Mind the Gap: Getting "Unstuck" in Turbulent Times

In today’s blog post, Glenda Eoyang explores options for action when we feel stuck with the challenges we face in the world today.

I am feeling stuck. How about you? Nothing seems easy: Standing for justice in the Middle East; Folding “terrorist” politicians into a democracy; Wishing my paltry recycling efforts could make a difference in climate change; Learning to live with abilities and disabilities with grace.

I’ve been reflecting on all these frustrations and, as usual, I am looking for patterns. How are all these situations similar to each other and to those faced by my community, colleagues, and clients? In the world of human systems dynamics, we look for similar patterns because they can give us hints about options for action. If we can shift the pattern in one place, that can usually build muscles to shift the pattern in other places where it lurks. Of course, this isn’t a foolproof method. Sometimes I see a pattern that is beyond my action. Sometimes the pattern is more about my looking than it is about the world beyond. Sometimes, though, the pattern spotting can inspire and inform some small action, and sometimes that action sets a hurricane-generating butterfly in motion.

So, here is the pattern I am seeing today: I am stuck in the gap between what I experience and what I expect. You might call it the gap between reality and hope or between action and intention. Whatever it is, the objective, external truths are pitted against my personal, subjective truths. I am stuck.

We think of four options for action in such a dilemma. Three of them are not usually useful, but one almost always opens doors and moves butterfly wings.

Stuck Option 1: Stick with what is real. It may be horrible or boring, but at least I have a secure place to stand. Even if it is biased and partial, if I can find something sure enough, then I can rest my reality there and hold tight as long as I can.

Stuck Option 2: Stick with what “should” be. I have learned to expect and to hope for what is good and right. I can stand on that solid ground, too, regardless of what happens in the world beyond my control. If I know what is right, then I can enjoy righteous indignation and share it with others who agree with me.

Stuck Option 3: Find the perfect balance between experience and expectation. I can see only enough to satisfy my curiosity, and I can be patient when the world delivers less than it should. If I am creative enough, I can find a stable point that lets me rest—never satisfied but never totally disappointed either.

Adaptive Option: Engage with the world and my expectations about it. In any moment, pay attention to both experience and expectation. Explore what is possible and what has potential. In a moment of curiosity and humility, take a stand here, where the experience of what is and the expectation for what might be sit in dynamic equilibrium. Then do it again and again and again.

This fourth option is not easy. It requires all the muscles of adaptive capacity: Perpetual inquiry, creative pattern spotting, and courageous Adaptive Action. It is the only generative way I know to “Mind the gap!”

Join a global network of learning about HSD!
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.