Last summer my daughter Julia and I ran a 24-mile loop in Lost Creek Wilderness, Colorado. The spring had been wet. At one of the creeks that we crossed the water level was too high to use stepping stones to cross to the other side with dry feet. So we just stepped into the stream with our running shoes, which worked fine.

Julia crossing a creek

I noticed that my first response was that it was necessary to keep my shoes dry. I would be able to do this by taking off my shoes, carry my shoes as I waded through the creek, dry my feet on the other side, and then put my shoes on again. Doing this would be a roundabout way of doing things, and it was fine to run in wet shoes that dried quickly anyhow. It was not necessary at all to keep my shoes dry!

In his book “On Dialogue”, physicist David Bohm speaks about the impulse of necessity. This is a feeling that things must be done or unfold in a certain way. Wanting to be “right” in a conversation is an example of this impulse. Bohm presents the impulse of necessity in the context of having respectful conversations in an atmosphere of dialogue rather than debate. This is a timely topic in this era of polarization, but let’s think about the impulse of necessity as a driver of our behavior. Sometimes we feel it is necessary that something must be done in a particular way, and we attach so much importance to this that we fail to ask ourselves the question whether we could also act or respond in another way? By obeying the impulse of necessity we may lose sight of the options that we have. We can have such a one-track mind individually—think of the example of my stream crossing, but we can also feel the impulse of necessity collectively. This happens frequently in organizations where we collectively embrace ideas or procedures without asking whether they are aligned with what we aim to achieve.

Where do you feel the impulse of necessity in your own life? Do you feel you a need to do things in a particular way? Is it really necessary to follow this impulse, or are there other options that are just as good or even better? And if you work in an organization, is there implicit or explicit pressure to do things in particular ways? Is this pressure part of the formal procedures of the organization, or is it part of the mores among colleagues? Could you start a conversation to discover it there are alternative approaches that might work better? It is always helpful to be aware of our options. Remember that we don’t need to keep our shoes dry when crossing a creek, getting our feet wet may be the better choice!

Roel Snieder

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