Do you think people change? All people, or only some people? Do people change in all areas of life or only some? Maybe it’s fair to say that no one changes in all ways all of the time, but some people change in many ways a lot of the time, and at the very least we could say that all people change in some ways, some of the time.
Arguments go both ways. House, the cynical doctor on the TV show House, thinks not. He said, “People don’t change. They may want to. They may need to.” But they don’t. The famous Tiffany’s window dresser Gene Moore agrees, “People don’t change. Only their costumes do.”
On the other side of the discussion, author Marcel Proust said, “Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.” So maybe its House’s lens on life which is not changing, and maybe Moore has spent so much time working in windows that he has mistaken mannequins for reality.
Anyone who takes a good look in the mirror, or at the reflection in a Tiffany’s window, can see that change happens constantly. In his 2008 election campaign, President Obama spoke about change you can believe in. Jay Leno changed it to “spare change you can believe in.” I want to talk about believing in change. You need to believe in change in order to stay active in the world, and you need to believe in change in order to stay optimistic about your own personal circumstances.
Let me illustrate that change happens constantly, with an exercise that is really more of a visual but you will get the idea.
Imagine that you are addressing a group of people and you ask everyone on the left to raise their hand. The question will inevitably come back, “It depends. Left, compared to what?” Let’s say that you clarify that it’s left in relation to you. The group will then ask, “Hold on, is that left as we are facing or your left?” It’s like the scene in a novel I read a while ago when God has all humanity assembled in two groups on judgment day, sheep on the right and goats on the left. Just as God is describing that those on the right will be going to heaven, he gets confused about whether it’s his right or right as they are facing him. God slaps his forehead as the goats strut past the sheep grinning mischievously on their way into heaven.
So to avoid any apocalyptic confusion in your group setting, agree that it’s your left. Now ask again for everyone on the left to please raise a hoof, I mean a hand. A flurry of hands will likely shoot up. But what if you move as you are asking the question? You ask people to raise their hand now if they’re left of you. And now. And now. Hands will be going up and down constantly according to where you are standing.
Just in case people aren’t confused enough, slip this direction in, “Everyone who believes in telekinesis, please raise my hand.”
At this point, mix it up, shift the reference point and define left and right politically. Ask everyone to the left of you, politically, to raise their hand. Someone will likely call out, “It depends on the issue.” You have now successfully opened a can of worms. Change is like that.
The key words in this exercise are “It depends.” It’s relative. Whether it’s left and right based on political views or location, it all depends on your perspective within the whole picture. If you remember that it’s all changing, ALL the time, and more importantly YOU are changing all the time, you can have an opinion without becoming dogmatic. (read on for more about change and optimism)Winston Churchill said,
A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
Healthy people CAN and do change their minds regularly and feel no need to control the subject. While on the theme of raising hands, take some inspiration from Sylvester Stallone in the movie, Rocky IV. After defeating the giant Russian boxer, against all odds, in front of a hostile Russian home crowd, he says,
During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!
Slowly, he wins over the whole Soviet Politburo and one by one, they stand and applaud the battered hero draped in an American flag. It brings a tear to my eye every time I see it. I’m not even American, but it appeals to my inner optimist; the one that looks for signs of change everywhere.
The first truth of effective personal and social change is acceptance and speaking up with a compassionate heart. The second is optimism because you believe that change is possible. If you don’t really believe that change is possible, you spend your energy railing recklessly against the system. You set out with pessimistic resignation or House style cynicism.
Believe that change is possible, because change is happening all the time. Believe that other people can change just as you have changed. Believe that perspectives change constantly. Boundaries such as left and right have as little enduring significance as left and right on a carousel. Change is like a game of musical chairs with no ending. The question is whether we can arrange the chairs in the order needed for the next leap in global consciousness.
The world needs impassioned activism, but it needs to be done optimistically. Expect change, from yourself and in others. It’s the nature of life, and it’s the direction of history. Cross aisles to work with unexpected partners because they likely have something to teach you. Cross the street to talk to someone you remember as boring or argumentative. They might have changed. Trust yourself to do something surprising and new. You might have backed out in fear last time you tried. But you are a new you, and it may be time to step into a new reality.
A lot of people are frustrated, and taking to the streets with new zeal, evidenced by the growing OWS movement. This is awesome as long as it’s based in love and not rage. We don’t need lynch mobs. We need link mobs; people who know how to create connections and participate in positive transformation for the good of ALL.
Change is all about the movement of the parts in relation to the whole. Your essential nature is like the watery nature of the ocean. It doesn’t change. As Deepak Chopra said,
You are not the ever- changing behavior of the ocean. You are the water-i-ness of the ocean. And this water-i-ness doesn’t change.
But expressions of this nature, behaviors, circumstances, change all the time. These changes are like waves in the ocean of life, here today and gone tomorrow. No matter how much the waves change, the water-i-ness remains. The water-i-ness creates the foundation, the confidence, the assurance and the peace for managing change.
The important thing is that while you have time, make your unique mark, sometimes bobbing up and down quietly to turn the tide of tyranny, other times pounding the shoreline of injustice. Either way, be prepared to make a splash in the global sea change. Live without fear. All your best efforts will eventually merge back into the universe with the shifting sands of time. Remember that nothing lasts, nothing is lost, and nothing stays the same. Your best efforts are part of a current shifting towards greater compassion. The possibilities are oceanic.