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Can People Change?

Sometimes we look back at a series of events and note that indeed people did change, yet the means by which it occurred seems strangely elusive, embedded within the particular conditions of the experience and not something easy to duplicate elsewhere. We wonder if people can change, even with detailed knowledge to guide them.

Studies of human behavior tell us many ways this occurs but often it’s applied in manipulative ways (i.e. in advertising, marketing, politics, and propaganda) and used to get people to act against their own best interests.

To obtain change that’s truly constructive, certain means stand out:

1. People tend to accept three things together: a group of people, the ideas it espouses, and actions to take. Think how this model is applied by the military, by going to college, by joining a team or an association of any kind. People, ideas, and actions come together. Essentially people become friendly to an overall system.

2. This tells us that if we are to change others’ thinking, it makes sense to do it the easy way they already use. It means that we establish such a milieu in which a visitor can sense people-ideas-actions all together.

3. The personal component of this is that even one individual is often enough to represent an entire system to someone else. Think of a person who knows nothing about environmental issues but is friendly toward you. One day an issue comes to the public eye and you two happen to talk about it. Just your own presence and rationality, and their own connectedness to you may be enough to cause that individual to adopt an idea about the environment, pass it on, and vote differently.

Intuitively, many people understand how to be that bridge. The means is fairly simple--to become totally receptive to understanding the other person’s thought. As you receive their thought, they realize you’re that kind of person: “He’s really hearing me” becomes “He’s the kind of person who hears other people.”

The tendency is for people instead to think like a salesman. They develop “rapport” with a customer, and then across that open channel deliver what they want to sell. This model is certainly better than using coercion or manipulation, but a valid stance is embedded in the nature of reality:

We bring a loving heart to the exchange and through that lens become sympathetically supportive of any good that can occur to, with, or for that person. We set aside our own agenda in order to be able to assist the good that is ready to happen, and hence allow ourselves to be fascinated at the emerging good, whatever it is.

This belief amounts to a paradigm shift for much of the thinking in this country--which has segregated itself into a limitless number of special interests. For the most constructive change to occur, more people need to think in terms of the full range of good that needs to happen--about the person in front of them. When the time is right for their personal priority, they’ve generated a host of allies by being supportive of others’ priorities and collaborating in actualizing them.
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