If You Always Do What You Always Did…

My mom will be pleased to read that some of the things she has said to—or in some cases drilled into—me have stuck with me into adulthood. This she has said both to me and to her own mother on countless occasions: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” 

A quick google search found that quote attributed to author Tony Robbins, along with Albert Einstein and Henry Ford. I’m not sure where my mom first heard it (and no, I didn’t bother to ask), but it clearly stuck with her as she passed it on to me. I would be inclined to believe it came from an innovator like Einstein or Ford because it expresses the idea that if you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to keep seeing the same result. 

Sure there are more details involved, but you can imagine Henry Ford standing in the factory saying, “Ah murderation (or some other old-timey exclamation)! If we keep building one car at a time, we’ll just keep making one car at a time and it will take lifetimes to see all of America driving automobiles!” or something to that effect. And thus, the assembly line was born. 

My mom has so far not heeded this advice when I’ve come to her in shambles because I haven’t been able to revolutionize an industry. But she does present it when I come to her and say, “I have x problem and it’s not getting fixed because y.” The y is usually some person with routine patterns that need to change or some job that needs to change or some habit I’ve created that I need to change. In essence, she cuts right to the point. No nonsense, no frills. If you can change it, you have to—if you want the result to be different.

Why in the world could I possibly be writing this when we’ve just had two mass shootings in 24 hours? I can’t possibly put two and two together.

But it’s bigger than that. I know we are not the same country we were when Columbine happened. Or Virginia Tech. Or Sandy Hook. Things have changed, albeit on a microscopic level, but things have changed and I won’t pretend people aren’t doing anything to change the routine of gun-related tragedies. But we have to understand that on a macro scale, the effort to end gun violence has remained mostly the same. You don’t need to be a policy expert to see that. Why? Because we’re getting the same result. Either we’re not changing the right things or maybe we just aren’t changing anything.

Take it outside of gun violence, and I keep begging the question: why are we as a country doing the same thing year after year, election after election and expecting different results?

When I was in my last semester of college, I had a painting professor give us a prompt to think about and eventually paint about. He gave us with no context this quote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I didn’t google it at the time—I’m not sure if we were explicitly prohibited or if I was just lazy—but I now know where it comes from and that alone will give a lot of folks all the context they need. But the class discussion illuminated for me the meaning that whoever is in charge is not going to be taken down by the same means that they were put in power. The actual reference is a book by civil rights activist, Audre Lorde.

If defeating Trumpism™—or however you choose to define the chaos everyone is seeing in this country—is the goal, then the strategy we tried to use to beat it in 2016 is obviously not going to work. Yet here we are trying it again. Maybe if we just vote harder this time…

I don’t mean to sound so pessimistic about the future and the work that some leaders are doing to combat hatred as well as the other issues like climate change, healthcare, and immigration. But I find it truly mind-blowing that we have really just gotten so comfortable with the idea that the America where people aren’t in constant anger if not fear and sadness will reappear (or, for many many people, appear for the very first time) if we just keep doing the same routines. 

I will put it in writing: I would love to see a revolution in this country. As a historian, yes I think it was something of a remarkable bureaucratic feat to create this nation at the time of its foundation. To be able to fight against the strongest military in the world and with no legal right and a noose on the line to say “We want this freedom and we’re not going to stop until we get it,” is really bold. 

There is no difference between what the founders did 243 years ago and what a group of determined individuals who band together, go against the grain, and refuse to quit can do today. We take the American Revolution for granted because we think that should have been the only one. 

Yes, that common phrase people say Jefferson said about every generation needing a revolution, is mostly fake. But he did say, “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” He’s actually talking about Shay’s Rebellion—a relatively small uprising over, go figure, taxes—which turned out to be a major catalyst for the writing of a small document known today as the Constitution.

I’m going to try not to go down a historical rabbit hole here, but this example kind of nuances the thesis of “always doing what you always did.” The rebellion mirrored the Revolution in that these farmers felt they were being taxed unfairly, and they took physical action to get a say. The major change here was that they were farmers and not wealthy men leading the charge, and they were thus swiftly defeated. So to that end, it proves the point that doing the same thing won’t work. But they did see a changed result in that their protest made the people in charge realize the Articles of Confederation weren’t going to work.

From this example, we understand that a revolution in the traditional sense that Americans understand it probably won’t work. But we need to understand that the revolutions that work focus on the technical definition of a revolution: a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it. 

There is no revolution so long as we’re using the same systems that built whatever it is that needs to be changed. There will be no real revolution until we change the entire way we think about how our government works.

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