The Tyranny of Transition


At the end of last semester, our editor-in-chief emailed the student distribution list, thanking us for reading The Cabinet, describing the newspaper’s activities over the past semester as a “period of adjustment” and expressing the staff’s intention to better their craft this spring. Although I’m not sure what criticisms Mr. Lines was attempting to address, his note includes common components of crisis communication: an expression of goodwill toward the public, a brief mention of the cause of the problem and a description of how the problem will be addressed.

Whatever the perceived strengths or weaknesses of The Cabinet may be, I’m most interested in the newspaper’s reference to a “period of adjustment” or a “time of transition” as a source of trouble. Such an argument has been advanced on many occasions by many people. Referencing a “time of transition” sounds realistic, honest and hopeful for the future.

But the appeal to a “period of adjustment” concerns me because it shifts the blame almost entirely to factors outside our control. I’m not saying people and organizations aren’t impacted by external circumstances; they are, almost every day.

Nevertheless, a “time of transition” can be a temptingly convenient scapegoat. Many things could contribute to the transition: new leadership, budget cuts, roommates’ incompatible sleep schedules. In any case it is the transition’s fault, and nothing can be done about it except to ask for others’ patience until the transition makes up its mind to cease existing.

In fact, personal and organizational transitions are happening all the time, which is precisely why this excuse ought to take a long, unpaid vacation.

As college students, we are part of a community whose membership changes almost completely every four years. Each semester there are new classes, new schedules and new responsibilities. Individually, we face intense transitions during these four years as well: changing friends, changing job prospects, changing priorities. If anything, college is one long “time of transition.”

The temptation (for all of us, not just for The Cabinet) is to allow the transience of college to dampen otherwise-lofty goals. Rather than strive to excel in our papers and projects, we sabotage our own motivation with reminders that “C’s get degrees.” Rather than make investments in the surrounding community, we preoccupy ourselves with plans to return to our hometown or move to the big city after graduation. Rather than pursue long-term spiritual growth during college, we argue that involvement at a local church ought to wait until we feel more settled. The warrant behind the decision (or lack thereof) is always the same: “time of transition,” ergo mediocrity.

Interestingly enough, the author of Hebrews uses the idea of transitions to advance a very different argument. The heroes in his “hall of faith” are those who “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles” (Hebrews 11:14)—people in a “time of transition,” to be sure. But these saints used their in-between state as a motivator to excel in daily faithfulness, because “they desire[d] a better country” (v. 16). The apostle urges his readers to consider their past and their future, and then commands a likeminded response: “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees” (12:12)!

Although our time at college may include lots of change, each one of us is part of a heritage of learning (not to mention faith) that spans generations—and that includes even small things like The Cabinet. So let’s fight against the tyranny of transitions. Let’s patiently encourage each other to pursue immense goals. And in our writing, our studying, our competing and our performing, let’s strive for a level of excellence that would make past and future generations proud.

*The opinions expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the views of the Geneva Cabinet.