What constitutes change? True lasting change. The kind of change that creates a paradigm shift or social revolution.
It does not seem that lasting change can be made strictly at the level of the physical. Simply changing physical conditions does not confer long-term, sustainable change. Think of the act of digging a hole. With a shovel in hand, you dig. Over the course of an hour, your hole reaches a depth of 0.5 meters. You prepare the margins to prevent cave-in, you pack the dirt inside your cavitation carefully to ensure integrity. Then you walk away. Will your hole be there in 20-years? Chances are the natural conditions of the wind, rain, snow, and time will gradually shift the soil and refill your hole. It will take time but make no bones about it – nature will eventually reclaim what is hers.
This same scenario is true for our efforts at social change. Simply creating a hole through actions alone will not lead to lasting change. No, we need to affect change at the level of our feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. We need to fortify our physical efforts for change with profound reorientations of our affect and emotions. This is a lot harder work than simply digging at the layers of social and cultural strata with the hope that our agitation will lead to constitutional change.
I have been in Amsterdam this week. One of the things that stands out most when I travel is how different cultures act differently. This may sound like a overstatement of the obvious . . . it is. However, identifying the differences, understanding the subtle influences of culture, requires one to look a bit differently – deeper – at life around us. We must change the way we are in the world.
There is a famous bronze statue in the center of Amsterdam near the Central train station. The statue, titled Homeless Jesus, is a striking reminder that to create change – I need to look at the world differently. I need to behave differently. The statue, inconspicuously rendered on a bench in a small park, is often misinterpreted as a person living in the experience of homelessness with a thick brown blanket. The life-like features of the figure trick the viewer into assuming it is a person. This is powerful. I sat affixed on the statue for several minutes. I watched as people walked past without even glancing. Every so often a person would stop, realize the figure they assumed was a man sleeping off a drunken binge, and stare in puzzlement. I did not see anyone approach the plaque on the wall, read the inscription, and delve further into the figure. Instead, once they recognized the bronze art, the giggled and walked off.
So much of the complex challenge we are facing in this world is melded into our every day lives. We walk past the suffering, the sick, the homeless – not because we don’t care, but because we don’t truly see what is begging for our attention. We can change this. We can. But it starts with changing ourselves. We need to grant our heart and mind permission to stop and see things differently. We need to dig deeper with our shovels of curiosity and inquiry and seek to understand the why behind the world all around us. It is when we move past the perception of what we see, to the reality of why we see – that true change is possible.