ChangeReflectionMay 9, 20181Let’s Get Better At Changing

We can't stop change. Let's get better at it.

You’ve prob­a­bly seen some ver­sion of this info­graph­ic about adop­tion rates of new tech­nol­o­gy over the past 150 years:

I see this as just one indi­ca­tor of the ramp­ing up of the over­all pace of change in our lives.  Imag­ine liv­ing at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry and decid­ing whether to have a tele­phone in your house, or elec­tric light­ing. You could debate and think and argue about it for years with­out feel­ing like any­thing was pass­ing you by or that there was any real pres­sure to make a deci­sion. And mean­while, the rest of your life would be flow­ing on, pret­ty much sta­tus quo.  That was how we humans lived for thou­sands of years.  And though I’m sure the 1890s felt very mod­ern and fast to the peo­ple liv­ing through them (Trav­el­ing by train from New York to LA in less than 4 days! Women demon­strat­ing for the right to vote!), most every­one spent their whole lives doing the same work, being a part of the same fam­i­ly, liv­ing in the same place, eat­ing the same food, using the same tools and ways of doing things, hav­ing the same friends.

Now, all these core life ele­ments can and do change reg­u­lar­ly for most of us. And the deci­sion about whether to adopt a new tech­nol­o­gy is made in a moment.…and then again the next moment. My con­clu­sion? We need to get bet­ter at chang­ing in order to thrive in the 21st century.

I’ve come to believe that fear of and unwill­ing­ness or inabil­i­ty to change are the biggest risks we face today. For instance, it’s at the heart of the polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al divide we’re liv­ing through in the US. Those who want to “make Amer­i­ca great again” long to return to a time that makes sense to them, where white men made most of the key deci­sions and held most of the pow­er; where indus­tri­al jobs were plen­ti­ful and sta­ble and paid a wage that could sup­port a whole fam­i­ly; where cap­tains of busi­ness could do what they want­ed and work­ers had to go along; where Amer­i­ca was the most pow­er­ful nation in the world and called most of the shots; where sci­ence did­n’t offer new and con­fus­ing and con­fronting real­i­ties on a dai­ly basis; where women and peo­ple of col­or and non-chris­tians and les­bians and gays did­n’t speak up and did­n’t have to be includ­ed in the con­ver­sa­tion or the halls of power.

Sor­ry folks: it’s sim­ply not going to hap­pen. Once the genie of change has been let out of the bot­tle, noth­ing — not leg­is­la­tion or shout­ing, not vio­lence or will­ful igno­rance — is going to stuff it back in. And the present admin­is­tra­tions’ attempts to drag us back to that ear­li­er, less change-filled era are going to fail miserably.

What I’d sug­gest instead is that we get good at chang­ing.  That we man­age our fear and resis­tance and learn to view rad­i­cal, con­tin­u­ous change as an inevitable part of mod­ern life.  That we rely on those things that tru­ly are uni­ver­sal and time­less — love, humil­i­ty, courage, curios­i­ty, joy. That we get good at learn­ing quick­ly, adapt­ing eas­i­ly, and cre­at­ing new habits and new ways of think­ing. And that we learn to assess any new idea or thing as objec­tive­ly as pos­si­ble, so that we can respond in a way that sup­ports the great­est good to the great­est num­ber of peo­ple in this ever-chang­ing world.

There’s no way back: we can only find the best way forward.

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