People Do Not Fear Change.

I have considered the notion of change for as long as I can remember, in realms that span from family to military to church and theology to community and social change to politics. Both philosophically and logistically, I believe that understanding the nature of change is essential both to feeling and to fostering peace. Yes, I think it’s that big. And in this essay I want to share a distillation of my thoughts on the matter of change. I hope this prompts in the reader some new understanding, strategies for working toward as well as accepting change, and maybe some peace.

People do not like change. Right? New requirements for filing personal income taxes, revised dress codes for work, new hymnals with songs the organist doesn’t even play well, daylight savings when the clocks roll forward, neighbors who put the snowbank where the previous neighbors had understood to be part of my walkway, kids these days and their crazy music, whatever. Change is bad.

Not true. People love change. Increase in pay, fewer unwanted tasks required at work, cute babies and kittens, wisdom I couldn’t conceive of when I was younger, local grocer finally carrying locally-grown produce, daylight savings when the clocks roll back and I feel like I’ve just been given a secret gift of time itself, the clarity of HD television, etc. Change is awesome.

Look. I can distill my entire understanding of change into one sentence. I have been quoted in countless papers as having said this in a lecture somewhere, although I first heard it in a management seminar and it’s rightly credited to an author and professor of U.S. history named Gary Donaldson. He was referring to management and I am referring to everything.

People do not fear change; they fear loss.

Please take that in. Take a second and think about an upcoming change you are dreading, something you fear is going to happen and you wish with all your might that you could keep this change from occurring. I need you to think of something you can relate to, so conjure that image. What’s probably going to change for you and you wish it wouldn’t? I’ll wait…

Have you got something in mind, I hope?

The reason people would prefer to keep something at the status quo is that they fear losing something if it were to change. It is that simply profound. Here are the basic questions to ask when someone says that one fears change, and they are the two questions I’m posing to you:

  1. What specifically do you think you will be losing if this change happens?
  2. Is it right/fair/just for you to hold onto that thing?

If it’s something of which one should rightly let go, then there is real grief to attend to. If it is something that one has a just claim to keeping, then there is something worth fighting for. The discernment in both instances has to do with loss, not change. Many of us see effecting change as a part of our calling or purpose in life – community and social change, social justice, any sort of refining or recentering. In creating change we are creating real as well as perceived losses. Those of us who are in a so-called caring profession must keep these things in mind. People don’t fear change. There needs to be discussion about the losses, within the core values and framework of however the person or group makes meaning. Use this as a starting point for your discussions.

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