Midwest: The Virtues of Stability

“Disruption” is all the rage. The word seems to have gained popularity first in the tech world, but now it gets used for virtually everything. New adult absorbent pad entrepreneurs are “disrupting the incontinence space.” I made that up, but you get the point.

But me, well, I’m tired of all this disruption. I don’t want to hear about your big, bold ideas or your political revolutions or your big systemic changes. I want stability. I could do with a little more peace and quiet.

We live in a society, dominated by the coasts, that values rapid change and a certain recklessness. “Fail fast.” The societal values of respect for tradition, negotiation, compromise and incrementalism are out of fashion as are the personal attributes of stoicism, restraint, thoughtfulness and caution. There seems to be no greater sin than to hesitate to rush to judgement on everything. People would rather ask forgiveness than permission, and now even forgiveness is out.

I like to think that this runs counter to what the Midwest (or at least the Midwest of the mind) is all about. We are, by nature, stoics. It’s a cliche, but I also think it’s a fair observation, that the pace of life in the center of the country is slower. You wouldn’t think that, with modern communications, physical location would matter much anymore. But it does. New, untested ideas tend to show up in the ports of call first, which is to say — the St. Lawrence Seaway notwithstanding — places like New York and Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. An idea needs to move through miles of filter before it takes hold in the middle of the nation. This is a good thing.

A Midwestern oak savannah is the very picture of stability.

In addition to the distance, there’s the landscape. The shape of the Midwest is calming. No dramatic mountains or canyons or towering Sequoias. Lots of flatness, corn fields and prairie, and rolling hills and small lakes and red pine, oak and birch. Pretty, not breathtaking.

I can’t help but feel we’d be living in a better country, if not a better world, if the powers that be in both private and public life had more respect for the values of deliberateness. It seems to me that the root of the worst problems we face — primarily pseudo-fascism on the right and woke illiberalism on the left — is this sense of instability. People are feeling uneasy and so they grasp for some sense of order or for someone to blame.

A national program with a goal of simple stability might be just what we need. Get up, go to work, be fairly compensated for your time, be confident that your kids are getting a good education in a safe school, that you can afford good health care and a nice home, that crime is under control and that you can look forward to a comfortable retirement. Those are solid middle class values and goals. That’s what most of us want. We are not a Bohemian society.

We can find deeper meanings, if that’s what we want, in our own readings or reflections or churches. But it’s not the job of the government or of our employers or of the broader society to do that for us. Finding existential meaning is a personal responsibility.

So, the sooner disruption goes out of fashion — and I’m confident it will — we’ll be better off. Let’s make stability a national priority.

Welcome to Midwest, an occasional Sunday morning feature here at YSDA, where we explore what’s good about the center. Want to read more about why it’s good to be in the middle? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

3 thoughts on “Midwest: The Virtues of Stability

  1. 7/31


    I read your columns regularly, and your writing helps to keep me centered in these troubled times. Glad for your voice and your willingness to put your thoughts “out there.”

    Keep it up,

    Sharon Gaskill Town of Vermont



  2. The Dalai Lama was asked how to improve happiness at work. He replied, many people enjoy spending time with family and friends.


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