I once made up a “Sufi story” (a teaching story with a twist) in a conversation a number of years ago with a brilliant man and teacher who had two PhDs and had studied time for 50 years. My intent was to show the “right gradient” of development had intimately to do with an expanded view of time. The story awoke something in him that would otherwise have been hard for him to hear (given his 50-year investment in teaching and his 500-year-long historical chunk views of time).
I had the idea for this week to add two more stories to the original story to fill out the whole “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” scenario about porridge — only this time about the right gradient of development. So, what is too hot, too cold and just right regarding the rate of challenge and timing of development?
Here is the first and my original Sufi story for the double Ph.D.:
The Most Evil Person in the World
There was once an unknowingly evil man who thought he was being helpful to others.
He was smart enough and perceptive enough to know what people were avoiding and what they were ultimately capable of. He was however unaware or at least uninterested in what it took for them to become that capable. He had a tendency to assume that if he could tell them what was possible, they could become it. He considered it honest and perceptive feedback.
In exactly this way, he made people deeply stuck instead of free to develop. He told them what they could be at a gradient such that they could not deny its truth (it felt “resonant” to them), yet also at a gradient such that they could not figure out any possible way to start in from where they were.
In this way, they remained stuck and suffering over a “truth” that was neither useful nor a “timely truth” about development.
The “Helpful One” Destroys Development
There was once a very nice person who wanted to be very helpful to people. They did so in the kindest way they knew of — they decided never to make people feel uncomfortable or feel embarrassed. They did this by making wherever this person was with their capabilities enough, and suggesting in the kindest of ways the next baby-step forward in building on these capabilities. The baby-step was always easily done, and the person could alway “win” the “growth” game by covering the next ground that didn’t require anything embarrassing or uncomfortable — they could do it with a mildly improved version of what they were already doing.
While this approach validated the starting point and made people feel good, it also precluded any real development of a new freedom, a new fit, or a new source of power. It also “validated” the starting point so much, it wound up making the person even more wedded to what they already knew and could do. In doing so, real development ceased to exist, and modest improvement of the same identification and method became the name of the game.
This nice person stuck people as deeply (and was as evil) as “The Most Evil Person In The World”, they just didn’t know it because “growth” and “improvement” was apparently happening and apparently “positive”.
The Magical Relation
There was once a person who saw with and through time and ability. They could see where people were starting. They could see the flaw in what the person was betting on. They could see what it would take to let go of that bet and make a new bet. And they could see how long it would take to have the new bet come to fruition.
Seeing in this way, and talking to people in this way, they developed a keen sense of what they called “right gradient”. This was the right amount of stretch that could not be resolved by what someone already knew and could do by just trying harder. Nor was the person likely to fail to become what the new stretch called for if they were intentional, committed and took on the right accomplishment that was calling to be fulfilled, and did so over the right period of time.
Time to this master of development looked like a fusing of being and becoming, where both were always called for and where unfolding being/becoming at the right gradient was both satisfying while doing it as well as when it turned out. A person knew they were alive and engaged with life while becoming what was called for. They didn’t need to only be happy when they arrived at the new capability. Becoming capable was as satisfying as being capable in this sense of timing.
Some people flocked to see this master knowing that life constantly called for something new from them as they aged and faced new situational challenges and relations. Others couldn’t get away fast enough because they knew that something new would be required of them that they didn’t know the answer to if they stayed and engaged with the master. They preferred to put off the challenge as long as possible, and then only deal with it when it became a current crisis (which they hoped wouldn’t happen to them).
The master was happy about the self-sorting process that people did and was glad to only partner with those willing to both be and become at the same time, and to do so with an ear toward maintaining the “right gradient” of development. That partnership was magical in its outcome for those willing to be embarrassed and uncomfortable at the beginning about what was missing and called for, and intentional and open while they became it as they worked to accomplish what was calling to be fulfilled.
The magic in the relation was the sense of always being the right person, in the right place, at the right time with the right stuff to see that it turns out well over time.