By Lykke E. Andersen*,
“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has
Charles Franklin Kettering
“Some people change their ways when they see the light; others
when they feel the heat.”
It has happened to most of us, even the poorest of the poor. We
used to feel safe and secure; the things we needed seemed to
come to us automatically without any effort on our part. We were
living in a care-free world, with no worries, little pain and
few threats, cushioned from all shocks.
Then one day something happened that would change our lives
forever. It began quietly, just a mild tugging feeling. But it
quickly turned into a violent, jolting earthquake. Our walls of
security came crashing down upon us, and our bodies got squeezed
and our limbs twisted. The pressure on our heads was so strong,
that we thought we would die.
Actually, we were just getting born.
Most of us resent change, not realizing that status quo is never
sustainable. If we had had the power to refuse to be born, we
would certainly have inflicted unbearable pain and even death on
Resistance to change often inflicts unnecessary suffering (or
prevents happiness) on both ourselves and others. Some types of
resistance are at the personal level and the consequences are
limited to the nearest family. For example, a person may stay in
an unfulfilling job just because it provides a regular income
and health insurance, and the thought of looking for a more
interesting job or starting a new enterprise is too daunting.
The result is an unhappy and unproductive worker, as well as a
grouchy husband and father, but the damage is limited to that.
If status quo becomes too unbearable, the person will eventually
However, other types of resistance to change have become
institutionalized and adversely affect millions of people. One
example is immigration laws which prevent people from settling
down in places where they would have more opportunities to
become happy and productive than at the place where they
happened to be born. The limits to physical mobility, both the
self-induced kind and the more formal constraints, imply that
hundreds of millions of people live in sub-optimal places with
little chance of escaping the cruelties of poverty and disease.
If the world is to become a better place with more happiness and
less suffering, we have to become better at dealing with change.
As it is now, even very slow change (such as an average global
temperature increase of one or two degrees over a lifetime)
scares the shit out of us.
Instead of trying to prevent the climate from changing (an
impossible task since the climate has always changed and will go
on changing no matter what we do), we should teach people how to
deal with change. This effort, if successful, would have a lot
of positive spill-over effects as people would not only become
better at handling climate change, but also all the other
changes that life inevitably throws our way (the loss of loved
ones, lay-offs, change of residence, technological changes,
I am not sure how we can teach people to handle change better,
but we could start by cutting back on all the scare campaigns
associated with change (e.g. The Population Bomb in the 1960s
(1), Natural Resource Shortages in the 1970s
(2), the Sixth Extinction in the 1990s
(3), or Climate Change now). Lots of people profit from our
fears, but I don’t think we should let them.
Also, at least in developed countries, parents are advised that
regularity is important when raising your child. Meals should be
served at regular intervals and at the same time every day; the
child should be put to bed at the same time every night, in the
same bed, with the same bed-time ceremony, since this will make
the child feel more secure.
I disagree with that approach, as I think it results in adults
that are afraid of change (and have eating and sleep disorders
as well). Children should learn from baby-hood that change is
exiting, not dangerous, and children should learn to trust the
signals of their own bodies and eat when they are hungry and
sleep when they are tired, instead of following some arbitrary
rules imposed by well-meaning parents.
Fortunately, the fear of change is much less severe in
developing countries. Possibly because parents in poor countries
never read any books on child rearing, or because the scare
campaigns don’t reach them. They are faced with real problems of
survival almost every day, so they don’t have to dream up some
distant disaster to get their daily adrenaline shot.
(*) Director, Institute for Advanced Development Studies, La
Paz, Bolivia. The author happily receives comments at the
“The Population Bomb” (1968) was a best-seller written by Paul
R. Ehrlich predicting worldwide disaster and mass famine within
a couple of decades due to overpopulation. The predictions did
not come true. In fact, the world developed in a direction
completely opposite to the one predicted by Ehrlich, without the
implementation of his proposed measures to dramatically limit
(2) “The Limits to Growth” (1973) argued
that the world’s use of raw materials is growing exponentially,
implying that we would soon run out of many non-renewable
natural resources, especially oil. The high prices of oil and
several metals at the time supported the hypothesis, but a
decade later the very same prices plummeted, suggesting no
Many biologists, most notably Harvard professor E.O Wilson,
predict that man’s destruction of the biosphere could cause the
loss of one-half of all living species within the next 100
years. In severity this would correspond to the Fifth Mass
Extinction (about 65 million years ago) which wiped out the
dinosaurs and paved the way for the evolution of mammals
(including humans). We don’t know yet whether such extensive
man-made extinction will actually happen, but given the emerging
GMO technology, it is just as possible that we move in the
opposite direction of increased bio-diversity during the next
Institute for Advanced Development Studies 2006.
The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the
author and do not necessarily coincide with those of the Institute.
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