I heard this acronym of “TWWHADI” when we left for Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2008 to teach at a western university. It meant that the person who shared it with us felt hand-tied in trying to get anything done because of the objection of: “The Way We Have Always Done It.” There are people who do NOT like change and believe that they have a defense in saying that this is the way it is, DON’T change it! This has recently come to my attention by talking with two board members who think I am going too fast with getting things done around the museum and the Carnegie building. The one thing I heard several times as a kind of excuse was that with boards, things go slower. I said that things were NOT changing fast enough because everyone was used to sitting on their hands and not getting anything accomplished. Perhaps it was the person’s way of getting off the hook or feeling less guilt about NOT doing anything more constructive.
I was also reminded of a Kazakh proverb that relates to this kind of inactivity. As a result, we are hurting financially at the museum. We do not have BIG donors because people don’t think we have a problem. We do! Some may not be interested in history, rather some are all about sports or music. They find history boring. Anyway, the proverb goes something like this: “A place with noise, laughter and chaos is a home but a quiet, inactive place is a cemetery.” To that effect we have people who are happy with leaving things just the way they found it. There had been VERY active people who set up the museum about 30 years ago but it has stayed the same since then. Sadly, they have died and taken their good stories of our illustrious past with them to the grave. Also, these contrary people don’t want to hurt the feelings of those who have donated things to the museum. As a result, we have 20 irons, 6 treadle sewing machines, about 5-6 pump organs and the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, our museum is NOT kid-friendly…or adult friendly for that matter. We have a plethora of material objects that has been given to the museum from grandma’s attic, simultaneously we are living in an area that has depopulated. These days we don’t have as many children in our town. Sadly, there is more activity in the cemeteries for the older generation than at the playgrounds for the very young people. This fits with the Kazakh proverb. Noisy Activity = Life while Indecisive Inactivity = Death. We need to have a paradigm shift in the minds of those who are older and think that things should remain the same as they were 25-30 years ago. They are NOT! We live in the 21st century with new technology that helps with preserving the old, tried and true ways from yesteryear.
I liken this fosslized thinking with the bonanza farms that were in this area in the 1870s. There were many big investors from the East Coast and the bigger cities in those days grinding out a profit with the grain fields up and down our farming valley. These bonanza farmers soon found out that you could not hold on to qualified workers for such tough seasonal work. People from my state acknowledged you were better off with the shift to diversified, family farms in order to make the soil remain tilled and cultivated. The shift happened and now from smaller, diversified farms we have another shift to huge, family farms that are getting crops out of their 10,000-15,000 acres instead of a half a section or under 300 acres.
Some people on our board are admitting finally that we have a financial problem where our County Commissioners are only giving us $10,000 a year whereas they gave us twice that amount many years ago. What has changed? Why do we not have the backing of the commissioners? We are a big county and there are separate heritage centers in other smaller towns. We do not actually represent ALL of our county even though that is our name of our historical society. Yet that should be our bottom-line when accepting items from donors. Does this article of clothing, toy, household good, farm machinery tell the County story? Otherwise, we are going to look like a hardware store full of the same items or appear like a antique dealership showing off how many of the same things available for sell. Although, in our case as a museum, we are NOT selling, we are just wanting to make sure we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings by NOT displaying it. You never know, you may have a relative that will come asking if grandma’s wedding dress is still on display or if the tractor grandpa donated is still working…
I realize that things take longer if you go through a committee but I have also found that you also get many good ideas and also cooperation to get the work done in less time. I have been on many committees and several boards. It is wonderful to see how board’s missions which are articulated and followed can accomplish great things. As a writing teacher, I see my students’ essays as either being clunky and not getting their message across or those students who know how to streamline their thoughts in writing and get the basic, simple story told.
Instead what we have is a LOT of redundancy (which is never fun to read if you want to see creativity in your students’ writing) and we have a resulting storage issue at the museum. We need to be either displaying things that are vital to the mission of telling the County story OR store things in acid free boxes which costs money and takes up valuable space. What we ALSO need to do is sell those things in a live auction so that other interested people can have some of the extra things that are clutter and not needed in our museum. So, the very people who are concerned about spending too much money on wifi at the Carnegie or other necessary things for proper security or storage are also the ones who DO NOT want to sell things in an auction.
Another problem is that we are short staffed with willing and capable volunteers and we have no museum director because at this point we can’t afford one. The roadblocks and obstacles that seem to be standing in the way seem insurmountable but I think I have been placed in this job for a reason…I will NOT give up. Hopefully those who are saying negative things about me will step down from their positions of “authority” and be replaced by those who have good ideas and are active enough to see them through. I don’t see how you can be a “director” on a board if you are NOT directing anything. Unless, of course, your direction is to be negative and be a naysayer about the person who is trying to get things done.
Okay, I think I will see what can be accomplished with grading my students’ papers.