CHAPTER SIX: Adversity
Most of the major decisions I have made in my life were not decisions at all, but rather Adaptations in the face of Obstacles and Chaos.
To Adapt is to make necessary and rapid adjustments to stay in motion. My Adaptations may have looked like decisions because that is how I explained them to others, believing that it would be easier for them to understand what I was doing if I couched them that way. But I knew the truth—they couldn’t be decisions, because I had no Control over the circumstances that made them necessary, and the only decision a man has when he is faced with an Obstacle or Chaos is whether or not he will Adapt and keep moving.
This view clashes with the Control Impulse that compels us all (to varying degrees) to attempt to determine events and direct the actions of others toward specified outcomes. The Control Impulse exists along a continuum that is influenced by both nature and nurture. Some men are born high-Control, but become more Adaptable through training and experience. Other men are born Adapters, but become more Control oriented because they are surrounded by high-Control people. Either way, the stronger the Control Impulse is in a man, the more he will try to Control Chaos rather than Adapt to it. That will make him a Controller, rather than an Adapter.
For a Controller, the perceived power to decide all things for himself is very important. This is evident in the way he speaks, as he will say things like “I finally decided to take control over my own life”.
An Adapter would never think this way as he views himself as having the Dominion of full authority only three areas of his life: 1) the wholesomeness of what he deposits into his body and soul; 2) the purity of his thoughts, feelings and emotions; and 3) the integrity of his words and deeds. Everything else he sees as outside of his capacity to determine or direct. An Adapter accepts the Is rather than trying to Control it. He is a Flow Traveller who doesn’t believe that time and place belong to him.
Because an Adapter believes that events and the actions of others are outside of his Dominion, he considers them to be conditions that he must accept rather than problems that he can or must solve. Thus, when faced with Chaos, the Adapter will say “the Is is what it is” and respond by making necessary and rapid adjustments to stay in motion.
In contrast, a Controller views Chaos as a transitory disadvantage that could be changed if he simply had more Control. For a Controller, to say “it is what it Is” when faced with Chaos would be a form of surrender. Instead, he will say “the Is is not what it should be” and get busy trying to determine events and direct the actions of others toward whatever he views that “should” to be. The Controller is consumed with the utopia of his personal Should Be.
By nature I am an Adapter, a Flow Traveler—although I have not always been very effective at it. When I was a boy, my tendency was to quit when confronted with an Obstacle or a period of Chaos. At the time, I thought that I was “deciding” to quit because that is the way other people would put it, but in reality I was just responding in a weak and ineffective way to a set of uncontrollable circumstances that presented themselves in the form of Adversity, which is simply a challenge created by an Obstacle—like those rocks and stumps I encountered on the mountain biking trail with Randy.
Because I was an Adapter, quitting in the face of Adversity didn’t feel unnatural to me. I saw it not as a character flaw or lack of perseverance, but rather that I had simply reached a place along the trail that presented an Obstacle so difficult to traverse that my continued movement wasn’t worth the trouble—so I would do the “logical” thing and stop moving rather than rise to the challenge. At that point in my young life my default reaction to Chaos was to quit.
At about twenty I realized that quitting in the face of Chaos was not yielding great results, so I tried something different. Instead of seeing Adversity as a stop sign, I tried visualizing it as an unexpected fork in the road that provided me with two options. I could either push through the Adversity on the same path I had been traveling, or I could let the Adversity guide me to a new path. But in neither case could I simply quit, because both options required me to overcome the Obstacle and continue moving, and that was the point—to stay in motion.
Because I had no Dominion over the Adversity or the outcome of the option I chose when confronted with it, I decided not to waste time pondering which path to select in the face of Chaos—I just took the the path that seemed more difficult to me in the moment, without considering any other factor. Almost immediately, this produced better outcomes as I found that, regardless of which path I chose, continued movement was superior to stasis.
I wish I could say that this metamorphosis was inspired by an influential mentor or religious epiphany (both would make a better story to tell now), but I actually just read about it in a book (the title and author of which I cannot remember). At the time, I assumed that book had led me to a useful decision-making method, but I had really just become more effective at Adapting to Chaos and overcoming Adversity. This was many years before I became aware of the Control Impulse and how it causes people to believe they have the power to determine events and direct the actions of others.
But now I know the truth—it is the harder path that will set a man free from the tyranny of the Should Be.