By Jim Selman | Bio
I have said many times that I view one of the biggest threats to our way of life (and at least the medium-term future) is widespread and institutionalized resignation. Resignation is a mood that most of us have experienced and many are experiencing today. It is a worldview devoid of possibility. It is the perspective that ‘nothing can be done’ and ‘nothing will really make a difference’. It is giving up, but in a way that justifies and rationalizes that giving up is the rational and reasonable thing to do. The benefit of resignation is that we can stop thinking or struggling.
There is a difference between true ‘acceptance of those things I cannot change’ and resignation. Resignation is not a choice; it is a succumbing to the circumstances and buying into a ‘no possibility’ scenario. I was sitting next to a man last week from Mexico discussing the Mexican government’s campaign against drug cartels. He assured me that all the effort and all the lives that have been lost are meaningless and that corruption and organized crime are a permanent part of the ‘the way it is’ and always will be.
I am not naïve about the enormous challenges we face today. Most of the serious problems seem intractable, and none of them can be adequately resolved within the boundaries of a single country. The news each day bombards us with stories that seem to reinforce the hopelessness all around us. From vanishing species and terrorism to climate change and the collapse of the global financial system, we are assaulted with ever-increasing complexity, insufficient resources and scarcity of credible plans. The background message is that there is ‘no possibility’. In the face of this, resignation becomes both natural and can even begin to sound like ‘wisdom’—the most intelligent place to go when overwhelmed by massive and recurring breakdowns all around us.
When we encounter resignation in ourselves and others, it is important to act or we risk falling into a kind of ‘unthinking’ state in which unacceptable circumstances become ‘normal’. Just as we can ‘tune out’ noise in the street, we can (and do) learn to tune out all sorts of horrible conditions and human suffering and give our power to those who prey on others. The ‘cure’ to resignation is commitment to possibility. A possibility is never ‘real’ in the sense that it can be proven or predicted. A possibility is a declaration by human beings. It is the context for new actions and innovation.
One of the most important aspects of leadership (and Eldering) is the willingness and ability to commit to a possibility before there is evidence that it is possible. The challenge we all share in these troubled times is whether a critical mass of us will commit and act in the context of a possibility that is an expression of our vision and resolve or whether we will fall into the pit of collective resignation. If enough of us become resigned, despair will not be far behind.