Simon Terry

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The Status Quo Requires Conflict

The status quo isn’t predetermined. It is just where we go back when the conflict of change ends. The status quo doesn’t exist without the conflict of change and doesn’t end until the change succeeds. 

The etymology of phrases can be an arid occupation but it can also deliver up the odd insight. The Latin phrase ‘In statu quo res errant ante bellum’ was the source of our phrase ‘status quo’. It means ‘in the state in which things were before the war’ and was used through history as a way of restoring the pre-existing order of things in treaties following conflict.

There’s two points of significance there:

  • you need conflict to have a status quo
  • you go back until you go forward

These days we often use the phrase status quo loosely as if it is somehow a pre-derermined state. It isn’t. The status quo is defined by the attempted change. The conflict of change creates “the way things were before”. That way is simply an aggregation of all the previous changes.

There’s no point worrying about why the status quo in the systems we are seeking to change resists change or why there may be conflict. The status quo is just a status. It doesn’t have any ideas, a say or any actions. Those belong to the people in the system. Once a change in the system is started by some of those people, that conflict continues until there is no return by everyone to the status quo.

Embrace the conflict as part of the change process, use it to learn how the change needs to be improved and recognise that conflct will be there until the changes become the “way things are”. The desire of change agents to bring about a better system will ensure that.

Change agents deprive the status quo of its power and status.


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