Intelligent Reformer

I love this a lot:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

via JFK via Chesterton

This is a common fallacy and one that I encounter all the time here in Silicon Valley as the forces of change and evolution are constantly at our backs, whether we like it or not.

Simply put:

Don’t take down a fence until you know the reason why it was put up in the first place!

I fall into this trap often as well as I see things and remark how “odd” those projects / products are and how I think they should be (blindly) replaced with better solutions…

… except, I didn’t actually think through why they were built in the first place and all of the creative and intelligent thought that went into those product designs and engineering.

Can I be that arrogant? Can we?

If we are to be intelligent reformers of our world then we need to appreciate and understand our past better and seek to comprehend as much as we can about the very things that we have today, despite their apparent lack of obvious utility in comparison with modern alternatives.

Heck, I’d appreciate it, personally speaking, if folks didn’t just blindly toss aside my (previous) creation(s) when they first encounter them, even if they are old and outdated.

You see, I’d want them to understand my thought process and the time that it took to bring those things to life and to remember that, at that specific moment in time, this was the best solution to the problem that I could come up with.

I’m not the smartest knife in the drawer nor am I the most thoughtful… but, I care deeply about the things that I build because I’m trading my most valuable resource and asset to build them – my time.

And no one in their right mind is interested in wasting any of that… and I’m quite sure that the folks who put up that “fence” that you and I are so eager to tear down wasn’t interested in wasting their time either; quite the opposite in fact as they believed it was the best use of their time given their circumstance.

Mentally, that puts me in a much different (and humbling) place, and that’s a really good thing.

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