By TOM MAY
With college basketball tournaments abounding, we have been looking at the classic match-ups that occur. We have thought a bit about the idea of “versus” and the challenges that come when we pit team versus team, or man versus man.
But not all of the battles are against people. Sometimes I find myself “versus” things that are way bigger than me.
I attended a funeral this week of a friend’s grandmother. The lady was born in 1920, which made her 94 when she passed away. During the eulogy, the minister made reference to the mighty changes that had taken place within this woman’s lifetime. The big ticket items come to mind quickly and stand out. She lived through the Great Depression, two World Wars, a man walking on the moon and technology changes too numerous to mention.
A few years ago, I remember reading an article that proposed that someone born in the year 1900 had more in common with Moses than with someone being born today, so I began to think about some of the other changes that had taken place between 1920 and today.
The population of the United States had boomed to more than 106 million in 1920, but only 6 percent were able to read and write. There were more than 2 million people unemployed in 1920 and the end of the decade saw the Great Depression and the economic woes would begin to multiply exponentially. The life expectancy was virtually equal between men and women and came to rest at about 52 years of age.
The average annual salary of the American worker in 1920 was $1,236, higher than ever before because of the gaining momentum of the Roaring Twenties. Most made between $2 and $3 dollars a day; minimum wages were not mandated until 1938. Unemployment was low at around 5 percent and the American job market was more than able to sustain the influx of immigrants from all around the world.
Education was overshadowed by the growing need for laborers in the manufacturing and construction industries. Further proof of that was found in the fact that the average teacher’s salary fell short of the average by more than $300 a year.
A new Ford automobile cost $290 — a little more than what I got for the old Ford that I recently traded in. If you were wanting to “bring home the bacon,” you could bring home a pound of it for 52 cents. If you absolutely had to “got milk,” you could get a half-gallon carton for 33 cents. There were 7.5 million cars on American roads in 1920 — roughly 20 percent of the people — and they paid less than 20 cents a gallon for gas, barely a pretty penny for it
Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom said, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” Mary Engelbreit, the designer of my wife’s favorite “feel good” annual calendars, commented “If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
Let me share three things that have changed dramatically in our lifetime that we need to figure out how to adapt to without sacrificing the principles behind the actions. Of the things that we face for progress tomorrow, these strike me as being our biggest “versus” challenges. Each of these ideas are separate, but they are also integrally connected.
First, we exist within a “target market” mentality. Target marketing is an effective method of examining demographics and focusing the product and its advertising on the group of people most likely to buy it. Because of the success of this approach, the method has trickled away from just marketing products to also marketing ideas and concepts. We need to figure out how to make the nontargeted markets still feel considered and valued.
Second, we have more generations living at the same time today than ever before. According to the Harvard Business Review, a social phenomenon is taking placed that had never been witnessed before. Five generations are laboring side-by-side in the workplace. This not only changes how we work, but it also changes how we have to communicate in order to get acceptable productivity from each generation. We have to determine how to patiently and graciously relate to all.
Finally, people of faith must find a way to speak about truth without sounding either condescending or ignorant. We must be willing to talk about ideals — even in uncomfortable settings — because if we do not, people will perceive that either it is not important enough to talk about or that we don’t believe or care about it enough to discuss it. The conversations will not be easy, but they are necessary.
If I were making a bumper sticker for my car, it would read “Change Happens.” Do it well.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org