How to turn a city into a wounded lion

BECK ELEVEN
Last updated 07:39 22/09/2012
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As a rule, each story that goes into the system before it appears in the newspaper is given a "slug".

Slug is simply industry jargon for a file name and ought to give a one-word idea of what the story is about. We keep it clean, short and to-the-point. However, when I write my column on my home system, I can give it whatever name I choose before I file it to The Press' Mainlander desk and label it with the dull old slug FM-BECK22.

This week, I called it "Gone To S..."

If you live in Christchurch and keep half an eye on the news, you will understand that things here seem to have, well, gone to s... lately.

We've got enough genuine bulldozers in the city, we don't need any metaphorical ones, but Government keeps on sending them anyway.

Few people embrace change. That's just science. Nonetheless, it is inevitable, especially in this post-quake era. However, I find it incomprehensible how Education Minister Hekia Parata, ably assisted by Bulldozer No 1, Gerry Brownlee, could possibly have thought the way they announced changes to Christchurch's schools would go down well.

You would hope that hundreds of hours of research had gone into how many schools needed to close, the criteria for each and rock solid, defensible reasons for the changes. Then, one would expect a few more hours nutting out the best delivery method.

There are screeds of literature and academic theory dedicated to the psychology of change, so why on God's Rubbled Earth would the news be delivered to principals who were given coloured name badges before being told if the colour of their name badge equated to a closure, a merger or status quo. I can't even bear to give the Government's term "rejuvenation" any more air.

It sounds like a terrible and humiliating rip-off version of New Zealand Idol or New Zealand's Got Talent.

While I admit it would take some extraordinary being to deliver the news in a way that would be acceptable to the majority, surely someone suspected this would be the thorn that turned Christchurch into a wounded lion?

The psychology says we do not like change when it is predictable and we dislike it even more when that change is unpredictable.

Humans are reactive animals. We are instinctively and constantly assessing whether we have the resources to succeed.

Using the schools as an example, space, territory and community can be considered a resource. For some children and parents, all these things are about to change.

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A change psychologist I spoke to last year said: "The theory of stress goes that if people have the correct resources they are more likely to feel relaxed.

"If you don't have the things you once had, you may think you can't easily meet the demands of life. In this situation, people become distressed. Facing constant change makes life discomforting."

If I have to hear someone who doesn't live here say Christchurch people are "resilient" one more time I will implode. If you look at the rates of physical and mental illness, and if you take into account the latest rise in suicides in the region, you would not continue to call us resilient. You would see city residents who need stability not change.

Sharing a new living or working space will undoubtedly give rise to privacy issues and feelings of territoriality.

The change psychologist I spoke to said the simple act of maintaining self-control takes mental effort, so if part of our mental capacity is reduced because we are directing those resources towards other things, a person might not be as efficient and may snap more easily.

He said we should try to reduce stress by reducing the cognitive load and try to create familiarity.

Perhaps Hekia and Gerry will announce a few ideas on that next week. And the danger would be for anyone in any other city to sit back and think it won't happen to them.

- The Press

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