Change is Inevitable, but Unchecked Change becomes Destructive to Economy and Mental Health
Taxes, death, and change are the three guarantees in life. Anybody who resists change too much inevitably will break down. But as with everything else, change must be balanced. When we have no roots, when we don't understand history, culture, and tradition, when we don't have the grit to push through adversity to discover more meaningful relationships, then change becomes something that we blindly run to without knowing why without understanding what we are creating. Never resisting change can break us in the long run as much as fighting it. As with anything else in life, wisdom and health are best when balanced.
America is about change; we generally see that as good. Still, our current struggles with mental health, staffing shortages, and even school problems such as bullying, I believe, are the direct result of too much change.
I will explain how bullying and our culture of change are related because I believe your eyes may have popped the most at that statement. :-)
Too much change and our lack of roots and social responsibility
I grew up in Eastern Europe with a very different approach to the school system. There are many pros and cons that we could discuss, but I will only examine the aspect of the school structure that relates to how people develop their relationships in a community.
In Hungary, children grades 1-8 are placed in a pier-group of 25-30 students. This group does not change; for example, my group was "A"; therefore, when I was in second grade, I would say, "I am in 2a class". The same thing happens in "gymnasium," which is the name for grades 9-12. One has to change school at the gymnasium level and again placed in a pier group of 25-30 people. What does this mean? It means that for eight years in elementary and four years in the gymnasium, you go to class with the same 25-30 students. It is the teachers that come to you; the classes don't change the student body. Students are therefore forced to figure out how to coexist with each other for a very long time.
We all have the same curriculum, privileged kids can't jump ahead to "AP" classes, and struggling kids are not placed into a "different" classroom. We had to figure out how to help each other; we had to get to know each other regardless of our intellect or background.
Interestingly this limited bullying. Why? Because being stuck with each other meant that bullying had consequences.
Above is my class at our very first picture together in first grade and at the third or fourth-grade "Farsang" celebrations. Yes, I was dressed as Papageno from Mozart's Magic Flute. Oh gosh, different times! Members of our class stayed in touch for the most part for the past 38 years. I would include more recent images, but I would like to respect our privacy. I am guessing nobody can recognize Miss Roffy from third grade. :-) But Miss Roffi was my best friend, and we had so many fights over the 8 years! Some even more recent, but we learned to iron things out pretty fast. We don't have much in common, and we are very close at heart.
Kids eventually team up and face the bully, the bully had to back down and say sorry, and second chances and forgiveness had to be given to the bully eventually. For the most part, all this happened without a teacher or parent intervention. As a matter of fact, the preference was to allow students to figure it out and intervene only when necessary. People behave differently when they know there is no change coming. When you are in a community of 25-30 people, for 8-10 hours every day for 8 years, if you don't want to be miserable, you have to figure it out. This structure has a huge influence on how people in adulthood relate to each other. There is more grit between friends. Friendship is not about temporarily sharing some activity; it is a constant state that may occasionally be burdened with differences. As a result of many years together, students have more resilience to deal with human conflict because they learn the skills that allow us to coexist from an early age. Sometimes knowing that there is no change coming makes us rise to the challenge, it is HOW we get to know each other better and build deep relationships.
Yes, one can argue that this must have the occasional negative result, and it does. No system is perfect. On the other hand, from personal experience, I can tell you that it has a wonderfully positive effect on creating lifelong friendships. Being a classmate makes you "blood brothers and sisters" no matter what you achieve in life, you share something profound and precious. We stick together for life, I am 45 years old, I could go home next week, and at least 22 out of 30 of my classmates would show up with hardly any notice. My mom, in her 70s, is still in touch with her classmates as well. It is a gift that I would never give up.
American kids on the other hand never share a classroom with the same 30 students for more than an hour a day for maybe 6-12 months. Everything is rotating, everything is changing at all times. I believe this constant change and temporary links with human companions have a lasting effect. It is a very typical immigrant experience that forming lasting friendships in America is significantly more challenging. People are friendly, and as long as there is a common interest, there is a connection, but very few people are interested or even know how to keep a connection once there is no common activity or convenience, not to talk about conflict. Yes, I am generalizing; I have made some wonderful deep friendships, but generally, there is a difference in intimacy in relationships between Europe and America.
Change in the Workplace—Salary Boost for Lack of Loyalty and Staff Shortage
It always astonishes me that in the US, having no loyalty earns you more money. It is weird if you think about it; we all know that the only way to increase your salary significantly is to get a new job and leave your existing company. As a small business owner, I know how essential it is to have staff loyalty and a team that cares and is invested in a project and the company's vision. So why are we rewarding people who are constantly jumping ship and are invested only in self? The culture is to blame; competition makes us feel fear and desperation, so we try to "get" talent by buying them, but as so often happens, tossing money at a problem does not solve the problem. A constant job change is especially endemic in tech companies, where "hopping ship" every 1-2 years has become the norm. But we don't think about the phycological environment that it creates.
Constant "ship-hopping" not only destabilizes businesses but also makes workers more lonely. There are simply no roots, not enough time to build meaningful relationships and friendships. Now we are at the point with lawsuits (which is a different topic) where people feel they cannot even show themselves as human and fear to develop friendship, and god forbid asking somebody out on the date. But we spend two-third of our life at work! Where else are you going to find folks with whom you can relate? Yes, it was imperative to curtail workplace harassment, but now "we fell to the other side of the horse" to use the Hungarian expression. Every little conflict or hurt feeling is labeled randomly as harassment, and there is no way to fight it. We have inadvertently created such a sterile environment that there is more and more loneliness. We are afraid to relate to each other because we don't want to be misunderstood, and we don't know how to politely talk about issues privately to fix most human hick-ups in communication. Yes, for serious issues, we do need regulations and law, but for our every day, what we need is the social skill that we learn by coexisting for a longer time with each other.
And then came Covid…
If we are not rewarded at work for loyalty, if friendships and community are not a factor when we go to work, nothing holds us back. Quitting is easier. And for the individual in American culture and society, quitting may be the right answer. Unfortunately, as so many businesses and workplaces are experiencing now, this culture of change and zero attachment and loyalty is a fragile house of cards. Businesses and organizations will collapse and shut down because there are not enough workers. Businesses that had the innovative power to survive Covid, had the financial know-how, in the end, it will be staffing that will put them under. Ironically, at that point, people will complain that there are not enough services and not enough placements for employment…
Whether we like it or not, we are dependent on each other. No man is an island; always acting out of self-interest will collapse our society as much as having no rights and no anonymity will also collapse a society. Balance is what we need. Balance is what we no longer have in our current US culture. We learn social responsibility and emotional relatedness early in life, we continue what we learned into our working life, and in our US culture with a heightened sense for the importance of the individual (which is needed, I am not advocating the opposite), but when we are raised from kindergarten that everything is always changing and if you don't like something, just move on, we are creating a society of solitude and mental illness.
I don't believe we can fix mental illness in this county with money and pills and more phycologists alone; what we need to teach is the skill of communication, emotional intelligence, and interdependence at an early age. We can do this for the next generation by changing school structure, and as adults, sometimes to heal, what we need is a bit of grit to resist change at work or in relationships when it serves the long-term prosperity of the collective.