The world has gone mad. Or, so it seems.
Volatility. The world is constantly changing, and becoming more unstable each day.
Uncertainty. It’s becoming more difficult to anticipate events or predict how they’ll unfold.
Complexity. Problems and their repercussions are more multi-layered, harder to understand.
Ambiguity. Not everything is black and white.
How are we to deal with all of this VUCA?
First, it can be helpful to completely understand and accept (both intellectually and emotionally) that VUCA is the very nature of existence. And, while the internet and other forms of media amplify and bring all of this impermanence to our attention more frequently, there is really nothing new in any of this.
- Things wear out.
- Experiences fade.
- Circumstances change.
- Structures are unstable.
- People get sick and die.
What is, perhaps, more present today than in the past is the desire for our world to be otherwise. We crave stability, certainty, simplicity, and clarity. Unfortunately, that craving can lead to disappointment, frustration, and even suffering.
The rational/analytical mind believes that it can create the causes and conditions that will “fix” all this VUCA. That’s a big mistake, and all the activity generated from trying to control situations will exhaust you. When you’ve been tossed into the white water rapids of life, there is very little left-brain activity that will help. It’s best just to relax and flow with the river until it casts you ashore (or, you drown). This is called acceptance.
Once you give up the resistance to what is, and the desire to fix and control all the VUCA, it’s possible to generate an intention for being at peace and in harmony. From that state of being, you can take action, if necessary.
Action can take many forms. For example, you may choose to downsize your house and give away most of your material goods in order to simplify your life. I recently did so and can share that the “de-stuffing” was extraordinarily liberating. Or, upon accepting a particularly VUCA situation, you may choose to reach out to a colleague or friend and ask for help. Whatever action you take, so long as it aligns your intention for peace and harmony, it will be on target.
Leading in a VUCA world takes courage and compassion. Courage to continue to engage with people and circumstances when there is no stability, certainty, simplicity, and clarity. Compassion for yourself and for others when things do not seem to be going your way.
Along the lines of compassion, I would like to convey a Zen story of a young man who had a VUCA breakdown in his life.
This young man went to a remote monastery and said to the Abbott: “I am disillusioned with life and wish to attain enlightenment to be free from suffering. But I have no capacity for sticking long at anything. I could never do long years of meditation and study and austerity; I will relapse and be drawn back to the world again, painful though I know it to be. Is there any short way for people like me?”
“There is,” said the Abbott, “if you are really determined. Tell me, is there anything that you are good at?”
“Why, nothing really. We were rich, and I did not have to work. I suppose the thing I’m not too bad at is chess.”
The Abbott thought for a moment, and then said to his attendant: “Call such-and-such a monk, and tell him to bring his chess set.”
The monk came and set up the game. The Abbott sent for a sword, and he showed it to the young man and the monk.
“O monk,” he said, “you have vowed obedience to me as your Abbott, and now I require it of you. You will play a game of chess with this youth, and if you lose, I shall cut off your head with this sword. If you win, I shall cut off the head of this young man; chess is the only thing he does well, and if he loses, he deserves to lose his head also.”
The two looked at Abbott’s face and saw that he meant it: he would cut off the head of the loser.
They began to play. With the opening moves, the youth felt the sweat trickling down to his heels as he played for his life. The chessboard became his whole world; he was entirely concentrated on it. At first, he had somewhat the worst of it, but then the monk made a mistake, and he seized his chance to launch a strong attack. As the monk’s position crumbled, he looked at him. He saw the face of intelligence and sincerity, worn with years of austerity and effort. He thought of his own worthless life, and a wave of compassion came over him. He deliberately made a blunder and then another blunder, ruining his position and leaving himself defenseless.
The Abbott suddenly leaned forward and upset board with the sword, scattering all the pieces and ending the game.
The youth and the monk sat perplexed.
“There is no winner and no loser,” declared the Abbott. “No head will fall here today.”
The Abbott then turned to the young man and said: “You have learned two things today: concentration and compassion. Since you have compassion, you’ll do.”