“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” –Leo Tolstoy.
This quote really rings true to my current stage of life. In my counseling psychology program here at North Texas, we put a lot of focus on the hard discussions. As future psychologists working to improve the mental health of the clients we see and to make a positive impact in the lives of those around us, it is important to have the conversations that others are not having or are afraid to have. We are challenged to confront our biases, our stereotypes, our perceptions. We are encouraged to consider why people behave the way the do, how people interact with each other, and how people change. These discussions include topics such as race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. I sit in a room with 8 of my peers for 2 hours each week to have these exact discussions. This thought may just haunt some people who are reading this, and I understand that. Even as someone who has been a therapist and someone who wants to be a psychologist, who wants to deeply impact others’ lives, and just wants to better understand people, it makes me uncomfortable sometimes, too. But isn’t that the point?
We get comfortable in our beliefs. We get comfortable in our routines. We enjoy interacting with like-minded people. We like when others agree with us and when we feel supported. But why? Why is it so uncomfortable when someone disagrees with us? Why is it so uncomfortable when we are even around someone who is sharing their thoughts and beliefs that we do not necessarily share? Is it because we just want to be liked? Is it because we’re so adamant about our beliefs being true and we want others to know the truth? Or maybe it’s our idea that these disagreements and unshared beliefs drive away relationships, and to our core as humans we desire deep and interconnected relationships with others. So if that’s the case, why wouldn’t we be around others with whom these connections were more easily established? You might be wondering why I started talking about these topics. Or, you might know exactly what’s going on, because yeah I know the connections I make aren’t all that mysterious or revelation-esque. I get it.
But I bring all this up to relate it back to Tolstoy’s claim. For me specifically, it would be naïve to think I could change the world or be effective at my job if I did not go through some change myself. We always are undergoing change as clinicians, as students, as teachers. And this change is facilitated by the idea that it will allow us to be better clinicians and advocates in our field. Yet, when I reflect on why this change and why challenging our own beliefs is essential as training for psychologists, I wonder if it isn’t simply to make us better humans. Maybe challenging yourself and constantly changing allows you to understand more people on different levels. Maybe it’s to give someone a person who listens to them and does not judge them for the first time in their life. Maybe that’s the secret. Maybe we go through these changes so that we can better connect with others, and connect with them on a deeper level than they’ve experienced. And if we all innately desire these deeper and meaningful relationships, why aren’t we constantly challenging ourselves? Why aren’t we having those uncomfortable conversations that broaden our understanding? Why aren’t we seeking out those people who can help us grow, help us understand, help us impact others? And I don’t mean why aren’t we doing these things as future psychologists. I mean why aren’t we doing this as humans? As everyday average Joe’s? Why is that so scary? And I’m not only asking others. That would be a little too self-righteous if you ask me. Maybe even cowardly. I try to ask myself these questions, because even as someone who loves deep conversation, who loves deep and meaningful relationships, and someone who is preparing to become a psychologist and have these conversations as a career, they still sometimes make me uncomfortable. Sometimes they still make me afraid. Sometimes I hold back because I don’t want to be judged or offend without intention. But the whole point is to reflect on those hesitations, those fears. Why am I feeling that way? What am I afraid of? How does that affect my everyday interactions with others? Sometimes we might not find an answer to these questions. But you know what? Sometimes we do. And change doesn’t have to occur only when you find the answer. Change happens in the process. It happens when you are uncomfortable, and it takes a lot of growth and courage to develop the ability to feel comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. And in my opinion, that’s a place we should all strive to visit.
Ultimately, we want to make a difference. We want to make an impact. Mostly, we think about how we can do that on a global scale, and that sometimes is discouraging with the lack of effectiveness we feel is possible. And yet, while we may not be able to change the world, we may be able to change someone’s world. Why not focus on that? Why not strive to change what’s directly in front of you? Why not make an impact in someone’s life you already know?
So. Who’s life are you going to change today?