Someone in the comments (I am reading them. I will publish and reply when I’m not so tired) said that they didn’t really understand what making the space for change to happen meant. They were referring to my last blog post, so if you haven’t read that yet you’re going to be really confused as I realise I’m replying to a comment you can’t see, about a post you haven’t read. Perhaps skip this one and come back tomorrow.
It is difficult to explain because the things I am experiencing are not really things there are necessarily adequate words for, but I will try, because if nothing else, I like to attempt to get things straight for myself.
So what I said yesterday was that I realised that change could happen if you made space for it in your life, and that I had come to the understanding that you could make that space by having conversations with other people. Real conversations about things that matter rather than chats about the weather.
I think that what I mean by that is that when things seem hopeless, or stuck, or impossible to change, change can actually occur regardless of what might seem like overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
What generally happens is that we come across something that frightens us, or overwhelms us and mostly we cope with it by either turning away from it in some way or running towards it. We turn away by ignoring it, or shifting the responsibility for it onto someone else, or distracting ourselves in some way. We tell ourselves that we will do something about it when the time is right, or that we’re too tired, or too busy, or we just hope that if we wait long enough the problem will go away. We run towards it by deciding to deal with it in the first way that comes to hand, by pushing through it, or rolling over it.
Sometimes these things work, it has to be said. They’re not bad things to do in themselves, but they don’t solve every problem, and sometimes they make things worse.
The main thing I think, with all of these responses is that they become problematic when they become habitual. When we just don’t think about why we’re behaving in that way, we just do it, because ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ That almost instant reaction helps us to repeatedly numb ourselves the more often we do this stuff. We think less. We question less. We become more accustomed to accepting the idea that nothing can be changed. The gap between the perception of the problem and the ‘solution’ to it becomes so small that we forget to stop and think critically about what we’re doing, even if that habit or ritual no longer serves us, or perpetuates something that hurts us. We forget that we control what we think and how we can respond.
What I mean by making a space is that when we are confronted with these things that can hurt or overwhelm us, or which we fear, rather than switching on to those habits, it can be really, really useful to find a way to pause and assess what is actually happening and then make decisions. This is the ‘space’ I’m talking about. One really effective way I’ve found to do this is by having conversations with people.
Like I said, really important conversations, particularly about things we probably worry about talking about. We can, of course, talk to ourselves, or a therapist, but sometimes that doesn’t always give the new perspective or insight or ‘space’ we need, because our thoughts and words can still follow those tram lines of habit we have established, and which are so comfortable to us.
I have found that if I am able to talk about tricky stuff with other people, people who are not necessarily going to support my view, or leave it unchallenged, it is more helpful. New people can be helpful because they can bring fresh insight and experience to things we may have hashed over a thousand times with those we know and love. Equally, friends we love and trust can be helpful because they know that even if you disagree with them, you love them enough to talk to them without falling out, and that you will attempt to be respectful of their feelings, and so they extend the courtesy to you.
Conversations like these do many things. Firstly, the sheer decision or act of having one means that we have already hit the pause button on our habitual responses. We’ve already given ourselves a little room for manoeuvre.
Secondly, a conversation is a two way street. It involves listening as well as talking. In the act of listening to someone else we are also making space. We are accepting that there are other ways to think about or see the issue at hand. We are accepting the possibility that change can happen because we can see that what we understand as change, may already be someone else’s everyday experience. Someone else may already be living the change we want. If we accept that someone else can have/do that, we have to accept somewhere inside of us that we can have it too.
Thirdly, our listening may just bring us new facts that make change possible in a much more concrete way than accepting someone else’s opinion. We may find for example that we can suddenly afford that new sofa, because even though we thought it was out of our price range, someone else did find it cheaper elsewhere. It sounds trite, but it really isn’t at all. My mighty power at the doctor’s surgery yesterday came as much from discovering new facts about my condition as it did from the support to change from my brilliant, clever friends.
Fourthly, our willingness to talk about difficult things with people and trust that love is enough to bind us, despite our differences, is a direct microcosm of a lot of what campaigners are trying to make real on the world stage right now. If you experience that across your kitchen table in the space you have made in your small, domestic life, you must know that it can happen everywhere else. It is happening everywhere else, and all you need to do is carry that knowledge in you like a flame, and keep extending that conversation, that willingness to talk out and out, from your kitchen, to your school playground, to your work mates and on.
Finally, if we can accept the difficulties and fears in ourselves, if we can reach out to others to talk about them, we can change them into strengths. I was talking to someone today about how we can re-appropriate words. She posted a meme about the shutting down of Elizabeth Warren’s speech and the line ‘nevertheless she persisted.’ It was supposed to be an insult. Instead it has gone viral, and has been turned into a slogan of peaceful resistance. It has been filled with positivity by people who are making the space in their lives and thoughts to not be frightened or cowed by insults or put downs. They have chosen not to react in the way the person insulting them wanted them to. They have made the space, had that conversation in thought or deed, and chosen change. They have chosen their power, and it came directly from their hurt or fear. They are different sides of the same thing. The space to think gave the power to flip the message and the meaning and the energy.
For me, this understanding is underpinned by a double helix of those two slogans I use so much. ‘What unites us is stronger than what divides us,’ and ‘Be the change you want to see.’ I’ve been dwelling on them for months. I’ve finally worked out how to use them. I just need to keep talking.
And if there’s one thing in this world that I am really good at. It’s talking.