Change and Its Unforeseen Consequences
WHERE THERE IS CHANGE, THERE IS LIFE
by Jack Jonathan and Sheelagh G. Manheim, PhD
In all phases of human life and in all forms of life on the planet,
change is inevitable. One of the great advantages of the human
race is the amazing ability to adapt; those who can adapt to change,
In the past 25 years, technological advances have accelerated
to such an extent that some people have to make tremendous efforts
in order to keep up. Each generation is subjected to different
degrees of pressure. Those born before the 1950s often struggle
to adapt, while those born in the 70s and 80s seem to take the
rapid change in stride and adapt more easily.
Some examples of recent events or technologies that will affect
us for years to come include:
Cell phones which send pictures, show movies, e-mail
Fuel cell technology
Outsourcing of customer services jobs to other countries
These are only a few of the events and advances which will alter
our lives in unforeseen ways. What will be the consequences unleashed
by these events? Can we adapt, or will we be left behind?
Change Without Opportunity
Sometimes we do not have a choice about change. There can be gradual
and benign changes in a society that leave certain people out.
Much of the Third World has been left out of the current changes
in the modern world. In underprivileged societies, young people
who manage to go beyond grade school may still end up doing mind-numbing
work that is usually poorly paid.
In our own time and society, many people, through no fault of
their own, are being left out of the technological revolution because
they can’t afford technological tools, or they can’t
understand how to use them. When changes as substantial as the
technological revolution occur, tension and frustration can escalate.
Eric Hoffer contends that when the lack of opportunity becomes
extreme, uprisings and even revolutions are the likely consequences.
Coping With Change
Seeing change as an opportunity. Most of us feel
more secure when things remain unchanged. To be able to embrace
change we need to understand the magnitude of the event and the
amount of emotional and physical resources we have available to
meet it. In the deadly earthquake which destroyed old San Francisco,
a new city was built by the collective effort, aspirations, and
vision of people who turned a disaster into a vibrant new city.
Through necessity, a tide of enthusiasm can create radical change
in a short time. For example, in World War II as the men went off
to war, women stepped into jobs usually reserved for men. As women
rose to meet the challenges of the country’s war time needs,
their aspirations and expectations of what they could offer were
In our own lives, we can view the changes that circumstances force
upon us as opportunities. For example, a number of the people laid
off work in the late 90s were able to forge new careers with long-term
opportunities. Most of us, when faced with circumstances which
impose change, are driven by our survival instincts into new avenues
which we would otherwise never have explored. These days, when
people in their sixties are often still considered young, it is
curiosity and passion for life that prods retirees into starting
new careers, beginning new relationships, and moving to new locations.
Seeking a new beginning. Sometimes the change
forced upon us seems overwhelming. Grave political and economic
changes can lead people, out of desperation, to make the wrenching
decision to leave their country of origin in search of better opportunities
for themselves and their families. The United States was founded
on the inspiration and perspiration of such courageous immigrants.
Rose Stolowy’s parents, who emigrated from Poland to the
United States in 1922, are one example of such immigrants. Here
she recalls her excitement about the move:
When I was 10 years old, the most exciting thing that happened
to me was to travel across Europe and come to what they told
me was the Golden Land. Coming to this wonderful land was when
my life really began. For me it really has been the land of opportunity.
For immigrants like Mrs. Stolowy and her family, the risks of
such a huge undertaking were insignificant compared with the opportunities
and rewards possible. The dynamics of growth brought about by their
striving for success creates progress which makes this country
Choice of weapons: Determination to overcome. When
the changes are too great, some people may assume their situation
is completely lacking in opportunities. Others, in the same situation,
manage to retain a vision of hope. One such man was Gordon Parks.
In his autobiography, Choice of Weapons, he recounts the story
of his grandmother saving him from ghetto violence. She said, “Choose
your weapons – either the power of the gun or the power of
knowledge.” Determination, hope, and the appropriate choice
of weapons, made a positive difference for this young man growing
up in an environment where despair is common. Today, Gordon Parks
is known as a renaissance man: photographer, writer, movie producer,
director, and leader.
Dealing with loss. The most difficult change
any of us have to face is the loss of a loved one. When change
occurs gradually, we unconsciously adapt to the new reality. This
is particularly true when our children grow up and leave home.
Although most parents are ready, and perhaps eager, to see their
children out on their own, some parents live with a longing for
the old life of the family. Kahil Gibran writes: “For
you are the bows from which your children as living arrows are
sent forth.” For most of us, we are the willing bows
and we embrace the flight of our living arrows.
However, when the losses are irrevocable, they can trigger reactions
that leave us reeling. With the loss of a loved one, for example,
enormous change occurs.
We outwardly adapt to the reality, while we may still be grieving
deep inside. We have to cope with all the other adjustments that
The biggest challenge of my life was losing my precious family
members: my husband, and then 7 months later, my daughter. That
was very hard. But you have to accept reality. As you get older,
you just feel that you are going to lose the loved ones that
you have around you. But it is the cycle of life and you just
automatically try to work around it. You have no control over
it. Rose Stolowy
Some people, while they carry the memory of their loved one, maintain
the inner harmony necessary to survive because they accept the
reality of the cycle of life.
Passively Dealing with Change
Do we need change? The desire to maintain the
status quo causes some people to fight against change or try to
delay the uncertainty that change can bring. But, how are we to
evaluate the consequences of change? There are opportunities throughout
our lives to embrace a change that may have seemed risky at the
time. Sometimes, we may not have been bold enough to take advantage
of an opportunity. It may have seemed more rational not to embrace
a change. Yet we may later remember that decision with wistfulness
and wonder what our lives would have been like had we taken the
The founder of Hallmark Cards, Joyce Hall, sent the following
memo to his senior managers: “Don’t be afraid to
try something new. But be sure that the new way is not just different,
but better.” It is important to evaluate the consequences
Must we always say “yes” to change? We may be faced
with having to choose between professional acclaim and our own
personal satisfaction. Charles Gusewelle, a columnist for the Kansas
City Star, was once invited to write a syndicated column three
days a week. However, it would have meant writing only one column
a week of his essays about life that are so meaningful to him and
his readers. The other two columns would have been news columns.
He declined this opportunity for celebrity. He couldn’t “sing
his song” in the news columns. Because this great opportunity
would have been too high a cost to his creative integrity, he declined.
Ignoring change. Today, the rapid advances in
technology are driving worldwide change. Part of the problem created
by this rapid change is the enormous gap, not just between generations,
but between people of the same generation. Some are able to integrate
their lives with the technological age, while others fail to embrace,
or even adapt, to the new tools.
My husband brought home another electronic “toy” today – a
digital camera! Okay, so I won’t have to use it. But, that
is just another one on a laundry list of tech toys I can’t
use. This house is getting downright scary.
Have a friend over to watch a video? Nope, I can’t get
the DVD player to obey my commands. Send an e-mail to my older
sister? Nope, not this gal. I prefer snail-mail.
When the electricity goes off, I can’t reset the stove-top
digital clock. The instructions are written in Japenglish and
I don’t speak that language. My Lexus has On-Star, but
no one has been able to tell me how to get it to work, not even
my twenty -year-old honors physics major!
So, what do I think of technology? Does Dante mention a tech
Hell? Well, he would have had he lived in the 21 st century.
I’m just hoping I can move on before
I feel like an alien in my own home. Olivia
Yes, You Can Become Tech Literate, Olivia!
There are a lot of Olivias in the world, along with an equal number
of tech phobic men. However, the tech phobic are a slowly dwindling
number. People over 50 account for the greatest number of new converts
to on-line shopping. There are many programs offered to help people
learn the tech skills they need.
There is a certain degree of excitement in being able to understand
new technology. When we learn to master the new tools of our time,
we challenge our mind and open new ways to connect with the world
around us. The conscious effort to bridge the old with the new
renews our vitality and “joie de vivre.” It links the
excitement of the present with the wisdom of the past.
Of course I can use the computer! How do you expect me to
keep up with the world if I don’t go online? I have a cell
phone, too. Maggie Neff
Costs and benefits of change. Let’s consider
the situation of a couple whose children have left home. Should
they stay in their large family home or move to a smaller house
This raises many questions because of the memories and emotional
ties to the house. For example:
What are the emotional benefits and costs of staying in the house?
Can we deal with sorting through memories and giving things away?
Can our house be modified to meet our changing physical needs?
How often do our children and grandchildren visit our home?
Would there be a financial benefit to living in a smaller place?
Are we still interested and able to manage our garden?
Would our new lifestyle be easier without a house?
The point of the exercise is to evaluate the consequences of making
a change. Will it support our physical, emotional, social, and
financial harmony? In the face of changing circumstances, our goal
is to foster and maintain a sense of balance and well-being.
Several years after the death of her husband, my mother finally
decided to give up her beautiful home and garden when she found
herself spending too much time worrying about getting help with
the gardening in summer and snow removal in winter.
Although she missed her exquisite garden, a source of great
pride and delight, she was relieved to be rid of the worry. She
found other activities that brought her joy without the huge
responsibility. Her new, smaller home became an outlet for her
love of color and design. S.G. Hope
Maintaining traditions. If change is part of
living, so are traditions. They are links that connect generations
and affirm the bonds of a culture. They give us a much-needed sense
of identity, continuity, and belonging. In some societies, there
are individuals who are considered “living treasures.” These
are the people who have maintained the rituals or crafts of an
earlier time which seem obsolete in the modern world. We are all
enriched by such people who sustain our traditions. By keeping
the past alive, they help us to have a new perspective on the present. We
can accept change and yet continue to value the traditions which
are expressions of our heritage.
Some people are blessed with a vision which transcends their life.
They do not seek change, but create change. They do not imagine
what an enormous impact their vision will have on the future.
Abraham, the father of the Jewish, Christian, and Moslem faiths,
set in motion the unforeseen changes that gave birth to western
thought and modern civilization.
He believed that God spoke directly to him, a radical departure
from the beliefs of the time. From his insight and experiences
came the understanding of the value of the individual as an entity
distinct within the group.
With the invention of moveable type many centuries later, access
to books, and hence knowledge, became a possibility for anyone
who was curious and fortunate enough to be able to acquire it.
This gave the individual real power to shape his own destiny apart
from the wishes of the powerful elite. The access to knowledge
open to so many led to an explosion of new ideas, discoveries,
There is always tension between leading innovators and policy
makers because the consequences of scientific and technological
discoveries cannot be predicted with certainty. Discoveries can
create fear in those who cannot accept the risks of change, who
feel their beliefs or values are challenged. The controversy over
stem cell research is only one example.
But think of the many people who, following their creative urge,
change our world in less threatening ways. In April of 2003, AARP
published an article about “The Fifty Most Innovative
Americans over Fifty.” The editors called innovators
gift-givers because their work results in benefits for all of us:
people like Jimmy Carter, who works tirelessly for peace; Norma
Kamali, a high-fashion designer for working women; Toni Morrison,
who brought literature of the black experience into the mainstream;
or Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway scooter for urban transportation
and the iBOT wheel chair which can climb stairs.
Yes, You Can … Deal Successfully With Change
How can we cope with the changes that inevitably occur? When faced
with enough dissatisfaction, we may be forced to take a risk, and
try something new.
Planning for Change
Collect facts about your desired new goal.
Evaluate the risks.
Decide how you will deal with the risks.
Make a commitment to persevere.
Define the small steps that will help you reach your goal.
Tackle each step, one at a time, until you succeed.
Reevaluate the progress you have made.
Reward yourself for each accomplishment along the way.
“To succeed takes more than intelligence. It takes persistence,
focus, and the sort of insight that comes to the well-prepared
AARP, April 2003
TIME FOR REFLECTION
Where There Is Change, There Is Life. What is
the biggest difference between your life and that of your grandparents?
Choice of Weapons. Think of a time in your life
when you were able to see hope in a situation that appeared hopeless
to others. How did you create your own opportunity?
Creating Change. Think of a small discovery in
the past which resulted in a big change in society. What changes
would you like to see created in your life?
Tech Literacy. Name a tech tool you have not
yet mastered. Write a list of pros and cons about the benefits
of learning to master it. Research the resources available to help
you become proficient in the use of that tool.
Adapting to Loss. Remember a time in your life
when you were faced with a significant loss.What
strategies did you use to cope?
Maintaining Traditions. What traditions have
you maintained in your family? Is there a certain person in your
family who is the “keeper” of the family traditions?
Excerpted from Yes You Can… Find More Meaning
in Your Life by Jack Jnathan and Sheelagh G. Manheim,
PhD. Copyright © 2005 by Stowers Innovations, Inc. All
rights reserved. Excerpted by arrangement with Stowers Innovations,
Inc. $19.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800.234.3445