OVERVIEW: This series of two posts explores some dynamics for how gradual social transformation occurs over multiple generations. As a case study, I use the last 125 years of my own family’s history as pioneers on the Western frontier. As a third-generation of pioneers on both sides, I grew up taking as a given that men and women could be equally capable and competent in just about everything. In my experience, I’ve observed women contributing as much to the development of a transformed community life as have men. In this series, I share some examples from my family of such women, tie that in with some milestones in voting rights for women, and suggest a framework for making intentional innovations for a better future.
* * * * * * *
I concluded Part 1 with some questions:
But just because things are significantly different now for American women, what might some mechanisms for continued future change be? How can men and women work together for a more civil society, where there is a spirit of collaboration in order to find or create common ground for the common good?
These questions bring up a concept framework I use in talking about strategic foresight and skills of “futuring.” And that is the differences between unfolding futures that are plausible, possible, or preferable, and how they fit in with intentional efforts for social change. This framework gives one way to influence the trajectory of transformation for an individual or an organization. (I will cover several others in various forthcoming Futuristguy Field Guides.)
Intentional Transformation: Plausible, Possible, Preferable
Here’s the way I am using this set of terms, which may not coincide exactly with how futurists or other social scientists use them – but it’s how they make sense to me as a trained linguist who took three years of classical Greek at the college level.
A future that is plausible is about a general situation that may happen. There isn’t a huge level of certainty about it happening, but it could and some people probably wish it would.
A future that is possible involves a specific person with the qualities and qualifications needed to carry out a particular project or plan. Therefore, the odds are much higher of it happening than some situation that is merely plausible.
A future that is preferable involves where a specific scenario from among all the possible scenarios open to an individual or an organizational entity is what they are passionate about pursuing. There is a wisdom paradox in this: The most preferable alternative likely will not happen on its own unless it is chosen, and it is not chosen unless the person or group is passionate enough about it to persevere in carrying it out. So, figuring out what is preferable requires learning to discern, decide, and do.
Back to linguistics, if you happen to be familiar with grammatical terms for “mood” in Greek verbs, plausible corresponds to optative mood (the furthest removed from reality, but it still could potentially happen), possible is subjunctive mood (it could happen under certain conditions), and preferable encompasses imperative mood (it needs to happen) and indicative mood (it does happen).
For instance, it is plausible that a woman from my niece’s Millennial generation could become President of the United States of America. Social conditions have changed enough over the past 50 years that the thought of a female president is much more realistic now than it was 40 to 50 years earlier, in the midst of the “second wave” women’s movement. It is possible my niece could be the first woman President, as she has the intellectual and relational capabilities required for that position. So the question for her to consider is, Is this the most preferable career path for me? Am I willing to do what it takes to get there?
Actually, the preferability question is one my sister faced when she was considering college majors in the late 1960s. She was intrigued by the medical field, and initially wanted to become a brain surgeon. She thought that would be “a cool career.” But then she found out what achieving that would entail: four years of pre-med, more years to become a doctor, then even more years to specialize in brain surgery. Turns out that this career wasn’t who she was so much as she initially thought it was. So, she went into elementary education instead to become a teacher.
That doesn’t mean her career choice was a failure, or that she merely “settled” for something. No, she “set” herself on a trajectory toward a career goal that realistically fit who she was, and encompassed the core of what she wanted to do, which was to make a difference in people’s life. The passion for positive impact guided her final decision. And she used both her vocation (teaching) and avocation (advocacy and activism for survivors of abuse and violence) to accomplish that goal.
Engaging in a goal that is energized by passion opens the way for making creative changes in that domain – whether through intentional innovations, or simply by exploring it in new ways because we love it so much. If each person were able to find that point of passion, how much better off would our communities be! How much more sustainable, and constructive? But what would it take to create a society where there is sufficient freedom and opportunity to move that from plausible to possible for all its citizens? That is the gazillion-dollar question behind much of what motivates social entrepreneurship with a quadruple bottom line mentality to foster robust community, sustainable ecology, a just and equitable economy, and deepening spirituality.
Some Thoughts …
Let’s go back to the quote from Helen Haste that we started off with in Part 1:
In the long run, what counts is how the next generation thinks. How far new ideas permeate culture is not measured just by attitude change during one generation, but by what is taken for granted in the next. ~ Helen Haste, The Sexual Metaphor: Men, Women, and the Thinking that Makes the Difference (Harvard University Press, 1994, p. 149)
For the last 150 years, women in my family tree have pushed against canvas, glass, and stained glass ceilings. The barriers of the traditional and conventional did not stop them from being inventional and inspirational. So, my people have been pioneers in business, community, civics, and church.
Each succeeding generation built upon the legacy of those who went before. This did not mean doing the same things, but using similar tools. Each woman has seemed to find her own areas of interest and then developed them within her own personal context of historical time and place.
This chain of continual, incremental progress illustrates what Helen Haste is talking about. Each generation provides a platform from which the next begins to build. To keep a constructive story line going, we need to invest ourselves in bringing new elements into the plot, as it were. These kinds of additions are part of what energizes the present and future – without some kind of creative inputs and change, a system automatically goes into entropy and eventually dies. If we have a passion for change and give ourselves permission to make those changes within our own generation’s lifetime, that also means we should not expect or demand next generations to follow the arc of our story too strictly when starting their own. They need to discover and follow their own points of passion and purpose. Honor the platform of the past, yes. But do so with flexibility, not rigidity. How else can they understand their own times, and discern what therein they should do? (Like the Bible talks about with the sons of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32.)
We may not be able to advance a better story quite as far as we would like within our own limited time. But, if we’re intentional about leaving a legacy that helps next generations unfurl their wings, perhaps they’ll be able to soar farther than we ever imagined …
* * * * * * *
© 2002 Brad Sargent
mentors leave a legacy
by gifting opportunities
to develop skill and character
transform our lives from who we were
into the who we’ve yet to be
help us embrace our destiny
to send forth waves on human lakes
transform more lives for Kingdom’s sake
by gifting opportunities
that re-steer human history
expand the chain of legacy
from mentors to infinity …
* * * * * * *
I’m well aware that what I’ve written was about Caucasian women gaining the right to vote in 1920. Sadly, it would be another 44 years until the Civil Rights Act (July 2, 1964) would extend equal protection under the law to American citizens, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. But did you know there was a time in American history when the abolitionist and women’s rights movements were basically one and the same, with many Christian women and men involved in both issues? If that intrigues you, I’d recommend reading Ahead of Her Time: Abby Kelley and the Politics of Antislavery by Dorothy Sterling. This important biography explores the period when these movements were still united, and it traces when, why, and how they separated around the time of the 1848 Seneca Falls convention on women’s rights.
I’m also conscious of the fact that my great-grandmother’s staking a claim during the 1892 Oklahoma Land Rush came at the expense of others. Some of the news reports about that particular run mention the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, as what had formerly been their land was opened up to settlers. I am still grappling with the meaning of that specific act, and responsibilities, within the general context of how indigenous tribes in America have been unjustly treated for centuries. My concern is not just theoretical, as over the years I’ve had friends and acquaintances from the Blackfeet, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Crow, and Lakota nations; the Coeur d’Alene, Colville, and Nez Perce tribes; and the Little Shell tribe of Chippewas.
In recent years, I’ve begun studying the concepts and processes involved with Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC), which I found out about because of studying apartheid South Africa and found out about the TRC there. More recently and relevant to American tribal situations, there has been a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada to document the mistreatment of First Nation peoples there, issue apologies, and consider reparations. I do not know where these considerations will lead me, but I do long to see things made right where there have been generations who have endured the doing of wrong.