I was with some people I’ve been getting to know recently. Two of us were by a drinks machine, and the woman from the group got vaguely excited and implied that I’d be wanting one. There was something simple and sweet about this: for whatever reason, she associates me with cups of coffee, and even though I hadn’t been planning to have one, I did anyway. Why burst the little bubble she was enjoying by refusing to participate, especially about something so inconsequential?
This reminded me of the principle of elegance that was an important part of one friend’s life. He’d have liked what I did in that situation: a small niceness that made the day a little better for someone without there having to be any big deal about it. (Whether he’d say the same about me devoting a blog to the non-incident is another matter.) Elegance as a consideration of conduct is interesting, and in that friend’s case manifested itself in a myriad details of the way he did things. It’s less about being thoughtful, than simply of going with the flow, when that flow is taking you somewhere pleasant.
Another instance cropped up when I visited friends living in a basement flat. We sat in the lounge, a hole showing through in the ceiling. It was only when I was readying to leave that my host asked why I didn’t draw attention to it. I told him I figured he and his wife were doubtless aware of its existence, and didn’t need me to remind them of it. Seems I was the only person who managed to refrain from commenting about the matter. Had they introduced the subject, I dare say I’d have joined in. But when we having a pleasant chat, why take a detour that in all likelihood would leave my hosts on a down?
All of this comes to mind with regard to something I learned from Michael Breen. People often talk about, and sometimes even demonstrate, the law of requisite variety: that is, the principle that behavioural flexibility gives you more choices within whatever context you’re operating in. Michael figured there was also something that he calls the principle of requisite intensity: a state can be so strong that it deflects any attempt to change it. He says that he ran this thought past Richard Bandler, who agreed with him.
Well now. Instances of this are common enough. Walk down a street and you can see people with their attention fixed on a glowing screen. Never mind the content of what’s on that box, it has a more potent presence in the environment than the people watching it. That’s pretty much the same situation Bandler recounts when he was working with catatonic patients: despite being silent and immobile, they had the power to influence the doctors and nurses around them, who lowered their voices so as not to wake up…the very people they wanted to shift from their comas.
OK, but where can we see this in practice? Well, one place to look is when behaviour changes naturally and spontaneously. Think, for instance, of what happens when people enter a cathedral or other sacred space. It’s not just received notions of spirituality as expressed by a particular culture that lead people to silence. Some speak of sacred architecture. It doesn’t have to exist in the form of a building. The same can happen in a forest clearing, by a mountain stream. Something draws out a particular response from us, and it’s pretty much universal.
I wonder if ritual is another context in which the intensity of the event itself shapes the response of participants. Which is paradoxical of course, since it’s those very participants who are performing the behaviours. Only…is it always that simple? There’s something about going to see a play, or a comedian, or a music gig, that helps determine how people act, above and beyond the quality of the performance itself. The presence of a stage and lighting is part of the picture – but only part. How people respond comes from somewhere we don’t often act. You could call it collective consciousness, Big Mind, whatever. What’s interesting is the universality of the experience, something shared.
Such communal experiences are fundamental to being human. A reminder that we are as one, despite our differences, egos set aside. And that’s valuable. NLP and other approaches to personal development are, well, about the personal. The individual will. And many approaches have methods of allowing the individual to explore the influence that others have, whether by exploring language patterns, family dynamics, social conditioning or whatever else. All well and good: we can learn a lot from that. Only, in doing so, I’ve seen people who like to believe that having…seen how The Matrix operates, to use one particularly grotesque version of this stance (watch out for those using the term ‘sheeple’ too)…they are somehow evolved beyond the need to be a member of a tribe, or even species.
Well, they’re not. And I can’t find a better way to parcel up these thoughts than with one borrowed from Robert Anton Wilson. Encountering a small group of people who were due to see him speak later that evening, he told them this was their chance to ask any question they liked. There was silence, until one of their number ventured to ask what Robert thought the purpose of life is. Hey, let’s get the small talk out of the way, huh? Unphased by the question, Wilson simply replied “To be the eyes and ears of God”.