There will always be something new. A next step that we’re unprepared for. An eventuality we didn’t see coming. Maybe a new technology or social movement or philosophical seed that is planted and seemingly overnight takes firm, widespread root.
We can view this reality — this ever-present potentiality — through the lens of fear and mistrust, or we can focus on the potential benefits of change, and do our best to guide it.
For some of us, a skeptical response is most often our default. Change will probably lead to negative consequences; if only things could stay the same. If only we could maintain our present reality and really find our footing.
Society requires stability to function. We need people who aren’t always waiting for the next big thing. People who are not just comfortable with, but are in fact comforted by, a slow-moving zeitgeist. These are the people who take last year’s innovations and make them normal; commonplace. They make sure the infrastructure is functioning and the repairs are made. They provide a stable foundation for as many people as possible.
On the other side of this spectrum are those who thrive on change and newness.
These people keep society from stagnating. They test limits and break things. They’re a little uncomfortable when things are too stable, and through their art, their engineering, their lifestyle, their business savvy, their politics, they try to find something better; some kind of upgrade that will improve upon where things are today.
Society requires limit-testers, too, because they keep us from ever fully settling. Our routines, our expectations, our norms, our values are obstructed because of their work, their very presence, and that forces us to grow. It’s not always pleasant, and it’s not always immediately appreciated (or in some cases, ever appreciated), but they stand on the firm foundation built by their more stable brethren and jump as high as they can, jumping jumping jumping their entire lives, hoping to reach some new height and to bring back what they find to everyone else.
It’s easy to see how both of these extremes would seem ridiculous, even worthless, to someone looking over the fence at the group opposite theirs. To the more conservative bunch, the change-makers can’t seem hold still and appreciate what they’ve got, and can’t stop stirring the pot even when things are looking pretty good. To those wily jumpers, the people who are content iterating rather than innovating, who aren’t comfortable smashing conventions and norms, are a slow-moving, boring bunch.
These groups are polar opposites, but neither could survive long without the other.
Without those who seek progress, the more conservative bunch would consistently lack solutions to emerging problems and would stagnate culturally, technologically, and morally.
Without those who stabilize society, those who continuously challenge the status quo would find themselves fractured, with no common basis to communicate and organize. They’d keep producing, but it’s unlikely the trains would run on time or the fundamentals of 21st century law would be enforced.
Our first challenge, regardless of where we fall on this spectrum (most of us are somewhere in the middle), is to look at both extremes and value the people we find there for what they contribute. Perhaps for doing the things we’d prefer not to, but certainly for balancing our own predispositions.
Our second challenge, which is perhaps a little more difficult than the first, is to see what we might learn and adopt from the other side.
If we’re innovators, might we learn something from those who maintain this complex structure inside which we all live? Might we find value in slowing down from time-to-time, and appreciating what we’ve collectively built?
If we’re maintainers, might we dabble in edgier ideas and technologies? Might we find some value in a not-yet-common concept, which we can then appropriate and work into our lifestyles? Even if we don’t buy into what’s being pitched wholesale, there might be ingredients available we can appropriate and work into our own, beloved, familiar recipes.
Recognizing the possibility that there could be benefits to an opposing viewpoint, and that those who believe radically different things from us might in a way enable our lifestyles, is vital to seeing society as the rich, multifaceted organism that it is.
Acting upon that knowledge, in how we interact with each other and in how we allow ourselves to grow, isn’t easy. But respecting those who believe differently than ourselves for what they bring to the mix is a mark of thinking humanistically, rather than tribally.