Change from Within

What is the best way to change someone else’s behavior? That is an age-old question, isn’t it?
I remember when I was in seminary the issue of inclusive language was a very hot topic. There were all kinds of studies and resources that showed the image that came to mind when people used terms like “man” or “mankind” to refer to all of humanity. Overwhelmingly, people thought of male human beings. We worked hard to encourage students and faculty alike to be inclusive in their language. In some places in the intervening years, rules have been made for language used in worship or in formal communication in the church so that people were required to use inclusive language. In my experience, it is pretty much the norm now in terms of gender.
There are many other ways, though, that language continues to exclude. The work here is not done. My attitude about all of this when I was in seminary and in the next decade or so when language about gender was a subject for debate was this: I don’t really care whether you think gender neutral language is a good idea or not, I just want you to use it. Some psychologists believe that this is a good way to change people’s attitudes. When their behavior is required to change, then, over time, their attitudes may change as well.
I was reminded about this when I got a cold drink from a coffee shop and was handed a sippy cup. I imagine they have another term for the new lids they use, but this is the only one that comes to my mind. If you have youngsters in your life or if you have been to the Shedd Aquarium in the last few years, then you have probably been told (several times) that you should not use straws. They are a prime example of single use plastic that is choking the oceans and the life that lives in them.
Maybe you carry a metal straw with you. Maybe you have had to force yourself to actually put your lips on a glass in a restaurant (remember going to restaurants??) since we had been trained by them to use straws. The particular coffee shop I went to has, apparently, given up on us making the right decision. They just hand us a cup with a lid on it that does not accommodate a straw and that delivers the beverage in another way. They don’t care what we believe about straws, they are just forcing us to change our behavior. Maybe it will lead us to rethink our attitudes about other single use plastic (like, for instance, the sippy cup lid and the cup to which it is attached!)
We have all observed behavior in the last few months that needs to change whether it involves something as simple as wearing a mask or as deadly as encounters between people who stand on either side of the racial divide in this country. What do you think is the best way to change misguided behavior? Convincing arguments; legislated change; no options except the behavior you favor? All of those work from time and time.
Where does scripture direct us to begin when we know that change is needed? With ourselves. In these troubled and troubling times, when we love to point out the fault in others, fault that is often dangerous and short-sighted, let us also remember the words of the psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” As we strive to bring hope in the name of Jesus, let us do it with humility.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago