Punctuated Equilibrium and January

Posted by Geoff Sahs


I was sitting today...processing January...yes processing January. When you have -18 degrees one day, 52 degrees and 2" of rain with flooding a week later, challenges with discipline, challenges with relationships, and challenges in class, yet simultaneously seeing students produce beautiful writing, art, music, comedy, (even a yo-yo master), and then celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. while tackling the challenges we still face as a nation when it comes to freedom and equity, you must process January.


While contemplating all that defines this mid-winter month, I began to think of my college Biology professor, Stephen J. Gould. He argued that change (in his case evolution), was not a linear process, but one defined by punctuated equilibrium. There are long periods of stability interrupted by brief and explosive moments of change, instability, and growth.


The rail line in the above picture captures that idea perfectly. What should be straight, smooth, and predictable, is now twisted and displaced. An earthquake created that particular mess; violent, explosive, and unstable. The rails, although horribly distorted for only a short distance, are still connected. Growth and progress will continue, but the ride over that particular portion will certainly be painful and it is guaranteed to be slow. Looking ahead, the line to the future is stable and straight...but what lies immediately ahead seems impossible to navigate.  


Yet, the rails are still connected. There is no fracture...there is only discomfort. This is the essence of January. Do we embrace January, or do we endure it? I say embrace it...because February is not far off...and that requires endurance!

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