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Marinus van Reymerswaele: The Moneychanger and His Wife (1539)
"Life might only make sense if it's surprising us."

Change arrives like a thief in the night. However well-planned anyone thought they'd "made" it, actual change always comes on its own terms. It will surprise regardless of anyone's beforehand anticipation. I think of this apparently inevitable effect as Changered, using the form it shares with conjured and snookered. It's always essentially a change-up following a carefully crafted series of ascending fastballs. It sets up the batter to fool himself, the wounded yelp following the umpire's call just further evidence, just as if we needed any, that difference respects nobody's patterns, nobody's model. We might eventually enjoy Changered's benefits, but initially it will seem to have taken mean advantage of us.

Remember when our recently formered President first took office? The shift jarred.
Routine seemed more than disrupted. Rather than press briefings, Tweetings erupted at the oddest hours, spewing virtually anything, little of it seeming to carry any meaning at all, other than that a madman had taken the helm. Traditional briefings were gutted and respectable reporters, reality itself, rebutted. An arrhythmia had taken over, and its presence seemed obvious from the earliest moments. The rest of the sad and terrifying story unfolded from there while most of the rest of us were vainly trying to decode events into the common language. We learned later that his appointments didn't matter, for even the universe's greatest administrators (none of which applied or were nominated) could have thrived within the daily, deliberately reinforced, chaotic backbeat. The underlying rhythm became the predominant melody, carrying no meaning, offering no significance while most of the rest of us commenced to frantically search for underlying meanings and significances never present, purposefully withheld.

We'd been Changered and good, which felt really terrible, though some found the resulting anarchy refreshing, finally offering the kind of governance only appreciated by those desiring no governance at all. I shudder to consider what might have become of our sacred traditions, rituals, and republic had that shift become the new normal, and it came close to succeeding. Fortunately, its now receding, and faster than almost anyone predicted, for a fresh backbeat took over. Once again, we caught ourselves anticipating another fastball only to receive a change-up. The replacement President arrived on the rough equivalent of little cats' feet again, seeming perhaps too traditional, hardly a radical, and set about shifting the smallest imaginable component of the seemingly inexorable old status quo. He kept regular office hours, no change at all when measured against historical context, and he nominated competent administrators, something many before him had attempted. He appeared not to look at change as an exercise in engineering, but as one of merely doing. He commenced to signing executive orders with few teeth in them, flooding the beleaguered system with so many fresh ideas that if only a quarter of them were ever actually legislated into law, significant difference would prevail. To celebrate, he took the whole weekend off. Oh, and he demanded respect between every office holder. Hardly a game-changer, or so it might seem.

For those who wonder when the real change might occur, I counsel you to wait and watch. The real change already happened. It came right across the plate, but perhaps a half-second too late for you to shift your locked-in anticipation. You probably valiantly swung and missed or perhaps simply failed to notice it, but a new rhythm's already running. You might eventually catch up, wading through a disconcerting sense of betrayal. Changered once again, you may feel free to start harboring a fresh grudge or working to somehow get yourself over it. It's done. Whatever follows will run a distinctly different course, apparently simply as an inexorable matter of course. The opposition, loyal or not, hold defenses against only some former opponent. Swords drawn, it might take them some time to understand that their line won't long hold against this insidious new offense. They'll be out of synch with the new rhythm until their opposition no longer matters. Simple chaos won't work here anymore. We've embraced order, or, more probably, it's embraced us.

We've all seen this pattern played out ad nauseam, yet we maintain more or less the same sorts of anticipation which never once came to fruition. Perhaps we intended to reassure ourselves, to have finely planned out a change, but only to always need some time and expend considerable effort to get over what we'd presumed. 'Twas always thus. Armies of so-called change agents have littered the halls of organizations for generations without materially affecting this apparently inexorable pattern. Spin doctors always attempt to connect non-existent dots afterward only to produce naught again. Perhaps we need anticipation to distract our foreboding. We might need to convince ourselves that we can see what's coming to maintain some semblance of sanity, a truly crazy coping strategy. The next set of little cats' feet keep coming. The change-up will remain endlessly surprising. We might one day come to accept that change reliably means Changered and change our behavior. After eons of repetition, though, I'm moved to wonder what possible difference an alternate focus might yield. We always seem to somehow survive these experiences. Life might only make sense if it's surprising us.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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