I was just chatting with my 82-year old mother this evening and I brought up jokingly about how in the small Kentucky town in which she grew up, every time a person passed you on their way somewhere, they would greet you with a "How do". Then when they came back and passed you, they would again say, "How do". Growing up spending part of my summer there, I thought it was the funniest, craziest thing I'd ever experienced having been born and raised up North in the city where that did not happen. When I brought it up again this evening, my mother said that growing up she and her sister would often suggest to each other that they go back a different way than they came so that they didn't have to speak again to people they had already greeted. I asked her if this was after she and my aunt had been to the city, since they started coming here for visits when they were teens. However, she said no. They just didn't want to speak again but their mother had raised them to always speak when they passed people. Obviously, everyone had been taught this because just about everybody in the town did it.
This is a simple thing, but as I thought about it, it occurred to me that this was a good example of how in groups, no matter what they they are--whether cities, towns, businesses, churches, etc.--there can be a culture that unquestioningly becomes ingrained. Even though there may be people who don't agree with the way something is done, they simply go along because "that's just the way it's done". My mother was born and raised in this town and it was her custom. But even so, she and her sister didn't necessarily want to always practice it. Now, you may say that is just typical little kids not wanting to always do what they're told. Maybe so, but I also see a lesson in it that is good to keep in mind: while something may be an accepted practice or belief, it doesn't mean that everyone believes the same thing. There may, in fact, be people who think differently; they just don't make it known. But it is my contention, that if we want real change, we have to speak up and express our differences of opinion or question the way things are done. Not in a negative way or for the purpose of causing trouble, mind you, as many people are taken aback by what they perceive as a threat to their already established practices and beliefs. But rather a question or thought phrased simply, clearly and in a non-threatening manner might yield surprising results as a conversation may open up and we find that we're not the only ones who think a certain way or hold a different view. Who knows, it could be the catalyst for change that was missing.
Having said this, however, I am not naive to the fact that some have broached topics in a non-threatening manner, only to be greeted with hostility and a clear message, whether verbalized or not, that the system is not be questioned. The moment people begin to believe that their environment is not one where differences can be discussed or even raised, that is the day that entrenched thinking begins, if we allow it. At that point, there is a decision to be made: stay in the group and hope to enact change over time, stay in the group while maintaining one's individuality or leave and find an environment more conducive to the discussion of ideas and the possibility of change. Of course, there's also another option--stay and take on the dominant mindset. That, to me, is the least preferable option and how group think maintains its foothold.
See also this post by Michelle Van Loon on the Pope and his exhortation that might help all of us.