Over the past 20 years I’ve learned a lot about how people react to ‘change.’ Since Banyan’s mission is creating change for good, I’ve always been interested in how people respond to change in their own lives, and why these situations mostly end up falling under the heading of either heartache or opportunity, often with no middle ground.
Through the work that Banyan does I’ve been blessed to be able to talk with lots of people who face change in their lives—either by choice, circumstance or being compelled to. These are people who have tried to stop smoking; wanted to quit drinking; to leave an abusive relationship; to somehow manage the weight of crushing personal debt; to come to terms with cancer, or Hepatitis C, or HIV or even endure the long wait for a healthy organ to become available for transplant. And the one thing I’ve learned from all these experiences isn’t revelatory, but it is insightful.
Change is hard.
People tend to want to just “keep on keeping on” (as a number of Disco songs used to say). We humans like things to stay the same—slow and steady, no surprises. But when change does come, which it always does, it somehow always surprises us and sets us back in our seats. We, as a people, are almost always unprepared for ‘change’ in our lives—mainly because we often lack the focus or forbearance necessary to manage that change. Not that we humans are flawed—just unprepared.
I like to think that’s where Banyan comes in. We believe—and when I say ‘believe’ I mean to a person we really believe this—that if you can help engage someone to better understand the problems and possibilities they face; to comfort and assure them so that they can better process any concerns they feel; to show them that change is not, in itself, a bad thing—and that how they choose to react actually determines its affect on their lives—and that motivating them not only to embrace the inevitability of change in their lives, but to make them aware that they have power—have control—over that change, will make all the difference in how successfully they can move forward.
Here’s an example. About 15 years ago, we began production on a documentary film focused on a young woman who had been diagnosed with inoperable breast cancer. Our goal was to film the last 100 days of her life, in an effort to show the benefit of hospice care in what only can be described as a sad and hopeless situation.
Over the course of just over three months I watched as our subject went from being dumb-founded by her diagnosis, to understanding that she was facing the end of her life, to being angry at the randomness of the disease and the inability to fight it, to her eventual acceptance of the change she was about to experience. And when I say ‘acceptance,’ I mean total. She came to completely embrace both her diagnosis and future, and was determined to make the most of the time she had left.
We watched as she made plans for her children’s education, their graduations, their weddings, her funeral, the care and support of her husband, and how specifically (in very small ways) she planned to stay relevant to her family after she was gone. She completely embraced the ‘change’ she was facing in her life. And by this choice, she went from a victim to an inspiration and example for others.
On one of our last visits before she passed, I remember asking her if she was afraid. She told me that once she had found acceptance, she wasn’t afraid—and had actually become very motivated to manage what was about to happen. She said, “Change is hard. You can’t stop it. You can’t change it. But you can embrace it – and that gives you the power.”
That gives you the power.
Imagine the impact to society if we can help people with diabetes embrace losing weight and getting healthy; help young pregnant mothers who smoke embrace the benefits of quitting for their babies’ well-being and their own; engage and motivate black men having sex with men in the value of choosing protected sex as a way to prevent HIV; and encourage those who have lost a loved one to consider organ donation as a way to keep their legacy alive.
I’ve always tried to keep that in mind as those of us at Banyan develop tools, projects and products designed to help people embrace change in their lives—to help them move from powerless to powerful. If we can help engage people so they don’t feel alone or helpless, educate them in the realities of what they face, and motivate them to not only accept the change that is inevitable in their lives but to embrace it—to own it—then I think we’ve done our job.
Change is hard. But sometimes—especially if we’ve done our jobs—change can be good as well.