Change. Harder than you think.

I manage an addictions treatment centre for youth. I get to see a lot of people struggling to change some pretty significant things about themselves and their circumstances. I also have a Master’s in Environment & Management, which basically means I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking about systems, change and communications. It’s an interestingly mixed perspective that doesn’t always give me the most optimistic view on societies ability to respond and adapt to changing circumstances. Nonetheless, here are some thoughts on change.

First, what drives change to occur? Psychologists would suggest that cognitive dissonance drives a lot of change at the personal level. In a nutshell, this involves holding two contradictory beliefs, or believing one thing but doing another. The ensuing mental stress often will evoke someone into changing one of two things…either their expectations (thoughts, feelings, beliefs) or their reality (actions, behaviours, circumstances).

Example: For the first 28 years of my life I thought I was healthy. I ate whatever I wanted and got a bit of exercise. I slowly put on ~40lbs in the decade after graduating from high school. My expectation (being healthy) met my reality (I could do what I wanted). Then I was diagnosed with diabetes. Suddenly my reality (being diagnosed with a chronic disease) was in sharp contrast to my expectations (being healthy)The ensuing mental struggle would force me to do one of two things, adjust either my expectations (decide that being diabetic instead of healthy was OK), or change my reality (actively work on solving the diabetes issue). I chose the latter.

With me so far? Let’s take this idea and apply it to something other than an individual, say, a system of some kind. Given the recent changes in the political landscape of Alberta, let’s talk politics.

What’s the current reality of politics in Alberta? I would suggest that given the PC’s 43-year reign, the current reality is that of a rather large and complacent bureaucracy with deeply embedded power structures designed to preserve the status quo. The question then becomes, what’s your expectation of democracy in this province? Do you expect voter apathy? Do you expect the same party to run this province in perpetuity? Have your expectations of democracy changed in relation to the reality we find ourselves in?

It’s always easier to change our expectations then it is to alter our reality. Changing reality takes work. It takes risks. It’s messy and chaotic. And it’s absolutely essential to avoid the slippery slope of changing our expectations. 40lbs isn’t that overweight. Maybe our water doesn’t have to be that cleanMaybe it’s OK if our democracy isn’t that representative.

So, do your expectations line up with reality? If so…great. If not, what are you going to do about it?

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