In our contemporary culture, whether that is academic or otherwise, there tends to be a bias in viewing resistance to change as a bad thing. And, truth be told, it is not hard to find ways that resisting change can be a bad thing. Given the universality of such a resistance, though, it is worthwhile for us to ponder when being a temperamental conservative is in fact a very good thing. Some people may need the reminder that a great many qualities are not so much good or bad absolutely but are very much context dependent. To be tenacious in holding on to what is good and true is praiseworthy, to be merely mulish and obstinate about refusing to correct clear problems less so. How to tell the difference between the two can be very tough, especially in a world like ours where misinformation is so rife.
It is not hard for these two things to be confused. There are occasions where two people may see the same situation and one person may see valuable aspects of truth and beauty that need to be conserved and the other person may see some sort of crying problem that needs to be changed and both people may in fact be right in some areas and wrong in others. Not all changes need to be made–there is both regress and progress when we change. And not all things need to be conserved, there are both good things and bad things that may persist. It is hard to be able to tell the difference, because determining what needs to be conserved and changed depends on one’s ideal society, and some ideals are hell on earth and lead to immensely destructive changes.
There are other reasons why a resistance to change may not in fact be a bad thing at all, far more often than is viewed to be the case. A great deal of the time, people have terrible ideas for progress (so much so that it discredits the vast majority of uses of the term), and those half-formed ideas of extreme optimism need to be questioned and fleshed out, with details and logistics and reality to have their effect. It is not that resistance to change needs to be hostile–it often is–but rather than change deserves to be resisted, to make sure that the consequences of change are well-understood and that people not simply change for the sake of novelty. It is easy to have some sort of desirable goal in mind, but the steps one is taking may not reach such a goal. We may desire happiness but pursue courses of action that will lead to inevitable unhappiness and even misery for ourselves and others.
Similarly, when we push for changes too rapidly, seeking to use apparent crises as motivations to make changes, we often fail to consider the consequences of change. The desire to fix a problem may create other problems. We often find this in medicine, where cures for athlete’s foot may cause liver failure, a far more serious issue, for example, or where side effects may take a while to develop, thus turning what was seen as a miracle cure into something that ends up bankrupting companies through massive class-action lawsuits. To demand that changes not create something worse in the goal of getting rid of something undesirable is, far from being something to be blamed, but something to be celebrated. We need changes to prove themselves, because a great deal of supposed innovation is hype that does not bear out when it is closely examined, and we need to question and challenge that hype. To accept good changes and reject bad ones, to preserve what is good and to work to overcome that which is bad, and to recover the best of what has been lost, that is a far better society than we deserve, but it should be what we want.