If you have experience with change, then likely you also have experience with resistance to change. While there are a multitude of reasons for not embracing, cooperating with or accepting change, most often it is thought that opposes the change. That is to say, people bring forward a thought they hold—a personal attachment—as a defense against the idea calling for change. This thought need not be factual or even relevant. Often because of a person’s attachment to it, it is even used to define who he/she is. Thus, the individual’s fear of loss is cause for defense against the change. In short, the thought serves as the basis of the resister’s justification for his/her action against the change.
Recently I was a participant in a meeting of university professors where the discussion focused on improving education—yes the education they provide. The effective innovative practices of a small mid-western college were offered as illustration of how a different view of what higher education is about can improve the learning experience and thus better prepare students. The response from those in the meeting, “yes what they have done is good, but they are small.” With this statement, the experience of small mid-western college was quickly acknowledged and just as quickly dismissed. The thought reflected in the statement was used to stop any advance toward understanding.
While the defensive thought “but they are small” is a factual statement, it is equally an irrelevant statement. Yet it was productive to the individuals’ purpose. The thought kept us from critically thinking about, exploring and understanding the underlying principles that the small college’s experience afforded. Furthermore, since our conversation was not one of dialogue in pursuit of learning the probability of change among these professors was driven to zero. It kept minds closed, stopping the flow of energy that could develop understanding of the underlying principles/concepts practiced by this small college. No chance of expanding the boundaries of our mind because of their attachment to what they know. Moreover, defining one’s self by a thought is a foundation of sand; and given the shifting sands of time such attachments always places one against progress.
“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.” (Tolstoy)
The un-discussible underlying attachment was we define ourselves by what we currently do, and any change to what we do will change who we believe we are. This is why logical reasoning rarely works, because resistance is often not based on sound logic, which requires a factually relevant premise. The logical ‘if…then’ (i.e. if A then B) only credible when the premise is factually relevant to and supportive of the conclusion—otherwise it is a fallacy. Unfortunately too often we do not call the fallacy into question.
How often have such logical fallacies been presented to you as a response to a challenge for change? What are some of the thoughts and their associated attachments that have been used to impede change? How have you dealt with it?