Thursday, May 31, 2007

Slow Down - You're Moving Too Fast

During my days playing and studying chess I became acquainted with the German word "zugzwang". Literally translated, zugzwang means "compulsion to move". Within the context of a game of chess, zugzwang describes a situation where a player's position would be perfectly tenable but for the fact that he or she must make a losing move. In short, because one cannot simply forfeit his or her move and is forced to play a move, the player in zugzwang actually plays a central role in his or her own demise through their "impetuousness".

I really feel that 21st Century Sydney is a zugzwang culture. We have seemed to developed the misguided notion that productivity is intrinsically linked to fruitfulness. Indeed, the more full one's schedule one is, the more important we believe they are. In response to the question "How are things?", the fashionable answer seems to be "Oh, I'm really tired - I've been so busy lately".

While it is true that we should strive to avoid laziness, there are times that it is better to wait and reflect than to simply act for the sake of acting and do for the sake of doing. Sometimes one has to stop being productive in order to be fruitful. There are times when to we need to slow down and regain our bearings. Only then will the right course of action present itself.

To help us in the pursuit of being fruitful rather than simply productive, Thomas à Kempis gives us three very practical pieces of advice:

1. Don't be too quick to accept the words of others - "Test everything. Hold onto the good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). God has given us all minds - let us use them to critically engage with what people say to us, rather than blindly accepting what they say as true. Every person has their own agendas and biases which influence the things that they say. We should be especially wary when people tell us things that we want to hear. Written within the context of gossip, Thomas à Kempis writes: "We do well to believe less than we are told". But even with the first principle in mind ...

2. Don't be too quick to reject the words of others - As Thomas à Kempis writes: "It is wise neither to be impetuous, nor to hold obstinately to your own opinions". That is, critical engagement with others involves not merely refusing to accept what people say blindly, but it also involves being open to what they have to say to you. Dogmatism is just as great an evil as uncritical acceptance - indeed, quite often the two co-exist. We should be particularly open to the opinions of others when these opinions differ from our own. Which leads us onto Thomas à Kempis third piece of advice ...

3. Don't be too quick to offer your own opinion - This is perhaps one of the few times where it is truly more blessed to receive than to give. Most people are far too quick to offer their own opinions, quite possibly because they give far too much weight to the importance of what they say. Knowledge is power and if you take the time to listen to what others have to say and perhaps even learn from them and their experiences, you will be greatly empowered. This is not to say that we should never share our opinions, but I believe that more often than not it is most wise to listen first, then offer our opinions second.

Let us take the time to truly reflect upon this advice from Thomas à Kempis. I suppose that there are times when we must make a decision quickly because deadlines are imposed on us from above, such as in the workplace. There are other times, however, when the only reason we make a decision quickly is because we have this chronic desire to do something rather than nothing. It is during these times that we must recognise that to wait and reflect is to be fruitful and that all time is not our own, but rather "kairos" or God's time.

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