Psychological Maturity and The Words That Come From Our Mouths

[Also available on Human to Human, The Podcast, 6 minutes]

I have learned over the years that one of the key aspects of psychological maturity is the ability to hold as valid, opposing thoughts, or simultaneous but different truths, at the same time. Let’s over simplify what plays out in millions of moments every day.

Imagine a partially sunny / cloudy day.
“It’s sunny today,” says one person.
“No it’s not. It’s cloudy today,” a second person responds.

Now, yes, there is some technical measuring that can happen here. There appears to be more blue sky than cloud. Therefore, it is sunny. OK. This simplicity relies on data to establish a “right” answer.

I would suggest we live in a culture
that so favors data and the convenience of certainty
over nuanced context and subjectivity
and the discipline required in complexity,
be it in the emotional, and / or in intellectual.

A little less oversimplified.

Maybe, just maybe, the partially sunny / cloudy day is sunny because person one lives in a climate that very seldom sees cloud-free days. Person two comes from a climate that has 330 days of sunshine, most frequently cloud-free, and thus claims cloudy.

Is it worth arguing about? I suppose if that is what you like. Is there an answer? No, never definitively if you welcome context and complexity of inner worlds. And it’s just an oversimplified weather report.

Psychological maturity implies
an ability to be aware that nuanced context
dethrones the convenience of certainty.
I would suggest that most of us, individually and collectively,
need to grow ability and practice to evolve ourselves into more of that kind of maturity.

Yup, that’s a big narrative. Yup, that is some of the work of our times that I’m rather oriented toward. Inner has everything to do with outer. I like that stuff. Because I’m working it quite a bit in me.

So, about the words that come out of our mouths, as it pertains to psychological maturity. Late last night I picked up my daughter and son-in-law from the airport and their late night flight, just after midnight. The airport is 45 a minute drive. Though I was excited to see them, and thus more awake, I’m an early-to-bed person. When possible, I prefer to be in bed by 9:30 and awake between 5:00 and 5:30. To keep myself awake, I flipped on the TV and watched some of a late night talk show. Stephen Colbert was interviewing Keanu Reeves. I caught the tail end of the interview. Reeves was dressed in the character he plays in a movie that I think is soon to be released — it’s the John Wick series. Colbert asks him, “What happens when people die?” It’s loaded with myriad of responses. I love the words out of Reeves’ mouth that bridge the river of responses. Reeves says, “People who love that person miss them.” That response was unexpected. It wasn’t offered comedically. I would suggest that was a very matured orientation, knowing that you could choose a hundred other things that would just trigger the unmatured. I’d call that genius.

Here’s another example, because I’m still late-nighting, well past my preferred bed time. I watched a clip on my ESPN app with Golden State Warriors basketball player, Steph Curry. A reporter had asked, “What do you think about Drake on the sidelines?” The other team in the NBA finals that start this week is the Toronto Raptors. The artist and musician Drake is from Canada. Apparently he has attended previous playoff games, is courtside, and is both cheering and taunting. Now the question is again loaded for many triggery responses. “He shouldn’t do that.” “They need to get security on him.” That’s probably what the reporter thought that Curry would say. Curry, like Reeves, was genius. “He’s having a lot of fun. You can’t hate on someone for having some fun.”

It’s just a basketball game, with a comment from a star player. It’s just a movie, with a comment from a star actor. And who knows — maybe those people are heavily coached on what to say and these two are smart enough to follow that coaching. I love seeing the simple in the profound. The responses pointed to a nuanced choice of words out of our mouths that might just come from a more matured space.

Made me smile.

Felt like a sunny and cloudy day, which I like.


On Complexity — The Problems, The Solutions (Or Directions)

In my field of work, “complexity” has become not just a casual and flippant description for how involved things are (cause, that’s what systems are), but a significant framework and rigor for helping to distinguish between layers of problems and layers of solutions (or movements) that help to create some good. The model that I use most often to help myself and groups learning in this is Cynefin, developed significantly by the work of Dave Snowden. However, the person I most often go to as a colleague in this is Chris Corrigan. He has done oodles working with this realm over the last 10 years or so, and cynefin has become a regular offering within Art of Hosting trainings.

Chris posted a piece recently that was intended on helping to work with naysayers, people who say “ya but” when encountering the Cynefin framework. I particularly appreciated these distinctions below, not just for naysayers, but also for general understanding:

Obvious (does the door open in or out — try it and you will know)

  • knowable problems,
  • predictable, simple solutions

Complicated (why is the door squeaking — ask a builder about hinges rusting, swelled framing from weather, ground shifting under the home or other possibilities)

  • knowable problems
  • predictable solutions, but only with expert help and analysis

Complex (do doors serve us in this open building design — beware the convenience of one expert; process matters as much as solution; the “how” matters as much as the “what”)

  • unknowable and ever changing problems
  • unpredictable but multiple emergent ways of addressing them

Chaotic (grab the door, it’s about to fall on the person standing next to it — just do it; figure out the why later)

  • unknowable and unpredictable problems
  • not enough time to think about a solution

Disordered (what is this thing you call a door — truth be told, I have a hard time understanding the disordered realm; I have a strong orientation toward “there is always order in disorder” because life, and people, can’t help but begin even the most subtle of organizing.)

  • where you don’t know what kind of problem you have

Enjoy the read on Chris’ site. I find this framework continues to teach me and help grow people in some appreciated nuances of their / our work.

Here’s a few other reflections on complexity that I’ve written over the years:

In Complexity, All Stories Are True?

Where Does Movement Come From in Complex Systems?






Two Contrasting Flavors of “Not Knowing”

This last week I spent a fair bit of time helping my 12 year-old son with his homework. He’s in 7th grade. School isn’t his favorite thing. “It’s hard” — I can see that’s one of the stories he is telling himself. One of his classes is geography in which he is currently learning more about Utah’s national parks, bio regions, and a few defining geographic qualities. It was quite fun to make up a mnemonic to help him (and me) remember Utah’s five national parks (having him picture himself getting in a special “cab” with the letter “Z” on the side to go see the parks — CCABZ). Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. It stuck for him. I loved his smile – maybe it’s not always hard.

My son groans a bit in the learning. “It’s the weekend. It’s not school. Why do we have to do this?” My excitement is a bit annoying for him. I’m seeing the ease and the creativity in how he can learn, or how I can support him in that learning. But for him, as a kid, as it was for many of us, “not knowing” has its unique and painful flavor. Not knowing is about not doing well on the test. It’s about being embarrassed to be the only one. It’s often about about feeling stupid, which nobody really wants. Massively negative connotations, right. No wonder many of us learn to dislike this flavor of not knowing, and anything related to it.

In adult life, I want to suggest that there is another kind of “not knowing,” another flavor, that is important for us to discover. Unlike the Jr. High flavor, this variety of not knowing is a more comforting, even exciting flavor. It’s a meal to enjoy. It’s a meal from which you hope there are leftovers. There isn’t shame in it — I’ve had to learn this. Curiosity is what keeps us in the meal. And, some good company — it’s not to partake of alone.

The adult “not knowing” is about honesty together. It is about accepting an essential complexity in life. It is about leaning in to a novelty of life unfolding with inherent uncertainty. Not knowing, at least in a category that is much broader than naming national parks, is about a different premise — that not all of life is mechanized and meant to be understood by dissecting it to smaller and smaller and completely predictable parts. The not-knowing that becomes so essential for many of us is about daring to lean into a forever subjective quality of life in real-time creation. We can’t know it all. We can know that it’s important to remain perpetually in relationship to the topic and to the people wanting to explore it with us.

Ah, so…, I see this need for not knowing together, this second flavor. In meetings. It team-building. In community. In family. I see the undoing that it creates in me, and in many of us. I see the emotional remaking that it takes to let down the guards of protection and distraction that many of us learned so thoroughly as younger people, for whatever myriad of reasons. I’m so glad for the close friends I have that see this, so that we can laugh together at some of the absurdity, and find our way further into this delicious second flavor of not knowing.



Singularity of Premise

When you are a kid, you believe things in very simple manners. “It was Wendy’s fault (my older sister).” I’d proclaim this when asked by my parents what all the noise was about. This was one of those simple manners for me. To be fair, Wendy had several assertions of cause about me too. I’m glad that she and I are close in our adult lives — she is someone that I respect dearly.

Such certainty goes with that developmental stage — we were five and seven. You hold on to a belief (without ever calling it that), not because it is a true expressions of what is really going on, but because it comforts. It is convenient. Or it just gets you out of trouble.

When you grow up, which I believe is a process that extends well past puberty and early adult life, you start to see the complexity of things. You start to see that many factors contribute to not just a description of a static occurrence, but to a dynamic of something that is ever evolving. Why do we have climate change — there are many contributing factors. Or, in retrospect, why were Wendy and I making a lot of noise — we both contributed to it, not to mention some of the environment that was our home.

I continue to observe in myself and in others, personally and professionally, that increasing complexity requires all of us to expand the premises of causality and relational dynamics that are in play at any one time. It’s easy to attribute sole fault to another person, but that’s usually just emotional laziness. Or complacency. Or manipulative convenience.

It takes some skill to hold multiple contrasting views at one time. It takes some humility to recognize when we are just speaking louder with hopes of cajoling or bullying people into what is really one of many stories that we are trying to sell as a singular story and premise.

This is not easy work. And not what I would expect our five or seven year-old selves to do. But when your in your 50s, wow — this becomes really important in contributing to a peaceful world and community. It becomes essential to navigate the noise that has gone way past “who took my bubble gum.”

I have hopes for all of us in this. Fears too. Doubts too. And I recognize we need friends to grow into our grown selves, past the time when reductionism protected us (or at least we thought it did) to the imperative of inter-weaving multiple premises at one time. Singularity of premise masquerades as clarity, but masquerades often end at the chime of midnight.

It’s midnight, and time to get to the pluralities essential for our sanity, survival, and evolution. As a species. As communities. As families. And as individual navigating such complex times.