Let the journey begin…
This is the story of John. A guy that goes to work everyday and does his best to be relevant. A guy that cares about his company and everyone inside it, he works extra hours and keeps his head down. A guy who is respected and who always finds a solution for any problem. A guy with ambition. He wants to succeed, NO, he NEEDS to succeed.
John was facing his first big challenge, a challenge so big that he was not able to sleep for nights. Let’s call it Problem X for the sake of this story. He was exhausted and was about to give up. As with any other story, just before this happened, he remembered an old friend of his: Martha. They grew together since they were little but felt apart after the University. Martha studied philosophy and developed a career as an advisor for big tech companies. She was so successful that she decided to retire early and move to Nature.
If someone could help John, it would be Martha. She was his last hope.
Monday — Observe your environment
John spent the whole weekend packing, he was nervous. Martha lived in a private residence in the middle of a well-known forest. He took his car and drove for around 8 hours. It was an exhausting trip but finally he made it.
It was an old house, painted in blue. It was the typical house of small-town tranquility where one could enjoy a warm meal and forget about their problems. Martha was waiting in front of it. She had the biggest smile possible.
“John, I ‘m so happy to see you, it’s been a while,” said Martha.
“Hi Martha, It is so nice to see you. I missed you so much.” replied John.
Martha and John hugged, they went inside the house and talked for many hours about their past, their experiences and things they had missed for years. When finally the night came. John decided to tell her about his problem.
“Martha, I need your help, I have a big problem at my company and I know you can help me.”
“Could you tell me a little bit about the environment surrounding your problem?” said Martha.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“Well, is this a problem in an environment that has so many connections and changing possibilities that made it impossible to understand? A problem that would be impossible to gather all data because it changes constantly?” asked Martha.
“Well, I don’t know.” John was confused. “ I think there are many possibilities and the data changes but why is this important? Shouldn’t I just tell you about the problem?”
“What you should know is that depending on the environment of your problem, you will need a different approach. It’s important to determine in which domain you currently are.”
“Ok, I trust that you know what you are talking about. Are there many types of domains?”
“There are a few, but to make it easier I would divide them in two domains: the ordered and the complex domain.”
“What is an ordered domain?” John was confused.
“An ordered domain is a domain in which you can be sure that something is caused by something else, and that it will always be like that. It’s a domain where there is predictability, where you can analyse and categorise things. There is repetition. It could be as simple as building something with legos or as difficult as building a car. If you have the instructions you can build the same car several times and you always know what you need and when you need it. Or think about programming, you need to have the right instructions for the program to compile: IF you write X THEN you can get Y. You get it?”
“Well yes, it sounds quite obvious. Ok, then. How do I approach problems in an ordered domain?”
“When you encounter a problem in an ordered domain you can search for experts to help you. You can analyse, investigate, draw conclusions. You can try to predict and measure things. It’s a domain in which you know you can obtain the same result if you apply the same initial conditions.”
“What about the complex domain, what can you tell me about it?”
“There is a lot to tell you about the complex domain, but in general it’s an environment that has so many agents, connections and interactions changing constantly, that is impossible to understand completely. Prediction, Forecast, Cause and Effect relationship are of not use in this domain.”
“Interesting, ok so I need to know first where my problem is, in which domain it is, in order to work on it right? Do you have any tips? I’m new in this.”
“Sure! Let’s see if the problem fits in the complex domain. You can start by asking yourself if the actors interacting in the system change constantly, if the environment is also changing constantly, or if they both change each other.”
“How can an actor and the environment change each other?” he said.
“Think about bringing a baby in a room full of people that love babies. The baby will change the people inside the room, they might feel joy and excitement when they see the baby and this reaction of the people will also modify the baby. If the baby changes (by crying for example after seeing so many people) the people will change again. It’s a circle in which everything is changing continuously.”
“Mmm ok, I get it so I think this is the case for my problem, the external factors are changing everyday and people are involved and I guess they also change based on it. So Yes, I can say my problem is in the complex domain.”
“Great, then we can start thinking about how to deal with problems in a complex domain”
“Ok, do you think we can find a solution to my problem?”
“It will be a challenge, since working in a complex domain needs you to think differently.”
“How different?” John asked.
“Well, first of all, in a complex domain you can not analyse all the information. There are so many interactions and changing things, that there is no central point of information. So you need to work with incomplete data.”
“Ok, I’m kind of a perfectionist but I think i can work with that, is that all?” John said while smiling.
“The second thing is that the system is constantly influenced by many external factors as well. This means there are no identical systems, and therefore you can not apply a solution used in another system into it and expect it to work.”
“Ouch that seems hard, but it makes sense, I have been applying several solutions from other companies and nothing seems to work.”
“Exactly! And then the third thing. This is that once you apply something new, the system will change and you will not be able to rollback. You will need to find new ideas in a system that has changed.”
“It will be like starting over, after I try something? I might never be able to find a solution to my problem. You just found the way to make me super depressed.”
“It’s true, it’s changing constantly but don’t get discouraged. It’s difficult and it’s different, but it’s possible to do something about it! Let’s use the analogy of a boat. See the system like a boat; it moves and follows a direction but it can change anytime. It can not stay in one place in the sea. And it can not roll back to the same situation because the water changed. The water and the boat are constantly moving. But even in those conditions we learned to navigate right?”
“That’s true. What is the secret then?” he said.
“It’s funny, but actually the main secret is to let it go! To listen, trust nature and trust yourself.”
“That’s crazy, how is that possible” John paused. “Wait don’t tell me I think it’s too much for today, let’s talk about this tomorrow. I still need to reflect a lot about these two domains.”
“All right, see you tomorrow” said Martha while heading towards her room.
Tuesday — Listen to nature and yourself
Tuesday was a windy day. There was some sort of music coming from the dance between leaves and the cold air which created a wonderful atmosphere for thinking and reflexion. John was excited.
“Hi Martha, good morning. let’s continue our conversation from yesterday please.”
“Hi John, you look fresh and ready. Do you mind following me? I have something special for you.”
Martha took John to the backyard where she had prepared breakfast for him: bread, eggs, fruits, juice. Everything looked delicious.
“This is amazing,” said John. “I can’t believe you did this. Thank you.”
“Don’t worry about it John, let’s continue our talk from yesterday, what do you remember from then?”
“All right, as far as I remember, I need first to understand my current domain in order to deal with my problems. Depending on the domain I should proceed in different ways. You showed me some properties of two of them and I found out that my current problem might be in the complex domain. Today you were going to tell me how to deal with it. You mentioned that the secret is to let go, listen, trust nature and myself.”
“That is a really detailed overview of what we talked about!” said Martha while smiling. “Indeed, dealing with complexity is something that we as humans have learned in our history. It’s in our nature, it’s part of us. It’s just that we stop listening to ourselves, we stop listening to nature (some people call it ‘life’) and we start trying to control things.”
“It sounds interesting but I don’t get it, do you have an example?” John asked.
“Sure, let’s think of one together. Can you remember a situation in which you had a big problem and you were really worried about it?”
“Mmm a couple of months ago my dog escaped from my home. I was really worried and I wanted to find him. Is this a good example?”
“Yes it is. So what was the question that you wanted to answer at that moment?”
“Question? You mean the problem?”
“Yes it’s about the problem, but it’s good if you formulate it as a question.”
“Mmm, the question would be: How to get my dog back?”
“Ok, and what did you do?”
“I told my family, I shared it on Facebook, I went outside and went to the places we usually go to see if he was there.”
“So, is it ok to say that you didn’t know exactly what the answer to your question was?”
“You could say that, I was desperate.”
“And could we also say that you were focusing on your question?”
“Yes, I was really focused on finding my dog and I was trying everything possible to make it happen.”
“Did you try one option after the other?”
“Obviously not, I did everything in parallel. As I told you I was desperate and wanted to find him.”
“And what happened then?”
“Apparently someone saw the dog in the street and they picked it up and took it home. After that, they saw the picture of my dog in a group called “lost dogs” which is weird because I didn’t post it there. I guess one of my contacts put it there.”
“Would you say it was pure luck?”
“I think it was luck but also if I had not posted it then maybe I would have never found it.”
“So, could we agree that what you did worked this time, but it might not work next time?”
“Yes, there are so many conditions that had to happen for this case to go like this. Nevertheless if it happens again I will post it in that group just in case.”
“All right. Now let’s try to use this example to understand things better. Let’s assume that instead of following your instincts and using your desperation to search for alternatives you would have spent time trying to search for the best solution.”
“What do you mean?” asked John.
“Let’s imagine that you would have had to sit down, analyse, categorise and evaluate the best way to find your dog. Imagine you had called people that are experts in searching for dogs, maybe read some articles about the best way to do it. Maybe spent time thinking about efficient ways to search your dog. Or to create a perfect message on Facebook.”
“That would have taken a lot of time. And I was feeling pressured, I was not able to keep calm to spend time reading. Also by doing that maybe I would have lost my window of opportunity.”
“Would you say that analysing, evaluating possible solutions and then finding the best one would have brought a huge cost to pay?”
“You could say that. Timing was really important.”
“And, how did you come up with your ideas to find your dog?”
“First by myself and then I asked my family and one person recommended me to put it on Facebook and another one told me to go and search for it around the corner. The more I asked this question to myself or others the more options I found.”
“Exactly, you were not focusing on finding the best option. You were focusing on bringing as many options as possible and you didn’t spend too much time analysing them. Your mind was open and you were constantly AWARE. If you had only focused on only one possibility not only could you have wasted valuable time, but you would have lost focus on other possibilities or, in other words, focus on the evolutionary potential of the present.”
“This is pretty interesting. I was really focused and aware of what was happening, I was sharing my problem or as you said my question with other people and trying a lot of solutions.”
“That’s true but i wouldn’t call them solutions. I would call them experiments, since you were not sure which one will work, or even if any of them would work. Without noticing you created experiments with two properties: coherent and safe-to-fail.”
“What is the meaning of coherent?”
“You could say experiments that made sense. You heard stories from other people, you used your own logic, etcetera.”
“Ok, what about safe-to-fail?”
“By having several experiments and making them independent, it didn’t matter if one didn’t work. You only needed one of them to work. So each one was safe to fail. Just imagine if you had put all your money in one experiment I guess that wouldn’t be really safe to fail.”
“Ok, so you are saying that by staying in the question and by doing independent coherent and safe-to-fail experiments I was able to solve my problem? And I did this without noticing?”
“Yes, I believe that human beings are really good at managing complexity, we have it in us already. But something happens during our education, or maybe due to the media, and we get separated from our nature and we start doing weird things such as trying to control and predict everything.”
“Yes, I understand. Ok but this problem was kind of easy to understand. It was about finding my dog but the problem in my current company is harder even to describe it. How should I approach it?”
“Let’s talk about this tomorrow. I think we still have time and a fresh night of sleep will help us to see things clearer.”
“All right, see you tomorrow” said John. He was not happy to have to wait until tomorrow but he thought a good night of sleep could help him digest everything.”
Wednesday — Search and stay in your Question
A beautiful morning, the sun shining and a wonderful sound of the river close to the cabin. John and Marta meet outside in a big wooden table. The coffee is ready to be served.
“Hi John, how did you sleep?”
“Hi Martha, it was fine I guess but I couldn’t really relax. I really need a solution for my problem.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” said Martha while pouring two cups of coffee. “Well, if finding a solution for your problem will help you then let’s get right on it!” Martha smiled at him. “Yesterday you told me that you are sure that you are in a complex environment.”
“Yes.” said John. He smiled back.
“We also talked about your experience with your dog and how you were able to manage your problem.”
“True.” John took a sip of his coffee.
“And then you told me that even though in that example it was easy to understand why your approach worked, in your company it seems not so clear right?”
“Exactly. I would not even know how to start.”
“Right. So you may remember that we talked about formulating the problems as a question.”
“Yes, I didn’t know why but I guess you will explain it to me now.”
“Well, identifying the main question is extremely difficult and it creates a lot of confusion. The main difficulty is that we jump directly to solutions and we forget to think even about the main question.”
“Could you give me another example please?” asked John.
“Don’t worry, let me think of a good example. Actually one story comes to my mind that will help. There was a team in a small company, where some people were complaining about their manager. Apparently this man would scream at everyone and would force them to work extra time. He was always blaming others and never admitting his mistakes. Well, all of this according to some people in the team.”
“That is really bad, people usually can’t be productive in that kind of environment. Did someone talk to him?”
“Yes they did. They asked him to be nice, to be transparent and honest. But it didn’t work. I think they even complained to his boss, but he did absolutely nothing about it.”
“Wow that is really bad.”
“Every day the team tried to improve the situation. Which questions do you think the team was trying to solve?”
“Mmm I would say: How to stop him from yelling? How to convince him that being nice will improve the team? How to convince him to be more transparent and honest?”
“Yes, some of those were the questions that they would ask. But if you look at the questions closely, you would see that all of them are actually solutions in the form of questions.”
“Are you sure?”
“In each question there is an assumption: if he yells less then I will be more productive. If he is nice we will be a better team. If he is transparent we will have a better atmosphere.”
“But those are not assumptions, those are facts. Those have been demonstrated.”
“If those were facts then you would not be in a complex environment. Remember that in this environment there are many possible results: maybe the manager will not scream but he might decide to fire people, or because he is not screaming at the team, another person will. Or maybe he will lose his interest in the project. Just keep thinking and imagining and all those results are possible.”
“I see. I would like to believe that if he stops screaming our job will be better. But you are right. There are so many things connected that many different things could actually happen.”
“Exactly. It’s understandable that his behaviour is really bothering everyone, and the team wants to stop it. But the real issue here is that by focusing on the question: “How to stop him from yelling”, they are losing focus or AWARENESS of the potential of the present.”
“And what could that potential be?”
“In this case It could be to have a team that can reach their goal.”
“You mean the question could be: “How can our team reach our goal?”
“Yes, or, “How to create a high performance team?” Or any other global goal with a bigger scope.”
“Ok, but the behaviour of the boss is actually disturbing the team.”
“That is true, and one of the experiments could be to work with him so that he becomes nicer. However, it will be part of a series of experiments and not the focus of everything. It could happen that another experiment unrelated to the manager makes him change his behaviour. Like in the example of your dog.”
“So what you are saying is that we usually get distracted with other “questions” and therefore we lose awareness of what is really important?”
“Exactly. I had a cousin whose parents were obsessed with him eating too much candy, and they focused on that the whole time. They completely forgot about their main question or goal: How to have a healthy life for their son? There are many ways to work on that: exercise, mediation, games, reducing anxiety, etc. But they forgot about the main question and focused on the question that is actually an experiment: How to stop our son from eating candy?”
“But that is a good experiment, eating candies is terrible.”
“Sure it’s not healthy, but then your world becomes extremely small. Now all that the parents do revolves around the candies. They lose the awareness of other things about their child. Instead of one hour of spending time with him playing, learning or discovering, they use that hour for telling him why candies are bad, for example.”
“I think I got your point. By focusing on the candies, they are forgetting about other possibilities for their son.”
“Yes, that is why the question that you choose to focus on is really important.”
“Ok, I think I got it, I need to be really careful on the question that I decide to focus on. I have to be careful that I do not focus on a question that will make me blind to the possibilities that can emerge. And if I understood you correctly most of the time unconsciously I might do it and I will focus on a solution instead of a more generic question like how do I help my kid have a good quality life?”
“Yes. The question will determine your focus. This will help you create experiments and know if what is currently happening is what you want or not. You are being AWARE and you might be able to intervene.”
“Interesting. Ok, too much for today Martha, do you want me to help you with something for dinner?”
“Yes, let’s go out and find some wood. Some nice fire under the stars will be nice for us to relax.”
“Let’s do it!”
Thursday- Prepare for an adventure!
On the next day, Martha and John woke up early and decided to go for a walk. The flower’s fragrance filled the whole field making a wonderful morning. The air was cool, gently stroking their faces and hair. It was another perfect day for relaxing and talking.
“So John, How is your week so far? is this what you were imagining before you came?”
“It is amazing. The nature, the animals, everything here is so nice and calm. I now understand why you decided to move her.”
“It is indeed a wonderful place to be, you are welcome to come any time.”
“Well don’t mind if I do. So shall we?”
“Do you want to continue while we have our breakfast?”
“Yes please, I checked my notes and I have been trying to use what I learned so far to see how I can use it in my company.”
“That is nice to hear! So what do you have so far?”
“Sure, this is what I got, please tell me if this makes sense: Could we say that the problem at my company is a behaviour that came from the interactions in the system?”
“Mmm yes, I think you could say that.”
“Ok, so I just need to change the interactions and this behaviour might disappear?”
“You could also say that.”
“Then, how do I find the interactions that are causing this pattern?”
“That is a tough question. And I have some bad news and some good news here. The bad news is that there are so many interactions and factors, that I would say it’s impossible to find the interactions causing this pattern.”
“Oh that is bad, what is the good news?”
“Well, the good news is that you don’t really need to find them! As you are in a complex environment, you know that there are so many interactions that it’s impossible to find which one of them is causing it. So what you can do is forget about that entirely and focus on the direction that you want to go. Or in other words: the question that you want to navigate.”
“Could you elaborate a little bit more. It’s hard to grasp.”
“Sure. Let’s make it easier. Prepare for an adventure. Your mission is to discover a new direction for your company. Just to help us visualise it, let’s say it will be a mission at sea!”
“Mission at the sea?”
“Yes, the question that you choose will set the direction of your adventure. To keep with the idea of the sea let’s imagine your question will be: “What is out there, is there a better place to live, are there new plants or animals to discover?” You will send several boats in different directions to try to find out what is out there. You don’t know what will be discovered and you don’t even know what is the correct direction to go.”
“Similar to what I did to find my dog?”
“Exactly. But this time you are doing it consciously.”
“Alright, so if I understand correctly those little boats represent experiments, right?”
“And each one has to be coherent and safe-to-fail right?”
“Yes, I think you got it pretty good.”
“Ok, ok this is getting interesting. What do I do now? Do I just need to wait?”
“Well you didn’t wait when you searched for your dog right?. You kept focusing on the question and you got a lot of new ideas. At the same time you were monitoring what was happening with your experiments.”
“Do I really need to monitor all experiments?”
“During each of your boat’s quests, they might have problems. They might face storms, sickness or technical problems with the boat. But they might also find interesting things that seem to go in the direction that you would like. If the boats are in that direction, then you can tell them to move forward (maybe you could send even more resources) and if not you can tell them to come back or go into another direction.”
“This sounds pretty promising. Please let me think about it. I think this will help me a lot to solve my problems.”
“Al right, let’s talk tomorrow.”
Friday — What if my company does not support me?
Friday finally arrived. Two more days to go and John would need to leave. He was excited, in four days he had learned so much. His hand was hurting from all the notes he took the night before. But it was worth it. He saw Martha in the kitchen, he decided to approach her.
“Hi Martha, good morning”
“Good morning John, are you ready to continue?”
“Yes, I was thinking about your idea of experiments, staying in the question and trying things in parallel but I now think that is actually not possible. I can not send several boats, my company will not experiment things. If I justify it correctly I might send one boat so It has to be the best one.”
“You’re right. So let’s be realistic. It could be that the company allows only one boat and let’s assume this is an incoherent one. Now, only if you remain in the question and do not assume that this boat will find the answer (or you might lose awareness) you will be able to find other ways to deal with the issue. Just think about some policies in your company. I’m sure you can find some restricting ones. But if you go deep and ask around, you will certainly find people who have found ways to deal with them and navigate into the direction they wanted.”
“Are you then saying that I should ignore the company policy and do my own way of working? That would be chaotic and dangerous.”
“I don’t think you should go against the company’s policy or ignore it. On the contrary, you should accept it as part of your context. To continue with our metaphor, you could see it as weather: the policy could be a storm or a sunny day. In both cases you need to navigate and do some experimentation while paying attention to what is happening.”
“What if the policy is so strict that I can not navigate?”
“Let’s assume the company policy is so strong like a terrible storm. It’s so strong that you can not move your boat where you want. If we go back to your dog example, imagine you don’t have internet access and you don’t have family or friends to support you. The system is so restrictive that you can not find a lot of options and at some point it explodes. The system needed connections and ways to reorganise to be able to cope with the environment but it was not possible.”
“So this means that my problem could not be solved?”
“Yes, it is a possibility.”
“Is there something I can do to help?”
“Well, as you saw if you have a system that is too restrictive it will be difficult to find even experiments. What you could do is to help the system to become more resilient and flexible.”
“How do I do that?”
“You can create more connections and interactions between systems (colleagues, departments, etc.). You could also help facilitate and improve the quality of interactions and connection.”
“What do you mean with improving the quality of interactions and connections?”
“Think about your internet connection. Try to have a video conference with terrible internet. How do you imagine it will be the result of that meeting?”
“It will be terrible, It happened to me and I got really frustrated I could not even focus on the main topic.”
“Yes, the quality of the connection is extremely important. In general the communication channels are really important.”
“Ok, What else can I do?”
“Well I guess you could also modify the environment to allow these connections to emerge.”
“You mean by creating meetings from different departments for example?”
“That could be an example. But even things that seem not to be directly connected can create new connections. For example adding new people to your company or creating a time for drinking coffee together.”
“All right. That makes a lot of sense. I need time to digest it. Modifying the environment to make it more resilient and flexible is a concept that I need to think about.”
“I understand, Do you want to sleep over it?”
“Yes, let’s keep talking tomorrow please?”
“All right, have a nice evening.”
Saturday — Putting everything together
For the first time in months John was able to sleep properly, he felt really relaxed. He had so many new ideas that wanted to try but he needed to order his thoughts.
“Hi Martha, I’m struggling a little bit with all the information that I got. I still think I don’t have time to do any of that. I don’t have time to make the system more flexible and resilient, it is what it is. I can not run several experiments because I don’t even know which question to follow. And there are so many questions I want to answer that I don’t think I will ever be able to decide which one. All what I heard from you was really nice but I think I can not do it.”
“Hm I’m sorry to hear that John! So let’s see what we can do. Do you remember how you felt when your dog was lost?”
“Yes, it was a little bit different but I was also desperate.”
“So a similar feeling as you are having right now. Then let’s start by taking a deep breath and tell me what your thoughts are right now.”
“Mmm ok, let me think. I know the problem and I want to stay in the question to continue being aware and open. So I will not focus on finding “the right solution” but to find different ways to move forward. In the dog example I called my family. So I guess I need to call people from my company and share my problem. There might be some crazy ideas but also good ideas to try. I should keep focus and monitor the ideas that come to see if the results are going in the direction that I would like. But also in the dog example it was not me who found the idea but someone posted the message of my dog in a group chat. So I guess that if I share the problem with other departments they might also find it for me. It’s really scary, what if we don’t find a way to move forward?”
“Well, it could happen, you could also not have found your dog.”
“Yes, it’s true. But to be honest I would have continued searching and trying things for a long time. I guess this is the same case. Although in this case if It takes too much time I could lose my job. But if what you say is true and we are in a complex environment then It doesn’t really depend on me. The most I can do is keep trying things and hope that the solution will emerge.”
“Only if you are in a complex environment. Obviously if you build a car you want to build it right and find the right way to do it.”
“Yes, you don’t need to say that, I know.”
“There is still one more thing I would like to talk about before you leave tomorrow.”
“What is it?”
“It is about how you can actually get less stressed when you understand complexity, and perhaps even have less conflicts with other people.”
“That sounds interesting. I will be waiting for tomorrow.”
“Great, see you then!”
Sunday — Reducing stress and conflicts with other people
John finished packing, he was a little bit upset about leaving but he was happy that he did. He really missed Martha, he told himself to keep visiting her in the future.
“Hi Martha, everything is ready.”
“How are you John? Are you leaving already?”
“Yes I want to go to the office to deal with my problem, but before I leave could you tell me about what you mentioned yesterday, how understanding complexity could lead to less stress, being more present and comfortable.”
“Yes of course, it’s quite easy actually. Do you remember any of the characteristics from complexity?”
“Yes, one was about there is no way to find what is causing something and the other was about mmm prediction. That you can not predict what will happen in the future.”
“Exactly, there are so many interactions that could be contributing to the present behaviour, that it’s practically impossible to find how each interaction contributes to the present behaviour. If you by miracle could understand them all, it would be too late because the system already changed.”
“Yes, I think I got it”
“Lets keep this in mind and let’s think about a problem you recently had”
“Mmm a personal problem?”
“Ok, mmm i had a problem with my brother, he is always teasing me. I had enough. He is just too rude every time.”
“That’s a good example. What is the problem exactly?”
“That he is always teasing me.”
“And why is that a problem?
“It bothers me, I try to be nice sometimes but he wants to see me angry every time.”
“And when that happens, how does he react?”
“He seems to enjoy it. I don’t know why he is like that?”
“Ok, let’s stop here. Let’s try to gather all the questions that you have.”
“Mmm ok, let me think. One will be what is his problem? and why is he always teasing me?”
“Great, so now you have two questions and we know that we are in a complex environment. So what do we do from what we learned so far?”
“Mmm we find the general question, we try to keep awareness, and we try experiments”
“Exactly. So what would be the general question?” asked Martha.
“I guess: How to have a good relationship with my brother?”
“All right, I want you to compare the questions that you mentioned so far: What is his problem?, Why is he always teasing me? and How to have a good relationship with my brother? and now answer the following question: How do you feel when you are thinking about each question?”
“Mmm I think I know where you are going. In the first two questions I can feel a negative vibe, I feel I’m kind of blaming him, maybe I’m hurt and I want to punish him. I don’t know. But the last question is completely different, it kind of opens my perspective. Still I’m angry but it generates a more positive vibe in me.”
“Great! Now, what do you do next?”
“Mmm I think I need to keep awareness. So I should avoid answering the question right? I should send several boats to navigate with the idea of finding a solution. And with that I will start my experiments, trying to maintain myself open to whatever could happen.”
“Yes, I think you understood it pretty well”
“But wait, what if all experiments I can think about require him to change and he doesn’t want to change?”
“Ahh but that is the beauty of complex environments and people. The reality is that we can not control people. We can not even control ourselves. Everything happening around us modifies what we do and how we think. We are easily influenced. So when you ask someone to change, you are asking for something that is out of their control.”
“But if they can not change, what can I do?”
“Think about a little boy or even a dog if you want. You could talk with them but they won’t listen or they will forget. You wouldn’t say that the kid or the dog doesn’t want to change.”
“I guess, I wouldn’t.”
“But still you can teach them a lot of things, you can motivate them by offering them things or by changing the environment. If the kid is freezing then you close the window, if the dog is barking you give him a piece of bread. You do all of this naturally and you try a lot of things. You do it without blaming the kid or the dog since they can not really control his actions and behaviour completely.”
“The problem is that when that little boy becomes older, we start thinking that they can control everything and can change everything if they want to to do it. And we get angry and frustrated with them for not being able to change. But human beings are complex. There are many things happening inside of us which we can not control and they just happen. But also external factors change our behaviour. Try not eating for one day, how would you feel?”
“Well usually I’m in a terrible mood. I love eating”
“Exactly, we are easily influenced and we don’t have so much control, so blaming a person for not being able to change into what we want will just bring frustration and stress in our lives.”
“Wow I never saw it like that. I’m usually frustrated about so many people in my life. Mostly at work, I wish they really could change and that makes me angry. So, what you are saying is that I should see my brother like a kid?”
“Haha, yes more or less and yourself also. People can not really voluntarily change, it’s not completely up to them. So, why waste your time on asking , demanding or pushing them. Focus instead in the environment where the people are, create some experiments. Maybe you would be able to build an environment that brings peace and harmony to everyone. And if it doesn’t work…”
“We keep trying of course! Thank you Martha this was really enlightening and I feel so dumb for not knowing this. It’s so obvious.”
“I think you do know it John. I think we all know it. But we forget. At some point we forget that we are humans and we are part of Nature. We do not control Nature but it’s the other way around. Nature wants us to do things but we keep pushing against it. I’m pretty sure you have heard about this saying: listen what life wants from you and what life is already giving you.”
“Yes, I heard it but usually those are monks or people that are a lot into meditation and mindfulness. And I’m not that kind of person.”
“Haha well I hope during this week you remembered your humanity and how well you are prepared for dealing with problems. Due to our daily activities we might lose awareness of the present, we are sometimes in the past or in the future or thinking about something. Due to media and social pressure we are trying to become robots, to be perfect and try to see everyone as perfect, we also try to understand everything and find the best solution. It’s exhausting and unnatural. The good news is that we are and always will remain humans, so we can always go back and start over.”
“Thank you Martha, I don’t know if because of what you said or just being here with nature that I started feeling more connected with everything around me. I think we do lose perspective and I think stopping to think is extremely helpful. Thank you again it was a pleasure to talk with you.”
“The pleasure was mine John. Please come back soon. We still have lots of things to talk about.”
“I’d love that. See you soon Martha”
John went home with a smile on his face. It was a nice week after all. He knew he will face more problems in the future. But he felt more confident and calmed. The first thing he would do after arriving home would be to book his next holidays. He wanted to visit Martha as soon as possible.