Structural Tension In The Time of Crisis

As I’ve written in The Path of Least Resistance, you don’t put up wallpaper when your house is burning down. We are in a crisis, and that is part of reality. Certainly, the more we can isolate ourselves from others is good practice. Certainly, the pandemic is growing at an expediential rate. That is pattern recognition. Some of us are at more risk than others, but all of us are at risk because we live the in same world.

The house is on fire, and step one is to put the fire out. Yet, for many people, that is all they can think of. Also, in The Path of Least Resistance, I described two common orientations, reactive/responsive and generative/creative. In times of crisis, it is easy to slip into reactive/responsive in which circumstances, rather than your choices, dominate. All one can do in this orientation is react or respond.

There is another possibility. Establish structural tension. The two data points are 1. the outcome you want to create, and 2. reality in relationship to that outcome. Within reality right now, we are in a health crisis. This will not go away through wishful thinking, happy talk, or positive thinking. Reality is about facts on the ground. Without fluency in reality, our actions will always be off track. If all we do is react to reality, our actions will be off track. On the other hand, if we have a vision of the future we want, the structure changes, and our actions become strategic and useful. There will be life after the crisis. What do we want to create?

Those of you who know my description of frames (close-up, medium shot, long shot) can understand why young people can cluster together on beaches and clubs, going against the advice of all the medical experts. They are in the close-up frame of the dynamic urge. That is appetites, impulses, and instincts. Time, for them, is in the present. They have no sense of future. They do not have a sense of actions leading to consequences. At this moment, that orientation is a ticking timebomb. Yet the Governor of Florida refused to ban the beach gatherings. Just because they can’t see the consequences of their actions doesn’t mean that those in authority can’t. A society has a right to protect itself from harm.
That is an essential job of any leader.

Moving from a close-up to a medium shot, to use an understanding of frames, we move from the immediate demand for gratification to a longer sense of time. From appetites to aspirations and values. From a sense of time as only in the present to a sense of time that now leads to the future.

Rather than watch hours of TV telling us the same things over and over, use your time to create something you want to create. You can watch the news once or twice a day for updates. Avoid obsessing. Create structural tension, and use the time well. There will be life after the crisis, and, if you use your time well, you will have something to show for this after it is all over.

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