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Wisdom, Irrelevance, Custer’s Example

I was labelled “wise” by the new leader of my last workplace.  The label was a euphemism for irrelevant.  Her vision was transformation through metric-driven, tech-savvy efficiencies. I thought it was the right vision.  So I retired.  I wasn’t pushed out – I understood I had decades of experience that didn’t match the new skills needed. 

Wise is not incompatible with future-driven, but, it’s a stretch.

I, with other retired friends, struggle to retain currency in the culture.  I explained what a “meme” is recently.  The facilitator for a retired volunteers’ meeting asked us to introduce ourselves, and our preferred pronouns, per new organizational practice.  The guy next to me said “I’m 77 years old.  I know what my pronouns are.” (Note to self: The other adjectives for “wise” might be “crotchety” or “cantankerous.”)

Cultural change is continuous, of course.  I’ve been reading nineteenth century accounts written between the Civil War and 1900, and was drawn to Custer’s story.  Before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer was involved in a so-called battle against another Indian village, used tactics of dividing his men into three groups to surround and attack.  This skirmish was counted as a victory, even though the village was at peace, was on reservation land, and most of the natives killed were women and children.

Custer applied the same tactics at the Little Bighorn – either nor waiting for or discounting information from scouts, he rode into a large force of gathered peoples, warriors ready. 

Overconfident, brash, applying the same tactics that worked for him in the past…and living out the vision of Manifest Destiny, a European America destined to greatness, in a political time of rapid change.

The parallels are all too apparent.  How can we still have a 19th century understanding of who we are?  And yet, as caution, Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn unified political will, and increased resources, to “resolve” the Native American problem and live out the vision of manifest destiny.

This is the balance:  looking backwards, in order to revise forwards. It’s the struggle to be both wise and relevant in always changing times.

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