“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This saying is probably familiar to many of us. It is actually a translation of a French phrase coined in 1849 by writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. The epigram is often said with an air of resignation as a wry comment on the difficulties of deep or lasting change. Superficial things may change but the status quo remains the same.
I have found systems theory useful in understanding resistance to deep change. Systems theory considers not just individual parts but the complex interactions of parts within a whole. The human body is a system. A family is a system. A business organization is a system. Systems are open, dynamic, and constantly evolving and adapting in response to changes in the environment.
A system seeks balance or equilibrium. Any change in the environment of the system or in the system itself will cause the system to re-balance in order to find equilibrium. I often use the example of a mobile to explain systems. A system is like a mobile. A well-designed mobile hangs in perfect balance. A puff of wind or the brush of a hand will make the mobile move until it regains its perfect balance. Removing or adding a part of the mobile will cause it to move to find a new balance.
Like a mobile, a system seeks balance or equilibrium. Any change in any part of the system will cause the entire system to adjust until it finds equilibrium again.
Superficial change is like a poke to the mobile. The parts of the mobile may sway and move in response to the force but they will eventually resettle to their original places. The pressure in the system will be to revert to the equilibrium it held before the movement of change. Deep change in a system comes when parts are adjusted or added, removed or re-shaped with conscious, careful, and sustained attention.
Hashtags, social media campaigns, and demonstrations, while needed to provoke desired change, are like pokes to the mobile. The mobile/system may shimmy and shake but it will come back to known balance. Changes in policies, procedures, and persons reconfigure the mobile/system so that it finds a new balance.
Deep change is difficult and it is also achievable. I began the blog post with a wry comment from a French writer. I will end this blog post withclear exhortations from two American poets: Audre Lorde and Nikki de Giovanni.
“Change is the immediate responsibility of each of us, wherever and however we are standing, in whatever arena we chose.” Audre Lorde
“Everything will change. The only question is growing up or decaying.” Nikki de Giovanni