Change. Things are changing. Some of these are unhappy changes, and in many ways the world seems to be falling apart. The whole mood is that we have been much more than we ever will be again.
The incoming president promises change as well. The change of progress to counteract the change of decay. We expect that he and his administration will change things as diverse as health care and the conduct of war. We expect more people than in two generations to receive employment from government work programs. Many things will change.
But if this is all that happens—acknowledgment and then reluctant acceptance that the world and its things have changed around us—then nothing, really, has changed at all. If we remain the same, then all of the chaos and churn swirling around us will be repeated over and over in an unending cycle. Working to change our world is necessary but not sufficient; if we want that change to last, then we must change as well.
In The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius opines that those who rely on the caprice of Fortune have no peace. It is only those who allow themselves to learn from Philosophy, or wisdom, who can ride out the storms of life with tranquility. As great and powerful as we think we are as civilizations and nations and individuals, we would be unforgivably arrogant to believe we can really control the world around us. The screams of traders as they watch fortunes in paper vanish in seconds; the troubled faces of presidents, bankers, and bureaucrats using policies to glue pieces of sky back in place before they fall; the dark humor of new graduates facing a hostile job market: are these people really in control? No. Not of things. They—we—influence our environment, but ultimately it is what’s going on inside of our hearts and minds and souls that is ours to order and direct. We should all ponder this as we fall Icarus-like from the heights of our conceit. And, once we land, let us remember it before we try to build any more towers to heaven.
So let the markets fall and the sky with it. And amidst the collapse, may the illusion of control crumble and give way to humility. Let us not love our own prosperity, but instead love our neighbor. And perhaps amidst all of this unwelcome change, as familiar things disappear and old ways are lost, we will find something we’ve long since ceased to know: ourselves.