Understanding the Need for Radical Change

I chose the term ‘understanding’ for the awareness of our social connections, even though sometimes it’s used as a synonym for comprehension. This term, however, I think has a more communal connotation. We use the term mutual understanding to refer to the way that individuals in a community relate one with another. I use comprehension to refer to the way we interface with our world, while I use understanding to refer to our social and cultural context or environment.

Understanding is the awareness (or lack of awareness) that we live as members of overlapping systems. Each system is its own microcosm, and exists primarily to provide stability. It doesn’t take a lot of awareness to realize that stability is the enemy of change. The role of each member in a system is the preservation of the system — the maintenance of the status quo. When any element of a system starts to create change — even changes that the system nominally agrees are necessary — the rest of the elements shift to neutralize the change effort. Still, we’re surprised when a system proves resistant to the changes that will help it. We should expect that reaction from a system.

In addition, human systems all have their own individual cultures. A culture is ‘the way things are done’ within the system. Culture provides the unquestioned context within which decisions are made. Culture is the undefined yardstick against which members of an organization judge certain behaviors to be ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable’. Since cultures exist in the context of a system, very often the transformational decisions that could effectively create change within a system are dismissed out-of-hand as unacceptable by that system's culture.

The only kind of change that can escape from the stifling that systems and their cultures perpetuate is a quantum change. Quantum change doesn’t move things forward gradually. Quantum change breaks the rules for a higher purpose. We can’t get to quantum change until we’re ready to challenge our own basic assumptions about right and wrong. The awareness we call understanding allows us to create a synthesis from our embrace of two opposing viewpoints. This awareness moves us out of the ‘safe’ zone and into the world of radical personal responsibility. It’s primarily there that purposeful change exists.

It sometimes feels scary taking an unpopular stand and going against the grain. People who have studied these things tell us that relatively few people live their values deeply. Most are content to absorb their opinions from others. However, I find that when I live in radical awareness, amazing things happen. I connect with people at an entirely different level. My appreciation begins to make a difference.

Sometimes the difference that awareness makes stimulates other people to react, and sometimes their reactions are unpleasant. For many people, change feels dangerous, and they’ll fight very hard to avoid that danger. Yet, there are always a few who are ready to say, “Yes! You have the awareness I was waiting for!” Real, purposeful, lasting change seldom happens bit by bit. It happens when one person makes a passionate commitment to an ideal in such a way that other change leaders wake up and take notice. ‘I can make a difference!’ What a radical thought!


H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC grew up in an entrepreneurial family and has been an entrepreneur for most of his life. He is the author of The Frazzled Entrepreneur's Guide to Having It All. Les is a certified Franklin Covey coach and a certified Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Effectiveness coach. He has Masters Degrees in philosophy and theology from the University of Ottawa. His experience includes ten years in the ministry and over fifteen years in c...

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