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Friday, 13 May 2016

The Price of Change in Individuals and the Nations

Man is an animal caged by his own ambivalence. It seems such a pity that a creature so intelligent and so creative finds it so necessary to be a prisoner of his own attitudes. The lower animals, unencumbered with the need to rationalise, escape this incarceration. They must be the happier creature for it. But man, Lord of the manor, ever burdened with both the need and the desire to think and rationalise, remains the only creature willing and capable of hurting or destroying himself as proof conclusive that life demands such sacrifices to renew itself.
The boat on the placid waters of conventional wisdom is a symbol of shackles on the mind, not of progress. 

Progress is the magic word. What man does not desire progress even if progress is expressed in such basic terms as the basic need for someone eating one meal a day to eat two? Oh yes, every man desires progress. Since the early man found himself in the inelegant surroundings of the cave, man has always desired that little addition that cuts off the past from the present and the present, hopefully, from the future. Somehow, the meaning of life itself, the measure of nature's kindness or cruelty to individuals, are both measured on the scale of this little thing – the thing that distinguishes one life from another; the thing that makes masters of some and servants of others.

Progress itself is an expression of that little thing – change. Progress may be a fundamental change in the circumstances of nations or merely an escape from the great divide by an individual. Related to nations, it is translated as a revolution. While in individuals, rags may be exchanged for riches. There may even be that most undesirable thing – a tumble down from grace down to the roots of grass below. The latter is change undesirable; progress in reverse gear. 

Man desires change from good to better and from better to the best. Now, here is the catch. Every change demands a sacrifice – may be a pound of flesh; may be a pint of blood. But like the volcano, change refuses to occur unless it must be allowed to change the shape of the mountain above and leave its impression on the valley below. Translated into sociological terms, this means that changes in the affairs of individuals and the circumstances of nations must inevitably do more than create a mild turbulence on the placid waters of the old and the familiar. Heads may roll; positions may change may change; New socio-political realignments may emerge; the powerful may become powerless and the powerless powerful and eagles may exchange places with sparrows. Change, however it comes, is an assault on the known and the familiar. 

No man fails to recognise this change. But whatever one may say about man, it must be said in his favour that, not necessarily out of greed, his desire to eat his cake and have it too is informed by his fear that change is a cruel master. It has no respect for positions, age, tribe or religion. It may spare some for some time but it spares no man all of the time. Somewhere along the way, someone will get caught up, like the fly, in the spider-web of change. And nothing will be the same again.

This, perhaps, explains why man drags about this garment of ambivalence. Change is desirable because it makes the difficult easy, the impossible possible. But change is a child of uncertainty. It introduces uncertainties into life. Even the adventurous develop goose pimples when they confront the prospect of uncertainty. Indeed, the only thing certain about life itself is uncertainty – the inevitability that no man has mastered life and fate well enough to be certain how either will behave towards him. It is all tragically complicated by this; once change begins, no one can be certain where it will end. Revolutions – violent or calculated changes of epic proportions – tend to feed on their initiators. It is a cruel irony but further proof that the change does insist on a stiff price. 

It makes some sense that every change, no matter how small, must contend with opposition. It is not often that even those who desire change are prepared to pay the asking price. It is all right, of course, if someone else must pay the price. But us? Oh, certainly not.

Change is built into life itself by nature. The bible puts it beautifully that there is time for everything. Surely, no man can stop changes in the circumstances of a nation or in the lives of individuals. For somewhere along the line when the time for change arrives, nature's appointed man of the hour must bring it to pass. There may be howls of protest; there may be threats of brimstone and the orchestra of uncertainty may play to a full house but once the time for change comes, nothing can stop it.

Change serves a useful purpose. For one, it renews life and living. For another, it rids life of boredom and reduces the lifespan of monopoly. Without change, perhaps, one man may sit on the throne forever. Change renews human faith in human existence and underlines the fundamental fact, to wit: change, like variety, is the spice and the salt of life. The young have hopes to lead tomorrow because they are assured of change. The labourer is encouraged to draw water and hew wood because he is assured of change. If it does not come to him, it will definitely come to his offspring and his labour would have been worth the while. 
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