Two Things Will Never Change

Resisting change is essential to preserving our identity and relationships.

Posted Sep 13, 2010

Two things will never change: the will to change and the fear of change. Both are essential to our well-being and to the preservation of our relationships.

I have a story I love to tell. When my younger son Ben was six years old, and my first book, The Dance of Anger was published, I overheard him exclaim to a small friend, "Do you know that my mother worked on her book for my whole life?"

It was true enough. And while I had accomplished a great deal during the years it took to complete the book and get it published, what had Ben accomplished during that same period?. From a bawling infant without language, comprehension, or any coherent sense of self, he had transformed himself into a distinct six-year-old personality who used the toilet and was knowledgeable about some of the innermost workings of the New York publishing scene. Now that's change!

"Wouldn't it be wonderful," I sometimes muse to friends, "if adults could hold on to that extraordinary capacity for change and growth?"

In truth, it would be terrifying if we, as adults, changed as much as children during those early years. We'd all be awash with anxiety and engulfed by a grief so large it couldn't be contained because there would no stability and cohesiveness in our lives at all. We would have no moorings, nothing to keep us tethered to this earth.

We count on a high degree of sameness not only in ourselves, but also in the people we care about. No matter how much we may complain about our difficult brother or critical mother, we still count on the fact that they will be pretty much the same person the next time we visit them. We may want them to change-but only so much, and only in the ways we desire. Others feel similarly about us.

It's not just the capacity to change, but also the capacity to resist change, that stabilizes our sense of identity, our continuity with the past, and our connections with others.