Humans are born with few instincts – compared to other critters.  Foals within a few hours of birth can do far more to look after themselves than we could.  This means that we learn almost everything.  We learn such basic things as how to walk.  Humans are in some sense the learning species.

This is a very great strength.  As one species we have learned to survive in most climates on the globe for instance.  And we can move quite easily between different social groups. 

As we grow to adulthood we acquire an astonishing array of skills.  Not only the various sorts of knowledge from schooling, but also how to relate to other peo,and the manipulating of  objects in our world (knives, forks, dvds etc).  It has been said that in an hour a day for five years you can become an expert on anything.  This presumes some basic knowledge and interest but probably isn’t too far from the mark.  This equates to about 6 months full-time: with a clear idea of what is to be learned and either a good teacher or a good system.

People have come up with an amazing array of things to help them live well in different environments – a vast array of clothing, housing and cuisines.  The variety is extraordinary and a remarkable tribute to our species ingenuity. 

I hope this makes clear that I find our ability to learn and adapt important and indispensable and irreplaceable.  Because I want to point out a downside.

Perhaps the most confronting quote I know on this is attributed to Nietzsche: if we know the why, we can bear almost any how.  I find this a remarkable tribute to the human spirit and rather scary.  It not only speaks of our ability to achieve remarkable good but to also do awful things in the pursuit of what we believe right.  Nietzsche’s remark encompasses people being able to put up with war as well as being able to construct the beauty of a cathedral.

We find that we can adapt to most situations fairly readily.  And this includes some quite nasty situations.

So I want to point out that sometimes we need to not adapt but seek to change the situation.  This can include a positive use of anger or aggression.  It means having a sense of what we find unacceptable.  Hopefully with this will come an understanding of why it is unacceptable to us: what it is that we feel is being violated (this is especially important when we are communicating with others about it).  And then we can move on to find ways of bringing change.

Most of our institutions reward compliance.  Those who follow the rules do well (there are even government programs to encourage innovation now!  “Just tell us what the outcome will be in advance and we will reward your creativity.”  But this destroys the unpredictable nature of creativity.)  This starts with schooling and is usually taken for granted.  And I think that most of the time this is very helpful.  Imagine someone deciding to drive ‘creatively’ on a busy road. 

But there are other times when compliance may not be appropriate.  Especially in the habits we can get into in our relationships, we may end up in ruts that need to be challenged.  And if everyone resigned who suffered from the attentions of a bully at work, workplaces may change for the better fairly rapidly.  (I don’t mean that a bureaucratic process is the only or best way to handle this.) 

So this is my challenge to you:
        Is there some aspect of a relationship that you are unhappy with?  If, so far, you have put up with, ask yourself if it would be better for it to change.

Perhaps you have made major changes in a relationship already.  If so I’d love to hear about this in the comments.  I’d especially like to hear about how you made these changes.

Apologies for the lack of a graphic today.  I am using a wireless network instead of my usual broadband connection and I can’t get a connection to the sites I source graphics from.

6 Comments to “Changing and Adapting”

  1. Mark says:

    Evan,

    I can say for a fact that there isn’t a thing I would change about my relationship with my wife.From her perspective any way. She is more giving, more understanding, more productive and less demanding of a person than you would ever want in a mate.My self though.

    That’s another story. I have lots of work to do in all the categories I’ve mentioned. How I’m changing me is one step at a time I’m working through every one of the improvements needed a little each day. It’s not something that is happening over night. But little by little I can feel and see the results. I just hope my wife can too.

  2. John says:

    Evan, you make several good points as usual. Allow me to offer my take on the subject.

    The greatest feature of our adaptability is our self-awareness. Most species have some adaptability, but we can consciously direct our mental/emotional adaptation, if we choose to. Of course, there are two HUGE caveats there: First, we are limited by our awareness. If we aren’t in the habit of watching ourselves, we merely react, and don’t realize what’s going on until much later.
    Second, you have to be willing to face deeply unpleasant truths in order to have the knowledge you need to proceed correctly. If you know that taking the easy way out will hurt later on, but don’t admit it to yourself…. we all know what will happen

    I tend to focus on working from the inside out. If you don’t like what’s going on, you have several different ways that you can try to improve yourself to beat the problem back, learn to be flexible enough to be happy with it, or rise above the matter entirely.

    But, although you can do all of these, that doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t make a change in the world around you. The worlds within your mind and the world around you are reflections of one another. The fact that you are presented with this can be viewed in many ways, but ultimately it comes down to a choice about how you want your world to be. Do you want to be a veritable marauder who tramples on others? Do you want to be a doormat and let the world trample you? How about being a diplomat?

    When you’re looking to improve your life, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of exclusively looking at and working on yourself, but to do so ignores a large part of your life. You’ve learned assertiveness, patience, and compassion? Time to take them for a spin and improve not only your world, but someone else’s as well.

  3. Evan says:

    Hi Mark,

    It sounds like you’re on quite a journey. And that you have a wonderful companion for it.

    I look forward to hearing more about it if you leave more comments.

    Thanks for your comment.

  4. Evan says:

    Hi John,

    Those caveats are very important.

    You make excellent points and, as usual, they are well put.

    Thanks for commenting once again.

  5. Barbara says:

    Hi Evan,

    You made a couple of points that I almost automatically tied together.

    First, the animal instinct. Second, the ability to adapt.

    I do think it is a ‘second nature’ instinct to adapt initially rather than to seek change. I think that is one basis for why people accept war or other extremes of behavior. It seems they try to live within the situation rather than be those effecting change. In the example of war, only after enough people have reached a level of intolerance does the war cease.

    Maybe the instinct to adapt is our natural, peaceable nature. Which we might also have to learn to use to its best advantage.

  6. Evan says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I hadn’t thought of it this way. I think you’re right. I like very much that adapting is part of our peaceable nature.

    Many thanks for your comment.

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