The past two years have been a very big learning experience for me. I have seen my babies transform into boys way too fast. I have felt the journey of my career and my home move too slowly. I have watched global warming completely transform the weather of much of North America too fast. I have seen the Executive and Legislative branches of the U.S. government respond to the needs of it’s people too slow. I’ve watched God move in my life…at times too fast and at times too slow. I’ve watched the world begin to change it’s thoughts on marijuana, satire, homosexuality, Islamic affairs, climate change, and amateurism in college sports. There is much more that has happened in that two years but I’m sure you catch my point. Things happen in life and sometimes we feel out of synch with the pace of change. Some things that we don’t want to change, will change anyway. Some things that we want to change today, won’t change at all. Some things are changing so slowly that we don’t even notice them but we will soon enough.
The question here is not whether change is right and good…both of those things are subjective and we just don’t have enough perspective to really make those determinations. The question is what makes the pace of change seem so out of synch with our understanding?
The first thing to consider is time. While human life expectancy has taken giant leaps in the last century, it’s important to recognize that we still only live less than a century (on average). Many things that happen in the environment (natural, social and political) take a while to develop, a while longer to mature, and longer still to materialize in everyday life. Systems that have existed for centuries and millennia don’t move at the same pace that we do. For example, puppies and kittens develop into mature movement far faster than human babies do because their lifespan is much shorter and they have need of mature movement far sooner than humans do. The same can be said for systems that have a longer lifespan than individual generations of humanity. It’s not moving too slow in it’s own lifespan, it’s moving just right.
The second thing to consider is context. Having looked at the state of affairs in the world, there are times when it is appropriate to make a wholesale change…and do it quickly.
- Apartheid lasted in South Africa for nearly 50 years and was overturned within a year of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Same-sex marriage was illegal in the United States for the whole of it’s existence.
- From the time of the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor (June, 2013), the number of US states recognizing same-sex marriages more than doubled.
- Since the late 1990s, the use of the internet in the world has jumped to heights never before imagined, creating devices that have effectively killed the industries of once prominent devices that everyone once used…handset telephones, pagers, portable music players, portable video players, cable television, music distribution companies, movie rental companies, cameras, watches, pay telephones, billboards, bookstores and many others.
In the larger span of time, the changes brought on by this phenomena happened very quickly and dismantled things that had been standard before in short order. It’s not that these changes are moving too fast in it’s own lifespan (social movements and technological advances happen quickly), it’s moving just right.
The third thing to consider is what are you depending on. In the examples above we have things that have changed very slowly and things that have changed very quickly.
- If you depend on things staying the same, then anything that changes will be too fast because your dependency will blind you to the change coming and slow you to accept the change as it happens. Ask Kodak, Blockbuster Video, and Barnes & Noble about the pain of neither accepting change nor responding to it in a timely fashion.
- If you depend on things to change, then any perceived hesitation will be too slow because you have not adapted yourself to the way things are.
What I have learned from this experience of life is simply this…you can’t make things stay the same and you can’t make things change, the best you can hope for is to influence them. I sped through much of the last two years trying to make some things stay the same and other things change…instead some things change and other things stayed the same. I spent a lot of time howling over what I could not control and I made myself, and those around me, miserable in the process. I missed out on some great times. I didn’t fully experience some wonderful events. I was too slow…and too fast…and too focused in my own time, my own context and my own dependencies. What I missed in that experience is that time was not my own (it exists before me and it will continue to exist after me), context is not my own (many people share my set of circumstances and many more are impacted by them) and my dependencies are dependent on things so far beyond me that they might as well not be real (everything from gravity to oxygen to drinkable water to food is subjects to events well out of my control). So my concept of time is not something that should be used as a measuring stick. My experience of life should be used as a measuring stick for time. When I adjust my perception to fit my experience then I will not fear being too fast or too slow, my timing will be just right.
- The Secret Powers of Time
- Living on Borrowed Time (part 1)
- Living on Borrowed Time (part 2)
- The Paradox of our Time