It’s Hard To Stop Doing What Used To Work

I was walking along the lakeshore today, and as I turned my gaze to the horizon, I saw a rowboat on the shore in the distance. As I drew nearer, I saw there was a man inside it. And as I drew nearer still, I noticed he was rowing, even though he was easily 20 feet removed from the water. Time and again he pulled furiously at both oars, so strongly that he was able to move the boat forward nearly an inch with each exertion. From the marks in the sand, it was apparent that he had dragged the boat in such a manner all the way from the water’s edge.

When I was scarce a few yards away I asked what he was doing, and he told me he was moving forward. I said “But surely there is a better way to move forward than what you are doing now. He said “Fool. Do you think I don’t know what I’m doing? I have traveled hundreds of miles and crossed the Great Lake Michigan. Surely you have only walked a mile or two. Don’t presume to tell me how to get anywhere.”

Leaving him behind me, I continued on in my walk. Soon I could see someone approaching me as I walked northwards. Before long I could see him more clearly, and I saw that he was making his way southwards with difficulty. It was not long before I realized he was wearing snowshoes. While the weather was cold, there was yet no snow to be seen on the beach, only sand. When he was within earshot I asked him why he was wearing snowshoes to walk with when there was no snow on the ground. “When you have walked thousands of miles as I have,” he said, “then you have the right to question how I do things. But I have walked all this way from the Northwest Passages, and I think I have a better idea of how to travel than you.”

I wished him well and continued my walk. I had only gone perhaps a hundred yards when a pickup truck blew past an intersection and continued over the curb and up on to the beach. It was going so fast I did not have time to ask why he was driving his car into the lake, nor did he have the time to reproach me for my question. Before I knew it, he had run it far enough in the water that there was little of it showing above the waves. Perhaps it was only my imagination, but I swear he still had both hands on the wheel, staring intently in the direction he intended to go.

When we find something that has worked for us, we are often unwilling to let it go. So many people chance upon an idea in youth and carry it with them long after it ceases to do them any good. Some people still guide their journeys according to traditions that no longer fit the realities of the present. Conditions often change and we must recognize when they do.

Changing directions or strategy is often difficult for the individual. It is much more difficult for an entire society to do so because there is so much momentum pushing us onward in the direction we have been traveling. A society does not make these changes en masse, but by individuals realizing that the best way forward is different from what it once was. A single person refusing to move forward in the wrong direction cannot hope to stop a futile or even deadly impetus forward, he can only hope to serve as an example for others. Such a person is usually looked upon as a nuisance at best and more likely as a threat to progress.

When such change becomes necessary, it can only be achieved by individuals willing to see with their own eyes rather than relying on conventional wisdom. It can only be begun with an individual willing to do what his own eyes and his own mind see as obvious. That individual is quite often trampled upon by an unthinking mob, but his mere existence and willingness to think beyond the conventional wisdom wakes others from their slumber. And while it always seems an impossible task to change the direction or the means of moving forward, once the critical mass has been reached, momentum shifts all at once toward a new way of doing things. And the people go forward once more, progressing through new means without giving much thought about how they once moved forward.

You need not worry about being the single person refusing to move in the wrong direction. That person, those people, began the process thousands of years ago. It is far later in this process than most anyone imagines. You only have to dare to see with your own eyes to see the path we are traveling is not leading us where we wish to go. And you only have to look around and see you are not the only one thinking this.

We’re not merely the rower or the snowshoer who is working harder than he has to to move forward. We are the truck driver speeding towards a very frigid awakening. I’m not certain how far into the process we are, but I’m quite certain we’ve already jumped the curb. I can’t tell you if we’ve already gone too far in the wrong direction, but I can tell you that it is a coward and a fool that believes it is useless to try to turn things around now.



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