Change

Way back in the olden days when I was a young(ish) wife and mother living on a farm in Door County, Wisconsin, I joined the local chapter of NOW, the National Organization for Women. We were a small but enthusiastic group in the heady days of the burgeoning women's movement, reading Friedan and Greer and de Beauvoir, religiously consulting Our Bodies Ourselves For The New Century (A Touchstone book) , and attempting to spread the Good News to our fellow [sic] women of the Door Peninsula. It was all about change.

To our naive surprise, change was not often greeted as a Good Thing.

One memory stands out particularly. Much had been made recently in the media that some women - not all, but some - were deciding to retain their own birth names when they married. We are all familiar today with a plethora of hyphenations (and yes, I am among those who wonder how far this will continue as the generations pile up, but I digress), but at the time it was a new and exciting idea. For us. Not so much for others.

I remember a conversation with a farm wife who attended one of our little rallies - they sometimes attracted a few women more bored and curious than committed - who was very concerned about this. Because, she told me, she did not want to change her name. She was Mrs. Johnson, and damned if she was going to be anyone else, much less her younger, single self once again.

I tried to explain that, just because others were choosing to keep their birth names, she certainly didn't have to do so. It was all about choice. But in Mrs. Johnson's world, neither change nor choice were necessarily a Good Thing. Choice meant that some would do one thing and others would do something else and then what could you count on? No, if women started keeping their birth names, then they would all have to do it. And she didn't want to.

I, of course, felt more than a little condescending. And then I started thinking about Change. How open was I to change? My mother had been at me for years to "change my ways." Jehovah's Witnesses came to my door on a regular basis. Boyfriends and husbands and children have been at me over the years to change this, change that. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't. But I never wanted to. Not at first. And when and if I did change, it was gradually and only when I saw a way for the change to be incorporated into my life in a way that I liked.

People showing up at your door or in your life insisting that you change your ways are almost never welcome.

Which is not to say that it is wrong to insist on change. The various rights movements for African-Americans, gay people, and, yes, women, bear this out. Waiting for people to find a way to incorporate those changes into their lives gradually would be tantamount to Waiting for Godot.

But holding people in contempt for their resistance to change is wrong - or at least, unproductive - as well. Your contempt will not prompt them to reconsider. It's hard - and frustrating - to actually see the world through someone else's eyes. Almost impossible, really, to catch much more than a glimpse. But the effort should be made by those who want to effect (what we will take for granted will be) positive change. Living the changes you believe in can show a few others that they could be Good Things for them as well.

Nobody likes a preacher. But some of us recognize a good idea when we see one.