They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.
Confucius was an ancient Chinese teacher and philosopher who pre-dated Christianity by five centuries. He is one of the most influential and quoted thinkers of all time. In this quote, he teaches us about change. He likely wasn’t the first great thinker to discuss this topic and he certainly won’t be the last. One might conclude, from the plethora of statements and essays about the reality of change, that people just aren’t getting the message. Or is it a message that people would rather not hear?
I don’t think change is particularly easy for anyone – when it is imposed upon us. This is totally understandable because a change will take us out of our comfort zone. Our comfort zone makes us feel secure: familiar surroundings, people and living processes. Security is important because it means the absence of fear and tension. The logical conclusion is that staying in our comfort zone will make us feel happy and fulfilled. Right?
However, it is a different story when we initiate change ourselves, because it feels exciting to embark upon a journey that we believe will deliver a positive result. Although I don’t wake up each day with a burning desire to make changes, I have always sought ways to improve the way I do things – in my classroom when I taught and in performing tasks at home. Those types of changes are easily embraced because I believed there was something to gain. My decision. My choice. When change was imposed upon me by a higher authority, my instinctive reaction was, and still is, to question it.
Confucius seems to be saying that staying within our comfort zones will not lead us to happiness and wisdom. I believe that he is speaking about personal growth. Living is about making choices and decisions as we operate within the world around us. No one lives in a vacuum – and sticking our head in the sand to hide from the world is clearly not the answer.
As we do this living, are we making good choices? Do I live better today than I did six months ago? Am I living according to the beliefs and values I espouse? Do I genuinely act for the benefit of others, or is my real agenda to fulfill my own needs, first and foremost? None of these questions have easy answers, but I believe that we need to address them on a regular basis if we are to grow.
Every living organism needs to grow in order to maintain life. A plant or animal that is not nourished will wither and die. Human beings are spiritual beings and our inner life must be nourished just the same as our physical bodies. That kind of growth depends heavily on gathering information, assessing its value and putting new learning into practice. This takes effort and time, but there is one more important ingredient.
In order to internalize the teaching of Confucius, we must adopt an attitude that is conducive to personal learning and growth. If all we care about is our creature comforts and staying safe inside our comfort zone, then we will, metaphorically, bury our heads in the sand. If I embrace my spirituality and hold it dear and precious, I will do what is necessary to grow. This kind of growth means change – and it may be just as uncomfortable as getting off the couch to do physical exercise to which I am not accustomed.
Confucius takes us by the hand and leads us to the truth. If we truly want happiness – to be content and at peace – then we must change. This growth will allow us to gain wisdom – understanding our lives within the context of the world at large. I believe it is very difficult to deal effectively with the people who come into our lives, if we are not at peace. The inner turmoil will boil over and make itself visible. That will taint our relationships with others in a way that will not lead to happiness or wisdom. We need to invest our time and energy inward, each and every day of our lives.