Posted by: chrismaser | November 12, 2010


To resist is to work against, to actively oppose or fight off. Resistance isn’t bad in and of itself. It’s simply a conservative, stabilizing tendency, which keeps us from overstepping limitations too quickly and rashly.

Problems arise, however, when our resistance becomes over-reactive, obsolete, maladaptive, or in other words, dysfunctional. Then we become stuck and unable to express our potentials or to meet our goals. Resistance, in the dysfunctional sense, is one of the most commonly used coping mechanisms to ward off change, to avoid the responsibility of moving forward, of participating in one’s life.

Resistance is like swimming directly against the current of a swift river. The swimmer in such circumstances, despite maximum effort, gets worn out, is carried down river by the overwhelming strength of the current, and is sometime drowned. If, perchance, the swimmer is strong enough and determined enough just to stay even with the current, it soon becomes apparent that while the current doesn’t tire from the effort of flowing, the swimmer tires from the effort of swimming and is thus carried away by the current—the tired borne away by the tireless.

Circumstances are the river of life, and change is its current. The individual swimmer can choose to resist the current, become fatigued and perhaps drown, or can choose to flow with the current, and with patience, learn the skill necessary to cross the river easily. Herein lies the secret of the statement: To be in control, one must give up the desire to control. Only when we give up trying to control life can we master navigating its current.

That which we resist persists in the degree to which we resist it, and we become like that which we resist. It cannot be otherwise. What we resist is a lesson in life not learned, and life seems to persist in its lessons until we learn them. Then and only then are we free to go on to life’s next lesson. Resistance, as a coping mechanism, is a subtle inner device that urges us to back away from the difficulties and demands of living. Resistance “begets meaninglessness,” as psychologist Carl G. Jung put it.

I find, however, that resistance serves two purposes in my life, one positive and one negative. My feeling of resistance is positive when it’s my “inner voice” telling me that what I’ve been asked to do really goes against my deepest sense of principles. In this case, I feel wonderful when I honor my feelings.

On the other hand, there are times when I simply don’t want to do something that I know I need to do. Then my resistance works against me. I almost inevitably end up with a smashing headache, because I’m stepping on the gas pedal of guilt and the breaks of resistance at the same time with equal pressure and therefore spin my wheels in place.

Resistance to things also takes on the disguise of confusion. If I am confused, I have a legitimate reason for not participating in something that makes me uncomfortable, especially with a group of people.

I always found it amazing in the Bureau of Land Management, and I’m sure this is a general trend in federal and state governments, that whenever something “new” or “unexpected” came down from on “high,” there was a rush of “applied” confusion and resistance. The immediate reaction was to try to find a way around whatever it was. When that failed, as it often did, the next line of homeostatic defense was to over-react and blow whatever it was out of proportion.

For instance, when an unexpected order or mandate, especially a new law that might have an effect of business as usual, came down the chain of command, there was an immediate scurrying at every level to decode it—read between the lines—and see what the words “really meant.” Nothing was taken at face value, although the laws and mandates with which I was familiar seemed perfectly clear and unambiguous. But then, I didn’t take into account the agency’s malfunctional behavior.

The reason for all this deciphering was to avoid having to change anything any more than was absolutely necessary because even the bare minimum was seen as a threat to business as usual. The heart of the law or mandate was never considered as a working option, only as an obstacle to get around. When that failed, we (the Bureau of Land Management) would comply, but the resistance wasn’t over yet.

We complied through bare minimums in that we never seemed to have the time or money to do whatever was right the first time, but we always had the time and money to do it over—and sometimes over again. Thus, we always dealt with minimum standards of land trusteeship and with maximum opportunities for product exploitation. Anything else was stalwartly resisted.


Series on Resistance to Change:

• Our Institutionalized Resistance To Change

• My Introduction To An Agency

• The Inception Of An Agency

• Stages In The Cycle Of An Agency

• When Dysfunction/Malfunction Creeps In

• Homeostatic Defense

• Coping Mechanisms

• Coping Mechanisms: Anger And Aggression

• Coping Mechanisms: Appraisal

• Coping Mechanisms: Defensiveness

• Coping Mechanisms: Denial

• Coping Mechanisms: Displacement

• Coping Mechanisms: Filters

• Coping Mechanisms: Projection

• Coping Mechanisms: Rationalization

• Coping Mechanisms: Repression

• Breaking The Dysfunctional Cycle

• From Where I Stand

Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.

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This article is excerpted from my 1994 book, Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics. St. Lucie Press, Boca Raton, FL. 373 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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