The first step in recovery from anything is facing the facts, recognizing the reality of the situation we are in, acknowledging where we’ve arrived in life.
Here’s where we—the humans of the world—find ourselves in this summer of 2020. We are in a…
- plight = a condition, state, or situation, especially an unfavourable or unfortunate one
- quandary = a state of perplexity or uncertainty, especially as to what to do
- dilemma = a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives
- imbroglio = an intricate and perplexing state of affairs; a complicated or difficult situation; a confused heap
- quagmire = a situation from which extraction is difficult
It’s no coincidence that these are unfamiliar words. They’ve fallen out of use because so far we haven’t experienced life events this way. We’ve been used to identifying problems and coming up with solutions when something isn’t working the way we think it should. Not always easy but pretty straightforward.
This problem-solving strategy has been serving us well for many years..until suddenly it isn’t.
The big shift of this time…
We’ve transitioned to an era when problem-solving is not able to help us.
Look back at the meanings of plight, quandary, dilemma, imbroglio, and quagmire, which are all synonyms of predicament. They describe a state of affairs that is much more far-reaching than any one problem. We are in a predicament, and the challenge of this time is to figure out how we can navigate our way through it.
Navigating is not the same as problem-solving. To sailors, wind is not a problem. It’s a fact of the environment they are moving through, and they have to figure out how to work with it to get where they want to go. This involves harnessing the wind’s energy and avoiding missteps that capsize the boat or otherwise get them into trouble or take them off course.
I started my reality check after I’d been feeling cranky about the pandemic and social unrest for a couple weeks. I didn’t know why I felt that way or what to do about it. I just knew I didn’t like feeling that way.
Then I came across a Carolyn Myss video in which she brought up the idea that this is more than a problem to be solved, and she identified our current situation as a predicament. That rang bells for me and I wanted to get a clearer distinction between problems and predicaments—which is what got me looking up the synonyms. It shifted me out of the crankiness to have that understanding, but left me wondering…what can we do about it?
A couple weeks later, I found insight in an interview on an online coaching summit about leadership in times of uncertainty. The speaker was leadership coach Steve March on the topic of Adapting and Thriving in Times of Uncertainty. Although he was speaking to people who coach business leaders, the information applies to all contexts in life. His approach filled in the missing piece about what is the way, if not problem solving will no longer work. And it clicked together pieces of living systems theory that I’d studied with Fritjof Capra at Schumacher College in 1994.
What can we do to find our way through this predicament, this unpleasant, confusing situation that is difficult to get out of? First, we need to accept the realities of our predicament. Here’s the way I see it.
- We are in the midst of a quantum leap of consciousness.
- Our old systems of operating don’t fit with where we’re going.
- We are in a situation that is messy and complex, and problem-solving can’t help us because problem-solving takes only a narrow view of what is possible.
Complexity is not bad…
In systems theory, complexity is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s how all natural systems work. And, as you’ll see from the following distinctions, a complex system is actually the one where the most possibilities exist.
A Simple system is one that has a single path to a single answer. If you want to get to the solution, there is one, and only one, way to do it.
A Complicated system is one that has multiple paths to a single answer. To get to the answer, you have multiple different choices you can make. However, there is only one correct solution.
A Complex system is one that has multiple paths to multiple answers. When you toss in the word “adaptive”, you end up with a system that changes based on the choices that you make, and as a result of these choices, the answers change.
If that sounds discouraging…
Multiple paths and multiple answers that change depending on our choices. My grandma would have said, “That’s a fine kettle of fish!”
Take heart. As Steve March explained in the interview I listened to, there is a means of dealing with change that goes beyond problem-solving. It harnesses the principles of living systems theory and allows solutions to emerge and unfold in a natural way.
This way of engaging with life does require some things of us.
- We need to reorient ourselves and our understanding of how life on this planet works, to understand that we, like every other living thing on this planet, are governed by certain principles of nature. And that these are not impediments to our growth and progress. In fact, they are the way through.
- We need to bring internal awareness to the situation rather than being totally focused on external events. Our inner deeper knowing is the compass that will help us navigate through what we face in the world outside us.
- Internal awareness requires us to dial back our busy-ness to a level where we can feel and hear our deep inner being and act from the human virtues that live there: trust, love, value, strength, compassion, will, joy, passion, stillness.
In fact, it’s quite simple. It just won’t be easy.
And in case you’ve forgotten where those words come from…