It has become clear to me in a completely new way that we people aren’t really that good at accepting and adjusting to changes in our near environment. Sure, we are okay with brand new buildings and cafés popping up in the neighborhood or when new traffic lights are installed in one of the crossings – but when it comes to personal change… Boy, don’t we struggle.
We are usually fine with the changes happening in us, within ourselves – after all, it’s something we aim for: personal growth, self-development. But when it happens to other people, change suddenly becomes harder to accept. Why is that? And especially, why do we find it so challenging to be happy for someone else’s progress?
How We Define Each Other
We are defined by what we do. For many people, our profession defines who we are – a journalist, a teacher, a baker, a broker. It is probably one of the most asked questions when meeting a new person – what’s your name and what do you do.
In social situations, when we are finding out who the other person is by asking his or her profession, we are trying to categorize them in our internal system – is this person a maker, a thinker, a creative or a practical person? And when we have that person categorized, we can relax. We know now where we have this new person, in what category, with what kind of emotional tags. We know where we can place this person in our personal hierarchy.
But then something changes. The person we knew as a broker decides to become an entrepreneur, open a bakery and instead of having a normal nine-to-five job, he now works from 3AM to 3PM. The practical thinker becomes a creative maker. And suddenly you notice you have a hard time realizing that this person has (in what seems like an overnight) changed his place in your hierarchy and doesn’t fit to any of the old categories anymore. That is when it becomes tough to accept the change. Questions arise: Is this a good change or a bad change – is this person completely nuts or actually a genius? Who is this person now compared to before? And where do I stand in relation to this now-changed person?
When we are forced to define our friends and family members anew, i.e. sort them into a different category and find a new place for them in our personal social hierarchy, it easily leads to a conflict. It can be a silent conflict in one’s mind or it can become a conflict talked out loud. Accepting and readjusting is always about dealing with a conflict – and some people handle it better or worse than others.
It’s About Comparisons
Why people most probably have difficulties in being happy for the changes that happen in their friends is that they quickly compare the efforts and results of this person to themselves. The fact that a friend has lost weight – where does it put me in the hierarchy of fitness and health? Or the fact that another friend seems to follow his or her career dreams bravely and actually succeeds in them – how am I doing with my own career plans? Am I doing what I want to do? Am I as happy as my friend seems to be?
Personal growth and self-development tends to lead to some sort of increased happiness in the person doing the changes. Sometimes the happiness lasts longer, sometimes a shorter period of time, but still, it’s extremely valuable. We all want to be happy with our lives. However, we aren’t, not at least all the time. And when a friend suddenly seems happier than usual, happier than we are – we find ourselves wanting the same thing, the same happiness.
Depending on how happy we are at the moment or how easy it is to reach that same state of happiness, we react to the changes in our friends in different ways.
What We Need Is Confrontation
There are so many questions that arise when a change occurs. The questions are about the change, about the person, the environment, about oneself, and they never seem to end. That’s part of the process of accepting and adjusting to a change in our social environment.
However, the process gets twisted if none of those questions are asked out loud. And it isn’t even enough that these questions are asked – they also need to be answered. That is what I call a confrontation. And I know, confrontation sounds like something negative, even violent but it doesn’t have to be that. As Merriam-Webster defines it: a face-to-face meeting or the clashing of — ideas. In my opinion, that’s what confrontation is: an opportunity for a face-to-face conversation about the ideas of two persons that have clashed.
After I came back to the city where now I live, I hoped for a confrontation about the changes that had happened. About my weight, about my career plans and about my behavior. And there were questions asked out loud – but no one wanted to hear the answer, the questions being questions without actual question marks.
When this happens, the processing of the changes and the efforts to re-categorize the changed person becomes twisted. It’s as if having a trial for a suspect without asking the suspect or his/hers defenders any questions – sounds wrong, doesn’t it? By confronting and asking the questions one gives an opportunity for the changed person to tell and explain what has happened, what kind of process has taken place.
So, confrontation is needed but unfortunately only few of us have the guts to do it.
After The Change
If a change is never discussed, then processed and, in a way, accepted, it will have other consequences. Because, as I was left un-confronted and, therefore, without the support I had really hoped for, it left me thinking.
I haven’t really had the opportunity to show and tell who I am today because I’m still waiting for some sort of confrontation to happen. I am hoping that these people would ask me the questions that actually end with a question mark but instead, I keep on getting quizzically creased eyebrows or confused looks that go from the top of my head to my toes. I see the thought processes going through their heads but no questions are asked.
Of course, I need to be realistic and remember that even other people need time to adjust to the changes I’ve made because my changes have led to changes in them and in their personal hierarchies. But what I also know is that the longer we postpone asking those questions, the harder it’ll become to ask them.
The things is that after a change is made and Time goes by, one looks at life from a new perspective. And a question arises: in this new life, this post-change phase, what do I wish to hold on to – and to whom?
(P.S. I’m no saint when it comes to accepting changes in other people. However, I do feel that I reflect upon my own reactions more than many others do which, in the long run, makes it easier for me to accept the changes other people make in their lives.)