In our modern world there is much complexity. With that comes contradiction. An either or, pros and cons, do and don’t do. We face everyday life with a heavy burden of choice. A weight of expectation, of responsibility. How to spend our time, our money, our energy? Lots of ‘what if?’ Lots of ‘if only?’.
I heard a story the other day which resonated with this world truth of contradiction and complexity.
The story teller, a young African boy at the time of the story. Living in a village in remote Nigeria.
The villagers kept goats. The goats served many purposes. They provided work, endeavour, a sense of purpose. They provided food. They provided milk. They were a currency of prosperity.
But the goats also ate things. Anything. Everything. They destroyed much of the fabric of the village.
The elders of the village met to discuss this complexity, this contradiction. In order to decide.
The young boy observed the elders meeting. Their long discussion about the goats.
The elders sat and debated this contradiction. For days.
After a while, the young boy asked his father why they continued to discuss the goats. Why they were not deciding.
His father said, there is a wisdom in not deciding. A wisdom in living with the contradiction. And so there emerges another truth in the complexity.
A number of station platforms on my journey are too short for the train.
Each evening the train manager announces which carriages will fit. Passengers in carriages unable to alight are advised to make their way through to an alternative carriage.
The infrastructure is no longer fit for purpose. Stations and platforms built many years ago, now insufficient for the train lengths demanded by busy commuters. Worse, I suspect the train operators might like to add more carriages, as traffic grows and so infrastructure becomes increasingly inadequate.
Having infrastructure unable to cope with growing needs is a problem elsewhere. You only have to own a phone to know that. Or drive around the M25.
Our world is changing fast. The military use a phrase, now prevalent in business and leadership. VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It describes the rapidly changing, unpredictable, uncertain world we live in. The inexorable expansion of stimulus, the pace of change, the ‘always on’ information flow, the societal pressures to perform, to excel, to achieve, to compete. All add to the stresses on our own human infrastructure. Sometimes it too comes up short. Unable to accommodate the sheer volume and inordinate complexity of the experiences we have, travelling on our own train of modern life.
Anxiety and mental illness is on the increase. Reported happiness increasing in some quarters but decreasing in others. Loneliness in the young growing. Society across the globe increasingly fractious, disruptive, searching for something absent.
Maybe our human infrastructure is struggling too with the modern demands of our busy world? Maybe our platforms are too short, our carriageways not wide enough, our bandwidth clogged?
Time perhaps to invest in self?
The well bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.
I don’t claim to be wise, but it amuses me when I contradict myself.
For example, I sometimes catch myself behaving in a way which flies in the face of what I’ve just said. Or saying something that contradicts what I’m doing.
For example, the other day, to allow a group of people to explore learning, we folded our arms, then unfolded them, to fold them again the other way. We were exploring the process of learning and I asked them to reflect and then share their process of learning. I explained there was no judgement. I then asked them to repeat the folding but said, ‘Now fold your arms the wrong way.’ I noticed my use of ‘wrong’ and smiled inside.
We are funny aren’t we?
We are multiple. More than one. Made up of parts. Light and shade. Simple complexity. Surface depth.