When I was growing up I was fascinated by how things worked and why things were the way they were, as indeed I am still today. My schoolteachers did a good job in framing my approach to learning. I was taught that mathematics and science were the most important subjects because they dealt in facts and not ambiguity. I was also taught that history was more important than art because it too was factual.
The examinations my teachers set me consisted of a number of questions which needed to be answered in a given period of time and in an essay format. Each essay had to contain at least 10 facts to illustrate that I understood the topic fully. Facts were convenient they made life simple.
When I think of the nature of change I quickly realise that things like facts are problematical because they tend to get in the way. To really change we need to dispense with what we consider to be facts and be prepared to open up to a completely new reality. Here’s a few obvious ones: cars without drivers, boats and aeroplanes too. Factories without people, administration systems without administrators, or companies being forced to embrace their greatest competitors after fifty years of rivalry.
There is a useful Arabic expression that sums up our change reality: ‘every age has its book’. It’s just that, depending on which side of the change you are standing, ‘every age’ seems to be getting shorter and shorter. This weekend I saw a high quality, twenty-year-old building, built with bricks and a clay tiled roof being broken to pieces to make way for a more ‘modern’ one!
Further research into the origins of my Arabic expression, turned out that it too was not so old and could be attributed to the Lebanese – American writer Ameen Rihani. According to Nijmeh Hajjar in her book ‘The Politics and Poetics of Ameen Rihani’, Rihani rejected the idea of a universal truth (al-wahi) that remains for all generations and all times. Rihani apparently encouraged Muslims to interpret the Qur’an by saying that ‘every people has its wisdom and every age has its policy’. The strange thing is that while many of us may think that we are already way beyond the point of believing in constant truths, when it comes to change that confronts us, it is clear we are nowhere nearly there yet. Many of us are still clinging onto the age we grew up in, hoping that the science and facts we were taught in school will somehow see us out!
If what I write is true then it is also likely that I am no longer growing up but down. And down is fine because as Bob Dylan so brilliantly put it back in 1964 ‘…I was so much older then, I am younger than that now!’
Have a good week,