Do you remember Weebles? They wobble but they don’t fall down. I loved those. Somehow, no matter how hard you shoved them in any direction, they managed to spring back into upright. I wanna be a bit more weeble.
Folks will tell you they’re stable. They are staunch supporters of this or firm believers in that. They are grounded. Founded. Staying put. Not going anywhere. Often, from their place of firmness they wave their arms to orchestrate or advise. And if they see you running to and fro they’ll tell you to relax. Just be still. Like they are.
I wonder. Are they stable? Or are they stuck?
The test of stability is whether, when something collides with you like a runner coming down the 3rd base line while you block home plate, you stand your ground or get thrown out of the way. The most stable have a bit of give to them. They absorb the shock of the incoming force, cushion it, and then spring back. Like weebles.
When I seem to be standing still, how do you know if I’m stable or I’m stuck? Easy. You apply some force. Give a shove. See how I respond. If I tense and defend or deflect, I’m stuck. If I wobble and right myself, I’m balanced.
By the power of give and take, I find my center. Again. Perhaps God rounded our bottoms so we could discover our inner weebles. And the confidence to listen and respond to all that differs from us and then to right ourselves. Centered, grounded and maybe even a bit more rounded.
Of course, I am a contemporary weeble; I have hands and feet. I can use them to move in any direction I choose. To reach as far as my center will allow, as long as I am willing to absorb the recoil.
There’s no more need for the narrative…they say. They, being CNN Opinion writer Douglas Rushkoff. “It’s a quaint structure that went out with the industrial age and the moon shot. We live in a state of present shock.”
In the aftermath of breaking news every moment with the Boston tragedy, all of us hanging on every pixel of our computers, I am hard-pressed to disagree. That, even as I work on my narrative, a story with a problem to be resolved which changes the main character for the better.
Books are so old fashioned, Rushkoff contends. Beginning-middle-end is just not how we live. As he cleverly puts the battle against terrorism, “We can’t stick a flag in it and call it won.”
His message: Things are no longer conquests with clear endpoints; they’re more steady state concerns. Let’s be about the dealing with the now. In real time. Don’t bother yourself with history or strategy. Victory is just not an option. He concludes, “Life goes on.”
Does this bother anyone else but me? That life is just a skating rink where I go round and round, waiting till my balance fails me and I slip and fall? I think I am worth more than that to God. And to my family, friends and neighbors. I think I am part of a much larger narrative, so large in fact that from my tiny vantage point I can’t see the way forward. Perhaps I can just see the ice oval.
And there is no question, it’s slippery.
It’s that very characteristic of life, its danger and risk, that causes me to grapple with the narrative. What is the story that sheds light and meaning for me? What helps me keep my balance?
The question reminds me of an encounter a good friend Barbara told me about during her recent business excursion to Beijing. She befriended a young woman who knew Barbara to be a Christian and the woman asked her, “How do you know your faith is not a fairy tale?” Barbara was hard-pressed to answer that for a woman with no Bible and no experience with Christianity. The Biblical narrative is a story lived and recorded many centuries ago. The question was valid: How can we know it’s true? How can we count on the truth it offers?
Barbara told me she shared with this woman the assurance she now has looking back on her life and seeing all the ways God directed events to head her toward Him. I know this is true for Barbara, but I wonder how helpful the “looking back” testimony is to people of today. Who live in present shock. Their perspective is present tense. Literally. It probably rings just as hollow as telling the bombing victims “it will all be okay.” Their need is now.
That’s where I realize how much I count on the narrative. The knowing that the story has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning and the end have already been written. We’re living in the middle. But I don’t think we’re mired in the middle. Steady-state just has that feel to it. Cause and effect, cause and effect, everything a stimulus and a response to maintain the status quo. A maintenance of the civil and the responsible and the healthy. Guess that makes us all maintenance workers.
As a scientist I know this pattern as homeostasis. It’s the miraculous design of our bodies to live and breathe and grow and survive. It doesn’t always succeed. Unguided or random stimulus like cancer may spiral it into dishealth and illness. It is easy to see the impact. But let’s not miss the flip side. Guided, directed, proportional stimulus can send it exactly in the other direction. We call this growth.
Stimulus is a constant. But I find it miraculous that we were designed to withstand it, even to grow from it, almost as if our Designer knew what was coming. Having a healthy narrative that guides our response is a recipe for survival. Mr. Rushkoff, that is life. In the end I have the hope that I may look back and see it. From the middle I am now in, it looks and feels slippery and very much the oval. But when in a moment of balance and beautiful glide, however temporary, I allow myself to look back on the places I’ve been saved from myself, my confidence is renewed. There is assurance. My story has a purpose; my life is worth that much.
Call me old-fashioned. I’m choosing the narrative. Makes much better telling.
Change is hard. We are used to what we do. Oh, we may think we’d like a change – because we’re bored or unhappy or because things aren’t going well or because we KNOW there must be a better way to do this – but actually making the change is difficult. If you don’t believe me, try putting the toilet paper roll on going the opposite direction and see how long it takes to get used to that.
Generally, when I look to change something because I am dissatisfied, what I really want is for them to change or for circumstances to change. I don’t want to make a change in me. I am comfortable doing what I’m doing.
Why is it so difficult to change – even when I know I should, even when it would pay big dividends if I did? Part of this is because we are designed this way. We are built to be stable. Not just balanced and symmetrical on the outside, but completely unconsciously to seek homeostasis on the inside. Our physiological systems are designed to turn themselves up if we need more of something and turn themselves down when we need less. The perfect regulation of this system rests on pinpoint sensitivity and constant and immediate responsiveness.
Okay, that makes sense. Putting our heart rate and temperature and hormones on autopilot is a necessity. But what about my actions and behaviors? That’s what I am having trouble with – and what I should be able to control.
This got me thinking about chunking. No, not chunky. Chunking. This is what they (those science text book authors) call patterned behaviors that you initiate and then complete without thinking about the rest of the movement. Like, when you go to type your name on the computer keyboard. (You don’t need a keyboard to try it.) You don’t hunt and peck each letter. It’s one smooth flourish of movement. The same thing happens when you reach to pick something up to toss it in the trash. It’s one motion…even if you miss picking it up your arm still continues to the toss. Even when you KNOW you missed, you don’t stop. The whole motion has been activated as a pattern.
This is adaptive. Part of our human design. We do lots of stuff, literally, without thinking.
So, maybe this is part of the reason our behaviors are so hard to uproot. While they may not be hard-wired, they are nested in patterns. To change them we need to uproot all those steps we have stored with them.
This may sound far-fetched, but I’m not so sure when I think about my routines…the coffee and ‘chini bread I “need” to have near me in the morning reading session. The warm up I “need” before I can really get going to write. The direction I turn when I enter the store. The aisle I choose when I look for my seat in the sanctuary.
Sure, I CAN resist all of these, but it takes intention and effort to do it. Without good reason, I will continue in my pattern. We are, after all, creatures of habit, built to conserve our energy.
But, what of patterns that are maladaptive? destructive? that take us out of balance? I suspect the most dangerous and unhealthy of these happen almost without our noticing. Certainly without our caring about them. If we did, we would upend them. Right? Or on a more positive note, what about those patterns we’d like to change because we know we’d be better if we did? After a while our behavior tracks become well-worn grooves, ruts in our road. The deeper they get the harder they are to climb out of.
Funny, I was thinking about this chunking of behaviors when I picked up the book a friend gave me titled, The Power of Habit, Why we do what we do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. Turns out that people who are able to change their habits, even the most destructive ones, accomplish it by focusing on just one behavior that is a “keystone habit.” But the key is recognizing that many (they say perhaps 40%) of the things we call decisions are actually habitual behaviors in response to our circumstances and environmental cues.
So, about my problem with procrastination…what about the habits we have that stop us when we should go? that cause us NOT to do? Trying to focus on the one thing God wants me to attend to today. I am procrastinating – too many words on the blog!