The possibility of disappointment, even failure, increases whenever I pursue impossibles. I shouldn’t have to remind myself to check for impossibility before starting a project, but I seem to almost always forget. I might be so blinded by the glimmer streaming off my bright, shiny objective that I flat-out forget to confirm the likelihood that there might possibly be a there over there where I swear I’m going. When there’s no there there, I’m not really gonna get anywhere, no matter how caring my intentions.

One of the great pitfalls involves the whole-hearted pursuit of change. This often occurs in groups, when someone whips folks into enough of a frenzy that they temporarily lose their minds, convinced that they might reasonably, for instance, change their culture. Whatever the anticipated need or the imagined benefits derived from this kind of effort, success seems slim, though this one might (I said might) be destined to become the precedent-setting first instance of successful culture changing registered in history so-far; but probably not.

Contrary to popular misconception, culture changing never works, though trying to change culture often makes the sort of difference commonly catalogued under Unintended Consequences.

Why culture change doesn’t work might be simple to explain but infinitely more difficult to understand. If I asked myself to define culture, how might I respond? The slippery slope starts here. The very best definition I’ve stumbled across, thanks to anthropologist Dani Weinberg, claims that culture is what we do when we don’t think we’re doing anything. If culture exists completely within the pre-conscious, how might I go about changing it? And what would I replace it with?

More properly, I might choose to change something I’m capable of being conscious of. This alone could increase the likelihood of success, but where might I search for such a thing? Many of the most popular goals cannot be consciously envisioned. Anything involving the pursuit of efficiency, maximization, optimization, improvement—particularly of the unconditional superlative variety: best, most, superior, exceptional, etc.—qualifies as a priori impossible. These kinds of objectives stir the heart while mummifying the mind, rendering stupid even the best-intended.

Much of our language exists as a kind of shorthand, encapsulating great complexity within small symbols. Expanding these symbols exposes underlying complexity, producing babble; popularly referred to as ‘opening a can of worms’. Nobody makes a difference without opening some cans of worms, though nobody ever really wants to see, much less swallow, what they’ll find inside those cans.

Our hearts desire impossibilities. We thrive on promise. We ache for passionate pursuits which seem certain to break our hearts. Who doesn’t want to make a difference?

Perhaps I should stop aching for change and simply start making differences. What sort of difference might yield a real difference? I could simply check for impossibility. That change I’m aching for might be no more than a natural response to feeling stymied in an old status quo, a difference deficit requiring no change at all. Perhaps change, real change, is a derivative of difference, and produceable only as a bi-product of another more reliably possible process.

Instead of imagining grand schemes, I might seek the smallest imaginable difference, and make that first. A pebble might start a landslide. Moving mountains means finding someplace to move those mountains to, even if gravity’s working with you.

©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus