Explaining Muddy Waters

Metaphors are good for explaining something general in a way many people could relate to, but, on the other hand, metaphors always have a huge issue: each person can understand a metaphor in his or her own way, due to personal context.

A few months ago, I wrote a short blog post titled “Muddy Waters” that should have been a metaphor about our political/economic system and people in it, but, since then, I have heard various unexpected interpretations.

What I wanted to say can be summed up in the following: if we really want to change our personal circumstances, we have to change our political and economic system first, and, if we do a good job, positive change in people will follow.

Original photo source: "Muddy mirror" by Tom Bech 

Usually, when we are talking about societal change, we are striving to nudge people to become more conscious, tolerant, or enlightened. However, the issue is not there; if the system is “wrong,” even if they succeed with a positive change, similar to recovering drug addicts being placed in the same environment as before, people will soon revert to their old habits.

We are the ones who shape our technology, and our technology is shaping us. Before smart phones, you couldn't see a person staring at a small, shiny object for hours, and you would not see a person typing on it over the lunch or dinner table, while avoiding eye contact with the people with whom they were sharing their meal. With smart phones and the Internet, we gained the ability to connect more with the people spatially far away from us, but, in the process, we have neglected those who are in our own proximity.

Organisational systems — regardless of being in factories, sport, leisure, politics, or economics — all are the same: they shape our behaviour, what we learn, how we interact, and what we think. Over time, they become so natural to us that we forget that they are there — just like the fish in the story. After a few generations, they forgot that water can look clean and transparent.

We often forget the air we breathe, although it is the most important thing in our lives, and we remember it only when something is wrong (with our breathing organs or the air). It is true, rarely, people around us are aware of their own breathing processes.

When we talk about change, we instinctively know that we need to put in an effort, in order to achieve something. The only question is: where are we placing that effort?
Imagine that you need to wake up each morning at 6 a.m. If you trust your own ability and your internal “clock” as the only things needed to accomplish this task, you will need a significant amount of time and effort to train yourself, in order to achieve that precision. If you do not succeed in waking at the set time, you will be annoyed, frustrated, sad, etc. for failing at what you have been trying to achieve for so long, constantly worrying about it. However, if you introduce an alarm clock, you will shift your trust to technology. Now, technology has helped you to make that change. Technology works with you. Therefore, effort has made a shift from “I” to the “Environment.”

When technology fails, you don’t blame yourself or another person but “stupid technology,” and you will know that you need to find a better gadget that won’t fail you next time. Again, putting too much trust into technology can lead us to the other extreme, where we can become slaves to it, but that is the subject of another story.

The symbol of “muddy water” in the metaphor does not represent corrupt people we need to remove, in order to better our circumstances; “muddy water” represents a system that works in a wrong way, making us do the things we are doing now.

If you change the rules in the game of Monopoly, players will adjust the way they play the game.

When we change our political and economic systems, and if we do a good job, positive change in people will follow.

The good thing is that: the system is just an idea, and ideas we can easily change.

If you liked this story, you may like my book.
System Upgrade v2.016:
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