STRONG SUIT: New wine in old skins
“NO ONE PUTS new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:22, Matthew 9:17)
This parable speaks directly to the challenges being faced in our society as we seek ways to make necessary changes to improve our social, economic, and spiritual circumstances. There are those who make constant reference to “resistance to change” as a natural human condition that will predictably frustrate the best intentions. This results in a “why try” attitude that becomes an excuse for not making the effort or contribution that one could make,
Another familiar refrain is “we have heard all that before” and we are still talking years later about the same thing. This, as though poor implementation is a default position that cannot be overcome. What actually occurs is something akin to reading a headline and assuming you can accurately fill in the details from inferences made about previous experiences.
These and many other avoidance clichés deprive legitimate change initiatives of the propulsion and resilience needed to achieve a positive, beneficial outcome. Since all of us have an ongoing desire to improve our circumstances, I thought it might be useful to look at this biblical parable for insight and wisdom that can be applied today.
First, let’s say the “old wine” represents the combination of thoughts, ideas, values, rules and actions that led Barbados to achieving a global reputation for being a good place to invest. It is a recognized leader in political, economic and social stability and it has a highly literate workforce. One aspect of this stability is that you find many people who have long tenure in positions of influence and authority who keep things at a pace that is comfortable for them and those like them. So in many ways, the “old wineskins” include many established traditions such as Test cricket, working for the boss, and not delegating authority.
The “new wine” comprises those who have endured the system and seen where it fails to recognize and adjust to the new realities. In those instances where they find themselves being forced into “old wineskins”, they are leaking out the sides and voice their discontent among friends, the country’s customers and others who agree that old system needs radical change. They however lack sufficient authority to create meaningful change. They have seen many examples of those who are too vocal or visible with new ideas being cut down or treated unfairly.
There is a saying that “the first rats to leave a sinking ship are the good swimmers”. As a result, many who remain are loyal to those who have kept them there and are unlikely to generate innovation.
Circumstances such as these tight economic times, increased lawlessness and declining customer satisfaction represent the new wineskins of today. The opportunities come from addressing the needs of the country with compelling actions whose benefits satisfy urgent needs.
This will call for vision, courage and persistence. There is still much to be savoured from the old and an important place for the new. When Jesus turned water into wine, the first thing the wine steward said was: “It is customary to serve the best wine first.” It’s your turn.
Dennis Strong is founding president of the Caribbean Institute of Certified Management Consultants.