Standing Alongside People as They Change

Judith McGill
Executive Director of Families for a Secure Future Ontario,  Canada
Adapted from the conference report, Reflections on Common Threads: Approaches and Contexts for Planning Everyday Lives

I would like to ask the reader to consider if you have undertaken a major change in your life over the past year, that didn’t concern a major purchase.

We sometimes mistakenly treat acquisition and consumptive behavior as change. It is not personal change, it is only a change in our material circumstances.

Real change is about reimagining what is possible in our lives, redefining ourselves, our relationships, and our identity. It is about realigning our priorities and most of all about acting differently.

As independent facilitators and planners of any kind, we can lose our way if we want to be seen as the instrument of change. Seen as the person whose task it is to bring about change– help set a course, define the goals–draw forth a vision/dream of what is possible.  We lose our way if we judge our worth by the changes we are privileged to witness and be part of.  We are lost if we insist on change. We cannot insist that people change–so that there is something to write about in the second quarter report.

Change does not operate that way.

Change is grueling. It takes initiative. It takes deliberate action.
It requires something of us on a daily basis.

It entails pushing past our fears and engaging our will. Moving forward.

My feet are my only carriage. My feet are my only carriage.  My feet are my only carriage.

Even making little changes, requires tremendous effort–sustaining effort.   We all know that. There is always the risk that we revert back and go back to the way it was.

As independent facilitators and planners, the system may want us to sell change–bring about change–work for change–enumerate certain changes but we must resist the temptation to expect change.  Change is a conscious decision to take a risk, to leave something behind and step into something new.  It often means stepping into a new role/embracing a new identity or way of being in the world.  For that to happen, for that to be rewarding and worthwhile something new needs to be activated not only within ourselves but also among the persons that love and care about us.

For years, I worked within the People First movement.  I witnessed some tremendous changes in people’s lives over time–transformative changes. I experienced it as ripening into change, that when people were inwardly prepared to act differently they did so. When their will got activated–they acted. This was sometimes with the support of others and sometimes alone.  It was sometimes with other’s blessings and sometimes against all odds and a form of resistance. For this change to be possible inwardly they needed to be emboldened, inspired by others. They needed to be witness to change, and have people who acted as models for change. They needed someone, at least one person that believed wholeheartedly in them.

I came away from the People First movement believing that we need to be careful to honour this process of “ripening into change” and not try to push or cajole people into change for the sake of change. We cannot change on behalf of another, it takes them to “will it” to happen. To decide to act differently and willfully for themselves.

Facilitators need to be aware of the careful balance between expecting change and supporting change.

We need to be a “stand for change” and a stand for people:
•    declaring what they need and want,
•    stating what has become unmanageable in their lives, thinking differently,
•    choosing to pursue a different storyline about what is possible.

We need to be a stand for others to remain open to discovering something new about themselves and finding their unique voice.

At the same time, we need to recognize that change has its own time. That people need many opportunities for trying change on, exploring the new situation, the new role, the new relationship, to see if it “fits” with who they are. People and their loved ones need to experiment with whether they will be able to sustain it.

People need time and support for adjusting their lives while they are working toward the new possibility.

As “story beings”, we need to carefully construct a new story about ourselves over time, in such a way that we feel transformed from the inside out, so that we own the new story.

We need to recognize that personal change requires us to consider others, engage others.  My change always necessitates that those around me change, adapt, reorder their pictures of what is possible, and ultimately stretch their imagination of who I am. I need people to be there for me when I stumble or if I fall. For me to sustain change I need to know that people are behind me, that they have my back.   Each of us asks the same questions when we take on change.  Who will be there for me? Where is the safe place for me to fall back into? Who believes in me?

When we formed Families for a Secure Future, an independent facilitation organization, we worked on the premise that for individuals to take on and fully embrace change, their families would also need to change.  Their families would also need to embrace and take part in that change. We believed from the outset that the wellbeing of the individuals and their families/loved ones were intricately and intimately linked.

For this reason, we created Family Groups so that parents and siblings and those that took on a family like relationship could come together to learn and grow with one another over time. So that in joining together they could co-inspire one another and hold the impulse for positive change among one another.  We began helping people to create support circles for the same reason. So that there would to an intentional context for considering and stepping into change, a “place” for change.

As an organization, we understood from the outset that there is a kind of reciprocity in change.   As you change, I also change. For change to be sustainable it needs to arise out of relationship.  Trusting relationships, where we know each other’s stories and how it has evolved over time.  Relationships where we tenderly hold each other’s dreams and vulnerabilities while choosing to act differently.
For this to be possible, independent facilitators need to acknowledge who is it that is really taking the risk to bring about change and who bears the consequences of the change.  We also need to ask who defines the pace and the nature of change?

As independent facilitators, we have the privilege to stand alongside people as they change, the change that they have willfully chosen.

We bear witness to these changes. We see how these changes bring about changes in everyone who is woven into that persons’ life.

We help people adjust to the newfound expectations and demands brought about by these changes and help them to consider their next steps day by day.  This takes a great deal of humility on our part, to be present to this kind of ripening, ripening into change.

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