Recently within the Leadership Think Tank discussion group of LinkedIn, a rather long thread has evolved and taken on a life of its own regarding whether it is possible for people to change. It seems many of us have something to say about it! I have written elsewhere about this subject, and also added my comment to the thread.

There are many wonderful ideas on the thread, but in some ways it is a hapless question. If you say that people can change, you are going to have to face all the good arguments against that belief, and if you don’t believe people can change, you are going to have to encounter all the good reasons to believe they can.

I only want to add the thought there are times when, like a hermit crab, I believe we have to abandon a once comfortable shell that we have outgrown. If we want to be bigger — if we need to be — we have to leave one shell behind and take our chances in the open until we find another. Sometimes this is a difficult process and takes a long time; sometimes things almost magically come together.

I would say this pretty much explains the last twenty years or so of my life. It also has implications for making decisions about who we can best help and how.

I’m sure you can see what side of the argument I am on.


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  • I love the imagery of the hermit crab – very apropos … and a rather poetic rendering of the punctuated equilibrium of change!

  • Ah, Joe…so good to hear your voice. Back from New Mexico, I’ve heard.

    “The punctuating equilibrium of change?” and you call me out for being poetic?

    Sometime I’ll tell you the deeper story of why shells are so important to me….or perhaps I have already, on one of those nights when you’ve brought out your flights of rare and wonderful wines!

  • I believe we all have the power within us to change…if we "want" to.

  • I look forward to learning more about that deeper story, and we will certainly match it with some wine of appropriate depth.

    Meanwhile, as serendipity would have it, last night I randomly opened up my copy of David Whyte’s most recent collection of poetry, River Flow, to a page with his poem “The Shell”. Given your interest in shells, I’m sure you’ve encountered it before. For the potential benefit of your readers (including myself), I’ll just paste the first stanza here:

    An open sandy shell
    on the beach
    empty but beautiful
    like a memory
    of a protected previous self.
    The most difficult griefs
    ones in which
    we slowly open
    to a larger sea, a grander
    sweep that washes
    all our elements apart.

  • Therese, read the LinkedIn thread when you get a chance. It's a fascinating display of assumptions about the nature of people…

  • There are many kinds of shells.

    All of them symbolize the full cycle of growth, beginnings and endings….Shells are lives piled up on the beach; the many lives we have lived in a single lifetime. Sherl Crow said in one of her songs, “We can live lifetimes in a single day.” How true. Shells and more shells: periods, phases, stages; relationships, vocations, beliefs; past, present, future. All with their own cycle of being. We all live along that shore on the edge of….(well, what’s your name for it?)

    Photo Credit

  • Byron Murray wrote:


    How about on the edge of belief and faith? Belief in the capacity and faith in the encounter to help us see how wonderful our differences are. Byron

  • Ah, one good answer! Beautiful, Byron!

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