought I could change him or her.
Change is constant.
We are bombarded with advertising messages about change all the time. Change your hair color, your car, your deodorant, your image, your décor, your status; with our product!
The gurus of self-help pontificate on how to change from within. After a while it all sounds like bumper sticker slogans.
Then there's the conventional wisdom about change. “People get more conservative as they grow older.” I was happy to find studies that show that just isn't so. More people become far less conservative with age. Time has a way of changing perspective.
On a societal level, change and the future were greatly anticipated when I was growing up. We talked about and imagined the future all the time. We were going to travel to outer space! We were going to put a man on the moon! We would have flying cars and live in round houses with robots. Our fashions, TV shows, movies, and our interior design all reflected the future we were visualizing. We were excited about what was next.
Along the way that excitement faded. We did put a man on the moon. It was incredible. But we also fought wars, perpetuated injustice, and came to accept homelessness and hunger as permanent conditions here in the wealthiest country in the world. We've caused permanent damage to our planet and our ecosystem. We don't talk about the future and the potential for change much any more.
Some wish to return to a fictionalized version of the past. In this idealized version of the past, men were “real” men and women knew their place. No one paid any taxes. Nothing was regulated. The American Dream was within reach for all who worked for it.
That none of it was ever true doesn’t matter.
Those who think about the future may feel as if they’re treading water, trying to prevent further negative change, while laboring to create a glimpse here and there of something positive and hopeful.
For most of us, the core values remain. Love is always better than hate. Peace is better than war. Education is better than ignorance. Community is better than isolation. Building strong community is the answer to most of our problems.
We all change and grow throughout our lives. Some of it is biology. Some of it is education. Some of it is in reaction to life experience, and some of it is intentional. If we have self-awareness, we can change how we view the world, how we relate to other people, and replace some of the programming we may have gotten as we were growing up.
We can learn about privilege, and in that learning, change our worldview and our behavior.
We can be the changed.
We bring all that we learn along the way into our families, our circle of friends, our workplaces, and our communities. Along the way, we encounter those who don't necessarily share our views and our values. In our polarized and contentious society, that can lead to conflict. Read the online comment section of our statewide newspaper for a look at clashing world-views.
I’m well aware that I’m part of it. What I write is often focused on that clash and all that is wrong in our world. I have learned this much: a constant diet of cynicism is bad for the soul and the psyche.
Over the last two years I’ve spent a lot of time at the NH legislature. I've seen and heard things that I found upsetting. The ongoing efforts by some to obstruct and disrupt was not pleasant to watch. It seemed their goal was to perpetuate the view that government is broken.
Yet at the same time, I also watched people change their minds about an important issue. They were given new information in a way that they could be receptive to it. A number of legislators changed their minds about the death penalty. A repeal bill cleared the NH House by a huge margin. People were changed. The process was amazing to watch.
It all came down to people acting on principle, finding ways to work with people with whom they had little common ground.
I spoke with a local freshman legislator about her experience in her first term. She talked about the committee she is on. It's one of the larger committees, and filled with some diverse points of view. They have fun, she told me. They treat one another with respect. Everyone is taken seriously. They work together.
It’s easy to make anonymous snarky remarks in the comment section of the UL. Respectfully listening to one another may not always be easy, but makes working together possible, and infinitely more rewarding.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I take my beliefs and values out into the world with me. There are seven UU core principles. The first is a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Some days that’s a real challenge.
BUT – if we can carry that out into our lives, our workplaces and our communities: we can create positive change. We can focus on the actual common good, not the mythology of rugged individualism and bootstraps.
Big changes are heading our way. The opportunities to do better will keep coming, and so will the need for change.
© sbruce 2014
Published as a biweekly column in the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.