That being said, there is an incredible richness to this book that challenges the current societal environment of high anxiety, lack of self-differentiation, and an inordinate reliance upon on data that cripples our ability to make decisions just to name some of the areas that the author, Edwin Friedman, touches upon. If you are a parent, teacher, leader, family member, friend, essentially everyone, you should read this book. Or at least watch this video that summarizes it. (Approx. 7 min)
What struck me today as I was reading was this quote:
To the extent one focuses solely on how painful a situation is, there is no way to judge whether things are getting worse or really improving, fundamentally. Despite the fact that things seems to be getting worse, that is, more toxic, the entire system also may be adapting for the better. To recognize that fact can also help keep anxiety down (pp. 156-7).
The context of this is found in Friedman's discussion of a leader's (business, familial, religious) ability to evaluate the progress that an organization or group of individuals are making based upon how they "deal with their pain." Thus, the anxiety that he speaks of is concerned with the anxiety that the leader may feel when working with these individuals or organizations who are going through stressful and difficult situations. In other words, if a leader measures improvement based upon the pain that the other feels or experiences, thus More Pain = Worse and Less Pain = Better, a clear understanding of the process that is taking place will be skewed.
As leaders in families, churches, businesses, organizations, and even friendship groups, we oftentimes feel the pressure to "make things better." We, at times, want to remove the situations and causes of anxiety, stress, and pain. We want to stop the pain of loss, calm the crying child in the store, offer a more favorable picture of the future than what one truly sees, and the likes. We think that pain and suffering is bad. However, as Friedman points out, oftentimes this pain and the appearance of "things getting worse" can actually point to to a system, or person, adapting for the better.
True change and growth is stretching and it hurts.
As leaders, we must be aware of this internal drive "to make things better" or restore peace simply for the sake of resolving tension or easing pain. Our job as leaders is not to change everyone's circumstances or take away all difficulty.
As individuals who experience difficulty and pain, whatever the cause may be, we must not judge our present feelings as being indicative of the "goodness" or "badness" of our situation. It is often at the times of heightened tension and pain that the greatest transformation occurs.
In closing, Friedman provides some characteristics that help one deal with difficulty:
- Less reactive
- More contained
- Less blaming
- More imaginative
- Less anxious
- More responsible for self
- Less responsible for the feelings of others
- More accountable
- Receive suggestions for change well
- Treat those who help as coaches and not saviors
- Emphasize strength over weakness
Maybe this is a little of what we see modeled in the life of Jesus as the author of Hebrews says:
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrew 5:7-9)