common threads #8: weaving-intertwining

Posted: April 23, 2012 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , , ,

Remember when you were told as a child never to pull a loose string hanging from a sweater? Remember how you were warned if you pulled it the whole sweater would unravel? Remember how tempted you were to pull it anyway, how it pleaded to be yanked? And remember how you finally succumbed to that irresistible urge only to discover what you had been told all along was the truth? You didn’t understand the breadth of the connection between the sweater and string. Instead you blindly forged ahead and ended up with a sweater where one arm was three inches shorter than the other. That never worked out well. For you or the sweater.

this is how you do it

Despite this you still occasionally want to pull the string, don’t you? Somehow you imagine you can beat the odds, you can pull it just enough and not destroy the integrity of the larger piece. You think you’ll know when to stop, when enough is enough. So you pull in a slow and controlled manner. You monitor the effect. When you think you’ve reached the point where it should not be pulled further, you stop and clip. But, inevitably, you miscalculated. Again. What was once a fine sock now slips down as if your leg were the Batpole and it was Bruce Wayne. You thought you understood the how it all intertwined, but you didn’t.

We rarely comprehend the complexity of the weaving connections in and around our lives. We know everything has an associated cause and effect, but we often don’t consider it.

mind map for balancing change

If you were to graph the major aspects of your life and chart all the connections…well, you couldn’t. It’s too much. Things alternately weave together, exist in parallel, or jumble about in chaotic disharmony on such an enormous scale that their relationships are impossible to comprehend, much less illustrate. People have tried this through mind mapping. Mind maps center around one general concept or principle. But it has huge limitations when applied to everything simultaneously. I suppose you could claim “life” is one concept. Sure, go ahead and try mapping that. I’ll be over here enjoying a cup of tea. The reality is we often cannot foresee the connections between and among things, or their resulting impacts.

That’s not to say we can’t understand any connections or can’t ever predict how some things will play out. The challenge is extrapolating the connections, the overlapping causes and effects, past a certain point. It becomes a dizzying concoction which makes you want to take a long, long nap.

Here’s a simple example: a hot baking dish. Assume a casserole has cooked in a baking dish in a 350 degree oven for two hours. You need to remove it to cool it for twenty minutes. You put on oven mitts, grab it, and place it on the stovetop. With twenty minutes to kill you flitter away to do something else. When you return things get interesting.

The first variable is the oven mitts. Either you put them on or you don’t. That one decision, a mere stitch in the tapestry of your day, can lead down a multitude of paths, many of them intersecting with other paths in wholly unpredictable ways.

proper use!

If you put on the mitts the next small part of your life will probably proceed as anticipated. You’ll serve the food, people will eat it, and you’ll hope no one gets sick from your cooking. None of that is guaranteed, but there’s a measure of certainty you can accept. However, if you neglect to put on the mitts you’re shooting down a much different direction rife with a fascinating array of possibilities. So let’s say you don’t put them on.

As such you can predict two things with relative assurance.

(1) When you pick up the dish you will feel pain and may get burned.
(2) You will immediately drop the dish.

Beyond that you have no idea what will happen next and, more significantly, its impact on other things.

– Will you drop the dish harmlessly back on to the stovetop or will you drop it onto the floor? If you drop it back to the stovetop, one set of possibilities spreading in many directions is hatched. However, for simplicity’s sake let’s ignore that stream. Instead, you drop the dish to the floor. Where it goes from here depends on a bunch of unknowns.

– Will the dish break?
– If it breaks will it shatter?
– If it shatters will the hot shards of the dish and/or its contents splatter beyond a small radius?
– If the dish shatters and food splatters will other people get burned? If someone does get burned you’ve invaded another person’s life which, of course, triggers a whole set of new possibilities and resulting actions.

That only slightly touches upon one aspect. Here’s another.

– Will the floor sustain damage which must be repaired?
– If so, can you repair it? If yes, do you have the proper tools? If you don’t have the tools can you borrow them or must you buy new ones? If you buy new ones how will your trip to and from the store effect other people, both those you encounter on the road and those working at the store who must now deal with you?
– If you can’t repair the floor you’ll have to hire someone to do it. This caroms into more directions, each with different potentialities.

And so on and so forth.

This small action – grabbing a hot dish without using protection – is only one in a day, in a week, in a year, in a life brimming with actions. The permutations are absolutely staggering. When you consider all life’s movements and decisions and connections, how can you not be humbled? Then when you understand 7,000,000,000 other people are simultaneously messing with the cosmos, isn’t it clear we are all somehow connected? The actions of one person on the other side of the world can affect you in real, meaningful ways just like your actions can affect them. The results may not be immediate – and are almost always unknown – but they exist.

everything connects

The next decision you face, no matter how trivial, remember the dangling string of the sweater. Should you pull it? If you do realize you probably don’t grasp its full impact. This is not meant to paralyze us into inaction. Inaction also has consequences. Just know nothing is done in a vacuum. Every action spreads like the roots of a giant sequoia, deep into the earth and with a reach far greater than we can imagine. The more positive our choices, the more likely the roots will remain strong and healthy. Or in the case of the sweater, the more likely it will not collapse into a tangled ball of yarn.
Learn more about The Common Threads Project.

  1. kayjai says:

    How will my comment affect the other billions of people in the world, I wonder? Hmmm…thanks for the post, John…it makes one think.


  2. I kind of rip the thread at a special angle, and amazingly don’t unravel the whole thing. It’s my gift.


  3. surroundedbyimbeciles says:

    Deep, man.


  4. mysterycoach says:

    Absolutely excellent and spot on.


  5. Who can resist the dangling thread? I pull it every time.


Whatcha got to say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s