In a world before social distancing was a thing, Paraclete Associate Steve Spinella (left) combined counseling ministry and cycling in 2019.

Adjust or Adapt? The Challenges of Isolation

Are you accommodating or embracing change these days?

by Steve Spinella

(In 2019, Paraclete Associate Steve Spinella–pictured above, left– combined counseling ministry and cycling. )

We are definitely in unusual times. Things are complicated! As one writer put it, we’re in a recession by proclamation–government after government shut down travel and commerce. And then there’s the virus–we know it won’t kill everyone, but more and more we’re hearing about people who have died or could die. So many of us–maybe even all of us–are afraid. We are changing, some of us maybe more than others, sometimes by choice, sometimes not.

It’s gotten me thinking about the cross-cultural training about “adjusting” and “adapting.” One of them means that I stay the same inside, but accommodate new situations and demands. The other means that I actually become a different person through the new situations I find myself. My problem is I can never remember which is which! Is “adjusting” changing me or just changing my appearance? Is “adapting” conforming my approach to demands and situations or becoming a different me? Here’s my workaround: When I embrace change, I’m letting it change me, at least a little. When I accommodate change, I’m adjusting my approach, but hanging onto my pre-existing values and worldview.

So are you accommodating or embracing change these days? Suddenly this has gone from a particular challenge for people who live and work internationally to challenge for all of us, or at least more so than before.

Sometimes accommodating is good. I am isolating myself physically from people outside my little bubble, but I don’t want to stop loving and caring for people because of this isolation. Of course, how I show that love had better change or I’m not even accommodating!

Sometimes embracing change is better. I’ve never liked connecting “virtually.” I am not a digital native like my granddaughter, who has experienced personal electronics from birth. For her, Grandpa on the screen is just as much Grandpa as in the kitchen. My granddaughter can’t talk yet, but she still tries to communicate with us over the phone line or video screen. In fact, she thinks her grandmother is available virtually whenever. Can I treat virtual communication as a seamless part of real communication? If I do, that would be embracing change. What if I start thinking of my granddaughter as available virtually whenever?!

We can embrace change. Take food. When I went to Taiwan, rice became a staple like bread for me. I don’t like “Chinese food”–I do like lots of foods when they are prepared well in the ways I experienced and adopted while living in Taiwan. Rice became a staple, noodles not so much. Dry noodles are okay. I still just accommodate soup noodles. Brown rice? Laura wishes I would embrace it. I accomodate it. Homemade bread? It is definitely part of the Spinella micro-culture. I embrace it. (So does my granddaughter.)

So adjust or adapt–may God give you grace to accommodate what you must, and embrace what you can. We are definitely in unusual times.

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