MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

“Expected the Unexpected”

While I am convalescing from my recent surgery I am forced into watching a lot of television. Mostly it has been viewing the unimaginable spectacle of politicians running for the office of President. Over my almost 80 years I have watched many of these and always marvel at the lack of logic – both secular and biblical – of those who see and hear these diatribes of fear and misdirecting blame. Our certainties and expectations change from day-to-day. It is still so.

Few of us older folks who watched will forget the embarrassment of the TV commentators when Lyndon Johnson renounced his political candidacy. Edwin Newman on NBC told us he had prepared an analysis of the speech based on the de-escalation of the Vietnam War. The President’s surprise announcement suddenly made canned analysis inappropriate, and Newman changed his mind. Roger Mudd on CBS plaintively asked that he be given permission to go home and go to bed. Most of us were similarly moved.

In that instant on March 31 a funny thing happened to a number of our political certainties and expectations. For a week I had to throw away new periodicals because the President’s decision had made their contents obsolete.

Alan Nevins called this the “explosive excitement of history,” and so it is. We live in an age of change and flux when words like “never,” “permanent,” “final,” “irrevocable,” ultimate,” and “status quo” have been replaced by words such as “process,” “chance,” “breakthrough,” “open-ended.” Ours is a time when institutions are finding the going tougher, whether they be nations or universities. It is a time when ethical decision, for so long the conventional wisdom of previous generations handed down, is today being wrought in the crucible of action and involvement. We live amid the volatility of history. In a time of systems analysis we have discovered that the only system upon which programming breaks down is the human system.

I saw a poster recently that pictured a man awakening from a good night’s sleep and opening his eyes to peer at the underside of an enormous elephant which was straddling his bed. The title of the poster was: “Expect the Unexpected.”