On embracing change
By Hammad Ali
In high school I had a teacher who was, in most ways, rather forgettable. It might be a sad testament to the overall quality of the school that he was one of the better ones. However, I do not remember him much for the subject he taught. To be honest, I had to exert myself to remember which subject it was he taught in the first place. What I remember about him, though, is what to him must have been a throwaway comment during one lecture. He said, and I am not sure if he was quoting someone, “the only constant is change.” I could look it up, but why tarnish the fondest memory I have of a person I will likely never meet again?
Back to what he said. Change is inevitable, and one thing we know from the last two decades, it is also unpredictable. As a fan of Isaac Asimov, I sometimes reread his books and chuckle to myself about how he missed some future tech that we now take for granted. In one of his books, for instance, people that can travel across galaxies and have established colonies in every planet, still get the newspaper in the morning. A man who envisioned a Galactic Empire, did not think of smartphones and tablets. In his defense, the books were written in the 1940s. Nevertheless, I find it amusing. I also feel it is a by-product of how any individual, steeped in the level of technology they are familiar with, can hardly ever predict what the next big thing will be.
All of that to say, the only thing we know for sure is that, for the rest of the time we are here, we are guaranteed to face changes. And if history is any indicator, how well we survive, and ideally thrive, depends on how well we adapt to those changes. We do not live in the same world we were born in, or even went to college in. The era of fast internet, handheld devices, and entertainment on demand, has changed everything. The notion of the captive audience gone. Fail to capture someone’s attention, and they will think nothing of pulling out a device and spend all their time on it. This one fact has been the source of much lament across the board, from lecture halls to the world of dating. But the people who will get past the initial obstacle, are the ones who will accept that the world has changed, and they cannot keep doing the same things. Change is inevitable, and those who do not adapt, will be left behind. Literally and/or metaphorically.
Photo: Hakon Grimstad
All of that might sound scary. If change is inevitable, and often unpredictable, and adaptation is key to survival, even if only metaphorical, how do we prepare ourselves for it? I am no expert, but perhaps I can make some suggestions anyway.
The first thing that comes to mind, is epistemic humility – the notion that others might know something I do not. All of us have to be open to reading things we normally would not, listening to people we normally would not, maybe even to visiting a place we normally would not. The world is divided today into myriad bubbles, everyone only talking and listening to others just like themselves. Everyone seems convinced that they have a monopoly on truth, wisdom, and perhaps even beauty and kindness. So a good place to start, is to admit that there is at least the possibility, if not a substantial probability, that everyone else knows at least a few things better than we do. To accept the idea that by listening to them openly, we will learn more about something than we currently do, and this could someday make the difference between success or failure at our jobs, or personal lives.
The second thing, which builds on the first, is to allow ourselves to change our minds. Apparently, Churchill once said: “Those who cannot change their minds, can change nothing.” At the very least, we often see some stigma associated with the notion of someone changing their minds and moving away from a position they previously had. This makes no sense to me. Are we genuinely saying that a person must make up their mind about something at, say, 30, and even if they live to be 100 years old, they are not allowed to revisit that opinion in light of new evidence? I will quickly add, though, that each of us is more than welcome to have certain non-negotiable beliefs or philosophies. But all the same, even our dearest beliefs must constantly survive scrutiny and fresh evidence. Opinions do not deserve to be protected from challenges if we are scared that they will not survive these challenges. On the flip side of that coin, a belief or standpoint we have constantly challenged and yet chosen to hold on to, is all that more precious and becomes a part of our very identity. The key is to challenge all our assumptions, and update them whenever needed. Someone once told me, if you look back at your younger self and do not cringe at some things you did, that is not actually good news.
Being open to those we see as the other, and allowing ourselves to slowly become another person, if that is what life demands of us, is crucial. In a world that is bound to be different every decade we live on it, in a world where our children will likely have nothing in common with our childhood – perhaps not even the same city – we have to adapt. The only things in nature that do not change, are what is already dead. Change is life. Change is for the living.