Jan Arnow


Chapter 7


Actions as Antidotes -- Working for Change



There is an old riddle that asks, "What's the

difference between ignorance and apathy?" The lamentable

answer is, "I don't know and I don't care."


In fact, most of us do know the difference between being

ignorant (lacking education or knowledge, from the Latin

"ignorare," meaning "not to know") and being apathetic

(feeling or showing a lack of interest or concern, from

the Greek "apatheia," meaning "without feeling"). But

despite our awareness that the direction in which we are

headed is leading us to a dismal future, and propelling

our children toward an even more catastrophic scenario,

we just don't seem to care about changing it. Or, more

accurately, we do care when we first hear about the

bleak details --


* that twenty percent of all of our children are growing

up in poverty, a 21% increase since 1970;


* that one in every four homeless persons in cities is a



* that the rate of suicide among adolescents has tripled

 since 1960;


* that violence is approaching the position of being

 America's number one public health problem;


* that the carnage of street gang-related murders in the

 United States is higher than that of Belfast;


* that among youths age 15 to 19, the risk of being shot to

 death more than doubled in the past decade;


* that in addition to violence in the community, at least 3.3

 million children are at risk for witnessing parental abuse


each year, a conservative estimate because of under-

reporting of domestic abuse;

-- but our sympathy ebbs just as fast as it is aroused.

We are overwhelmed by competing disasters and are

suffering from what writer Anna Quindlan calls a

"hardening of the arteries of kindness." We are burned out.

We are suffering from compassion fatigue.


Compassion Fatigue

The malignant and corrosive forces in our

society which are threatening the future of our children

are also traumatizing those of us who are their caregivers,

diminishing our potential ability to meet their needs.

A 1992 Harris poll backs up this theory with a frightening

statistic: 89 percent of adults live in chronic stress.

When we are immobilized by this stress, and by our

own despair and resistance to change, we can't do

much to help our children. We compound their problems i



Compassion wasn't always such a difficult response. The

world was seen as a much simpler place with areas that we

broadly described as "Asia", or "Africa", or "the Soviet Union."

World disasters weren't broadcast into our homes with the

same immediacy we experience today. Closer to home, the

mentally ill were locked away in institutions, not set adrift to

homelessly wander our streets; teen pregnancies and suicides

were not openly discussed; the "isms" -- racism, sexism,

classism -- were rarely an issue. There were simply fewer

things to which we were called upon to be sympathetic.


In today's world we are exhorted on a daily basis to be

"compassionate" toward the poor, the misguided, the

homeless, the victims. World and neighborhood conflicts,

however, are not as neat and trim as they seem when we

watch them on television, sandwiched between advertisements

for credit cards and fast food. Relief efforts take months

or years, not the microseconds it takes the media to draw

us into the disasters. They quickly become old news.

Fatigue and boredom set in. We throw away the unopened

fundraising letters; skip the current updates in the paper;

turn away. We literally and figuratively change the channel.


Reactions to Troubled Times

In her insightful and prescriptive book, Despair and

Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, Joanna Macy cites three

ways in which people respond to the slew of requests for

understanding and assistance in the face of today's social




Unless they become personalized, social problems

appear as abstract concepts to most of us. If they don't affect

us directly (seeing them in action in film or on television

doesn't count), we find it hard to believe that they really exist.

So despite the increasing frequency of violence, racism and

hate crime in this country, many people refuse to take it

seriously because they simply don't believe it.



Until the break up of the Soviet Union, it was the

possibility of total annihilation that we denied. Today, as

our inability to accept differences among one another grows

and the instances of conflict and violence hit closer to home,

we do not deny the danger of our situation so much as what is

at stake. As Ms. Macy says, "the human mind is tempted to

acquiesce to the triviality of its own existence. It is tempted to

say, 'what is so special about human beings?' "


Double life.

Repressing the knowledge of the rising tide of hatred

and violence drains us of the very energy we need to fight

against those phenomena. On one level, we lead our lives

thinking that nothing much has changed as we take the children

to school, shop at the malls, and attend the religious services

of our choice. But we know on another level that everything

has changed. And without the knowledge of how to integrate

these two layers of consciousness we live in both of them, with

the vague feeling that our own neighborhoods could go at any



I would add a fourth response to this list:


Despair is an acknowledgement of the shortcomings of

human beings, the despondent awareness that the lives we dreamed

about may not come to fruition, the painful realization that

we cannot shape the world according to our desires simply

by wishing it so. It is an overwhelming sense of futility

and defeat, coupled with a loss of hope. Our real problem

is not indifference; it is dread.

Not surprisingly, living for years under the shadow

of a world that we perceive to be disintegrating gives us

every reason to feel overcome by despair. It takes a

mammoth toll on our lives. Whether we call it "burnout",

"compassion fatigue" or "despair," it anesthetizes us,

and can create a sense of isolation. Like rats in a

laboratory, which turn away and busy themselves in a

frenzy of unrelated activity when they are introduced to

a threat which they cannot remove, we similarly develop

a frenzied appetite for pleasurable activities and frantically

consume massive amounts of goods and entertainment



After we live for so long with this inchoate sense of

social illness, we begin to blame others for our

situation, creating scapegoats toward which to focus

our anger. Our ability to be clear about our lives

diminishes. Studies have shown that at moments

of heightened danger, the measures of cognitive

functioning are consistently lower. Under such

stressful conditions, the information we do choose

to take in is not processed well. The repression

of a strong emotion such as despair, it seems, greatly

impairs our capacity to think.

Commitment to Change


As parents, educators, community leaders and friends of

children everywhere, we have a special commitment to

the future. We must learn to confront our despair; to

acknowledge that what we fear will not go away; to

break the taboo about dealing publicly with our concerns

about the future by deciding that we as individuals,

families, schools and communities are willing to talk

and are open to listening; and to truly believe that it is

our responsibility to do so. As the awareness of our

social problems increases, we are being presented

with a rare window of opportunity to significantly

improve the chances our children will have for a

better future. Whether we look at the issues from

an economic, political or social perspective, it is

imperative that we recognize the need for change.


There are different ways to think about change:

physicists see change as happening when you have

enough pockets of energy in the right places;

biologists see it in evolutionary terms; economists

see it in terms of market forces. Whatever way

we think about it, change is an inevitable fact of life.


Most of us, however, are profoundly ambivalent about

change. We applaud it in principle, but obstruct it in

practice, disliking alterations in even our smallest daily

routines. We prefer that it happen to someone else,

look for ways to avoid or derail it when confronted

by it, and have chosen "loss" as our primary

metaphor for it. In fact, it has been determined that

we go through the same stages during change that

we do during mourning, apparently suffering the

same kind of bereavement from the loss of continuity

in our lives as from the death of a loved one.


Resistance to change is both unavoidable and normal.

As with all living organisms, it is our natural inherent

reaction to try and stop anything that we perceive as

potentially harmful, destructive or threatening. When

we oppose change, we are struggling to remain inside

of our comfort zones -- those areas beyond whose

boundaries lies confusion and chaos -- in order to

maintain consistency and balance in our lives.


One way of becoming comfortable with change, and to

successfully implement change in our homes, schools

and communities, is to understand some of its various



* If people are to commit themselves to innovation, risking

the inevitable anxieties and discomfort that accompany it,

they must find the mission and the new objectives both

preferable to what they are currently experiencing, and

perceive them as achievable;


* People who possess the readiness for change -- who are

flexible, energetic and invested in it -- will progress

through its stages much more easily than those who

don't. People who are more rigidly vested in their

personal concerns, such as maintenance of power and

position, are more sensitive to the stresses of change,

leaving them less willing participants.


* One of the greatest needs during change is technical

support -- training and materials -- and clear

communication. It is a dictum of organizational change

that the larger the innovation the greater the need for

communication. Remembering that change usually

begets automatic confusion and misunderstanding, and

that that commotion, if unchecked, will spell failure, will

help assure clarity throughout the process.


* During the early stages of change, when uncertainty is

change even modest amounts of reassurance and

recognition is a strategy repeatedly endorsed in studies

of change. Recognizing the willingness of people to go

through the often frightening process improves both

morale and motivation to continue moving forward.


Where Do We Begin?

To paraphrase Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their book,

War and Anti-War, creating harmonious communities

cannot depend on first solving all of our social, moral

and economic problems. The issue is not how to

build consensus in a perfect world but in the one in

which we are actively living and creating. We can't

wait for governmental grants to appear, for everyone

on our block to join up, or for our leaders to give us

the go ahead. Each of us needs to believe that we

can make change happen, join our efforts with other

like-minded individuals, and at the very least say "no" to

anything we feel is going in the wrong direction.


There is a story that is told about a man who was

watching an old woman walk along an ocean beach.

She had a strange pattern to her stride -- every few

steps she would stop, bend down, throw something

in the water and then walk along some more. When

he came closer he saw that she was picking up live

starfish that had washed up on shore during the

previous night's storm and was throwing them back

into the ocean one at a time. He was appalled at the

lunacy of her effort.


"Do you realize how fruitless a task this is? " he asked.

"There are literally thousands of starfish along the shore.

You're saving them one at a time! What possible

difference does it make?"


She listened politely to what he had said, bent down,

picked up another starfish and gazed at it thoughtfully

for a moment.


"It makes a difference to this one," she replied as she

threw it back into the ocean.


It is crucial to the future of our children that we

comprehend and trust this simple fact: individuals

can make a difference: all the difference in the world.

It will only be through the persistent efforts of

each of us that necessary changes will be made to

allow our children to live, learn and work together

to achieve common goals in a culturally diverse

world. Without change and immediate intervention,

they will become the next generation that sets in

motion the same processes of conflict and hatred that

they are experiencing today.





* Decide that you will help; but understand first, act later.


* Consider your comfort. Is there one issue or another

you feel comfortable addressing? Which strategies to you



* Understand that things happen for a reason, that we

live in a cause and effect world, and that we can change

the way things turn out if we influence the causes. This

is called "empowerment", and it is one of the most

important concepts to comprehend when trying to make

changes happen around us. We can be most effective

when we feel that we have some control over our lives.


* Recognize that the enormity of the problems has

advantages: everyone has an opportunity to help find

solutions and each of us can make a big difference.


* Begin with one thing that needs attention. Perhaps

you have read something in this book that has sparked

your interest. There might be an issue in your community

or school that needs attention. It needn't be a big job or

a big issue, but overcome the inertia and start somewhere.


* Get to know the issue. Learn by reading, attending

meetings and lectures, watching films and videotapes,

and talking to others who are involved.


* Have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish.

As much as possible, identify your goals and develop

an action plan for achieving them. But also expect

your ideas about change to evolve over time. Change

is an organic, not a static, process. Expect change to

be turbulent at times and almost always slower than

you think it will be.


* Rather than reinventing the wheel, build on what

already works. Find examples of successes in other

communities and schools and model your action plan

after them.


* Know why you are getting involved, what prompted

your effort to make changes, and what your purpose is

for being involved.


* Develop a base of support including others who share

your ideas and dreams and those who will offer you

moral support even though they themselves are not

involved with your change work.


* Become a teaching group by building capacity in others,

exponentially expanding the efforts of your group.

Determine which skills your group members already have

that they can pass along to others, and learn from each other.


* Planning your time carefully can serve as one of the

best defenses against burnout. You will be calling

yourself a failure when you aren't one if you plan your

time unrealistically. For example, when making out

your schedule, allow for lag time. Everything will take

much longer than you think it's going to.


* Know the difference between flawlessness and excellence.

Good work need not be perfect to be effective.


* Don't play "total expert." Acknowledging what you

don't know makes you more trustworthy. But do your

homework so that you can be responsible for what you do say.


* Use your strengths and personal resources:

knowledge of the issues;

ability to work with people;


support from family, friends and co-workers;

ability to run a meeting, organize others, speak in public;

connections to powerful people;

visibility in your community;

ability to write clearly.


* Don't be afraid to share personal experiences.

The dangers we are dealing with are abstract and

remote from many people's daily lives. The issues

become more real for them when they see that they

have affected real people.


* Formal and informal support from top officials is

crucial. Look for the power in your community or

school because that is usually where change is controlled,

and learn how the system works. Who holds the power?

Where are decisions made? How are they made? What

are the relationships between those who make the decisions

and those who benefit from them? Who pays to have the

decisions of the power group carried out?


* Find out if those you work for and buy from support

your views so you can make conscious choices. If you

own stock, attend shareholder meetings and raise issues.


* Your voice is important so get in touch with your

congressional representatives and senators. Send a

letter or make a local phone call. Ask five friends to

do so, too. Altogether your team is equal to 900

people -- a phone call represents the view of fifty;

a letter represents the view of 100; a phone call and

a letter is 150; a telegram is 250.


* When you write letters, use these tips to make it easier:

Keep an "action file" of current articles together

in one place;

Address and stamp several envelopes at one time;

When you are asked to write, do it immediately;

Write to your senators every week or two before

each vote on the issues. Write to your

representatives each month and

before each vote;

Keep it short and simple;

Do not mail preprinted letters. Use your own words

and thoughts;

Be specific about what you want them to do.


* People are less likely to reject your views if you can

show them how a new idea fits in with what they already

believe, and if you have anticipated their fears and concerns

in dealing with the issues. Address them before they have a

chance to surface.


* Ideas that seem silly, weird or alarming may not be viable

solutions themselves, but if you can take them seriously

enough to use them to start fresh trains of thought, they

often lead to new and much more practical possibilities.


* Community service is not just for high school and college

students and adults. We can start with the very youngest

children, reinforcing their behavior through childhood and

adolescence into adulthood. Most children have a very

keen sense of justice and care as much as we do about

others who are hurt, and can contribute their energy and

skills through structured experiences. Public service can

help empower them, too, to live lives of dignity and

purpose while channeling their energy toward constructive

responses to diversity, change and conflict.


* Be willing to let go of a discussion at the right time.

There is a moment when it is best to leave things as they

are in order to allow interchange to occur, and you may

never know if change has occurred as a result of your

discussion. To develop patience it might help to trace

those experiences when you went through personal change

and the change agent -- a book, a film, a speaker, an

encounter -- had no idea you were affected.


* Avoid what Joe Flower, editor of "The Change Letter"

calls the "Daddy Syndrome" where we refer upwards to

what "they" think we ought to do -- the government,

our boss, the past. Trust your instincts. If you believe

in what you are doing and you believe that what you are

doing is right, you will not only draw others who share

your beliefs, you stand a terrific chance of drawing in

others who are skeptical, curious, unconvinced and/or

just plain unenlightened.


* Don't wait until the job is finished to celebrate because

it rarely is. Commemorate the incremental changes, and

give yourself and others credit and recognition frequently

along the way.


* It takes energy to care, and to do so requires physical

stamina. Care for yourself with the same energy that

caring for others requires. It may mean something as

simple as eating properly and getting enough sleep.


* Maintain your personal focus during the course of

your involvement. Being personally centered helps to

provide energy for all of the facilitating, listening and

mediating work which goes on. When you feel heavy

resistance from a group or the community, always try

to return to what is personally important and meaningful

in this work for you.


* Give yourself permission to seek privacy. Recognize

that it's a priority you owe to your health and well-being

to meet. Removing one's self voluntarily from one's

habitual environment promotes self-understanding and

contact with those inner depths of our being which elude

one in the chaos of day-to-day life.


* Develop and maintain hope, not optimism. Optimism

is an expectation, a tendency to expect the best possible

outcome. Its opposite is pessimism. Hope on the other

hand is a proactive commitment, a confidence in, and

dedication to the future. Hope takes a realistic view of

the present and does what it can to bring about a positive

future. Its opposite is despair.


NOTE: The text above is from the recent book, Teaching Peace: How to Raise Children to Live in Harmony -- Without Fear, Without Prejudice, Without Violence_ by Jan Arnow (Perigee/Berkley, © 1995 Jan Arnow, ISBN #0-399-52155-0, $12.00). In each chapter there are additional charts, quotes and sidebar sections that have not been uploaded. If you are interested in seeing these additions, please contact the author directly (email: jarnow@iglou.com); (snail mail: 2025 Maryland Avenue, Louisville, KY, 40205); (telephone: 502-454-0607); or buy the book! 

This is copywritten material. Please do not distribute without the author's permission.

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