I am probably speaking more to myself in this story than to any other readers. While I think I believe what I write here, I have to be honest that I struggle in my efforts to change the way I think about change.
Understanding Demands for Change
Demands for change and promises of change dominate much of public discourse these days. Many of us are upset with the way things are, and we desire to see them change.
While demands for change can often feel adversarial, they don’t have to be. I believe demands for change often feel adversarial because of the way we often think about change.
While many of us define change differently, there seems to be at least one common assumption shared by people demanding change. That assumption is that change involves replacing a present undesired way of being with a proposed desired alternative way of being.
Implicit in this assumption is a belief held by those demanding change that their views represent the desired alternative way of being while the present undesired way of being is represented by the views of those needing to change.
In other words, usually when people are demanding change, what they are really demanding is that “others” see things the way they already see them.
Far too often “change” is presented as something “other people” need to do rather than something all of us need to do. As a result, change is understood as being one directional (rather than multi-directional) and adversarial. What would happen, however, if we understood change as something we all need to do?
We Have to Stop Demonizing Others
I find it extremely ironic that it is during a period many people have identified as one of the most divided periods in American politics and culture — a period where political gridlock is the norm rather than the exception — that there has been an exponential increase in the rhetoric of “change.”
It seems as though everyone is dug in, entrenched, and unwilling to move from their ideological positions, while at the same time everyone is talking about, demanding, and even promising change.
What kind of change is possible, however, when few of us think we need to change and many of us think “others” are the ones who need to change? This way of thinking about change contributes to increased polarization.
People on different sides of ideological divides are not just “wrong.” They’re often demonized as “immoral.” They’re depicted as a threat to society.
If we seriously want lasting transformative change that benefits all of us as a society (not merely as individuals) we have to stop the demonizing.
Genuine Change Requires Dialogue and a Willingness to Change
While I have very strong views regarding a number of issues (especially issues involving social justice), I realize lasting transformative change requires more than me pointing out how everyone else is “wrong.” It requires more than me persuading “others” to see things my way (even if I strongly believe my way is correct).
Lasting transformative change is not the result of persuasion. Lasting transformative change is the result of understanding, and understanding requires dialogue.
Only when we allow ourselves to genuinely “hear” the perspectives of others can real dialogue take place.
Engaging in concurrent monologues devoted to persuasion is not the same thing as engaging in dialogue.
We Have to Move beyond Our Own Perspectives
Social media often reinforces notions of certainty. Since most people gravitate toward media sources that affirm the views they already hold, social media often simply confirms our belief that “others” are the ones who need to change.
Unfortunately, even the Medium writers and publications we follow can contribute to such ideological bubbles (especially if we’re not “following” broadly).
I’m genuinely trying to figure out HOW to move beyond ideological bubbles. Because understanding is the key to lasting transformative change, I’m trying to figure out how to promote understanding rather than simply trying to persuade others to see things my way.
I Think There is Hope
While I often feel the ideological divides separating us are too deep and too wide to overcome, I want to believe these divides are not insurmountable.
While Americans are becoming increasingly divided along ideological lines, a Pew Research Center study reveals that the majority of Americans are NOT ideological extremists.
Unfortunately, this American majority is often less politically engaged and frequently less willing to participate in discourse about important social issues.
While this unwillingness to participate may understandably be due to frustration, disillusionment, and a distaste for the rancor and incivility often associated with such discourse, the lack of participation unfortunately means the discourse ends up taking place primarily among people more committed to persuasion than to understanding.
Changing the Way We Think about Change
Understanding is one of the most important ingredients for achieving meaningful lasting transformative change.
In this quest for understanding, we must seek to understand as much as we seek to be understood. Furthermore, in our quest to be understood, we must ask ourselves, “how does what we’re saying and the way we are saying it encourage others to want to understand us?”
If we genuinely want to be understood, we must give others a reason to want to understand us. Blaming and being dismissive of others does not give others a reason to want to understand us (If right now you’re thinking about other people rather than yourself, or about all the reasons why the views of others deserve to be dismissed, or about how dismissive others are of you so you’re justified in dismissing them, I TOTALLY understand. That’s a place I often find myself as well).
Like most people, I have sought to bring about change primarily through persuasion rather than understanding. I have helped promote the “echo chambers” that reinforce the belief that the problem lies solely with “others.”
While I might be naive, I believe we may be able to bridge many of our ideological divides if we’re willing to change the way we think about change.
I want to believe there is a significant number of people who desire genuine lasting transformative change — the sort of change that results from understanding rather than persuasion.
As I continue to explore this possibility, reactions and responses to this story will help me better understand if I am in fact simply being naive or if there is indeed a significant number of people desiring to move beyond merely demanding change and to move toward actually experiencing change.
I look forward to your reactions, and hopefully future engagement.