Monday, January 28, 2008

Mastery and the difficulty of living with other people

I am reading a book called Mastery by George Leonard. A friend lent it to me. It's a wise little book about the value of process and the joy that comes from picking a path that is intrinsically rewarding. I like it, and I believe quite a bit of what the author believes.

Still. I find myself thinking as much about what it leaves out as what it contains. Mastery seems to be a goal for the solitary. It involves a focus on the self as much as a focus on whatever skill is to be mastered. It means making the kind of commitment to a process that we human beings find hard to make to one another.

Maybe it is because relationships change so fast that we cannot master them. We could master some aspect perhaps - a sales pitch or the teaching of a very specific behaviour. But we cannot master the big units of relationships because we cannot repeat them over and over while fine-tuning our abilities.

We are not even very good at imagining relationships. Have you tried to step into a conversation you are planning to have? It's hard to do - hard to picture the sequence of emotions that pass across the face of the person listening to us speak, hard to hear the voice or anticipate the moment of laughter. The other person never has the script and the one thing our experience has taught us unequivocally is that whatever we anticipate will not be exactly what happens.

Paradoxically, both mastery and relationships walk the same line between intention and surrender.

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