As we watch what is happening around us right now, I think we can be forgiven for feeling bouts of confusion or even bewilderment as we see those in power bending in the storm. Whether it is the halving air passenger duty as carbon emissions rise to pre-pandemic levels or them taking refuge in legal niceties to shield one of their own from the inconvenience of being accountable to those who elected them. Seeing easy get outs from people we expect to lead is more than disappointing. Many of us feel bewildered as we see any number of what have become almost invisible minor infractions of principle that cumulatively dissolve trust in business and politics. Bewilderment is the stuff of chaos, where we have nothing to hang on to as the storm gathers around us.
The eye of the storm is an uncomfortable place to be.
On this basis, being confused is progress. Confusion requires us to make choices between things not fully understood, and that is a challenging process. Many can be tempted to find shelter in groups where others take the lead, if not most of us. It is where populists gather their audience, pursuing power shorn of principle through promising easy solutions to complex problems they know they do not understand. All we have to do is choose our populist – to Brexit or not to Brexit? Conservative or Labour? Vax or anti-vax? Right now, we are spoilt for choice.
Confusion, though, is a responsibility. Let me divert you for a moment to the “Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis“. In short, it is at the heart of evolution in nature. It says that diversity is maximised when disturbance to a system is neither too high nor too low—a sort of Goldilocks approach to change. In other words, where we are right now is healthy, if uncomfortable.
In nature, organisms react to this discomfort in one of three ways. At one extreme, they avoid it by getting out of the way of the forces causing the disturbance – let’s call them “the impervious’ – and seek to survive through competitive dominance. At the other end are the heroes, who seek to harness the changes to move quickly, which is fine for the very few (and temporary) winners – let’s call them “the heroes”. The bad news for them is that they are the stuff of history, and of value only to the archaeologists and anthropologists of the future.
In the middle are those who experiment with what is being brought their way. Neither impervious – they are open to change – nor heroes – they hedge their bets. Let’s call them “the confused”. In the end, it is the confused who win – with one condition. They have to make a decision at some point and commit. Those who stay confused eventually get swept away with the “impervious” and the “heroes”.
So, right now, we all have choices to make. Do we shelter, for a while, behind our preferred flavour of populist, or do we make decisions and commit with insufficient information?
When the data runs out, where do we go? Critical thinking helps, as does genuine community – people we trust who are as confused as we are. Conversation is a beautiful catalyst. Accessing our values is essential, as is asking ourselves why we are here and what we want our children to remember us for. This is a time for imortant questions.
It is not an easy time. Being confused is healthy, powerful and necessary, but staying confused is not.
We all have choices to make.