Three Things Generated by Chaos

This is not intended to be a political post.  I find myself increasingly on the outside of political debate, waiting for a restoration of civility, statecraft and general good manners.  That is where I will remain for the foreseeable future.

If asked to describe our current social environment in one word, I would choose chaos.

chaos© Ginasanders | Dreamstime.com

During the 2016 debates it was suggested that our current President campaigned chaotically and that he would govern that same way.  That’s a fair observation.  It is also fair to say that current opposition to him has been and remains equally as chaotic.  I’ll let you decide whether that is good or bad.  To each their own.

There are numerous consequences to chaos.  I suggest that there are three notable things generated by chaos.

CHANGE

Chaos removes order.  It many cases it quickly results in the existence of a new order.  The event bringing about chaos can alter the way things have always been done; perhaps even render obsolete the traditional.  As a result, better ideas are generated.  Growth can occur.

I recently heard Dr. Leonard J. Marcus of Harvard University share the concept of Meta-Leadership.  He and fellow researchers developed and presented the idea of Swarm Intelligence as part of their study of responders during the Boston Marathon bombing.  I highly recommend a review of their material.

Change is not always productive.  Especially when it is done out of habit, without a specific purpose or to accomplish motives that are less than honorable.

CREATIVITY

Chaos can generate creativity, especially in situations such as the aforementioned crisis in Boston.  I admire firefighters.  One of my oldest friends is a battalion chief in the North Little Rock (Arkansas) Fire Department.  He is a most organized individual and always prepared.  People like Roger thrive on order.

Yet, when called to action, first responders know that each event is unique.  No two are alike.  Meta-leadership, as defined by the Harvard team, is the “ability to solve a problem by first understanding it.”  Creativity must be applied in order to solve the most pressing problem.

Can a person survive in that environment on a continual basis?  Probably not.  I’ve been told that a fire house is a pretty boring place between calls.  An environment that is permanently chaotic can lead to burnout and a loss of creative capacity.  That’s dangerous.

CONTROVERSY

Think about the things you find controversial.  Was the controversy generated by a wrong being committed?  Or was it brought about by a righteous action?  There is a fine line between those two things.

I’ve watched with great interest as the people of Romania have recently protested against government corruption.  They have every right to do so.  They are one generation removed from despotism.  Romanians understand the price of corruption.  Are their protests controversial?  Certainly – and depending on one’s point of view, they may be either right or wrong.

I like what IBM founder Thomas J. Watson once said, “Expose your ideas to the danger of controversy.”

Use chaos wisely, appropriately and in moderate doses.

NOTE:  The terms “Meta-Leadership” and “Swarm Intelligence” are copyrights held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.  Authors: Leonard J. Marcus, Ph.D.; Barry C. Dorn, M.D., M.H.C.M.; Eric J. McNulty, M.A.; and Joseph Henderson, M.P.A.  For details, see https://npli.sph.harvard.edu.

Three Things That Walls Cost Us

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace.  If you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  If you seek liberalization.  Come here to this gate.  Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.  Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” – Ronald Reagan

berlin-wall

AFP Photo / Gunther Kern

Reagan spoke those words at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987.  Glimmers of light were beginning to appear through the cracks in the Iron Curtain.  Many of us were fascinated at what was happening in Europe.

My generation grew up in fear of those who lived on the other side of that Iron Curtain.  We were told that they were evil.  They were the enemy.  They hated us.  Without giving it a thought, I accepted that the figurative Iron Curtain and the literal Berlin Wall were good things.  They protected us and prevented bad things from happening to us.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I made my first trip to Romania in 1997 as part of a church mission team.  I vividly remember landing in Bucharest and being struck with irony that I was “on the other side of that curtain.”  A place I never thought I would be.  I returned home two weeks later a changed man.  What changed in me?  I learned that the Iron Curtain was costly.  It had cost me these three things.

Understanding

Twenty-six trips there have taught me much.  Romania is a cultural island, different from her neighbors.  Like America, her people struggle with ethnic prejudices.  Vlad Dracul was real, he was nothing like the movies and most Romanians are weary of having to explain that fact to silly American tourists.  When I stopped focusing on my home, I began to understand theirs.  I have a deep appreciation and love for their culture because I understand it.  As Marie Curie once said, “Nothing in life is to be feared.  It is only to be understood.”  That wall prevented me from understanding the people on the other side.

Friendship

I have friendships with Romanians that are impossible to describe; deep, abiding relationships.  Some are like family to me.  Technology makes it easier to stay in touch, but I still miss them greatly.  It’s hard for two people to establish and maintain a friendship if a wall exists between them.  Walls cost us friendships and that is a high price to pay.

Opportunity

That Iron Curtain – or Cortina de Fier, as my Romanian friends call it – fell in 1989.  Freedom brought opportunity.  It provided those on the eastern side of the wall with a chance to participate in democracy.  To speak up for change, as many Romanians have done in recent days to fight corruption in government.  The wall coming down gave me the opportunity to share my faith and build relationships there.  Opportunity is lost on either side of a wall.

Are walls needed?  In some cases, yes.  But, they always come with a price.  I hope that you will consider that price before you build a wall between yourself and someone else.  I also hope that you will make today great!  Just good days, folks!

Three Ways To Determine If You Are Brave Enough To Be a Leader

Brave men and women are not frightened by an obstacle, they are challenged by it.  Leadership requires bravery.  Not a blind and reckless nature, but the genuine courage needed for true, effective leadership.

The songs of Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark resonate with me.  One of my favorites is “The Cape” – the tale of a boy with a flour-sack cape tied around his neck who jumps off the garage in an attempt to fly.  The song follows him through life as he continues to bravely face life’s challenges with that same spirit.  It closes with the line, “He did not know that he could not fly and so he did.”

dreamstime_boy_in_cape

Here are three ways to determine if you are brave enough to lead.

Be brave enough to see the unseen.

William Faulkner said, “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”  Why is it so hard for us to lose sight of the shore?  Because the shore represents “the known.”  It represents safety and minimizes risk.  Leadership without risk is not leadership at all.  History’s most courageous leaders have envisioned a better world that is not yet present.  Lincoln saw an America without slavery.  The Wrights saw man taking flight.  Kennedy envisioned footprints on the moon.  Reagan saw a world without the walls that limited freedom.  Are you brave enough to see the unseen?

Be brave enough to see past the second-guessers.

We all have them.  They surround us.  I’m not talking about the people who provide sound advice and counsel; leaders actively seek those individuals.  A true leader will identify and limit the naysayer, even when it puts a relationship at risk.  Leadership is difficult enough without letting negative influences rob you of your emotional reserve.  Alter your reading habits and read positive text.  Change the subject when the conversation goes negative.  Block topics or people from your social media feed.  Most of all: don’t forget that second-guessing can often be self-inflicted.  Are you brave enough to see past the second-guessers?

Be brave enough to remain true to your principles.

Mark Twain said, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”  That is certainly true today!  Today, principles are fluid and seem to be determined by the latest 140-character comment.  Do you possess a set of foundation principles on which your decision-making process rests?  We are often kind to political leaders because their adherence to principle, which was doubted in real-time, is understood to be right through the lens of history.  Leadership requires the development of foundation principles and the perseverance to stay true them in the face of adversity.

Are you brave enough to be like the boy in Clark’s song?  If so, tie on your cape, get a running start and fly toward greatness! Remember, folks, just good days!