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Agents of Change

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It is one thing to see another person with a problem and want to reach out and help that one. It is quite another thing to know how to do this effectively. If you have ever tried to reach out, I am sure that you have been shocked by the sense of a great chasm that lies between good intentions and effective action. As one tries to reach out and "make this world a better place," one realizes at how difficult and frustrating this task can prove to be. This frustration probably comes from a lack of understanding of what is actually involved in the process of change. We generally are not aware of the complex dynamics involved and most of the time our efforts are counter-productive. As our Fraternity undergoes growth and change and we become more aware or attuned to the ideals, philosophies, and principles of our Ritual, we must say to each other, "What happens to you makes a difference to me!" We should strive constantly to improve our abilities to help each other. Influencing lives is our business. We do this one Brother at a time. We are agents of change - change for good. This presents the question: How do we do this effectively and realistically?

The first thing that must be recognized is that significant change is by no means a simple or one-sided affair. There are always two aspects of a change-experience - you get something you did not have and you lose something you did have. Gain and loss are "the names of the game" whenever change occurs. Therefore it should not surprise us that our human reaction to this phenomenon is most often ambiguous. We often get down right excited when change is proposed. Have you ever known of anyone who was completely satisfied with his or her situation? We all have areas where we would like to grow and expand and improve. This innate desire for "adventure" is as much a part of our humanness as the need for food or air or water. We are made in the image of a dynamic Reality; therefore, it is simply part of our nature to want to reach out to that which we have not yet learned or experienced and incorporate more and more into our lives. Thus, whenever the possibility of change is offered, there is a part of each of us that wants to reach out and embrace it positively. However, at the very same time, there are other parts of us that rise up in resistance to the same prospect. We normally do not focus on what is to be gained by an experience but rather what will be lost. We are also traumatized by fear of the unknown. Change means that we are going to be taken out of a familiar setting and thrust into a situation we have never known before. This kind of thing can easily trigger feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. We subconsciously ask: "Will I be able to measure up to the demands of the new situation? Will I really be better off, or will things get worse?" A voice within us says: "As bad as things here may be, at least you know what you are dealing with. Heaven only knows what you might be getting into in that new situation." And so resistance to change emerges. Then there is also the deadly power of inertia that grumbles at any mention of change. To move and to grow and to improve always involves energy and effort, and there is something m all of us that simply does not want to be bothered and prefers comfort above all else. In other words, no experience of change is a simple matter. Those who have dealt with the "change experience" know that it is a complex process and rightfully will get annoyed at people who call for change flippantly and act as if it ought to be accomplished without struggle or conflict. The change‑process is not described as an "ordeal" for no reason. It is often a difficult and threatening experience and this fact needs to be kept in mind by anyone who proposes to initiate this ‘gain/loss’ process in the life of another.

However, recognizing the complexity of the dynamics here, how does one go about mobilizing those forces of energy that want to change so that they can overcome those forces that are resisting change? When change is called for out of a stance of condemnation and rejection, it is rarely effective or productive. This means that if you approach a person and say in effect: "Look, you are bad. You have a serious problem. You are sick and utterly unacceptable, and unless you change, I am not going to like you, I am going to reject you," this rarely, if ever, gets to the root of the problem and effects a change in that individual for good. Why? Because that sort of approach feels like an attack.' Regardless of the correctness of your diagnosis, when you come at a person in that way, all they can hear is: "Somebody does not like me and is trying to destroy me." This sort of approach activates fear and shame, and as a rule, the well-know "fight-or-flight" reaction is set in motion. The person either throws up his defenses and becomes ever so much more embattled in the depths of the problem, or they say indignantly: "Who made you a judge over me? What right do you have to be so critical? You are not so hot yourself," and begin a counterattack of condemnation. What results from all this is not creative change at all, but rather the individual becoming more rigidified than ever in what was the problem and an adversary relation opened between the would-be helper and the one being helped.

If change called for out of condemnation rarely produces effective growth, what methodology is there? A more infinitely wise and practical alternative is to call for change out of a stance of solidarity and mutual sharing. You see, people do not usually open up and confess to their critics, but many rimes they do come out of hiding and share with fellow strugglers. If you are willing to acknowledge that you are having difficulty with a certain problem, and struggling with it openly and offer to share this with another, this can have a tremendous impact on a troubled or struggling person. This strategy does several things - it lessens the loneliness and shame and fear we usually feel in relation to our problems. What never would happen under the pressure of condemnation just might happen in the context of solidarity and mutual sharing.

In order to accomplish change, or more specifically to be agents of change, we must do our part to help toward change rather than to condemn others for not changing. This stance of solidarity and identification is the vantage point from which the most creative change‑agency can be accomplished If you see another person struggling with some problem and you want to help that person grow and change, the best thing you can do is to find the same kind of darkness m yourself and that be the point of contact. That is so much more effective than the stance of indignation and hostility. In today's culture, criticism saturates every corner of our environment. Many times the problems that we criticize most vehemently in others are actually those things about ourselves that we do not like but have never faced. Down through the ages, people have tried to deal with the darkness within by projecting it on witches or scapegoats and then destroying those, but that never works and is avoiding the real issue.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this approach to change-agency will always work, because human beings are free. But of all the possibilities that can bring helpful change into another's life, the stance of solidarity and the offer to share in mutual struggle offers the best hope. It can produce positive change where shrill condemnation only produces rigidity. This approach allows us to effect positive change in ourselves as well as those we are trying to help. It overcomes shame and fear and gives one a companion in the way. And isn't that what life is all about?

 

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