Times of crisis, of disruption or constructive change, are not only predictable but desirable. They mean growth. Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.
Because change requires us to move out of our comfort zone, we are “uncomfortable” with it. This is true even when we want the change.
Sometimes we just want change without wanting anything in particular, beyond not wanting our current situation. This kind of desire for change is equally as useless as our discomfort with change we can’t control. Neither of these states of mind actually give us any control over the uncertainty of change that triggers our anxiety. But, they actively interfere with our ability to create an effective strategy of change.
The good news is that we can become less fearful of change, by the old human standby of practice. We can practice small changes, and gradually expand our tolerance for change. Even though we will never be entirely comfortable with change (even change that we want), we can reduce our natural anxiety with change enough to enable a more thoughtful and flexible approach to it.
For the purposes of our advocacy, we should focus on practicing small change around local advocacy strategies and the skills necessary to attempt them. What we learn from such practice will be clearer to us and more useful for our future efforts. If we wait until the necessity of our circumstances forces us to try something so complex that our anxiety about change will make it very difficult to implement, we will not only increase our likelihood of failure, but will lose a genuine opportunity for change for ourselves because, at least partially, we refused to take our personal anxiety over change seriously enough to focus on reducing it.
There is a tendency in advocacy organizations to become less willing to embrace risk over time. This process starts with a willingness to take risks in acquiring the skills of advocacy, and a follow-up process of using the skills more and more as techniques, more and more automatically, as the skills themselves become more practiced. Many times the needs and possibilities in the actual circumstances of rights violation gradually become subordinated to the techniques. The use of the techniques becomes a defense against risk and liability.
The problem with this approach is that it turns the universe of advocacy possibility into a machine, i.e., there is a specific technique for changing oil and you always use that technique, even when there is something new in the situation that the technique for changing oil will not accommodate. In the universe of advocacy, there are always new demands on the creativity of disability rights and supports, and technique (no matter how well practiced and refined) will not always be able to embrace the novelty of the current situation. Thus it is that increasing competence becomes less and less capable of dealing with real novelty. This is true of both organizations as and individuals.
We need to embrace what is called “beginner’s mind” as we approach each new advocacy possibility. We need to not impose the limitations of our competence on the novelty of the current situation.