What can nature teach us about resistance?  In nature, the species that gets to pass on their DNA to the next generation is the one that adapts to the changing external environment. It is survival of the “best fit” with changing conditions – not survival of the fittest  ( or the most powerful at the moment). Frankly, nature never rewards the species and plants that resist the changes emerging in the ecosystem.

This is a powerful insight. As humans, we have interesting and powerful ways of resisting adaptation due to pressure from the environment around us.  In fact, resistance seems to be part of the process. We feel pressure via feedback to shift our behavior, and then resist it for a time while we figure out how to adapt.

Then we shift. 

There are a lot of people giving voice to resistance right now. They’re resisting the changes we are being asked to make,  given the feedback loops in play from climate change, to the pandemic, the healthcare system, racial justice, governance, and many other systems. This resistance means we are noticing (consciously or unconsciously) the feedback that is occurring at all levels of our society.

Energy and resistance

When I was writing my book, Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World I would often get caught in a create/resist dynamic. I wanted to write but fear would trigger resistance.  What I found in that dynamic was it took more energy to resist by avoiding my writing than simply letting the thoughts flow. The writing was more fun and took far less energy, and that observation alone helped me to resist much less over time.

Resistance always consumes energy.

We need to use energy to keep our old habits in place and actively resist (mentally and emotionally) the feedback we are getting to change.

In nature, the species and plants evolve and adapt with feedback and aligning their behaviors with the direction of the dynamic change that is happening in the larger environment. Today we have many feedback loops that are giving us information on how the way we have been living isn’t helpful (the right fit) in the world. So many of our usual behaviors have been disrupted in the past 15 months.

This disruption has given rise to a tsunami of resistance. Resistance to wearing face masks for example, or to vaccinations, social distancing, staying home, washing hands, or any protective activity for that matter. It has also given us direct experience with our individual and collective ability to adapt to changing conditions. There is much to celebrate in this natural adaptive capacity we all have, some people are just doing it faster than others.

The high cost of resistance

There are two lessons that nature and observation have to teach us about our individual and collective forms of resistance. These lessons can be understood on an individual, organizational, national, or global scale.

  • Feedback is constantly telling us when we are not evolving. When we ignore feedback, it gets louder. Think of a time when you got feedback from your body that what you were doing wasn’t serving your general health. If we continue to ignore it, we get more feedback in the form of more body aches or other symptoms until we pay attention. Climate change is giving us feedback that our business models aren’t serving us and future generations. This feedback is getting louder over time with massive downpours, increased fires, hurricanes, and droughts. This will continue until we evolve the way we relate to nature.
  • Resisting feedback requires us to create false narratives. One of the forms of resistance humans use is to create an alternate reality that supports the worldview that no longer exists. This is what we are experiencing in the political dialogue that is swirling around the response to climate change and the pandemic. The alternative worldview that is being created starts with the denial of the facts by creating an alternative set of facts that allow you to keep your old worldview. It takes energy to create this and to hold it in place. Eventually, we will tire of that energy drain, or in nature, the species will die off because they can’t or won’t adapt.

 

Listening deeply and cultivating the noticing of feedback loops

Being open to feedback is the way to truly evolve. When we resist, we’re using energy to keep from adapting. If we become more attentive to the external messages coming toward us, we can choose to be more proactive and take advantage of our natural capacity to adapt.