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Recently my son told me a wonderful story about his daughter in elementary school. She was in a conversation with her father, and she was deeply upset about a given issue. The two could not agree and she was getting more upset. Then she paused and said, “This needs to stop, I am going to change my own weather.”
At that moment she transformed in real time. She engaged the conversation in an entirely new and more mature manner. Her father was shocked. In recounting the story, he said, “It was amazing to watch her engage in that self-change. Most adults I know are not capable to changing their own weather. Yet this little girl did it right before my eyes.”
To me the story is profoundly important because it is relevant to every one of us. We live in turbulent times. Conflict is everywhere. In my conversations I find myself listening to people who feel unusually depressed or angry. These feelings are often tied to a plausible explanation of a grave injustice occurring in society or in their personal context. Usually the resulting strategy is to fight, and increase the conflict, or to withdraw from the system, feeling unjustly defeated and allowing the injustices to continue. The fight or flight reaction is so biologically determined, that we can think of no other way. There is another way.
Years ago, I had an extraordinary student. She was hungry to learn what I had to teach and when she discovered new principles, she would work to implement them in her life. As the years passed she would often contact and update me. She did this recently.
She had moved from one city in her country to the capital city and she was able to secure a job in their parliament. It turned out that the people she was working with shared a different political perspective. As time passed, her boss and her colleagues became increasingly abusive with her until this calm woman reached a personal fury.
She went home and explained the injustices to her husband. When she was finished pouring out her anger, her husband asked, “How are you going to change yourself?”
She was offended by the question. She pointed out that the people at work were treating her unjustly, she was the innocent one. There was no reason for her to change.
Her husband responded, “Since we have been married you have told me time and again, that Quinn taught you that you change the world by changing yourself. Well, now you are in a situation that you do not like. You can fight, you can run away, or you can change yourself. Which one will it be?”
She was stunned. At this moment of intensity, it was very difficult to hear her husband present a counter-intuitive principle in which she deeply believed. She felt trapped. She could not argue against her own internalized belief.
After some pondering, and with great humility, she went back to work with a new commitment. She would do two things. First she would go beyond expectations in helping her colleagues do their work, and, second, she would do it with compassion rather than resentment. She was fully committed to alter her own weather.
She applied the strategy and, predictably, they continued to abuse her. One day her boss had to go to a particularly important meeting. He needed a report but knew there was no time to have it produced, so he did not even ask. My friend recognized the need, and took the task upon herself. The next day, as he was leaving for the meeting, she handed him the needed report. He was stunned.
At the meeting the report made a difference. Afterwards her boss approached her with great humility and respect. He expressed appreciation for the many things she was doing and he apologized for his behavior. He told her she had the right to her own beliefs and it was wrong to treat her badly. Within a few days the rest of the staff made a similar shift. As time passed she become a person of respect and trust. This led to the opening of new opportunities.
My friend was already a believer in self-change. She had had previous successes with the principle. That is why she responded positively to the challenge of her husband. Yet in sharing this particular account, she had a sense of awe. The original situation seemed hopeless, but she had successfully changed her own weather.
- My son believes that most adults fail to change their own weather, do you agree?
- When we experience an injustice, what state do we typically enter and what outcomes typically follow?
- What is the most important application you derive from this passage?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?