In 2000, I listened to a woman describe her lengthy career with Cardinal Industries, a Columbus, Ohio, company that entered bankruptcy in the early ‘90s after being acclaimed during the previous decade as the leading modular housing manufacturer in the U.S. Fascinated by the speaker’s tenacity, I asked if she would reveal the secret of her longevity with a corporation that had fallen on hard times. Why was she retained, when most of her coworkers lost their jobs during downsizing?
Her answer was not glib, but neither did she hesitate to explain. She told the audience that her ability to learn new skills and her eagerness to accept a variety of responsibilities were keys to remaining a valued employee. She not only yielded to change, she anticipated the means of adjusting to it.
Change and adaptation don’t equal doom, though some people tend to frame them as such, because they’re discomforting. The inevitable cycle of conquest, hubris, stagnation, and decline in people and in groups of all types and sizes, including corporations and nations, occurs continuously at varying speeds all around us. To survive requires what sometimes seems to be a superhuman effort to avoid the collapses.
The huge irony is that we work hard to break through established barriers only to discover the decay hidden beyond them, yet it’s nearly impossible to survive as an individual without the protection of a group.
John Steinbeck said he wrote to help people understand each other. Good journalism and excellent fiction alleviate alienation by exposing insular groups to one another. We can take notice, learn, adapt, and thrive.