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Absurd Heroism

--by Margaret Wheatley (Jan 18, 2016)


Consider Sisyphus. As described in both Greek and Roman mythology, Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to an eternity of futile and hopeless labor. He had to roll a rock to the top of the mountain, only to watch it tumble back down from its own weight and the natural force of gravity. Then he would roll it to the top again. Forever. The French existential philosopher Albert Camus wrote an essay about absurd heroism and the despair it caused entitled "The Myth of Sisyphus."

Sisyphus had no choice -- he had been condemned by the gods. But we do have a choice. We can notice the price we're paying for our absurd heroism, for believing that it's up to us. I hear so many people who want to take at least partial responsibility for this mess. Somewhat piously, as if summoning us to accountability, they say, "We need to accept responsibility that we created this" or "We created it, so we can change it." No we didn't. And no we can't. We participated with innumerable other players and causes and this is what emerged. We can't take credit for it, we can't blame ourselves and we can't put the burden of change on us. We're not Sisyphus, condemned to a fate of absurd heroism.

If Sisyphus had been a free agent, he would have noticed that gravity was the problem. We have to notice that emergence is the problem, as unchallengeable a force as gravity.

Let's fully face the brave new world that has emerged and put down our boulder -- the energy destroying belief that we can change the world. Let us walk away from that mountain of despair-inducing failures and focus instead on people in front of us, our colleagues, communities and families. Let us work together to embody the values that we treasure, and not worry about creating successful models that will transform other people. Let us focus on transforming ourselves to be little islands of good caring people, doing right work, assisting where we can, maintaining peace and sanity, people who have learned how to be gentle, decent and brave ... even as the dark ocean that has emerged continues to storm around us.

Margaret Wheatley is an author, visionary and thinker.  The excerpt above comes from her most recent book, So Far From Home.

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23 Previous Reflections:

 
On Jan 26, 2016 Eric Hutchins wrote:

I found this well-reasoned piece of common sense consistent with ancient scripture. Unfortunately, I commented at length and went on to defend Margaret's piece on the Kosmos Forum. This text area did no allow it to be cut and pasted from there to here. So, anyone wishing to read both comments, please go to:

http://www.kosmosjournal.org/news/absurd-heroism/   



On Jan 21, 2016 Jane E. wrote:

I appreciate Margaret Wheatley's emphasis on working where we are with what we have. This has been a hard lesson for me in my life. It's one that I am learning. These thoughts help and I am grateful.



On Jan 19, 2016 tracy wrote:

'"Let us walk away from that mountain of despair-inducing failures and focus instead on people in front of us, our colleagues, communities and families. Let us work together to embody the values that we treasure, and not worry about creating successful models that will transform other people. Let us focus on transforming ourselves to be little islands of good caring people, doing right work, assisting where we can, maintaining peace and sanity" ...  And this is not changing the world?



On Jan 19, 2016 paashi wrote:

 On first reading, I resonated with "we participated with numerable other players and causes and this is what emerged --------absurd heroism."  

But I find myself tied in the paradox of parts nestled in the whole that is constantly expanding. Can the parts have an existence removed from the whole.  Human imagination keeps emerging to deal with the minuscule and vastness and absurd heroism at core may be individual and  collective responsibility inherent in our imaginations.  Our evolutionary development has both an inner and outer awareness and so we find ourselves grappling with both micro and macro aspects of our world.



On Jan 19, 2016 Sanjeev wrote:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciSF0vX6pMw&feature=youtu.be

everyone needs to contribute for the betterment of society..Delhi has shown it at experiential level..



On Jan 19, 2016 Dawn Kimble wrote:

 Thank you, Margaret Wheatley, for these wise words. You remind me to stop running away from my fears or running toward my solutions and to place my attention here in my heart. If we can really be present to one another, maybe what emerges will be what we need.



On Jan 19, 2016 Cynthia wrote:

I find parts of this passage difficult to understand, including the concept of "emergence."  But it feels significant and my curiosity is sparked so I will try to learn more about the concept in general as well as the author's ideas.  In the present moment, I especially admire and am grateful for the accompanying Dharma Comic :)  Simple and true.  Playful.  Makes me smile.  Thank you, Leah.   



On Jan 19, 2016 James wrote:

 Just realised recently, as a parent and partner, my absurd self-sacrificing heroics is what  has got my sense of self into trouble, trying to fix it for everyone in a transactional dynamic that leads to fantasy of return on investment  rather than being kind to myself and by extension others, Put down the boulder. Stop trying to please and simply be, it is not all my responsibility nor is it all my fault. So yes its n ot about doing the right thing it is about doing the kind thing.



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On Jan 19, 2016 Tom wrote:

  I agree with Meg Wheatley that we can't lose sight of our own need for spiritual development and for taking care of the small things around us but look at Gandhi, King or Lincoln and understand that it was their "absurd heroics" that ended the suffering of millions. As Rabbi Abraham Herschel put it, "Some are guilty but all are responsible."  We can, as Martin Luther King put it, bring "together head and heart— intelligence and goodness--" to make a better world, or we at least we have a moral duty to try.  To try is both invigorating, connects us to others, and gives meaning to our lives. It is the opposite of energy destroying!  Gotta have a little faith and hope. :)



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On Jan 19, 2016 beverly wrote:

 And then there was Atlas



On Jan 19, 2016 Susan Wiemer wrote:

 I am thankful for the few gifted people, like the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, who believe that they not only can, but WILL change the world. Not all of us have that capacity, so we must do what we can, where we can. There is more than one path. Let's not discourage the next pivotal human being.



On Jan 19, 2016 Ruth wrote:

 I empathise with the author of these comments.  The boundary between individual and collective responsibility is fluid and indefinable.  Of course our practice is to live with integrity and with compassion in the space where we are right now - but different people will feel their way through this in different ways.  There are individuals who, as part of their practice, appear to take on more of the collective responsibility - I'm thinking Christ, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and so on - and they burn brightly.  They had a sense of divine mission and it gave them the energy they needed to help change things big time.  But their calling, their practice is not mine.  Mine is uniquely mine, and so my path is to ask for a candle of the spirit to guide me at each step of the way.  Tasks and responsibilities appear undoable if we think about them in the round, and that can lead to despair.  But taken step by step, much is achieved and we all  See full.

 I empathise with the author of these comments.  The boundary between individual and collective responsibility is fluid and indefinable.  Of course our practice is to live with integrity and with compassion in the space where we are right now - but different people will feel their way through this in different ways.  There are individuals who, as part of their practice, appear to take on more of the collective responsibility - I'm thinking Christ, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and so on - and they burn brightly.  They had a sense of divine mission and it gave them the energy they needed to help change things big time.  But their calling, their practice is not mine.  Mine is uniquely mine, and so my path is to ask for a candle of the spirit to guide me at each step of the way.  Tasks and responsibilities appear undoable if we think about them in the round, and that can lead to despair.  But taken step by step, much is achieved and we all take our place in the pattern.

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On Jan 17, 2016 david doane wrote:

Life is absurd.  It's also precious.  Most important, it's what's we've got.  I can't change the world, and yet my existence changes the world.  The world would be different if I weren't here -- hardly noticeably different, but different.  I don't have full control over anything, including myself.  I do have some limited power and control to make change in me and the world.  It's also true that life does things to me.  As I understand, Lao Tzu says we not only do, we are also being done.  The situation isn't all or nothing.  It's not a matter of I can change the world or I can futilely and hopelessly try and fail.  The problem is trying to control and take responsibility for outcome.  That is futile.  What I can do is act with integrity to my truth, act impeccably, and hope for the best.  That practice I believe in.  Over time we collectively did create what we have today.  I as an individual can't totally  See full.

Life is absurd.  It's also precious.  Most important, it's what's we've got.  I can't change the world, and yet my existence changes the world.  The world would be different if I weren't here -- hardly noticeably different, but different.  I don't have full control over anything, including myself.  I do have some limited power and control to make change in me and the world.  It's also true that life does things to me.  As I understand, Lao Tzu says we not only do, we are also being done.  The situation isn't all or nothing.  It's not a matter of I can change the world or I can futilely and hopelessly try and fail.  The problem is trying to control and take responsibility for outcome.  That is futile.  What I can do is act with integrity to my truth, act impeccably, and hope for the best.  That practice I believe in.  Over time we collectively did create what we have today.  I as an individual can't totally change it, but I can do what I can do which adds my piece to the worsening or improving of the situation.  

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On Jan 17, 2016 Abhishek wrote:

What if what seems like 'absurd heroism' is actually a spiritual practice? That it is not about the boulder or the gravity, nor about the objective of putting the boulder up the mountain, but just deepening oneself as one does that?

I feel unequipped to judge Sisyphus.....and if we are not vigilant, can't 'everything emerges' become another kind of absurd heroism? The one where we relinquish action trading off one belief for another?

In my journey I found myself pushing the boulder, putting it down but then picking it up again - this time, not because I wanted to put it up, but perhaps because I wanted to play with gravity, to see what pushing it makes me (as a person).....it was from feeling that whether its a boulder or a stone or a pebble, whether it is a pushing or a pulling....it is anyways Life acting on Life as Life




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On Jan 16, 2016 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 We, as a human race, are encountering  gigantic storm. We witness it as well as we experience it. We have all kinds of storms created by us..No Gods have condemned us to death. We are condemning ourselves to death.We have weather storms, climate storms,, ecological storms, radical ideological storms, financial storms, political and social storms. It is a  stormy world we live in.And we all are paying a heavy cost physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually and globally. We cannot afford to have an ostrich mentality wising, hoping and praying that these storms will pass away over our head. Apathy, denial, blaming and doing nothing constructively is suicidal. Now is the time to wake up. Now is the time to join hands with people close  in our family and community. Now is the time to join hands with people beyond our borders. We need to break out of individualistic, isolating and self-serving mindset. Now is the time to tackle it. If not know, then t  See full.

 We, as a human race, are encountering  gigantic storm. We witness it as well as we experience it. We have all kinds of storms created by us..No Gods have condemned us to death. We are condemning ourselves to death.We have weather storms, climate storms,, ecological storms, radical ideological storms, financial storms, political and social storms. It is a  stormy world we live in.And we all are paying a heavy cost physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually and globally.

We cannot afford to have an ostrich mentality wising, hoping and praying that these storms will pass away over our head. Apathy, denial, blaming and doing nothing constructively is suicidal.

Now is the time to wake up. Now is the time to join hands with people close  in our family and community. Now is the time to join hands with people beyond our borders. We need to break out of individualistic, isolating and self-serving mindset. Now is the time to tackle it. If not know, then the Doom's Day prophecy will prevail.

When things did not go the way I wanted and expected, I used to externalize  and point finger towards somebody. That kind of mindset caused suffering in me and people close to me. I have learned to look within mindfully and free myself from the bondage I create within myself. When my mind is liberated, I feel positive energy, robust hopefulness and deeply connected with people who are joining hands to create a better world to live in-a world where sanity prevails; a world where we have a common mission and vision of treating each other as sisters and brothers, as friends and fellow travelers with open minds and open hearts. This is me, a child of the sacred Mother Earth receiving blessings with gratitude.

May my stay be instrumental in planting trees of love, compassion and selfless service! May we all join our hands to work for a noble cause!

Jagdish P Dave


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