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It’s Never too Late to Change

Posted: 1:12PM May 3rd, 2012 | Comments

Have you seen the 2009 documentary Food, Inc.?  I did, and I saw lots of images that deeply disturbed me. Like the overcrowded chicken house filled with squawking chickens, unable to fly due to their unnaturally bred size. I felt sickened and pained watching them. And, in all honesty, I felt angry with the farmers who were raising them like that. Why would they enter into such a business knowing that that was the norm?

When we experience negative emotions (like mine above of anger, pain, and disgust), it’s easy to try and blame someone or something; to put them into a box and label it “cold-hearted,” “stupid,” “greedy,” or some such other simplistic adjective, and then be done with the whole mess. In that moment we forget two things: 1) that we are all multifaceted, and 2) that change is constant. (Okay, we forget at least two things, maybe more, but I'm trying to keep this blog post short.)

Walt Whitman wrote, in Song of Myself,    “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)” This is true for all of us. We contradict ourselves constantly. It is only human; the price we pay for a complex brain that contains the both inner “reptilian brain” and the impressive neocortex with its deep grooves and wrinkles. We cannot help but contain multitudes. Putting someone into a labeled box negates that fact and when we define someone with a singular characteristic, we sell them (and ourselves) short.

Another way we sell people (or organizations) short is to deny that they are capable of change. There are lots of clichés to remind us that change is inevitable (like that one). This too shall pass (my mantra during adolescence, thanks to my dad). The only constant is change. But how often do we really take that timeless truth to heart? Change can be so much harder to deal with than a constant. How do you make plans, or form opinions, when things can change on you at any moment? But change equals possibility and opportunity. Instead of working to avoid change, we can embrace it (or at least expect it) and find ways to take advantage of those possibilities and opportunities newly brought about.

If you’ve read this far you’re probably wondering why I’m getting into all this. So here's the thing, this morning these two points were driven home for me in a subtle, but no less meaningful, way. A just-posted article on Grist profiles a chicken farmer from Food, Inc., one of the farmers I was angry with when I saw the movie. Carole Morison, who used to run an overcrowded (not to mention other things) chicken farm,  now runs a humane one where the hens are outside every day, fed a vegetarian and antibiotic-free diet, and have plenty of space to run, peck, and flap their wings. Not only are the current hens faring better than the previous ones, but Carole herself is happier.

I love this story for reminding me that we never know the whole story about someone (heck, we don’t even know the whole story about ourselves!) and to have faith in change. Whether it’s change for the better or for the worse, it’s never over ‘til it’s over (to use another cliché). And in an infinite universe, it’ll never be over! (Although maybe I should check with Brian Greene about that infinite bit.) In any case, at every moment we are faced with opportunity; no matter how bad it gets (peak oil, extreme climate change, etc.) we can still choose to change.

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