Out With The Old, In With The New?

            I once was asked by my employer to attend a program on “Organizational Change.” There were six of us present, each responsible for a particular program.  Standing next to an easel holding a blank sheet of newsprint with Magic Marker in hand, the presenter posed a question: “Why might we resist change?”

            A few years ago, I would have been excited by this question.  As a young leader I wanted to be a “change agent” and a constant innovator. But maybe I’d been in too many of these kinds of seminars led by consultants or speakers who seemed to unequivocally assume every “change” is a good thing.  Or maybe I sensed she assumed the way we ran things needed improvement without first appreciating what we were doing.  Or maybe I was just feeling ornery.

            With nothing to lose, I raised my hand and said, “Well, one reason we might be resistant to change is that things that are working well don’t need to be changed. They should be respected and preserved.”

            She looked at me as if I said something incomprehensible. She didn’t ask me why I felt that way, or what examples I could give.  She ignored my comment and turned to the others to give the answers she wanted.

I confess from that point on I tuned her out.

            “Out with the old, in with the new” is a common phrase in our culture.  But there are times when we should question it.

To be clear, I’m all for new things – when they are necessary.  In the past year, I bought a new Ride1Up E-bike that is a delight to use.  We bought a new TV that’s far better than our old set.  In May I went to Los Angeles for the premiere of a bold new classical composition by Thomas Ades and it was thrilling.  I got a new pair of shoes that I really like — only $25 at Costco! I put a new coat of paint on the walls of my home office, and it looks a lot better.  I’m always on the lookout for a new way to grill fish, or an exciting new movie, streaming series, or book. I love meeting new people, asking where they’re from, and learning what’s been important in their life.  And I’ve led organizations where I’ve worked hard to envision and implement changes, and felt satisfied and gratified when things turned out well.  

            But some old things are worth hanging on to.

            I have a dining room table from my ancestors’ farm in Iowa that is 150 years old. My grandmother did her Latin homework on it in 1915.  It was old, worn, and in pieces when my father asked me if I wanted it when he was cleaning out his garage.  I almost left it for the landfill. But I decided to take it home and see if I could refinish it. I sanded it, shaped it, stained it and finished it with a coat of varnish. It turned out far better than I had expected.  When you put all the leaves in you can seat 12 people, and it’s a meaningful link to my family history.

            I treasure friends that have remained close over the years.

I have a special affection for old dogs.

            I don’t think I need to seek out a “new and improved” version of the Pacific. Or trade in the Sierras for a “new” mountain range.

            I was a history major in college because I wanted to understand how the world got to be the way it was.  One day I realized I had always assumed that the story of Western civilization was constantly moving forward toward something new and better, and that everything “old” needed to be discarded.  That may be true in some areas. But how about the arts and sports?  Would you say someone has finally gotten “better” than Bach, Gershwin, Lennon/McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, or Michael Jackson?  Has painting “improved” since Botticelli, Monet, and Van Gogh?  Are athletes “better” than Babe Ruth, Pele, Serena Williams, or Steph Curry?  New composers, artists, and athletes come along, but that doesn’t mean they are “better” than those of the past…they are just new arrivals.

            Our economy is built on the assumption that we must be constantly expanding.  But look what it’s done to our “old,” dear earth.

            In the last year, I’ve been meeting with a group focused on the redesign and rebuilding of La Casa de Maria, the 26-acre retreat center that was damaged by the 2018 mud and debris flow while I was the Director.  We’ve been working hard to see how we can bring it back better than ever. But we also know there was a sense of “soul” and presence there that can’t be improved on but must be preserved.  After months of work, we believe we have found an optimal balance between innovation and preservation.

            I believe the divine Spirit is always fresh and creative, asking us to dream new dreams and be open to new approaches to life.  At the same time, have we found better values to live by than to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly on this earth with one another?

            So — out with the old, in with the new? It depends.  There comes a time when we need to let some things go. But other things need to be kept, held with deep affection, and revered.

Photograph: “Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park,” amercianforests.org

5 Comments

  1. Tom Webster says:

    Hi Steve,
    Nice piece. Helpful thoughts.
    I especially like the line, ” She looked at me as if I said something incomprehensible.”
    Tom

    Like

    1. Thank you, Tom.

      Happy New Year to you, Gretchen, and the descendants.

      Steve

      Like

  2. maryannaransom says:

    I’m reminded of the architecture in beautiful cities such as Paris and Vienna. It’s a pain to put up with old plumbing and no elevators when you are on the 5th floor. But destroying those buildings would be devastating. And modern churches? Forgettaboutit! I’m excited to hear about the plans for La Casa.

    Like

    1. I agree about the architecture! I look forward to sharing La Casa news…

      Happy New Year to you, your family, and Opera Dog.

      Steve

      Like

  3. Jennifer Eby says:

    Happy New Year Steve. I always look forward to your point of view.

    Like

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