Waiting until you know for sure what’s going to happen – where people are involved – means waiting for ever.
With machines, it’s easy. With sufficient understanding of mechanics you can often predict exactly what’s going to happen. Cause and effect, straightforward to establish.
But human situations are nothing like that, even though we pretend to ourselves that they might be.
Take a meeting, for example.
Should you speak up about what’s on your mind? Now? Later? What effect will it have on your colleagues? On the decision to be made?
You cannot know for sure.
Whatever insight you have about the situation can only ever be partial. You can’t know what’s going on for others. You can’t know what they are thinking of saying. And you can’t know – even if you know them well – how they will respond to your speaking.
You have to act knowing that you’re speaking into an unknowable situation. And that speaking up will, in all likelihood, change something, at the very least for you.
But staying quiet is an act too, changing things no less than speaking up. So you have no choice but to be an actor, whatever you do, and however much you pretend it is not the case.
We get ourselves into trouble when we forget all of this. We imagine that we can only act when we are able to predict the outcomes of our actions. Or we blame and judge ourselves and others when things don’t turn out the way we expected.
And all the while we’re holding back our contribution, our insight, our knowledge, our creativity, our unique perspective because we’ve set ourselves standards of understanding that were never – could never be – reached.
Photograph by Kate Atkinson