We are all familiar with change. Many of us have experienced incremental change in various aspects of our individual lives. However, if we stop and think about the overarching question of social change and where it comes from, how it got here, and what implications lie ahead because of this phenomenon, we may be at a loss for words. Unlike biological change that is often accompanied by a descriptor rooted in the physical observation of change, social change is typically recognized only after it has happened and effectively taken hold. Because of this, the discussion of social change is intrinsically tied to historical perspectives and the differing narratives of how we ended up here.
Over the years I have come to realize that our individual perspectives are both right and simultaneously wrong. We are limited in our scope of vision both from a societal view and the view of the individual. What I propose as the root cause of social change may be seen as reductionist by some and evolutionary by others. I present this perspective by looking at the root common denominator that transcends culture, race, location, class, and gender. If we as a species can identify a commonality in the inescapable reality that “change happens,” then maybe we can begin to re-think the future and take a proactive role in creating change that will insure a viable world for generations to come.
Ask yourself, “What drives social change?”
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you ask yourself that question? You may be thinking technology, economics, religion, politics and social environment, and I would agree with all of those answers. However, let us look a bit closer at each of these areas and ask ourselves, “What drives the “drivers” of social change?” This question is often overlooked because we have not thought to ask. Instead, we assume that the answer to that question has already been answered otherwise how would we be able to identify the obvious drivers before us? Sounds crazy, right? But, if we really get honest with ourselves we may be shocked to realize that our assumption of how much we think we know only leads to more unanswered questions and this is the dilemma that ultimately makes up our current human paradigm.
Have we created a complex system of socially acceptable denial?
Let me be the first to openly admit that I had absolutely nothing to do with my own conception, gestational development, gender, disposition, and resulting personality. I think it is safe to assume that such an admission states the obvious and is for the most part a commonality we all share. So why is it that we place expectations on ourselves and each other that directly contradict the basic elementary attributes of our origin, namely the fact that we did not begin from a place of omniscience? Social change is the active attempt to answer the fundamental questions of humanity, to make sense of our purpose and place in the world, which ultimately finds its source in our most primitive state, the state of fear. Think about it. If we weren’t afraid of anything why would we change at all? A lack of fear would presuppose foreknowledge giving us the ability to create preventative measures to any and all external or internal threats. However, such a luxury is not intrinsic to our species therefore creating an environment in which change is necessary for survival both socially and biologically. Simply put, social change is rooted in our instinctual reaction to the unknown. It is this “unknown” that lays the groundwork for the various dimensions of social change.
So what current changes are you afraid of?
Technology, ideology, competition, conflict, and status inconsistency are all drivers of social change. These drivers are both inspired by fear and resultantly inspire fear. Has the rapid advancement in technology created a sense of anxiety about the future of social interaction?Will Twitter and Facebook make our children stupid? Or is it a new ideology that challenges your core belief system? If we legalize gay marriage then traditional family values will be wiped out right? How about the introduction of new forms of competition that threaten the goals and desired outcomes you have worked so hard to obtain? Will robots make my job obsolete? Or is it the presence of new conflicts that are front and center in every aspect of our lives? What will we do if our petroleum supply no longer meets market demand? Maybe it’s a conflict of political ideology? Barack Obama is going to turn our country into a socialist Muslim theocracy with his left-wing liberal agenda! (notice how fear consolidates ideological contradictions into an impassioned war cry) Or maybe it’s the unpredictability of the market economy? What do I do if the dollar collapses and the FDIC faces insolvency? Or maybe the structural strain of status inconsistency keeps you up at night? Over 70% of new college graduates are returning home because they can’t find work. What does this mean for me if I lose my job of 20+ years? Here is a bold declaration: “Fear is the catalyst of codependence in every social construct of our society.” If you think that statement is ridiculous and are not quite sure why, it may be that you are subconsciously afraid I am right. Ah, but I digress.
Honesty: The catalyst for social transformation
If we try being brutally honest with ourselves, and I don’t mean self deprecating, but instead taking an honest look at who we are from the position of what Eckhart Tolle refers to as the “silent observer,” we would be shocked by the sophistication and elaboration of the narrative we have spent our whole lives constructing. I would argue that the greatest fear of every person is to wake up one day with a revelation that everything they ever thought they knew about themselves and society was constructed by the need for answers to complex questions like, “How did we get here?” “What is our purpose on earth?” and the list goes on.
Finding solace in Ambiguity
I often talk about the emergence of a “new human paradigm” or new consciousness as being foundational to real change. I do not presuppose to know what a new way of thinking looks like, but I believe it must originate from the deep and uncharted places of the human psyche in order to manifest. If we as individuals realize the amount of speculation, assumption, and construction required to attempt the solving of the mystery of our world, ourselves, and our purpose, the obvious futility may usher in a wave of transformational living unlike anything ever witnessed in the history of our species. The need for us to prove each other wrong, or for our worldview to be affirmed as “correct,” is no longer relevant because as a wise man once said, “you don’t know what you know until you know what you don’t know.”