As we can observe in nature, change is a continual part of life. It’s a natural transition or transformation. Only the human species labels the inevitable process of change as inherently good or bad. In assessing the meaning of a particular change, we’re blessed with the gift of reason. Beyond this, our awareness of the value of change has no limits when we apply it with gratitude and faith, not necessarily from a religious perspective, but from our innate sense that we’re growing and evolving.
Psychologist and philosopher Frantz Fanon wrote, “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
As an example, let’s say a man suddenly tells his wife that he doesn’t love her anymore and further, he’s going to leave her. She may have sensed this at a barely conscious level for a while before he confronts her with the truth of his loss of affection for her, but she resists admitting this to herself, because it’s too painful for her to accept. When he finally faces her with this reality, she finds it virtually impossible to believe, at least at first, because she’s held on so tight to her core belief that he loves her, indeed as though her life has depended on it, when in fact she’s chosen to give it this importance. This is a classic case of cognitive dissonance.
If this same woman accepted the inevitability of change since the onset of her relationship with her husband—and with this the possibility that one day he might no longer care for her—she might have been more proactive in developing her own interests. And then, if she realized by paying attention to certain clues, such as his increasing lack of attention, that he seemed to be losing his attraction to her, she would have been more prepared for his distracted behavior and could have adjusted to it by becoming more independent. Perhaps she would have taken a job she enjoyed. Her actions could then result in one of two outcomes: 1) the man’s feelings could be rekindled when he sees that she’s growing and evolving or 2) he may still want to leave. Either way, she’s become more autonomous and self-reliant. Even in the best relationships, people sometimes grow apart. It’s far less disturbing if both parties accept the breakup as a natural outcome of the effects of change, rather than blaming one another. Many couples separate amicably, which saves them and any children involved from the largely unnecessary drama of divorce.
While in the above scenario the woman’s actions are in response to the man’s, this doesn’t need to be the standard. Ideally, a man and woman discuss each partner’s rights to develop his or her own interests and serve his or her own needs, as long as it doesn’t undermine their shared responsibilities. In other words, either one can initiate independent action with support from the other.
When big change occurs that we find difficult to accept, we may be inclined to see this change as negative or tragic. But this does a disservice to the respect and wonder that any change warrants, especially when it’s beyond our full comprehension. While joy may seem like a strong word to describe our emotions in response to all change, even when it’s painful, I believe it’s appropriate. Joy is deeper than happiness; it’s based on a complex mix of feelings, including sorrow as well as bliss.
For another example, if a transition is from life to death, we can celebrate the beauty of life just as we mourn its loss. Regardless of whether we believe in a literal “heaven,” we can choose to believe that death is transcendence from life to another dimension of expanded and higher consciousness.
We can apply this same joyful awareness to all the changes that happen within our lives, many of them too complicated for our conscious analysis. Isn’t this a more healthy and rational option than viewing change as something to dread or—even more futile— something to try to avoid?
Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones
Founder of Women Who Walk the Talk