“Nothing is so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness is it to be expecting evil before it comes.”
It is said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. That may be so, but yet another certainty is change. Change can take many forms. It can be positive or negative, depending on how you spin it. Often, interpretation is everything – and can mean the difference between crushing disappointment and incredible optimism. Being as we are, people tend to rail against change. Whether in the workplace, in politics, or in our private lives, change is usually met with initial resistance. People carve out entire careers around helping others navigate change. That’s why change managers exist, to smooth the process of new systems in the office, and helping employees get used to new ways of doing things. Therapists help people find a path through disruptions in their private lives against the backdrop of anxieties stemming from past trauma and fears of an unknown future.
For those with an eye on world events, political change can also cause great concern. It can have far-reaching effects that stretch to the deepest corners of the globe. Take Brexit for example. In the past two weeks, the United Kingdom has been at the centre of a political storm as its people voted – unexpectedly and albeit by a narrow margin – to leave the EU. The decision had immediate repercussions worldwide as markets crashed and currencies went haywire. Traders and bankers were called into their offices in the early hours of the morning after the vote to handle the ensuing chaos. And the media, oh god the media! It drove this whole campaign of fear, pumping out inflammatory articles about refugee ‘invasions’ that played on people’s innate fear of change and the unknown ‘other’. After the results were out, the Guardian and other left-wing papers produced endless stories exploring desperate measures to avoid leaving the EU.
Clearly, the prospect of such massive change for Britain has shaken many to the core and exposed deep fault lines in society. As in other areas of life, the pessimistic side of our human nature tends to fear the worst. In terms of Brexit, although the precise nature of the new situation viz-a-viz the EU is still to be negotiated, the scare-mongering has reached new heights. Experts in law and economics predict the coming collapse of Britain.
Proponents of national image suggest that the ‘Little Englander’ effect will irreparably damage our reputation for tolerance. Indeed, the prospect of Brexit seems to have unleashed the xenophobes and racists in our midst, of which sadly there are many. In the past, they stayed in the sidelines, knowing that their intolerant views were condemned by much of mainstream society. But now, feeling legitimised by Brexit they spew their bile in daily life, directing it at all and sundry who do not conform to their narrow idea of ‘Englishness’.
All these events link back to our innate fear of change. As humans, we enjoy routine because it makes us feel safe and secure. But, as the concept of creative destruction claims, it is sometimes necessary to incessantly destroy the old while incessantly creating the new. Effective change cannot always be gentle. Sometimes it must come violently out of nowhere, taking us by surprise and jolting us out of our comfort zones. We assume that change is always something to fear. But in many cases it is a quick, brutal yet effective way to cast off the old tired approach and start again from a blank slate. In many cases, this is exactly what we need.
We often get mired in patterns and situations that have stopped benefitting us long ago. We fear the unknown so we stay stuck, despite the misery we endure, afraid to take that all-important first leap of faith. But should we be bold enough to take it we might find that the world does us far more good from that side of the fence. If the only certainties in life are death and taxes then we should not waste our time fretting over change while always teetering on the brink of making it. Sometimes a bit of brutality can herald wonderful new horizons. Embrace change; do not fear it.