Status quo is a Latin phrase meaning the existing state of affairs, particularly with regard to social, political, religious, or military issues. Change can be scary to many people because of the loss aversion and an imaginary fear of what can possibly go wrong with the changes, which is why people love things to simply stay the way they are. In psychology, this tendency is known as status quo bias, a type of cognitive bias in which people exhibit a preference for the way things currently are. Status quo bias is considered rational when the transition cost is greater than the potential gains of making a change, but it can be detrimental to the growth of a progressive society where social change is imperative to grow and innovate.
Culture shifts slowly, and challenging the status quo does not necessarily mean that something is not going well or that something requires revolutionary transformation. Sometimes challenging the status quo simply means considering a different perspective and considering an alternative that may make things even better.
If challenging and changing the status quo plays such a pivotal role in a growing society, then why do people tend to have status quo bias? Social scientists propose a number of theories for this problem. But, in this blog, I will share my experience of dealing with the resistance to change in society and the learnings I derived from it.
In my previous role as a tribal educator, I was staying with a tribal community where polygamy was a normal practice. A few days into my immersion in the community, the chief of the tribe forcibly took away a minor girl from the village to make her his third wife. Seeing the helplessness of her parents, I together with a few villagers decided to lodge a complaint against the chief at the nearby police station. But, instead of interest, our suggestion was met with irritation from the community and finally, they decided to resolve the matter through mediation. The Gram Sabha suggested marrying the girl off to the chief, to which both parties agreed. I was then asked to leave the village for allegedly interfering with the customary practices of the tribal community.
This incident taught me a few valuable life lessons which are still helping me to plan my interventions in societies that are less open to change. I learned that external change-makers would always be in a better position to challenge the status quo as they don’t have any stake in the power dynamics of society. However, one should always check their presumptions and should not take such impulsive decisions that might negatively affect their relationship with the community and the very possibility of working with them, which happened in my case. They should not storm around the community pointing out every little flaw and error. The best strategy to push for changes in a society is to first build a strong rapport with the community, knowing their context and gradually empowering them, so that they build changes within themselves.