Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones

This posting’s title, describing yesterday, is from one of many John Denver songs that is a favorite.

For some weeks, I have been aggressively promoting System Dynamics modeling to senior Singapore government officials with whom I am in contact. I passionately believe that this powerful approach to policy problem-solving is a natural for Singapore and that Singapore could provide a model for a governance strategy, emphasizing the long-term that will be needed if ‘sustainability” issues, threatening the survival of the human race, are to be dealt with proactively and effectively. Many elements of such a strategy are already in place. I also believe that Singapore provides a unique opportunity to have its young people become “systems citizens,” by introducing System Dynamics modeling as a requirement in secondary school curricula throughout the island. “Systems citizens” is a term coined by the System Dynamics Learning Exchange, a group comprising dedicated secondary school teachers who have introduced System Dynamics modeling in their classes, with remarkable results.

In response to earlier, promotional efforts, I was asked by officials with whom I have been dialoguing to provide examples of “how System Dynamics modeling had contributed to policy problem-solving.” To seek out the very best examples, I contacted System Dynamics Community members of long-standing who were leaders in the field. They produced a wealth of examples, making a compelling case for the approaches’ effectiveness in addressing problems of crucial importance to Singapore. I provided a concise focused summary, making the case with attachments that documented my points. In sum, I did everything years of experience have taught me about making a highly useful methodology accessible to ‘policy makers.’

Yesterday I met with those I have been seeking to influence, for lunch. While the lunch had no agenda; its purpose was social; I was hoping for some indication that my persuasive efforts might be producing some of breakthrough; some sort of paradigm shift in thinking similar to what I experienced when I first encountered System Dynamics modeling. But I received little more than polite acknowledgement. I should not have been surprised. Building credibility takes time. Achieving breakthroughs requires tenacity and patience. New ways of thinking are being injected into an ongoing culture and world view that seems to be working well and in which substantial investments have been made. Why change? My experience should have reminded me not to be disappointed with modest incremental progress, but as reflected on our conversations, enroute to my next meeting, I was.

[The day was not a total stone. At that next meeting, I received very positive encouragement for a project to create a new higher education institution in the Maldives, moving forward on a project initiated four years ago that had been lying fallow until very recently. More about that in another posting.]

The day’s last event was attending a yoga class at the local “West Side” Community Center. My interest was inspired by a “Speaking of Faith” podcast featuring Yoga Guru Sean Corn. When I made inquiries about the class, a few days earlier, I was surprised to learn that it had an upper age limit - 55 years! Those were “the rules.” I know that rules are important in Singapore. However in response to Community Center staff inquiries, the instructor said he was willing to meet with me and allow me to attend the first class.

Though the class was billed as ‘for beginners’ most participants seemed to be taking it for the second or third time. The 75 minute regimen was arduous, though I was able to stick with it albeit with a few aches and pains. Certainly, I was not the most proficient; neither was I the least. But in our conversation afterwards the instructor said he would prefer that I not continue. While he admired my “determination and strength,” he told me, I was lacking in “suppleness.” I could not disagree. That was why I had sought to enroll. He was concerned that as sessions become more intense, I might injure myself. He would then be on the dock for making an exception to the rules. He suggested I seek out a class with a “gentler regimen.” This I intend to do.

Walking home, fixing a light dinner and completing end-of-the-day chores, I reflected on the realities of the aging process. Though I am always reminding myself that the grains of sand in my hour glass are running out - that I must use each day to the fullest - I was more conscious of this than usual. At the end of this long day I did not find the realization totally empowering. “Some days diamonds, others are stones.”

The next day (this morning) I chose the Dhammapada chapter on “Old Age” to accompany my meditation session. The first verse is entitled: “Seek the light.”

What is laughter, what is joy, when the world is ever burning?”

Shrouded by darkness, would you not seek the light?

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