Changing the culture

Culture is a delicate thing, but also very stubborn. To change it, it’s never enough to will it, never enough to do one’s best to get it done. In fact, no-one really knows how things change. We have theories, explanations, which, by virtue of being what they are, always look back on the fait accompli. If we understood culture and cultural change, we’d be able to predict it effectively.

Culture is also a mess, most of the times, no matter where we find it, in the household, in the organisation, in the country or in the world. The mess notwithstanding, we cling to meaning trying to understand how change happens, and over time we have come up with some pretty obstinate ideas about how cultural change works. One is the role of the individual; the other the inevitability of positive change. The first gave us the hero, the second gave us progress.

That change starts with an individual is perhaps one of the most tenacious ideas our culture has ever engendered. Once the province of the traditional hero, the job is now open for all. Everyone can contribute, everyone may become an instrument of change. We are all called to change our culture, to act on the belief that we are creatures of tomorrow, and that tomorrow is always better.

It takes a lot to come to the conclusion that change is inevitable. For most of documented human history, change was synonymous with danger and potential harm. The indesirability of change in ancient times has been replaced in modernity by its inevitability – the unreserved conviction that things are going for the better, that the past performance is, this time, a guarantee of future results, that the engine of history lacks a reverse thrust.

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