Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Does One Small Voice Really Matter?

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

I was at a disturbing dinner table conversation with a group of young people the other day. (“Young,” in this case, meaning 20’s through 30’s.) The topic came up of whether one person’s voice speaking out was of any value. And the shocking consensus of the young people at that table was a resounding “no!”

I admit to being an idealist. I admit to having a vested interest in the topic since I tend to risk my job, welfare, or life speaking out against what is wrong. The latest book I wrote is just a recent example. But to hear these young people dismiss even the voices of Gandhi or Martin Luther King or JFK as meaningless! I was overwhelmed.

One of them even said “There were others saying the same thing. Gandhi just added to his voice to theirs.” That may be true, I acknowledged. But what if he hadn’t spoken? What if Martin Luther King hadn’t spoken? Would the course of history have been the same? At sixty years old, I’ve heard these people speak or seen the direct effect of their voices. It made a tremendous difference to my heart, soul, and mind. How could they be dismissed so casually?

One of the people at the table had recently passed the Bar Exam and was looking forward to working for Legal Aid. I asked her directly if she wouldn’t be one small voice speaking out for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. “Of course not” was her reply. I wondered how many real courtrooms she had been in, when the accused was too overwhelmed or scared or uneducated to speak for themselves. What happens when your lawyer disparages the very role of being that one voice who will speak for you?

At one point I had to go outside for some fresh air. The truth was that there were tears in my eyes, and I didn’t want to spoil an otherwise social evening. But I was terribly bothered. If you don’t speak up when there is an injustice, how do you know someone else will? What if there are other minds thinking the same thing, but afraid to speak their thoughts out loud?

Should I demean the achievements of President Obama because he only said what other people had said? Or should I applaud him for taking a strong public stance and trying for the chance to do something about what he thought was wrong? I believe that “Yes we can!” echoed the sentiments of many people but I’m still going to give credit to the man who said those words out loud and often enough that something changed. I don’t know yet how much he can accomplish in respecting what’s right about this country and fixing what’s broken, but I hope everybody begins to say to themselves “Yes I can!” when faced with something that needs repair.

I don’t want to think that “one small voice” doesn’t matter because my experience has taught me that it does!

Do I wish I had a louder voice or a bigger audience? Of course I do! I don’t have the money or the celebrity status to automatically be heard. And approaches to Attorney Generals, Grand Juries, and state representatives have just resulted in form letters saying “we don’t investigate individual cases.” I don’t understand that. If you don’t start by investigating one case, then how do you ever find the pattern of wrongdoing? But I’m not going to stop whistleblowing. To be silent in the face of venom would be worse.

I think the problems I’m working to call attention to are serious ones. They require resources and power to fix that I just don’t have by myself. So I do what I can, speak up whenever I can, and try to find the resources that can (and have the guts to!) investigate and fix a broken system.

By the way, I have no grandiose illusions of being Gandhi or any of the inspiring people I mentioned. But they are my heroes and they taught me that the worst sin of all is to be silent when you see what is broken or wrong. Those who don’t speak up become accomplices in the evil, whether it happens in Nazi Germany or your local street. One small voice it may be but I’d rather be small than silent!


Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

It’s certainly become more difficult to keep treading water when it’s rising everywhere. Financial worries, too few jobs, constant fear – these days it’s a flood of epic proportions! But while I’ve talked about stress before, this time I think we need to deal with discouragement and despair. It’s seems that just plain “giving up” in frustration is one of the biggest problems facing us.

You see, any flood is worse if it’s sludge that rising around you. Not simple survival problems, but a toxic brew of greed and power-hunger that leads to corruption and ethical violations by the very officials in whom we trust to preserve our security. Mix that with apathy and feelings of helplessness, and you’ve got an overwhelming mess indeed.


Every Action Produces a Reaction

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Newton's CradleMost people accept that there is room for improvement in their lives and their behavior. Nobody’s life is perfect, and every unpleasant feeling or uncomfortable situation is a motivation for change. Why then do we often find it difficult to change?

Everybody who has tried to break a habit like smoking or chewing their fingernails knows this paradox. Every therapist who has watched clients resisting the very changes they said they wanted can attest to the strength of this dilemma.

We can often see clearly what we want to change, and yet have a devil of a time actually making those changes. Why?

There is an explanation. The process only seems mysterious because most people fail to realize how interconnected the parts of their life are. We tend to see things in separate pieces, as if they were in categories that existed in a vacuum. We don’t always make allowances for the way we have fitted all those pieces together. Changing one piece can disturb a subtle balance we have achieved. And that disturbance can be enough to derail our attempts to change.

Many people who complain of man unhappy marriage, for example, fail to realize how many adaptations they have made in order to keep that marriage going. People who have developed apparently self-destructive behaviors in order to cope with an abusive or severely disturbed spouse may find their marriage deteriorating as their personal health improves.

People with severe work or stress problems may find that the situation in their workplace is working against their attempts to build a satisfying life. People in families with unhealthy behavior patterns may find the rest of their family complaining as the so-called patient gets better.

We all live in a complex set of relationships. Trying to improve the parts of our lives that cause us pain requires that we also make adjustments in the parts of our lives that give us satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that we can’t change. And it doesn’t mean that we have to choose between old relationships and new ones.

Many people panic and stop making changes because they are afraid of suddenly having to choose between their old life and a new one.

Any program for change, whether done by yourself or with the aid of therapy, requires a careful evaluation of both the good and the bad parts of your life. Don’t expect the people around you to wholeheartedly accept your ‘improvements.’ They may see these changes as threatening to the status quo that they have come to depend on. You yourself may sometimes feel threatened by the changes you thought you wanted.

One reason that long-lasting change occurs slowly is that going slowly gives you time to make adjustments everywhere in your life. You can bring the best of the past with you, even as you build new ways of behaving. Let the other people in your life share in the process. Find out what adjustments they need to feel safer with your changes.

Evaluate your own priorities, and don’t be upset when you can’t change unwanted habits overnight. Working slowly to adapt your whole emotional and social environment can make changing easier and smoother. You don’t have to be a different person to improve your life. Subtle changes can be more rewarding than overnight makeovers!