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Cultural Change – why the long time?

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Let’s discuss change. Well, not so much discuss, as this is a blog, and you really can’t talk back, but that’s actually a great example of change! This is one way we communicate now, and there’s no point in pretending that blog posts and social media rants aren’t a consistent presence in public discourse, news, staying connected, and effecting change.

I digress, as I am wont to do. (another digression – are you guys familiar with that phrase? I use it all the time, and my boyfriend thinks it’s not a real saying) Ugh, digressing again. Anyway, I listened to a podcast this morning driving to work amidst the fresh teeny-tiny snowfall, and they’re discussing the inevitable demise of the filibuster, and it got me thinking about change.

It’s a trigger word that excites some and terrifies others. In reality though, the concept of change is rarely, if ever, all bad. We all accept some amount of change. We change what we eat at mealtimes, we change our clothing, we change our car, computer, cell phone as necessary, and all that jazz. Change happens. Sometimes, we even change our minds! It’s the effects of change that scare us. You wouldn’t argue that moving cross country for a new job or relationship is going to be a greater change than just shaking up your Starbucks order. The effects of the former example will be far greater than the latter.

As I survey the current political, cultural, and religious landscape, there’s a lot of change ahead. Politically, Biden’s agenda couldn’t be more different than the past four years, and the divide between left and right is so deep now that learning a new paradigm of partisan coexistence is far more likely than reconciliation or compromise. Culturally, I predict there are many things that have changed in the past 12 months that will not actually change back, meaning we’ll have some sort of pre-COVID and current life hybrid by the fall. That’s … going to be quite the change. Theologically, I’ve been encouraged by the rise of the Religious Left during the Trump era, about which NBC News just published this article. It’s a good one.

I can’t help but come to the conclusion that reactions to change are generational. While a broad statement, it’s safe to say that older people are more comfortable with and accepting of slower and smaller change while the young’uns seem to want BIG change NOW. This is often attributed, or has been in my experience, to the impatience of youth. Young people want things now because they don’t understand the big picture, a lifelong timeline, the unintended costs of change, etc. If they knew better or understood, they’d be more patient.

I want to push back on this.

Keep in mind who’s talking here: a 32-year-old Millennial raised by two Baby Boomers. I’m one of those weird in-betweens that has the cultural experience of a Millennial but the child-rearing style of Boomers. My worldview is a mesh of three generations, rather than the typical two. As a result, I try REALLY HARD to see as many viewpoints as I can and find consensus. For years, I accepted the adage that change takes time. I no longer accept it.

Like many, I didn’t fully understand the logic behind a concept (timely change, in this example) until I had a personal experience with it. For me, it’s been, and continues to be, the United Methodist Church’s grappling with same-sex ordination and marriage. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told, “it takes a long time to right the ship,” or “change is slow” when arguing for full LGBTQ+ inclusion. For months, I just said, “I know, I know,” shook my head sadly and mourned the continual delay and denial of inclusion. If COVID hadn’t hit and changed our priorities, I believe I would've quit my church job by now. The letter was written, and my faith in this institution had crumbled entirely. Taking a step back helped me gain the energy to stay and renew the fight, and I’m ready to ask, “But why?”

Why does change take so long?

I really believe it comes down to the generational differences in information accessibility. When justice was being denied to black and brown people in the 50s and 60s, the “white moderate,” as MLK called them, only knew the effects of the repression and injustice if it was reported or witnessed. The media had far greater control of those reports and could easily write a narrative that such instances were rare. MLK’s assassination, Jon Lewis’ beatings, Emmet Till’s wrongful accusation and murder were all heinous and, rightfully, spurred action. But what about the George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, and Trayvon Martins of that era? What about the black and brown people who were wrongly accused, beaten, murdered every day by “good guys with guns” and law enforcement every week during that time period? No one had video of those tragedies that could go viral. No one livestreamed a lynching in the mid 20th century. Those lives and stories never reached national notice at the time. Now, they do.

Now, we know the peril and harm delayed change causes. There’s no way to deny that the longer we delay police reform, the more BIPOC will be harmed. The longer we deny LGBTQ+ Americans nationwide non-discrimination protections, the more they will be harmed mentally, financially, and even physically. The longer we allow men to earn more than women, the more women will be undervalued and overworked in the workplace. The longer we allow “boys to be boys,” the further we delay a society that respects women and takes abuse seriously. The longer we delay immigration reform and streamlining the nationalization process, the more immigrants will be marginalized, shunned, hunted, and caged.

We have access to information that our parents and grandparents didn’t have then and, often, don’t understand how to access even now. I hear people say, “If only I’d known” referencing the harmful effects of segregation, ignoring the AIDS crisis, denying women equal rights, embracing fringe treatments to mental illnesses, and more. Well, now we know.

We don't have that excuse now. We know the cost of delaying change and making progress. If we haven’t experienced it directly, we know someone who has. We have not romanticized figures like MLK, who our parents only reference as the “peaceful protester” who was bold but not controversial. No, we know the MLK whose writings show that he feared the KKK far less than “the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” We know the danger of being one “who constantly advises the Negro [or woman, or trans person, or immigrant] to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’” No.

No. I say again, no. We will not be those people. We will not wait for change. We will work for change. We will protest for change. We will scream for change. We will do many things for change, but we will not wait. We cannot wait. To witness the harm in delaying change and still prioritize smooth, calm, nonthreatening, slow change is beyond my comprehension. I find it immoral, irresponsible, selfish, and indefensible.

How can one justify choosing the comfort of the majority over the suffering of the minority?

It’s not the impatience of youth,

it’s the information of youth.

We, not just young people, but we, as a culture, know more. We have centuries of history that teach us many things, one being: delaying justice and equality is harmful. If that means change needs to happen, then so be it, and be it soon.

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