Holding uncertainty

The other night I watched episode 5 of Wildest Dreams. It’s a BBC show in which two small teams of people compete to become wildlife film-makers. Like so many such shows I found the compete-and-be-judged format a bit grating but the set-up for this episode was interesting.

The teams were taken to a famous watering-hole in Kenya a place where a complex ecology includes hippos, crocs and lots of other wildlife. However, the rains had recently failed, and the hippos were seriously malnourished, with many dying. To the expert eye, this was readily apparent but it was not so obvious to the neophyte film-makers, who were caught up with the awesome scenes of nature before them and entranced by the almost mythic story surrounding this “magical spot”.

(This was the cue for a good deal of snarky commentary from the presenter, who I suspect would have been just as beguiled as the participants if he hadn’t been given the inside track by the experts.)

Both teams had similar experiences: only very late in the filming process did the drought story become fully apparent to them. One team decided to rewrite their script to reflect this perspective. The other team agonised for a fairly short time and the leader seemed to take the Macbeth perspective: too far steeped in blood. They’d spent hours making their “circle-of-life” story and it was too late to completely reshoot. Big mistake, as it turned out.

I thought this was a good example of sliding into “either-or” thinking, something it’s easy to do under stress. We either stick to our plan or we have to start all over again.

The more successful team did something more elegant. They started off with the story of this marvelous watering hole, and then introduced the shock of the current drought. In effect, they incorporated their surprise into their story rather than seeing it as a challenge they had to capitulate to or ignore.

I see versions of this playing out in my life the whole time. The practice I’m constantly working on is being willing to sit longer with doubt and confusion and see if a new perspective emerges – resisting the more macho urge to take one side or another.

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