Monday, September 16, 2013

Coloring Inside the Lines

It’s a lesson few of us like to learn.

“God created a world constrained by gravity, constrained by innumerable physical laws,” writes Matt Appling in Life After Art. “He created animal and plant life, each kind with its own strengths and limitations. And he created humanity to live and die by all kinds of constraints. God created all of these constraints and limitations—and called them good.”

Not exactly our favorite words.







That’s like seeing a 65-mile-per-hour speed sign on the interstate, and declaring it to be good.

The fact is, though, we all work and live within constraints. It might be legal, or financial, or moral, or ethical. But constraints are our daily fact of life.

My constraints are often called lawyers. And experts.

My day-to-day work is in the freewheeling, Wild West atmosphere of the internet – web, social media, blogs, online news sites. What’s critical to functioning in this kind of environment is speed. Wait too long to respond, and you can find yourself to be roadkill.

Companies and other organizations are not designed or structured for speed; what they are structured for is deliberate consideration by all parties concerned. Lawyers review things; other kinds of experts review things; people seek a calm and orderly approach to anything that must be said publicly. There are reasons for this, including the lawsuit-happy society we live in.

But when you’re dealing with online time, that’s institutional roadkill. Wait too long and you won’t know what hit you.

The need for constraints and limitations run smack up against a world where the very natures of time and speed have fundamentally and profoundly changed, and they have changed forever. Constraints are still needed, but of different kinds and in different ways.

The tension with all of this is sometimes unbearable. They think they’re dealing with the guy who always wants to color outside the lines; what they don’t see is that the lines have changed.

We’re trying to accommodate each other. It’s not easy. I’m constantly chafing against institutional constraints. Some days the response comes way too late to be useful; I ‘m often left with finding someone credible outside the organization who’s already responded or communicated. It can make us look foolish, but foolish is better that looking stupid or arrogant.

As Appling says, constraints and limitations are good. The lines, the design, are what give us order, stability, and even beauty. The trick honoring those limitations – and still doing what’s needed to be done.

And sometimes you have to color outside the lines, and perhaps in the process draw new lines.

Over at The High Calling, we’re discussing Life After Art. To see the discussion on this chapter, “Coloring Inside the Lines,” please visit the site.

Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Anonymous said...

colouring inside the lines
and outside of the lines
without crossing the line

Laura said...

This was one of my favorite parts of the book, Glynn. You are right about all of us having constraints. I've just never thought of them in a positive way, I guess. Appling is helping me see a little differently.