That’s the way we’ve always done it…..
Brent and I had a conversation recently that led to an epiphany of sorts for me. We were talking about progress. I’m not going to give you the full context because I don’t want to discuss my grievances with certain people in my life, but eventually Brent said “Well, that’s the way they’ve always done it there.”
I paused, thinking about that statement. Then I realized something. “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” is probably in my top five of most hated statements in the English language. I mean if you think about it, it’s the perfect picture of complacency and stagnation. It’s the quintessential phrase of apathy. And it’s the enemy of change. That phrase has been spoken to support a variety of injustices and sins.
I’m one of those weird people who enjoys change. I’m constantly on a path of self improvement and change. I get bored easily, I like excitement. I rarely make the same recipe twice. I enjoy jobs with new challenges and flexibility. I frequently have to resist the urge to buy new throw pillows to change the look of our living room or bedroom. I’m always looking for something new to do or try. I enjoy a change in scenery and don’t mind moving. I appreciate stability, but I also enjoy change.
I also want to change the world. I want to see the end of injustice and apathy. I want people in bondage to be freed. I want equality for women and for racial minorities. I want poverty to be diminished. I want our society, and our world, to change.
So with those things in mind, you can see how “That’s the way we’ve always done it” would irritate me to no end. After my discussion with Brent, I reflected more on that statement and thought about the different contexts that it may have been used in the past.
I imagine slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was justified by this phrase. I’m sure the abolitionists heard “That’s the way it’s always been” quite a bit in those years. I’m thankful it didn’t stop them. Women’s rights advocates probably heard that phrase as well when they were advocating for the right to vote. Opponents of apartheid in South Africa, and the Caste System in India probably heard “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” a good bit as well. As Martin Luther King, Jr, and others fought for equality for African Americans, I’m sure that phrase was thrown in their faces frequently. I’m glad it didn’t stop them from fighting.
We use this phrase today. I’ve had many people tell me that bonded labor and slave labor has “always” happened and it would never change. I’ve heard people say that their outreach efforts, while unsuccessful in helping the poor, were not going to change because they “always did it that way”. I’ve heard people say that we’ve always had slavery and always would have it. And I’ve heard individuals, clearly discouraged and depressed at their current stagnation, say that they’ve “Always done it” a certain way as the excuse for their misery.
My challenge for all of us is to throw this phrase out of our everyday vocabulary, or at least significantly reduce it. When you are afraid of change or trying something new, remember that progress comes with taking risks. When you are stagnant, attempt your task or duty in a new way. Be open to new ideas and opinions. I say this as a reminder for myself too, because even though I enjoy change, I am very susceptible to stagnation and routine. Let’s shake things up a bit, be a bit radical. Radical actions change the world, while the status quo prevents progress.