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The Challenge of Change

By Sonavi Kher Desai

Any kind of metamorphosis is challenging, whether into a Kafkaesque cockroach or a beautiful butterfly. It is a silent, mysterious process. It alters, modifies, transmutes into something else. In other words, the original state of the person or object is altered—sometimes for the better, sometimes not—and the earlier state is changed, lost forever.

Every living organism is changing every moment. The cells in our bodies are dying and being replaced all the time and therefore we are not the same persons we were a moment ago. We have evolved minutely without even realising it. This kind of change at a physical level happens involuntarily.

Involuntary change is effortless, simply because we may or may not be aware of its occurrence. It happens anyway. Change may take place as part of a natural process, such as the spectacular metamorphosis of a caterpillar, the denuding of trees in fall, the wearing out of a favourite jacket, or the harrowing appearance of our first grey hairs.

Voluntary transformation, on the other hand, is often much more difficult to bring about. It implies a certain amount of conscious effort and mind force. It is in this context that the catchphrase “Be the change you want to see” needs to be understood. The words exhort us to create a change; to work towards a goal that we set for ourselves—voluntarily. Volitional change requires commitment, dedication, and a strong desire to become something different from what we are. It necessitates an analysis of our present condition and a wish to change our attitude or our thought processes or our reactions to the happenings around us. These changes can be multi-dimensional, sometimes turning the person or thing into an unrecognisable avatar. The change may be dramatic and noticeable. A person undergoing plastic surgery and turning into a Michael Jackson lookalike almost overnight is an example. The change could also be small, the one-step-at-a-time kind, achieving the final transformation at the end of a series of small goals. An anger management program, perhaps. But whether small or radical, reshaping ourselves needs sincere effort.

The most difficult type of change, though, is the one we have to undertake when we have no option left. As the renowned Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, notes, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Life often places us in such exigent situations. The death of a loved one, losing a job, or serious health issues force us to redefine our lives and let go of old ways of doing things. The current pandemic has compelled the entire world to change. Can we imagine people across continents just completely shutting down voluntarily? The virus has created a situation that humans cannot tackle despite all the advancement of technology. We have our backs to the wall. We are fighting for our very survival. We have been challenged to change ourselves. Such instances induce not just physical changes but also the more subtle emotional and psychological ones. We are faced with the formidable task of confronting our reality, and the trajectory of our lives is determined by how competent we are to deal with change.

Change is never easy and involuntary transformation can seem like an insurmountable task. Human nature is mostly resistant to change. We like to stay in our comfort zone. The truth is that by resisting change we do not allow ourselves to grow. We remain secure—but stunted. Allowing ourselves to go with the natural flow of life as it gets diverted along a new path, will spare us much sorrow. Struggling against it leads to unhappiness, confusion, and an inability to face life’s challenges. As Charles Darwin opined, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” Tough but true.

Of course, change by itself does not guarantee happiness or a better life. Change just refashions our life in some way. If the transformation is positive, it will lead to great joy. But our life could just as well be transmuted into something painful or burdensome too, in which case it is a heavy cross to bear. The point to remember, though, is that there is probably a lesson in there somewhere. Not immediately discernible, maybe, especially while we rue and lament and beat our chests! But when the dust settles and we allow the fog in our minds to clear, we begin to realise that every adverse situation makes us stronger by teaching us about life and its complexities. The trick is to be able to navigate the situation and, eventually, discover the mystifying lesson!

Whatever be the circumstances we have to go through in life, one thing is definite: Change is inevitable and we must gracefully adapt to it. And when we do so, we can philosophize like Rumi, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”