Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
~ Shakespeare (The Tempest, 1610)
Just a few decades after Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Rembrandt was painting another tempest. In his The Storm on the Sea of Galilee the Dutch master depicts Jesus and his thirteen disciples (artist included) facing the chaos of nature. In The Tempest, however, the chaos is man-made. Ariel, doing Prospero’s dirty work, convinces Ferdinand that his father, Alonso, is dead. With her song, she paints her own picture of how Alonso has undergone a “sea-change into something rich and strange.” It is from this passage that we get the idiom “sea-change” meaning a major transformation.
Almost two thousand years before Shakespeare penned this famous passage, the ancient Chinese were writing the I Ching (Book of Changes) on bamboo slips. In his foreword to Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching, Carl Jung pointed out how the book has been dismissed by Western scholars as merely a “collection of magic spells.” However, the significance of the book, while obscured by complexity, is profound. Jung states:
The Chinese mind, as I see it at work in the I Ching, seems to be exclusively preoccupied with the chance aspect of events. What we call coincidence seems to be the chief concern of this peculiar mind, and what we worship as causality passes almost unnoticed. We must admit that there is something to be said for the immense importance of chance. An incalculable amount of human effort is directed to combating and restricting the nuisance or danger represented by chance. Theoretical considerations of cause and effect often look pale and dusty in comparison to the practical results of chance.
Readers of this blog will notice that The Chaos Journal (one of our projects) echos Jung’s comments. Both our Chaos Journal and the I Ching focus on chance – the things we can’t control.
According to other authorities on the I Ching, There are three underlying principles: Simplicity, Variability and Persistency.
Fast forward to today.“Change” is still on our minds. The Dalai Lama himself just tweeted (yes, even 619 year-old reincarnated Buddhist rulers have a Twitter account) “If we change inside and disarm ourselves by dealing constructively with negative thoughts and emotions, we can literally change the world.” But there’s something very different in this message than that of the I Ching. The latter is all about coping with external change -the elements, nature. But the Dalai Lama’s tweet is about internal change. Is it possible humanity has become so technologically advanced that our only adversary is ourself? Have we become our own worst (or only) enemy?
Politicians know about this collective obsession with change and capitalize on it. “Change You Can Believe In” was the winning presidential campaign slogan in 2008. The new slogan for the Democrat party (unveiled just last week)… “Change Matters.” One of the most dynamic social entrepreneurship organizations, growing at a rate of 100,000 members a month, is Change.org. What both political and social organizations are tapping into is a popular desire to change ourselves.
Ironically, one of the biggest challenges facing the business world these days is resistance to change. In a recent article at Graziadio Business Report, Pepperdine University faculty members analyzed over ten years of independent business studies. Feel free to read that article if you’re into business management. The conclusion, though, was that businesses without a strong Organizational Change Management (OCM) program got at best a poor return on investment (ROI) for any improvement project they undertook. Why is this? Why do we say we want change, but then resist it? Here are two theories:
1. We operate best as individuals. In an upcoming post, we’ll be taking a look at Len Fisher’s new book The Perfect Swarm and see the flaws of the jury system, among other insights. This may also help answer why we are more receptive to individual rather than corporate change.
2. We seek metamorphosis not mere change. As much as we may say we want change, making this happen even in your own life is almost (if not entirely) impossible. In another post we’ll take a look at metamorphosis in nature and its implications to humanity.
Perhaps Ariel was telling the truth after all. Maybe the hope of humanity lies in a “sea-change into something rich and strange.”
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