Slowly, or all at once.
Culture shifts slowly. “People like us do things like this.” Seismic events may make newspaper headlines, but they don’t rapidly change the way human beings in community behave.
Instead, the status quo erodes, redefining itself as it goes. If you’re the kind of person who believes in what’s all around us (which is most of us), then you won’t change your beliefs until the people around you change as well.
That’s why the smallest viable audience is so important. Focusing on a specific group of people, understanding their beliefs, engaging with empathy, creating new social norms and then, peer-to-peer, spreading the new normal.
Science, on the other hand, can shift more rapidly. A new paper detailing groundbreaking research on Parkinson’s disease, for example, can persuade 100 of the right doctors and funders of a paradigm shift. If they’re participating in the scientific method, they’ll do their research and change their assumptions.
And then, as always, it goes back to the slow move toward culture shift. It took twenty years for the medical community to embrace the fact that ulcers were caused by bacteria, not pastrami sandwiches. The bacteria didn’t care if the community believed in them, but the patients were glad the doctors made a new decision based on new information.
The culture is changing far more rapidly than it ever has before. And yet, it still changes slowly enough for us to grow impatient when important ideas and practices around health, justice and community are ignored.
And yet it changes. Persistent and consistent effort with focus is our only way forward.