Sea Change May Alter Tide of History

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got” says the old bromide. And that’s just fine for most of us most of the time.

If we’re honest, we tend to abhor change and cherish the fixed and comfortable routine in the ways we approach our days at work or home and in our relationships. First the pants, then the shoes. Cereal in the same bowl, coffee in the same cup. News at six.

We structure our thinking about the world on a foundation of assumptions about how things are. We build our realities, values, expectations and beliefs on top of those fundamentals. Year after year we hold tight our world views and understandably resist the threat of change that would require us to renovate.

Both of the parties recently competed ad nauseam to get the word CHANGE into their platforms, their pitches and their robocalls. Chances are, we are all weary of the word by now. But we don’t have the luxury to sit on our laurels or other body parts and think the changes that lie ahead can be left to the next administration.

There are changes and there are changes. The one kind we’re used to in the modern era would simply tweak the ingredients a bit–add the celery first instead of the onions–or toss in a dash more salt. That’s yesterday’s recipe for change. The second kind and the one that looms ahead of us today is sometimes referred to as “sea change.”

From Shakespeare’s Tempest we’ve adopted the phrase to mean a profound transformation–a complete shift in our world view and way of thinking. Sea change is almost a kind of metamorphosis–a caterpillar goes in and a butterfly comes out.

What will be required of us if we are to successfully face the problems and predicaments of the future is this kind of change. (I heard it said recently that problems are matters we can solve, predicaments are matters we can only deal with. We have plenty of both.)

Our personal, national and planetary well-being are at risk in ways and to degrees that human civilization has never known. How so many thousands of millions of us will eat and drink, heat and cool, travel, build and prosper in an enfeebled and moribund future world seem insoluble concerns given our old ways of dealing with them.

So why am I hopeful? Because for the first time in decades–and maybe to a degree never seen before–even politicians are beginning to grapple with the notion that we can’t count on the old kind of change to sustain our future. They are remembering that economies are at root built on the soil. Many world leaders now acknowledge that humans must think and act with greater respect toward all races and the biology of the planet if we are to survive as state, nation and species.

I’m encouraged that young people are once again becoming engaged actively in the fate of their future. I am heartened that a world of voices amplified and compounded by the Internet are speaking out in favor of bottom-up community-based solutions to many of these problems. Even Americans are starting to think in terms of the little they need out of the sum of what they desire.

To reach the distant shore of an uncertain future, we can’t just do what we’ve always done. As this tsunami of change comes to our here and now, we can float like flotsam or sink like a stone; but if we will set our minds to do so, we will paddle for all we’re worth and the flow of change will transform us for a future fit for living.

The audio version of this appeared here a week or so ago. To listen, click here.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. You put it very well, and I absolutely agree. It is up to everyone of us to modify our comfortable “routine” lives to take into consideration what must occur now, not some vague time in the future.