4. The Challenge of Change

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

Allowing God’s love to flow from us into the lives of others is a noble goal for our
service opportunities. For that to happen, we should look for ways to influence a
meaningful and positive change in their lives.

Sometimes that change is a physical one, such as providing needed food, shelter, or
financial assistance. Other times, the change is intangible, providing comfort,
confidence, or a new way of looking at the world.

While this may sound simple,
getting others to change can be a significant challenge.

There is a significant amount of research being done now in the area of neuroscience, the study of the brain and how it functions.

Brain scientists are learning that the gray matter sitting between our ears does not like change.

The brains of our ancestors developed to insure that the human species would
survive. Their brains were attracted to anything that helped insure that survival –
food, shelter, and sexual partners.

At the same time, their brains were built to avoid anything that threatened human
survival – predators, enemies, and dangerous situations.

Early brains learned from good and bad experiences in order to be able to make
decisions that would lead to human survival. Whatever was previously-experienced
by our ancestors and known to be safe was always the preferred option.

Anything that was unknown and not easily predictable was considered to be a
potential threat to them. Our early ancestors would usually select the known option
over the unknown option.

That’s the brain that most of us inherited. We like things that are known and
predictable more than things that are novel and may be filled with potential
unknown problems.

This can explain why people might remain in an unhealthy relationship or job
situation, for example, rather than move on to a better one. While the former may
be bad, the latter could be worse.

Change can be scary for people, even when it can be very positive.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

Anatole France, 19 th century novelist

Through all of our past decisions, we have created the lives we live today.

For most of us, our daily lives are predictable, habitual, and meet most of our needs.
Even if they are not exactly the way we would want them to be, our lives have
become our comfort zone.

Any disruption or potential change to our comfort zone can set off a major alarm in
our ancestral brain to fight the change, keep the status quo. A new and
unpredictable future may be filled with mastodons and saber-toothed tigers that
could threaten our survival.

So how do we introduce positive change in our lives and the lives of those we serve,
when our inherited brains are not comfortable with change?

Doug Bate
Service Central