Why is Change So Hard?
People Will Resist Change Even If It Kills Them
It’s hard for me to believe that this photo is about 67 years old.
I’m the cute one in the headscarf. That’s my sis on my mom’s lap. This was before my dad started a religious cult and upended our entire lives. I encountered radical change very early in life.
Change is hard and slow, but often when it finally happens, we don’t even notice.
Does that sound weird and contradictory to you? It does to me, too. Let me explain.
First, there are different types of change. In the above observation, I’m referring to the change process that produces new cultural expectations.
Let me give you an example.
There was a time, back in the early seventies, when organic gardens started to emerge among a fringe group often referred to as hippies or back-to-earthers. They could sometimes be found living in communes.
Mainstream culture was not very accepting of these social misfits.
They were sneered at behind their backs, called dirty and immoral, and their home-grown vegetables and fruits couldn’t compete with the farms that produced chemically grown food that most of us put on our tables.
Hasseltine Hendershaw and her husband Hank were the thriving symbols of modern America.
They scoffed at the little hippie couple down the road who were probably living together in sin rather than getting married, had long hair, and breastfed their babies in public.
I know what I’m talking about.
That was my generation. I had numerous friends who were experimenting with a similar lifestyle. As a matter of fact, my husband and I were attempting a modified version of the back-to-earthers. We lived in rural Indiana in a cabin that we heated entirely with wood. We had a handpump at the kitchen sink where we could draw cold water from the well. And we used an outside toilet.
Not that we had to, mind you, but because we wanted to live like this.
Our elders thought we’d lost our minds. We didn’t care. We were convinced that Hasseltine and Hank were the ones that needed to change.
Flash forward about thirty-five years to 2005 or so and the picture changed, dramatically.
Turns out Hasseltine and Hank now read labels and buy some organic produce at the grocery store. It’s easy for them to do so because every large grocery store chain in America now has a huge organic selection in the fresh produce section. The little health food stores that sprang up here and there across America back in the day are struggling to survive because the big chains are out-pricing them.
But here’s the kicker, the thing about slow, hard change that’s so damn weird.
Hasseltine and Hank think that they’ve ALWAYS read labels and purchased organic products. That’s right. Like all humans, they have little to no correct memories of their own personal histories, which was one of resistance to change, often hardcore resistance.
They don’t recall that they drug their feet and were part of a huge group of people that always hate change even when the change that they vehemently resist would improve their lives.
Nope! Nope! Nope! They hate it, hate it, hate it. They’d rather die first than change. They’ll die complaining even while resisting change. From the time that a new idea begins to emerge until it’s been normalized into mainstream culture, it takes as long as thirty plus years.
That’s common. That’s why systemic change is so slow. It’s depressingly slow and often despite much unwanted suffering.
That’s why once we’ve made any kind of social gains, we must be careful not to regress. Regression seems to be a lot easier for societies. There will always be people who recall the good old days as much better than they were especially as time passes and they no longer remember history correctly, even their own histories.
There do seem to be people who are wired to anticipate change.
They may even become the changemakers. They tend to be curious, more open minded, with a diverse set of interests. I identify with these people largely because I’ve never fully identified with one group, culture, or country. I’ve lived all over the world since I was a kid and to this day am a nomad at heart.
Change tends to inspire me rather than make me feel uncomfortable.
I’m endlessly fascinated with the creators of change who think outside the box. They’re often problem solvers. I don’t know where we’d be without them.
Still most people prefer to live a version of the same day over and over again.
Forget big earth-shaking change. They’re uncomfortable with changing the customary dinner time. Almost anything can feel foreign to them. If left alone, they’d live out their lives without introducing so much as a new food into their diets.
That’s what we’re up against during critical times when we’re threatened by climate change or world pandemics.
That’s when it gets scary to live amongst your own species, to be too dependent on your own kind. Trusting them to adapt and change feels risky. Because even when death is staring humans in the eye, they are still reluctant to embrace a new idea, a different way of doing things.
You realize that it’s not a question of won’t but one of can’t.
They’re not wired that way. Yet, we live in a day and age of unprecedented change, like no other prior era. The speed at which change is happening all around us is exponential, making the ability to change the #1 skill needed for modern survival.
And now that we face daunting world problems like climate change, the ability to adapt and change is even more important.
Organic change is one type of change that can be swift, however. It’s forced upon us by circumstances out of our control. So, when there’s a drought, we’re forced to conserve water, for example. Or when there’s a shortage of raw materials, we’re forced to find new solutions.
We still don’t like it.
Sometimes we even rebel and attack each other, but in the end we have no choice. Its change or die. Perhaps we’re headed in that direction.
No wonder people are so anxious, angry, and depressed.
Teresa Roberts is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.