All good things must come to an end. As must all mediocre and undesirable things, but our trip completed yesterday was in the excellent category. The end of a cycle tour allows one a brief moment of feeling chuffed at the kilometres and vertical metres covered. My body can do that – really? when cycle touring there are always people going faster than you, as well as those going slower. It is very easy to forget about the slower ones and wish that one was got enough, or strong enough, or fast enough, to keep up with the faster people. At such points one needs to re-remember to enjoy the journey, and be grateful that you have the legs, time and money to do it.
People’s reluctance to countenance endings has always been a major bugbear in my working life. I have been involved in setting up a number of new research entities. They are set up for a particular purpose at a particular time with specifically allocated funds, for example, an Antarctic Research Centre at the University of Canterbury. There was a lack of collaboration across institutions, and some particular research holes to fill – the centre concept had a defined purpose. I suggested we therefore give the centre a defined life of 10 years, to allow space for other future centres that fit their own times. Universities are made up of departments and faculties which tend to be everlasting, there is a need for flexible entities that cross between the silos on a temporal basis. However, I was completely shouted down – how would we ever employ good staff or a CEO if the positions were not perpetual? I made no headway in pointing out the frequency with which many change jobs, nor the normality of a 5 year contract in the business world. So the centre limps on, twenty years later, without a strong rationale for its existence other than that it already exists.
Ideas are as temporal as physical objects or organisations. Ideas have their day, and become the building blocks for newer ideas. When people say that science has made a mistake and therefore should not be trusted, they are seeing the development of ideas as discrete end points, rather than the continuum that actually exists. This does remind me of the quote whose origin I have lost – When asked how he changed the minds of those who opposed him, he said “I didn’t, they died”. There is a continuum of ideas, fought all the way to grave by those whose ideas are being challenged.
I have realised I am somewhat unique in wanting things to be more temporary than permanent, including where I live and where I work. I like evolving stories and room to change. I am not advocating for constant change, just the possibility to change when a need no longer exists and I definitely advocate for a continual checking of the putative need. This should be embedded in organisational charters and constitutions. We need to learn from the past, so as to not repeat it unnecessarily or to our disadvantage. This requires documenting history in a considered way, that compares what we set out to do with what was actually achieved (a rarity, in my experience). We also need to allow natural attrition to winnow out a few items to remain and let the remainder maunder into obsolescence and decay. We should not and cannot preserve all the past into the future.
Of continuums…thanks to John Key for the original $50 million that went towards the concept of a national cycle network. NZ is yet to have a continuous trail through the country, the core of the original idea, but with each turn of the wheel and construction of a bike path, we are headed in that direction. This cycle trip is done but there are many more ways to link the NZ cycle network to create excellent cycling trips. In every ending is that possibility of a new beginning – we need to start planning our next adventure!