Let’s just say this is to mollify the agitation of my loyal fans at the lack of activity on this site of late. It’s a subject I have been mulling for a bit, but it may be premature to publish these thoughts, since they haven’t had time to fully form yet. But the fans are getting restless, so here it is. Caveat emptor.
I have been thinking about change lately. I have noticed that while the grass is always greener on the other side, people usually have problems with the other side when they get there. No one is ever satisfied with what they have. We all want new stuff, a new job, a smaller butt, a new outfit. A new car, a new house. But inevitable when we get it, there is something wrong with it. The new house is too far from the bus stop, or the neighbours are rowdy. At work it’s the same thing. People bitch and moan about how awful things are, but as soon as there is some measure to make it better, the same bitchers and moaners are redoubling their efforts to stop the change.
Inertia is a powerful force. I think it is human nature to resist any kind of change. It is an instinctive reaction to say, “No” when someone suggests something, however practical or productive. The kids will resist the most minimal change, for example, the change from day clothes to pajamas. Going from home to school, and, perversely, from school to home (Aimee’s face crumples into this petulant puss the second she sees us at the end of the school day, as if to tell us, “Hey, I’m not ready for you yet, go away,”). Automatically, without thinking about it, they will instantly reply negatively to any suggestion that may involve a deviation from the current course of action.
I am conscious of this trait of human nature, and this consciousness affects my behaviour. People want change on one level, they crave difference, excitement, variation. But on another, more obvious level, they seek similarity, the comfort of the known. I think we want a safe combination of the two. When I need a change (this happens seasonally, and often coincides with hormones), I rearrange furniture, or colour my hair, or buy a new outfit. I think about moving to a different country, or finding another job or something, but as a matter of self-preservation, I do the reversible things which satisfy my need for change on the surface, without fundamentally altering the course of my life.
I have a theory on the evolutionary purpose of human resistance to change. Think about this: throughout human history, the people who stayed in a nice safe environment where they were familiar with the plants and animals were less likely to be eaten by ferocious predators or succumb to some sort of poisoning from a never-tried-before food. Those who did not, may not have lived long enough to reproduce offspring who would prefer the known, and the safe-seekers were eventually more heavily weighted in the general population. However, I am still convinced that there is some deep, ingrained need humans have for variation. Look at sensory deprivation experiments, where people hallucinate in the absence of change in sensory input. Pilots see UFOs (that aren’t there) when they have been staring at the same horizon and hearing the drone of the same engines for hours at a time. It’s because the human brain needs input, and just any old input won’t do. It needs something different every once in an while, and if it doesn’t get it externally, from the senses, it just makes things up. All sorts of science backs that up. I guess maybe the change-seekers among our human ancestors found good things that made them, and therefore their descendents, stronger, more likely to reproduce change-seekers, more likely to survive.
As a result, twentieth-century North-Americans are a strange and difficult dichotomy of this human condition, with same-seeking behavior on one side, and variation-seeking behaviour on the other. I think it’s why every job I’ve had is appealing before it starts, and horrible for the first two weeks as I internalize the new requirements. Once I have them down pat, I start looking around again, just to make sure there isn’t anything better I could be doing. I guess it’s why I have had 5 jobs in 2 years. My colleagues are in the same boat… forever longing for the greener grass, but when I offer them a chance to mix it up a little, you’d think I had just asked them to do something obscene.
I think we need to think of change as opportunity. We can always make the best of it, and usually, it works out well, when it gives you a chance to look at things from a different perspective. Getting through the initial discomfort caused by the effort of an adjustment is the worst of it; we project our discomfort onto the situation rather than attributing it, more accurately, to the effort required to learn and internalize the new situation. The kids get mad about having to go to bed, but it’s not the going to bed necessarily, it’s the need to shift gears from one thing to another. I have grumbled about this new job since I started, but now that I have the hang of it, I am actually quite enjoying it. I have a handle on the day-to-day stuff, and the week-to-week stuff. Now I’m working on the longer-term stuff and it’s pretty satisfying. Like every job, there are frustrations I never considered when I applied (and accepted), but the rest of it I like a lot. And I’m learning to deal with the rest.
My new computer mouse is a good example. It didn’t work the way my other mouse did. I said I wanted a different one. I never got around to getting one, and now that I know how to make it do what I want, predictably, it’s not so bad. It wasn’t the mouse I didn’t like, it was that learning to use it required effort, and I am, like most humans, fundamentally lazy.
Another prime example… gasoline. We screamed bloody murder when the price went to almost a buck a litre, but now that we have our heads around it, we’re complacent again and won’t start screaming until it goes up again. And we’re back to letting our cars idle, even though it is wasting a non-renewable resource which costs a buck a litre (think about that next time you use your command-start, or choose drive-through rather than take-out… it’s lazy and irresponsible… but that’s another rant).
Anyway, my point is that it’s the process of change and not necessarily the fact of change that we find difficult. Inertia, the path of least resistance, takes the least amount of energy. An object at rest tends to remain at rest, an object in motion tends to remain in motion… I think about that every time there is something I don’t want to do, even though I know it will be good for me. I kind of feel like I’m defying human nature in my own little way. And it’s kind of fun, too.