Published February 4, 2022

Lasting Change Takes Time 

Written by
Greg Demme
| The Dakotan
In the opinion of Greg Demme
Greg Demme, columnist, The Dakotan
In the opinion of Greg Demme
Greg Demme, columnist, The Dakotan

About a month ago, many people were making New Year’s resolutions. I have no idea how many people have, up to this point, succeeded in keeping them, but I do know we also saw a number of articles at that time about the attributes and mindsets that lead to meaningful change. For example, not only do bad habits need to be jettisoned, they need to be replaced by good habits. Large, seemingly overwhelming goals need to be broken up into smaller, measurable, more easily achievable goals. You get the point.  

We can examine the kind of attributes and mindsets that lead to change in our personal lives and attempt to assess their effectiveness when it comes to societal change. The one mindset I want to focus on today when it comes to societal change is that lasting change takes time.  

If it takes time to replace bad habits with good habits in a person’s life, how much more time does it take to replace a society’s mindset? As the saying goes, the bigger the ship, the more time and space it takes to turn it around. A fishing boat can be turned pretty easily and quickly compared to an aircraft carrier. Organizations are similar. A four-person startup company can “pivot” much more quickly and easily than an international company with thousands of employees and dozens of worldwide offices.  

Many North Dakotans are looking to effect significant political change during this election year. And perhaps, as the other saying goes, those who want change must strike while the iron is hot. But I submit to you that any lasting societal change is going to take a significant amount of time.  

Look at the way national elections tend to go. A lot of people get fired up over what has happened during the most recent administration and then vote in someone else. Then mid-term elections come around, and those who did nothing useful with the power they held are replaced with people from the other side. Rinse and repeat, over and over. 

The reason is, again, lasting societal change takes time. An entire society’s mindset has to be changed. Many North Dakotans would say that people in this state are finally waking up to their responsibility when it comes to protecting their rights and freedoms before they’ve completely disappeared, but questions linger. Have enough people truly woken up to this reality? Are they committed to fighting the long-term, ideological battles that must be fought to bring about lasting change, or will they either give up (or burn out) if the kind of change they want to see doesn’t occur right away?  

Maybe some people see that they want things to change. But do enough people see that? And for those who do see, how committed have they become to be part of creating the change they want to see? Is it enough? Even further, how many who have committed to taking part in creating change realize that it may take rearranging their entire lives for years in order to effect such lasting change? I’m wagering that for each subgroup, the number gets smaller and smaller.  

Those who want lasting change need more than just those who can strike while the iron is hot; they also need people who are committed to a long-term approach to continue piling up little gains into bigger gains. In military parlance, this is the difference between tactical thinking and strategic thinking. It takes strong tactics to win a battle; it takes strong strategy to win a war.  

Here’s my challenge: among those who are calling for significant change in North Dakota politics, I see a lot of tacticians and not enough strategists. What strategy exists beyond this election year to build up little gains into lasting change?  

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