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Order and chaos

The Ying-Yang symbol has its roots in Taoism. If you look at the symbol, you will notice that the white half has a black circle inside of it, and the black half has a white circle inside of it. One interpretation of the Ying-Yang symbol is that the world is divided into chaos and order, but within chaos, there is the potential/necessity for order, and within order, there is the potential/necessity for chaos. Rather than existing as a polarity or continuum, order and chaos are intrinsically tied to each other.

When you think about the friends around you, or the companies you've been part of, or the members of your extended family, it's often pretty easy to categorise those who lean more towards order, as well as those who lean more towards chaos. I would argue that for many of us in Western society, we more strongly value people and organisations who tend towards order than the people and organisations who tend towards chaos. We'd rather associate ourselves with people who we can rely on, companies which operate predictability, or an intimate partner who can keep their emotions in check.

It's an alluring pull. As a species, our primary drive is to survive, and when things are more orderly, we feel more in control. When we're "in control", life seems more predictable, and if it's more predictable, then we're less likely to find ourselves in danger. There is the perception of safety in order.

This makes all the sense in the world, and personally I feel the pull of order every day in my life. I spend plenty of time trying to create systems, processes and support structures which ensure that the foundations of my life are as solid and predictable as possible. This has ramped up even more since I've become a father.

But order alone is not enough.

As a species, imagine if none of our ancestors had ever tried new hunting techniques, explored new lands, or attempted to do new things. When we try new things, we step into the unknown. A part of us comes alive in response to the challenge we're engaging with, and the understanding that it might not work out. Trying new things, or being creative, is full of chaotic energy, and we need it to keep moving forward as individuals and as a society.

That said, too much chaos for too long can be overwhelming. We can't tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond our capacity to cope for long periods of time.

For every single person, no matter how chaotic their lifestyle is, there is always the capacity to put their life together. On the other hand, no matter how organized and put together a person might be, how clear thinking and focused they are, every single one of us can lose a hold of everything in an instant, and be thrust into chaos.

What happens when we get too much order? A degeneration into tyranny. What happens when we get too much chaos? A degeneration into nihilism. So the optimal place to occupy is somewhere in between.

Such is the delicate nature of life. It is both inspiring and frightening. We need both order and chaos, and we need to develop our fitness in both domains. It's the dance of life.


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