My second digression — a mathematical formula, perhaps scary to some (or many). Bear with me; this formula is actually quite easy to grasp. And appropriate for envisioning a mature society.
First, math is nothing more than a way to describe relationships between ideas. The ideas may refer to numbers, shapes, automobiles, or any group of ideas that change in predictable fashion. (It can get complex, but in general people have been scared by the complexity when the simplicity was not explained.) But we do need to grasp the relationships.
When I first went to university (more than 55 years ago — yikes), I intended to become a theoretical astrophysicist (envision me and Steven Hawking) — my first degree is in maths and physics; little did I realize I would end up studying the inner cosmos rather than the outer.
I still have an interest in math. About twenty years ago, attempting to grasp the nature of change, I devised the above formula to describe the factors involved in change. It has proven very useful to me in working with people.
As you read further, think about how changes have occurred in your life. What precipitated the change? What was happening around you?
Change (the upside triangle) is a continuous process; it takes time. Specific aspects can appear rapidly, and re-organization of the emotional system can happen abruptly, but integration requires time. The change must start from where the individual is (the dot in the middle), not from where they want or should be; these latter locales are wish statements, not reality.
The individual (p) is always part of a system (Z) of individuals and concepts, of interlocking emotional triangles, usually of great complexity. This complexity can provide support and safety for the individual, and it can also inhibit transformation of the individual, via the “togetherness” factor.
The individual must have some sense of pain (H), and not be overwhelmed by it — if the pain is too intense, the individual will collapse. He or she must also have some sense of safety (s), as provided by the community or perhaps provided by maturity within the individual. If no pain, the motivation to change is likely to be minimal, and if overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness in the face of trauma, the individual is likely to move to acedia. The risk of acedia is always present — to an unknown degree (X), depending on the background trauma, and how it is triggered by the current circumstances.
The individual must also have a sense of vision (V), a vision that fits (f) the circumstances, and provides authentic hope for the future. If the vision does not fit, the individual cannot draw energy from it to move towards the future. This vision can be a simple desire, or it can be a complex myth that provides hope.
Tools (T) of some kind must be available — this is the primary role of therapy. And there is always risk (r) — some therapists are better than others; some tools have risks greater than their benefits. I suggest that the better tools (both people and concepts) draw upon the skills of playfulness, wisdom, hope, and discipline, allowing the possibility of shifting the balance within the force field of acedia towards that of practical judgment, phronesis.
Finally, change ultimately depends on grace (g), the synchronicity offered by the universe, God by another language. Panpsychism (my preferred mode of understanding the nature of reality) suggests that God exists (as the totality of sentient beings), and that (as a component of this totality) each individual sentient being possesses free will. We each makes choices about how we live. In addition, God provides the opportunity (e.g., possibilities) for us to live well. Even if God does not exist or even if the universe is eventually found to be meaningless, each individual still has the option to act as if it is meaningful, and to create a myth that will allow him or her to live within what life offers—in a stance of love, in contrast to acedia.
Each one of these factors will be part of the development of a maturing society.
Tomorrow: the differences between difficulties and problems.