We live in a world of ebb and flow, of cycles, opposites, and paradox. Seasons change, the tide moves in and out, we succeed, we fail, organisations and social systems come and go. This is the normal, transient cyclic nature of life on earth. Many centuries ago, the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, rightly observed that “the only constant changes.” It is something we simply have to accept as a natural part of human existence and that the onus is upon each of us to deal with this in appropriate and constructive fashion; constructively. If we do not acquire skills to do this, life remains a constant excessively stressful challenge.
What Heraclitus did not know, and what we are seeing more profoundly every day, is that the ceaseless process of change and upheaval has taken on uniquely intense characteristics in present times. This is relevant because we do not think in a vacuum. Our thinking happens within unique and specific circumstances, a context of time and space..
A characteristic of current times is the rapid and continuous explosion of knowledge. This means that much existing knowledge has become- and is becoming almost obsolete overnight. Information Technology is a good example. It develops at an incredible pace. Highly trained personnel have to be practically retrained yearly in order to make use of the new developments. Cyber-crime is a something we are all vulnerable to and did not even exist a number of years ago.
To take another example of a profound change that has happened in recent years. Developments in neuroscience have overthrown old ideas about how the brain works. It is proving that autocratic, top-down leadership, management, and educational practices are limited and faulty. They need to be weeded out if superior achievement is the goal. The internal environment of employees and learners, such as their thinking, emotions, intellect, and spirituality have to be acknowledged and nurtured in order to ensure excellent performance.
“Old” ways of motivating people are not working anymore and people in influential positions have to learn how to develop environments for working and learning where the focus is on how the brain works rather than on what we might think is right. Cultures and climates where creativity is explored and developed are necessary.
The first decade and a half of the twenty first century has also brought failures in education and business, disappearing jobs and industries, growing deficits, a serious recession and political upheavals. We are faced with proliferating crime and drugs, cities running short of money, a planet that is under threat through excessive human exploitation; the list is endless.
We live in breakpoint times. At this point of our collective human history, we are up against extraordinary circumstances – tomorrow is guaranteed to be nothing like today. To make the decisions that will be required to face profound changes, we must understand the nature of change itself, it’s dangers and possibilities. If we as individuals, business, education and as a don’t learn to deal with this at an accelerated rate, we in for rude awakenings.
We can hardly ever be sure of any outcome no matter how hard we might attempt to control others and our environment. As we look back, we discover that on a personal level, we also did not always find exactly what we had expected from life. My own life deployed way different from what I originally imagined it would be like when I was a child, teenager or adult in any life phase I have experienced.
Unfortunately, most individuals and organisations do not respond to change naturally and successfully. The main reason for this is that change calls upon us to challenge old beliefs and ideas about how the world is and how it should be. This creates fear and insecurity. We therefore tend to hold on to old ways with tenacity. The challenge for us all is to become change resilient rather than change resistant.
In the midst of change, we, therefore, face a significant dilemma. Although we might realise that changes need to happen, and are happening in fact, whether we like it or not, we often experience change as frightening and threatening. This could be the case even if proposed changes could be for the better.The changee could make us feel as if we have just come out of a washing machine or a tumble dryer. It might even leave us feeling helpless, stressed to capacity, anxious, despairing or depressed.
Sustainable survival and development, however, require continuous updates of our existing knowledge base. Success supposes engagement with the knowledge race. We actually don’t have time to be timid, we must be bold, daring. Throughout history, perhaps the most commonly debilitating human ailment has been cold feet and fear to embrace new possibilities.
The only way we can, therefore, shield ourselves against change is to cultivate a keen desire to update our knowledge continuously amidst the current explosion of knowledge. New knowledge and the change it often requires does not only refer to technology and scientific research breakthroughs. We all have gaps in our existing knowledge and are often rather ignorant about the magnitude thereof. We also resist tapping into existing knowledge to our own advantage. Knowledge is after all power. The Big Book confirms that we perish because of a lack of knowledge and Verse 71 of the Tao Che Ching reads that knowing ignorance is a strength, ignoring knowledge is a sickness.
Ignorance in anyone is dangerous. For the better part of my life, ignorance was at the root of all the misjudgements and mistakes I made. It prevented me from discovering the beauty of solid thinking and many more exciting possibilities. When I reflect on my life, I sometimes feel somewhat embarrassed for remaining in the captivity of ignorance for so long. We are so often wrong and the fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not entirely absurd. Goethe went as far as to say that nothing is more tragic than ignorance.
All of us sometimes fall into the trap to form opinions and theorize before we have collected adequate data. Insensibly we then begin to twist facts to form theories, instead of theories which match facts. Someone once said that the most important knowledge is about our own ignorance. Tragically, ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge, it is those who know little and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science, was one of Darwin’s conclusions.
Although we might not think and feel that there is any way from escaping the potential difficulties, pain and danger change may bring, we are not as powerless in the face of change as we might think. The quickest escape route from the potentially debilitating effects of change on us, is to make sure we are as well equipped for adapting to change as possible. We need to choose ways of making change work for us, rather than against us.
We cannot always change what is around us, but we can certainly change what is within us. Again, a case for more knowledge. Individuals, relationships and businesses fail because of one primary cause, inadequate knowledge, specifically about the application of good thinking skills. Not to know is bad but not to wish to know is far worse. Lao Tse confirmed when he said “To realise that you don’t understand is a virtue. Not to realise that you don’t understand is a defect.” So many, many things are a mystery, but dark ain’t so bad if you know what is in it, says Sid Fleichman in the “Whipping Boy”! “No one really knows enough to be a pessimist,” are the words of Norman Cousins. Wise words.
A few questions for you to consider:
- How are changes in the world of today affecting your personal life? Think of technology, business, politics and any area of human existence that may influence your daily life.
- How do you deal with change in general? Are you change resilient or resistant?
- How are you making sure that you remain “on top of things?” What do you read, do etc?