Comforting Illusions #58
By Graham Bell
One of the pleasures I get from writing a newsletter and blog is the fun of discovery – finding out something new, some added insight into a topic or issue that I have been thinking about. Often it seems serendipitous -
an unsought, unintended, and/or unexpected, but fortunate, discovery and/or learning experience that happens by accident.
I had been reading a pen portrait of a senior leader who was described in the article as bringing equipoise to a position where a calm and balanced approach to the role was critical to business survival. Equipoise seemed such an interesting description that I added the word to my running notes list. Full confession...
...for 45 years I have been a note taker, at first a little black book of interesting ideas, questions, quotes and aide memoires, progressing through to a Filofax and then, around the turn of the century, a mobile phone with stylus. Today, with our incredible mobile computers and clever keyboards, adding a quick note seems super-easy. As a long-term Evernote user, the simple function and auto-merge function between multiple devices makes note taking orderly and simple
Anyway, following that detour, back to equipoise. I researched the word further and from that, another stumble-upon – a reference to the ‘Age of Equipoise’. Further study showed that the term originates from a book published by WL Burn in 1964, ‘The Age of equipoise; a study of the mid-Victorian generation’. Burn took an in-depth look at Victorian Britain between 1852 and 1867.
Coincidentally I have been fascinated by the period, so it had an extra resonance. Our local primary school opened in 1859, the same year as the Glasgow water scheme, piping clean water from Loch Katrine was completed. It was an age of great philanthropy and the push for social reform was growing.
So why the age of equipoise? Burn posits that there was so much happening, both in an industrial and social sense, that many people believed they had reached the zenith of human development. Civilisation was in harmony – equipoise. Burn then showed how it was a ‘comforting illusion’, a kind of self-deception, that every age and society tells itself – as we do as individuals.
I loved that phrase, "comforting illusions", and began to ask myself about my own comforting illusions, perhaps delusions. At the micro-level, no doubt these are too numerous to call. I remember the old quip of "getting my ambitions confused with my abilities". And perhaps a spell in the psychiatrist’s chair would reveal many more.
But at the macro-level I realised the contemporary "comforting illusion" that perhaps we all shared, that our 21st century was beyond a pandemic. We had beaten nature, we thought, particularly in the west. And that made me think about another shared comforting illusion, that our western democracies were the pinnacle of political stability and that our societies were indeed founded on truth and justice.
Perhaps the lesson is ‘take nothing for granted’. Progress may be precarious and may not always be heading in the right direction. More a zig-zag than a straight line.
"The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order."
Alfred North Whitehead
Stay safe lead well
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