Having enjoyed writing the last three “Sufi stories”, I thought another might be in order. This one concerns the bias — ne’ the addiction — to action in our prevailing culture, both in our lives and at work. This addiction to action is so much the case that crises seem normal, and more action seems the most relevant immediate answer.
In this “culture of action“, a person sitting and thinking for a length of time might be mistaken as someone “not really working” — even though their contemplation or their reorienting the direction of their development might save untold unproductive activity, or untold unimportant activity.
(For those old enough to remember “Tom Terrific”, he was a cartoon character whose upside-down funnel hat rattled around when he stopped to think, his face scrunched, and steam came out of the funnel as he thought until a giant lightbulb appeared and went on when the “aha!” moment occurred. All that obvious activity would make “thinking” more acceptable in our times because thinking would look more like struggle, effort and action — the obvious hallmarks of “work“.)
Without further ado:
The Man Of One Leg — A Sufi-like Tale
There was once a man who was convinced he had only one leg. This leg, he was proud to say, was a “leg of action.” He was always hopping “forward”. He happily had the sense of “progress” as he could easily measure where he had started out and where he wound up in relation to that starting place. He was always proud of the ground he covered.
One day, the Man of One Leg ran into a barrier to his forward direction. Behold, there was a wall before him. Yet the Man of One leg had gotten as far as he had by being the undaunted type. Hadn’t he always made progress hopping in the direction he had been going? He knew exactly what to do.
The Man of One Leg hopped hard into the wall, over and over again, until he finally and with great relief achieved “breakthrough”. While battered and bruised he might have been, his triumph was rejuvenating and he steeled himself for any next requirement for “breakthrough” that might appear on his path as he moved “forward”.
On another day, as he was hopping forward, he met the Old Wise One who asked that the Man of One Leg stop and have a chat with him. Not to be disrespectful, the Man of One Leg did so (all the while anxiously considering how much progress along his path he was forgoing by not being in action.)
The Old Wise One asked whether the Man of One Leg had ever noticed the extra weight he had been dragging around. He had not. The Old Wise One suggested something that sounded outrageous to the Man of One Leg which was that he had been dragging along another quite different leg of different abilities as if it didn’t have a function.
At first, the Man of One Leg was offended and upset, wondering if he would have to change his name and his obviously effective methods of making progress. Soon, he realized that the Old Wise One had likely earned his name and that the conversation was likely worth pursuing. He indulged the Old Wise One and said “Tell me more.”
The Old Wise One continued. “There is another way of walking and it is more sure-footed, more balanced, and less hard on the body. It requires a certain coordination, but you are quite likely capable of that. It just cannot be done while requiring “forward progress” from your ‘action leg’ all the time.
At this point, the Old Wise One grabbed the Man of One Leg’s second leg and pulled it to the ground. “Here put some weight on this one,” he said. As the Man of One Leg did so, he began to see and feel and new things. He recognized that there were many ways “forward”. He recognized there were many notions of “progress”. He could balance and look ahead to see many barriers and many pathways. Further, he noted that his new “leg of development” gave him the capability of making preemptive choices and changing direction with no loss of balance or momentum.
As he practiced moving with both legs alternating, the former Man of One Leg noticed that he could take action with his “leg of action”, then assess and orient his direction with his “leg of development,” giving a new and likely better direction for action. As he alternated legs, walking instead of hopping, he began to have a longer and longer view ahead of him. He could route around walls without requiring the more brutal breakthroughs from his formerly inflexible paths.
With the time and effort he saved in this new mode, the Man of One Leg spent more time with the Old Wise One. He realized he could rest and be refreshed and renewed through those conversations and still be more productive than before given his new and improving capacity to look ahead and reorient his direction for the best advantage.
The Man of One Leg eventually became known as the Flexible Thoughtful Effective One. And the Wise Old Man simply became known as his Friend.