A few weeks back, I found myself taking a New Jersey transit train for the first time in quite awhile. I used to travel from NYC to various parts of New Jersey pretty frequently, and accessing the ticket machine and navigating Penn Station again brought up a series of memories. Specifically, I found myself pondering one-way tickets.
Round-trip tickets are sometimes cheaper than two one-ways, and they’re certainly more efficient. One financial transaction. One time waiting in line. But when I started traveling in the ministry, I learned that buying round-trip tickets often didn’t work out. I’d find myself in the Hudson Valley or New Jersey or out on Long Island and plans would change. I’d be asked to attend an extra event, or I’d be offered overnight hospitality somewhere, and suddenly I found myself navigating an unexpected pathway. The second half of my round-trip ticket was wasted.
So I started buying one-way tickets when I traveled. These were practical but also had spiritual resonance. They represented my commitment to flexibility and opportunity, and I learned to find that openness genuinely exciting.
Flash forward. In 2019, I had a contract with a Quaker organization to process some data from a multiyear project and compile the conclusions into usable documents. One such document had to do with culture change. By looking at the data from the project, conducting interviews, and cross-referencing with research done by other organizations, I found evidence that there are four conditions that must be met before a Quaker meeting can seriously engage in culture change.
The first is this: A meeting that is prepared for culture change will take joy in experimentation, understanding that long-term growth requires patient devotion to perpetual learning.
In other words, they invest in one-way tickets. How does the meeting enter new experiments? You don’t want to place dynamite on the track behind you, because it’s certainly possible that you’ll want to go back. But you also want to stay open to the possibilities. Are the members of the group purchasing one-way tickets or round-trip? Are you entering the adventure fully prepared for whatever happens, thinking it likely that one experiment will lead to another and to another, or are you trying one new thing with the basic assumption that you’ll probably return to the status quo?
In other words, if your first experiment doesn’t work out, will that be a reason to attempt another experiment, or will that be a reason to return to safety and say “well, we tried?”
(Incidentally, just this week, I realized I was doing this–dabbling in a particular situation with my safe, round-trip ticket and then comforting myself by saying “I tried.” So I enact this pattern, too, and that’s a thing for me to recognize.)
When we’re entering into a change, are we nervously clutching our round-trip tickets, or are we “patiently devoted to perpetual learning?”