Wednesday, March 11, 2009


In the BBC mini-series version of George Eliot's novel Middlemarch,* Mr. Brooke, waxing eloquent in a political speech about change, declares that "since it's bound to happen anyhow, I'm all for it!"

As trite as his statement is, Mr. Brooke is right about change. People change, times change, attitudes change, and there's not much that we can do about it. When faced with big changes that are out of our hands, we can go one of two ways: stubbornly hold on to the way things were despite all evidence to the contrary, or adjust to the changes and look for new opportunities that result from this change.

For example, the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is quite clear. We must change our carbon-emitting ways, and fast. But for decades, the big oil companies, the United States government, and others with a big stake in the status quo have denied this and fought carbon emissions restrictions, alternative energy research, and energy efficiency regulations every step of the way. If they had instead realized that the change was something that they could take advantage of to broaden their product portfolio, develop new technologies, and create jobs, things would be a lot different today. And in fact, slowly we see that the oil companies are diversifying into alternative energy, as they are beginning to see the writing on the wall.

The people in our lives change, too, and I think it's really important to see them as ever-evolving rather than static beings. For example, it would be ridiculous to hold against me the fact that some thirty years ago, I regularly peed in my pants. Why then, is it so easy for people to hold grudges against junior high classmates, or treat their adult children as if they are still petulant brats?

It's vitally important to allow people the breathing room to change -- to be a different person than they were ten years, ten months, or even ten hours ago. For example, a person near and dear to me was once a very rigid perfectionist. Sometimes, her perfectionism, and the silent judgments she was passing over you for being so imperfect, made it hard to be around her. But if you met her now, you'd hardly even know she used to be that way.

I used to tease this person about her perfectionism, in an effort to get her to lighten up. But you know, she has moved on from perfectionism, and I no longer tease her about perfectionism, or even bring it up with her. She's stopped being so judgmental, and, taking a page from her new book, so have I when it comes to her. But doing so required noticing and respecting her changes. It required leaving behind my old, well-worn, behavioral ruts and my automatic reactions. It required thinking of new opportunities to interact with her, and adjusting my behaviors accordingly. And it was one of the best things I ever did -- I count this person as one of my dearest allies in this world, and I never would have found that kind of relationship with her had I continued to relate to her in the same static way.

I've heard it said that the only constant in life is change. Since it's bound to happen anyhow, you may as well make the best of it.

* This line does not actually appear in the novel, but it does succinctly express the character's attitude about change (he is the worst, most regressive landlord in the county).

No comments: