Nothing so painful to the human mind

“If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

Former Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki

Whenever anyone asks me my favorite quote, I gravitate towards the one above. It makes no attempt at elegance or dazzle or cleverness. Rather it is a straightforward statement of a basic truth: that life and the world move on, and it is to our disadvantage if we don’t move with them.

We’ve all been reading about the states in which the easing of lockdowns started early and seeing the images of people standing shoulder to shoulder at bars and clubs. It’s all obviously ill-advised and has led to spikes in infections and hospitalizations. What fascinates me is that these people assumed that they could go back to “normal” life, as it was defined by the time before this pandemic.

I would argue that things will never be “normal” again, in the sense that we’ll return to something we once considered “normal”. Even looking at the word “normal” itself – conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected – these are not static things. Standards change. What is usual or typical changes. And expectation must follow the fact that change is a defining factor of normalcy.

One of the things that has been challenging throughout this lockdown is the notion that at some point we can get back to our lives and pick up where we left off. This ignores the fact, of course, that the world has utterly changed, and that there is no way that we can return to a time without Covid. We can (hopefully) vanquish our viral foe, but it has fundamentally changed the way in which we approach public health, the workplace, travel safety, personal responsibility, and countless other facets of life. We can never go back.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Things change. Change is necessary. And the minute we can accept that we won’t go back to something, but rather embrace a new standard, the easier it is to move forward with life.

On a very small scale I look at what happened with Pinkerton – pre-accident he was a extremely active and supremely athletic dog (go find a YouTube video of Papillons in agility competitions. They are extraordinary little balls of kinetic energy). He regularly accompanied us on 7-mile hikes and could outrun almost any dog for a short distance.

After the accident and the successful surgery, he is thankfully on the mend and able to walk. With time and physical therapy we hope he’ll be able to run. But no more hikes, and no more stairs, and no more tousling with larger dogs. The tiny athlete is no more.

From the viewpoint of the kind of life he had before the accident, it’s painful to think about the limitations he must live with post-injury (although to be fair, he’s a dog and doesn’t really care about past or future. The pain is entirely mine, and created by myself). I could be angry and sad about the fact that he can’t return to his pre-accident “normal”. Or I could simply accept that he now has a new “normal”.

Change is hard. In fact, that’s the sentiment of the quote (another favorite) that’s referenced in the title of this post – “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change” (Mary Shelley). But unless it’s accepted, there’s no way we can move ahead. And so we’ll be left behind.

And besides, I really dislike irrelevance.

10 thoughts on “Nothing so painful to the human mind

  1. Wayne Zelenak says:

    Sarah, I love reading your thoughts in words that resonate with me. “Normal Life” is an illusion and misinterpreted by so many people. I completely agree with you that the paradigm shift in 2020 will never return to the “normalcy” of 2019. Those who chose to ignore the profound changes in the world by disregarding the social distance requirements, wearing masks, and excessive drinking, are now paying the price by having contracted COVID19. Making things even worse is they have become infectious by spreading the dreadful disease to the elderly and family members.

    Mary Kay Ash was quoted with the following: “THERE ARE THREE TYPES OF PEOPLE IN THE WORLD; THOSE WHO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN, THOSE WHO WATCH THINGS HAPPEN, AND THOSE WHO WONDER WHAT HAPPENED.” The latter two will be those who will fall behind and become disgruntled, disadvantaged, and irrelevant.

    I am familiar with the quote by Mary Shelley: “Nothing is so painful to the human mind than a great and sudden change” It is the epicenter that triggers clinical depression, deep anxiety, and a host of emotional problems. There are two choices we can make with the significant changes in life; We can leap forward or fall behind. The choice is ours to make.



    1. chefdorch says:

      I love the Ash quote, it’s easy enough for me to become one of those who watch things happen – I have toe remind myself to be the maker.


  2. Bonjour or Bonsoir Sarah.
    Your post was inspiring, Maestra. I was more than happy to get some news about Pinkerton. Don’t stop believin’ like Journey’s famous song.
    In regard of the quote, I would just say that sometimes it is not only about a dislike for change. I can only speak from my personal point of view. As you know I’m not in the music business or in the show business. I would just like to add the phenomena of the resistance to change. Where I work as a health care worker we were mad about the bosses who implemented the Toyota model aka the Lean model for the home care services. I love Japanese people and I always had Japanese cars. With all due respect for the company we are not dealing with cars on the assembly lines to increase productivity. We are dealing as professional health care workers with human beings. Dr’s, rn’s, physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, beneficiary attendants, orderlies, …are all directly concerned with this forced Lean model. We felt it was pushed in our throats without having anything to say in return. Nobody was consulted and even some patients and their families are on our side of the Resistance. That lead to some frictions and feuds between workers and bosses. It lead to resistance to change. I agree with the general’s quote but I wanted to share that info. That productivity model is not only present in Québec. It is also present in other provinces in Canada, maybe in the USA and elsewhere in the world. For instance, a simple dressing is supposed to take 15 minutes at home. We are mostly dealing with seniors and it takes them +- 2-5 minutes just to open their door. Some walks with their walker. It is not their faults. Some simple dressings can take up to +- 30-60 minutes. This is a non sense. This is just an example and I’m quite sure many other examples could be given in other fields or professions.
    My point is that change without humanity can as well be irrelevant too.
    Thanks for having taken the time to read it.
    Good grief.


    1. chefdorch says:

      So true about change without humanity. I suppose the corollary to that is, what do we do with it? Fight against it? Try to change it? An interesting conundrum.


      1. We should fight and change it. The Toyota company even took its distances with the implementation of their model in other fields rather than the automobiles. This is why it was then called ‘lean model’. It was ‘adapted’ by some managers to fit in other businesses (sales, construction, health cares, entertainment,…). To sum up let’s say that a model is not always universal. In return we must find a better solution to at least try to merge humanity and performance.


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