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An Antidote to Urgency

What does it take to think clearly when disaster strikes?

Gulf Oil Spill From the Air

Gulf oil spill seen from the air on May 19th.

Photo by David Rencher.

As the pollution spreads in the Gulf of Mexico, destroying life there for decades, I’d like us to notice one potential source of internal pollution, what might be clouding our minds, clogging our hearts, poisoning our clarity. The air we’re breathing right now in America is filled with anger and despair, grief and loss. It’s impossible to avoid feeling outraged by events and overwhelmed by grief as the enormity of what’s happening to “America’s Sea” sinks into our consciousness.

These are very valid human responses—I’d worry if we weren’t feeling them. However, rage and despair fuel another strong emotion, especially for us activists: urgency. We must do something now! We must fix this now! This must never happen again!

There’s a big problem with urgency—it’s always toxic. Like the black plumes of oil moving underwater through the Gulf, urgency blinds us. It pollutes our thinking, making it impossible to see clearly or to choose wise actions.

Urgency can’t be avoided in a crisis. As details of any disaster become clearer—as BPs safety violations and omissions become known—we angrily demand solutions. The more we know about how the disaster could have been prevented, the more we cry for instant solutions and immediate fixes. But this isn’t because we know what to do. This isn’t clarity. This is anger morphing into urgency.  Anger gives the illusion of clarity, as Buddhist teacher Dzigar Kongtrul writes:

“The difference between the clarity we believe we have when angry and the clarity that results from actually seeing clearly is that aggression has its own narrow logic, which does not take into account the deeper level of causes and conditions that surround each situation.”

Think about what happens to us and our relationships when we feel a sense of urgency. We work harder and harder, we push our plans and agendas, we shove aside or disdain anyone with an alternate plan or point of view. We push forward because we think we have no choice, the situation demands it, there’s no time to lose.

But lose we do. We become exhausted. We alienate people. Our own fierceness creates opposition and resistance. We shut down and stop taking in information that could be useful to our cause.

Urgency always leads to this place, a toxic wilderness of poisoned relationships and shriveled potential. Yet there is an antidote to urgency. We can stop. We can stop pushing, stop insisting. We can notice we’ve got blinders on, that we’ve stopped listening. We can silence our demands and pause for a short while. Yes, the time is now, but let’s look around and see who else has an idea, who else is ready to work on this. Let’s detox what we can control, our own minds and behaviors. Let’s rid them of the hyper fuel of anger, and find what’s sustainable for the long-term—clarity developed free from aggression.


Magaret Wheatley mugMargaret Wheatley wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Margaret is an internationally acclaimed writer, speaker, and teacher. Her books include Leadership and the New Science and, most recently Perseverance. She is co-founder and President emerita of The Berkana Institute, a charitable foundation that works with people around the world who strengthen their communities using the wisdom and wealth already present in their people, traditions, and environment.

Interested?

Preserverance, book by Margaret WheatleyVisit www.margaretwheatley.com to learn more about the book Perseverance, and look inside some of its pages. You can also sign-up for a free 8-week subscription series where you’ll receive two pages from the book every week.

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