Tuesday, 24 July 2012

How I learned to stop worrying

The sub heading of Dr Strangelove is ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.’

I recently stole part of that phrase to make a point to a friend of mine. The only problem was that I didn’t explain myself very well. I think I was secretly too chuffed with myself for having come up with the idea, to spend enough intellectual capital on actually sharing what I meant. I suppose that deep down I wanted it to be a point that made itself. It didn’t, and here is my attempt to  make up for the shortfall.

We all have situations that push our buttons. Sometimes by learning what it is that either makes you perform well or poorly, you can learn to either encourage or mitigate these situations to ensure their propagation, or their containment.

However, particularly with things that wind you up, learning what they are is merely an exercise in observation. There is often little that you can do to prevent the circumstance, or to pre-empt your response to it. The best that you can hope for is that the insight into the relationship between situation A and its impact on your performance or behaviour is to to warn other people (If A happens, then I am liable to do B) or to remove yourself from the active arena.

I have grown up wanting to believe that we are the products of our own deepest desires, and that wanting something about yourself to be true is all you really needed to actually make it true. Experience has taught me that this isn’t the way life works, but that doesn’t stop many of us trying. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself honestly (and in private if necessary) whether you have tried to be different in anyway when you have moved somewhere new? Did you try to be different when you started your last job, or did you reinvent yourself when you went to University? If you can genuinely answer no to those questions, then you might as well stop reading. You can go to the pub early, or move on to whatever it is that you were going to do next.

If, however, you had to answer yes, don’t worry -  there is nothing wrong with you, there is nothing different you need to do. You only need to learn to love the bomb.

And what follows now is the explanation I never gave my friend, but I really wish I had.

The atomic bomb exists - lots of people do not like the fact that it exists, and wish that they could get rid of it. In fact, a great many people have spent a long time campaigning for that exact result. They haven’t yet succeeded, and indeed it is not an imminent outcome.

How then can we reconcile the reality of the bomb to the reality that we really would prefer to live in a world where we are not constantly at risk of mutually assured destruction? Well, the answer would seem to lie in the understanding that the one thing that the proliferation of atomic bombs achieved was the realisation that one country could not use the bomb, without guaranteeing that others would retaliate, and ensure that everyone was destroyed. The one good thing, therefore, about the bomb is that it ensures that we will not destroy each other.

The bomb ensures that we limit the extent to which we inflict violence on each other. That is the way to love the bomb.

Therefore, when I remind people that they are in ‘a love the bomb’ moment, what I am in fact telling them is that the thing about themselves that they are moaning about is actually an opportunity to find something good in someone or something else. Learning to love the bomb in yourself means you have gained insight into the way you work, which suggests a good level of reflective practice. It also means that you have to find ways around your own perceived limitations, which might involve working in news ways with new people, or developing new skills. It could lead to a thousand other things that you would never have learned, developed or experienced without your own sense of inadequacy.

Loving the bomb doesn’t mean giving up, it just means working within the constraints of the real world.

You may not think that it is a particularly good point, but that is the explanation that I should have given a couple of weeks ago.

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