“I have accepted fear as a part of life,
specifically the fear of change, the fear of the unknown, and I have
gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back,
turn back. . . .” — Erica Jong
Change is a big theme at Concordia these days. Within the past few weeks, we’ve welcomed a president (see ”A New Leader”) and two deans (see “New board executive and deans take office”), introduced a five-year academic plan (see “Moving Ahead” [pdf]), opened two buildings and finished significant renovations on another (see “Schooling Journalists” and “The Medium and the Message”). In the world of alumni relations, we’ve welcomed a new VP, Kathy Assayag (see “Behind the Scenes,” June 2005), who has initiated strategic changes of her own.
The mood is definitely optimistic here — we’re clearly headed in the right direction. Still, like for Erica Jong, fear of change is natural. Change means instability, uncertainty. A new U.S. president? Stock prices fall. An organizational shake-up? Workers get shaken up. Same-sex marriage? “[It] will destroy the nation,” according to James Dobson of Focus on the Family (Stephen Harper too, I’m sure). Change breeds panic.
Why? It seems our 21st-century lives are in constant flux — from technology, healthcare and science to communication methods and leisure activities — so shouldn’t we be used to it by now?
Well, maybe our lives haven’t changed as much as we’d like to believe. In 1960, say, in suburban Montreal, Chicago, London or Paris, each day most kids awoke, put their clothes on, had a bowl of cereal or slice of bread, rode a bus or walked to school, were taught in classrooms for about seven hours, went home, grabbed a snack from the fridge, did homework, played with friends, watched some TV and went to bed; basically the identical routine of most children today. Adult men’s lives haven’t changed much since then either, and although women’s roles have altered considerably in that time, they’ve been pretty constant since the ’70s.
While some things have dramatically shifted over the past 40 or 50 years, such as access to information, medical treatment and professional athletes’ salaries, the prophecies of Brave New World or The Jetsons mostly haven’t arrived. 9/11 shook us up so much partly because it seemed to signal the end of an era (reiterated by the recent bombings in London), but that hasn’t greatly affected our day-to-day goings-on — although it soon may.
(All of this obviously does not apply to those living outside the Western world, that is, for most of the planet, where major transformations have occurred through wars, the fall of communism, disease, economic booms or busts and so on. But it remains true for the majority of Concordia graduates.)
Another reason that we’re not inured to the idea of change is likely due to evolution (as is just about everything else, evolutionary biologists would argue). It’s counterintuitive, since it would seem more logical that those among our ancestors who did not fear change would have adapted better and therefore survived. But fear of change probably helped our predecessors endure as their reluctance to change made them act prudently, allowing them to adapt and live on.
These many eons later, Concordia too will be stronger for changing smartly. This magazine as well, I hope. Vice-President Assayag’s vision is to have fundraising and alumni relations’ efforts be driven by the university’s academic plan. This will seep into everything we do, including our communications with alumni. So stay tuned.
Still, we must always keep in mind the words of Dan Quayle: “I believe we are on an irreversible trend . . . but that could change.” Concordia’s irreversible trend, I suspect, will be forever evolving, making us stronger and fitter.