Musings on change

by Aryne Sheppard

Our world is facing some big problems: growing economic insecurity and political polarization, social unrest and the rapid increase in mental health issues, paralyzing bureaucracy and corporate corruption, the looming threats of climate change and environmental degradation. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all experience the impacts of these problems by virtue of being part of a shared social and planetary system.

We want to do the right thing. We want to be ‘good’ human beings. And yet, our response is often inaction. Despite the urgency of the issues we face, our denial has continued to grow along with our consumerism.

Like anyone grappling with issues of social change, I have struggled with this paradox for many years. Why don’t humans change? What information or insight are we missing? Many parallels can be drawn between our approach to self-change and our approach to social change. These similarities provide a critical perspective that has been missing.

So often in our lives, we set out to change something about our selves or our lives that we don’t like, only to fail…often repeatedly. We want to lead healthier lifestyles, create more fulfilling relationships, engage in more meaningful work. We want to be less stressed and feel more at peace.

But despite starting out on the road to change with energy and optimism, we watch our commitment and willpower wane over time, and find our selves back where we began. In my experience, this cycle easily leads to feelings of resignation, helplessness and a loss of faith in our abilities. So the question is, why don’t we follow through on our best intentions? Why can’t we be good?

I have an inkling that Jung was right when he said, “the salvation of the world consists in the salvation of the individual”. Deeper dynamics are at play and we are called to do more than tinker with the external circumstances of our lives and world. If we are brave enough to look inward – a uniquely human ability – the insights we can gain from our inability to change our selves will shed light on our failures to shift the big problems we face collectively.

Without realizing it, my teacher Viola Fodor helped me write this blog – her wisdom and guidance over the years have been invaluable and always infuse my work. However, as Thoreau reminds us, it is always the first person that is speaking, so any fumblings are my own.

 

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2 comments

  • I believe that we will eventually act, although not soon enough for many. A sci-fi movie about environmental damage caused by humans contains a memorable quote. “It’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve.”

  • Well, yes, Aryne, we have to look inward–but we also have to act outward, with other people, to improve both ourselves and the world. Why do we find it so hard to change? Because we are human, with a given set of instincts and tendencies, with a fine but finite brain, with powerful emotions. We are empathetic, but out empathy is limited. We can do great good in groups by working together, or we can do great harm. We follow leaders who themselves can be good and bad. As with our own bad habits, we just can only try to persevere, try and try again, and celebrate our small victories which sometimes, we hope, can culminate in large ones.

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