Povilas Andrius Stepavičius. In Search of the Middle Way

Categories: Talks and IdeasPublished On: 2019 March 2

We live in a very fast and rapidly changing world. It is not surprising thua that sometimes we end up thinking about the carelessness and simplicity of the past days. To put it bluntly, this is expressed in such considerations as „everything was simpler in the past“. Such anxieties are often treated as an inevitable reality of the 21st century. For many people, this century is a period of permanent choices. We are constantly choosing between what is new (modern) and what is old (i.e. time-tested truths). But is the 21st century really exceptional in the sense of such choices?

Simply put, people have never liked innovation. Especially if it relates to their lifestyle. In history, we can find many examples of this rejection. Not in vain, in the times of the Great Dutchy of Lithuania, the ruler giving privilege to a certain region that had had its own rules of life for a long time, used to state: „We do not destroy the old and we do not introduce innovation.“ This is obviously the same opposition between the old and the new.

In view of this year’s events in Lithuania, we can also see very clearly some tensions between the old and the new. Let us remember, for instance, the history of the Reformatu (Reformers) Square, the controversies about some of our Republic’s laws, and many other stories. Not to mention that every one of us personally experiences this sense of confrontation: whether to change our established rules of life or not.

The problem of such contradictions was discussed by the famous Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. Of course, the thinker did not find the answer to the question which is better, the new or the old. After all, it is an eternal and natural struggle.

According to Kolakowski, every society has to maintain a proportionate relationship between settled things and the desire to change something.

It would be wrong to speak for or against innovation only, unless we focus solely on science, economy or discovery of new technologies.

There are a lot of examples in history where radical resistance to innovation or support for it led to irreversible catastrophes. We can remember here the new life and even the new human being that the Soviet Union had promised to create or the opposition of the Iranian Revolution to everything that is modern.

But how does this eternal struggle between what is new and what is old concern us all personally?

Not accidentally did I mention earlier the realities of Lithuania this year. Let us remember again the case of the Reformers Square: how many discourses of either the supporters or critics were fierce, bitter, insulting, and even unrelated to the problem itself? Or we can easily remember some laws passed in Lithuania that immediately triggered the reactions of absolute support or rejection.

It is not even important whether the redevelopment of a city area will take place or not; whether the law was needed or not. What matters here is how we respond to those daily challenges of the new vs old confrontation. In order to create and develop a model of dialogue-based society, we must consider how we respond to this common old-new opposition when we are forced to make choices.

As long as our choices are confined to urban or legislative boundaries, we can test and observe ourselves to see whether we manage to control our emotions and keep the cold mind in this confrontation. But how does our society react to the contradictions of a larger scale that are taking place today in Hungary, Russia or even the US? Would we look rationally for the golden middle way, or would we succumb to the embrace of one of the two sides? These are the questions that we have to answer, and our answers will help us to build not only a more conflict-resistant society, but also to develop a constant desire for dialogue.