Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The time to take action is now.

Arnold Toynbee, in A Study of History, wrote about the role of challenges in creating greatness. He said, “Man achieves civilization as a response to a challenge in a situation of special difficulty which rouses him to make a hitherto unprecedented effort.” A sudden crushing defeat in war can be just the impetus a society needs to set its house in order. “People occupying frontier positions, exposed to constant attack, achieve a more brilliant development that their neighbors in more sheltered positions.” However, even when a society has mastered great challenges, such as when the Ottoman Empire reached its fullest expansion, it can sometimes decay because of “a fatal rigidity.” So the areas we fear most, those that tend to develop a fatal rigidity in us, may just be those that hold the greatest promise of transformation.

Humans are intuitive and flexible and each one of us is unique. Most people are more social than solitary. How we view today can make a big difference in what happens tomorrow. “The present,” philosopher Gottfried Leibniz once said, “is pregnant with the future.” Thinking too much about tomorrow can insulate us from the reality of today where the real nature of the future is often shaped. It’s prudent not just to look ahead, but to do our best to make sure what we do in the moment at hand is fruitful as well.

Most people are comfortable with the attitudes they developed and the tools they learned before they were 25-years old. A person’s personality is generally formed rather early and then tends to be relatively stable for life. Although people can and do acquire new skills and knowledge triggering significantly new behaviors, central tendencies such as being extroverted or introverted, for example, are likely to persist. Our first instinct in the face of obstacles is to escape, to go somewhere else where it will hopefully be different. Another alternative is to rebel and intentionally break the rules. To fulfill our potential, we must acknowledge our personal contribution in creating our problems and summon up the courage to act authentically in the face of disapproval.

Being clear about our doubts increases our credibility with others. When you stop getting better, you stop being good. People often act with detachment and deny their feelings as a way of dealing with anxiety. According to Paula Poundstone, the reason adults are always asking children what they want to be when they grow up is because they’re looking for ideas. However, every measure to reduce uncertainties of one kind tends to foster uncertainties of another kind.

In today’s get rich, get successful quick society, people are programmed to believe there must be a right way for everything if only we could lay our hands on it. We're often at our most creative when we're trying to avoid the very changes that creativity offers. Some people’s idea of change when times get tough is, “Doing more is better. Hunch over and pull harder.” But rowing harder doesn’t help if your boat is headed in the wrong direction.

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