The Devil is in the Details (and God is in the Generalities)

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"The elders do not see the details, they see the overall picture. If the overall pattern is good, the hardship of the details does not matter."

Malidoma Somé, Of Water and the Spirit, p. 311

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Many get annoyed at Russell Brand because he does not provide details. He talks in a general way about things, in a way that may appear wishy-washy. He paints in broad strokes, but does not seem as concerned about the finer details.

Brand is an idealist. To ask an idealist for details is like asking a long distance runner to improve his bench-press. If they are serious about their running then they would ignore such a request. This is because the two things - body-building and long-distance running - are mutually exclusive. They stand at opposite ends of a spectrum; and to head towards one means going away from the other. To build excessive muscle is detrimental to the goals of the endurance runner.

Idealism and realism are likewise mutually exclusive. We are all born somewhere between the two. None of us is entirely one or the other. We each contain a unique mix of both. Some will be more idealist than realist, some more realist than idealist. Those nearer to the middle of the scale will not readily identify themselves as either, and to them such labeling may seem unhelpful or untrue. They may say they are both, and it depends on the situation. This is because, being nearer to the middle, it is harder to discern being nearer to either pole. These people are lukewarm. Sometimes they think they're hot, sometimes cold. It depends. This is natural and normal.

It is those nearer to the extremes - realism on one side, and idealism on the other - that will find truth in these labels. They feel the difference more readily.

Here are some other words that we can associate with the opposite poles of idealism and pragmatism:-

Idealism                   <------------>             Pragmatism
Long-sighted            <------------>            Short-sighted
Imaginative              <------------>             Realistic
What can be             <------------>             What is
Generalities              <------------>             Details
Thought                    <------------>             Action
Inflation                    <------------>             Deflation

For Brand to be more pragmatic - to speak more of details, get down to the nitty gritty - would be to the detriment of his nature. His gift is in thinking in an idealistic way. This is what he brings to us. As a society we need all types; those that think idealistically, and those that think pragmatically. Without either we would be critically imbalanced.

It is unfortunate that we are in a culture that places realism above idealism, and that tends to marginalise the idealist voice to the fringes. In this environment it is unsurprising that a rampant idealist such as Brand should divide people so thoroughly. Our culture also tends to ignore the importance of multiple voices, and instead attempts to fit all shapes into the same hole. The hole that is most in favour at the minute is that of the pragmatist (pragmatism being the mindset-du-jour of capitalism). This combination of factors can lead us to believe that because someone is not pragmatic enough they are in some way defective. In believing this we have accepted the bias of the wider culture.

For a pragmatist to get frustrated at an idealist for their lack of realism, is akin to getting frustrated at light for its lack of dark. Light may be annoying when we are trying to sleep - but it is vital when we trying to grow crops. Both have their place: it is context that defines their value.

In this sense, it is not up to Brand to talk of details. When he says that our current way of doing things is not working, it is not for him to provide a detailed analysis of why and what we can do about it (although, indeed, he may feel compelled to try). His mind is not suited to this kind of activity, and it would be detrimental to us - as a whole - to ask him to go against his nature and get bogged down in the details. Especially so when there are there are other people - those with more pragmatic minds - who excel in details, and who do not get bogged down by them.

It may be that Brand's voice is at its most effective when it is placed amongst a team of other voices. A diverse team that incorporates all manner of types, from idealists through to realists. In this context, where Brand leaves off, another would pick up. Each would play to their strength. It is an archetypal image, and can be seen in stories like Lord of the Rings, where we have a multi-disciplinary team that excels through utilising its diversity. One person cannot be expected to incorporate all approaches, especially when these approaches are mutually exclusive to one another. For a person to play to their strengths means walking in a definite direction, and forsaking another direction. We cannot, after all, walk in two opposite directions at the same time.

We must recognise that we are all different, and have diverse styles of thinking and acting that are all equally important. We must remember that context defines what is important at any given moment. Whilst it is tempting for a realist to characterise an idealist as lazy for their lack of thoroughness, it must be remembered that an idealist could as easily turn this assessment on its head and demand a more expansive and less encumbered line of thought from the realist. To get tempted into this battle is to lose sight of how each type - idealist and realist - actually needs and supports the other.

Sometimes as a collective we need a bit of wishy-washy. Somé's quote reminds us that it can be very important to see the overall picture and to not allow the details to bog us down. As any artist knows, it is helpful to first have a general vision of the work we intend to create. Often those first strokes are broad and loose. As Somé reminds us, if our strokes are good and true, then we need not always worry about the finer details. They will often sort themselves out.

Let's ask ourselves: what things does this person (in this instance, Russell Brand) do well? What gifts do they bring to our collective? Once we recognise a person's shape - that way they are made to be - then we can see the ways in which that shape is to our advantage, collectively. In understanding our nature we can understand that it is not only valid, but vital to the wider scene. If it does not appear so, then we have simply not yet found the right context.

From there, we can work to understand everyone's nature; and see how all fit into and complete a jigsaw.

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"Gaddis and Kennedy bemoaned the fact that particularists are too often, in too many countries, the ones still making and analyzing foreign policy. 'These people,' the two Yale historians wrote, 'are perfectly competent at taking in parts of the picture, but they have difficulty seeing the entire thing.

They pigeonhole priorities, pursuing them separately and simultaneously, with little thought to how each might undercut the other. They proceed confidently enough from tree to tree, but seem astonished to find themselves lost in the forest.

The great strategists of the past kept forests as well as the trees in view. They were generalists, and they operated from an ecological perspective. They understood the world is a web, in which adjustments made here are bound to have effects over there - that everything is interconnected.

Where though might one find generalists today? ... The dominant trend within universities and the think tanks is toward ever-narrower specialization: a higher premium is placed on functioning deeply within a single field than broadly across several. And yet without some awareness of the whole ... there can be no strategy. And without strategy, there is only drift.'"

[Ken Wilber (quoting Thomas L. Friedman, from 'The Lexus and the Olive Tree')]
A Theory of Everything, p. 127-8 (Bold added)

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'Chaotic-Conceptual' thinkers

They perform well in open, free-wheeling, and highly creative activities. Abstractions play to their strength. Their weakness is that strength pushed to excess. Do not expect them necessarily to be good with details, precise lineups, or repetitive pages. You will need other minds, with different kinds of thinking, to do those things.

[Don Edward Beck & Christopher C. Cowan]
Spiral Dynamics, p. 183

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If the culture is more homogeneous and at lower levels of development, the goals must be specific, concrete (literally!) and immediate - the 'edifice complex.'

If the culture is at higher levels, then more abstract, broader, and distant goals are viable.

If it has powerful nodes both high and low, the goals must be dualistic - concrete and abstract, immediate and remote, spiritual and tangible.

[Don Edward Beck & Christopher C. Cowan]
Spiral Dynamics, p. 296

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[...] rigour and imagination, the two great contraries of mental process, either of which by itself is lethal. Rigour alone is paralytic death, but imagination alone is insanity.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 233

Rigour                             -                         Imagination
Deflate                             -                         Inflate
Grounded                        -                          Free-floating
Solid                               -                          Liquid
Together                          -                          Apart
Coherent                          -                         Random
Life                                  -                          Death

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Related posts:-
The Colour Wheel 
Everything is Connected
Balance 
Short-term vs. Long-term
Everyday Idealism
Get Real
The Earth's the Limit
The Oak and the Stream
The Game Goes On: Lessons from the Wire
Interdisciplinary Teams
Deep vs Shallow 
Making sense 
You ought to be more like me
Small Part/Large System
Small Mind/Large Mind 
Assuming a position

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