Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the Director of Areivim, an organization that offers counseling, crisis intervention and referral services for teens and their families.
Creating Change in Others
Parents, spouses, and friends, sometimes realize that there’s someone in their lives who’s in desperate need of change. In many cases those people are unwilling to discuss their issues with anyone. They’re stuck in their counter-productive lifestyles. After much pleading with them to speak to a professional or even to a friend, it becomes obvious that any change must come without their active participation.
Creating change in others is a very difficult process. To undertake such a goal, and certainly to succeed in this goal, requires that several conditions to be met. Before a person can create change in someone else, they need some confirmation that they’re not the problem. Many times it’s the person that’s worried about their “other” that’s the real problem. A typical example would be spouses who’re critical of everyone around them and insist on changing all of them.
Creating change in others assumes that the person wanting to make this well meaning attempt has above average people skills. It also assumes that the person has the time, energy, and a strong enough relationship with the other individual, to succeed.
Creating change in others, without their active participation requires that certain conditions be met. These include:
1. An assumption that that other person is healthy. This means that the person’s issues are not chemical but behavioral. Trying to help a person who has a chemical imbalance which may have led to depression, or to some other self destructive behavior, is best left for professionals.
2. It’ll take a lot of time and energy. This means that the person attempting to create the change may need to spend several hours a week, and maybe for many months. The process may be a slow and frustrating one.
3. The person must be very good at understanding people in general and specifically the person s/he is trying to help. S/he must have a very thorough understanding of all the person’s likes, dislikes, and responses to different situations.
4. The person may have to do more than just have discussions with the person in need. The person may have to help the other find a job, drive him/her around, etc.
The basis for believing that one person can change another without the second’s participation comes from the following two rules:
1) A person’s behavior is always calculated. Sometimes it’s done consciously; other times subconsciously. The person is always thinking about whether the gain of the action will exceed the loss. That decision will decide whether or not the action will happen.
For example, let’s say that a boy skips school. The parent’s find out and take away his computer game privileges for a week. Why would he skip school if he knows he’ll lose his privilege? The answer is that he’s weighed the gain of whatever he planned on doing by skipping school, against the loss of his computer game privilege. In his mind, it was a fair exchange.
A more extreme example is the following: A student of mine stole money from his father’s wallet, despite his certainty that his father would find out and beat him. (Yes, his father used to beat him.) He told me that getting his father angry was the only control he had over him and this made it worth the beating. Until I heard this I believed (like most adults) that when kids act out they’re just not thinking; however, they obviously are thinking.
These examples aren’t limited to teenagers. Many adults also act unreasonably. Some don’t hold jobs; others seem to say the wrong thing, or take pleasure in destroying relationships. Again, the question is why do they do it? If we accept that there was some decision that preceded their actions, then we need to understand what those decisions were. (I will discuss the most effective ways to “handle” these scenarios after describing several approaches.)
The importance of this rule can’t be emphasized enough. If a person does something because it’s worth doing, then to create the change, one has to intervene in a manner that makes the action worthless. However, making the action worthless comes with certain complications. Every interaction between two people creates a domino effect. Making an action worthless will not help a person improve unless the alternative action is a healthier one.
For instance, “getting” teenagers to stop smoking by threatening to throw them out of the home may succeed, but it may create very angry teenagers who may retaliate by doing something much worse. One needs to remember at all times, that creating behavioral change is a complex process that requires the ability to think three or four steps ahead of the person’s present actions.
2) People’s behaviors are dependent on two things: a) who they are; and b) with whom they’re interacting. a) Who they are refers to their strengths, weaknesses, character traits, and experiences. All of these things “make up” how they see the world, and what they feel is needed to improve their quality of his life. b) With whom they’re interacting is equally important. People that are generally nice, will often not act as nice when interacting with very difficult individuals. People with few life skills will perform better when they’re speaking with patient, caring, individuals. Most adults haven’t placed enough thought into this rule to utilize it when they interact with others.
This rule is not achieved by just being a positive role model for the person needing change. It means that those attempting to create the change must consider every one of their own actions, and how they’ll affect the other person. Every move (word and action) must be thought through before the move is made.
To be continued…
© 2009 Rabbi Shmuel Gluck, all rights reserved
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