Benns’ Belief: Windows of change

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

I think my grandmother, as wise as she was in some areas, missed the lessons unfolding outside her favourite window.

My grandmother never wanted me to grow up. She told me so every time I would visit her rural Apsley-area home. She would sit at her cluttered kitchen table and stare outside the window that framed magenta lilacs each spring.

She wanted to wave some magic wand and preserve the small me she saw before her, the young boy interested in her card games and her stories, and all the advice her Grade 6 education and a PhD in life could impart.

Growing up, she explained, would mean worrying about money, relationships, one’s health and so many other adult concerns.

She certainly made her case that becoming an adult didn’t sound fun; on the other hand, I wasn’t sure what the alternative was.

As someone who experienced a significant life change in 2021 (a marriage separation), I guess I have been thinking about the psychology of change more often of late, especially the capacity for openness.

The openness trait is one of five core personality dimensions that psychologists consider in understanding personality. Openness is just how it sounds — a receptivity to new ideas and new experiences. (The other four are conscientiousness, extroversion/introversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.) 

Like any of the five traits, openness falls along a spectrum. There are wishful thinkers, like my well-meaning grandmother, who didn’t like change in her own life and didn’t want it for her loved ones. And there is a small cadre of others who intensely seek change and in so doing perhaps repudiate the value of planting roots.

Probably the healthiest way to live, as with most things, is to choose the middle ground.

In my early 20s I remember riding shotgun in my roommate Cliff’s jeep in Guelph, listening to him gratefully rhyme off all the positive things going on in his life at that time. Good marks in his university classes. Check. Had a good vehicle. Check. Had a girlfriend. Check. Had money in the bank and a good part-time job. Check. “Now I’m just waiting for it to all go to hell,” I remember him declaring.

While that may come across as pessimism, at least he was becoming internally ready to recognize that such a winning combination of events was likely impossible to maintain. After all, we’re not always in control.  Change happens. (You may substitute the word change there for something more colourful.)

I think my grandmother, as wise as she was in some areas, missed the lessons unfolding outside her favourite window. While spring framed magenta lilacs, summer brought intense greens and tiger lilies. In the autumn, her window showcased fiery tints and animal mischief; winter gave her bayonet icicles and black-capped chickadees.

Change is a process of becoming. As French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote, “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”

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