Fear and Loathing in Michigan

Change can be hard. It can be sudden; it can be gradual. It can be big or small. But can change be easy?

Let’s explore the 10-80-10 principle. It applies to a lot of theories:

In summary, any group of human beings engaging in some human endeavor generally fall into three categories represented by the 10-80-10. Ten percent will be first, best, or fastest. Ten percent will be last, worst, or slowest. And the 80 percent in the middle will be in the middle.

Change management as a discipline concerns itself with the 80 percent--the group that will eventually transition to the change as long as there is adequate preparation, training, communication, and payoff at the end.

Ten percent will be early adopters of change. And ten percent will never change.

COVID-19 is changing our world whether we want it or not. There will be no ‘going back’ to the way it was--not entirely. And in a lot of cases, this has the potential to be a GOOD thing.

There are those who will be full-steam ahead into the new world, no problem. There will be those who take time to adjust but eventually adapt just fine. And then there are those who will never be able to accept the changes in the world.

Change management seeks to put the kinds of mechanisms into place that can make adaptation to change successful. The change happens externally to the people. The adaptation to the change is what can be managed.

Change in the Time of COVID

COVID-19 is the change agent. In a world of quarantine, social distancing, and new definitions of ‘essential’, we are adapting to this change. But it’s not easy-going because of the speed of the change, the unprecedented nature of it, and how unprepared we were.

This adaptation to change is also churning up some unpleasant truths about our culture:

  1. A large group of Americans are being confronted for the first time with the inequities and hardships of other classes. They are learning what it means to live paycheck-to-paycheck and not have enough to survive a devastation like a large medical bill or a malfunctioning water heater. They are seeing the results of generations of systemic racism that has left large groups of people living on the ragged edge from birth to death.

  2. The greed of the financial industry and big business that has dogged us pretty much always, but especially since the corruption and gambling that led to the 2008 Great Recession, is on even more blatant display amid the emergency relief from the Federal government that is somehow being funneled into the hands of those who need it least. And the number of people calling for new ways to combat this corruption is growing daily.

  3. A spotlight is being trained on the kinds of violence that exist in our culture and that we seemingly tolerate as the price of doing business. During the quarantine, domestic abuse has continued, child abuse has continued, and gun violence has continued. And no amount of weapons can protect anyone from a disease.

  4. Individuality isn’t necessarily the great thing we’ve made it out to be. Sometimes, as with a pandemic, what’s good for the group is better for the individual--not the other way around. Thinking about ourselves first and others later will allow COVID-19 to linger and kill more and more people.

These phenomena aren’t new. But the attention, interest, and potential remedies could be. COVID-19 is forcing us to reckon with these situations in ways that will help us adapt not only to the pandemic but also to other pandemic-like forces.

We can fold in solutions to these problems with our transition to our post-COVID-19 world.

Some of this adaptation will be for the better of more people. Some will inconvenience or be a disadvantage to a small group in favor of a larger group. And some will be painful--pure and simple.

What doesn’t help us transition to these changes or adapt to the newness is the upsurge in anger across our country.

When Anger isn’t Anger

Some of the 80% will be angry that things are changing even though eventually they will adapt. The no-change 10% will have a great deal of anger. They will feel empowered and emboldened by that anger. It will feel righteous. It will feel like a just cause.

But that anger isn’t really about being angry at the change. That anger is a cover for other feelings.

Fear. Sadness. Helplessness. Hopelessness.

The anger is covering up the parts that are afraid of what’s out there, what’s going to happen next, who’s watching. The anger is speaking for the fear and sadness that would open that person up to too much personal shame and vulnerability. Anger is preferable in these cases because it is more self-preserving.

“If I’m angry, no one can hurt me.”

“If I’m angry, no one can ridicule me.”

“If I’m angry, I am safe.”

The truth is that using anger to mask fear or sadness makes it impossible to resolve the fear or sadness. Putting up that wall of anger to keep the fear or sadness inside doesn’t allow any kind of solace, empathy, or resolution to cross over into the fear or sadness either. Then the person is stuck with the anger, fear, and sadness forever.

They end up hurting themselves, ridiculing themselves, and not providing a safe space for themselves to feel these emotions, evaluate them, understand them, and not be controlled by them. If the anger makes one feel in control, it is an illusion. The real control is being exerted by the fear or sadness.

There is a very good reason why human beings experience grief in stages. It takes time to process such strong emotions of sadness and loss. And anger is just one of those stages masking the sadness, the fear of going on without someone or something.

Anger is also a barrier to accepting and adapting to external/extrinsic change. There are so many changes in the world that we have absolutely no control over. Human beings only have control over our own responses to these changes (which isn’t to say that being proactive isn’t beneficial as well). We can choose to process the anger and address the fear of change.

Or we can not.

It’s not the change. It’s how we transition as a result.

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