Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, CERG Staff Lead
There is an old joke – a very old joke – that says the only people who welcome change are babies with wet diapers. And yet we face changes every day. One might think we’d be used to it by now.
I can easily understand why we might resist change if something that is working or something we love is going to shift for the worse. The change might be inevitable and we’ll have to learn to accept it; but I can understand why we would resist. But why do we resist change that is clearly, logically for the better? Why do we fuss when we are presented with positive change in something that isn’t currently working?
Recently, I have assisted several congregations with rethinking their committee structures. Their current structures were not working. Some congregations had literally dozens of committees, many non-functioning, others with only 1 or 2 members. The committees had unclear charges and overlapping responsibilities and there were resulting turf battles. It was nearly impossible to find volunteers to staff them and those brave souls who did, faced burn-out. The systems simply did not work.
And yet, after the boards of these congregations gathered input from members and struggled with developing a workable, logical new structure – one that everyone on the committees agreed was much better – there was still obvious and painful resistance by some to the new system. Why?
I know that we humans have evolved to love stability. We want to be confident that the sun will rise tomorrow. We want to know where our next meal is coming from and that we are safe. That certainly accounts for some resistance – we are uncomfortable when our stable situation is disrupted even if we don’t like the state of the stable situation.
Along the same lines, we fear the unknown. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Better the bad situation that you know well than a new one with uncertainties.
And we fear loss in the midst of change. Even if we are changing to something better and we know that intellectually, we fear losing something that, at one point, had value to us. Even if the situation is bad now, at one point in the past it did work or it did have meaning and we remember that fondly.
And we fear loss of control. The current system may be bad, but we know how to work at least some small part of it. And we like that small part; we know how to control it. We know where we stand in the larger system.
While all of the above concerns and fears are present to one extent or another in times of change, I think the greatest fear about change is that we will have to change ourselves. We have to adapt to a new system, to a new way of interacting, to a new understanding of our place in the structure. That means personal, internal change. That’s probably the hardest hurdle to face and very likely operating at the root of our resistance to positive change for the better.
Gandhi once said that we have to BE the change we want to see in the world. This is more than revising things at the surface or changing diapers on a bad situation. This means engaging in change – scary, uncertain, anxiety producing change - at the soul level for the sake of the world itself.
(Next month, we’ll look at the Roller Coaster of Change.)