My daughter is in the fifth grade, and tacked up on the wall in her classroom is a quote:
The mark of a creative person is a willingness to accept
ambivalence - the liminal stage between problem
and solution as a place of both discomfort and possibility.
The quote intrigued me, partly because it evidences a degree of ambition on the part of the English teacher, but also just because. So, I tried to track it down, and located it in an article on Whole Living.
"The mark of a creative person, according to Briggs, is a willingness to accept ambivalence -- that liminal stage between problem and solution -- as a place of both discomfort and possibility."
And so, one thing led to another, and I've just finished reading a book by John Briggs and F. David Peat called Seven Life Lessons of Chaos - which I quite liked, so much so that I filled up the library copy with post-its, and may need to get my own copy.
Chaos is everywhere. Order tends towards it, entropy. And yet, "thousands of tiny interconnections hold the system in place". I behave one way, it affects you. And vice versa. And when we all keep to the right on the subway staircases, we all get where we're going faster. Beauty is often alive with chaos: "Like healthy heartbeats, the rhythmic intervals in such music are always slightly irregular...fractal fluctuation within regularity...brings the music alive." Rivers and coastlines evidence organized chaos, where "apparent disorder masks an underlying pattern."
I found myself thinking a lot about the PTA. The PTA in my town is a bunch of petty bureaucrats, who make everything overly complicated and who tend to do things the way they've always been done because that's the way they do things. But! Now I understand them better - they are a collection of negative feedback loops, obsessive and repetitive:
"Limit-cycle systems are those that cut themselves off from the flux of the external world because a great part of their internal energy is devoted to resisting change and perpetuating relatively mechanical patterns of behavior. To survive in such rigid and comparatively closed systems, everyone must resign a little--or often a great deal--of their individuality by blending into the automatism. Those who rise "to the top" in such systems are generally the ones who use empty phrases, those mindless formulas that keep the mechanism of collusion together. Limit cycles are the systems that make us feel powerless. They are the ones we want to change but can't because they appear to resist all our efforts. These systems are everywhere in society." (p. 40)
I found myself thinking about my town too, a town that is consumed with agita over two significant potential projects, with angry people on all sides of the arguments. What it needs is a way to "suspend their polarities and non-negotiable convictions long enough for something new to emerge".
Really, it's one of those books that really gets you thinking. My post-its are scribbled with words and fragments:
- o we like sheep
- ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny
- the highway system as a distributed airport of take-off and landing strips
- creativity not competition
- how to "dialogue" to a new paradigm, not a compromise
- irrational numbers
The end is apropos:
Rather than ending this book with a summing up, some definitive statement about life and chaos theory, perhaps we should be simply asking a question.
What question shall we ask?