I was struck by what AL Kennedy said in A Point of View on BBC Radio 4 last week about how “every analysis of what makes lucky and happy people lucky and happy demonstrates they adapt fast and well to new situations and people”. I share her reluctance to allow – let alone embrace – change and I too know this attitude actually makes life more difficult for me.
Resisting change is about trying to control our world. We feel safe with what’s familiar, however unsatisfactory it may be, because we know and understand it; when things change, we have to adjust and get used to something new. Plus there’s the whole issue around how change happens whether we want it to or not, which highlights how little control we really have over the world.
So strong is my aversion to change, I would prefer to carry on struggling with outmoded technology than get to grips with an unfamiliar system – a system far more efficient and effective than the old one. I know this is ridiculous and I’m blessed with friends who are enthusiastic early adapters themselves, always in the vanguard of the technological revolution and evangelistic about the advantages of the newfangled solutions. These friends bounce me along with them and every time I’m forced to take a step forward I realise within a few days how much better and easier the new way of doing things is.
Embracing positive change may be surprisingly difficult for sticks-in-the-mud like me but I imagine most of us can see the benefit of doing so. Attempting to “impose stillness on a universe which is in motion”, as AL Kennedy puts it, is a waste of energy we could be using to embrace the change and move ourselves forward in life. But what if the change we’re willing not to happen is a negative one? Well, in some ways it’s even more important we should force ourselves to confront it. If your marriage is on the rocks or you’re about to be made redundant, refusing to contemplate the situation can only make it worse. For a start, having a good hard look at a major negative change on the horizon gives us a chance to take action to prevent it.
Even if the change is inevitable, though, being prepared for it makes all the difference to how well we can cope when the time comes. I’ve always known this at some level but it was demonstrated clearly again by the death of our beloved grandmother. We had a few months’ notice of this sad event, as Grandma’s body grew frailer and frailer and her mind became more and more detached from reality, but my sister was unable to use this time to prepare herself: between a demanding job and young children, she never has an opportunity to stop and reflect. In a quite different position, I was able to devote a lot of time and thought to coming to terms with the prospect of Grandma leaving us. When the time came, I was so well prepared that the transition was nothing like the emotional taser it was for my poor dear sister.
Embracing change, then, doesn’t necessarily mean welcoming it. It means letting it into our consciousness and gradually into our heart, getting to know it so that we’re no longer afraid of it.
There’s a lovely hymn that sums up the attitude I’m working to develop. A couple of the verses go:
Not for ever in green pastures / Do we ask out way to be, / But the steep and rugged pathway / May we tread rejoicingly.
Not for ever by still waters / Would we idly rest and stay, / But would smite the living fountains / From the rocks along our way.
Burying one’s head in the sand is a natural instinct for many people as well as ostriches but it does nothing to help us deal with life’s challenges. The world we live in is in a constant state of flux and if we don’t learn to accept that, we’ll be condemned to spend our life fighting – and losing – futile battles, such as King Canute’s apocryphal attempt to hold back the tide of the English Channel.