Drops of Water Falling On Stone

curmudgeon logo2I’ve been spending a great deal of time with my 88 year old mother lately.  I’m constantly struck, as I talk with her, with the changes that have happened just in her lifetime.

Her father was a fireman.  There were pictures hanging in her home growing up of horse-drawn fire wagons racing through the streets to blazing buildings.   I have one hanging in my house now.  When she was very young the telephone on the wall had a crank to generate enough current to alert the operator that you wanted to speak to someone.  There was a radio, a monstrous wooden thing, manufactured by Philco, I think, that required a wire antenna draped over the roof and had shortwave as well as AM broadcast bands.  No FM.  No computers.  No microwaves, convection ovens, pacemakers, on-line banking, cable TV (for that matter, no TV).  There was still a crank on their record player.

Life expectancy in 1925 when she was born was 60.6 years.  We’ve managed to come a long way since 1925.  Mom adapted well, I think, although she still doesn’t understand why her grandchildren are constantly fiddling with those “ithingies”.

Change was the hallmark of the 19th century, and it happened quickly.  My mother was only 20 when we dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  Horse-drawn fire wagons to the atomic age in 20 years!  You can imagine the culture shock that might produce.

And the rate of change has continued to increase, especially in areas involving technology.  When you buy a computer today it is obsolete before you get it home and running.  We’re talking about storing data at an atomic level now.  I think about that sometimes when I’m going through some of my mother’s old financial ledgers with the perfect handwriting and the labor intensive math she did before calculators sold for $5.00.

Not only has the rate of change increased, but we have come to expect it to increase.  When the new ithingie comes out and doesn’t have some amazing new advancement we all seem disappointed.  We’re impatient if we have to wait a few seconds while it carries a signal through space to a satellite and back to somewhere on the other side of the world.

Mom was two years old when Lucky Lindy made his famous solo trans-Atlantic flight, ensuring his place in history to this day.  Only 42 years later we put a man on the moon.  Should we really be annoyed by a slow data rate to Hong Kong?

We want change.  We demand change.

But sometimes change happens slowly.  And that’s truer when the thing we want to change is people or institutions.  It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that the Catholic Church allowed mass to be celebrated in English.  Women weren’t allowed to vote in this country until 1920.  That’s 144 years after this country was founded.  Blacks got that right (at least legally) in 1870.

In 2008 Barack Obama campaigned with the slogan “Change We Can Believe In”.  He was a charismatic figure and he offered a hope that something could be done to change the way government in our country operates.  He was elected based in large part on that hope.

Now, many people, even in his own party, are disappointed that the change they hoped for doesn’t seem to be materializing.  It’s like they are clutching their iphones to their ear and grumbling about how long it takes to make the connection.

I’ve mentioned this before when I suggested that you “Take a Zombie to Dinner.”  You can’t expect to be successful your first time out.  You are, after all, trying to make changes in that most stubborn of all things: other people’s minds.  You’re not substituting transistors for vacuum tubes. You’re not miniaturizing a computer.  That’s the easy stuff.

The physical world around us races ahead while our minds traverse the same old neural pathways they learned when we were cranking our record players and listening the The Shadow on an old Philco radio.

Even when presented with a new piece of technology, it takes time for us to accept it.  We have to look at it and study it a bit, see if it’s a fad or if it’s something that we really could use.  3D television is now available, but it hasn’t started to really take off in the market place.  Like color TVs when they first came out, it’s a novelty that may or may not be around.  Maybe we’ll consider it when that 60 inch LCD we bought last year finally breaks down.  Perhaps, like Beta tapes it will just go away.

But a new idea or a different idea!  That’s hard.  We have to see that the old idea we had doesn’t work in our evolving world.  And that’s hard, because it always used to work, didn’t it?  It was working yesterday, wasn’t it?  It was working last time I looked.  It works for everyone I know, doesn’t it.  It’s just those other guys it doesn’t work for, you know, those people.  It does work, they just don’t see it.

Social psychologists call this cognitive dissonance.  When faced with an idea or a reality that challenges deeply held core beliefs, people are thrown into conflict.  One way of coping is to deny the idea or reality and to avoid sources of information or situations that give rise to the dissonance.

And so they are trapped in a time bubble, denying on one level the very change they demand on another, avoiding anything that reminds them of the reality that has changed, sometimes inventing their own to replace it.

You can’t upgrade these people like a smart phone.  And you can’t argue with them because you represent everything that frightens and threatens them.  They are like huge lumps of stone gathered together to create dams against progress.

You can’t ignore them any more than a boulder on the interstate, either.

But they can change.  They can be changed.  It may not be as quickly as you or I might like.  It may not be before their core beliefs do more damage.  It will not happen as fast as the next advance in technology.

It took centuries, but mass is celebrated in English.  It took 144 years for women to become voters.  But they vote.   It took a Civil War, but slavery was abolished.   It took too long to eliminate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but it is gone.

Those things happened because the people who believed in them never stopped trying to make them happen.  They didn’t quit when boulders were placed in their path.  Like waves crashing against the cliffs they came back, again and again.  Like gentle rain falling on stone, they continued until the stone simply could stand against them no longer and washed away, no more than insignificant grains of sand.

Keep that in mind as the Supreme Court deliberates over the next few months.






 From Meg Christian’s “The Rock Will Wear Away”

Your Humble Servant,

The Willowbrook Curmudgeon

1 thought on “Drops of Water Falling On Stone

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