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The Space for Change

By Leslie Graff

Systems are resistant to change.

This is one of the fundamental principles of systems theory (a paradigm for looking at people’s lives). Our lives are intricate webs of relationships and forces – home, church, school, community, family, friends.  A shift in one area, relationship, or routine sends ripples across the whole system.  So in essence the system tries to maintain it’s balance because negotiating a new normal requires a lot of energy and resources.

Basically everything around us enforces the status quo. It begs to be static.
It’s why bad patterns cycle over and over again. It’s why relationships stay dysfunctional. It’s why although people express a desire for change, it often never materializes. It’s why we set the same new year’s resolutions every year.

It is a lot of work to change.

One thing I loved about having a dad in the military was moving. There was something good in wiping the slate clean every 3 years or so. Sure it was a lot of work to make new friends.  But part of me loved getting to reinvent myself – to leave behind the parts I didn’t like and move somewhere a different person.

I was very shy as a child.  But as I reached my jr high years, I really didn’t like being shy.  I wanted to be the fun outgoing type.  The trouble was it was too hard to make some radical change in a place where everyone had expectations of me. I felt like everyone would notice and that attention would only add awkwardness to my attempts at behavior that felt unnatural. When we moved to Colorado just before I started high school, I decided to leave the shy part of me behind. It was hard, my instinct was to be reserved, to be quiet, to not spontaneously start conversations with people I didn’t know really well.  Still, I was determined.  I wrote in my journal and graded myself on various behaviors trying to force an awareness of where I was and where I wanted to be.  Somehow I managed to pull off a fairly radical personality change. The new environment reinforced my the new identity.  It didn’t expect me to be shy, it only knew the new me, so it became natural to continue.  As I looked back years later, I saw how powerful that experience made me feel – how meaningful it was to decide upon change and make it happen.  Above all I was grateful for the space to change.

Lately, I have been thinking about change and growth and how it relates to ourselves, our friendships, our families.

Do I give others space for change or do I have my expectations already pre-set? Do I rely on old experiences, bad first impressions, past wrongs? Do I assign people to their pigeon holes too quickly and irrevocably. It’s easy to become  jaded, to rely on predictions, set up prophecies ,and expectations waiting to be fulfilled. I need to let go of those strings holding people taut,  in place,  and instead replace it with slack. I need to  issue invitations for change, to just make space.

Are there things you’d like to change? In what ways do you feel the tension of status quo holding you back from change? Have you been able to create successful change experiences for yourself? Do you see these forces at work on others?  How do you give others the space for change?

About Leslie Graff

(Art Director) In her pre-diapering days, Leslie earned an MS in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU. This entitled her to mold the minds of impressionable college students in rambling six-hour lecture courses and travel the world as child life specialist. She now passes the seasons in a quaint Massachusetts town with her husband, Allen, and three young sons. She spends her days encouraging play, championing global causes, and whipping up a mean R2D2 cake. She savors her nights, stealing away to her studio to paint.

27 thoughts on “The Space for Change”

  1. I just moved to Virginia from Utah four months ago, and I have really been trying to reinvent myself. I am trying to be more confident and less shy, more proactive and less lazy. So far, I think I am doing really well at changing, and I feel really happy. I always wanted to change in this way, but I don't think I ever would have done it if it weren't for the big cross-country move.
    I am really interested by the idea of letting other people change. Honestly, it's not something I've thought a lot about. In more dramatic examples, if you don't allow someone to change, you are denying their ability to access the Atonement, which is a serious problem. On a day-to-day basis, not allowing someone to change can really hurt your ability to improve the quality of your relationships (assuming the change is positive).

  2. Interesting thoughts! Parenting comes to mind for me. I have a son who had a notable personality shift a few months ago (he is eight). While I welcomed the positive changes, it's still hard for me to treat him differently. I wonder if I expect him to regress. This post helped me recognize that in myself.

    I have a friend who is trying very hard to change some things in her life, and, like you, an upcoming move is precipitating the changes. I love the idea of leaving behind less desirable traits and moving forward with better behaviors. I'm moving myself…maybe I should examine my life and try the same thing!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  3. I find that one of the areas that we struggle to give others the chance to change is in regards to the young single adults in our wards. They grow up, go to work or go off to college and come back and we still treat them mostly as so-and-so's daughter or son, a slightly older laurel or priest. Little branches tend to put them right to work as adults, but in bigger wards we tend to still see them as extensions of their families. (Whereas if a young married adult the same age moved into our ward, we'd treat her quite differently.) No wonder they skitter off to a singles ward if there's one available. There they might get a calling and be treated as an adult individual.
    So I have to consciously be aware of that inertia in my thinking and work to find out who they are becoming and treat them as coworkers, not visiting interns in the work of the Lord.

  4. Wow, this is a really powerful thing to think about. I know I give myself plenty of room to change, for better or worse, and rarely think about how others might react, but, reading this, I realized I do not allow the same for others, well, particularly my husband. Others, meh, they can do/be whatever they want. But, dh is in counseling and making some really positive changes, but I'm having a hard time keeping up with the new him and allowing him to be that better person.

  5. Les, I'm having a hard time picturing you SHY! You're so outgoing and easy to talk with. Change is good; although often difficult!
    I found early in my marriage I was trying to change little things about my spouse, figuring I was always right, he was the one that need to change. It's often easier to see changes OTHER people need to make. I have a few things I'd like to change about myself, and I do agree…a move is a great time to change. It's SUCH a great feeling when you have the strength to make those changes within yourself!

  6. I like your idea of allowing others the space to change. It's disrespectful to do otherwise and impedes necessary growth in ourselves and others. Changing the system can be good for every member of it; so in a sense, we hold ourselves back when we cling to the "old" person and refuse to embrace the "new."

    Definitely worth thinking about.


  7. I try to change each time I move, but in reality, I don't want to change who I am, just how I project myself so that people will get to know the real me quicker. But each time I try, I feel like I fail because I try TOO hard. My first impressions are either too quiet for the environment I move into or too loud – I just can't seem to find the middle ground and accurately express myself. I find that once people get to know me on a closer level because we are thrown together by circumstance, there is finally a connection made and they realize that I am not the person they assumed I was – usually for the better.

    When I was in high school, it took me a few years to develop close friendships, and when I did, my friends told me that they used to think I was really stuck up and mean, but then they realized that I was far different from what they had originally observed (I have a naturally downturned expression I guess) I tried to take that to heart and put out a better representation of how I really felt, but it's a trick I haven't yet mastered I suppose.

    I try to give others the benefit of the doubt as I would want from them, but it's very easy to allow first impressions to rule your perception of the world around you. It seems to take a very conscious effort to throw out that slice of reality that we latch onto and give people enough space to show their true colors. Which makes me wonder, how long before we can decide that we truly understand a person and their personality type? Should the space to change be infinite? Or do we need to be able to pick from a large crowd the people that we feel compatible with? ( I think I also struggle with the argument for a few close friends VS a group of large acquaintance friends)

  8. Ah, I so remember wanting a chance to reinvent myself when I was in jr. high. I never did get to move, and I'll always be shy, but I did plug along making friends. I agree that we need to give people room to change. I talked to a teenage girl recently who said, "I've changed but no one can see it!"

  9. So funny! You have grown more outgoing, while I have made an effort to tone it all down and be more "shy." Still working on it, but love the idea of letting others have space to change. I have changed a lot. Do you see it?

  10. I've been thinking about this a lot today and am trying to figure out how I can give people space to change.

    (love the red circles too).

  11. This what a great day for this post. It is a great day for change. Along with being Groundhogs day it is also known in the Catholic as well as other old world churches as Candlemas, Purification of Mary, and the Presentation of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple.

    From Wikipedia "The date of Candlemas is established by the date set for the Nativity of Jesus, for it comes forty days afterwards. Under Mosaic law as found in the Torah, a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain for three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification." Candlemas therefore corresponds to the day on which Mary, according to Jewish law, should have attended a ceremony of ritual purification (Leviticus 12:2-8). The Gospel of Luke 2:22–39 relates that Mary was purified according to the religious law, followed by Jesus' presentation in the Jerusalem temple, and this explains the formal names given to the festival, as well as its falling 40 days after the Nativity."

    It is a great day for change and new beginnings. In some cultures it is the end of the Traditional Christmas calendar, which begins again with Easter. Also in some you leave your Christmas decorations up until Candlemas (which with my red and green porch lights still ablaze makes me fit right in). You get to eat crepes in France and tamales in Mexico (whoever gets the baby Jesus out of the King Cake gets to make the tamales for Candlemas.

    Also it is my birthday so I especially love it! I am ready for some inner change, some happy change this has been a sad year for our family, maybe not course correction all once but I am ready begin by degrees a new happy course in my heart.

    Thank you for the lovely post.

  12. Your post reminded me of a great talk by President Eyring in which he told the story of a man who grew up in a small town and got into trouble. He left and made something of his life in the military. However, when he re-settled in his hometown, they couldn't accept the positive changes he had made in his life. The story takes a tragic end–I think the man ended his own life.

    We moved away from our home state when we got married. It's been twelve years. I love what married life and family life has become for me. I feel happy and wonderful and blessed. However, when we went home for a visit one Christmas, I overheard my Mom explaining away some decision I had made to my little sis. "Oh, you know how 'RunnerMom' is. . ." No, I don't. How is she? What do you mean by that? To my family who stayed behind at "home," I am the same girl who left nearly 15 years ago. And I am. But I am so much better. Wish they could see that.

  13. Leslie, I hate even saying this because this is a beautiful post and you are a beautiful person with a beautiful sense of style, but would it be possible for you to have someone proofread your posts? I know this is shallow, but typos and grammatical and punctuation errors are very distracting to me, and I find myself unable to fully absorb the message and the spirit you're hoping to convey. I know there are others who feel similarly. An occasional error is certainly normal for everyone, even here on literary sites like Segullah, but it seems that there is a higher volume of comma, apostrophe, and sentence structure errors in your posts than in most others.

    I certainly mean no offense, and I apologize if I have been tacky. I hope to see many more posts from you in the future.

  14. Loved this post, Leslie. I agree that no matter how old we are, there is always possibility for change and improvement. You've given me lots to think about today.

  15. thank you all for so many great thoughts

    heidi- Yes this is so true for parenting. It's so easy to not give this space to our children.

    mb- I like your point about young adults. Thanks for drawing attention to that.

    corktree- It is an ongoing process, and I think we express different personality stripes over different seasons.

    kd- Yes I have noticed, many good things!

    punc. nazi- I will take the censure and you have my sincere apologies. As you can see when the proofreading gift was being passed out in heaven I was not in that line! (And oh how I covet) I take it as we all have glaring weaknesses to keep us humble. Good thing I make money from a paintbrush and not a comma, or I'd be destitute! The rest of the talented staff are much better writers and most studied english (I obviously did not). This is far from my area of expertise and does not come naturally. (Were punctuation weapons I would have long impaled myself on my excessive, improper wielding of the dash and tortured others with a slow death of fragments) I openly make no claim to such skills and readily acknowledge my inability to proofread (I just can't turn on that part of my brain- even when I read out loud, my brain autocorrects and I read what I intended to write and not whats on the screen, as my husband can swear in a signed affidavit) So it's not that I don't proofread, in fact the greatest laugh would come if you knew how many times I do read through it and read right over top of it all. I do usually beg off to someone to proof (and we generally have staff proof the blog) However proofing the other bloggers is probably like dusting a speck off a beautiful shiny vase, and with mine they are trying to super-glue together the crumbling pieces, and you can probably still see the cracks).

    As to this post's particular weakness, may I only share the following life excuse. I have been run into the ground the last few weeks, even crawling up and down the stairs on a knee that needs desperately to be iced. I spent monday running madly at my son's preschool where I was teaching pasta/sauce making and then hosting 4 nonmem. families over for family night to decorate hundreds of cupcakes I made for haiti. I cried when I realized I still had to post before I could drop into bed, utterly exhausted, knowing in a few short hours I had to get up and teach early am seminary. I wrote what I could, but couldn't stay up any longer to email it off to a friend for a really good proofing. (I did have my husband read it but he was in the same semi-functioning exhausted state, post vacuuming of a thousand sprinkles). Then most of yesterday was spent recieveing my new couches and standing in a rather frigid grocery store breezeway with my kids selling their cupcakes until dark. So I never got to revisit the post. So my mediocrity was all Segullah got yesterday. Segullah does deserve better but honestly I couldn't deliver this week– So I will write this one off as typos for haiti and I'll add a few extra $ to the pool from the cupcake sales as penitence!

    I have given carte blanche editorial power to the staff given my propensity for very klusty fingers and ill-wired brain– I always say if you see something PLEASE fix it! Maybe I should enforce a multi-member proof rule on all my future posts :> (I can be their special project.) I have often considered stepping off and letting those with more skills take the spot, but in all selfishness, I love it. I am like the person who comes enthusiastically to choir each week even not hitting all the notes, but my voice is still welcomed (I do promise not to sing fro you also my mormon orthodoxy ends in my lack of singing and piano paying:>). I do take your comment seriously though and will do my best to improve and make better offerings to the structure and punctuation gods. (insert their volcanic rumbilings of disapproval at the utterance of my name) Thank you for your kind compliments, most appreciated. Hopefully you can continue to love me in my sincerity and best spirit of intention. As to your second comment –laughing–consider yourself "punc-ed!" (it's what you get for hanging around my post, like we warn teenagers about their friends- lest the bad influence get you…watch out commenting on my posts for the curse of typos) xo – les

  16. Leslie, you are an extraordinary woman with gifts that most of us could only dream of possessing. Your wisdom, energy, vision, and love, together with your remarkable and unfailing graciousness, bless all of us here at Segullah. And that's not even mentioning your astonishing artistic gifts and out-of-this-world cake makin' skillz! 🙂

  17. I see I hit a sore spot, and I just had to add a couple things. I never for a second dreamed that you were a "lazy" writer, and I presumed that you, like most writers, read over your posts several times before publishing. I have many friends who, despite their best efforts, just don't have sound instinct when it comes to punctuation/grammar. That doesn't mean they're not good writers. I also didn't mean to call into question (or to have you question) your position at Segullah–I think you do a great job. I hope you don't beat yourself up because of my stupid comment. Your errors are minimal (certainly not comparable to a "crumbling vase"), and, really, your posts are beautiful. You come across as a vibrant soul with a unique view of the world. I hope I haven't caused you too much grief, and I look forward to your next post.

  18. Punctuation nazi, I think you have a good point, in that grammar/punctuation issues can really interfere with your enjoyment of otherwise good writing. And as a sometime-nazi myself, I totally sympathize. I do try to turn off the nazi in me when I read blogs though, whenever possible, but I realize that can be hard to do.

    But maybe the occasional (or more-than-occasional) typo here can be kind of like going over to someone else's messy house: you kind of go whew! someone else is messy too. And maybe here our kind readers can go whew! what a relief that someone else doesn't proofread perfectly either. 🙂

  19. punc. nazi- Have no fear! Tuly to know me is to know I do not get offended or stew. One thing about art is it has taught me to actually take great value in critique especially when it is nicely delivered. Feedback is always welcome here! I hope you know I was smiling as I wrote my response and wrote it with humorous honesty not with any sarcasm or hurt feelings!
    I have often thought I should write post thanking the readers for their forbearance on behalf of the typos– so I took the opportunity in the comment to openly acknowledge my failings:> because I know others suffer also. There is great truth in your point- the more polished the words, the more powerful it can be as there are less distractions. This is what I love about our readers, their kindness and civility. Thanks for sticking with me! Don't worry I am not going anywhere. You kindness and sincerity is most appreciated!

    And really maybe it's a secret plot to indebt me to my fellow staffers (my utilizing their fab proofing skills) so I will owe them all cake this summer!

  20. I did the same thing when I moved in high school.
    I fought the shy –and have again many times when moving do different places (literally and figuratively). After my most recent move, I made the comment to some new friends on how hard I work to not be shy & they immediately shot that down. "You're not shy-no way."

    My oldest teen daughter went through a wonderful transformation this summer/fall. She had a very difficult time with our move and was miserable for her first year here. We got some outside help, prayed a lot, & tried our best to love and help her through her anger. She came out of it. She acts different. She looks different. I am so happy that we are on this side of her change.

    I will do everything I can to help "my people" change for the better, but I will always fight as hard as I can if I see them changing for the worse.

  21. I was reading in the January Ensign today and thought of you when I saw this quote from Elder Holland: "Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve."

    I admit I'm still trying to figure out how to do this in some cases, but I love the concept.


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