Why I’m Not Going To My 25th High School Reunion

My 25th High School Reunion is next week, and I’m not going.

It would not be at all inconvenient for me to do so.  In fact, I’ll probably be in the neighborhood!  I simply have no desire.  None.  I’ve been thinking a lot about why, and I just saw a post on Facebook that sums it up very nicely for me.  It said, "If someone wants to be a part of your life, they’ll make an effort to be a part of it."

I think I can count on one hand–maybe two–the number of people from High School who have made an effort to be a part of my Life.  But you know what?  The reverse is also true.  I haven’t made much–if any–effort to be a part of anyone else’s either!  So what does that say?  To me, it says that I and the people with whom I attended High School have nothing in common except for the fact that we all went to High School together.  Why is that any reason to get together?  For me, it’s not.  I went to my 10th reunion.  When my wife (Jeannie) and I sat down at the table we chose when entering the room, the people who were sitting there moved to another one.  How very Lunch Room of them.  If there was anyone there I was actually curious about, I don’t remember it now.  All I remember is being ostracized and preached at by someone who had found religion and seemed bent on making sure my wife and I did too.  It is not an event on which I look back with fondness.  But none of that is a reason not to go now, 15 years later.  People change.  People grow.  The question I ask myself is, do I care?

I have done what I consider to be well for myself and for my family.  I am happy, and I work and spend time with people I consider my friends.  And people who like and respect me make an effort to be a part of my life.  I simply don’t care about anyone else or what they think.  When I mentioned all of this to my sister, she said, "maybe they don’t know how to get ahold of you," to which I replied, "Bullshit. My name is ‘Romeyn Prescott’! Type it into Google."  Go on, do it!  Type "Romeyn Prescott" with quotes into Google.  Your first 4 hits will likely be my personal "signature" site, followed by links to my profile on at least 3 major social networking sites.  And in the top 10 will be a white pages link informing you that there is ONE person named Romeyn Prescott in the U.S.!  Anyone claiming they don’t know how to get ahold of me clearly hasn’t tried. 

Not that they should!  I don’t write this out of self-pity.  I’m not sitting here in Potsdam wondering where everyone went or what they’re doing or why no one ever calls or e-mails.  The ones about which I do care are the ones about which I already know.  Will I look back on this decision with regret one day?  Perhaps.  But I’m a big boy now; I can handle it.  If someone wants to be a part of your life, they’ll make an effort to be a part of it.  I think that effort needs to be a little more substantial than showing up once every 15 years.

I’ll keep an open mind, however.  Maybe I’ll go to the 40th.  Who knows?

Process Paralysis

This morning I was in a meeting discussing a proposed policy change.  What the policy is and who was involved isn’t important.  We were going ’round and ’round about the processes affected by and driving this policy.  It was basically process analysis.  Never one to take a mandate without question if I have one, I was asking a lot of questions.  I finally cut to the heart of the matter and asked, "why can’t the <thingies> have <doodads> on them?"

I was greeted with what I perceived to be a semi-aghast, frustrated shrug at the very notion that such a thing could be possible, which was given audible form by the accompanying statement, "This is the system as it was given to me.  We’ve always done it this way."

I stood up, put both hands on the table, leaned toward the person who made that statement, and firmly but assuringly said, "We. Can. Make. It. BETTER!"

I sat back down.  There was a look of surprise on the face to the person whom I had addressed.  And why not?  We work for the State.  We are entrenched in Bureaucracy.  We have been beaten into submission by a monster of red tape, made to believe that things are too complicated to be changed or that they are the way they are if for no other reason than because they have always been that way.  Why should we have any hope that things could be any way but what they are?

I call this "process paralysis" and it’s ridiculous.  "Policy" isn’t carved in stone somewhere, immutable for all ages, never to be altered.  It can be changed.  And when it makes sense to do so, we should.  We CAN make it better!

The Inertia of Change

A recent InfoWorld article attributes the following quote to Charles Babbage: "Propose to a man any principle, or an instrument, however admirable, and you will observe the whole effort is directed to find a difficulty, a defect, or an impossibility in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peeling a potato, he will pronounce it impossible: If you peel a potato with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless, because it will not slice a pineapple."

That very nicely distills down to its essence my frustration with trying to get anything done that involves by necessity the participation of other people.  I didn’t realize until I read that quote just how maddening this behavior is.  I’ll call it "subconscious obstructionism," because I don’t believe that most people behave this way on purpose.  As soon as I read that all sorts of situations started playing back in my brain and I recognized just how annoying this is.  As soon as you say, "Let’s do <something>," people fall all over themselves to be the first to tell you why that’s a BAD idea.  As I write this, I can’t think of a more soul- and enthusiasm-sucking behavior. 

Proper and responsible analysis of any proposed change has to include consideration of possible negative consequences.  And, obviously, not all ideas are good ideas.  But why leap to that conclusion as a knee-jerk reaction?  Everyone fears change.  But change is inevitable.  If we think of a change as a boat, I’ve decided that I’d rather stick my paddle in the water and attempt to contribute to the boat’s direction rather than just sit there and let it take me wherever it ends up, complaining the whole way that where we were was just fine and why do we have to go to this new place wah-wah-wah. 

In a blog post, Jenica Rogers references Seth Godin:

"There are a million reasons to say no, but few reasons to stand up and say yes.

No requires just one objection, one defensible reason to avoid change. No has many allies–anyone who fears the future or stands to benefit from the status quo. And no is easy to say, because you actually don’t even need a reason.

No is an easy way to grab power, because with yes comes responsibility, but no is the easy way to block action, to exert the privilege of your position to slow things down.

No comes from fear and greed and, most of all, a shortage of openness and attention. You don’t have to pay attention or do the math or role play the outcomes in order to join the coalition that would rather things stay as they are (because they’ve chosen not to do the hard work of imagining how they might be)."

I’m going to start saying "yes" more often, and dig my paddle into that water with as much gusto as I can muster.  And you nay-sayers in the middle of the boat?  Grab your own paddle, shut up, or get out of the boat!