The philosopher Edward de Bono uses words, pictures and symbols in something called a Random Entry Toolkit to stimulate creative questions in difficult situations. The objective is “to constructively challenge the status quo”. You can read more at www.debonoconsulting.com/Lateral_Thinking.asp
I like the idea behind de Bono’s approach. I’d like to suggest that the idea behind the tool is an excellent theory for asking questions of the seemingly senseless. If I come to a situation and perceive an impasse, how do I move forward? We’ve all been in such a situation. It might be a work dilemma that’s exhausting us or it could be an unspoken brokenness we sense in a relationship. In those moments I find that many people literally run out of words to describe the way forward. People can often verbalise the impact on them, but the mouth runs on empty as to ‘what next’ and ‘how’.
It doesn’t have to be a big situation to bring you to a word-halt. A parent who has 3 children in 3 schools, 2 after school clubs to get them to, a dog to walk alongside caring for an elderly relative probably encounters, and uses, Random Entry Theory without realising it. That is, until another weight is added to the daily activity. At that point it can begin to crumple. No-one would notice because our words keep coming out as we keep going; but our perception, our sense, is that something isn’t quite right any longer.
The problem, as I see it, is found in de Bono’s statement about “challenging the status quo”. We long for status quo, for constancy, for things to stay the same and controllable for just a little bit longer. I remember speaking to a work-place psychologist once about how people organised their desks. One person keeps order through a tidy desk but another person keeps disorder at bay through that which appears to be untidy. The untidy desk is actually controlled – the person knows exactly where each item is. You can test this – go to a work desk, or your partner’s place they keep notes and re-order it, and stand back for the fireworks.
We can all cope with a certain degree of lack of order but there is a point at which the organisation which we create around ourselves can begin to unravel unless we have something in the arsenal which helps us to see things differently.
It seems to me that something like this is occurring around us. On the one hand we are staying up late to watch England play in the World Cup in Brazil or hoping to celebrate an England win in the rugby. These events roll round every four years. We know the pattern but our aspirations are always heightened. We shout ourselves into oblivion in joy or despair, but life will go on and we know the pattern. On the other hand the front page of the papers is full of utter mayhem across large swathes of the World. The familiarity that we are used to seems to be under enormous pressure and in the midst of it there are many voices shouting short-term ‘solutions’ but the words of the wise seem to have fallen into silence.
When the words run out, whether it is on a global scale or in a relationship or your situation, I have few words of my own to share. To me, de Bono has part of the answer: it is time to look at it differently because the old way of seeing it might just have run out of words of wisdom. This, for me, is a question of looking at life spiritually. Yet de Bono does not offer answers – he offers, as he himself describes it, a ‘toolkit’ to raise new questions. I have found that the only answer is found in the wise words of Jesus when he made a unique offer: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (The Bible John 14:27).
The single word when all other words run out? Peace. Have a peaceful Summer.