Unavoidable and Unpredictable
Apr 09, 2019
“One became great by expecting the possible,
another by expecting the eternal,
but he who expected the impossible became greatest of all.”
Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
Kierkegaard famously said that the great person is the one who expects the impossible. This statement begs the question of how exactly one expects what is essentially beyond the realm of expectation?
In our online Spiritual Entrepreneur class we discussed the relation between the unavoidable and the unpredictable. The unavoidable, is the world we all see coming, usually characterized by what is no longer working and the inevitably of decline. It’s the statistics we all know and read about; the future of faith, the decline of denominations, the loss of church attendees, the rise of the nones and the spiritual but non-aligned and so on. In his book, The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly outlines twelve technological trends that will shape the future in ways that we can already see. Automation, artificial intelligence, increasing lack of privacy, the future will change the ways in which we work, learn and communicate. It’s hard to argue with these notions as the trends are already shaping how we live. But. While I agree with Kelly that the future is inscribed in the present, that it doesn’t just appear from nowhere, or from fantasy, the future is never completely inevitable, despite all the predictors, trends and data.
The traces, the trends that we see now are not prescriptions of the future, and the future is not determined. As Joe Strummer of The Clash said, “the future is unwritten.” You only have to watch a cartoon show like The Jetsons to realize that our predictions of the future seldom turn out the way we imagine. That 1950s Atomic Age fascination with space and robots led to a world where we envisioned people flying their own spaceships and holidaying on the moon! Of course, The Jetsons was a cartoon but it was created in the midst of a culture completely absorbed in the possibility of scientific advancement and space travel. The predictable, the unavoidable is the future painted by the logic of predictability. But, the economist John Maynard Keynes famously said that we have to remember that the unavoidable generally doesn’t happen because the unpredictable prevails.
Game-changing events and circumstances are always unpredictable, impossible, to put it in Kierkegaard’s terminology, but those are the things we must prepare for. The task is to be intellectually ready for the game change, to begin the process of preparing for the impossible, the unpredictable. We do this by re-focusing our thinking, moving away from what we know into the realm of un-knowing, where the opportunity to discover new ways of thinking and doing can emerge. To put it another way our analytic mind is good at predicting the inevitable, what we must nurture and develop is our imaginative mind, the ways in which we interpret the world, so that we can be alert and discover the unpredictable pathways.