Hard not to get set in your ways
June 18, 2009
When my husband and I first became 4-H leaders we had what we thought were great new ideas about ways to run the county contests.
An older couple (who had been in charge of county events since probably the stone age) countered each suggestion for a new or different way of doing things with comments like, “We tried that in 1936, and it didn’t work.”
Their protests made no difference in the animal projects, though. The show ring judges preferred animal “type” changes almost on a year-to-year basis. For example, in the 1950s show lambs were “blocked” — meaning wool left on in strategic spots, carded and trimmed. The idea was to make the lambs look more “muscley.” By the 1970s, lambs were to be slick-sheared. Some wool could be left on the forelegs, but that’s all.
In the 1950s, the “compact” show steer won every time. By the 1970s they were measuring hip height to classify the steers, and usually the tallest steer won, even though some of the older folks complained (rightfully) that nobody could cook and eat all that air underneath the steers’ bellies.
The old couple in our county grudgingly went along with the changing times, belly-aching all the way, and really, sometimes they were right. It was just that they refused to even consider a new method or idea.
I’m learning that hanging on to the old ways, sensible or not, happens in almost every human endeavor, not just agriculture.
My friend Jim is a retired army lieutenant colonel. He tells me that in warfare using cannons, it all began with horse-drawn cannons, and each member of the team had a specific job: one handled the ammunition, another put the powder in, somebody else struck the flint to light the powder, another person put chocks by the wheels to hold them steady.
The lead man was in charge of ordering the cannon into position for firing.
Years later, a new recruit watched all this. The cannon was moved with vehicles then instead of a team of horses. As he watched, the recruit saw each team member go about his particular job. After the cannon was ready to be positioned, two of the men backed up about 50 feet behind the cannon and stood quietly until after it was fired, then walked back up to the cannon.
The recruit couldn’t figure it out. Each person had a job, and handled it well. Finally, he couldn’t stand it and he asked the lead officer why those men did that. The guy didn’t know. His answer was, “That’s just the way it’s done.”
Finally, somebody uncovered an old book of army cannon regulations and found the answer. The two men who stood back during the firing were the ones who held the team of horses out of harm’s way!
Now I’m worried. What if I’ve become one of those folks who declare, “We tried it 50 years ago and it didn’t work” or if I’m one that says, “That’s just the way we’ve always done it.”
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at: email@example.com