The Past: Roadblock, Help, or Hindrance?

Our world is in a constant state of flux. Nothing is fixed. Nothing is constant. In the world of 2002, it is possible to expect almost anything to happen. How unlike the time and place where many of us grew to adulthood, is this America of 2002. We...


Current research into the how the human brain works is offering us new insights into the issue of change. A front-page article in the Sunday Star Ledger of Newark, New Jersey sets down some interesting thoughts about the human brain as the base point of change. In this article, Amy Ellis Nutt makes the following insightful comment. "It takes millions of neurons firing in sequence to create the simplest thought, and in the same way the Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed one never steps in the same river twice, we cannot have the same thought twice." Wow, every thought is a unique experience, never again to be exactly replicated. There will be similar thoughts, but never the same exact thought.

Let us all get this straight. We seek stability, permanency, and prosperity as worthy goals. Change is bad. However, our brains are an ever-changing mass of chemical and physical interactions. No wonder we are all so confused about change in our lives.

Many of us want things to remain as they were when we were little buddies listening to Sid Caesar performing live comedy on a 10-inch television. Some of us want things to be just as they were on the day before President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. Others among us wish to have things remain much as they were when Ronald Regan was creating our 600-ship navy back in the 1980?s. For others, their history and good old days only date back to the Gulf War. We all seek to have this aura of stability in a world that is based upon thoughts created by human minds: human minds which create every new thought in a unique manner.

Maybe what we really want is something totally different from what we believe it to be. Perhaps the issue is not change as an element of our lives. It may well be that what we are looking for is a greater degree of control over life as it swirls around us, much like the whirlpools that swirled around the feet of Heraclitus in 500 B.C. Maybe we want to be the wind, rather than the leaves blown before it.

Is this the point? Is the real issue change or is it control? Do we seek a greater degree of control over our lives? Think about the comfortable sameness of a life where one no longer has to march to the beat of someone else?s drum. I believe the truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes of a world driven by the flux of continual change, and the stable sameness of our faraway youth, whenever that youth might have occurred.

For many fire officers whom I have encountered, control is that spark plug which fires the engine of their being. If they cannot have control over the actions of others, they feel that there is no meaning for them in life. Fire departments have classically been portrayed as paramilitary organizations. In fact, the use of companies, battalions, and divisions is a direct extrapolation from the military. Our culture has firmed up around the military model.

Even in our most progressive organizations, rank and unit designators have remained the same. Someone is the chief. Moreover, a lot of other people, who think that they should be chief, are not. That is the world you see around you today. That is the culture that we have inherited.

There are those in the world who would have you believe that there can be no changes. If you think about it, we have created what old timers among us might call an Ozzie and Harriet view of how fire departments should operate. Life is simple and comfortable. Do not worry. Mom and dad (the chief and her assistants) will take care of you. Hence, you and I are all prisoners of our cultural heritage. You should now see the reason for my choice of the title for this commentary.

However, if modern medical research is beginning to tell us that our brains are never going to allow us recreate the exact same thought, how is it then that this prison can really exist? Why can?t we simply think of a new reality? If we don?t like the one we have, why can?t we just invent a new one?

It is my opinion that we wish to stay the way we are because it is much easier to stay the same than to change. I believe people fight change because it is easier to stay the same. Perhaps we are lazier than we think we are. Changing requires an effort, staying the same does not; or so it would seem.

Change can involve new technologies, new equipment, and a whole new set of thoughts to think and words to say. Since change is different, it also involves a certain amount of fear. Fear has long been a fixture in humankind. It is a given. If our ancestors had been afraid of change most of us would be living in Europe, Asia, or Africa. They were willing to take a chance.