Sunday, July 24, 2011

Change Happens. Quit Whining About It

It seems most people would like the world to stay exactly the same as it is right now.

Whenever something changes or is about to change, people come out of the woodwork to bitch about it. A few years ago, my city voted to build a cineplex and parking garage downtown. It seemed like a good idea — we had no movie theater, parking in town was always a problem, and it would bring much-needed tax dollars to the city. But immediately, lawn signs started springing up: STOP THE MEGAPLEX! Letters to the paper argued that the "gargantuan" structure would destroy the character of downtown, increase traffic and pollution, etc. People liked the town the way it was, and they wanted it to stay like that. Period.

Of course, now everyone loves our movie theater.

A recent news broadcast profiled the coming transition of the Golden Gate Bridge to an all-electronic toll system. Toll takers were told they'd be out of a job in 18 months. Naturally, they lamented the change. "It's gonna be a ghost town around here," said one of the toll takers. (Aside from the 120,000 vehicles per day, I suppose.) The same program reported that a struggling local city needed to restructure its school district, consolidating schools and closing several of them. Angry parents pleaded with the city council — it is "so sad" for schools to close after all these years, it's stressful for a child to change schools and make new friends, etc. And it seems just about every month, a local bookstore or video store falls victim to the Internet. It's all so terribly sad. ("For years, I've been going to Border's to decide what to buy on Amazon. Where will I look at books for free now?")

Yes. Change can be sad. When it happens against our wishes, we get angry. But it's inevitable, our efforts to prevent it notwithstanding. Children grow up, despite their parents' desire to "protect their innocence" for as long as possible. Marriages split up, after many miserable years of trying to make it work. Old people die, despite modern medicine's efforts to keep even the most hopeless patients alive, so that the family can put off being sad just a little bit longer.

Obviously, losing a person or anything else of real value is sad, but I don't understand this automatic connection between change and sadness or resentment. Perhaps people feel that the world around them can and should remain unchanged as they go about their life. Maybe being disabused of that idea is why people feel loss when confronted with any change at all. They bemoan "the end of an era," because that's just what you say when something changes. Gay marriage is opposed because it "redefines marriage," which is just another way of saying it's the end of an era when only certain couples could marry. People tend to stay loyal to brands, and they scream when their brands change or go away. Even the most inconsequential changes, such as changing the name of a street, are resented. ("It'll always be Cripplegook to me, dammit!")

We should fight this instinct and actively embrace change. In the long run, change usually works out for the better. You might have to put up with the road being dug up for 18 months, but when it's over there will be a new subway. You may have had to replace your VHS collection with DVDs, but how sad is it to no longer have to rewind them? We all know someone who once lost a job or relationship, yet later described it as the best thing that could have happened, for one reason or another. Even the saddest thing of all, death, has an upside. We'd never be here today if old life didn't die off and make way for new life. (Although I've gotta say, when all those dinosaurs died it was literally the end of an era....)

The next time something changes that makes you sad or resentful, ask yourself where this emotion might be coming from. It is because the world is moving on and you aren't ready for it? Is nostalgia playing a dominant role? Have you considered the upside and the long-term view? Beware of a stodgy perspective justifying your reaction. ("Well of course the hardware store closing is sad — they've known me for 40 years, dadgummit. I mean, go to Home Depot and try to find castor oil and Shinola. Crying shame, it is.")

The world is dynamic. It evolves and moves on, usually for the better, in one way or another. If you try to stand in the way of that, for no other reason than the fact that it's change, you're more of a problem than a solution.

Click on the cartoon (twice) to enlarge it.


  1. It could be that the change reminds them of their own impermanence, of their inevitable death. I don't know, do normal people think like that?

  2. Not possible, why would a christian be worried about dying?

    On a more serious note, change angers individuals because it is seen as an inconvenience.