August 2012

Humanist Perspectives on Change

This month our community members answer:  “What do you do during times of big personal change? Both as a life philosophy and as coping strategies in general.”

  • As the saying goes, the only people who like change are busy cashiers and wet babies. We find change disorienting, creating within us an anxiety similar to culture shock, the unease visitors to an alien land feel because of the absence of the familiar cues they took for granted back home. With an established routine, we don’t have to think! And thinking is hard work. Change can be the means to your goals, not a barrier to them. Both fight and flight are reactions to perceiving change as a threat. But if we can change our perceptions, we can avoid those reactions. An old proverb goes, “Every change brings an opportunity.” In other words, we must learn to see change as a means of achieving our goals, not a barrier preventing us from reaching them. Another way of expressing the same thought is: A change in my external circumstances provides me with an opportunity to grow as a human being. The greater the change is, the greater and faster I can grow. If we can perceive change along these lines, we will find it exciting and energizing, rather than depressing and debilitating. Yet this restructuring of our perspective on change can take some time. In fact, coping with change follows the same steps as the grieving process. The steps are shock and denial that the old routine must be left behind, then anger that change is inevitable, then despair and a longing for the old ways, eventually replaced by acceptance of the new and a brighter view of the future. Everyone works through this process; for some, the transition is lightning fast, for others painfully slow.
  • Changes in my life. Many times I feel like I am a lot like Malachi Constant from Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan (, the recipient of blind luck. I look around and I have so much and I wonder what I did to deserve everything. There have been times of utter despair at unexpected large changes but somehow things work themselves out. And it is not that I have not worked hard for things that I want or believe in, I have. Several times in my personal and work life I have looked around and seen that I was exactly where I wanted to be. Then I usually made the mistake of saying that out loud, “this is right where I want to be and I can continue indefinitely.” That is when external forces moved in and stir things up. A coworker has her status set to what the definitive response to this question might be: “Don’t take life too seriously, nobody gets out of it alive.”
  • Keep on keeping on? As an Atheist I can never hand my problems off to an invisible but benevolent big brother. But it is possible to have faith in the natural abilities of the human being. Not all of us cope well with adversity, but we are each the result of over 3 billion years of evolution. Think about it. For over 3 billion years a myriad series of lives have been lived and a template carefully crafted resulting in your current configuration as a human being. In some sense you are as immortal as any religious fantasy could imagine. Things change and we are confronted with challenges that we are not prepared for; our behavior which worked well in the tribe of our ancestors seems inadequate to the modern tasks we face. But this is all we have and all that any generation has had. The luck of the draw will always leave some of us with greater challenges but we can have confidence in a system which has functioned successfully for far longer than any religious system. Keep on keeping on? It works for me.
  • My son and his wife have an interesting way to keep problems and life changes in perspective. They ask “Is it a third world problem or a first world problem?”. Third world problems are akin to those challenging the people of Afghanistan, or Central Africa. First world problems are the problems we have in the United States. Is someone shooting at you and your family? Is your house being bombed? Has a tsunami flooded your city and carried off your loved ones? No? Well maybe it isn’t all that bad.
  • When I am confronted with dramatic changes my first inclination is to think about the events and causes that brought about the changes. I contemplate my role in those changes, what I controlled and what was beyond my control. I seek the counsel of friends who have faced similar changes and often seek a study group of people wrestling with similar situations. I then consider the possible results and decide what results I would prefer and the steps necessary to create those desires.

Thank you for your very thoughtful contributions this month. I am neck deep in my current personal growth changes and will be using your thoughts as a personal flotation device. Thanks everyone!

—Lisa Miller


President’s Report

Last month in my message I discussed the fact that we are doing a bit of a remake of our chapter. I want to continue that discussion this month.

In talking to other board members, something came up as an option a couple of times. That option is to have an evening where a few members tell us about there “Journey to Humanism”. This is something we have done a few times in the past and I remember that they were quite enjoyable evenings.  Listening to someone and hearing how sometimes the story is similar to your own and sometimes quite different is always fascinating to me.  I think we should do it more often in the future. That means some of you members need to volunteer to give it a try. The Board of directors will put it on the schedule soon as one of the monthly events.

Additionally, I think it will be wise to start scheduling our events on a variety of days and times rather than our old way of always on Thursday evenings. I think our lectures should remain on an evening schedule, but I have had people tell me that they would like to get together on the weekend days and in the afternoon. I’m also determined to get some discussion groups going again.  The discussion group has always been one of the things that I enjoyed most about Humanists of Utah. That is, to simply get together and talk. So I think the first discussion should be on a weekend afternoon someplace where we can get a cup of coffee or something.

On another makeover subject, we are now taking steps to upgrade our website. It is early in the process and I don’t want to steal any of Wayne’s thunder, but I’m excited that the upgrade is under way. No doubt Wayne will let us know when it is up and running. The upgrade is part of our efforts to be better connected to the world in general and specifically to other like-minded freethinkers.

One of the sure signs that fall is around the corner is when, as I did, see the first commercials for FOOTBALL. That’s ok, I like fall a lot. I’ve been eating garden tomatoes for a while now. Plus I am looking forward to Our Fall BBQ being held on August 9th starting at 6:00 PM at John Young’s home at 2127 South 1900 East in Salt Lake City. Like I always say, please come and join us for some good food and good company.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU