Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Freedom vs Structure


“In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone.”

John Kenneth Galbraith

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and land.”

Walt Whitman


This morning I was musing on the theme of structure vs. spontaneity.  At the risk of taking on more thinking than I can handle before the sun is up, I hope to say something intelligent and meaningful, if not original.  I’m sure better minds before me have explored these ideas and discussed them with more eloquence.  Still I cannot help but try to work these ideas out for myself and hope that others will do the same. 
The quick answer is that structure ad spontaneity are not contradictory, but complementary.  Using Richard Rowe’s concept in The Naked Now, I can see with the “third eye,” the spiritual eye, and realize that there are many ideas, many ways to live life and to think, and that these ideas can, and should, coexist peacefully. 
More specifically, I was meditating on how structure and ritual have helped me in my own life, a life that has often seemed chaotic and uncertain, in a frightening way.  Then I began writing blogs and order and mental self-discipline started coming into my life.  They didn’t come immediately and I still have areas of my life that are neither orderly nor disciplined, but things have definitely changed.
Recently I created even more structure by writing, by hand, three pages every morning.  This is that  “something to get out of bed for” that Earl Nightingale refers to in The Strangest Secret.   I look forward to this ritual.  Even when I’m tired I can’t wait to sit down and write.  Yes, I face all the usual resistance and self-sabotage, but except for a handful of exceptions, I have written three pages every morning for almost a month now.  That’s about 100 pages of handwriting.  Bad, sloppy handwriting, but handwriting nonetheless.  Doing this every morning as a ritual and a habit gives me peace.  I feel calmer and more directed.  I feel safer because there is some predictability in my life.
Then I realized two things.   First, everyone needs structure and self-discipline.  Second, too many people look for those things outside of themselves.  At this point, I’m going to use the pronoun “they” because I believe the following statements apply to a great number of people.  There are those who have little or no structure in their lives and live in chaos and uncertainty.  There are also those who allow and even invite structure to be imposed upon them from externally.  This structure usually comes from an institution of some kind, often a religious or political one.  Schools can be guilty.  So can many workplaces.  And families. 
Obviously some structure is necessary.  What happens, almost inevitably, is that externally imposed structure restricts freedoms, freedom of thought, of creativity, of spontaneity.  Life must be lived within the rules of the institution.   Everyone in the group must speak, think and even dress like everyone else in the group.  Otherwise, tacit or blatant pressure is brought to bear until the offending person is brought into line.  All of us are guilty of submitting to this and enforcing “the code” of the group.  In job I had, I would wear bright colorful ties with superheroes or cartoons on them.  Then one day a co-worker said that they weren’t professional and I immediately stopped wearing them.  I didn’t think.  I didn’t reason.  I just surrendered to the code, the unwritten rules.  The one critical comment erased all the compliments I had gotten for my ties.  I stopped thinking and gave into fear of disapproval.
I could have responded in an equally unthinking way by deciding that no one was going to tell me how to dress and I was going to wear those ties just to spite the offending party.  I would “stick it to the man!”  Rebellion for its own sake is equally repugnant to intelligent thought as is blind obeisance. 
So what is the answer?  Again, this blog and my time are too short to go more deeply, so the quick but difficult answer is this:  love.  Love is the answer. 
That’s the good news.  The bad news is that love rarely looks the same way twice.  In the case of my ties, whom do I love?  Do I love the person who thought my dress was unprofessional?  Do I put him or her at ease?  Do I love the people I work with who enjoyed the ties and got a smile and some conversation from them?  Do I love myself and do what feels best for me, explaining my reasoning to the offended co-worker?  What is the most loving thing to do?
There is no simple answer.  And, on different days, the answer might also be different.  Love is not blind.  It must look very carefully.  It must see all the possibilities and decide.  This takes thought and courage.  It takes time.  It even takes the willingness to make mistakes and learn.  Structure can help here or it can make it more difficult.  Thought is what is required and this too is difficult.  It is always simpler to be told what to do.
There may be more to discuss on this theme.  For now I have to Get Started and Keep Going…and keep thinking.