Making the cut

“Mark Twain’s experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty.” Robert M. Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I remember years ago when as a young deck hand, I was sailing the Caribbean seas. At night, the sky was full of stars. I was dreaming about them. More experienced guys on my watch use to offer to teach me the constellations and the legends from the Greek, Indians and other civilizations that would allow me to decipher the night skies.

But I did not want to. I was content just looking at the starry dome and create my own mythology. I did not want to cut myself from my own understanding of the world. But then one day I relented. I guess I found this book on stars and the illustrations were so beautiful and the names of the gods and heroes so enticing that I learned the way of the people at sea.

“Something is always killed. But what is less noticed in the arts—something is always created too.” That was the next sentence in the book.

What was created was that I could relate, even not consciously, to the myths. The shapes in the sky connected me to some of the deepest truths within me, many yet to be discovered to this day. So yes, something needs to be killed in beauty in order to reach even more beauty. You can replace beauty with any word. There is the notion of sacrifice here. But also the notion of growing up. I had outgrown my Peter Pan view of the world.

In my line of work, there is something you can consider as either fabulous or god-awful scary: you never know what is going to happen. Only one thing is for sure: at the end of the day, I will have learned something new.

Of course, I can bury this learning in the immensity of daily tasks and what you call “experience.” But there is a more challenging and fascinating endeavor: to create links between those daily specks of lights and turn them into constellations of understanding that can be shared with others.

Doing so, me and some colleagues can navigate the meanders of the work days in a steadfast way without being sent adrift by strange happening. Sailing from the Caribbean to New England, I remember spending hours at the helm just keeping the North Star against the mast. No need to even look at the compass, as the star was showing the way. Meanwhile the whole sky was dropping to the left of the boat and new ones were coming out of the horizon on starboard—hence the name. But to do this, I had to know where to look for the Big Dipper. So it is good to learn what is there, not only to subscribe to it, but also to take it further and share that furtherance with whomever is willing and able to hear it. Because not everyone is ready to move into the future.

Zealots and hoarders

Some stick to the word. For them, the model is the reality and disregarding it would be sinning. May be they see life as something with a finish post sign you can only get to by staying between the lines.

Others want to keep the map to themselves. They think that sharing what they know would rob them of some valuable. They see knowledge as gas in a Mad Max world. Suck it up!

I feel sorry for them, because I remember having those moments. I did not know better at the time. That was a while back. Now I realize that giving is the best way to receive. But there is a trick to that. No expectations. You cannot give so that you receive. That would be manipulation. The fun part is just giving and watching synchronicity at work. Oh, and I forgot something important. When you begin, you do not have anything to give, so it is only legitimate that you start by receiving.

So, again, learning and sharing seems to be the way for me. Not that I give to anyone. The funny part about the types mentioned above, is that you can still give to them, they would not know what to make of this understanding, except enshrining it, or hoarding it. But knowledge flows, it cannot be stored in a folder.

Wielding the knife

At some point, we need to make the move. Either we stay where we are, or we take the risk of moving on. We got legs. And we got brains. That means we should not stay in the same place for too long. The moment we get moving can be defined by the crossing of two lines.

One is how much new information we have accumulated to the point that we look at what was there from a different perspective and feel the need to take it further. Assimilation leads to elimination, after all.

The other line is the willingness to take the risk. There is faith and discernment in this. It is about doing things even though we do not know how. And it is about being able to make the difference between taking risks and putting oneself in danger. As a rule of thumb, if you see this as exciting but others find it dangerous, it is the signal that the world around you is not ready to move, but you are.

This is the moment you decide. Interesting word: “to decide.” It comes from the latin root de-sidere and means “to cut from the stars.” Back to the Mississippi and dog watches in the West Indies: the moment you cut from the stars, you get yet new stars, new poetry, new knowledge. And so on. How could I ever not want to learn about the stars?

To cut from the stars has another effect. You split things in two. Here comes classifications and reductionism. We know that this is a disease of the Western civilization: cut and classify and cut more and forget about the big picture. Oscar Wilde said “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” It does not matter how learned we are, we must keep looking at the stars. Otherwise we will join the army of the zealots and the hoarders.

But if we can decide to cut and look at the stars at the same time, then unsuspected beauties come into our field of vision.

Our societies are in the throes of this challenge. There was so much to be gained from the previous beliefs and ways of doing. But these are not fulfilling their promises any more. We need people willing to take the risk of making the cut. Nobody says it was easy. But look at how beautiful the sky is going to be. Make the cut.

Au sujet de l'auteur

Stephane Baillie Gee

Stephane Baillie-Gee is a senior consultant. He works on advanced management and leadership in the scope of organizations of the future. He also helps bridging the communication gap between Western and Chinese cultures and organizations.

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