Saturday, December 3, 2016

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

You've no doubt heard the epigram first made public in January 1849 by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, founder and editor of Les Guêpes:
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Usually translated as "the more things change, the more they stay the same," plus ça change refers to what happens when we attempt to resolve problems within the paradigm in which they were created. What does this mean in everyday terms? To borrow again from the French:
On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des œufs.
Translation: "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." I'm tempted to leave you with these powerful metaphors. But, I'll illustrate how plus ça change became the code for a married couple to interrupt an interaction pattern that was frustrating to both of them - to "break the eggs" they'd both been hatching and create a new "omelette."

This had been their pattern: When the husband perceived the wife as "interrupting" in conversation, he would shut down and "pout" (according to the wife). The wife, annoyed that he would blame her instead of speaking up for himself, kept talking while pulling back emotionally. He saw her withdrawing emotionally, wanted to have peace between them, so bypassed his feeling of being ignored and tried to draw physically closer. She felt "schizophrenic" - "He's critical and wants to get closer? Doesn't compute!"

In the past, the pattern had been the opportunity for each to give "feedback" to the other, not realizing that his telling her she interrupted, and her telling him he should speak up if he so desired, fed the plus ça change pattern so that it kept occurring, over and over. When they looked at their interaction systemically and saw how both of them kept it going the way it always had (plus c'est la même chose), they stepped back, let go of blame, and agreed that whoever saw the pattern occurring would simply say, "Plus ça change..."

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