Good Transitions begin with an intentional effort to understand the new landscape. To carefully note what has changed. To test our assumptions and illuminate possible misconceptions. To jettison old habits, which are like needless baggage, weighing down our forward progress. To observe which streams of income are drying up and accept that we might have to go elsewhere for what we need. To say goodbye to time-sucking old friends and seek for wise guides for a next step.
When the American Colonies transitioned into the United States they chose George Washington as their first president. He was uniquely gifted to help the new nation understand its current reality. Washington had widely traveled the land, venturing beyond the Allegheny mountains to the west (Pittsburgh). He had friends and fellow soldiers in each of the colonies and understood the social temperament, weaknesses, and the opportunities that lay ahead for each region. He also respected the Native American people and their leaders, finding them a valuable source of information.
As the first democracy of the modern era, the United States needed its early leaders to be mentally agile. Every transition forces us into uncharted territory. The history of the world since 1776 has been littered with failed democracies. Success in both our personal lives and our group transitions depends upon a healthy mixture of skepticism, curiosity, and the willingness to develop new rules.
Not to get political, but the transition between the Obama and Trump Whitehouse was one of the worst in American history. The outgoing president’s staff prepared briefings and massive notebooks of information. These were to aide the new president’s Transition Team in their many tasks. A transition team must identify and vet candidates for the approximately 4,000 non-civil service positions in the U.S. Government that serve at the pleasure of the president. They must survey the needs and concerns of each federal agency. They also must allocate office space and clarify communication procedures. None of this went according to plan. This resulted in both failed policy implementation (note the Travel Ban of 2017) and an unprecedented turnover of the administration’s staff and key advisors. Chaos became the new normal as the transition stalled.
Both President Trump and President Washington wanted to make America great. They each had a vision for massive change. Washington, however, had a native curiosity about the world. He studied both war and diplomacy. Early in his administration, President Trump stated, “I don’t care much for process. I prefer simply to act.” Healthy transition is a process. It requires us to slow down and evaluate our gut feelings. In a changing world, it helps to study history. Literature and the social sciences help us to recognize the underlying patterns of human behavior, the perennial return of crisis, and the need to view facts dispassionately.
The sciences too, help to guide a safe transition. The tragedy of our current coronavirus crisis is that the Global Health Security/Pandemic Response Team, put in place by the Obama Administration, was disbanded by by the new administration. Our current reality would look very different if this step of the Trump transition wasn’t skipped.
I know that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, but I have another explanation for why Moses had to bring ten plagues upon the Egyptians before the Exodus could begin. I think God was giving all sides a lesson in Current Reality. Moses knew Egypt and he knew the wilderness, having been a shepherd in Midian for forty years. He didn’t know his own people and they didn’t know him. The weeks he spent going back and forth between the courts of the Pharaoh and the Land of Goshen, gave Moses time to understand each aspect of the situation. The people of Israel had become accustomed to the harsh treatment they were receiving from their overlords. They didn’t think of it as gradual genocide. Doing the miracle of turning the Nile into a river of blood, demonstrated that the landscape of Egypt was deadly. Awareness replaced the false sense of security that would have hampered their transition. The Egyptians, meanwhile, came to recognize the new reality of these people not belonging to them.
Much of the Passover Ritual can be seen as an exercise in understanding current reality. The bread is unleavened. That taught the people, that bread can be made in different ways. They would need an adaptive mindset to find with mana in the wilderness. Like them, we need bread for the journey. In transition, the needs of our soul and our body become realigned by sacred ritual.
The painting of the doorways of the Hebrew homes with blood, reminds me of how after an earthquake or hurricane, each structure has to be evaluated. Authorities mark homes as safe or condemned. The people of the Exodus were passed over and protected that night. But, the doorways of their homes were marked as condemned. It was no longer safe for them to dwell within their old understandings of the world. They must face current reality.
Face Current Reality:
What lesson do you need to learn in this place? Are any of your old goals for life still relevant? What relationships do you need prioritize? Does your inherited religion speak to your new reality?
Parents taking their kids on an educational vacation always get asked the same question. “Are we there yet?” Transition is a rich educational experience. We don’t understand this when we enter the maze, but the journey is the thing. The destination, or getting out of this in-between-time, is not the point.
People always want to cut short their experience of transition. It simply takes however long it takes. The lab rat must run the race until he or she finds where the cheese is located now. Staying where the cheese used to be won’t get us out of the maze. Exploring our current reality takes time. We have to chart the dead ends. Map in our minds the truths that we are learning as we go. Be sober and diligent about discovering the way forward.