Cultural change can be hard, except when it is not. At age 75, I have lived through a number of changes that started at the grassroots, with people like me. I was there at their birth with other pioneers and have strong memories of those times and the transitions that all of us went through.
When I first went to college in Berkeley, California, in spring 1962, only a handful of students on campus wore sandals or carried bookbags. Gradually, more and more young men grew their hair long, and some had beards. Many young women, like me, stopped wearing makeup and trying to change the nature of our hair.
After a while, some of us had 1950s pickups or small, foreign cars. At first, we were so rare that we waved to each other as we passed, even on a busy street or road.
David Halberstam wrote in “The Reckoning” about how the shift in our choices of vehicles affected the whole automobile industry. This shift was based on the individual decisions of people who wanted smaller cars that were less expensive to run.
In the early 1970s, only a limited number of professions and jobs were open to women. Gradually, men and women of all races and abilities, and different gender orientations, have pushed and worked to eliminate the boundaries as they pursue their own dreams.
We are now in the midst of at least five major changes.
- A shift in our economy from carbon-based energy
- Reliance only on sustainable consumerism
- True justice and equality without regard to our differences
- Universal public benefits and supports, including the right to health care, public works and some kind of guaranteed income
- Wearing a mask and keeping a distance to protect ourselves and each other
All of these changes are a matter of life and death for each of us and our planet.
We literally must embrace these changes to survive.
I once read a column in this newspaper that described how liberal and progressive people are inherently more open to change in their lives and their culture, while conservative people are inherently more likely to resist change. This might be some of the dynamic that is playing itself out right now.
If this description is valid, then those of us who are more open might be called on, even more than we are already, to help and support our more conservative neighbors as we all go through the various aspects of this change process that we are now in.
At the same time, we each must maintain our own inner stability, faith and mutual support to embrace and fight for these changes.
The easiest step in all of this change process is to make it second nature to put on a mask whenever we go out or have outside people in our homes or workplaces. When nine out of 10 of us wear masks in these circumstances, science shows that we can basically contain the coronavirus until a vaccine is found and disseminated, even if it takes a year or more to get this right.
Mask wearing at any sign of illness as an ongoing habit also can protect us and each other into the future.
The other changes listed above require examining and modifying our individual behaviors, including how we treat each other and how we spend our money. These changes also affect who we elect and how we advocate for new laws and policies.
We are now integral players in a participatory democracy in a way that we have never before been called on to be.
Each of us can and will make a difference based on our individual decisions and our contributions to the collective decision-making process.
Our history has prepared each of us well to assume these responsibilities.
We are called to do a lot of hard work now, individually and together.
We need to put on our mask, roll up our sleeves and keep our hand on the plow as we all go through these changes.