In the past week, we have been treated to amazing images of the the leaders of North and South Korea meeting in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between their borders, to discuss peace and the possibility of ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons. The zone has existed for nearly 65 years, following a ceasefire of a war that has never formally ended. This is the same zone where, just 6 months ago, a North Korean soldier was shot trying to escape to the other side.
Since the war, South Korea has flourished as a prosperous democracy despite the incessant threat of attack and potential annihilation. They have created consumer brands that are so successful – such as Samsung, LG, Kia and Hyundai – that most of us have bought at least one of them. On the other hand, North Korea has become increasingly secretive and isolated, reeling from the effects of sanctions on their regional and international trade. Just last year, their leader, Kim Jong-un, was trading threats and insults with President Trump, even as he tested ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan and the United States. There were tense moments when CNN, BBC and other news networks were warning of a possible ‘World War III’.
So, what changed? Well, lots of things. Sanctions were beginning to bite, once the Chinese decided to clamp down on trade. The US got tougher on policing shipping lanes and warning its allies to be more stringent in preventing sanction-busting by their own nationals. And, of course, Trump began to soften his stance in response to overtures from Kim.
However, all of this meant very little until Kim Jong-un made a decision. The decision was to meet – first with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, and then with Trump, perhaps as soon as next month (May). Ultimately, for any significant change to take place, someone has to make a decision, no matter how difficult.
Sometimes, when a major transformation is required, we tend to refer to change as ‘a process’; one that will take a great deal of time and effort. Or, we use the cliches, ‘change is inevitable’ or ‘change is constant’, suggesting that we are not really in control of something that happens whether we participate or not.
My attitude towards change altered some years ago when I attended a Tony Robbins programme, Unleash the Power Within. Tony talked about the common belief that personal transformation is always a gradual process. He disagreed and said something I was hearing for the first time: “Change is a decision.” It took me a while to understand what he meant – until the truth revealed itself.
You can change almost anything with a decision. Once you decide, all you have to do is follow through and persevere – nothing is the same after you make that commitment. You can wish, hope, plan or strategise – but until you decide and act, nothing will happen. I’ve found this to be true at various times, when it feels like my plans are not quite working out. After some brutal honesty and self-examination, I can always trace the problem back to the absence of a strong and unequivocal decision on my part.
Recent events in Korea have reminded me of how quickly even the most dire of situations can be altered by a far-reaching decision. Imagine – six months ago, we were contemplating a global conflict that last week seemed to dissolve in smiles and warm embraces between the leaders of two countries that have been sworn enemies. Time will tell whether they follow through on all the promises being made.
If you are in the middle of your own dire circumstances, what smart or tough decision could you make that would change the situation forever? Maybe you know exactly what to do but lack the courage to do so. The truth is that the situation will change over time, for better or worse, whether you act or not. So, it’s probably better if you were in control of what happens next.
Make that decision. You’ll be glad you did.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ~ Leon Tolstoy