All of us crave order. We want B to follow after A, and when we end up somewhere else, it throws things totally out of whack for us.
In case you haven’t noticed—our world has descended into chaos—terrorist cells, heavily armed and fueled by rage and ideology are visiting death upon American journalists and pain and loss on those who don’t share their twisted view of the world. People of color daring to push back against racist police in an American city are met with a militarized response and tone-deafness from the white power structure and law enforcement that no longer seems interested in safeguarding the people they are pledged to serve, or the property that we know that they exist to protect. It’s brute force with a 21st century military twist.
I heard a story on NPR yesterday, while driving back from Rangeley, on how ISIS (or, ISIL, as the president insists on calling them) is especially sophisticated in using social media in communicating, both spreading their message and also using it as a recruitment tool. The US military and our intelligence community, while aware of this for quite some time, can’t seem to orient a response to it given our own multiple layers of bureaucracy. A case in point—using Twitter demands a spontaneity and savvy that’s impossible to achieve, when you have to run a tweet through 27 other people before you can post it on Twitter. And beyond that, our military leaders, continuing in a 20th century vein, are unable to come to terms with a decentralized, leaderless insurgency that also happens to be heavily armed (thanks in large part to our own military-industrial complex ways), and the immediate response is the same old “bomb them back to the stone-age” mindset.
White power, firmly ensconced now for decades in places like Ferguson, refuses to give up that power and control. Protestors, using protest tactics common for the past 40 years—marching up and down, holding signs and chanting—is ineffective when met with a hyper-militarized response that isn’t meted out in a 1:1 fashion.
I find it interesting that two weeks ago, my friend (and mentor), Emily, mentioned the name, Meg Wheatley. She indicated that in her circles, Wheatley’s latest book has been generating a great deal of buzz about her theories relative to organizational dynamics. While I fully intend to pick it up and read it, in the interim, I looked for other titles of hers during my last research stop at the Maine State Library.
They had a copy of Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, her prior book from 2006. It’s been the perfect read for me over the past week, in light of both Ferguson, and the recent murder of journalist, James Foley.
Wheatley comes to her organizational hypotheses as a scientist and through the lens of science. Interestingly, I’m not really scientifically inclined—I never did very well in my biology and physics classes in high school. However, her talent and abilities as a writer and a communicator clearly elucidate what she’s trying to convey and helps her crystallize those ideas.
She makes the point that we live in a world that’s constructed based upon 17th century Newtonian scientific concepts—what is essentially a mechanistic understanding of our world and the events occurring. Wheatley, basing her ideas on what she calls “the new science,” which is basically, quantum theory, articulates that we must get used to a world where paradoxes predominate and often prevail. It’s a world of probability, without the ability to predict with a 100 percent certainty. Yet, we remain locked in the grips of a bureaucratic framework, with a religious fixation on quantitative vs. qualitative data, and a belief that a knight is waiting just offstage, who will ride in on a white horse and save us. We’re waiting for Godot, and Godot is nowhere to be found.
We live in a strange world—one that’s only going to get stranger. We can hold onto the old ways that no longer work—or we can push forward and embrace a new understanding and worldview.
What might embracing a new paradigm/worldview entail?
- Getting comfortable with uncertainty.
- Appreciate the key role that chaos plays in our own self-discovery.
- Understand that things aren’t always as we see them (our lens is faulty); we have to learn to see the whole, rather than disparate parts.
- Learn to trust others and value relationships because they help us see our way forward, and the bigger picture. In fact (according to Wheatley), relationships are all there is.
I might add that finding our way forward also requires people coming together, especially locally. Avoid those people and things that are set on dividing us along traditional lines like race, class, politics, religion, and all other mechanistic means of sorting human beings. These boxes prevent us from visualizing reality.