As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. But this isn't always so.
You know it isn't so if you've ever bested a Pepsi machine that repeatedly spat back your wilted, unworthy dollar until you wore it down with perseverance and made it cough up the caffeine. You know it if you've ever asked a teenager to empty the dishwasher over and over with zero results, only to turn around one day to see the kid quietly putting the clean plates away.
Over time, water can shape a rock.
And right about now, if you are Linda Lerner, you know it is not insanity to push for small, positive change, even after a decade of not getting it.
Eleven times, the longest serving member of the Pinellas County School Board tried to get her colleagues to see that approving taxpayer dollars for a program affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America sends the wrong message. Because for all the organization's attributes, the Scouts exclude gays, and that's not okay.
Eleven times, Lerner tried to convince fellow board members that they should not endorse discrimination and should consider what this says to their gay and lesbian students. Some years she went into great detail in her pitch, consulting pages of notes she had made. She was heartened when even a single board member voted on her side.
But 10 times over, her colleagues went ahead and approved money for the Learning for Life character education program anyway.
This week, bolstered by new members, the board listened to the feisty Lerner, who, by the way, has been on the School Board for longer than the county's high school seniors have been alive. This time, they voted 4-3 against approving $54,838 for Learning for Life.
And look at that: Water can change rock, and persistence in fighting for fairness can win the day. It was both a small step and a big deal in shifting the tide on discrimination.
People I know with kids in Scouting say it's an invaluable experience, all about camaraderie, character and accomplishment. But Scouts are also supposed to be "clean in word and deed" and "morally straight," as Lerner pointed out at the meeting, and so if you are gay, "it says you're not morally straight and clean."
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Boy Scouts over a Scout leader kicked out because he was gay. The message was clear: Gays are not welcome here.
Lerner, who has a gay son, wanted to send a message back, one that said we do not agree. And messages can turn tides. Small boycotts and singular voices saying no, this is not okay, can grow and make for change.
Think of public figures who dropped memberships to clubs that excluded women, blacks or Jews because they got enlightened, or at least enlightened to the fact that it was no longer politically prudent. Either way, it's change. Could you have imagined, even 10 years ago, a gay person serving openly in our military? And here we are.
And what better place for kids to sees adults taking a stand against bigotry than on their own school board?
Boy Scouts earn merit badges in subjects from astronomy to wood carving. Maybe they should have one for talking about a wrong until enough people listen, even if it takes a decade.