Fortresses of the past

It’s not change itself that we are scared of. It’s the loss inherent in the change that we fear. Even the person who escapes an abusive relationship loses future moments of genuine affection and happiness. Change, whichever way you cut it, embodies loss. 

If you understand prospect theory, our reaction to change makes sense. Prospect theory posits that humans feel losses more sharply than equivalent gains. Or as Livy put it, “Men feel the good less intensely than the bad.” 

Think about the reaction to the EU referendum. Vote Out won. And what was their reaction? Did they party in the streets? Nope. Vote In lost. Did they riot in the streets? Almost. That’s the core idea of prospect theory.

When we consider change that’s approaching, it’s easy to slip into reveries of the past. We cast our eyes on days gone past. Days filled with friendship and contentment and joy. The times we reminisce about are real. Solid. They are impossible to erase. They are etched permanently into the walls of time. And they are lost.

Then we look forward. We see smoke. Clouds. Uncertainty. Darkness. We cannot and do not know the future and what it has in store for us. Which is a fact that we find difficult to process. And like many things that we find difficult to deal with, instead of embracing them, we turn from them. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson understands this part of our nature

“We cannot part with our friends. We cannot let our angels go. We do not see that they only go out that archangels may come in. We are idolaters of the old. We do not believe in the riches of the soul, in its proper eternity and omnipresence. We do not believe there is any force in to-day to rival or recreate that beautiful yesterday. We linger in the ruins of the old tent where once we had bread and shelter and organs, nor believe that the spirit can feed, cover and nerve us again. We cannot again find aught so dear, so sweet, so graceful. But we sit and weep in vain. The voice of the Almighty saith, ‘Up and onward for evermore!’ We cannot stay amid the ruins. Neither will we rely on the new, and so we walk ever with reverted eyes, like those monsters who look backwards.”

Fixing our eyes on the rear-view mirror is dangerous. If we drive forward whilst looking back, we not only increase the chance of a calamitous crash. We neglect the rolling hills and the beautiful communities that life puts astride and beside our path. 

The eyes in our head face forward for a reason. Look ahead, to what is in front of you, instead of imprisoning yourself in the fortresses of the past. Yes, change is loss. But change is also a chance for gain. Emerson continues:

“The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it commonly operates revolutions in our way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy or of youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a wonted occupation, or a household, or style of living, and allows the formation of new ones more friendly to the growth of character.”