Breaking Down the Culture of Change


SATISH BAJRACHARYA, Daayitwa Fellow 2021

Throughout history, change has been difficult. Breaking the shackles of normalcy and going against the well-established norm has always been a continuous struggle. Despite the presence of these antecedent conditions in history, our culture, values, and norms have continuously evolved. We have to agree that change is difficult but it is a process of making things better, not for oneself but for the betterment of the society in itself. In Adam Smith’s words, the progress of society has been made by the ingenuity of philosophers or people of speculation. In other words, change is necessary for the amelioration of human conditions and is often attributed to those who observe and speculate. However, there have been instances in history where change has deteriorated the status quo and made things worse off rather than better off. Why is it so? This again leads to the question of whether change is good or bad. We will delve into these aspects in the following sections. 

Understanding Individuals       

Before understanding the culture of change, we need to understand the individuals who will bring or will be affected by the change. Borrowing from economics, the very fundamental notion of individuals is driven by wants, desires, and choices based on rationality. Although, I do not agree on rationality as sometimes we tend to make irrational decisions based on feelings and instincts. As humans, we have unlimited wants and unlimited desires and the very fundamental problem in economics is resource allocation. That is how we allocate limited resources so that we can satisfy the wants of individuals in the most efficient manner possible. The very notion of self-driven motives tends to create resistance against change. There are individuals who are far-sighted and advocate change for others’ benefit rather than self but their journey usually is fraught with impediments and obstacles. Sometimes individuals fail to see the perceived benefit that they will reap in the long-term as individuals are accustomed to normalcy and refrain from activities that unsettle them. Moving back and scanning the whole scenario, the power struggle and interactions in society or any organization is for the limited resources that are available to satisfy unlimited human wants, and this fundamental problem creates or resists change.

Change in the Context of Nepal

Nepalese culture is well ingrained in the culture of change. As noted by Rajib Upadhyaya, in his book Cabals and Cartels, for a society that worships Lord Shiva at the holy temple of Pashupatinath, who represents creative destruction, and the philosophy based on the holy trinity where Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva continuously create, preserve and destroy to promote change for the betterment of the universe, it seems quite ironic that Nepalese tolerate and resist change. Further talking about change, Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian-born US political economist, developed the theory of creative destruction whereby innovation and growth replace the old with new by diverting resources away from old ones to new firms. In this sense, change promotes innovation where there are both winners and losers, but the overall benefit from change far outweighs the cost. In contrast, resistance against change has been a common feature of the Nepalese economy. After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2006, the hope was that a new constitution based on the ideals of federalism would be soon developed. However, the resistance against these changes was quite visible. And only later, after much delay, the new constitution of Nepal was promulgated only in 2015. The disastrous earthquake in 2015 also highlighted how people in power are complacent and resist change. The slow system of relief distribution needed change, especially during such dire times of national emergency. The outcome was that relief did not reach the victims and the channel for distribution was inefficient with numerous bottlenecks in the system. 

A Theoretical Perspective on Why We Resist Change

To understand change, we need to understand it from an economic as well as a social perspective. From an economic perspective, individuals resist change because they only see their own private costs and benefits. They advocate for change when their benefits exceed their costs, and they resist it when their costs exceed their benefits. In society, our leaders tend to make decisions for change only after considering these facts. However, it is rather a short-sighted approach that only concerns the self. This is the very fundamental reason where change rather brings about retrenchment in the welfare of the society. What we tend to forget is to consider the social costs and benefits. If we are to consider social benefits and social costs before making a decision for change, it would lead to a much better outcome. A true leader will advocate change even when his/her private costs far outweigh his/her private benefits if the social benefits of the decision far outweigh the social costs. This means that even if in the short run the individual might be worse off, he or she will benefit in the long term. From a sociological perspective, individuals or members of society often resist change because of the well-held value system, beliefs, and norms of the society. Going against these values may be seen as a sort of betrayal to the system or the society. The ingrained values are so deeply entrenched that trying to bring change seems to be a futile effort. In such instances, change is possible but it would rather be a gradual process where it might take years or even decades. The problem here is changing the value system of the whole society rather than particular individuals.  

Conclusion

This leads again to the question of whether change is good or bad. The answer is: it depends. If change is brought about considering only the private costs and benefits of particular individuals then change might not be good. On the other hand, if the decision to bring about change in the system is based on a far-sighted plan considering the social cost and benefits to society then change is good. In this sense, change is good when social benefits outweigh social costs. Further, ideological beliefs, norms, and values also play an important role in promoting change. The decision to bring about change and whether it will be good or bad will depend on a combination of these multifaceted aspects such as social costs, social benefits, norms and value system of the society we live in. It is indeed important to understand these fundamental aspects, aspects related to individuals’ behavior, aspects related to the economic and sociological features. Therefore, to promote beneficial change, it is important to consider these multiple features and to accept that change is necessary for the evolution and betterment of society.

For An Enterprising Nepal