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October 19, 2010

Stephanie West Allen: On Changing, Evolving, Growing--Millennials, Boomers, and other Humans.

These are the Big Changes in personality and spirit: an overhaul or re-wiring of the brain, and an unfurling of the soul that often comes with it.

You hear it your whole life--from friends, family, and co-workers. They say that "people don't change".

From personal observations alone, I'm persuaded that they are 100% wrong. Take positive changes. People do make them, if slowly, and often with difficulty, in both fundamental and subtle ways. The best and biggest changes are often born in personal pain and crisis. And what about negative, "neutral" (or trivial), and even goofy changes? We all make these lesser, mild and unintended changes--and we do it all the time. We make them even if at heart we are hopeless, faithless, or lazy about the prospects of personal or professional blossomings.

For years, scientists have agreed that people change whether they want to or not. The trick is to harness the power of your brain to make the "good" changes--the ones that make sense for us--happen. We also call this growth.

Stephanie West Allen, a Denver-based mediator and consultant, has made a career of the study and utility of how people can and do change on all sides of difficult issues. The notion that people can change--fundamentally or in other ways--has interested me most of my life, beginning in childhood. Last year, when I first met Stephanie over the phone, and I later spent a couple of days with her in a Midwestern city, I was excited to know that someone (and with a law background, no less) was living and breathing it. The subject, of course, was not on the agenda of the meetings she and I were attending, and so I kept my exhilaration about it to myself.

But I kept thinking about it, and still do.` When I can, I read about the science of garden variety "human change".

Do note that the idea here--and Stephanie's work--is not about mere "consensus" or even "compromise". It's about the processs of starting to change and expand the way you think. There's a big difference making a deal (with yourself or with others) and real growth. As the actor William Hurt, who likes to work the idea of change and growth into his lines, might say with obvious irony: "I was merely evolving". These are the Big Changes in personality and spirit: an overhaul or re-wiring of the brain, and an unfurling of the soul that often comes with it.

Does that require pain and loss? Well, maybe. It certainly requires "work" on a scale that few are strong enough, and privileged enough, to undertake. My humble advice, to myself, and to others: wake up, get a plan, and try to change yourself anyway. Get bigger. Life is not only short; most of us are missing an awful lot of it.

To get a quick glimpse of what I mean, do read Stephanie's article, in the current issue of the ABA's Law Practice Today, entitled "Rules of Engagement: Generation Y". It's thoughtful and immediately useful. And I liked the way she concluded the article with "Remember that different is not necessarily wrong". Good for her she added the word "necessarily". Some things--like lawyers of any generation putting a client first--are just wrong to change. Let's not mess with that one.

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Stephanie West Allen writes two well-known blogs: Brains On Purposeā„¢, about neuroscience and conflict resolution, and Idealawg.

Posted by JD Hull at October 19, 2010 12:00 AM

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