Monday, December 20, 2004

Winds of Change

If there's one attribute the best describes what it means to live, it's probably the ability change. I mean human beings aren't static; we're evolving creatures. And it's not just us that is evolving. Everything around us changes as well, whether it's as simple as the transition from day to night, or the evolution of our surroundings from simple huts to tall, concrete buildings. Yet change is something many of us resist, as if change was our worst nightmare. And sometimes it is, but it too can be our salvation.

Perhaps the most apparent kind of change is that that occurs around us. Situations change. I mean a long time ago, people were using pen and paper to write novels. Now, we have computers. Computers changed a lot of industries. I'm sure for every person that appreciates the change technology has brought, there's another person who resents it. I mean many people lost jobs because of modernization. Some people use it to make malicious programs, while others utilize it as a tool to help achieve their goals. Sometimes, these kinds of changes are out of our hands. A lot of people fear what the next age will bring. And so they cling to their old ideas and beliefs, hoping that it will shelter them in the times ahead even though if it's apparent that new paradigms are needed for a better world. There are also times when we have limited control over how the world around us will change, such as when we elect our public officials. I think one of the reasons many Filipinos voted for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was because they were subscribing to the mentality "better the devil we know than the devil we don't know". I mean many people were frustrated with GMA's policies but they voted for her this year nonetheless, fearing the kind of change electing a different leader would bring.

The problem I see in clinging to the old is the fact that you're not making it any better for yourself. Taking the presidential-election example, sure, we're not adding new problems in the long run, but we're not solving old ones either. If we chose a different president, we could possibly live better lives. But what stops us is that we think that choosing a different leader would only increase our pain and suffering. I mean history has disappointed us several times in the past that we can't help but think something worse is in store when moments of change occur. We don't want to risk our future but in doing so, we forfeit any chance of changing it for the better.

The other kind of change is the one we undergo ourselves. It's easy to see how people get offended at the merest hint of changing a person. I mean boyfriend/girlfriend relationships suddenly break up because one person wants the other person to be "better", "different", and "more mature". A number of people are frustrated that call-center employees are being trained to speak in a different way and that they have to don a new person while on the job. Or perhaps it's just simple criticism, and we think that the other person has no right to judge us. I think the underlying emotion here is pride and comfort. Pride because we think we're already the best we can be, that there's no one else we should be other than who we already are. To admit that we should change means that there's something inherently wrong in our personality, or that we might have made a mistake. And nobody likes admitting mistakes. And there's also comfort, because we don't dare go further than what we already know. For example, a boyfriend who's asked by his girlfriend to give up drinking refuses to do so, because it's inconvenient for him. It is, after all, easier to live a life of our hold habits and routines. It's not necessarily better but it sure is easier, simply because we've been doing it for so long and don't know what it's like to not do so.

The weakness of this mentality is that there's never any growth, at least not consciously. A stubborn person will continue to be a stubborn person, while a liar will remain a liar. What we fail to see is that we're not perfect; there's always room for improvement. Change, while it can admittedly make us worse people (such as when your friend tries to pass on their bad habits to you), gives us the chance to become better. Many people fear this because they think it's losing their identity. If our identity could be lost so easily, then we've already lost it. Because the you now is definitely different from the you that came out of your mother's womb. With the latter, you didn't even know how to speak, much less know what can hurt other people and what can brighten up their day. With the former, we've grown and possess more knowledge and hopefully more wisdom since then. Even our physiology is different. But does that mean we lost our identity? Perhaps the only time we truly lose our identity in change is when we fight it all the way, when it's something that's forced upon us rather than something we choose for ourselves. Take, for example, when somebody orders us to do something, such as smoke a cigarette. If it's something we resent yet is forced upon us (whether through coercion, peer pressure, or physical force) and we give in to it, then in a way, we lose our identity and become merely the shadow of someone else's will. But if smoking a cigarette was something we were willing to try (even if you haven't smoked a cigarette before), then even if doing so ends up killing us, we will smoke a cigarette, and with pleasure. In both instances, the person has changed. But it's only the former who lost his identity, while the latter retained it. His identity merely took on a new form.

I think one of the problems many people have is that they take it as a personal affront at the merest hint of changing their personality. It's not. We could always be better people. And we won't achieve that by remaining who we are now. To do that, we must be willing to change. It's part of growing, of maturing, of becoming a better person. And unlike changes that involves circumstances and events, personal change is something we have control over. No one knows whether the change tomorrow brings will be a good thing or a bad thing, but when we take steps to change for the better, we do know that good will come out of it. It definitely won't be easy and it'll surely be painful, but hey, it's only by suffering and making mistakes that we learn.

Change is a two-ways street. Both good things and bad things can result from it. But change is also the key to salvation. Poor people might become rich someday, while the sick might get healed. If you're already rich or healthy, there's always the possiblity that you might become richer or more healthy. If you fear change, then you're insecure about yourself. If you were able to do it once, then you'll be able to do it again. Unless, of course, that accomplishment was just a fluke. And as for our future, well, if you want to gain control over it, you have to risk it. The unknown is only scary if you let it scare you; the only way to conquer fear of the uncertain is to familiarize yourself with it.

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