It’s what we call an outside in approach: marshalling sufficient logic, eloquence, or pressure through circumstances or words that schlep the changee to a new place. The alternative would be the inside out approach.
There’s a space within us that already resides in clarity, certainty, and confidence – an inner knowing. Real and healthy change happens through a person touching that. That inner knowing is what gives us the calm to be open to something new and the security to act on it.
When not touching that knowing place, we’re a jumble of thoughts without a center. Our mind is a restless, whirring computer seeking security through analysis of options and data that by design cannot reassure us.
In the presence of our own inner knowing, we settle down. We feel we have a home base, a sense of security. Options and choices come into focus and we can move forward.
This understanding became clearer to me after failing umpteen times to change my big kids’ angry reactions to a younger sibling.
I tried annoyed logic.
“He’s eight; you’re teenagers. Do you really need to respond to everything he says?”
I tried guilt.
“Do you realize how difficult this is for Mommy?”
I tried sarcastic disappointment.
“I’m sorry you feel so threatened by his words.”
Our conversations led to more frustration and annoyance.
Then I saw it: my efforts weren’t helping.
It’s not that I didn’t know that or that my wife hadn’t offered that assessment (gently) to me. Colored by my insecure perception that I needed my kids to behave certain ways to feel okay, I just couldn’t refrain from trying to change them. While they battled the unjust circumstance of their sibling, I battled the unjust circumstance of their upset. Somehow, though, I shifted.
I understood that they just didn’t know how to let go and my pressure wouldn’t help. It’s like when you’re trying to loosen a jar lid and then notice you’re twisting the wrong direction. It doesn’t feel like a struggle to stop. You just see the illogic of it and let go.
Once I did let go, I was curious: if force isn’t helping, what could? The next day I asked one of them if I could speak to him: how does he see this conflict?
I felt gentle, nonjudgmental, truly curious. I listened. Where it occurred to me, I asked if I could share a thought, and I listened to see if he was actually interested. This process has born fruits. I have more respect for their struggles; they feel less defensive. They’re softening.
Looking back, I see the first step was in seeing the futility of getting them to change. Once I was divested of that campaign, it wasn’t long before new ideas showed up. This is not to say I don’t revisit the “kids as circumstances needing to be changed” outlook. And then I resume pushing and shoving them. But then I recover and seek out rapport again. More and more, my goal with my kids is seeking out gentle conversations: “How’s it going? How can I be of help?”
It’s a very natural thing for a parent to want to give and a child to receive – if the agenda is about helping and not changing.
The good news is we can’t really change people; we might as well look to help.
Takeaway 2 about what drives change: I don’t know how to manufacture – on command – divine understanding showing up in my words and actions. On the other hand, I see that the divine doesn’t have a problem finding me. That’s true for all of us. More on that later.