Defining Change

I believe it’s been almost four weeks since I last wrote a blog entry. My goal is to continue writing twice weekly, yet the past month has been an unplanned hiatus. It’s surprising just how much time it’s taken me to adjust back into “normal” life in Boston. In catching up with friends, the best way I can describe the summer is that I felt like each day packed in a week’s worth of experiences, and I feel like I’m trying to comprehend and distill 90 weeks of learning. When I first arrived back in the U.S. (San Francisco airport, to be exact), or even walking in my very own home, I felt totally and completely out of place. The culture and interactions were so completely American, yet at the same time so completely foreign and unrecognizable. Today, I don’t feel that overwhelming sense of not belonging anymore. Yet I am beginning to recognize just how much my viewpoint has changed. I better understand what it means to never see the world in the same way that I once did.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been waking up with the same question - what defines change? At the same time that I’m waking, I know that half a world away, the world in which I lived for three months, is winding down their days to rest for the evening. On both sides of the world, we typically travel in the same places; we interact with similar people; we have our habits of eating, reading, exercising, and relaxing. Routine seems to bring about a certain level of comfort within our lives, and the consistency elicits a (perhaps false) sense of security. In this routine, it becomes easy to forget the uniqueness around us at every moment of the day. It’s even easier to forget that we alone have a distinct and considerable choice of how to move through life.

Later this week, I’ll share thoughts about visiting the area in Japan where the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit hardest, and hearing the local town reporter discuss the visible and invisible recovery. 

Yet as these memories and images in Japan swirl in my head, I also think about the visible and invisible changes we each make within ourselves. Outwardly, visible change is much easier to identify than invisible changes. A new pair of glasses, a fresh hair cut, or weight change are all examples of noticeably visible personal changes. Yet invisible changes - such as our words, actions, and values expressed in our daily living and communications with others - are often a more substantial change that’s harder to identify. This latter type of change stems directly from change within individual minds - the independent desires and motivations to explore and develop, to educate one’s self, to live values individually important within a life. Noticing this type of change (as opposed to visible change) requires a person (or a community) who is adept as listening, observing, and reflecting on the encounters and interactions that happen in the typical daily routine. Observing and embracing the invisible change in others, I believe, reflects the willingness of the listener to also challenge him/herself - the change from one person has the ability to impact a resultant change from those around that individual.

How are individuals motivated to recognize they have a choice - routine or new - of how to act and develop his/her own thoughts, outside of the usual routine? Granted, those choices that impact us don't have to be as significant as traveling Southeast Asia for three months. It could be as simple as taking a new running or commuting route, or looking around the grocery store and the people there shopping through a new lens. The motivations, actions, thinking and reasoning has the potential to change for each of us every single day, yet this change often goes unrecognized in daily encounters within our routine networks. How do we encourage people to have the courage to share their own story and thoughts, especially when resulting from his/her invisible change? And more significantly, how do we, on a much broader scale, collectively become more adept at recognizing and embracing the invisible change among others, even when it’s uncomfortably outside of our routine?