Oh, But Change Of Heart Comes Slow

That’s a line from a song by U2 brought to my mind recently as I contemplated the world around me. I was able to attend a concert by The 1975 this past weekend with my boys. Midway through the show the lead singer, Matty Healy, played a recording of a call to action from activist Greta Thunberg. In part, she said:

“We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules.
Because the rules have to be changed.
We need a system change, rather than individual change.
But you cannot have one without the other.”

You cannot have systemic change without individual change. Profound wisdom from a 16-year-old. Unfortunately, the type of individual change needed is a change of heart and change of heart comes slow. Or does it…

There are so many problems in the world today. I cannot say with any certainty whether this current age is worse than previous ones, but I can say it is tragically flawed in ways that impact real people in the most profound ways. Every day I read stories about homelessness, addiction, loss, poverty, and racism (and many other ism’s.) It’s easy to find excuses to ignore these stories or find someone else to blame. The challenge is to ask myself what I could be doing to make a difference.

There is no doubt that we need systemic change. So many of the problems individuals face are created or exacerbated by systems that favor one group over another. People in power often give themselves a little more, sometimes a lot more. This is a problem that requires individual change, a heart change.

How does someone’s heart change?

In ‘Igniting Inspiration: A Persuasion Manual for Visionaries,’ John Marshall Roberts, an American public speaker and communication strategist, wrote about ways to influence people’s hearts. He calls it “converting people to a cause” and identifies three ways: by threat of force, by intellectual argument, and by inspiration.

We shouldn’t try to convince people with force to change their hearts. We may get outward compliance for a time, but this often has the effect of moving a person farther away.  When people engage in an intellectual argument it is often thinly veiled judgementalism. Again, people do not move toward something (or someone) that is harsh and manipulative. To get people’s total, lasting, and unwavering support, in other words, to get a true heart change, we must align our communication with the most deeply held values and aspirations of the person we are trying to influence. We should inspire them toward a vision that they—not we—can really care about.

Which brings me to something I have said and written many times: the solution to our social and systemic problems lies in relationships, not programs. People care about people they are in relationship with. People care about people they relate to. People care about themselves and their lives, and therefore they care about what impacts those things.

Using facts and science to bolster the arguments and stories that appeal to our own values and experiences is ineffective because people tend to embrace data that support their life views and reject data that refute them. The challenge for leadership is to use facts and science to skillfully and compellingly connect our causes not to what we think our friends, relatives, and fellow citizens should care about, but what they already do care about.

In 2000 we were planning the first Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Even though the tragedy had occurred five years earlier, the wound was still raw. I was in OKC the morning of the bombing.  I went downtown and was involved in the response that morning. Later, I visited the memorial, saw the chairs, and read the stories. It impacted me and was the impetuous for making the marathon about the Memorial. However, everything changed one morning.

I was making calls to inform local agencies about our plans and to garner support. I called the Neighborhood Alliance to see if they could be a resource for us, I had just begun to give the woman who answered the phone my “spiel” about the marathon and the connection to the memorial when she stopped me cold. For the next 15 minutes she told me her story about the morning of April 19, 1995.

Her two grandsons were living with her and spent their mornings at the daycare center in the Murrah Building. That morning they were in a hurry and she remembered being frustrated and possibly even short with them about getting ready and getting out the door. She dropped them off at the daycare center not knowing that shortly after they would perish in the explosion that took 168 lives. Then she said, “I don’t remember if I kissed them goodbye.”

That morning my heart for the Memorial and its mission changed radically and suddenly. I had young kids. I could picture leaving my kids and then never seeing them again. I could remember times I had left in a huff, or failed to say “I love you”, or dismissed their questions. Her story could have been my story. It affected me deeply. It changed me.

We need to hear people’s stories and then retell ours in ways that mirror their challenges and aspirations. We need to be empathetic and know that our stories are their stories, and that the challenges we face in being human are one.

Until leaders like you and me have hearts that are empathetic and seek to understand other people, we can never be effective in leading people to make a difference that matters. And there is so much that needs to change and so many people that we could impact.

A change of heart doesn’t have to come slow. A change of heart can happen in the moment when someone else’s story becomes my story. Listen to someone’s story today. It may change your heart, and changing our hearts is The Kimray Way.