Spiralled Edges

February 1st, 2016

Why Change Matters

She changes everything she touches and
everything she touches, changes
She changes everything she touches and
everything she touches, changes
Change is, touch is; touch is, change is.
Change us, touch us; touch us, change us.
We are changers;
everything we touch can change.
We are changers;
everything we touch can change.

– Starhawk

I will freely admit, I don’t like change. I like my routines and I don’t like it when they have to be changed for any reason, at times to the detriment of my own health and well-being. In the midst of this dislike, I also know that change is an inevitable part of being alive. So why do we resist it so much? Why do we cling tight-fisted to ideas and rituals and beliefs that aren’t serving us?

Biology plays a big part here. Deep in the temporal lobe of our brain lies a small almond shaped cluster of cells called the amygdala. The full role and purpose of the amygdala is still not known, but it is believed that it is part of the limbic system where emotions and emotional responses, including fear and anxiety are generated, processed, and filed as memories in the brain.

Change can generate anxiety because it puts us into a new situation, and we don’t have a readily available emotional response for dealing with that new situation. For early humans, this would have been a protective mechanism. Routines and sameness kept them safe from harm. Those who ventured away from tribal or clan routines and rituals put themselves or clan members at risk.

Of course, we know that this anxiety around changes can be more or less pronounced in different people. It was a willingness or a desire that led those earliest groups of proto-humans to leave the African continent 1 million years ago, and continues to drive humans today as they venture into outer space. I have no desire to ever leave planet Earth, my youngest son on the other hand would love to become a xeno-anthropologist and have the opportunity to one day explore ancient civilizations on other planets. (That we have not yet actually discovered any ancient civilizations on other planets is only a minor deterrent in his dreams.)

So, if we have such a strong predilection towards sameness, why does change matter?

It matters because change is constantly going on all around us, and because sometimes sameness is not good for our well-being. All things are changing, constantly. Inside our bodies, cells are created and destroyed, rebuilding our entire selves over the course of a few years. Around us, the Earth moves through its seasons, things are born, and die. All in a never ending circle.

Yes, sameness and routine has been necessary over the centuries to keep us safe from harm, but refusal to change and refusal to adjust to changes can be just as harmful. Living things that can’t, or won’t, change will die. Ideas and beliefs and even languages that never change are dead.

Worse though, we can get caught up in a desperate attempt to pull everything back to “the way it used to be”. A prime example of this are the many religions today that are seeing dwindling congregations and finding that they are less relevant in people’s lives because they cannot let go of rules and ideas about human behaviour and social ethics that may have been true even 200 years ago, but are not held to be true by the majority of people today.

Change matters because without change we stop living. We stop growing. We stop becoming more fully complete and whole as human beings. Change matters because if we are not able to cast off old beliefs that no longer serve us, we will become stuck in an unending rut of growing unhappiness.

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