Yesterday, I ran into someone I see about once a year. I’ve known this person for probably close to 20 years. Even though he’s only a few years older than I, without fail, every time he see me, he remarks on how I haven’t changed at all. The whole exchange made me wonder, how many people actually believe that individuals, and even institutions, don’t change over time?
For many things, we appreciate continuity, the sense of something lasting. We search for a lodestone to hold onto. We want our friends to be our friends forever. We want our families to stay together and be happy. We want to go to the same doctor, dentist, and hair dresser. We take comfort in certain things staying the same. It makes it easier to deal with the other parts of life that are always changing.
In the Voting Booth
Politicians get that. I suspect we see so many images of “times gone past” and hear stirring declarations of “how the world should be” because we want to believe in the American ideal, the American dream of a better life. So we continue to vote the same back-slapping, pork-spending, favor-granting politicians into office, because the candidates who tell the truth, that choices must be made, don’t support our need for comfortable continuity. Sometimes, continuity requires sacrifice.
Winston Churchill understood that, and in his speech after the fall of France, he made it clear that Britain had two choices:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.
Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ (link)
I’d be curious to know from everyone reading this post, will you vote for the individuals currently representing you in Congress, based on their record? I ask because I know some elected officials do try to represent the interests of their constituents, regardless of party, but are pushed back because of the difficulty in dealing with the majority.
At the Checkout Stand
A similar thing happens in business, too. We’re encouraged to show brand loyalty, we’re led to believe that the purchase of a particular product will somehow enhance our lives. The story also implies that if we stop purchasing a particular brand, we’ve broken the continuity, that somehow, an essential part of ourselves will be missing.
Apple does a particularly good job of telling this story. In spite of closing the iPhone to all but minor development via the Safari browser, people still stood in line. Now, the creative individuals who hacked their iPhone are faced with an update that will turn their phones into bricks. But people, like Wil Shipley, still love Apple, even as they struggle with the closed system.
Sure, Apple’s still doing a ton of innovating. I love Leopard. I love iPhone (x19). I love my iPods (x6). And I love the engineers at Apple and all my friends throughout the company.
But Apple has to always remember that simply making money CANNOT be its point of existence. The point of any company should be to make customers want to give it money, NOT to get money from customers. It’s a subtle distinction that is the difference between good and evil.
Does Continuity Have Room for Change?
Back to the original story…I know that the core characteristics that make up me haven’t changed a great deal in the last 20 years. However, the little bits and pieces that actually round me out have change extensively. Those pieces are the ones we skip over when we latch onto this idea of continuity.
We make a blanket statement that something or someone hasn’t changed or is exactly the same, and we miss the little tells that would indicate otherwise. And we assume, that this apparent lack of change is a “good” thing. The earlier assessment that someone or something hasn’t changed leads us to believe we know enough to make our judgment.
But aren’t we kidding ourselves? Do we really want to go to a doctor, for example, that isn’t familiar with the latest procedures and treatments? Continuity’s danger isn’t our desire for that which we know, it’s our willingness to be blind to the little things that can and do change, even as the core remains the same.