Seven or eight years ago I watched two of my friends juggling. They were in a passing kind of juggling. Six balls total. Exchanges between them. It took some skill. They laughed. I laughed. It was juggling — balls dropped, inevitably.
What impressed me as I watched my friends was that there was a kind of informal agreement together, to get them past the dropped balls. It was their “dynamic duo” of principles that helped support essential relationship in the midst of complex behavior. For them, “No nice. No sorry.”
The latter part was easy to understand. No sorry. They were removing the need to apologize. Balls would fall to the ground. There was no shame needed. However, the former part was also interesting. “No nice” was taking away the need to compliment. I can see that there is more to explore in that, but for now, I’ll just say it was a principle to simply be more real together.
I continue to learn that there are dynamic principles of being in relationship. For now, I’m not talking about casual relationships. Rather, the ones that you have to lean in to. With a partner or spouse. With colleagues on a team. Particularly when working on complex issues that don’t really have a finish line.
Two that are at the top of my list, searching for simplicity and a good place to start, are “No blame. Radical honesty.”
No blame is not about just being polite and nice to each other. I suppose it can be. I suppose there are times when that is needed. The deeper, more significant level of this is to develop a complexity literacy. Blame is convenient. That makes it comforting sometimes and well used. That doesn’t make it fair, however. Blame often comes from a reductive perspective of a complex environment. It comes from lacking compassion for choices being made — how could anyone ever make any other choice than the one I would make — and the many diverse ways of seeing the same circumstances.
No blame does not remove accountability. Stuff needs to get done. Deadlines need to be met. But no blame helps us develop more understanding together, which in fact creates more capacity for acting together in the future.
Radical honesty is closely related to no blame, going together like fish and chips. Radical honesty is a kind of truth telling that expects each of us as vehicles for sense-making. It turns us into witnesses together, assuming a kind of complexity and emotional literacy. Radical honesty, even the painful shining light on blind spots, requires us to show up real with one another. Not always easy. In part because there is a pretty good chance most of us are learning to do this with ourselves, let alone with others.
My suggestions is that these principles matter. They are to be practiced. They are words that most people understand, yet all of us likely need to learn about. Maybe some of us grossly misunderstand also. But they offer a start point for many of us seeing through complexity paradigms, trying to become more grounded, helpful, and effective in the unknowable futures before us.
Balls will drop, yes. But perhaps these practices will help has laugh a bit more together as we pick them up and start again.