On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

What’s it mean?

It’s a lot more than what rattles in your pocket or purse.

It’s bigger than simply putting on different clothes.

It’s more complicated than new sheets on the bed or a different diaper on the baby.

These all relate to things. I’m intrigued by the question: “How do people change?”

I’m told it’s continual and rarely convenient. I suspect we might call some change “superficial”—like a change in hairstyle or weight loss. These are almost temporary. Some seem more important—like a job change, getting married, having a child, or moving to a different city. Then, some are profound—like embracing a different worldview, a serious illness, a close call in life, or a powerful spiritual awakening.

Profound change involves all aspects of our being. The struggle to initiate this kind of change demands, first, that we are fully aware of our present. That requires us to examine our attitudes toward our self, toward others and toward our world. In the process, it also requires us to understand our attitudes. I believe, therefore, that profound change involves significant changes in attitude.

Let’s move toward increased understanding of this word. We have a lot of attitudes. They are thoughts, feelings and beliefs we have “caught” from our parents and others with whom we associate, and they affect how we behave. They impose a predisposition to behave in particular ways within particular circumstances. We have learned a wide array of attitudes, but rarely have they been formerly taught. We seem to pick them up like a virus. We might catch it through direct contact—actually interacting and being in the circumstance that generates the attitude. We might have caught the attitude as the product of our upbringing as parents and siblings model certain values. The attitude might develop as a result of willing compliance with authority or strong rejection of authority. It might develop and flower in us as a form of imitation.

It happens if we want it to. If we’re motivated to imitate the modeler, we begin to identify with that person’s attitudes, values and beliefs. If we perceive this person as being in a higher status and ourselves lower, the motivation for this identification increases. As we mature, we begin to internalize various attitudes and cluster them as a core of values.

We begin to build an idea of what we are all about—a self-concept—an unstated label we attach to ourselves. This self-concept becomes the central attitude of our existence. It shapes the way we relate to the world. It fashions our self-esteem. It expands or reduces the levels of worth we assign ourselves.

Where attitudes have developed as a result of compliance, they are easily modified. Where they develop as a result of identification it becomes a little more difficult. Adolescents illustrate this difficulty. The developmental process demands that they begin to establish their own identity and reject, at various levels, identification with others established earlier. As they mature through adolescence, however, they might re-establish identification with those abandoned earlier unless they feel rejected or disillusioned with the value patterns presented.

Where an attitude has been internalized it becomes even more difficult to change. It requires a reorganization of the individual’s value structure, an examination of their systems of logic, and increased awareness of their feelings.

As a next step toward change, individuals need to be able to identify alternative choices and understand both the positive and negative consequences of each alternative. Choices generate power. Power elevates self-worth. Self-worth leads to behavior based on consistent values. But what kind of values are they?

Spiritual development plays an essential part in profound change. Spiritual development determines the direction of a value system. If, as Christians, we seek to foster the Christian ethic, we need to introduce people to Jesus. They don’t need to be theologians. They don’t need a series of rigid rules of conduct. They don’t need condemnation and rejection for their current choices. They simply need to meet and know Christ—to engage in a confrontation with one’s self in his presence and feel the dimensions of grace, his never-ending love.

I think it happens best in a community of Christian believers who understand what Christian love is all about—who resist judgmentalism—who are open and accepting of all seekers regardless of how we might stereotype—who model consistency in attitudes, values, beliefs and behavior.

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