If the name Ray Kroc isn’t familiar to you, his product certainly will be. In 1955, the unromantically named milkshake mixer salesman went into business with a couple of brothers who ran a small, but very successful, hamburger joint. Their family name was McDonald, and when he bought them out, Kroc began developing the largest franchise business in history. At the time of his death in 1984, his personal wealth was 600 million USD- over 1.5 billion today.
Ray Kroc is a legend in business, but the real secret to his success was his willingness to say when he didn’t know something, to learn and to adapt. As he famously said “while I am green, I am growing”. The inability or unwillingness to adapt and grow is what has killed off hundreds of animals and civilisations over the millennia. Look at dinosaurs, oops, you can’t, they’re all dead. Check out Rome, or Siam Reap, or the Mayans. The one thing all of these things have in common is that when change came, they could not, and did not, keep in time with the changes. They stayed with what they knew, because it had always been that way. Why change?
If the Coronavirus if taught us anything, it is that nothing is permanent. Change is one of the few certainties we can be sure of. Adapting to change is hard, and it gets harder for many people as they get older.
Unfortunately, it is this very inflexibility that creates as many, if not more, problems than the concept of change itself.
Take, for example, changes in language. Recently, a number of brands have decided, either due to public pressure or of their own accord, to change the language of their identity. The hair-on-fire outrage when the Dr. Seuss corporation decided to pull 6 of its books from publication was enough to light up the sun. The books earmarked for removal were felt to be out of step with modern depictions of racial stereotypes. No one made the company do it, they had been reviewing the idea for some time. Although Suess’ granddaughter pointed out that the Author himself had not a racist bone in his body, she recognised that they were written ‘of the time’ and that time had moved on and people’s ideas and language had changed. Things change, and the company who owns the rights to this property changed with it. That’s all. No reason to panic…but panic some people have.
You will find the same sense of catastrophising wailing and gnashing of teeth with changes to the names of the toothpaste Darkie (replete with a man in blackface) to Darlie and from a cheese in Australia named ‘Coon’ (a family name, but also a racist term) to ‘Cheers’ and the Aunt Jemima pancake and flour company (with it’s familiar African-American house maid/slave style logo) returning to its pre-1914 company name, the Pearl Milling company.
The way a certain section of the community tells it, changing the labels of familiar brands is tantamount to the removal of the human rights and the freedom of speech.
Why should a brand like Darkie change it’s label when it wasn’t hurting anyone? It’s just a word, a name. Like ‘slut’ or ‘poof’ or ‘Jew’… Ah, and there it is, because the fuss being made by the ‘I don’t see what the problem is’ crowd highlights the very reason changes must be made and why it takes those still young of heart and mind to make them.
Every generation finds itself chaffing against the social norms of the last, but the smart money looks at why the chaffing stings and recognises that adaptation encourages growth. If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.
Words like ‘darkie’ and ‘coon’ and ‘Aunt Jemima’ do hurt. Maybe they don’t hurt you, and maybe they didn’t hurt you in the past either, but they hurt someone, and that is why the younger folks and the ‘politically correct set’ have spoken up. They have asked for, and demanded, change. They want that pain to stop, and they have just as many rights as you do to say so.
Does a change of label affect the taste of your toothpaste, or the quality of the cheese? No. Should you boycott a brand because it moves with the times? Only if you are a moron. Should you stand your ground and demand that the old ways were best? No. If that were in any way true, we would still be living in caves and dying at 25. Life changes. Humans adapt. They improve and they survive.
Millenials and younger are often accused of expecting too much and behaving badly when they don’t get what they want. They job surf, they complain, and they challenge the status quo. They disrupt a way of life we older folks are used to.
If you, like others, think they are standing up a little too tall, that they are too big for their britches, I have some bad news. It is an improvement to not desire to be tied to one dead end job all your life, to pay off your mortgage and then die. The changes you see are for the future. You can refuse to be part of it, but what does that achieve? Like the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, you will stand still as a testament to inflexibility, and be drowned by the jungle that is already taking up your space.
Or, you can see it for what it is, and be part of what is to come. You may not understand it all, you may not like it all, but I am sorry to say, the future is not being built for you. This doesn’t mean you have no place there, but in order to really expand into it, you will need to accept the changes taking place. If whether or not there is a black woman on your pancake mix box is not going to affect your life in the long run, be gracious to those for whom it is a painful symbol and learn more so that you have the tools to adapt to a better space for all people.
Do not get stuck in a rut simply to prove that you can be.
This may come as a shock, but you can, and in fact you must, enjoy your life to the fullest. If that means demanding a little bit more from it, or it demanding a little bit more from you, you will need to embrace change, and adapt, and grow. You must remain ‘green’, otherwise, my friend, you may already be dead.