Locus of purpose
Locus of purpose
I want to explore my discomfort with purpose a bit more. I have written about it in my last week's email but also before (for example, here or here). I have received quite a few comments reacting to that email last week, making me think that this is important. The idea is quite alive for me and I still try to feel my way into it.
One of the people reacting to my email asked the following: "I'd be interested to hear more about how you feel strategic direction, and purpose, are different." Seems like a simple question that is easy to answer and I felt a bit annoyed that it did not feel that simple for me. What I ended up replying with is this: "For me a purpose is anchored somewhere in an idealised future while a sense of direction is anchored in the here and now." Now that might not be true for everybody. And both could be called 'purpose'.
So maybe instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, let's try to explore different ways to look at purpose. For example the locus of purpose. Two ways to look at it. Firstly in terms of location in time: is the purpose formulated as in the here and now or is it somewhere in the future. Secondly in terms of location relative to myself: is it something intrinsic to me or something I do, or is it something that is attached to an ideal out there that can be achieved?
A story I heard today might help to illustrate this. The person who told me the story said that she would often go to commercial parties that were about making money for the organisers and those parties were generally rubbish. So she decided with a bunch of other people to organise their own parties, without a commercial purpose – just to have a good party. Of course she would have to say that these were the better parties but I do believe her – and they have spun out into a festival by now. Her purpose is in the here and now and intrinsic: have a good party and enjoy yourself. In the other case, the purpose was outside and would only happen later: money and financial reward. (Now this is not to argue for a 'yolo' – you only live once – kind of lifestyle. Knowing what matters in the now still connects to how my behaviour influences others and the environment as all of this is connected.)
I find it really hard to put that difference into words, I can feel that there is a difference. In the end it comes down to whether we do something because it matters, because it is the right thing to do in a moment, not because it is getting us anywhere or giving us something in an unspecified future. Yet the fact that it matters to me what I do still ties it into a broader context beyond the action itself, both in space and time, making it a meaningful contribution to what is going on. And, to tie it back to perception: if we perceive more depth and are more aware of our way of perceiving, we will act with more integrity to what matters. But more on that maybe another time.
Where is your purpose located?
The Paper Museum
I am an eye.
You are an eye.
And do you see
A view like me?
How thin on perspective this world seems to be.
So you and I
Look eye to eye
See differently –
Extraordinary depth that a lone eye can’t see.
And now, if I
Am first to die,
Of us will be
A trace of the depth that connects you to me.
Roger Duck, 2003, inspired by Mind and Nature, Gregory Bateson
Image from page 62 of "A study of the propagation, refraction, reflection, interference and diffraction of ripple waves" (1914) - Source