The year was 1798. The nation's fifth Congress passed, and John Adams, our second President signed, "An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen." This compassionate act provided sailors with proper hospital and medical care for bodily injury on ship and shore, benefits the sailors paid for out of their own pockets at the rate of twenty cents a month. The first Marine Hospitals were built in the seacoast towns of Boston, Norfolk and New Orleans.
Almost a century later, in 1870, with the Act still on the books, Marine hospitals were going up in places not known for their prime anchorage, places like Paducah, Kentucky, and Napoleon, Arkansas. According to then Wisconsin Senator Thomas Howe, the reason was not hard to find: "a favorite way of starting a town in the West, if it was anywhere on a stream or on a goodsized puddle, was to get an appropriation for a Marine hospital."
I find this story of great comfort when encountering individuals and groups who tenaciously resist change. Church organizations, I thought a bit myopically, were especially pernicious. Not so. Conversations with others lead me to believe that it is a human trait infecting every institution.
A recent conversation let me know of the resistance of workers to the imposed 'new' programs sweeping through corporate America. Because the hierarchical structure allows such programs to be imposed, loyalty to company and commitment to job plummets. Good and loyal employees' eyes often show deep betrayal.
Living in a culture that affirms change, why is change so disruptive and emotionally wrenching? An insight came from an experienced consultant: "People welcome change; they resist attempts to change them."
"An Act for the Relief of Sick and
Disabled Seamen"-persisting far beyond its original intent-is
a humorous 'bookmark' in my mind that eases the maddening frustration
I feel when people refuse to engage in constructive and necessary
--Robert H. Tucker
5 January 1998