No Matter Which Way We Turn Wisdom Will Find Us

Many years ago I worked with a pub­lic agency, improv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions with­in one of the depart­ments. I had an in-house depart­men­tal con­tact per­son coor­di­nat­ing some of my activ­i­ties who, like me, was pas­sion­ate about pos­i­tive orga­ni­za­tion­al change. At some point after the com­ple­tion of my work, I learned there had been prob­lems again in the depart­ment and she had lost her job. I did­n’t know all the cir­cum­stances, but clear­ly she had been blamed for “stir­ring the pot” in her orga­ni­za­tion and became at odds with the lead­er­ship. I was not too sur­prised for I knew the top per­son in the depart­ment and he seemed very eas­i­ly hijacked by his emo­tions and judg­ments. It was some time after that, maybe a year, that I ran into my con­tact again. After her sep­a­ra­tion, she had gone on a long trip to Indone­sia. She told me about her inter­est in psy­chic mat­ters and their rela­tion­ship to work­place cul­ture, includ­ing what she described as “orga­ni­za­tion­al vor­tices of pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ener­gies.” While on her trip she had even asked a heal­er to tell her whether she appeared to have any psy­chic pow­er her­self. He took her by the hand, and after a few min­utes she was over­come by waves of heat cours­ing through her body. She broke into a big sweat. “You have plen­ty of pow­er,” the heal­er said.

I tell this sto­ry because it reflects two sides of life from which we can learn: mis­takes and vision. Clear­ly some­thing had hap­pened. There had been prob­lems in her rela­tion­ships at work, and she had been blamed and held at fault. But there was also anoth­er ener­gy, the ener­gy of her vision for orga­ni­za­tions, and that vision took her to an entire­ly new place where she might awak­en more deeply to her own pow­er. We don’t even have to be talk­ing in lit­er­al terms about psy­chic pow­er, just the pow­er to be our­selves, to fol­low our paths and trust them, to do what we need to do as we move through expe­ri­ence. That there is blame and fault is tremen­dous­ly painful, but to also see this blame and fault fall away and the “good med­i­cine” return is the breath of inspi­ra­tion. It would be won­der­ful if we could only focus on what is pos­i­tive and good, if events nev­er turned out bad­ly, if pos­i­tive ener­gies would always pre­vail, if there was a uni­ver­sal alter­na­tive to deal­ing with too many snakes on a nar­row road. But that is a fan­ta­sy. Some­times we must go through the chal­lenge, deal with the ven­om just as it is, and hold on, trust­ing that no mat­ter what we face or which way we turn, in the end wis­dom will find us.

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  • Thank you for shar­ing this sto­ry Dan.

    When bad or unfor­tu­nate things hap­pen to those we con­sid­er good peo­ple, we will try to com­fort them with phras­es like, “when one door opens, anoth­er clos­es” and our hope to share com­fort is nice, but it falls a bit short, for we give up des­tiny to fate, and to good luck wish­es and plac­ing bets on hap­pen­stance. I like the con­nec­tions you make here instead, of tap­ping into any pre­vi­ous­ly dor­mant ener­gies we have, so that we become more dili­gent, and seek our wis­dom with an eager, open-mind­ed intention.

    There is a great deal of change occur­ring in our world, and it is mag­nif­i­cent when we can shift any alarm­ing ques­tions of “What now?” to those which instead ask, “What if?” Why wring our hands when we can put them to hap­pi­er use?

  • Beau­ti­ful, Rosa, espe­cial­ly that line about giv­ing up des­tiny to fate. Fate, as I under­stand it, comes from a Greek word mean­ing, “por­tion.” So our fate is our por­tion of life and there­fore has a very pas­sive tone. But des­tiny to me has always meant the inter­play of this por­tion with our capac­i­ty for choice, and in that choos­ing we find that we are free, mak­ing our path by the steps we take, and also fol­low­ing a thread that has our name on it. The impli­ca­tion is that, as you say, we can let go of the hand wring­ing any time now and put our hands to a bet­ter, hap­pi­er pur­pose. And how this all hap­pens — it’s a nat­ur­al thing, don’t you think, for us to turn toward that pur­pose? — ah, that’s a mys­tery, a beau­ti­ful one indeed, with the Uni­verse send­ing us any num­ber of signs if we have the eyes to see them.

  • As you might infer from my inun­da­tion of com­ments on your blog, wis­dom is find­ing me today (or, at least, I’m open­ing up to wis­dom today).

    Every one of your blog posts includes at least one inspir­ing turn of phrase. In this one (for me), it’s orga­ni­za­tion­al vor­tices of pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ener­gies.

    Your ref­er­ence to “mis­takes” reminds me of an inspir­ing inter­view by Ross Reynolds on KUOW’s The Con­ver­sa­tion with author Kathryn Schulz on Why Being Wrong is Right. Among many insights and obser­va­tions, she notes that what makes humans so pow­er­ful is our abil­i­ty to rea­son induc­tive­ly — i.e., gen­er­al­ize from specifics — but the pow­er of induc­tive infer­ences must be bal­anced by the abil­i­ty and will­ing­ness to iden­ti­fy and cor­rect the mis­takes that are an inher­ent part of induc­tion (vs. the more lim­it­ed, but guar­an­teed cor­rect, process of deduc­tive reasoning). 

    I haven’t yet read her book, Being Wrong: Adven­tures on the Mar­gin of Error, but con­sid­er her recent Slate inter­view with This Amer­i­can Life’s Ira Glass, On Air and On Error — about the cen­tral impor­tance of wrong­ness in great sto­ries (and sto­ry­telling) — to be one of the best inter­views I’ve ever read. 

    Speak­ing of sto­ries, are you will­ing to share any more of the unfold­ing sto­ry of the cen­tral char­ac­ter in your post? I’d be very inter­est­ed in know­ing what hap­pened after her encounter with the healer.

    Final­ly, I love Rosa’s con­trast­ing images of wring­ing our hands vs. using them for some­thing more con­struc­tive in her com­ment above. And I often react reflex­ive­ly and neg­a­tive­ly to well-mean­ing but hol­low attempts to com­fort me when dis­com­fort is the very key to work­ing through what­ev­er chal­lenge is con­fronting me. 

    How­ev­er, I do not share her dis­missal of the pos­i­tive poten­tial of Alexan­der Gra­ham Bel­l’s famous quote. As some­one who has encoun­tered the open­ing and clos­ing of numer­ous doors, I’ve thought a great deal and even blogged about the idea that when one door clos­es, anoth­er opens.

    I won’t say too [more] much about it here, but I will note that the order is impor­tant — i.e., the quote sug­gests a direc­tion of causal­i­ty from the clos­ing door to the open­ing door rather than vice ver­sa (as might be inter­pret­ed in Rosa’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the quote). And the full sen­tence from which the quote is excerpt­ed acknowl­edges the chal­lenges of becom­ing aware of the pre­sen­ta­tion of new oppor­tu­ni­ties to let wis­dom find us:

    When one door clos­es, anoth­er opens, but we often look so long and so regret­ful­ly upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

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