Friday, March 30, 2007

Integrity in times of Change

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” ~ Alvin Toffler

This book created multiple rippples in many parts of the world in the 70s. In the 90s we have Naisbitt's "Megatrends" series, and recently we have Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat". After nearly 35 years since its initial publication, Future Shock is still quoted vividly by many. In Future Shock, Toffler outlines the problems of people who cannot cope or are overwhelmed with change. He then prescribes some ways in which people can adapt and also describes what happens to people who fail to adapt to the future. Lest we confine Toffler only as a futuristic writer, he is very aware of current needs as well. While keeping one foot on the accelerator of the FUTURE, Toffler clearly has his other foot on the clutch of the PRESENT.

"Change is the process in which the future invades our lives, and it is important to look at it closely, not merely from the grand perspectives of history, but also from the vantage point of the living, breathing individuals who experience it." (Toffler, 3)

"Adapt or die," so say many change strategists and biologists, and people who have studied the rise and fall of organisms and organisations. While it is true that today's fact can become tomorrow's fallacies, or in Toffler's words, today's "information" becoming tomorrow's "misinformation", we need to be careful not to swing to the other extreme to abandon the past altogether. Yes, there is that urgency to change and to adapt to surrounding movements. Yet, there is also a time to drop the anchor to establish certainty and stability. Young children for example should have the priviledge of growing up in a safe and secure environment. They need such protection, just like young seedlings that needed to be gently cultivated before being exposed to the scorching sun. Young eaglets likewise, needed to have firmer wings before they are allowed to fly. Things like integrity and righteousness will help us establish the anchors of life. The book of Proverbs is written in ancient times, but its instructions are life-long.

The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. (Proverbs 11:3)

Very often, life's values are learned in the home or in the classroom. Civic values has to be taught and inculcated in young minds, so that they can use these guiding principles throughout their adult life. I agree with Toffler that things in this world needs to be changed, like technological tools for example. Those who have been using dial-tone phones need to upgrade to touch-tone types. Those using typewriters need to unlearn the need to swing back the carriage, and to learn to use the word-processor instead. Those who have succeeded in one strategy, will need to adapt to the winds of change and to adopt another where necessary. All these are basically tools and tangible matters which can be easily changed. Using them properly and ethically however, depends on the UNCHANGING commitment to integrity and righteousness. Tools can be used to speed up dissemination of encouraging notes. Similarly, it can also be used for mass and fast circulation of 'poison-pen letters' that are malicious and damaging to one of the most precious but dwindling things in life: Relationships.

The Optimist will see change as preparing all of us for a bright new future. The Pessimist will despair at the overwhelming pace of change and will refuse to play any part in it to retain the good-old-days lifestyles. We need a mature outlook in life to do three things. Grow the firm roots of integrity and righteousness, as learnt in the past. Use and practice them as we embrace the present. Only then, as we adapt to the changing things in society, we are adapting from a firm foundation of good integrity, righteousness and spirituality. Other things may change, but these things must always remain. May there be more leaders of integrity who will be able to guide us.

One final note on Prov 11:3. It is interesting to note that it contains both a thesis and an anti-thesis. One stresses the positive aspect, while the other warns us in a negative manner. However, both helps us point to the same thing. Let INTEGRITY always be our guide in life.


Toffler, Alvin, Future Shock (NY: Random House,1970), p367.

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