“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Inertia. A term borrowed from physics and applied to our willingness to enact change. It is a metaphorical use of the word, but it is quite beautiful with strong explanatory powers. The Newtonian definition reads something like ‘a body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force.’ What most people tend to leave out/ neglect is the second piece, ‘a body at rest tends to stay at rest…’ (For a most eloquent discussion about the inertia of ideas, please read Tony’s post here.) Therein lies the philosophical and neurological conundrum: our seeming inability or unwillingness to change. Change our minds, our behavior, and our actions, which tend to keep us locked in situations that are often uncomfortable or even unhealthy.
Complacency, inertia, is insidious. It curls soft, feathery tendrils around everyday existence, and pulls us, millimeter by millimeter into a cozy nest of habit. Lulled into a state of passivity, we watch as time ticks by, unwilling to be roused from our comfortable repose. Active decision-making pushed aside, we simply are. Without intention. And there is no inherent wrong, here. This simply represents the relinquishment of active choosing. But what happens when you are prodded from your reverie by lumps in the mattress? Ah, well, it’s to be expected. It’s not as if you invested in memory foam. Reposition, fluff the pillows, and close your eyes. Until it becomes apparent that your nest is situated in a draft, with traffic noise and a decidedly weird odor. Ugh. At what point does it enter your consciousness that a change of situation may be conducive to health and happiness? How much discomfort does it take to incite self-inflicted eviction from a place of perceived ease into the unknown?
Change is scary.
We as humans are born into established society, complete with rules, expectations, and pervading beliefs. As developing creatures, children, we tend to accept these ideas as fact. They are spoon-fed to us by people we trust. But as we branch out and experience the world, it should become apparent that the ideology gifted to us by circumstance is not equivalent to the truth. No, with maturity should come some creeping awareness of freedom.
But recognition is not enough to convince us that a departure from ingrained belief and practice is advisable, or representative of an improvement in lifestyle. This is an emotional attachment, rather than a purely intellectual one, and as such, rationalization may be inadequate. Remember, it is the word of our loved ones that we obtain these ideas in the first place. So, it is as though we find ourselves suddenly drifting on the breeze, and rather than adjusting our wings and tilting with the wind, we frantically scramble for something to grab ahold of. There is fear that comes with gliding, unsupported, above the bedrock on which we were raised. Is this even allowed? So many will dive back down, and basking, sated in the sun, spend their lives fending off forces that attempt to rouse them. Choosing to do otherwise represents vulnerability-inducing change. It could almost be viewed as willful inertia.
The inherent snag here lies in the nature of existence as a living being. What is life if not continual change? What are you, if not the manifestation of your actions; your decisions? There is a very human tendency to shift responsibility off of ourselves, and cast it elsewhere . Not only does this ease our minds, but it also ensures that our place in the social group is unchallenged. As a species, we have survived by the transmission of wisdom from one generation to the next. In some respects, casting off accepted knowledge is bad for society, and can prove hazardous to individuals if they are perceived as a threat to the group dynamic. So, from the relative safety of the lumpy nest, we shout into the wind about the injustice that confines us to its drafty depths. Venturing further afield, we cry, would require time, and funds, and appropriate weather conditions, none of which have been gifted to us in order to do so . It paints a veneer of confidence on our fear, and, we grimly reason, it is circumstance alone which thwarts our freedom and dictates our choices.
These are the falsehoods we peddle to ourselves, absolving and rationalizing lack of action, even when we are at least vaguely aware that greater things await somewhere off in the violet dusk of distance. To varying degrees, we allow those who surround us to make decisions on our behalf . The majority can’t possibly be wrong, can it? Such is the nature of residence in a social culture. Perhaps the latest incarnation of footwear is particularly hideous, and unfriendly to our arches, but we suffer in the name of fashion. Or, in a more malevolent example, we passively allow the mistreatment of our fellow humans at the hands of another, if a faction has in some way ruled their behavior unacceptably incongruent with the norm . There is a biological basis for this, of course, as the well-being of the group must be prioritized over the individual who has gone against the grain and placed themselves in a sticky situation. But we are also a species that, in many ways, defy our basest inclinations . Despite what we may believe, as we observe injustice, peering through twigs and feathers at the world, inaction is a choice all its own, but has more in common with death than life .
This is not to suggest that all opportunity for change should be viewed as positive and/or imperative. Some conscious inertia, that is, an examined choice to remain stable, is necessary to maintain the integrity of the self. As we waft about in the skies, reveling in our freedom, some caution is needed to prevent being blown clear into another hemisphere. Navigation is accomplished with knowledge of a fixed point or two, guiding our forays, lending us stability and legitimacy in life. Our ability to assess situations and utilize knowledge of patterns and experience serves us well in terms of making decisions that bring about change or actively reject it .
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
The things that keep us paralyzed, mired in unsatisfactory situations, are many. But, distilled down, it is security and the perception of comfort. It’s the safety of concealment from the elements, predators and prying eyes, for ourselves and often, more importantly, our family. We project an uneasy authority onto the literal and figurative covers we huddle beneath, wary of the world. To consider this and remain is valid. But we would assert, dear friends, that the active decision is superior to passivity.
We have been born into an incredible world. Full of wonder and opportunity, winds on which to sail. Before digging in and stubbornly clinging to present circumstance, some careful consideration is in order. Perhaps, just perhaps, a new version of “normal” will hold pleasures and blissful contentment previously unfathomed. Perhaps, just a short flight away, is the chance to transcend survival and thrive.