Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


I Think I'm Chaotic Lawful

Introductory disclaimer: I started this post on January 8, quite a while back.  Even then, as you'll see below, I was a week or two removed from the original conception (rough draft) in my mind.  But, because of the way the thought originally formed, I'm going to see if I can't recapture the frame of mind I had at the time and write it from that perspective, without worrying about things I've written since, and complete the initial thought.

I was reminded of this draft's existence by a training I attended for the past week at my government organization.  It was a pilot training program for organizational improvement through changing our organizational culture and eliminating the pyramidal management hierarchy.  Our working definition of an Organization was: People Working Together for a Common Purpose.  You'll see why that's relevant in a moment.

For the record, the brief “credo” I quickly came up with as an exercise during our executive's presentation on The Essence of Public Service in a Democracy, my statement of our Common Purpose, if you will: "Public service is working for the common good. The primary motivation is not myself or my profits, but making a difference in the lives of others; wanting to do my part to make the world a better place, not with my free time or as a hobby, but as my main life pursuit."

The other reason I remembered this draft was a metaphor related to symphony orchestras, since a different one is key in what follows.  This was the idea of a leader as an orchestra conductor, as a conduit for the possibility of others.  The conductor doesn’t make a sound; depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful.  Leading is making others powerful.  (Zander, "The Art of Possibility")

Anyway, here's the old post, completed (from maybe two-thirds done) to the best of my abilities:


I Think I'm Chaotic Lawful

Or, A Rambling Meditation on a Meditation

Or, Synthesizing Many Diverse Sources and Influences into an Eclectic Thought About Right and Wrong

Or, I Want to Be a Synthesist

Have I mentioned before the thing I particularly love about cross country (and triathlons and cycling and other athletic endurance competitions with a mass group of participants on the starting line)? It's that there aren't really losers. Most sports are a competition between two teams, with only two possible outcomes: you're either the winner or the loser. A cross country race has a winner and a hundred or so not-winners, each of whom can have many kinds of individual successes. It's possible that every single participant of a given race could have his or her best effort ever and be ecstatic about his or her performances, and even though only one has won, the rest won't feel anything like loss because each runner is achieving his or her maximum potential. In many ways, on different levels, it's a competition where everyone can win.

A couple weeks ago I was at church listening to a sermon and all these different elements started connecting in my head. It was crystal clear at the time and made absolute sense to me, but the intensity has faded and I don't know if I'll be able to fully recapture the sense of it all. I made notes as placeholders to help, so here's my attempt to piece it back together.

It was a Sunday service that included baptisms, and the sermon was a meditation on just what the practice means. What I remember of it, in the broad sense--the note I made to myself says--the pastor said baptism is about coming together as part of the community aligned toward the Lord. The idea of a group working toward one purpose, and that these three people were pledging themselves as new members.

She worked from the day's scripture readings: Genesis 1:1-5, Acts 19:1-7, and Mark 1:4-11. The second and third are instances of baptisms in the bible. The first is part of the creation story, where God created something out of nothing, starting with, "the earth was a formless void." The pastor used an image for describing the transition from the void of chaos to the more orderly beauty of life and existence that I found wonderful. She said to imagine the tuning of an orchestra, when each of the countless instruments is making random notes and noises, none of it coordinated and the whole being a formless, unpleasant cacophony. Then the conductor lifts the baton and all of a sudden it all becomes a unified wonder of sound, layered and diverse sounds all coming together as beautiful music.

At that point my mind wandered a bit, running with that perfect image of order coming out of chaos to another of my formative influences: fantasy novels and role-playing games. Most often fantasy worlds feature an epic clash between some form of good and evil. Sometimes the form of good is law and evil is chaos, so much so that there's a common symbol used for chaos. It's an eight-pointed star, with each of the points being an arrow. Chaos is a multitude of arrows, each going a different direction, each doing its own thing in opposition to many of the other arrows. Kind of like each of the instruments in a tuning orchestra making its own random sounds that have nothing to do with any of the other instruments. The counter symbol, for law, is a single arrow pointing up, meant to represent a unity of all headed in the same direction. Much like the orchestra working together under the direction of the conductor to make unified music. The image resonated not just with the biblical passage, but with my other symbols for the same concepts.

Celebration of Freedom 2010 054 Perhaps playing into the imagery dancing around in my mind was the architecture of the church. The sanctuary is an a-frame. So as I looked at the pastor, behind her I saw that symbol of law, an arrow pointing up. The entire congregation, in fact, was gathered in by the base of the arrow and aligned together by it's tip pointing toward God in Heaven. The symbols themselves--of the sermon, of the building, of my mind--all aligned as a way of understanding people working together toward a common purpose.

Speaking of being aligned, back to the fantasy genre and the concept of Dungeons & Dragons characters having an "alignment."  In the context of the game, alignment is a grid that's intended to help players with their role-playing, to help them define their characters' values and motivations.  One axis is law-chaos and the other is good-evil:

The grid is generally divided into nine possible combinations:

Although understood with more nuance as something like this:

The point being that law and chaos are defined as opposite ends of one spectrum that don't mix.  A person can be Lawful Good or Chaotic Good, Chaotic Evil or Lawful Evil, but not something like Chaotic Lawful.  Except I tend to think the right approach is a balanced mix of the two (which would technically make me Neutral on that spectrum--Neutral Good overall for the vision I'm about to spell out--but I want to stick to the combination of the two extremes for the purposes of this idea).

Two books I've read that have really resonated with me are Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve the Extraordinary by Joel Kurtzman and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.

Kurtzman's book makes the case that organizations are most successful when everyone in them is aligned toward one Common Purpose, that everyone believes in the same vision and agrees to work together toward it.  Much like the single arrow pointing upward, the symbol of law.  There is a sense of order giving everyone the same direction.

Pink's book makes the case that there are three things that motivate people to excel: a sense of Purpose to their work; the ability to pursue Mastery; and, most importantly, Autonomy, the ability to work without lots of rules and constraints so they can make their own decisions and be self-determining.  The standard organizational structure is a very controlled one, but Pink says success comes from dropping the controls in favor of something with much fewer rules and something much more chaotic.

So, I believe for us to successfully work together we need a very Lawful Common Purpose giving us direction while at the same time a Chaotic environment that allows freedom, Mastery, and Autonomy.

In some ways I liken it to another metaphor I've heard and find helpful, one for discipline when working with children and students.  The young will always test authority figures for boundaries.  Most obviously, they push back and rebel when the boundaries are too tight and severe.  But they also--though they'd never admit it--are testing to make sure there actually are boundaries because total freedom feels too much like lack of security or concern.  So it's important to find the right place for the boundaries that is not too close and not too far.  For the metaphor, think of the boundaries as a circular fence.  If they cross the fence, they need consequences so they know the fence is actually there and it will stop them from wandering afar and getting lost.  The fence needs to be a firm barrier.  But, as long as they stay within the boundaries, then they are free to wander and play without constraints.  Too often, what kids experience is not a clearly defined fence but random posts here and there, some too close and some too far, and they don't know how to negotiate the terrain.  Instead, they need to know where totally unacceptable is and as long as they don't cross that point they have nothing to worry about and can do as they please.

It's not a perfect analogy to the arrow of law--because that is not a barrier but an orientation and direction for moving forward, and it really only works when not imposed by an authority but when negotiated and agreed upon willingly--but the idea of Chaotic Lawful is similar.  The goal is to get people to lawfully agree on a direction and then let them chaotically travel that direction each in their own way.

Politically, organizationally, educationally, socially--in all realms--I strongly proclaim my beliefs, yet I also always encourage others to do the same. And, most importantly, to do so in a way that leaves room for others to do the same, to listen and learn from each other. Because if there's one thing I believe more strongly than my positions, it's the belief that we need to find a way to get along, to compromise and work together, to create Common Purpose and align our individual arrows as one big, all-encompassing arrow.

Part of the baptismal ceremony during the church service was a series of vows. Much like a marriage, the pastor asked the candidates a series of questions and they responded with appropriate affirmations like, "I do." After the candidates had finished, she then turned to the congregation and asked, "Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?"  It wasn't just an individual ceremony and vow, but a community agreement to all work together toward their one common purpose.

Religiously, politically, societally, organizationally--in all of my communities, even simply the human one--my goal reflects the experience of that community in the church: to find a way for us to negotiate the fence/boundary so it is something we can all agree on without sacrificing who we are, so we find Common Purpose as a whole and all willingly choose to align our individual journeys all in the same general direction. We create the law together, so that within that we have our freedom and chaos and Autonomy to be true to who we are while being true to each other.

And that's what I mean when I say I want to be The Synthesist: (Bringing together disparate: 1) ideas, to solve problems and mysteries; 2) materials, to address physical issues (MacGyverish); and 3) people, to overcome conflict.)  Someone who helps bring people together.


At 8/27/2012 7:41 AM, Blogger CDL said...

With the things I've been reading lately, what you call synthesist could be stretched just a bit to fit what it needed to support creativity and creativity is in a sense bringing together disparate ideas, people, things, concepts, materials. It takes in some ways if not a chaotic environment, an environment where many who may be in different areas have the opportunity to interact. It also takes developing the ability to discuss and take and give real constructive criticism. At all levels. And that's hard. We have been asked to accept and learn and deal with the messiness of the Internet, the online world, maybe that messiness needs to become part of the real world. It will take some work on my part, the organizer that I am.


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