I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe. –R. Buckminster Fuller, I Seem to Be a Verb (1970)
This statement reflects something I call the inclusive mindset. A person with an inclusive mindset sees life as it is. They see self as a dynamic system operating within larger dynamic systems. The purpose of life in this mindset is progression or evolution, not survival and the obtaining of wealth and power.
This mindset allows one to see the dynamic tensions of life. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
This is a difficult challenge. Values can transform. Patriotism, for example, is loyalty and devotion to one’s group, community, or nation. It is a positive value. Yet this positive value, taken alone, can create a deeply negative outcome. Consider the following ancient wisdom.
Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar. – War by Julius Caesar
Here are a few other positive values: determination, decisiveness, know-how, achievement, conviction, stability, caution, objectivity, supervision, duty, rest, participation, humility, unity, compassion, change, vision, optimism, freedom, spontaneity.
Taken alone, determination can become exhaustion, decisiveness can become haste, know-how can become arrogance, achievement can become selfishness, conviction can become intolerance, stability can become rigidity, realism can become resistance, objectivity can become cynicism, supervision can become micromanagement, duty can become dread, rest can become laziness, participation can become indecisiveness, humility can become self-degradation, unity can become conformity, compassion can become vulnerability, change can become chaos, vision can become illusion, optimism can become naiveté, freedom can become recklessness, spontaneity can become instability.
So each positive value can become a negative.
Monism is an outlook that denies positive tensions or dualities. One value or purpose is selected and others are ignored or defined negatively. “Profit is our purpose and wasting money on our people is inefficient.”
Typically such a narrow focus leads to progress, but paradoxical problems and unintended consequences follow. The people, for example, may become so alienated that they give only minimal effort and profit plummets. When such dynamics emerge, people with a monistic perspective tend not to comprehend what is happening and they continue in their original strategy, making everything worse. The situation becomes a Greek tragedy in which the hero pursues a single value which inexplicably turns negative with disastrous consequences. Any time we act with intention, we are vulnerable to this issue.
It is also true that a value can have a contrasting positive value: Determination–Rest; Decisiveness–Participation; Know-how–Humility; Achievement–Unity; Conviction–Compassion; Stability–Change; Realism–Vision; Objectivity–Optimism; Supervision–Freedom; Duty–Spontaneity.
When the human mind integrates two positive opposing values, new possibilities emerge. I end today, inviting you to consider a challenge in your life, to select an above pair of competing positive values, and to invent a new strategy for engaging your problem. Please share your experience with me.
- Pursuing any intention reflects some value. As we do it, how do we orient to the opposite positive value?
- Why does this good but narrow stance become dangerous?
- What value do you see in the opening quotation about being a verb?