We expect change from everyone, except ourselves

A Reflection on the Status of the Concept of Change in Iranian Culture
Ebrahim Aslani
Cultural Psychologist

You’re standing in line at the bakery. Someone who is a friend or acquaintance of the baker arrives. They get their bread without waiting in turn and leave. A discussion and analysis among those present ensues: “Sir, what kind of behavior is this? People have no fairness at all. Doesn’t the person see that all these people are standing in line?” Everyone says everything, although few dare to protest directly to the baker himself.

You’re sitting in a taxi. Another car overtakes improperly or drives badly, not giving way to others. The inappropriate words of the taxi driver can’t be written here, but you’ve surely heard such remarks: “It seems like that guy just bought his car today. It’s the leasing companies’ fault for letting every senseless person dare to buy a car on installment and throw it under their feet. What kind of driving is this…”

On the street, you see someone throw trash out of their car. You and your friend start a detailed discussion about the lack of manners among people and their inconsideration. You bring up many examples and instances to prove that yes! People don’t respect anything.

In family gatherings, parties, work environments, on the bus, in shops, and everywhere, numerous opportunities arise to criticize the behavior of an individual or a group and then analyze and critique it. One of the wonders of these times is that, firstly, everyone has subjects for fault-finding and criticism; secondly, everyone is a critic and analyst; and thirdly, everyone agrees in such discussions. It’s enough for someone to make a point or give an example; then everyone spontaneously joins the fray, like a seminar where individuals have submitted papers and their papers have been accepted; they give their opinions expertly. In the end, the direction of the discussion invariably leads to everyone agreeing that:
– People do not respect each other.
– Everyone is only thinking of themselves.
– And the social situation is not good at all.

At the heart of these discussions is something that perhaps no one explicitly mentions, but everyone seeks: change. When we criticize actions and behaviors, it implicitly means that the situation should not be this way and that society needs change.

We Iranians have a knack for analysis and criticism. This starts with grumbling and extends to sarcasm and innuendo. Then comes the turn of popular criticisms, which have their own levels. Sometimes, we can also see fundamental and logical criticisms. In criticism, the concept of separating good from bad is evident, but the concept of change is implicit.
– Parents who find fault in their child’s behavior
– A teacher who expects their student to act according to their opinion
– A boss who is not satisfied with the performance of their employees
– People who criticize the behavior of others
– And each one of us who finds a behavior or action not to our liking;
In fact, we are either looking for a change or hoping for a change that will improve the situation. Even if we are not very optimistic about change, we still continue to criticize, hoping that something might happen or, at the very least, to find some solace!

A subtle point in our Iranian social behavior is the expectation of change from others. Interestingly, we sometimes criticize others as if everyone else is problematic, except for ourselves. In the same way, we always expect change from others and, said or unsaid, consider ourselves exempt from the need to change.

* Parents expect their children to be disciplined, polite, achieve high grades, be punctual, clean, etc., but which child dares to criticize their parents’ behavior and expect them to change? And which parent would allow their child to do so?
* A teacher expects students to study, be disciplined, and behave, but which teacher can tolerate and accept criticism?
* A boss or manager feels entitled to be dissatisfied, to command and reprimand, and to expect all kinds of changes, but which boss or manager sees change as a two-way street?
* You and I criticize everyone for everything. We go to great lengths to prove that others lack manners and that the state of social behaviors is severely flawed. In this way, we expect many things to change and many people at various levels to alter their thoughts and behaviors to suit our preferences.

Understanding the Concept of Change
The neighbor’s chicken might actually be a goose, but sometimes the neighbor’s behavior is even more problematic than that of the chicken. In our culture, we have two contradictory behaviors. Sometimes we perceive others’ possessions and abilities as better and more significant than our own. This is more about our mindset and perception of others. Other times, we attribute faults and flaws to others, ensuring our own robes remain unstained. The occurrence of either behavior depends on various factors and conditions, depending on which is more advantageous.

The important point in both behaviors is judging based on others. In many cases, our standards for analysis and criticism are those around us, the people who live in our vicinity.

Understanding the concept of change starts not with others, but with ourselves. Before that, there must be a need, a necessity, a desire, and a belief in change. This is a point that requires much contemplation in our culture. One of the subconscious reasons for the lack of readiness for change is the belief that it’s too late for us, meaning our behaviors and habits have become so ingrained that change is no longer possible. This sentiment is often heard from many, even sometimes from the youth: “It’s too late for us.” When someone thinks this way, they no longer make an effort to change.

Change is often difficult and sometimes even stressful. It comes at a cost and requires not just behavioral adjustments but also internal transformations. Perhaps that’s why we prefer others to change rather than ourselves.

For a parent, it’s easier to ask their child to be organized and tidy. To put their socks in a specific place. To hang up their clothes when they come home. Not to leave their books and notebooks just anywhere. To be punctual and many other expectations. Have you ever considered what percentage of Iranian parents are themselves organized and tidy?

In our society, many people have expectations that they themselves do not meet:
– We teach our children the rules of driving and traffic, but we don’t follow them ourselves.
– We expect others to observe manners and politeness, but sometimes we ourselves trample on them with a thousand and one justifications.
– We speak ill of nepotism and bribery, but occasionally we consider them permissible for ourselves.
– We complain about how people are treated in offices and how their work is not done properly, but sometimes we inflict the same troubles on others.

Don’t Sing Lullabies!
They say: “If you know how to sing lullabies, why don’t you sing them to yourself?” But I think we have been asleep long enough. It’s better not to sing lullabies anymore and to make good use of the opportunities of being awake.

Let’s look within ourselves; how ready am I for change, what thoughts and behaviors within me need to change, and where should I start for change?

After this, when you want to criticize someone who:
– Doesn’t wait their turn at the bakery
– Overtakes illegally on the street
– Doesn’t give up their seat to the elderly on the bus
– Talks loudly on their phone in a taxi
– Isn’t careful of their surroundings while walking on the sidewalk
– Engages in nepotism and bribery
– Deceives others
And anyone else you criticize, go ahead and criticize; but don’t forget yourself. If others’ actions are wrong, to what extent are yours right? If others need to change, how much do you need to change? If the state of others’ behaviors is not good, what is your own state?