Inspiring Positive Change: An Invitation

 

Gonna change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set of rules. Gonna put my good foot forward, And stop being influenced by fools.

~ Bob Dylan ~

By Stephen Dilks, Ph.D.

Invitation:

We want to hear your stories about how you have made a change, how you have transformed your ways of thinking, how you have helped another develop, how you have effected positive change at work, at home, in your community. What follows is a reflection on the process of change.

Reflection:

We can’t all orchestrate the kinds of mind-blowing changes Elon Musk achieved when he sent his red Tesla convertible into space. For that matter, few of us can change human understanding of the human condition as profoundly as Charles Darwin or Mahatma Gandhi, Florence Nightingale or Moses Maimonides, Rosa Parks or Malala Yousafzai. But we DO possess the equipment necessary to change how we interact with other individuals, to improve the climate of inclusion and diversity in our university, to become more effective agents of change in our everyday communities.

As people involved in the delivery and development of education and scholarship, whether indirectly or directly, we all have a responsibility to effect positive change. As members of the UMKC community, we all have the potential to be effective agents of change. We all have the potential to make a difference, to increase trust and understanding, to improve our campus climate.

However, positive change is difficult. Our ability to effect significant changes for the good are inhibited by powerful forces that perpetuate inherited perceptions and assumptions. Established social systems tend to value those who are “true to themselves,” who resist the winds of change, who conform to cultural rituals and expectations. It is relatively easy to play our part in reproducing the status quo.

But systems that are open to diversity and the inclusion of new ways of thinking and doing depend on risk-taking by those with power and privilege. Difficult as it is, we change for the better when we re-examine our early learning, when we challenge self-fulfilling prophecies, when we overthrow entrenched defence mechanisms, when we reflect on what we gain from our inherited entitlements and habits, when we interact closely and openly with those with less power and privilege. We also change for the better when we listen to stories told by others, especially when those stories make visible what we had previously taken for granted.

We all have stories about personal revelations, about moments that sent us into periods of transition, about times when we experienced something that precipitated a significant emotional and intellectual change. In my case, I could write a book about the shifts in race consciousness initiated by playing soccer with Turkish kids when I was living in Cyprus at the age of ten, by changes in my sense of gender and sexuality occasioned by a long conversation with a Danish feminist on a beach in France when I was seventeen, by the transformation of my sense of economics when I earned money as a busker on the Paris metro when I was nineteen, by the shifts in my intellectual development and approach to academe when I read Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Stuart Hall, Carolyn Steedman, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o during the summer of my twentieth year, by the radical challenge to my ethnic consciousness and my understanding of Anglo-European privilege when I studied at KU as a foreign exchange student when I was twenty-one.

More recently, as a middle-aged man, my assumptions about science and healthcare and womanhood and economics and white privilege and counselling and food and exercise and courage have again been transformed as I have learned to be a primary caregiver to my life-partner, Donna, as she endures the physical, financial, emotional, and intellectual ravages of ovarian cancer. Donna has had ninety-three infusions since 2009; she is an inspiration to all she meets.

The details of what I learned from these experiences are material for a different occasion. I am happy to discuss them with anyone.

I list them here, however, to suggest what YOU might write about for a future issue of Mosaic. As you think about a story you might tell, you might consider the following questions:

Think about the last time you changed your mind about an important idea or decision. What made you change your mind?  Was it something someone else said or did or wrote? Was it based on personal experience? Was it a response to events beyond your control? Were you forced to change? Did you set out to change yourself voluntarily? What, exactly, changed?

Are you interested in sharing a story of how you have made a change, with regards to diversity, equity, and social justice? Email Lona Davenport at davenportlm@umkc.edu to be considered for a future issue of MOSAIC!