Friday, November 9, 2018

A Change is Gonna Come

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "Things do not change; we change."  The statement is a meditation on perspective.  It reminds us that generally that in the broadest sense, the human experience is no different today than it was thousands of years ago.  We face the same inner struggles, we have the same desires, we fight many of the same fights.  "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

In that metaphysical sense, Thoreau is correct.  Our responses, our perceptions, our mindsets and emotions are what change.  I think we recognize this with regard to people.  We know that people change and grow.  That our minds, our perceptions, etc. can grow and change.

Generally though, Thoreau is wrong.  Nearly everything changes.  There is only one type of created thing on this planet that does not change - dead things.

Metathesiophobia - The fear of change

"Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear the most."

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Metathesiophobia is evolutionary in humans. Since the dawn of time, man has liked his routine. Our internal predispositions teach us to resist change mainly to "always feel in control."  Because of this fear, I think we see two primary responses at the extremes: to fight any and all change or to give into it and continually promote it.  Preservationist and anarchist.  Conservative and Progressive.  Elder brother and younger brother.  

The first response is to oppose any change.  To fight to maintain a desired status quo.  I think we see a prime example of this in our political conservatives.  The conservative movement is one of the status quo, fighting to preserve a status quo or to restore us to a previous status quo.  This group uses the phrase "the good old days" a lot.  "Things were better when..."  There is a tendency to look at things through rose colored glasses with this approach, remembering the best of what is desired to be preserved and forgetting the issues and struggles that occurred.  The most dangerous phrase of this group is "it's the way we've always done things" or the variant "that's just the way things are done."

We see this with the reverence given to 1950s America as the time when America was great.  It's the Mayberry version of our past.  The impulse is to paint a picture of small towns with small houses with white picket fences, where everyone in town attended church on Sunday, every child had manners because of corporal punishment, and everyone was generally civil to each other.  This version forgets that Mayberry was a fictional town and was not great for everyone.  It conveniently omits the explicit racism of the day, the overt sexism, and political witch hunts of the era.  It also does not remember that many people attended church not because they believed in anything, but because they were forced to attend because of familial or social pressures.  Many children did not face merely discipline but outright physical abuse and that social ostracization for those who dared to not conform was much more prevalent.  Reality does not quite match the memory in our collective minds.

The opposite response is to give into change and to almost champion it.  "If you can't beat it, join it."  The idea that change will result in a net positive outcome - change makes things better.  There's nothing to fear if you embrace it and believe it will be beneficial.  We see this in the progressive movement.  That goal to push progress, to force change.  This group uses the phrase "things will be better when..."  There is a tendency to devalue the past and look to the future as a solution to all problems.  Often this comes at the price of removing a big stumbling block - "if only this were gone" or "when we change X." 

This groups runs into two primary problems.  First, this ignores the truth that not all change is positive and not all changes are positive for everyone.  In an organism, disease is a change, but it's only healthy for the virus or bacteria.  Secondly, the drive of this group necessarily bring it into conflict with the previous, change-resistant group.  For progressives will often want to change the things that conservatives want to protect.

It should be obvious that neither group is correct.  A constant attempt to protect the status quo will only result in the death of the status quo.  All things must change to survive: organisms, societies, churches, schools, cities, communities.  We must change to respond to outside forces, to adjust to internal issues, to respond to age, and to better the health and welfare of the particular group, organism, community, etc.  Conversely, constant change for the sake of change results in instability and deterioration as well.  Constant changes in the physical status of a being are as detrimental to the body as disease (see the extreme weight gain and loss of actors in preparation for roles - i.e. Christian Bale from the Machinist to Batman Begins).  Likewise a community that keeps changing its boundaries and laws at every whim would collapse under the lack of structure.

A balance is needed to protect that which is worth protecting, while at the same time ensuring and fostering change that leads to positive growth.

The necessity of change

"Things that do not grow or change are dead things."
Louise Erdich

This blog started as a response to several posts and fears I saw posted in light of the mid-term elections.  In light of a fear of the changing demographics of Texas, the potential changing political makeup of Texas, and potential changes to specific communities that I am close to.  And while it still is a bit of a response, it's grown from there, to a more internal exploration of change.  Of the fear of change.  Of what changes I fear and what revolutions I'm ready to start.

Because again, the truth is that things that do not change die.  I'm as wistful about the death of small town America as anyone.  If I ever get back to the great American novel I have in my head, it's on that topic.  But, at the same time, there are many towns and communities that are dying purely because they have fought change for so long.  The towns have stagnated and have nothing to offer its inhabitants for the future.  And so they continue to dwindle and fade, as children leave home and come back only to visit, new families do not move in, looking elsewhere for better opportunities for their futures, and the older generations pass on.

This is not about any one specific town or community.  It's about several.  It's about watching communities that I love continue to fade away.  To watch as businesses fade away, and buildings give way to the weeds and overgrowth, shuttered to open no more.  It's about watching town attractions sit vacant because of a variety of ill-defined reasons.  About watching the latest attempt at a new local business fail because of several strikes against it.

It's about comparing and contrasting the vibrant small towns that I have come in contact with, the ones that seem to be thriving and experimenting.  The ones that have a noticeable soul.  And contrasting those with the towns that are dying.  Analyzing and seeking to discern the difference in the two.

In seeing that it's the willingness to try something different.  Something new.  In seeing a town declare itself as an artist's haven with galleries, exhibits, and festivals thanks to a patron's investment and desire to see it flourish.  In one town's renaissance with a variety of culinary opportunities from coffee houses, to pub food, to South African.  About discovering something new and wonderful in the town and promoting it.  Sometimes requiring re-invention.  Sometimes just enhancing what is already spectacular about it.

It's seeing these patterns in other examples - in churches, in schools, in businesses.

It's something that brings another truth to the forefront of my mind.  Sometimes the most needed changes are forced upon us by external forces.  In other words, we are not always the best arbiters of what change is necessary for growth and survival.  I shudder to think what America would be like if de-segregation were not required of us at a time when it would not have been supported by the majority.  If the Civil Rights Act was not enacted.  If Lawrence v. Texas was not decided.  There are times when we need an interested third party to force us to change.  It's like when a parent makes a child do something they do not want to do, because it is in their best interest.

Because ultimately, change can bring opportunity.  It's in how we respond to it.

Texas turning more purple could be a great thing for the state.  Of the states, we're 38th in health care, 37th in education, 47th in opportunity, 46th in quality of life.  Sticking to the same old ideas that got us to this point is not going to make us any better.  "The definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results."  Perhaps it is time to try some new ideas.  There are definitely many areas we need to do better in, to make Texas a greater state for all.

Likewise, beer and wine sales in Buna and Jasper County might be a great boon for the community.  I've previously discussed why dry counties do not work.   There was previously a micro-brewery in the town.  Could Buna be revitalized by the craft beer and microbrewery movement?  Would that be a little too hipstery?  Perhaps, but it might be worth a shot.

Both outcomes discussed above will definitely bring their share of complications and issues to address.  But we know the outcome of doing nothing.   We cannot keep doing that.

"It's been a long, long time a coming,
But a change is gonna come."

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