Growth and Decay

Are you trying to get your life to the point where it is stable? If you are, then consider the following story about Socrates and Plato.

Socrates taught Plato that everything fits into one of three stages. Everything begins at a point of energy from which it expands or grows. This is followed by a period where nothing changes, and finally, it shrinks back to the original point of energy where it began. The first stage is growth, the second is stability and the third is decay.

Plato listened politely and then went off by himself to mull over what he had just heard. Walking along the beach, Plato picked up a piece of driftwood to examine it. He concluded that there aren’t three stages in life; there are only two. Everything is either growing or decaying. There is no such thing as stability. The piece of wood was undergoing a slow decay on the beach, but he could speed that up by burning it. He could slow it down by shielding it from the elements. No, there is no such thing as stability. Everything is either in slow growth, fast growth, slow decay or fast decay.

If it is true that everything is either in growth or decay, then why do we want to achieve stability? Why do we say things such as, “I want a stable marriage”? Probably because belief in stability gives an illusion of safety and security, and keeps us from confronting the uncomfortable truth that our marriage could be decaying.

There’s a huge benefit to facing the uncomfortable question about growth and decay in any area of our lives. If we realize that our marriages (or careers or spiritual lives) are in a state of decay, then at least we can do something about them. Each of us can ask the question: “What can I do to get my marriage into slow growth?” If it’s already in slow growth, we can ask a similar question: “What can I do to get my marriage into fast growth?”

One way to change from decay to growth is to look for opportunities in the midst of change. For example, when my mentor died, many of his employees didn’t think the company could survive. Some quit, while some marked time, waiting for the business to fold. Others saw this loss as an opportunity, however. They could now exert greater influence in the company, could be more creative with materials used in seminars, and could even run the seminars themselves. When we begin looking for opportunities, we move out of the realm of fear and into the realm of excitement and possibility. We move out of the realm of decay and into the realm of growth.

All of us can gain by being honest with ourselves about whether areas of our lives are in growth or decay. If you want to learn more about growth and decay, read chapter 7 on change in When Good Intentions Run Smack into Reality. And look for our next newsletter, which will focus on how to manage change.

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