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Resistance is Futile

by Tom Lane

October 9,2010

One of my favorite TV shows is Star Trek: The Next Generation, and one of my favorite characters on the show is an alien race known as The Borg. The Borg are a race that attacks and assimilates the technology of the civilizations it encounters as they travel across the universe. They are very adept at this, so much so that one of their few utterances is “resistance is futile.”

I am thinking about The Borg because I have been through a lot of change recently, and I have attempted to resist it. Just like everyone else, I know that change is inevitable and that resistance, is in fact, futile. Like death, taxes, and gravity, change is part of life. As an intellectual concept I accept this and even embrace change (though generally only when it happens to others). But when it confronts me, my first reaction always seems to be to avoid it at any cost – even when that behavior is unflattering.

Even though my initial response is resistance, eventually I come around. When I stop, slow down, and check in with myself, I see that the reason driving my initial resistance to change is that I am afraid: scared of the unknown, of the new, of the unfamiliar.

This is not easy for me to say because we as a society don’t like to say that we get scared. (We're told to fear nothing but fear itself, after all!) Others will have to judge for themselves, but if it is happening in me I suspect it is happening in all of us.
In the larger world I see many examples of this same phenomenon occurring. One current change that is sparking a controversy, for example, is the Park51 community center near Ground Zero. Many people don’t want this construction to occur and are expressing this belief in a number of ways, many of which are not particularly flattering or mature.

As I see it, this current controversy is going through the same process that change always goes through. At first the idea seems radical, even subversive. People get up in arms and protest. Tempers flare, sometimes to the point of violence. Eventually, however, everything gets worked out; progress moves forward and what once seemed radical becomes normal.

Examples of this phenomenon abound. Not all that long ago a commonly accepted hiring philosophy was “Irish Need Not Apply.” Other examples include interfaith and interracial marriages, integrated sports, and women voting. Being against these today would be absurd. However, the people who held these beliefs did so with what they would have considered very good reasons.

Resistance to change is indeed futile. It comes whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not. Yet I wonder: does it have to be so painful and wrenching? Couldn’t we find a way to move forward that takes others along more gently and humanely?

The answer of course is that I don’t know, but I have a suspicion that I would like to explore. What would happen if I stopped resisting change in my life and if I stopped forcing change on others? Gandhi exhorts us to be the change we want to see in the world. What if that really worked?

This experiment doesn’t seem like it is going to be easy. Even as I write it, I can think of all the times in the last days and weeks where I have not lived up to this new standard. I sure hope not too many people read this column down to the bottom of this column; that’s for sure. As challenging as it is going to be, I am also excited about it. Resisting change is exhausting. So too is forcing it on others. The amount of time and energy I will save is starting to excite me.

Care to join me?

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