Chapter Two: Part Two – The Balance Between Order and Chaos

 

In the second part of Chapter Two, we’re broadly examining the relationship between order and chaos, between conservative thinking and the need for progressive ideas as a catalyst for change and growth.

 

Societal Conditioning

 

         At its core, the relationship between order and chaos is one of thought and emotion, of science and art.

 

At an early age, many of us are conditioned by what I call “front of the room” syndrome.  It starts with necessity.  Our parents help us navigate and orient to the world, warning us of the dangers of uncovered electrical outlets, the need to look both ways before crossing the street, or the pitfalls of stepping on the cat’s tail.  We need guidance and instruction to function as human beings.  It’s no secret that our species enjoys the longest duration of parental dependency of any species on the planet.  By design, we become products of our parents’ beliefs about the world.

In school, we take our cues from teachers.  Initially, much of this instruction is very specific: “take out your books,” “open your books to page…,” or “stand in a single file line to go to the cafeteria.”  In church, the pastor or service leader guides us to the page in the hymnal or directs us to the Bible verse that will serve as the basis for the day’s sermon.  At summer camp, at soccer practice, in the student band…there is always someone telling us what to do.  In other words, when we are young, we become programmed to seek authority outside ourselves and follow directions.  We become a conditioned part of the herd.  The problem with this is, we surrender our “shepherding” to someone other than Jesus.

         This extends into the workplace where, in the hopes of landing a job, we downplay our attributes that might inhibit our chances of getting an offer, even if those attributes are at the core of who we are as a person.  We conform to the needs and demands of our boss, often independent of the nobility behind their motivations, as we fear job security.

         In short, we submit to the external demands of society, identifying ourselves with groups.  There are our friends.  There are people who like the same sports teams we like.  We align ourselves to political groups, religious institutions, and different movements, because the sense of solidarity fosters in us a sense of both security and meaning.  In so doing, we willingly and sometimes unwillingly surrender to the tenets by which the groups we belong to operate.  In some instances this is great, if the foundation on which the group has been formed is meant to serve and contribute to the well-being of others.  In other cases, we may compromise who we are to fit in.  This can come in the form of peer pressure.  If we don’t like to drink and all our coworkers do, we can be cajoled into doing shots so as not to “rock the boat.”  Come on…everybody’s doing it!

         It can also come in the form of turning a blind eye away from behavior within the group that goes against our own sense of morality; our morality becomes situational.  Ever laughed with friends over a joke that you wouldn’t share with your family?  So have I.

         We navigate our lives through the lens of societal expectation; we go to school, get a job, enter a relationship and get married, and establish a life commensurate with our peer group.  Our beliefs are shaped by the people we spend the most time with, and we identify ourselves by the roles we play – husband/wife, dad/mom, program manager/director.

         There’s nothing wrong with this, provided we are living our faith every moment of every day.  For decades, I only cried out for help when I turned my life into a terrible mess.  I wasn’t turning to Jesus, I was turning to God…it was an infrequent communication at best, and it wasn’t focused where it needed to be.  “The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands.  And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life.  Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.  [John 3:35-6]. That was me – angry with God and God was angry with me.  The story of Jesus is intimate, and it is his story that we must understand and embrace to claim our everlasting reward.

         To be clear, there is obvious merit in having structure and order, and the sharing of knowledge is foundational for societies to thrive and build things.  If you’re installing electrical outlets or appliances into your home, or replacing the battery in your truck, adhering to explicit instructions makes sense.  Similarly, group-think has its benefits too.  If you’re building a house, it’s extremely useful if everyone is operating from the same design.  A highly disciplined football team, where everyone is working together, leads to championships and even dynasties.

The basis by which much of the world has been constructed and society has advanced is the interplay between the preservation of existing structures and institutions that are time-tested, and the ideation and creation of innovative concepts that can replace those institutions once they no longer adequately serve the needs of society.  Compare a traditional telephone with a rotary dial and a line running into the wall to an iPhone 15 Pro Max.  One served the singular, albeit traditionally reliable, function of voice communication over great distance.  The other affords us the ability to call virtually anyone in the world from anywhere in the world.  It also functions as a computer, a camera, a video conferencing device, a notetaking device, a video/photo/file library, a social media connection point, and a warehouse for music and numerous applications; it provides us access to the internet, and fits in our back pocket, operating independent of external power for extended periods of time.

More recently, compare the global shift to working from home during the pandemic to working in the office that dominated much of the global workforce for decades.

In the first few months of 2020, I and my fellow coworkers at Cisco discovered to our surprise that many of the relationships we had in the office, while engaging and well-intended, were not with people with whom we directly worked.  They were relationships of proximity, not relationships designed to enhance Cisco’s focus on improving how the world communicated.  This revelation invigorated leadership to deeply examine internal processes and structures.

At the same time, the Customer Experience (CX) team focused relentlessly on analyzing massive volumes of information and feedback from Cisco’s customers, discerning what their experience was telling the company.  These two elements, the thorough review by senior leadership of the company’s design combined with an ability to extract meaning from what the customers were saying, led to organizational restructurings and improved processes, breaking down siloes that were negatively impacting the customer’s experience and Cisco’s bottom-line.  Cisco, one of the world’s leading providers in networking equipment, began inspecting its internal operations like a computer network, looking for the chokepoints that were affecting the business.  This effort, combined with the company’s best-in-class treatment of its employees, who are encouraged to bring as much of themselves to work as possible, resulted in Cisco repeatedly being recognized as one of the best places in the world to work over the past several years.

 

Additionally, the employees loved working from home.  Not having to pack lunches, spend money on café food, or commute every day freed employees to work where they live, increasing employee satisfaction while providing them the focus to continuously make improvements to the business.  A new way to work was born.

Drive by a major Cisco campus today during the work week, and it’s likely to be nearly deserted.  Now, employees meet at the office for team functions, instead of going out to bars.  Working from home affords them the time to take better care of their pets and families and makes self-care easier.  Productivity has increased.

Our Most Sacred Belief

 

         Jesus is the ultimate connection point between absolute order and total chaos.

When it comes to our belief in God, it is the most sacred belief we have.  We don’t like for someone to mess with our beliefs, and belief in our Creator is a hot-button topic.

         For most of my youth, I had a fixed mindset about God, and it went something like this: Christianity is good.  Everything else is bad.  To me, God was the guy who sent Jesus to die on the cross.  It was an impersonal relationship, and while I had what I thought of as a strong relationship with Jesus when I was a child, that relationship eroded as I grew older.

         I had friends that were Jewish, though I never bothered to learn much about Judaism.  I didn’t fully appreciate that Jesus was Jewish, and didn’t think about how the Jewish high priests had been complicit in Jesus’ death, or why.  I just knew Judaism wasn’t Christianity.  Judaism, bad.

         My challenge was, I grew up in the military.  My dad was an officer, and most officers in the Marines in the 1970’s and 80’s were white men – belief in the Christian God was without question, and virtually everyone’s family went to church on Sundays.  The military is an institution built around uniformity.  As my teenage years advanced, many of my friends abandoned the idea that God was real.  By the time I got to college, where I was surrounded by thousands of people who had never been around the military, the diversity of experience was exceptional, and I could feel myself leaving the safe harbor of untested faith.

         Growing up, we had gone to church consistently.  No one I went to college with did and, wanting to be a part of the “in” crowd, neither did I.  I was letting the crowd tell me how to act for the sake of being liked.  I was letting the outside world dictate to me who I needed to be.  I was reacting to life, and not consciously taking part in its creation.  We are all creators.  The extent to which we approach being a Creator of our lives depends on how grand a view of reality we can accept, knowing that Christ’s view is biggest of all.

         My first exposure to Islam was in 1992, when I spent time in Somalia and the United Arab Emirates.  I didn’t know anything about the religion, other than it wasn’t Christianity, and that Allah felt foreign and a little menacing.  Islam, bad.

When you’re defending your country, you don’t see the people you’re defending as from “this” group or “that” one, from this faith or the other.  You see everyone as your fellow countrymen and women.  I do not believe Jesus sees the world as Christians and then everyone else, after all, Jesus is Jewish, and I certainly don’t believe Jesus views one country as better than any other.  I believe Jesus sees us all as one giant flock.

By the time I became a yoga instructor in 2007, I was taking a hammer to the greatest limiting belief I possessed, and that was the idea that Jesus was a religion.

         Jesus isn’t a religion.

 

In my next post, I’ll uncover one of the biggest challenges to fixed thinking, particularly when it comes to organized religion.