Don’t be afraid to make changes

Monday, April 12, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:46 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Well, we’re off and running again. Off to face another season with gas prices at the pump accelerating and gaggles of motorists screaming in rage. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been through this in my lifetime. The thing I do know for sure is that between these seasons nothing significant ever happens to eliminate the necessity of going through another one. There’s never a big push for developing alternative fuel, automobiles get bigger instead of smaller and conversations about the need for mass transit become virtually nonexistent. My conclusion is that we Americans are not really concerned about having an inexpensive, sustainable source of fuel to keep our automobiles running. I suppose we are hoping someone will invent a car that doesn’t need gasoline and our problems will be over.

We’re like that about a lot of things. The way we elect our leaders, for example. We know that presidential elections are out of hand. We know that it shouldn’t require millions of dollars for an individual to run for the presidency. But it does, and we accept that, even though we can put a stop to it any time we choose. Money has corrupted our entire political system. Ask any person on the street, and she will tell you so.

Education is another case in point. Almost everyone in the country has some kind of complaint about the public-education system. It costs too much money. It’s turning out too many kids who can’t read or write. The administrators’ salaries are too high. The school has become a welfare system, so the teachers don’t have time to teach. Can we hope to find a better way to educate our children in this century?

I was thinking about recycling programs the other day when it occurred to me that one of the biggest reasons we don’t get problems solved as quickly as we could is that we don’t spend enough time bringing diverse groups into the decision-making process. Most of the people I have spoken to about recycling programs don’t use them because they don’t see how proper disposal of waste materials has any effect on their lives. According to them, no one ever comes into their neighborhood to ask their opinions or suggestions about how to solve community problems.

Whenever I bring this up, people are quick to inform me that nobody goes out in anyone’s neighborhood and does this. Well, let’s face it, in some neighborhoods no one has to. Some families have been in some communities for three or more generations. They feel connected to all kinds of things like certain streets, schools and parks. They have relationships with other families who have also been in the community a long time. When you mention the name of their town or community, they automatically experience a connection.

Not so with everybody, even some who have lived in the same house on the same block for years. When the city council or the county commission meets, these folks don’t feel that these gatherings have anything to do with them.

I first began to notice this phenomenon when I was in high school. I observed that some students were brimming with school spirit and others seemed to be indifferent. The ones that were enthusiastic were the students who were involved in all kinds of activities. The other students just came to school every day and never participated in sports, music or any other programs. I also observed that although the school administration made minimum participation mandatory, it did little else to encourage these students. As a result, many either dropped out of school or went on to graduate with what they felt was an unsatisfactory experience.

It seems we have lost a lot of that thing called ingenuity. So often these days, we take the easy way out, preferring to do nothing rather than risk whatever turmoil might come from changing directions, even if the outcome might prove beneficial. It’s like a little voice inside is crying out, “Don’t try to change anything, you might get hurt.”

Undoubtedly, we’ll all get by. We’ll find a way to buy gas to get where we want to go no matter how much it costs. That’s all that matters anyway, isn’t it? The country will have the best president that money can buy. Kids will be able to make a living even if they can’t read or write.

Have we stopped trying to make things better? Have we become content with just getting by? Have we once more proven Peter’s Principle and risen to the level of our own incompetence? I certainly hope this is one of those quickly passing phases in the human experience.

I hate to think that for the next thousand summers we will be lining up at the gas pump, yelling foul. Does anybody have a clue?

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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