Human progress and survival depend on stability and continuity. To create a smoothly functioning society you need to have a stable system in place, and an individual’s progress also depends on the stability of his or her surroundings. When you look far back enough, you find that humans crossed the nomadic stage and settled down in one place through the stability provided by agriculture. Across the dynasties sprinkled through history, the ones that made the most cultural, economic and architectural progress were the ones that provided stable governance and security. And yet, don’t you sometimes feel that we put too much emphasis on continuity and stability? That we seek predictable outcomes and guaranteed benefits a little too much? In truth, for a society to be able to evolve into something higher, for humankind to expand its creative potential, we need to let go of some of that security and venture into risky waters.
A lot depends on taking a leap of faith, to visualise a new idea or a new world and leave behind sure footing to delve into promising waters. Explorers of the unknown can best testify to that emotion — not just the thrill of adventure and discovery, but the fulfilment of having your convictions come alive. From a modern economic point of view, risk taking ability is the most important characteristic of entrepreneurs. You could argue, of course, that it’s not just the entrepreneurs that build an economy — it’s the workers and the ones that take the orders. Simply put, though, it is a symbiotic relationship. Risk takers need security-seekers to translate the blueprints to reality. But without the risk takers, there’d be no blue print to work on. For society to move a level ahead, it’s the risk takers that take centrestage.
Joseph Schumpeter’s economic theory of business cycles tells it best. He talks about the cyclical crests and troughs that businesses face, until the risk taking entrepreneur comes along with a groundbreaking idea and shifts the entire curve upward. Then again the entire cycle progresses normally, until another visionary comes along with a brand new idea. His theory mainly concerns industrial innovation, but you can apply it to almost all areas of progress in life. It is best displayed in science and technology, but advances in art and literature move human thought upward into a new curve as well. Innovation shifts the quality of life upward.
From a microcosmic perspective, it applies equally well to a person’s daily struggles. Too many times we opt for the safe thing, when what we really wanted was to chase that brilliant idea and set our creative selves free. Too often we continue doing work that we loathe because of the security it provides, when our life really needs a breath of fresh air. People don’t like shifting home too often or switching towns, for the unsettled feeling it gives.
And yes, it applies to relationships as well. Too often we seek relationships based on security or guaranteed benefits, rather than following the true call of the heart. And too often we remain tied down in toxic relationships because ending them would mean unsettling a stable life. We make continuity the measure of success, not bothering to look beyond the façade of normalcy. Sometimes breaking something off and starting afresh is better than remaining tied down in a toxic agreement.
Am I making a case for a nomadic, unsettled existence here? Certainly not. We need the ground beneath our feet to be stable in order to walk or run. It’s just that always remaining in the plains isn’t a very good idea—you need to experience the highs of the mountains and the depths of the ocean too.