Sunday, March 9, 2014

Extra Super High Priority

I had the privilege of addressing a diverse group of individuals over the past week.  In Gold Coast Australia, my friend and colleague Christine McDougall invited a group of about 40 to conversation on the nature of human enterprise.  In Chicago, Professor Leo Burke asked me to be a guest lecturer for the Notre Dame University Mendoza School of Business Executive MBA students’ weekend session.  Honoring the promise I made arising from my contempt for professors during my academic training who offered tired lectures on lifeless subject matter in robotic monotony, each presentation was entirely unique.  Different stories, different themes, and different arguments all arriving at the same core message: humanity is in need of an operating paradigm based on abundance rather than scarcity.

Following both presentations, I had the delight of chatting with several in both gatherings regarding the arc of the material covered – time, geography, disciplines – and found myself puzzling over the use of hyperbolic terminology to describe the narrative of my ordinary life.  Now, let me be clear.  I have been fortunate to be exposed to, and interact with, a broad swath of humanity in diverse settings.  I value the experiences I’ve had and the wonderful people who have enriched them in so many instances.  But my life has followed a singular and simple directive – I go where I’m invited and engage fully wherever that is.  This does not constitute an extraordinary, superhuman, transcendent experience but rather an integrated and full experience of life.

Hyperbole in the description of the human experience seems to imply another malignancy in the cancer of the scarcity paradigm.  Think about it.  On the History Channel (yes, I’ve been exposed to the Inflight Entertainment on the Star Alliance network), “ancient astronomical theorists” postulate about the influence of ‘extra’ terrestrial intelligence.  Human potential enthusiasts extol the possibility of ‘super’ human performance.  Religious adherents obsess about ‘transcendence’ to variously motivate or threaten consequence in the moment.  In fact, “After all, he’s / she’s only human” serves as the aphorism to describe behavior unbecoming of societal norms.  Paradoxically, our inspirational and aspirational distractions – retreats, seminars, revivals, etc – which are organized around escaping consensus monotony, seek to regress ‘transcendence’ to a common formula.  “We all” have brokenness, shadows, issues, sin, separation, unresolved conflicts and therefore, “we all” need explanation, adaptation, acceptance, or transformation.  We’re encouraged to marvel at “ancient” megaliths and are asked to ponder “how these extraordinary fetes could have been performed without modern tools?”  Last time I checked, ‘modern’ tools are worthless in cutting and stacking stones the size of school buses with interlocking precision.  It must have been ‘extraterrestrials’!

Now why do I associate hyperbolic expressions of the human experience with scarcity?  The answer is both mathematical and philosophical (which are, in fact, one in the same).  First, the math.  As I’ve addressed in numerous posts before this one, our adherence to regression (the notion that we can isolate metrics that can be placed on probabilistic linear models or can be distributed within a bell curve) is predicated on two fallacies.  First, that we know what is measurable and can in fact measure ‘it’.  Second, that our consent to “the measured” is a reflection of our capacity to fit ‘it’ to normative data.  Neither of these fallacious assumptions are ever tested.  Worse still, they strive to simplify into ‘manageable’ fragmented dimensions that which is complex and essential.  But the bigger issue – the one that reinforces our model of scarcity – is that outliers and the unexplained are measured by their failure to conform to our regressed illusion rather than invited to suggest the vast dimensions for which our metrics serve no descriptive or predictive purpose.  At the frontier of DNA-explained life is 97% “junk DNA”.  At the edge of the vast expanse of the physical sciences is over 95% unexplained “dark matter”.  Our confidence in what is known (less than 5% of our universe) is indicted by the pejorative dismissal of the unknown with terms like “dark” and “junk”.  Which would suggest that it is reasonable to conclude that we’re a long way from fully knowing present reality and even further from any form of transcendence.  We see, as it were, through a glass darkly, and fail to realize that behind all the smudges and the dirt is not reality but the silver we’ve placed to reflect our own illusions back to us. 

Rather than confronting our self-imposed limitations and our own constraints, cleaning the glass and removing the mirrors that we’ve constructed, we coalesce into a huddled horde seeking escape from our own limitations.  All the while, we fail to recognize that fully human ecosystems beckon from all around us but, as they are abundantly unfamiliar, we fail to heed their invitation.  And in the rare instance that we might seek a broader, more unconstrained experience, we huddle into small group experiences and construct elaborate fantasies of the “super” the “extra” and the “trans”. 

I am a mortal (not a “mere” mortal).  I am human (not “super-human”).  In gratitude, I thrive in a universe of opportunities and challenges which alloy my metal and sharpen my blade.  Are there numerous personal attributes in my life that I could refine or purify?  Absolutely.  But even this process – manifest in persistent action – is perfect in its messiness.  After all, perfection – maligned as an aspirational ideal or delegated to the divine – was the Latin concept for complete.  And recognizing the reality of perfection – the completion of all that is required to continually refine, render more elegant, and manifest with greater sensitivity and beauty – we can liberate ourselves from the sirens of superficial, scarce transition and fall into the loving gravitational embrace of ordinary abundance. 

Have a perfectly ordinary day with perfectly ordinary people doing perfectly attainable, amazing things!

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave