A few months ago, I quoted Heraclitus, the pre-Socractic Greek philosopher, who said that “Change is the only constant in life” to highlight the need for all of us to always plan for and be ready for change in every aspect of our lives. The same philosopher illustrated the point about change being ever present by saying “No man ever steps into the same river twice”. An ever flowing river is there and even has a name, yet the water in it keeps changing so that from one second to the next it is really a different river.
This week, my mind came back to this theme but from a different angle. I was reflecting on a recent conversation that I had with an elderly retired, but far from tired, public figure whose wisdom is as deep and rich in texture as his voice. I asked him why he thought people were so afraid and so resistant to inevitable changes in their lives. He paused for a second and said that whilst many people know how to live for today and a few plan for tomorrow, most people can never contemplate the fact that there will be a day after tomorrow.
Many people, therefore, live their lives guided by a series of short-term plans and goals but without wishing to contemplate the sustainability of their plans over long-term. Change is fused with time and time stops for no man but many people set themselves up to be long term failures by failing to start in the way that they intend to finish. They burst out of the starting blocks and sprint like Usain Bolt when they should be going easy like Stephen Kiprotich because life is a marathon and not a sprint.
So the short term postures that people assume make change a scary prospect for many. Some people fear change because it may mean that they lose their livelihood. Some people fear change because they believe that it may come with a loss of status or face. Other people fear change because they think that it will come with disruption, violence and instability. Some people fear change because they worry about facing the consequences of things that they have said or done. Some fear change just because they fear the unknown. Many fear change because they believe that change will turn the tables and enable others to do unto them that which they have been doing unto those others.
But our fears, whether rational or not, cannot stop the hands of time and as time marches forward it drags change along with it. So we all have to face the inevitable, inescapable and immutable fact that change is coming. We must also cease to fear change. Change is only traumatic if we try to resist it or if we position and entrench ourselves on the wrong side of history. So how can we navigate the inevitable change without fear? Here are some tips.
The first tip is from General Colin Powell, “Don’t let your ego get too close to your position, so that if your position gets shot down, your ego doesn’t go with it.” We all have to take positions on all manner of issues big and small. One has to find a way of ensuring that whatever position you take on any issue does not come to define who you are. Maintain a healthy multifaceted identity and do not become a single dimensional caricature.
You can support your political party, be a consummate professional, an active community member, a sports fan, a parent and several other things. Do not tie your whole being to things that are bound to change.
The second tip comes from the Gospel of Saint Luke 12:2-3 (New International Version): “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.” If you do not want it proclaimed from the rooftops, do not whisper it to a man who may be secretly recording your conversation and not taking good care of the tapes.
The third tip is to avoid extremes. Always be moderate in your views, actions and pronouncements. As General Dwight Eisenhower said “Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.” At the end of the day, we all really want the same things for ourselves and our children.
The only disagreements that we have are about how these noble objectives are to be achieved and by whom the task of achieving them is best executed.
So instead of adopting extreme positions, always seek the middle inclusive ground.
Lastly, read the times and position yourself, not just to surf the wave of change but rather to “be the change that you want to see in the world”, as Mahatma Ghandi once said. Get up, get out and do something.