All Over The Map | Jan. 1, 2015

By Liz Massey, Jan. 1, 2015.

Several people in my life have declared on various occasions, “I hate change!” It’s hard for me not to feel sorry for them. To me, change is like the weather or time: something that can certainly seem cruel or capricious at times, but is such an existential constant that to declare war against it is pure folly.

LGBT people have a unique relationship with change, since the forward momentum of our equality movement is bringing social change to parts of the United States that never expected to have to deal with out and proud and legally empowered queer folk. In 2014, marriage equality came to places such as Idaho, West Virginia and Oklahoma, ushering in a dramatically different era for relationship recognition in many traditional strongholds of homophobia.

Our opponents are not quietly acquiescing to these changes. They are crafting ever more draconian “religious freedom” bills to put themselves above the law of the U.S. Constitution. It seems obvious that much of the “movable middle” has already moved to our side. Those who are left will continue to react to changes wrought by our liberty with increasing resistance and aggression.

To understand how different people react to change, it helps to know that some behaviors start deep in our brains. Recent research indicates that people often have a neurological preference for complexity and change, or for stability. Liberals often fall in the complexity-preferring category, and conservatives in the stability-preferring category, although everyone has a bit of both in them, which helps us avoid a lopsided response to change.

As we make our New Year’s resolutions this year, we have a chance to examine the dilemma of change in miniature. When I think of all the excuses I end up making when I’m resisting a big change, I have a little more empathy for the theocrat whose entire belief system is apparently going to crumble if my spouse and I are treated fairly.

The first place a would-be changemaker can get stuck is around the decision of whether a change is even needed. It’s possible to deny the need for change, or stay on the fence about it, forever. Adequate preparation for change can help make it less of a violent struggle to achieve. The LGBT groups that have been holding dialogues with faith groups, asking them to collaborate on a mutual vision of what queer equality might look like, are performing vital groundwork for change that will hopefully drain the life out of potential backlash initiatives.

One of the biggest challenges when making a change is dealing with what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls inflection points – moments when the temptation to backslide and allow old behavior to reign is strong. Why are people resisting our equality? Do they see it as a personal threat, or have they been fed lies about what new laws would allow us to do? Knowing how to respond effectively to pushback, whether it is generated internally or externally, is essential to making change stick.

Once the change has happened, everyone who has successfully lost 20 pounds on a diet knows that the real trick is maintaining the new reality. For our community, the issue is deeper than combating new legal barriers to equality, or the continuing insertion of religiously driven bias into our secular democracy. We must join with those who desire to transform America into a much more flexible and adaptive country, one that is much less polarized politically and socially.

We must learn to make this level of change happen, and soon. Threats far larger than dealing with the religious right loom on the horizon. The impact of climate change, shifting national and global demographics, and the transforming influence of technology may make our political struggles today look like a walk in the park. Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil estimates that those living in the 21st century will experience the equivalent of 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of change – a pace that is a thousand times greater than was experienced in the 20th century.

However you feel about change, it helps to accept that it is necessary – on both the personal and social level – and have a strategy for dealing with it, even welcoming it. As author Alan Cohen said, “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”

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