20 January 2008


Permanence is an interesting concept. What is it about permanence that grabs us and pulls us in? We long to own stuff, long for security, longevity and a home base...why? In life, at work, with friends and family, there seems to be a desire for permanence. Is permanence the ideal state of being or is it something more worrisome?

What is permanence? It is defined as the quality or state of being permanent; continuance in the same state or place; duration; fixedness; as, the permanence of institutions; the permanence of nature.

As we get older, the desire for permanence develops and intensifies; the young ones crave variety and change in their efforts to find an identity and a place in the world. But, is it a desire to make a difference that requires permanence? Do you need to be stationary to change things in the world? I wonder...

Let me explain my curiosity about permanence. Last week, my employer held the annual 25 year awards. Every year, groups of employees are celebrated for 25 years of service. I can't get my head around it. How can someone remain with one employer for 25 years? A symptom of the industrial age, boomerism? I don't get it. Obviously there is a sense of security in a permanent position with an employer; receiving a paycheck every 2 weeks is desirable. But, is that enough?

More and more I'm noticing the sense of permanence in our society. Lifers in corporations, professors with tenure, etc. We're swarming with permanent institutions that run the show: the oil companies, the utility companies, the banks, the government, the post office, the universities, etc. All of them permanent, sluggish, influential beasts. And then there's the rest of society, swarming around the big permanent hives, trying to earn a living, start a business, make a change or two...maybe even generate a buzz (not to go too far with this bee analogy).

In schools, colleges and universities, instructors find permanence. In government, employees find permanence. They get the job, sigh a big sigh of relief and then...settle in. Yep, it's time to wind down once you secure that permanent job. The big buzzing world you just escaped has now become a cubicle space about 12 feet square. After an enthusiastic couple of years, you start to slow down, gradually, and let yourself become absorbed by your new, safe, small world. Your eagerness to improve and change things probably has been met with much resistence. Your energy to overcome obstacles is waning.

I can relate. I enjoy relative job security, permanence and comfort. I know a paycheck is coming. I know I have a desk and a chair in an office and all sort of goodies like colour printers and trips to conferences. But something is wrong. I feel like I'm being kept back, molded, altered somehow. I am afraid of this sense of oppression. I don't feel a part of the bigger picture, the world, anymore.

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to live in a society where everyone changed jobs every 5 years or so. Would we travel more, learn more, do more, see more? I think we would. I wish we could live like that, without the need for permanence and security. I wish we didn't live in a society where we wait 25 years to honour employees. Risk and change is a part of life, just like in nature. We can't live in a bubble...that's not living. Permanence is not natural and it certainly is not living.

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