Friday, November 12, 2010

Delight, Commerce and Insight

As I consumed the delicious morsels of Sree's "less than fully baked" philosophical meal Serenity, Courage and Wisdom, I was taken by how ultimately, everything (really everything) is quite simple. Sure, there's nothing simple that can't be made complicated, especially with years of university training. However, the complicators often stand to benefit from the complication. After all, who'd need experts if everything were simple?

Sree's model of control is pure and simple, there's stuff you can completely control, stuff over which you have absolutely no control and stuff in the middle. The key is knowing which is which (insight) and then being clear on what you're willing to exchange to get what you want (commerce).

Grant Me Delight
As I thought about Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer, it occurred to me that his application of the word serenity may be selling us short on the possibilities afforded in any situation. It does so on two fronts: 1) the emotion is more passive than active. 2) it's applied only to the situations in which we have no control. So, I thought, "what if we first replace serenity with delight?"

Grant me the ability to take
delight in the things I cannot change

Second, how about taking delight period, in things we can't change, in things we can change, and in everything between. Fortunately, within Sree's hierarchy of control, the one thing over which you have complete control is your thoughts, feelings and actions. That being the case the control of your thoughts, feelings and actions runs orthogonally across the rest of the spectrum. Although you can't fully control it, you can take delight in 1) what others think... 2) what others do with their stuff... 3) What others do in your presence... and 4) What others do with your stuff.

So, serenity (now delight) is not juxtaposed to courage, but instead the emotion that you can apply to any situation regardless of the degree of control allotted you. That being the case, there's no need for courage as, being delighted, you would be fearful.

What's My Motivation Here?
Of course a question that might come to mind is, "If I were to take delight in situations that I want to change, why would I ever change them?"

Indeed we often get upset, cranky, dissatisfied or fearful (hence the need for courage) in order to motivate ourselves to take action. Our actions are in fact reactions to emotional distress and discomfort. However, that's just one paradigm (one way of looking at our motivations and actions).

Alternatively, one could take action solely based on the desire for something other than what he has independently of how he feels about what he has. For example, you could take delight in watching a great performance and then leave early to take delight in an intimate dinner and then leave dinner to take delight in whatever might follow an intimate dinner; a sequence of actions that requires no motivation through discomfort or distress.

You could take delight in how energetically and enthusiastically your child burns through the knee's of his britches while simultaneously exploring opportunities to prevent the britches from failing. You could take delight in the creative ways in which you're maligned by others while working to correct the impressions they've left or not.

Grant me the ability to take delight
in things I can change, in things I can't change and
in all the other ones as well.

So, you're delighted no matter what, you have no fear (hence, no need of courage), what's next?

And wisdom to know the difference.

Wise Guy
I like the notion of wisdom and I don't. I like it, because I see wisdom as much stronger than say knowledge or education. However, for me, wisdom implies some apriori understanding that I've gained access to through experience, almost an absolute. Surely, there are advantages to knowing when you're futilely beating your head against a wall and when the apparently solid wall is about to rupture. And there are certainly good rules of thumb, e.g., you can't control what others think. However, I tend to see these as points of calibration rather than absolute guidelines.

In fact, you can control what others think. Propagandists are quite good at effecting this. Perhaps not with 100% guarantees, but they do pretty well. Doctors do it biochemically. Some neurologists are looking at how to do it electrically. So, the question of what one can or can't control may be a bit misleading. Perhaps, the more useful one is: what does it cost to control? What does it cost in terms of time and energy? What does it cost in terms of relationship? What does it cost in terms of your delight?

Shifting from a degree of control model to a cost of control model leads to notions of commerce rather than courage. In fact, the two are quite closely related. Fear is essentially the strongly emoted version of not wanting to bear the cost of an action. Likewise, courage is the decision to nonetheless pursue that action despite the potential cost. When we move from the can/can't model to the cost/benefit model, we become more creative in how we effect control. It's no longer a mind-over-matter, battle of the wills; it's simply a matter of what's in it for you, what's in it for me.

So the question of what you can or can't control is no longer a gift from God, but simply the insight gained through your experience coupled with the development of your negotiating skills.

All that said, I guess I would paraphrase Niebuhr's prayer to read:
God, teach me to delight in all things,
those that I cannot change,
those that I can change,
and all the other ones.

Grant me the insight to see how
to best effect the change I want,
and the skill to negotiate
happily and equitably.

Wow, Sree, look at all that you made me think this morning.

Happy Friday!

1 comment:

  1. Very slick, Tef. Serenity to delight, degree of control to cost of control, courage to commerce... Changing models can change our experience of life dramatically indeed.

    PS. Blogger's been acting up this morning; I saw this post of yours only after I put up mine of this morning.


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