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The Path of Resistance

Story posted May 05, 2010

Author: Alison Bennie, Editor

Alison Bennie, EditorChange is hard, right? Everyone knows it. Everyone says so. In fact, it’s not only hard, they say, it’s actually scary.

Why are we afraid? Some explanations point to the notion of “the devil you know,” suggesting that even a scenario that isn’t good is actually preferable to one in which we don’t know how the story ends. Once we’ve worn that groove in our world, we have trouble stepping out of it, even if that groove leads straight to trouble every time.

Each of us has examples of this dynamic in our personal worlds, most of them blessedly minor. But the forces against change can be even more powerful in our institutions, governments, and workplaces – in these we can be more resistant to new ways of doing things than we are even to forging new habits of exercise or eating right. After all, any new behavior we establish for ourselves can be just as easily abandoned if it doesn’t work, or we tire of it, or we simply decide we liked our old ways better. And most of us don’t have that kind of personal control over technology or votes or how things get done at the office.

I have worked at Bowdoin since 1993, and the College has obviously changed a great deal in that period of time. Some of the change has been hard and specific to Bowdoin, such as a shift from fraternities to a social house system, but most has just involved changing with the world (does anyone remember memos?). Of course, the further you look back in the College’s history, the more change you’ll find – coeducation being a relatively recent example, but the history of Bowdoin is truly one new thing after the other, a march of change from the very beginning.

It may be that change is easier at educational institutions. Our faculty members are devoted to the task of keeping up with new developments and innovations in their fields, after all, and every four years we have an entirely new population of students, for whom whatever we think of as “new” just “is.”  But even in organizations that renew their populations regularly, and where self-study is expected, change still requires, if not fearlessness, then certainly confidence.

Communication is an area in which change is both technological and social. New ways of sharing information and connecting don’t just emerge from needs to communicate; they also create them. Unlike the invention of machines that made distribution of information faster but not essentially different, the advent of social media makes us think completely differently about what we share, with whom we share it, and how often. Figuring out what this means for Bowdoin is exciting, because it can remove some constraints of cost and foster creativity. But as we consider what new technologies and new delivery systems mean for this publication we do so carefully. Honoring the lives and milestones of our graduates, faculty, and staff, and highlighting the connections of each to the other and to the College is what the magazine has always done and must continue to do well. So, yes, change can be scary. But thanks to Carl Barron ’38, I have a new motto (see cover). I’ll use it as my compass.

AMB