Managing Change

This is a haughty topic, one that I’ve been noodling on for as long as I can remember. The old adage that the only things certain in life are death and taxes misses a key 3rd item – change. Change is inevitable. There is nothing you can do to stop it, at best you can redirect it or have some impact on its effects.

Change occurs for a multitude of reasons, though primarily due to a a powerful agent. In changes we cannot control, these agents are fundamental – like water eroding a mountainside. In change we can control, the agents are often so complex that the we can only see them from our vantage point. If you’ve never been stopped by a cop because of the colour of your skin, it’s impossible for you to understand, let alone empathize. Sometimes change comes from a need, like smoke detectors being mandatory in your home. You could make a career out of analyzing the root cause of a given change – that’s pretty much what ancient history is all about.

You can’t stop change. Change is like a flow of water, if it hits a block somewhere, it will search for a new one elsewhere. You’re unlikely to have any success impacting the agent of change. There’s nothing you or I, as individuals, could have done to stopped the crash of ‘08 which impacted the global markets and nearly every person on the planet in some form. The people responsible for detecting that change agent were complicit in creating it. Our history (and current state) is full of examples of civil wars where the change agent was repressed and eventually overcame.

You can redirect change. A slight nudge early can dramatically alter the long term impacts. Like if you know your company is looking at job cuts, you can choose to ride it out and wait for the package, or you can start looking NOW and get ahead of the hundreds of others who will be in the same boat as you. If you see that your kid is struggling with reading, then taking time when they are young will dramatically alter their learning experience for the rest of their lives. If you are cautious about a change, then you can potentially defer it until that comfort is found – like waiting for extra research on a new drug.

But let’s say for a minute you don’t accept the change, you don’t want to be part of it. Plenty of people who have done that. Maybe you don’t want to accept that your kid may be a pothead. Or that there is no future in coal mining. Or that maybe, based on the colour of your skin, there are doors that open and close. We often see folks say “I didn’t see it coming”, which is certainly possible – 50 years ago. In 2020, it’s the opposite. The ease of which social media allows for outright hatred and lies to spread is unprecedented. Smart and rational people have all but given up their ability to think, in exchange for group ownership. This “group hive” mentality is an amazing defence mechanism to change – as a group you can have a larger impact on the redirection of change, thereby limiting its impacts on you. This is how the “church” (all of them) operates, through doctrine to manage change. Waiting to accept that gays exist? Hope the Pope says its ok, otherwise it’s not.

There’s a concept of change fatigue, where so much changes so fast that people lose their sense of stability and self. It feels like you’re in the middle of the ocean, struggling to stay afloat, swimming for shore – only for another wave to push you farther out. I’ve certainly been there, more than once. It’s exhausting, depressing, an isolating. You’ll grab on to the first thing you see in the hope that it can help. There are people who know this, people who prey on the weak, exploiting their critical needs. You seem them every day on television, preaching the us vs them mentality. How your neighbour is secretly stealing your wifi, or the lady on the bus is planning to take your job.

So what do we do about it? Is it just a lost cause? No, we need to show empathy and compassion. We need to show acceptance of the struggles of managing change. And we need consequences for those that abuse the power of seeing change through, those that prey on the weak. We need to reward those who help others, and understand that it’s a strength to change overtime, not a weakness. Changing your idea based on new, reputable information, is exactly how it’s supposed to work. It’s why we don’t have lead paint or gas in our cars.

If we don’t, and we continue to reward those that sow division and resistance to change, there is only one outcome. It’s up to us all to figure out if that’s what we really want.

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