Personal Renewal: You Can Do This

It’s Never Too Late.

Neuroscientists speak of brain plasticity. Happily, their growing research shows that personal renewal is absolutely do-able at all ages. We don’t need to become slugs in body or spirit as we reach and move through middle age. I recall my annoyance when my 60-something dad wasn’t willing to embrace the anti-war movement during the Viet Nam era. Now I find myself having to dig for renewal within myself to keep from sliding into despair and apathy over a new era of civil discord.

What’s Going On?

Many current pressures against personal and societal renewal are obvious. Anti-science, anti-art, anti-public education propaganda prizes standardized answers over wonder, exploration and knowledge acquisition. The consolidation of media outlets favors packaged news and group-think. Prolific social science writer John Gardner said in his 1964 Self-Renewal. The Individual and the Innovative Society, “In an ever-renewing society what matters is a system or framework within which continuous innovation, renewal and rebirth can occur.”

That framework still exists in America, but it is threatened and we must preserve it. Now is not the time to slip into apathy. But neither is it the time to slip into rigidity. Be the change you want to see.

In society as well as in nature, “The only stability possible is stability in motion.”

“Keep Your Stinking Renewal.”

Some people have had enough of motion and they’re longing for “a return to simpler times.” It’s important to recognize their fear.

Innovation by itself isn’t renewal. Continuity of our society’s long-term purposes and values offers us stability. It enables us to maintain our distinct American character and style.

Unfortunately, what I see as progress, someone else sees as dangerous change.

In the quest for quick relief from the stress of change, many Americans are motivated to embrace the “authority figure” and the “expert” who either resonates with their feelings or gives them a handy sound bite to express their beliefs.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident…” 

Seal of the United States of America

Beliefs: Convictions, understandings, and ideas that people hold as truth.

A Focus on Government, Structure, Status Quo

For many Americans, our “truths” are expressed in certain foundation documents, the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They allow for no renewed interpretation of the intent of these documents. They’re happy to assume the “Founding Principles” of our government, written over 200 years ago, can also be the guidelines for individual behaviors and collective actions throughout time. 

It’s unsettling to see how easily they condone or ignore the constraint of the one person-one vote American principle (gerrymandering, census manipulation, limiting voting hours and locations, etc.) I suppose there’s a sense of security in knowing that who’s in office will remain in office. No change, no threat; no need to adapt.

Beliefs and Values are Different. 

Man offering you a handshake.

Values: Cultural guidelines that delineate what is good and bad and provide instruction for social living.

A focus on interpersonal behavior, common code of ethics, flexibility to adapt

In 2017, Joe Biden said, “one cannot define Americans on what they look like, where they came from, whom they love or how they worship.” Neither is an American someone who can quote articles and amendments from the U.S. Constitution.

Values fall in the province of human interaction rather than systems of government. No matter where you live, what holidays you celebrate, or how you earn a living, you likely agree with most or all the these American values. They are widely recognized and so respected that people around the world seek to emulate them or emigrate here.

Personal Renewal: Diversity in Thinking.

Stones of many color gathered in harmony.

Mono-crop agriculture degrades the soil, encourages pests and use of pesticides and leaves the farmer vulnerable to disaster. Likewise, group think is destructive of our American way of life.

If you are getting your news and information from a single source or surrounding yourself with people who generally share your values, it’s time for personal renewal. Stop thinking red/blue, us/them, intellect/idiot. I know it’s frustrating to have “the conversation.” However, irrespective of age or circumstance, we can each learn new ways to converse with one another that just may renew the fabric of our civic community.

American Renewal Depends on All of Us.

The miracle of modern America is that it was settled, developed in structure, and evolved over time through the contributions and cooperation of people from different parts of the world. In this nation, the government is not “them,” it is “us.” It’s not “political maneuvering” or “corporate lobbyists.” The local values and citizen actions shape and sustain local communities. No matter what happens in the state or national legislatures. You still can make an impact.

Do you long for a renewed direction for a particular issue in our society? If you wait for someone else it will be too late. If you try to do it alone, it will be too little. They say we get wiser as we age. Let’s keep that wisdom in the mix of Americans working together. The difference we make might be just enough, just in time.

How do I get others to work with me?

Whether revitalizing a crumbling downtown, restoring a waterway, or determining health and safety systems for older adults needing long term care, our quality of life now and into the future depends upon citizens working together. The websites below offer practical strategies for discussing government and important political issues with people of differing viewpoints. If you’re willing to do a little personal renewal dig in.

The Frameworks Institute– How to Talk About Government

Common Ground– Civil Politics for a Shared Future