Developing a Sense of Time Constancy

Developing a Sense of Time Constancy

 
An American-Israeli Messianic Jewish Jerusalemite

An American-Israeli Messianic Jewish Jerusalemite

A Palestinian-Israeli Christian Nazarene who lives in Jerusalem

A Palestinian-Israeli Christian Nazarene who lives in Jerusalem

If we can’t see the social change we work toward, are our efforts misplaced and do our words fall on deaf ears? We pour our hearts into specific endeavors, exerting great effort toward a cause, and sometimes, we seem to be making great progress! Then we look around us -- when we read the news, when we talk to the ever-present pessimists claiming to be pragmatists, when a new wave of violence begins to bubble to the surface (belying tensions and unsettled issues lurking beneath the “quiet” and “status quo”) -- and our hearts can sink in despair. Did our efforts even make a difference? Can we ever really change anything?

We recently spoke with some friends about systems and power structures. How do we go about tackling issues as big as gender and racial discrimination, something so polarizing as the occupation, when years of efforts seem to have birthed few visible results? What’s the point of grassroots relationship-building endeavors, one friend asked, when so many have tried for decades and look at the situation today -- there is little change and even less hope? Another friend argued, But don’t structural inequality and systemic discrimination require a different perspective? We can’t assume that change isn’t happening simply because we can’t see it. 

Both of them have a point. It’s hard to see the positive outcome of grassroots endeavors as they seem to have a short reach, perhaps transforming individuals, but they’ve then failed to spread to a critical mass to change society. The powerful gain more power, and the weak lose willpower. On the other hand, can decades of positive grassroots activism be dismissed when their presence provides an alternative narrative that breaks the path of least resistance? The presence of these efforts counters the status quo, questions its legitimacy and undermines it as the normative, acceptable way of life. 

But what of this question of time, this idea that we have to see change in order to believe in it? Lack of seeing does not indicate a lack of change, just a pace that must be measured differently. As one scholar notes, “If changing the entire system through our own efforts is the standard against which we measure the ability to do something, then we’ve set ourselves up to feel powerless... We also can’t be part of change that’s so complex that we can’t sort out our contribution from countless others that combine in ways we can never grasp.” Continuing, addressing problems that are systemic (and we would add -- intractable) requires “complex and long-term change coupled with short-term work to soften some of [their] worst consequences. This means that if we’re going to be part of the solution to such problems, we have to let go of the idea that change doesn’t happen unless we're around to see it and that what we do matters only if we make it happen.” [1]

The question, then, is how can we see our choices and activism relative to change that happens slowly? When I.’s eldest child was born, her husband lamented his long days at work, as he knew that their child lacked object constancy (or, object permanence), and he wanted a way for their child to know his love and presence even in his absence. Object constancy is the understanding that people and things continue to exist even when they are not visible. Very young children, like infants, lack object constancy. If you take a toy away from them and place it behind another object, they assume it is no longer there. As we grow, one of our greatest cognitive accomplishments is to understand that objects do have constancy, even when they are out of view. When we seek long-term change, we need to “develop what might be called ‘time constancy.’” Similar to object constancy, time constancy “enables us to carry within us the knowledge -- the faith -- that significant change happens even though we aren’t around to see it.” [2]

How can we develop a sense of time constancy and participate in change that we might not see? Here are a few strategies that have been helpful for us as we intermittently struggle, fail and succeed in training our minds on long-term change.

  1. Remember that your involvement in change is a unique choice. As a result, the way you express your activism and resistance to the occupation can vary. It could range from educating yourself through reading and research, to discussing difficult issues with friends, to challenging the typical way of thinking, to donating toward a cause, to participating in various grassroots efforts, to choosing this way of life as a vocation.
  2. Take responsibility for your own change process. As you gain awareness and make choices different from those around you, others will notice. You can’t control what others do, but your conscious choices can be an example.
  3. Know that your choices chip away at the power structure of status quo. Even if you remain in the minority, your alternative path shows that alternative paths exist. In conjunction with the counter-cultural, counter-normative choices of others, your choices lay the foundation for the fruit you wish to one day see.
  4. Remind yourself that change can start from you, but it doesn’t end with you. Your choices make a difference, your changes make a difference, even if you can’t see it in the present. [3]

The change we wish to see is much bigger than each individual who engages in it, just as the conflict we wish to change is much bigger than each of us. These are not excuses for immobility. When we see regression in our society and grieve that our efforts seem ineffective, we cannot remain in this mindset. Every effort we make, especially the differing opinions we share and the counter-normative actions we perform reveal a different reality, a piece of a transformed future which seeps into the cracks of the present. It requires effort, faith, hope and perspective, and combined it yields a sense of time constancy -- an awareness that we can create change bigger than ourselves, and we don’t have to see change to know that it will come.

Notes:

[1] See Allan G. Johnson in The Kaleidoscope of Gender: Prisms, Patterns, and Possibilities and The Gender Knot. He specifically addresses these issues in terms of gender and patriarchy, but the principles he emphasizes are applicable to power structures in general, and are relevant to entrenched conflicts like ours.
[2] This concept is discussed in the second book listed in the previous note.
[3] Ibid. Points 2-4 are adapted from a few of Johnson’s suggestions.

 
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