Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Change – a pair of dimes

The other night I was wandering around the blogosphere and ended up at Sheria’s Place. One of her posts got me thinking about paradigms, perceptions, and change. I’ve rambled and ranted about the need for systemic and cultural change in various places so I won’t do that here. However, Sherrie’s post made me take a hard look at my own resistance to certain kinds of change and delve a bit into where that resistance comes from. Rather than bare my soul I’ll attempt to share my findings and thoughts.

First, a story to illustrate a point.

I grew up in the desert southwest. Snakes were an everyday part of life. Some of them were deadly, and they were everywhere. Medical help was always far away and other human habitation was often far away as well. The result of this is an unconscious awareness of snakes, snake like shapes, noises, movements, and locations where snakes were likely to be. The world was scanned for these things before I put a foot down, reached a hand in, or moved in general. This didn’t result in paralysis, and mostly occurred at the subconscious level. When we moved to New Zealand I took this perceptual screen with me. There are no snakes in New Zealand, and I knew this at a conscious level, but when we hiked every foot or hand was placed with caution. Our Kiwi friends laughed at my jumping away from sticks or sudden sounds. I explained but they didn’t really understand at a gut level. Snake awareness will always be part of my world view.

So, when we work for change, particularly in how people live day to day, we have to be aware of the underlying paradigms or belief systems that shape every little decision or action people make. It is exceptionally difficult to change peoples unconscious beliefs about how the world works and the actions that come from those beliefs. No amount of intelligent conversation will get us there. People will probably have to get bitten by a few snakes before they can really change.


Lucy said...

Absolutely. It's really crucial this and your example explains it very clearly.

Unless we understand this, all sorts of nasty things will be left in the world. Racism springs instantly to mind.

Understanding where our reactions come from, how they came to be ingrained, is crucial if we are to overcome them.

Learning to take people seriously when they find it hard to leave inappropriate / unacceptable reactions behind - is equally important.

It's hard to put ourselves in other people's shoes.

Lucy Corrander

P.S. It's late and my brain is half asleep so I don't think I've said this well but I do think your illustration is a good one and I think I'll be using it from now on and infinitum. Thank you! L.C.

Sheria said...

Wow! I think that you have hit on the pefect analogy for explaining why change is so difficult for most of us. However, I do quibble a bit about the effectiveness of intelligent conversation. Communicating about our views brings us a bit closer to understanding our differences and recognizing our commonalities. I certainly feel that your honest communication has been quite enriching for me.

Alan said...

Intelligent conversation is enriching, but haven't you ever found yourself acting in ways that are contrary to what you have come to know at an intellectual and even emotional level to be the way you should act? Recycling for example. We all know we should, and mostly we do, but when it is inconvenient, or we are in a hurry or away from home, etc., we automatically throw things in the trash. Mother culture has conditioned that response and it will take a lot more than intellectual conversation to change it.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

Mother culture? That was either a typo or a very astute term for the huge impact of culture on our ingrained behavior. While Mother Nature would typically lead us to a certain set of self-sustaining behaviors, Mother Culture may drive us into behaviors that are instantly gratifying, but non-sustainable.

I did like the snake analogy, and it can be applied at pretty high levels. But like Sheria's 'power of intelligent conversation', even simple self awareness can go a long way toward eliminating snakes where they don't exist. Having said that, as Anais Nin said: 'We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are.' Always and forever.

Warren Jeffords said...

Excellant example. The same reluctance exists at the AMA and FDA. It has been proven that an electric current, high voltage and low amperes can neutralize venom. We cannot legally do this in the USA because we have the hospitals stocked with serum and an expensive system of obtaining venom to produce more, plus the staff and facilities who need the income from providing the service of treating snake bites. Much pain and suffering could be eliminated and several lives would be saved if this change were made. I use a gas grill igniter to treat insect and spider bites and stings with instant pain relief. Multiple stings from bees or fire ants require a mild stun gun. A defibrillator will save some lives if applied soon enough.


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