The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

An operative definition of insanity

Boxing fans, remember the “Rumble in the Jungle”?  Mohammed Ali was fighting George Foreman.  Foreman was the biggest, strongest, most powerful heavyweight anyone had ever seen.  Bombed Joe Frazier out pretty frighteningly fast.  People thought Ali might die.  Ali beat him, because he perceived that Foreman, given a clear target, would throw bombs all night long, unable to believe that he couldn’t kill anything he could hit. 

Ali’s own trainers were afraid, because this brilliant boxer devised a strategy IN THE RING, UNDER FIRE, that no one had ever used before.  He understood the physics of the ropes (that would be a practical, not necessarily intellectual understanding) and knew that if he leaned back against them as Foreman pounded, his body would be able to dissipate much of the shock into the ropes, rather than the shock merely traveling through his body, damaging internal organs (although he was peeing blood the next day!)

Foreman, unable to adjust his style, kept pounding until he was nearly exhausted, and Ali knocked him out.

There is something called “The Law of Requisite Variety” that suggests that within any system, the most flexible part will control the system.  In other words, the part that can adapt.

An operative definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, and expect different results.

In life, this might be termed “keep trying something different until you get the  result you want.”

Think about what what a guerilla army can do to a traditional army.  A traditional army is designed to destroy or occupy the infrastructure of a geopolitical entity.  This works grat when fighting another traditional army.  But against an enemy that can fade away into the hills or the civilian population, the actions of a traditional army actually recruit more enemies, while exhausting its resources and will.

Think about a writing career.  When you first start writing, you might want to create a specific type of work.  The chances are that that particular genre or sub-genre was a means, not an end.  The end was self-expression and financial gain.  If you aren’t careful, very careful to understand what you were actually trying to achieve, you’ll beat your head against a wall until you are bloody, rather than trying novels…and short work…and fantasy…and  military fiction…and screenplays…and whatever else you can do, until you get the result you want.

In a family, if you aren’t flexible, your kids will beat the hell out of you, because THEY are infinitely flexible.  Try to remain stolid, and they will simply find your “edges” and “cracks” and work around you. They are like water flowing to the sea.  Oppose them without a backup plan, and you are beaten before you start.  In intimate relationships, this is just as important.  Remember that your GOAL is a harmonious, happy, productive, passionate relationship—not simply winning some particular argument or “getting your way” at some particular time.

In the world of exercise, this is vital.  Jack La Lanne says that you have to change your workout routine every month.  Your body simply gets used to ANYTHING you throw at it, and the results will start to diminish.  Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have consistency: I love Bikram yoga, and it is exactly the same routine every time.  However, I can vastly vary its effect on my body by
1)     concentrating on different visualizations.
2)     Concentrating on different body parts.
3)     Pre-exhausting or pre-stretching different muscle groups before I go to class, etc.

In other words, it can LOOK the same from the outside, but be different.  Beware of anyone who suggests there is only one way to do something, and that anyone who suggests another way is a fool or a knave (lots of that going on politically in America right now.)  they are merely revealing their own inflexibility.  Don’t blame them—feel sorry for them.  Fear tends to “flatten out” behaviors, forces people to see the world in black-and-white, and to be hierarchical as hell.  This is a very human response, and people fall into it in business, love, and health.

Commit to flexibility.  By the way—in Yoga they suggest that a flexible spine leads to flexible attitudes.  I’m not sure, but I HAVE noticed that a large percentage of the most psychologically or politically inflexible people I’ve known have bad backs.  Go figure.

And by the way...how's your back?

3 comments:

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