Rethinking my stance on food, politics and exercise

ARA Releases Mini-Documentary: Bannister Breaks the Barrier

It is interesting to contemplate change, and for the moment, I don’t mean global change, societal change or any other major shift in conditions or ways of thinking on a grand human scale.  Instead, I am thinking about personal change. Most of the literature on self-determined, or peer-group imposed change suggest that change is very difficult for people,one that people resist.  Many people dislike their job intensely, but hesitate to quit.  Of course in today’s economy quitting a job is not a good idea unless you have lots and lots of money in the bank or another job waiting.  Other forms of personal change that have nothing to do with the economy are just as challenging to initiate;  getting a divorce, moving from one house to another, even changing diets or any other habit or routine of daily life is difficult; difficult to start or even to contemplate.   I think there are a couple of reasons, one is comfort, it is comfortable to continue doing things the same you have done before and very uncomfortable to make change.

Divorce illustrates the process for me; even in an unpleasant and stressed relationship there is a certain sense comfort in the routine.  Changing that is very disruptive –  as much of detail of daily life will be altered permanently.  I remember when I was in the process of divorce wondering where I would find a place to live, how would I meet new and prospective partners and who would do the laundry, shopping and clean the new place?  Saying it like that makes it sound trivial, but a great deal of my thinking about divorce was just that trivial as I considered the details of my daily routine and wondered about them in the context of the new existence.  When something in life disrupts our routine and forces us to change, the anxiety caused by a move from a comfortable routine into an unfamiliar and strange one is an important factor; and it is often the factor that makes change most difficult as any manager who has ever tried to introduce change into the world place knows.

There is another force in resistance to change that I think can be as significant and in some cases even more so; identity.   Our personality and our sense of who we are is very much influenced by what we do and what we advocate.  To take up riding a motor cycle, wearing leather, getting tattoos and roaring down the highway would be very difficult for me, not because of the motor cycle, but because of the stereotypes associated with those behaviors are incompatible with the image I have cultivated over the last 50 years of my adulthood. I would find it just as difficult to drive some kinds of cars, live in some houses, neighborhoods, cities or states, wear some fashions, register for some political parties and so on.  Major changes to my behavior or my advocated beliefs would not be easy to do, but not because of the discomfort of leaving an easy familiar place for an uncertain one.  It would be difficult because I would be denying some of my previous positions and, at least by implication, admitting that I was wrong or dishonest in either my old position or in my new one.

Today, I was listening to a lengthy piece on Al-Jazeera about an American Jew, Norman Finkelstein, who is an outspoken critic of Israel and most Jewish organizations.  Since the early 1980s he has been very vocal in his anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian position .  He has done a great deal of research in Palestine and is very knowledgeable.  He is also trapped in his own rhetoric.  Prior to that piece, Al-Jazeera broadcast part of a debate in England sponsored by the Economist; the debate was sparked by the Wikileaks controversy.  It featured three debaters from each side, the pro-whistle blowers, including Julian Assange, and those that felt Wikileaks was a threat to the security of many countries and illegal.  Just as Finkelstein had some very solid foundations for his arguments so did the all of the debaters. The pro-whistle blowers were called self-serving, profiteers by their opponents, however the whistle-blowing leakers saw themselves as citizens of the world, making the world safer and exposing the lies of the corrupt.  It was a very interesting, informed and in depth debate.

Both issues, Israel-Palestine and whistle-blowing are very complicated – much too complicated for me to solve or even articulate in a few hundred words.  They stimulated me to think about more than just those issues.  I started to wonder what it would take to convince one of those people to change their position. Finkelstein (and Assange) has made a life and created an identity around his political position.  He could marry and divorce a dozen women without creating one tenth of difficulty that changing his public opinions on the Middle East would create.  Assange I suspect would have the same difficulty, both have earned their livings and supported their life-styles via their opinions and activities. They have become what the advocate.

For Finkelstein and Assange, changing would require a new source of income and a new life; but, however important that might be to either or both, I think the real difficulty would be in admitting being wrong and defending the new position.  I think of my own case; could I give up advocating running and a vegetarian diet?  How about switching to television, sports and barbecues as a source of entertainment and a way to spend my time?   I could pick other things, but these work; they work to illustrate that I am not objective in thinking about them, or willing to really listen to and consider opposing positions.  That is another reason to suspect the opinions of most stringent advocates of any cause and – this is the frightening bit – to suspect one’s own opinion. If I can’t  trust myself to be objective and logical, who can I trust?


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April 2011
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