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Change Must Come From the Inside

Change Must Come From the Inside June 4, 2018

It’s a simple concept. Change must come from the inside. Those who have worked in addiction counseling, for example, can tell you that it is possible to support an addict in every possible way and give him or her all the tools needed, but, unless the addict decides to change from the inside out, recovery is all but impossible.

A lasting light can only be lit from the inside. Most people seem to understand this in relation to individuals, but we often forget that the same is true about larger entities.

Scream and Shout

Near daily, I notice some person or group that has taken a stand outside of an entity—be it religious, political, or business related—and is screaming and shouting at them, “Change, change, change!!!”

Rarely, if ever, does that work.

Every so often, increased awareness about a certain topic can infiltrate the entity from the outside and cause a change in behavior, but that change still comes from the inside. Without receptive ears in the inner circles of organizations, most of the screaming and shouting is ignored until the screamers and shouters are exhausted or turn their attention elsewhere—whichever happens first.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but, for some reason, it keeps happening over and over and over and over…

If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

The old adage says, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” It still holds true for those who want to make lasting changes. Let me give you examples:

  • If you want to change corporate culture, join a corporation and work on your ideals from the inside.
  • If you want to change gun culture, join the NRA and work on your ideals from the inside.
  • If you want to change religion, become a clergy member and, you guessed it, work on your ideals from the inside.
  • If you already belong to an organization, institution, group, ideology, theology, or other entity and see things that need to be changed, focus your attention there and make changes from the inside.

The difficult aspect of this process is to sustain idealism while going through the process of learning the ropes and finding enough other people within the entity to start making changes. That being said, it still beats the other approach of screaming and shouting from the outside.

Creating Lasting Change

In the nineties, I was introduced to a paradigm about change that I found intriguing. I was told that it takes about forty years to make sustainable changes. This is how it reportedly works. From the moment a realization or discovery is made, it takes about twenty years to reach general awareness (and yes, there may be some screaming and shouting involved during that time period), and then another twenty years to implement the ideas within said system.

I am hoping that with the exponential growth in technology and information dissemination (which, unfortunately, includes disinformation) this timeframe has been shortened somewhat, but I still believe that achieving lasting change is a marathon, not a sprint.

It may feel good to act on anger and outrage. It may feel like we are doing something productive when we spew antagonistic rhetoric in short bursts at those we think are at fault. It may even be justified. But it rarely leads to the lasting change we long for.

Deflated Idealists

Of course, history books are full of deflated idealists, people who enter the fray with a vision only to see it dissipate when they are confronted with resistance and harsh realities. You don’t want to end up like that. I know I don’t.

It takes grit and sustained effort to make worthwhile changes. It is more like raising a child than like building a house. A house can be built with short bursts of effort. It takes a sustained effort to raise healthy individuals that contribute to society.

Changing Things from the Inside

You survey the world, your surroundings, your company, your family, your religious community, or some other entity, and you see changes that need to be made. You feel that these changes are important.

Before you charge into battle, ask yourself: “What kind of person am I? Will I shout and scream from the outside or am I brave enough to enter the arena, become part of the structure or culture I want to change, and engage in a long process (that may or may not work)?”

That’s the realistic approach.

On the other hand, you can just jump in and wing it. My educated guess is that impetuousness was the starting point for many activists and change makers. However, at some point, the successful ones realized that lasting change comes from the inside, and, if they weren’t already positioned there, they refocused their efforts to influence those who were.

It’s a truism that bears repeating over and over again: Change must come from the inside.

Gudjon Bergmann
Interfaith Minister, Author, and Speaker
Founder of Harmony Interfaith Initiative

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Picture: CC0 License


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