As the saying goes, change is the only constant in life. It affects our lives as pervasively and relentlessly as possible, altering our personalities, beliefs, values, cultural practices and career paths, among other things. Acknowledging the important role that change—particularly of the unplanned variety—plays in our lives allows us to evolve and grow constructively, and to avoid fading into obsolescence.
Such is the thinking of modern career development theorists, and (I think) such is also the thinking of descriptive grammarians (more on this in a second). To give an example from the perspective of career development theory, all we need to look at are theories known as “trait and factor.” The bottom line of these theories implies that career choice is a relatively simple matter of measuring a person’s traits, measuring the traits of different occupations, and then matching people to occupations based on these.
Sounds reasonable, right? I bet you didn’t know that the origins of such theories go back over 100 years! I think it’s safe to assume that things have changed enough to cast some doubt on whether this is the best way to look at career development. Fortunately, other ideas have been put forward, and the emergence of a robust scientific community in the field of career development is helping to build and maintain a bridge between research and practice.
In a lot of ways, in many fields and aspects of life, change is being embraced. But every now and then I encounter a stubborn resistance to change that doesn’t quite make sense—a near-blind attachment to custom, such that the advantages of change are ignored for no other reason than custom decrees otherwise.
This article by cracked.com was recently shared with me, and I thought it was a great example of an area where there is often fierce resistance to change: grammar.
Full disclosure: I’m sort of a grammar-police type. I have a very hard time appreciating the value of someone’s argument if it contains obvious spelling and grammar mistakes. That said, when I see clear value in bending or changing a rule, I have no problem doing so. A perfect example of this is the debate over the use of “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun. Opponents believe that “they” traditionally describes plural subjects only. Supporters acknowledge that “singular they” has actually been used for a long time, and just plain makes sense in a modern context where we use gender-neutral pronouns quite often (and don’t want to bother with “he/she”—it’s not only cumbersome, but it also reduces the complexity of gender to an oversimplified binary).
To me, this is just a case of one small, positive evolution of the English language. Such changes are necessary to reflect the evolving nature of our society and culture. Can you imagine what life would be like if we still spoke Ye Olde English (answer: something like this)? Have you ever tried to read Chaucer?
I’m not advocating for textspeak or anything like that. All I’m saying is we have to evaluate change for its inherent benefits, and not resist it for the sake of tradition. It’s true for career development theory, and it’s true for grammar.