'All changed; changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.'
You might recognise the lines, taken from the poem 'Easter 1916' by the Irish poet, W. B. Yeats. It was written in response to the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916. Whilst the poem bears only a metaphorical relevance to my topic today, I find that as I grow older those two lines increasingly resonate for me; especially in a time when change seems to be occurring on a daily basis.
Change is something which our human nature tends to avoid if possible. We feel comforted by familiarity and repetition. Normality is a state of equilibrium, where everything is just as it ought to be and nothing happens to offend that sense of well-being. However, the modern world is not like that, and perhaps it is idealistic to think that life ever was. I am sure that the Romans, Tudors, Victorians, Edwardians and so forth, all saw changes happening which caused unrest. Utopia is, after all, a mythical land.
So change happens, and somehow we have to deal with it. For some people, the rate of change is too fast for them to easily adjust to the new circumstances. Life changing events are the worse culprits: separation, divorce, redundancy, bankruptcy, house repossession, or the death of someone close. Such experiences are stressful, causing anxiety, loss of sleep, irritability, palpitations, mood changes, loss of concentration, hopelessness and depression.
Sometimes, the changes are positive in their nature, but no less unsettling. For example, I started studying medicine thirty years ago. However, the medical world I now inhabit is nothing like the one I entered in 1980; is certainly different from the one attending my birth in 1960; and the latest NHS reorganisation will ensure that it will be a very different organisation I retire from. Apart from structural changes, each week brings news of medical advances, making it harder to keep on top of my professional knowledge. This week alone informed us of a genetic cause for depression, a new screening test for prostate cancer, a 'breakthrough' screening test for bowel cancer, and new drugs for breast and ovarian cancer; all encouraging news, but no less unsettling for a professional trying to make sense of it all for his patients.
So, somehow, we need to turn change round to be positive and life-enhancing; to make it a time for new opportunities; a time to take a fresh look at how we do things and how we lead our lives. 'Who Moved My Cheese' (by Spencer Johnson, published by Vermilion) is a small and very readable book about dealing with change. It is a simple parable for modern times and I would recommend it to everyone who is affected by change of any sort. Change brings the need to adapt; this book reminds us that we are significantly empowered with the strength and ability to do so.
After all, somewhere out there, life is still beautiful.
(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 28th October 2010)