What’s Different, What Never Changes, and a Tale of Two Cities

Reality is always more complex (and faster-changing) than any attempt to sloganize it—or to try to force-fit some paradigm or acronym. When I was a university student, the work of pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James had a major impact on my thinking. James, the father of American pragmatism, recognized that you first needed to accept and believe something before you could bring some structure to your life and thinking (i.e., to make a leap of faith of some kind before you can act decisively). Pragmatism was the antidote to the rigid school of scientific materialism—the need to have empirical certitude supporting every decision. All this remains true: We are still trying to bring order to chaos, and perennial, universal questions continue to gnaw at us. Read (or reread) a translation of some ancient manuscript or papyrus (sacred or otherwise) from 3,000 years ago, and you will be amazed at how people’s thoughts, hopes, and worries at that time look remarkably similar to what we think and feel today. This has not changed and probably never will. As Aristotle asserted over 2,300 years ago, “All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire.”

Some things have changed, though. What’s different now is the level of complexity and velocity we are faced with in every aspect of our lives and occupations. In short, what has changed is the ...

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