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The Paradox of Change Part 2

The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!

Last week I offered a few ideas on the nature of change which I’d like to develop a bit further.

The Stages of Change

As mentioned last week, the five stages of change are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. These stages have been traditionally used to understand individual addictions and habits. Today we shall apply them to societal change and offer a few tips on how to deal with each stage.

Precontemplation is the stage at which there is no intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future. Many individuals in this stage are unaware or underaware of their situations. Remember that as you attempt to force change on a community, that people don’t like to be meddled with.

You must be culturally sensitive to the norms, morals and values that exist in that community. People in this stage do not see anything in their behavior that needs to be changed, so you have to offer sufficient reason to do so. Remember, this island is home to a unique culture, and home to a unique mix of cultures. This is not the U.S. mainland, China, Korea or Japan. These are Micronesian islands with a unique lifestyle, legacy, history, culture and value system of their own mixing with these other influences. These are islands which have recently assumed a relationship with the US. It is not enough to simply expect that the values and priorities of one culture can (and even should) be adopted here. At this stage, your job is simply to increase awareness, over and over again. Advertisers, for example, know that their message must be seen at least a dozen times before it starts to seep into the consciousness of the target audience.

The five-stage process can be likened to pushing a stalled vehicle. At this point, we don't even know where the car is!

Contemplation is the stage in which a person is aware that a “challenge” exists and is seriously thinking about overcoming it, but has not yet made a commitment to take action. At this stage even more "advertising" is needed. Tell compelling stories framed correctly to move the person over the emotional threshold needed for them to decide to change. At this point, we've found the car, and are walking towards it. Walk gently.

Preparation is a stage that combines intention and behavioral criteria. Individuals in this stage are intending to take action soon and may have unsuccessfully taken action in the past. This is important. If a society has taken action unsuccessfully in the past, it is important to instill hope that this time will be different. Outline the strategy (behavioral criteria) and show how the strategy will be different from before. We have decided to push, and are about to place our hands on the car.

Action is the stage in which individuals modify their behavior, experiences, or environment in order to overcome their challenges. Action involves the most overt behavioral changes and requires considerable commitment of time and energy. We now start to push the car. Overcoming inertia-the tendency to remain at rest-is the most difficult part of pushing a car.

Maintenance is the stage in which people work to prevent relapse and consolidate the gains attained during action. We must document the changes and promote those in order to keep the momentum going. Once the car is moving, the energy required to keep it moving is less, but we must keep pushing, or else the car will simply slow and come to a halt.

What it means

What this all means is, as a harbinger of change, whether your goal is to reduce litter, encourage responsible pet ownership, increase entrepreneurship, grow an online community, modify harmful diets and lifestyles, improve customer service, change harmful diving or driving practices, for your efforts to be fruitful, you must:

- Assess what stage you are in and act appropriately.

- Commit to the duration of the entire 5-stage process.

- Avoid getting frustrated with the pace of change.

It is my belief that the many worthwhile projects which have been abandoned here on island have been due to a lack of understanding of the stages of change, a correct assessment of what stage the community is in, and what is required within each stage.

On becoming whole

The second point from last week’s article came from Gestalt therapist Arnold Beisser, who stated that "change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not." According to Beisser, change "requires that the system become conscious of alienated fragments within and without so it can bring them into the main functional activities by processes similar to identification in the individual." He goes on to say, "Disparate, unintegrated, warring elements present a major threat to society, just as they do to the individual. The compartmentalization of old people, young people, rich people, poor people..academic people, service people, etc., each separated from the others by generational, geographical, or social gaps, is a threat to the survival of mankind. We must find ways of relating these compartmentalized fragments to one another as levels of a participating, integrated system of systems.

Wow! "Compartmentalized fragments..." what better way to describe the sub-cultures that exist here on Saipan? In my time here, I've come to realize there are several unique cultural and ethnic groups, each with vastly different priorities, emotional states, values, customs, and worldviews living in their distinct compartments here on the island. These compartments are defined and delimited by lifestyle, mobility, economics and language and other factors. There are factory workers who’ve lived and worked in San Antonio for years who have never been to Garapan. There are non-English speakers who’ve never seen a movie at Hollywood Theaters, networked with business owners in the Chamber, watched the local newscast, or read a newspaper-all of which are offered and conducted only in English. I have friends who are African, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, U.S. mainlander, Thai, among them teachers, lawyers, sewing machine operators, security guards, tour guides and pleasure sellers, who are living completely different lives unaware, or only vaguely aware, of the lives and concerns of their fellow island dwellers.

This, in my opinion, makes a cookie-cutter approach to any desired change on Saipan challenging at best. If you are serious about making change on these islands, if your change is for the benefit of all, if your change requires the participation of all, then a new wholistic strategy is required. A therapist understands that when an individual wants to change, that the fragments of the individual's self must be accepted, integrated and must communicate with each other before any change can be made. According to research: "Experience has shown that when the patient identifies with the alienated fragments [of himself], integration does occur. Thus, by being what one is-fully-one can become something else."

Similarly, if Saipan, as a single entity could “identify” with each of its compartmentalized fragments (Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Chamorro, Thai, contract worker, citizen)-fully-it will become something whole and thus, something different.

As a related point, you may argue that it is the responsibility of the individual to learn English, embrace a single cultural ethic, and integrate themselves into the society. I disagree. A favorite motto of mine is "reach people where they are." Remember, that if they are in stage one (pre-contemplation) as it relates to changing their habits and way of life, then there is no reason for them to seek out such integration.

Another motto I live by is "seeker makes the move." In other words, the responsibility to take action rests with she who seeks the change.

Putting it to work

Now, take a minute to think about a specific change you’d like to see here in the CNMI. Then ask yourself:

What Stage? Think about your target audience as a whole. Who do you need to reach? Are these people aware that an issue even exists? If not, then the community may be in the pre-contemplation stage. You’ll need to spend a fair amount of time framing the reason for the change and the desired change in the cultural garb and language that will be most effective. You’ll need to spend a fair amount of time repeating, and repeating again the message before it starts to make an impression.

Or are they in the maintenance stage? Then documentation of the gains achieved might be what’s required. Do you have some means of recording and publicizing the changes that have already been made?

What fragment? Have you been speaking only to a compartmentalized fragment of the whole? (i.e. only expats?) Then you’ll need to expand your communication to include others. Have you been scheduling your meetings or efforts only on weekdays and only in English? Then many contract workers who only have Sundays off and speak little English may not be able, or be inclined to attend. How have you been limiting your message, and how, then, can you integrate Saipan's parts?

For those whose ideas for change are truly in the best interests of all, take heart. Yes, it can be done! Yes, it is possible! Yes, there is a way! It requires a culturally sensitive, wholistic approach to change that is informed in its strategy, humble (not arrogant) in its expectations, and inclusive in its reach!

For more tools and techniques for effective change, I’ll refer you to a previous article on the Condition Formulas (“The Secret Formula for Everything”; Saipan Tribune Oct 11, 2006) as well as a Saipan-centered strategy and agenda for change all available on the website.

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Until next time, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!-Walt


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