Something strange happened in my class the other day. It was the standard Monday start to my first-year seminar, with our professor asking us about our weekend and then proceeding to tell us a little bit about her own. There was a faint buzz of talking around our round table until the professor announced that she was planning on getting rid of her fridge. For the first time all semester, our class was completely silent. We were in shock. Our professor, a seemingly sane woman, was getting rid of her fridge? Her explanation of being more sustainable, conserving energy and being forced to eat fresh local foods — because frozen foods are entirely pointless without their partner in crime — fell on deaf ears. Even I was horrified, and I have been writing this column all semester hoping for people to make changes like that.

We were not whipped into a state of complete frenzy because of some deep emotional connection to the fridges in our lives. It also wasn’t because we are against sustainable actions — my first-year seminar is about psychology and the environment! We have spent the entire semester talking about steps toward being more sustainable. And yet, when our professor suggested making a tangible, sustainable change, we acted like she told us she was planning on selling her oldest daughter into slavery.

So, why did we act this way? Why do people act this way all the time when anything seems new or different? I think it’s because somewhere deep inside of us, we are afraid of change. We cling to the status quo like it will save us from all the world’s problems, even when we know it won’t. And even when we know there are changes that we can make to live a more sustainable, eco-friendly life, we don’t always take them.

I know I am a huge culprit of this — and I always wonder why. Why do I leave my computer on all night even though I know it is sucking up ridiculous amounts of energy? Why don’t I tell the person at the checkout counter that I actually don’t need that 1,000,000,000th plastic bag? Why did it take me two weeks to change my water bottle after I learned about the horrors of plastic (don’t get me started)?

Somehow, the Monday Fridge Debacle gave me an answer. People just don’t like change, even if that change will be positive and help us and the world. It is very difficult to step out of the deeply grooved path we cut for ourselves day in and day out. We tried to convince her to keep her fridge. “What about milk?!” we cried. “What about leftovers! What about ice cream!”

And even though our professor had explanations and answers for each and every one of our concerns — she assured us that adults don’t need milk, she would make smaller portions and she would walk to the ice cream shop — we still just couldn’t deal with the idea of not having a fridge. There are certain staples in our lives, like fridges, that we have intense connections to because of the sense of normalcy they add to our lives.

But maybe it is time for a new normal. If we push past our natural resistance to change and take a step into the unknown, what was once deeply alien and horrifying will eventually become the thing we resist to change. I mean, I’m sure the first person that came up with the idea for a fridge came up against a mountain of opposition.

All change is opposed at first, and yet all change eventually does happen. So if you hear a new idea, after allowing an acceptable amount of resistance and freak out time — for my seminar it was about 10 minutes — try to see how that change could fit into your life or even make your life better.

Eliana Herman can be reached at eherman@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.