What guided the choices that brought you to where you are in life right now? How often were these choices down to choosing flexibility or its opposite?
“And you may ask yourself – Well… how did I get here?”*
Gentle reader: Where do you find yourself in life at this present moment? Where are you on the path, right now? What choices brought you here? What guided those choices?
What do you see around you? What do you see ahead of you on this path? What lies behind you?
Chances are that your view from where you are is unrecognisable from where you started. Chances are that you are in a place you might never have imagined when you first set out. If you are lucky, past you would be surprised at where present you has ended up. If you are very lucky, life will never lose its capacity to surprise.
What is the biggest surprise that life has thrown at you so far (whether a pleasant surprise or otherwise)? How did you choose to deal with it?
How we react to life’s infinite capacity to surprise is everything. In every moment, we have an infinite array of choices available to us as to what we do next. But it is likely that the choice we make in any given moment will be pulled from a narrower range of options.
To flex or not to flex?
You could argue that most choices boil down to whether we choose to flexible or inflexible. We might choose to go with the flow. We might choose to stand firm. At various times, either of these might prove to be the best choice (or the least bad choice).
I have found myself thinking a lot about the flexibility and inflexibility in our choices these past few days. My thoughts were put on this path by a striking sentence in Gaby Hinsliff’s Guardian article on Boris Johnson’s September 2021 Cabinet reshuffle. You might say many things about Johnson’s Government. But you can’t accuse it of being inflexible. Pulling back from the in-the-moment minutiae of who’s in and who’s out, who’s up and who’s down as a result of the reshuffle, Hinsliff considers the underlying factors that determine the path taken by Johnson’s party:
“The Conservative party exists to mutate and evolve, to be both intensely ideological and intensely pragmatic depending on what the situation requires, and shameless about ditching anything that isn’t working.”
I’d suggest tweaking the start of that sentence slightly, to say that the Conservative party continues to exist because it mutates and evolves. But I would wager that its continued existence is not its sole reason for existing. Nonetheless, how it continues to exist and to thrive owes everything to its adaptability, its ability to be flexible. This calls to mind some words often attributed to Charles Darwin:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Apologies for lowering the tone by getting into the world of politics here. If you’ve been here before, I will not need to say that this blog is a safe space, and I hope a positive one. I am not here to tell you what to think. Regardless of your political views, consider the example of extreme adaptability presented by Johnson and co. Survival through endless flexibility, endless adaptation, endless shedding of skin. Whether or not you subscribe to his political views, you can learn from from this example without needing to be lead by it.
This is not the only path through life. But it is one possible path, all the same.
The perfect path
The perfect path through life is impossible to define. But likely you can make a good go of it by knowing when to be flexible and when to be inflexible. Each will be the correct course of action at different times in your life.
When is it best to be flexible? There are times in life when it really is best to go with the flow, to allow yourself to be open to influence, to change, to adapt and to learn in line with the path that life has in store for you. This is the more tactical (and/or at times the more opportunistic) end of things.
When is it best to be inflexible? There are other times in life when you ought never to compromise, never to listen to that inner voice telling you that it’s OK to let this one slide. This is where your values come into play, come into their own. As I wrote in There will always be joy:
“You can’t be anybody else but yourself. You can’t have any other values than your own. Trust in them.”
I would like to close with some wonderful words on values from the great Jon Stewart, which my friend David D’Souza has perpetually pinned to the top of his Twitter page:
“If you don’t stick to your values when they are being tested, they aren’t values: they are hobbies.”
- Cultural plasticity via Wikimedia Commons.
- The perfect path by MJCarty, East Sussex, Saturday 18 September 2021.