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Keep the Change

Hope and change

“Remember that your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. This may leave you an opening to become his friend.”
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Several more years ago than polite society bears naming, the Incomparable Marge attended a workshop in "Basic Problem Solving" sponsored by her then-employer, a/k/a The Bank. It was a seminar similar to the one disseminated by TOF himself, though The Bank hired a lesser firm, alas. Had they hired TOF's firm, it would have been TOF's one chance to teach the Marge a thing or two. Oh well. Bon chance.

One of the topics in basic problem solving is that people often resist the solution, even to problems they themselves wish solved. That is because solutions by their nature change something, and change inevitably creates anxiety.

So on the second day of the class, the Marge comes to the training room and finds that the books and table-tents have all been moved around. "Tsk," says she to herself. "The cleaning people have gotten the seating all messed up." And so she picks up her book and table tent and is proceeding to her original seat when she notices the two instructors watching from the back of the room. People resist change? Even so trivial a change as a seating arrangement. And so she returned whither her materials had been shifted, and she took to watching the others as they arrived. A little more than half the students insisted on moving back to "their" seats -- seats that had been "theirs" for but a single day.

Imagine the sort of resistance you get when the change is to something in which people have invested ego, like a scientific theory!

TOF in his own seminars used a game -- "The Pony" -- in which students were read a story about two farmers selling a pony back and forth and asked to reach an answer off the tops of their heads which farmer made a profit and how much. Grouped according to the answers they had given, each group was told to develop an argument why their answer was right. Then a spokesman for each group presented its argument to the other groups. Seldom were these arguments sufficiently persuasive to induce people to change groups. In astonishing shows of solidarity, once people were in a group, they showed an odd reluctance to leave it. And these were groups that had existed for but minutes. How much stronger are the bonds for groups like "Production" and "Maintenance" or "France" and "Germany" or "Islam" and "Christendom"?

THIS IS SOMETHING TO KEEP IN MIND for your stories -- and one aspect to thickening your characters. Stories usually involve change of some sort, and your characters will react to it in various ways. A new strategy, a modified product, an altered organization structure, a fresh idea. It need not be earth-shattering -- though in SF it sometimes is, literally! -- and may even be downright mundane, at least to outsiders. A trap for the writer is to stereotype those whose attitudes toward the change are contrary to the author's own. It is a failure of imagination to suppose that these characters can be motivated by no more than sheer mustache-twirling villainy.

Similarly, it is a mistake to suppose that everyone on the same side of a change is there for the same reasons.


Captive Dreams

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