Monday, June 9, 2014

Thinking Small-ish

I was recently critiqued for thinking "too big".  My activities apparently exist on a scale that is "too big" to understand.  This assessment was most intriguing as it came from a person specializing in leadership.  As I reflected on this assessment, I found myself entering a rather intriguing vortex of inquiry. 

It's become fashionable to speak in hyperbole in Occidental business and civil society circles.  We're the "most connected generation in human history"; "unprecedented in our capacity to collaborate"; participants in "unrivaled opportunities to collaborate and co-create"; and our linear self aggrandizement rolls on.  When we contribute to a collective effort, our tendency is to grossly exaggerate our contribution (and its associated entitled reward).  Our "global private wealth" is greater than it's ever been according to a recent study by McKinsey with more millionaires than ever before.  Models of the Nobel Prize winning "Commons" celebrate the "longest running commons of the sea" and the "Charter of the Forest" as evidence of near eternal scale monuments to our capacity to organize great societal artifacts.  Our accepted ontological egos seem to be quite happy embracing "too big" when it comes to applauding our apparent advancement.

Like the peacock for whom displays of plumage create the illusion of vitality and grandeur on what is in fact a rather scrawny bird, I would like to suggest that the use of linear projections of "most", "greatest", "first time in human history" assertions is a thinly veiled admission of the terror of being infinitesimally irrelevant and small in all likelihood.  Fueled by our intuitive recognition of diminution of consequence and purpose we seek to inflate our delusional status at considerable personal and social peril.

Let's examine this a bit more closely.  I recently encountered an argument asserting that Christians out perform all other faiths in establishing institutions of mutual aid and civil benefit.  Devoid of any basis for this assertion save the carefully selected empirical evidence of U.S. records of donations through charitable organizations - already a biased sample - the argument was presented to reinforce a particular predisposition of its proponent.  What I found interesting was the abject failure of the argument to include the faith / religion called "The State" or the faiths and religions which, because of their ubiquitous assimilation into culture don't count as faith or religion.  While I'll certainly grant that there are numerous church affiliated hospitals in the U.S. (obviously the only place the assertion needs confirmation in a world of 7 billion), I wondered how many ashrams in India have fed the hungry, treated the sick, and cared for the ailing in the thousands of years before a certain itinerant prophet wandered the hills of Galilee and was patronized by a sword wielding Emperor a few hundred years later.  I wondered how many roads (human connection for societal formation and trade), aqueducts (public health and food security), and schools were built by tyrants and democrats alike - all relying upon the surrogated belief in hierarchical structures and faith in government.  And while those who subscribe to the notion of charity are certainly entitled to their motivations - the idea that comparative charity is relevant is divisive and unnecessary.

We're not more connected because we have social media.  Was Thomas Jefferson more connected to the world with his capacity to travel to France, speak French, read Greek, Hebrew and Arabic, then any iPad wielding blogger today?  Father Sorin - the founder of the University of Notre Dame - was capable of transatlantic relationship-building unaided by "Like" buttons on social media.  The Yongle Empire of China's 14-15th century mandate to share "all known knowledge" in flotillas equipped with libraries were more careful than Google in aggregation and dissemination of knowledge.  The Komgi in East New Britain who can listen to the movement of life in the sea from a rock atop a high mountain have been "wired" to the Earth for 40,000 years.  They perfected a commons-based economy that was over 30,000 years old before the civilization that would millennia later concoct the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest even settled the isles.

I think that our consensus position is to think small because we know that we've been in retrograde for a long time.  Thinking small is reinforced by dogma and faith that goes as far as to denigrate wisdom (labeling its aspiration "original sin") and pronounces that the "wisdom of the world" cannot fathom the divine.  Thinking small is rewarded by powerful incumbencies that want to cow humanity into narrow chutes in the abattoirs of labor-rent consumption.  Incremental minutia is celebrated as "invention" while quantum inquiry is suppressed and marginalized. 

But here's the irony.  I find that all the people I meet who advocate for thinking and acting "small" actually are overwhelmed with how many constraints they need to keep in their awareness.  In fact, the smaller one thinks and acts, the more likely it is that hyper-acuity attends fear of position, failure, scarcity, and extinction.  Far from small, the "small" thinker and "small" actor is constantly bombarded with messages of limitations and is more busied and distracted than I've ever been.  When I want to solve a national or global challenge, I spend less cognitive effort than I observe in the intricacy attendant to a conversation on someone's cousin's chemotherapy or a cat with diabetes.  I think that "thinking small" is actually maddening in its regressive complexity.  I think that acting incrementally and small involves rejecting a myriad of bests and nows for the exasperation of serial tedium.  The analgesic for the mental pain: hyperbolic statements of being the best, most advanced, and superior!

Nonsense.  Our world needs people who are willing to take bold action at a relentless pace.  We need audacity to animate ourselves from our collective coma inflicted by the constant pounding of conformity.  The greatest challenge facing humanity at present is to have the courage to open the aperture of our awareness to see that the ever-present unfolding of reality always conscripts us to engage to our fullest potential and if we rise to the challenge, the rewards are incalculable!


  1. I think they fear self knowledge and the vulnerability that is ultimately found there. To the degree that one is able to do this opens the door to the actual experience of no difference between myself and another. What I do to you I do to me. Sure there are differences but on levels that make life interesting bringing diversity . But at the core levels , life foundations we are the same. This is where a meeting can be had and bonds built.
    Those who live at periphery see only the differences in manifestations , never having gone to the depths of oneself are completely unaware of their source and therefore unable to see it in the other. They are not acquainted with their own heart. Obstacles seem insurmountable in the periphery of flatland where dreams only extend as far as trinkets and baubles.
    You scare them David, because you bring another reality that dares them to really plumb the depths.
    They say you think too big ! They haven't seen nothing yet!


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