The Structure of Things

Very nice people with good values and high aspirations, who are hard working and industrious, often find that their best efforts do not lead to the final outcomes they want. Is it fate? Is it some deep-seated psychological conflict? Are some people simply luckier than others?

While it can seem like there is something in the stars, the real answer to understanding this phenomenon is much closer to home than most people think. It is right there in the structures in their lives. And this is the reason that understanding structural dynamics is critical if you want to create the life you want.

What is essential to know is this: the underlying structure of anything will determine its behavior.

Think about that for a moment. This insight explains so much. It explains why some people find themselves in oscillating patterns in which success is followed (predictably) by a reversal that takes them away from the outcomes they’ve worked so hard to achieve, and some people are able to create what they want and have that success become the platform for future success.

This is not how most people think. They think situationally. Structure is invisible to them, so they are left with the usual empty declarations: you need more willpower, you need to believe in yourself, you need to clean up your past, you need to surrender, you need to breath differently, you need a positive attitude, you need to love yourself, you need to eat brown rice, etc. When you understand how the structural dynamics works in people’s lives, you would find these bromides laughable. It is like saying you need to think positively about gravity so it will do what it does or not do what it does.

Structure is physics, it is nature, it is how everything works from music to aerodynamics to computers to cars to screenplays to… well, everything.

Structure typically produces two types of behavior: oscillating and advancement. That means your life will fall into one of these two camps. Everyone has examples of both. But the most important question is where do you spend most of your time? If it is an oscillation structure, your successes are not sustainable any more than jumping up in the air will lead to staying in the air.

Look, structure isn’t everything, but it is in everything, including your life. Years ago I made a film about the Fibonacci series, a mathematical proportion that is found throughout nature and art. The last two shots in the film are a spiraled nautilus shell dissolving into a spiraled galaxy, and the structure is identical in the small shell and the vast galaxy. We may not ever know the mysteries of the universe, but one thing we can know for sure, there is structure in the universe. Everywhere in the universe.

Like it or not, you live within a structure. And, if you are like most people, the structure you live in does you no good. Not to say that everything is bad. Just to say that your best efforts will be thwarted. This it is nothing personal anymore than not being able to float in contradiction to the laws of gravity is personal.

It is hard to do science without the math, and trying to create your life without a basic understanding of structure is also hard. All of the doisms of how you should behave not withstanding, any advice which is structurally unsound will not work no matter how good it looks on paper. You can’t fool Mother Structure. If you are in a rocking chair, your movement forward will be followed by movement backward.

There is nothing wrong with the rocking chair. It is simply the wrong structure if you happen to want to go somewhere.
What a waste of time, trying this or that in the wrong structure. Most of what is offered in self-help supports an oscillating structure, not an advancing one.

If you are in an oscillating structure, you can’t get very far. If you are in a rocking chair, you may be able to move ahead little by little, but you will not go where you want to go. It will feel like pushing boulders up hill. Hard to accomplish and impossible to sustain. Mother structure can work with you, but you have to work with her, not against her. Otherwise, expect that boulder to run right over you as it heads for the lowest ground. That’s the path of least resistance. That is where energy finds it easiest to go.

This is not a problem to solve. Why try to fix something that is not broken? There is nothing wrong with a rocking chair. It is simply the wrong structure unless you want to go back and forth. It is important to gain a fundamental understanding of how things work or don’t work so you can work with the forces in play in your life, not against them.

No matter what you say, what you think, how sincere and pure you are, if your life is in a rocking chair, and you want to move ahead, seeking to create your highest aspirations, organizing your life around those things that matter most to you, you will be unable to succeed in the end. You can’t get there from here. First you must change the underlying structure you are in. First you must go somewhere else. And that is the point.

So, while we teach the creative process, we also understand it is not the creative process alone that will lead to success. It is a combination of the creative process and the structural dynamics that can make such a profound difference in people’s lives as it has time and again.

The Arts/Science Vs Politics

The Age of Enlightenment brought a new idea to world civilization: a sense of seeking reality as it truly is. This was nothing short of a revolution in thinking. It was not a political revolution in which, as Robert Frost observed “the same people end up on top,” but one of science and the arts.

Good old Wikipedia says this about it: The Age of Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state.

From this period in history, the world saw amazing advancement, one of the most important, the development of democracy. The founders of the United States were children of the Age of Enlightenment, steeped in the notion that reason would be the driving force to build a better and fairer social order.

In the arts and science, the Age of Enlightenment has never stopped. This is because to make art or science, one needs a competent fix on reality as it is. This is how a violinist plays in tune and a doctor measures a patient’s temperature.

In the creative process, reality is a critical factor. Where are we now in relationship to our vision of where we want to be? Artists and scientists are trained to describe reality as it is, independent of how they might like it to be. You can’t make art or science based on a lie.

Contrast that with what’s going on in politics these days. There’s always been “spin” where politicians try to describe things to their advantage. But there has never been such an excess in blatant lies before now. Have we entered an Age of Unenlightenment?

What is especially harmful to society is the acceptance of some of the most obvious lies by politicians simply to support their positions of power. They have taken lying to a new low. Have they no shame?

 
 

Patterns and Structures

If we back up, we can see patterns fairly clearly. However, most of us are too close to see the patterns we are in. It is hard to see a pattern when you are in the pattern.

If you think about your own history, you will notice that many episodes in your life seem awfully familiar, almost as if it’s happened before. And, in fact, it has. Patterns have a beginning, a development, an ending, all typical of how things happen in your life. Sometimes, the pattern move very quickly, in a matter of days or weeks. But sometimes, a pattern can move very slowly, so slowly that it is hard to see that you are in a pattern. Perhaps one of the steps takes three years to move to the next step. The pattern has an inevitable sequence, but it is practically invisible.

In our lives and organizations, there are two basic types of patterns, oscillating and advancing. Too often, the oscillating patterns are more common than the advancing one. In this pattern, movement forward, toward what you want, has a turning point, an event that is a reversal. You no longer are able to sustain the success you wanted. You now move away from what you wanted.

Since most people think situationally, they have plenty of explanations of why things went wrong. These explanations follow the form of one event caused because of a previous event. The business failed because we were in the wrong location. The relationship failed because I was a Leo and he was a Capricorn. I didn’t get the job because they were looking for someone younger. The project didn’t last because some of the key players got transferred.

There is no doubt that these events happened as described. But, if we back up, we can see that the actual event is consistent with the types of events that always happen at that part of the story.

These types of patterns, what I have termed macrostructural patterns, may take place over short or long periods of time, but they always have the same sequence. The same way you usually get out of bed and go through your morning routine in the same order of steps, so too the patterns in your life go through the same set of steps in the same order. They are hard to see because the actual events may look very different from similar other events. If you back up, you may be able to see that, while the details are different, the type of step it is, is the same.

We can see the patterns we are in, and yet not be able to change them. When I first began to work with pattern many decades ago, I thought by knowing the pattern, people could avoid living through it yet again. But, as it turned out, even if some of the types of steps were deliberately changed by doing something that was not typical at that point in the pattern, somehow, the missing steps eventually routed back to the pattern.

This is why it is important to understand the underlying structures that generate the pattern. Structure gives rise to the pattern, which gives rise to the events of the pattern.

If you are a coach, consultant, manager, or someone in the helping professions, your clients or colleagues will be in their own patterns. Without knowing how the underlying structure works, your best efforts will be temporary. Without a change of underlying structure, the person or organization will revert back to the same patterns you’ve been trying to help them to change. That is why training in structural dynamics is one of the most important tools in your tool box.

 

Nelson and Robinson

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were just sitting there, like so many people do at a Starbucks. They were waiting for another person to arrive for a business meeting. They didn’t order anything. And that, as we all know by now, set off a chain of events in which they were led away in handcuffs.

We can blame the store manager, since fired. We can blame the police who actually arrested them for not leaving the premises when ordered to. (Why were they ordered to leave when white people in the same situation would not be?) We can blame society. So many targets to blame. This case is not a symbol but, more importantly, an illustration of the issue of identity. Of course, this example is a particularly American one. But the issue is the basis of much of the world’s history throughout the centuries. Prejudice.

In our book IDENTITY, Dr. Wayne Andersen and I wrote:

In 1954, psychologist Gordon Allport related prejudice to categorical thinking. Because we think in terms of generalized categories, Allport suggested that prejudice is a natural and normal process for humans. He wrote: “The human mind must think with the aid of categories. Once formed, categories are the basis for normal prejudgment. We cannot possibility avoid this process. Orderly living depends upon it.”

While the mind runs on automatic, we have the added control of observation and reason. Here is the mix. There are three forces at play: automatic categorization, observation, and reason. In a way, sometimes they are in competition, especially when observation and reason contradict the attributes of some category the mind has generated.

It is easier to give in to the assumptions of the category than to observe more closely; and from that vantage point, use reason to come to a conclusion. It is easier to be prejudiced than not. Prejudice means you have come to conclusions BEFORE you have observed, which is completely different from true judgment, in which you reach a conclusion AFTER you have looked at facts and evidence.
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We can understand the underlying structure of prejudice. That doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. We can see in this Starbucks example the indignation of injustice. Two innocent guys doing what others have done from the inception of that company, sitting at a table minding their own business. And because of two facts alone, they were black and the store manager was white, the episode was able to take place. If the facts went like this: The men were white and the store manager was black, we can imagine a vastly different outcome.

One helpful effect of this event was the outpouring of outrage from most parts of our society. That demonstrates that people care about right over wrong, justice over injustice, and fairness as a value.

Here’s the thing: as Allport implies, the mind sorts things into generalized categories of similarities and differences. That is how we process the world. But our values are often in contradiction to our mind’s mindless groupings. This insight gives us a chance to support our values over our mind’s automatic predisposition. We could say that anyone who is a member of a group different from ours, whatever our group is, will have an automatic reaction that divides us from them. That fact does not lead to the action of discrimination.

When we add observation and reason to the mix, we are able to support our values over our instincts, and a higher social order becomes possible.

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The Underlying Structure…

Here is the principle: the underlying structure of anything will determine its behavior. The implication of the principle is usually not well understood. When people fail to understand this principle, they fall into the trap of trying to change long held behavioral patterns by adopting new behaviors. “Take risks,” or “Support your health,” or “Get on with it,” or “Inspire, innovate, ignite,” and on it goes. Most advice of this sort sounds good on paper, or even in posters hung on corporate walls, but are hard to take for long when the underlying structure you are in does not support this type of change.

If your car pulls to the right, and you want to drive straight ahead, you will position the steering wheel to the left. The underlying structure is generating the behavior. If you get advice from an expert driver that when you want to drive straight, to steer straight, but your car pulls to the right, you can’t take the expert advice for long. Almost immediately, you will be steering to the left to compensate for the car’s underlying structure. Much of the advice we get is on this level. Sounds good, but in reality, it can’t work well because of the underlying structures we are in.

Three principles I write about in The Path of Least Resistance are: energy moves along the path of least resistance (water moves where it is easiest to go;) the underlying structure determines where it is easiest to go (the riverbed determines where the water flows;) and, the critical principle that makes all of the difference – we can change the underlying structures we are in. When we change the underlying structure, that automatically leads to a change of behavior. The new structure supports the new behavior. If we take our car to a garage and the mechanic aligns our wheels, we don’t need to be told to steer straight when we want to drive straight, we just do. The change of underlying structure has generated a new pattern of behavior.

Most structures we are in are invisible. They are not obvious. But we can learn to see and understand them. Some are on the personal level impacting your life. Some are on the organizational level impacting how well a company can perform. And there are two types of behavior structures produce: oscillating and advancing.

The pattern in an oscillating structure is this: first you set out to accomplish something; at first things go well; you may even reach your goal; but then there is a reversal, pulling you back to how things were. In this type of pattern, success is NOT sustainable. This is like the movement of a rocking chair. Movement forward is followed by movement backward. In a personal life it may be the great relationship that didn’t last; the project that first looked good, but later was a disaster; the career direction that, after some degree of success, somehow went off course.

In the corporate world it is such patterns as: centralize decision making, then decentralizing decision making, and later, centralize decision making again. Or it might be to build up capacity, but then going on a downsizing exercise, only to build up capacity once again. Of course these types of patterns take several years to play themselves out, but if we back up, we can see how predictable these patterns are.
In an advancing pattern, you set out for a goal, you take the necessary steps, you accomplish the goal, and it is sustainable. There is nothing pulling you in the opposite direction, as there is in an oscillating pattern.

The difference is purely structural.

If you are a consultant, coach, manager, or work in the helping professions, you may have noticed this oscillating pattern: you do your best work, everyone is pleased with your work, it seems to make a difference for a while, but, when you come back, say a year later, it is as if it never happened. They are back to their original situations. This pattern shows the telltale sign of a lack of change of the underlying structure they have been in. Without a change of their underlying structure, they are destined to return to where they were before you worked with them.

In our workshop the Fundamentals of Structural Thinking, we teach you how to first identify the underlying structure that is in place, and then how to change it from an oscillating to an advancing structure. This enables you to produce sustainable change in which the good work you do lasts and builds upon itself.
For more information:

https://www.robertfritz.com/…/fundamentals-of-structural-t…/

The Glorification of Almost Everything

Welcome to a brave new world in which nothing is itself. A rose is a fantastic rose is a magnificent, majestic, heroic, huge, momentous, excellent, brilliant, exceptional, tremendous rose. Everything in this new world is bigger, brighter, better, or, the other side of the coin, the worst, most horrible, most awful, most evil, or nastiest thing you’ve ever seen.

But here’s the hitch. Whenever we glorify anything, we deny the true value of that which we are glorifying. This principle is always true. And there is a built in dynamic that comes with the act of glorification. What once had impact loses its impact over time. “Awesome” becomes “super awesome” becomes “super-duper awesome” becomes “astoundingly super-duper awesome.” “Awesome” takes on the connotation of just okay, nothing really special. If everything is awesome, nothing is awesome. Here is the original definition:

adjective
extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear: synonyms: breathtaking, awe-inspiring, magnificent, wonderful, amazing, stunning, staggering, imposing, stirring, impressive, formidable, fearsome, dreaded, mind-boggling, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, excellent, marvelous, wondrous

The antonym of awesome is unimpressive. The irony of chronic glorification of almost everything eventually translates to its opposite. Awesome means unimpressive. “You look fantastic!” translates to “You look sort of just okay.” “This is the worst offense we’ve ever had to endure,” translates to, “I don’t like this thing you just did.”

The casualty of chronic glorification is the appreciation of reality as it is: real. The mind becomes desensitized to the richness of reality. A rose is a rose, and that’s simply true. But think about what a rose actually is. There is so much to a rose. If you experienced a rose as it is, it would be better than glorifying it. You would not have the habit of having to exalt the rose, because you would be clear about its virtues. As I have said many times, reality is an acquired taste. But once acquired, hard to give up.

The more we live in the orientation of the creative process, the less our tendency to glorify. This is not a value judgment, but a practical matter. You can’t make strategic adjustments if you do not have an accurate fix on reality. You can’t learn, develop, grow, and become proficient in creating those things that matter to you if you distort reality. Reality includes the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful and everything in-between. Best to see it exactly as it is. This skill develops through well-developed observation, not adhering to concepts, beliefs, theories, past experience, other people’s opinions, or the brave new world of glorification.

The Fundamentals

The key to discipline is the relationship between the primary and the secondary choice. Once we know what is primary (first), we may need to make strategic secondary choices in support of our primary choice. If we want to create health, we may need to make a series of secondary choices such as eat a healthy diet and exercise. We might not make these secondary choices if we didn’t have health as a primary choice, but we gladly do them when we know our higher order organizing principle: in this case health.

But there is another type of choice upon which all other choices rest, and that is the fundamental choice.

Fundamental means:
Adjective:
1. Relating to or affecting the underlying principles or structure of something
2. Serving as an essential part of something

Noun:
1. A basic and necessary component of something, especially an underlying rule or principle

A real choice means we can do it (whatever the it is) or not. If you must do it, you have no choice. Some people use the word “choice,” but they don’t really mean you can do it or not. Sometimes they think that a choice is forced upon you, and if you don’t do whatever the it is, you will pay a price until you wise up, and finally make “the right choice.” The thought here is “yes, you have a choice to get it wrong, pay the consequences, and finally come to your senses and do the right thing.” But this is not in the spirit of a true choice. It is just a life-manipulation which presumes there is a “right” path and you must take it – this notion of choice is held by those who have some dogmatic belief system that they feel is the only truth. They think anyone with a different view will eventually be forced to adopt their worldview.

But in life we do have many choices we can make. Some of these choices can make all the difference. If you haven’t made the fundamental choice to be a non-smoker, any method you choose will eventually fail. If you have made the fundamental choice to be a non-smoker, just about any method you choose will work, and you will be attracted to those methods that work especially well for you.

Fundamental choices are about orientation, states of being, the ground you stand on. There are four major fundamental choices we recommend to people. They are:

The choice to be healthy
The choice to be free
The choice to be true to yourself
The choice to be the predominant creative force in your own life

The choice to be healthy

When it comes to health, we are not all created equally. Some of us are, by nature, healthier than others. Our starting point is whatever it is. But, that having been said, all of us can still make the fundamental choice to be healthy. What exactly does that mean? It means that we take on the job of creating health for ourselves. Most of us do not do that. I didn’t do that until I was in my late thirties. I, like most of us, somehow had the notion that my body was kind of like a car. If I got sick, I would bring my body to the doctor in the same way we bring our cars to the mechanic. It is the mechanic’s job to fix the car, and it was the doctor’s job to fix the body. I was just a passive consumer. Once I had made the fundamental choice to be healthy, I was the one, and the only one, whose job it was to see to it that I created health for myself. Others could help by their advice, their medical service, their research, and their support. But, truth was, it simply wasn’t their job, or responsibility, to see to it that I was healthy.

Once a fundamental choice like this is made, our orientation changes. We cannot play the passive victim of circumstances. We have the critical role in how we live our lives, on the primary and secondary choices we make, on changing habits that do not support our health, and on adopting habits that do. No one else is pulling the strings. Life may deal us a different situation than others, but it is our job to see to it personally that we make the most of the raw material we are given.

Choice versus Commitment

We need to point out that a fundamental choice is very different from “making a commitment.” People who talk about “commitment” often are not really making a fundamental choice, but rather trying to manipulate themselves to do what is good for them by entrapment. Once you “commit” you are pledged to follow through with whatever you committed to: i.e. now you have no CHOICE! You are stuck. But a true fundamental choice is still a choice: you can do it or not. The power comes from this simple reality. You do not force yourself to be healthy.

You look more deeply at reality and see that health is one of your deepest values. You could turn away from it at any time. What would lead to consistency is being in touch with the truth that it is a choice, and that you want health. No trick, just truth. Commitment is something that describes what it looks like from the outside looking in, not the inside looking out. Those who have made a real fundamental choice do not talk or think about commitment, they think about their deepest values and highest desires. Those looking on, but not privy to the inner workings of their heart, misunderstand, and think these people are highly “committed.”

Playing the piano is one thing from the point of view of the pianist, another from the audience. To the audience, the pianist is pushing down black and white keys. If they gave advice based on what they can observe from the outside looking in, they would say, to play the piano, push down black and white keys. Their advice would not lead many to become virtuoso pianists. Likewise, just because from the outside looking in, some effective people can look like they are pillars of “commitment,” the advice to “become committed” will end up as self-manipulation that structurally will lead to oscillating patterns. First the person seems capable of more productive behavior, but then they backslide. Commitment is not sustainable. The fundamental choice is. While superficially they can look alike, they are miles apart functionally.

The choice to be free and the choice to be true to yourself are pretty clear. The choice to be the predominant creative force in your own life could use a little explanation.

Once a fundamental choice is made, anything that is inconsistent with that choice sticks out like a sore thumb. You cannot live with the discrepancy. The fundamental choice is an organizing force, creating hierarchy of what’s essential and basic and what is not. If you were to make the fundamental choice to be the predominant creative force in your own life, you would no longer be able to play the victim of circumstances.

That’s not to say that no one is ever victimized by their circumstances or other people. Sometimes they are. It is to say that whatever cards you are dealt, you are taking on the job of making the best of it in favor of your life-building process. For some people, once they make the fundamental choice to be the predominant creative force in their own life, they have to give up complaining about their lot in life. They may have to abandon an “entitlement mentality” – thinking they are owed a good life. They might need to develop certain skills they need, but don’t have. They cannot afford themselves the luxury of feeling sorry for themselves, something human beings love to do. They reposition themselves, and place themselves in the center of their lives.

They are open and happy to learn from their mistakes, and they also learn from their successes. Like all fundamental choices, once made, any processes they choose can be made to work, and they are especially attracted to those methods that work particularly well for them. Other may think of them as committed, but they are conscious that they are organizing their lives around their deepest values and highest aspirations.

Once you make a fundamental choice, everything changes, even if everything looks the same. You are on solid ground and you no longer are subject to the changing circumstances that life brings. Your creative process is driven by the generative love of the outcomes you desire to bring into the world, and the situations you find yourself in are simply the raw material you begin with.

Why Your New Year’s Resolutions Won’t Last

Okay, it’s the New Year and you’ve made your commitment to change. And, as you suspect, even though you are sincere and really mean it this time, it will be over by February. Why? Is it that you are weak-willed, lacking basic discipline, unable to fulfill your promises to yourself?

No, it is the structure you are in. The point we’ve been making for years now is the profound insight that the underlying structure of anything will determine its behavior. And there are two typical types of behavior that structure generates: Oscillating and advancing. So why do most New Year’s resolutions fall into the oscillating camp?

Motivation tells the story and sets up the structural dynamics. Most resolutions come from remorse. There’s something you think you did wrong – a bad habit, a weakness for junk food, driving too fast, not being in touch with friends as much as you thought you should be – there are millions of items to put on your guilt-trip list.

Most New Year’s resolutions are oriented around problem solving. The problem is you weigh too much, go on a diet. The problem is you don’t exercise enough, go to the gym. The problem is you still smoke, give up smoking. The problem is you don’t spend enough time in your personal development, dedicate yourself this year (as you said you would do last year.) Problem solving is among the worst ways to try to accomplish anything of significance. The intensity of the problem leads to actions to have the problem go away. These actions, though, reduce the intensity of the problem, so you are less motivated to act in the future.

Now it’s February and you’ve done a good job so far of sticking to your resolution, and to celebrate, you fall right off the wagon. Over time, your motivation weakens, and the underlying structure, the path of least resistance that the structure is generating, is to drift back into old habits.
You blame yourself, not the structure you are in. You may try again, this time with a lot more guilt tripping and pep talks. But you are up against the structure you are in. You are in a rocking chair structurally, and movement forward MUST lead to movement backwards.

That’s not to say that there are not things you’d like to do this year that are different from last year. However, the moment you are trying to solve yourself, you are in a rocking chair. Success is not sustainable, and so it cannot last.

What can last is the creative process. The true creative process. And that’s not problem solving. Creating is taking action to have something come into being, the outcome you want. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away, the conditions you don’t like.

Change your orientation, and you will change your chances of sustainable success.

Think in terms of outcomes you want to create. And realize that the absence of the problem is not the same as a real outcome you want to create.

Create structural tension by these simple steps: identifying the outcome you want to create, defining the current reality you have in relationship to this outcome. These two data points generate structural tension, like an archer’s bow stretched aiming the arrow at the target.

The structure evokes the minds ability to invent a way to accomplish the goal. Then, when you take actions on behalf of this outcome, you build momentum. You are not in a rocking chair, you are in a sports car ready, willing, and able to drive you where you want to you.

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Be in the moment AND in the future!

For years, New Age axioms include “Be in the present.” Are they wrong about that? No. They are just incomplete. The misunderstanding comes from the notion that being focused on the “now” will lead to enlightenment and everlasting well-being.

First, we must observe, that it is hard to be in the “now.” Our minds love to drift, free associate, speculate, worry, daydream, or just take a siesta. Our minds are lazy. Our minds run on automatic if left to their own devices. So, to counter that tendency, the very good discipline is to pay attention to what is happening right now before your eyes, ears, and awareness.

Once you do that, your mind has a job, to focus on the present. This takes training for sure. The mind rebels, and just wants to run on automatic. All disciplines are unnatural of course, so the most natural thing to do is nothing. The true discipline is to sharpen your focus and pay attention to what is right there, in the –shall we say it – “now.”

Those who have spent many years following this advice become very good at being “in the moment.” But, for them, whether they know it or not, something is missing that is built into the human condition, and that is a sense of future. In fact, the psychiatrist William Glasser, the man who developed Reality Therapy, argued that people are unhappy without a sense of future.

Therefore, to be in the “now” denies one a sense of future if that’s all you do.

But, we could create a parallel observation to that; to be in the future denies one a sense of present, if that’s all you do.

Living in the future or living in the “now” is as incomplete as a chair with a leg missing. Some say there is power in living in the “now.” Power for what? Yes, your mind may no longer be running in several directions at once, but that’s about it. It’s true you can stay in the “now” for long periods of time. But, quite frankly, so what? Things change in the “now” and you can observe them change, but you have very little causal relationship to these changes.

Partly this notion of being in the “now” is from Eastern spiritual traditions in which suffering is the biggest sin to avoid. The mind, it is thought, needs to be disciplined so it does not obsess with distractions. Peace of mind is seen as one of the higher virtues that human beings can achieve. Read that as two things: suspension of conflict; and “detachment” from desire. Naturally, if you convince yourself that desire is bad, you’d better not have any. From this vantage point, you may be able to reach a point that many describe as “pure consciousness.”

You become mindful of mindlessness. Aware of nothing, or that everything is illusion. Okay, and then what? Why is that a good thing? Is that the height of the human spirit?

But, once we link a sense of the present with a sense of future, the human spirit is unleashed. This is the essence of the creative process, to bring something into being that has not yet existed. When we create, we are in two places at once: now and in the future. But that sets up a structural tension, which strives for resolution. This is not a steady state but a dynamic. Something that has, build into it, the tendency to change and move. And there is an end point. This is in the universe of the temporal, where time and space exist. The story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, just like Aristotle described in his Poetics.

We need to be able to focus in the present, and that means training the mind to do something it is not used to doing. But we also need to be able to focus on the now and future simultaneously. From that vantage point, new worlds open, and the human spirit is engaged in one of its highest purposes.

Elephant Walk Back

In the last 10 years, over one million elephants are gone, leaving only a little over 300,000 left in Africa. They are, indeed, an endangered species. That’s why it was particular appalling to hear that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had lifted the ban on the import of elephant tusks from Zambia and Zimbabwe that has been in place since 2014. Under pressure from conservation groups, Trump has put the change of policy on hold.

There are so many issues here that it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps, the sheer stupidity, ignorance, and arrogance of the move. It is obvious that anything that President Obama put in place the new administration is trying to reverse as fast as they can, no matter how sensible the regulations are. But what is hard to take is the image of some rich white guys in Africa killing elephants to bring home something to hang on their walls and a picture to post on their Facebook page while doing such damage to an endangered species.

This is not hunting for survival or even sport. How much sport is there in killing the largest land animal on Earth anyway? It is ego exploitation, maybe to feel more like a “man”.

What is Zinke thinking? The claim was made that this will help finance the cost of maintaining the elephant herds. But, the majority of tourists who travel to view elephants are photographers, not pseudo-big game hunters. The claim is just an excuse to prove the point that anything noble will now be trampled on.

There is the direct impact of an individual elephant killed. But, not commonly known, the elephant’s family members go into grief about the lost of their loved one. Elephants are among the smartest animals in the world. They feel lost, grief, and trauma.

Sometimes it feels that any well-intentioned, humanistic, altruistic gesture is, by its nature of trying to do good in the world, needs to be shot down by a mentality that says, “how dare you try to be caring, sensitive, and of good will?” The flimsy image of hanging tough is as superficial as a tobacco company trying to claim the health benefits of smoking cigarettes.

Another example of this is what Zinke did on his very first day in office. He lifted the Obama administration’s ban on the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle used on federal lands and waters. The ban was put in place to protect birds and fish from lead poisoning. Birds such as the bald eagle, the American national bird. Does ammunition that contains lead kill animals any better than ammunition that doesn’t contain lead? The lead gets into the ecosystem of the forest and harms other animals. What is the point of using lead bullets when non-lead bullets are just as effective?

Frankly, I just don’t get the thinking of such people as Zinke. Was there something in his childhood? Does he have an identity problem? Is he insecure as a man? Or is he just dedicated to being a jerk?