Doing Nothing LO27256

From: Jan Lelie (
Date: 09/23/01

Replying to LO27236 --

Dear John, dear readers,

I suppose your question is about the complexity of the systems we live in.
It was also mentioned by Rick in LO27235: the system issues are neglected.

As with all major disasters (man made - like this, the Titanic, W.W.II and
I - or otherwise made ("acts of God"), earthquakes, flooding, storms),
there is an inverse law at work: large disaster occur more rarely and
small disaster more often. The funny thing is - i live in The Netherlands
- the more we fight small disasters - the larger the impacts of the
incidental large one's are. Here we build large dikes, dams, big systems
to keep the water out. We're very successful at it - also because it
stimulates the economy - and therefore we have build large factories,
roads and cities at rather low lands. So when - or should i say if - a
disaster strikes: the consequences are hugh. I am one of the few Dutchmen
who say that we shouldn't build more dikes and dams, but that we should
move to higher grounds with important investments in infrastructure. We
should live close to the sea, but have roads for fast evacuation. What we
have is a "success to the successful cycle" that will ultimately lead to a
hypercritical situation. Suddenly we'll have a period of rain in
springtime (when the gletscher melt, very fast, because of all the winter
sport facilities) and a South Western gale force storm due to the warming
of the globe. Then "Leiden is in last" as we say, then the shit hits the

I read the same tendency in Rick's contribution: the stronger you feel, as
Americans, the larger the disaster that will befall you. Now the "cause"
is a group of detestable terrorists, but it might have been other
desperado's, mad man, psychopaths. It also might have been another place,
another time, other consequences (the stock market would have fall anyway,
though). And the response - emotional - is more of the same: "making
America strong again", build up an army, let the posse ride and hang them
high. Success guaranteed. Success breeds success.

This is - i think - because you (we) haven't looked at it from a systemic
viewpoint when things were seemingly all right. And worse, because the
administration is short cyclic - because of the elections - there is no
training - no learning - in the organization and the only possible
response is use of force. "More of the same", as Paul Watzlawick wrote, "
is the cause of all disasters" - i quote from my head. Because American
people - and most others - have only learned to look at any situation from
two dimensions ( action equals minus reaction ), the reaction is two
dimensional, almost like cartoon like. And it is a sensible reaction is a
simple situation. When you're weak, it makes sense to grow stronger, (or
look at the achilles heel of the opponent). But when you're strong, it
makes less or no-sense to grow stronger (and every system has an achilles

We're only know learning to take into consideration the (long term)
effects of the consequences of our own actions. That more of the same will
lead to tragedies of the commons. We have to take into consideration more
than two dimensions, good versus bad, introduce the excluded middle, have
to become creative, use our intuitions. But this learning process, this
processes of learning to become more creative is highly destructive.
This - i assume - is one form of the paradox: we have to destroy
(action/reaction) in order to create and the less we create (new learning)
from the destruction, the more we'll have to destroy.... next time. Only
when we realize we're at war with our past, with our selves, we start to
building a future.

Now, to your question of doing nothing. We can contemplate doing nothing.
The problem, the paradox, is that you cannot do nothing. Doing nothing is
doing something: doing nothing. We cannot not behave, - at least, i
cannot, not until i'm dead. You cannot not communicate, as you and i
prove. But we can reflect, think, assume, have a dialogue. And the amazing
thing with communication is that you can communicate about doing nothing.
This - i think - is a brilliant innovation. It doesn't solve the problem
of our inability not to behave, but we can consider it - behave at a
meta-level, so to speak. There are a few drawbacks: one has to learn to
communicate, one has to learn to think (or learn, or feel, or investigate,
or decide, or act) and it takes time. I think we have all the time in the
universe - and yet we want to solve the problem NOW. And once and for all.
But what if we're our own worst problem?

I think that we were very successful in the action-reaction world we live
in, because .... success to the successful. It makes sense to grow strong
when you're weak, when it is a dog-eat-dog world: don't be the underdog.
For millions of years we were on the brink of extinction - because of the
others, the real dogs (from the billion small germs to the accidental
large impacts of comets). We had to do it to them before they did it to us
in order "to survive". And some 10.000 years we invented language as a
consequence of that. Language is strongly biased towards power and
control, so i assume that it was "developed" for power and control.

"Warning: survival is NOT imperative". As the success hasn't prepared us
for the transition, the new phase, the new thinking, the new force, the
new Jerusalem, we boldly go were we've been before: using force to fight a
problem, from a simple discussion to a large scale war. I'm currently
working with groups in many diverse decision situations and all groups
tend to define a stereotype survival situation. Either they are "saved" by
a leader, by the outside world or by divine intervention. And all resist
the confrontation i like to create: you're your own savior. I must add
that i tend to generalize.

After a few millions of years, we're now the problem. And - as i see it -
we're largely fighting ourselves. As i told Judy: to me Palestinians are
not different then Jews in Palestine, and they are becoming more and more
alike and hate each other for it. It is the same in former Yugoslavia; in
Ireland; in Africa; In South America. It makes sense, because we are the
only enemies left. Nothing has prepared us for a world were we are the
sole survivors. As the famous quote from Einstein - again from my memory:
"the thinking that brought us these problems can not be solved by the same
thinking". He might have been an optimist.

We started to grow in the shades, the shades of the trees, the shades of
time. We've grown. We've outgrown the shades and the only shades that are
left are our own shades. The bigger and stronger we grow, the bigger the
shades. The more we fear our shadow, the bigger we want to grow, the
bigger the shadow. The wise thing to do is to sit down and contemplate
these dark things. Who are we - get to know yourself - and why are we
doing this. This is the most desperate of all questions: "why-i?"

Well, this was the best i could do, it does approach doing nothing doesn't

You're welcome,

Jan Lelie

John Dicus wrote:

> I'd like to ask your opinion.
> At the outset I'd like to say that I don't necessarily hold to any
> viewpoints implied by my asking. Specifically, I mean that I don't hold
> to the notion of doing nothing. I'm simply curious and I'd like to hear
> your thoughts.
> It's hard to find the right words to ask this question, so this is the
> best I can muster.
> When we look at extremely complex systems with high degrees of freedom and
> slowly unfolding patterns, we sometimes see events whose occurrence might
> seem irregular at first glance, but follow a pattern as yet undiscerned.
> An event (a condition reached...) might occur once every 25 or 50 or 100
> years, and then never again for quite a while.
> What would happen if one took the approach that doing nothing was the
> smart path in the aftermath of 09/11/01 since what occurred was the
> manifestation of a truly chaotic complex system, and that what happened
> will occur at the next appointed time regardless of the actions one might
> take?


With kind regards - met vriendelijke groeten,

Jan Lelie

Drs J.C. Lelie CPIM (Jan) LOGISENS - Sparring Partner in Logistical Development mind@work est. 1998 - Group Resolution Process Support Tel.: (+ 31) (0)70 3243475 or car: (+ 31)(0)65 4685114

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.