As promised, here’s a rant on our tendency to live in the past. You’ve heard it said that too many generals prepare to fight the last war (see, e.g., the Maginot Line). When your star center fielder, who has been with your team since he was 19 years old, is now a 30 year old who just had his worst offensive season ever and is showing signs of defensive decline also, are you the kind of General Manager who has the cojones to ignore fan loyalty and let that star player walk away? If so, you’re in the ranks of John Schuerholz, who did just that as one of his last official acts as the GM of the Atlanta Braves.
How about if your national football (soccer, for us Yanks) team has not been playing up to its potential in the World Cup, yet has advanced to the semi-finals and actually showed some good sparks in your last match? Do you stay with the players who have taken you there thus far, even though some of them are younger and less experienced than others on your reserve roster? Or do you think back to games that happened a year ago, or three years ago, and say to yourself “Oh yeah, I remember the other times we played this next opponent, we use our other goalkeeper, and we won, so I think I’ll switch the lineup at the most critical position imaginable and replace the keeper who has played the entire tournament”? So you then insert a 36 year old goalie in place of a 26 year old one, but wait, what’s this, you forgot to consider that the goalie who won those previous games for you wasn’t a 36 year old, but was a 35 year old or a 33 year old, and funny enough, reflexes slow down over time. Who would have thought that? If you would have, then consider yourself more prescient than Greg Ryan, coach of the U.S. Women’s national soccer team, who decided to substitute Briana Scurry for Hope Solo in the semi-finals of last month’s Women’s World Cup against Brazil (in case you missed it, Brazil whipped our collective asses 4-0).
Here’s another one – imagine that you lead a religious organization, and you’re facing a contentious issue within your ranks. You could either choose to stay with the traditional beliefs and practices, or you could become a visionary and promulgate a new way forward. For the most part, religious leaders have chosen the former approach. On issues ranging from slavery to women clergy to actually allowing individuals to read the Scriptures for themselves, translated into their own vernacular, it’s always the “revolutionaries” who upset the sanctimonious apple cart and try a new way. A century or so later, we all look back and can’t imagine what the anti-reform elements were thinking. And then the religious authorities turn right around and commit the same damn mistakes once again – yesterday women, day before yesterday blacks, today homosexuals. Talk about not learning from history and being condemned to repeat it…
And then there’s politics. If you want to choose the best candidate to become our next President, do you want the guy or gal who wants to continue to fight the battles of 9/11? Or do you want the candidate who is ready and willing and able to take on the challenges of 9/12 and beyond? See this column by Tom Friedman to read more about why we Americans can’t afford to live in the past, even and especially the tragic past of 9/11. We need a President to lead us into the future, not one who will expend his or her efforts constructing the American version of the Maginot Line.