Friday, November 19, 2010


Change! It’s everywhere. It’s rapid. It’s huge. It can be overwhelming. Some say the only constant in life is change. Resistance is futile. Build a bridge and get over it.

But, is all change good? A friend of mine, who also was my computer tech, often said, “Progress is not always progress.” It is legitimate to ask if computers have really saved us any time? Or, has the paperless society really resulted in less paper being consumed? In fact, it is appropriate for us to weigh the pros and cons of any change—to ask the tough questions.

And how do we cope with all this change and when does change become too much for people to handle? Everyone has their own capacity for change. When they reach that threshold, stress increases and we can see that manifest in anger or even violence. Certainly, stress resulting from too much change is the one reason many people have heart disease, hypertension, high blood pressure, ulcers, and headaches—even cold sores can be attributed to stress. Those are the physiological manifestations of stress caused by too much change, but what about the psychological impacts—psychotic breakdowns, frayed nerves, and people who take it out on their fellow workers or their family?

I took a course on Change Management when I attended the Institute for Organizational Management back in the early 90’s. Everyone in that class was under the same misconception that we would learn how to control all the change around us and thus reduce the stress. Wrong! What we learned is that change is all around us and most of it is virtually out of our control. But, what we can do is develop coping mechanisms to help us deal with change—to build that bridge and get over it. Most of our coping mechanisms take the form of habits; those things we do routinely that take our mind off of everything else and restore that sense of control we have lost. Obsessive compulsive behavior fills this need for many of us. The instructor told a story about a guy who was experiencing extraordinary change in his workplace. His coping mechanism was his sock drawer! He would go home every night and admire the way each pair of socks were matched, folded, and in their place—just the way he wanted them; the way they should be.

For me, this guy’s sock drawer was somewhat of an epiphany. You have to know my wife. She is an artist and a writer, a left-brain person. I am more anal compulsive and right brained. We are a match made in heaven because together we have the full compliment of left and right-brain thinking, but I digress. At our house, one can find the scissors have been put away in any one of five drawers. Historically, it drove me nuts because I always wondered why the scissors could not be put in one drawer where they belonged. The sock drawer story made me realize that the reason I was so obsessive about the scissors was that I was looking for stability at home to help me cope with all the change at work. What a brilliant flash of genius! When I got home I was eager to explain my new revelation about my behavior and foolishly thought my wife would fully understand. But, no, she blithely told me, “That’s nice, Honey, but don’t expect me to change.” Argh!

So what are we to do about all this change in our lives and in society. I recently read an essay by Philip Kennicott, staff writer for the Washington Post: The Civil War taught us to fight for the right to be wrong. Yes, the Civil War Sesquicentennial is in 2011 and Americans will once again go through the exercise of second guessing our history and the motives of those long gone. The essence of the essay is that the South seceded from the Union because they were resisting the inevitable change of the abolition of slavery. In hindsight, which of course is always 20/20 vision, I believe we all agree that slavery was wrong and abolishing it was the right thing to do. But, there were significant cultural and economic barriers to change in 1861. In some ways, the die of secession had already been cast and the Civil War occurred because people fixated on their differences and not on their common ground. It often happens that way.

Today in our nation, we have seen a lot of change in our governance. Many people believe that over the last seventy or so years, this country has enacted programs that have gradually moved our economy away from a free enterprise system and to a more socialist system. The enactment of health care reform this year has been for many a straw that is breaking the camel’s back. People have reacted by organizing and mobilizing. I have never heard more “revolutionary” rhetoric since the anti-Viet Nam War protests of the 60’s. But, it is for all of us to consider whether people are “fighting for the right to be wrong” or whether this particular kind of change is bad.

I would argue that the change we are experiencing in our government and economy is not good. Communism and its diminutive form, socialism, have failed elsewhere in the world and these systems do not work largely because they ignore the basic needs and motivations of humans. I believe, therefore, it is important to resist this kind of change through every peaceable means available to us. The free enterprise system works and is worthy of our defense. It generates the most wealth for the greatest number of people. As for me, I will not be bullied into accepting change just because some progressive tells me it is the natural course of things or that it is for the greater good.

And one of those forms of resistance, fortunately for us, was built into our Constitutional form of government. Our Founding Fathers built a system of check and balances, and intentionally or not, the end result has been bureaucracy. While normally considered to be a bad thing, I believe bureaucracy is the keel of the ship of state. Were it not for bureaucracy, each political change in administrations could conceivably change the course of the ship of state 180 degrees. As it is, each new administration can only get what can be characterized as a course correction of 5 or 10 degrees, to the left or to the right, and then they spend the rest of their time tying down the wheel and welding the rudder.

Change—it is inevitable, or is it? Change is always about progress, or is it? Should we all just find a way to cope with change and consider it to be just a fact of life—build a bridge and get over it. Or, should we consider the merits of change—the pros and cons of any particular change—and then work for it or against it based on what we believe to be best for our families, communities, and the country?

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