Hello! This was a post I made to one of my EECS professors here at UofM. I am curious about opinions and ideas that people have on instituting effective methods for personal change, as well as institutional reform. If you have any opinions or thoughts on the topic, I’d love to hear them in the comments!
“I’m a student from last semester who met with you once after class to discuss the difficulties and logistics of creating personal change. We talked a bit about how challenging it is to “will” oneself to change – it’s unlikely that a drug addict not faced with the macro consequences of their decisions (or external pressures) would suddenly “decide” to stop. Tangentially, I still think that narrative structure tell us a lot about how people change; the Call to Adventure, or some inciting event, sets us up to experience challenge and failure, which eventually has us “return to the familiar” with a changed mindset – a structure that seems to map well to how people realistically end up becoming better or worse. Similarly, I think hitting “rock bottom” for addicts might be an inciting event that eventually leads to rehabilitation and change.
Given that we can’t exactly control if and when we experience “inciting events” in our lives (i.e. Frodo [or, I suppose, Sam, if you think he’s the real hero] can’t have chosen to have Gandalf give the One Ring to him; Chihiro didn’t exactly ask to be dropped into a magical spirit world), what are some ways we may be able to push ourselves towards change? Should we take actions that would increase our probability of having “inciting events?” Or is gradual change entirely possible, and we should introduce small, unfamiliar events into our lives? How much blame should I place upon myself for my failures to change (is rationalizing the difficulties of change just an excuse for a lack of willpower, or laziness, and the only solution is just to get up and stop being lazy and do it already you punk)?
It seems that experiencing failure is one such impetus, and you recommended essentially “setting yourself up for failure in a low-risk environment” (i.e. taking on too many responsibilities to handle within a relatively low-consequence situation) as a possibility. Are there any other studied ways on how people improve?
Besides the issue of personal change, what are some ideas on institutional change? I’m two seasons into The Wire, and its perspectives on progress are bleak. (spoiler-free ahead) The show makes a point that characters are perpetually trapped in “the game,” institutionalized by some inevitable human propensity for crime, or the bureaucracy of “chain of command”, or even familial pressures, all components that seem to strip the characters of agency (and perhaps blame?) and the ability to impact the system. Some of the Barksdale crew are barely even aware of life outside “the game” – in which case, it seems moral responsibility and blame are highly dubious for these characters, more so than for others. It’s easy to see that Stringer Bell and Wee-Bey have sin, but Wallace? It seems obvious that micro-level actions look hopeless against the churning machine of “the game,” or the systems in place (are students, too, stuck in some “game” of competitive high schools, colleges, medical programs, etc? To become software engineers and doctors?). Are there studied ways that end up creating meaningful change in our systems? The second season does seem to suggest that at the very least, technological progress will naturally wipe out the past and change the future, although not necessarily for the better in the case of the Sobotkas and the dock workers. Are we truly relegated to just waiting around for improvements? What are some opinions?
I get that these are all probably difficult questions without clear answers (some of which I think might teeter close to opinions on moral responsibility and free will) – I’m really just interested in personal opinions or thoughts from others on these topics (this wall-of-text is probably just an excuse because I wanted to talk about The Wire). Feel free not to answer this post, too – professors are busy, and I wouldn’t mind! Thanks for reading!
TL;DR – What are some ways we might be able to impact meaningful, positive change on ourselves, and our institutions?”