Sunday, January 18, 2009

Time Heals, But Not Always

lag and delay

Time heals.
But can it also result in a disaster?

Next time two kids fight, observe.
"He started it."
"No, he started it."
The funny thing is both could be right.

Most interactions are not instantaneous. It involves an element of time.

When I do something and you react and then I react and then you ... you get the idea ... these don't happen immediately.

More often than not the sequence goes as follows:
I do something ... time gap ... then you react ... time gap ... then I react ... time gap ... then you react ...

These time gaps make it seem like linear causal effects resulting in statement such as, "I did this because you did that."
The truth actually could be: "I did this because you did that because I did something else because you did yet another thing ..." So it is actually cyclic. Human brains can only trace the loop back to a few spirals.

This is a classic case of things spiraling out of control. One action feedback into the next and so on. This becomes even more pernicious because we are not even aware that we are reacting in a cycle. This could become disastrous when his cyclic interaction involves parties with lethal weapons.

We can safely say that most of the conflicts and wars begin from accusations and counter-accusations that are made from a linear perspective either because the elements (read, politicians, military, hawks, etc.) involved either do not understand or deliberately choose to ignore the cyclic aspects of interaction.

By the way, this is also true of all dysfunctional families. Also true of all divorces.

So are we condemned to live in a continuous downward spiral. The answer is a reassuring no. The same cyclic interaction can also turn positive. And once that is done things improve at rapid speed. One good turn begets other and so on till things never seem better.

What is required is to break the cycle.

Here's how it works:

You: You told lies.
She: You make me tell lies. If I tell you the truth you jump to conclusions.
You: That is because you never tell the full truth.
She: The last time I told you the full truth you could not take it.
You: That is because you have a history of cheating.
She: Actually it you who first cheated.

Wait! Hold on. Break the cycle.

You: Can we make a new beginning? Now onwards, whenever you see me jumping to conclusion, remind me of this conversation.
She: Sure. And I will tell you the complete fact as it happens.
You: This relationship is important to me and I will do whatever it takes.
She: You know that I love you more than you do.
You: That is not true. I love you more.

The above dialog is contrived but you get the idea.

The lesson: Always look out for the vicious cycle. And break it.

I wish I could claim that the above is my original contribution human understanding. It is apparent but I first got to understand when I read The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice Of The Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge. This simple impact of time lag resulting in a vicious cycle is one of the many brilliant take-aways of this book. The Fifth Discipline gives you tools to analyze any situation and these tools provide you with simple solutions to produce maximum impact.

Strongly recommended.

Note: The picture used belongs to Carlo Scherer (see gallery)

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