Do you remember Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22? Even if you don't, I think you might recognize how many of us play out the paradoxical "catch" in our lives daily. Desperately in need of more time with family or friends, or time for exercise or a therapeutic relationship, the situations that create our need seem to prevent us from getting what we need.
I'm reading Parker Palmer's A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life. Palmer is my favorite writer about teaching, as he addresses the important topic of the self who teaches. His focus on a culture of fear and his call for an undivided life in higher education is something our educational systems desperately need to hear and heed.
This book, among his many, is important to me because it offers guidance about establishing a particular kind of community known as a circle of trust. These circles of trust provide the foundation for self-exploration and growth.
In an early chapter on preparing for this journey and the necessary conditions for establishing a circle of trust, Palmer addresses this notion of the Catch-22. He writes,
"Catch-22, Joseph Heller's classic novel of the lunacy of war, parsed the ‘logic' that governs a bomber pilot's life. If you understand the danger you are in and ask to be relieved of your duties you cannot be granted the relief? Why? Because the fact that you understand the danger means that you are sane, and only pilots who are crazy can be relieved of their duties. So you must keep flying even though you are crazy to do so!" (p. 72).
Of course, Palmer points out that this has proven to be an apt image for our time, because our fragmented and frenzied lives put us at risk and in need of restorative relationships, whether in community or counseling. However, our lives, the reason for our needs, make it impossible for us to take time to enter into these relationships. As he notes, "The very situation that creates our need for a safe space seems to prevent us from getting what we need" (p. 72).
"Seems to . . ." is the way out of this Catch-22, Palmer argues. He adds, that it's a culturally-induced illusion to believe that we can't have what we genuinely need and this illusion keeps us mired in the apparent madness of business as usual.
What's the solution?
According to Palmer, it hinges on breaking the illusion. Illusions, he notes, ". . . are made to be broken. Am I busy? Of course I am. Am I too busy to live my own life? Only if I value it so little that I am willing to surrender it to the enemy" (p. 72).
Many years ago, Stephen Covey, in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said the same thing with his 7th habit - "Sharpen the Saw." It's a similar story to capture the madness of our time. The wood cutter frantically and ineffectively working with a dull saw and getting very little done, knows the saw needs sharpening, but believes he's much too busy to take the time to sharpen the saw. Madness, certainly, but madness each of us knows all too well.
So, what choice will we make today? Is it time to acknowledge the illusion? Will we consent to the catch-22 madness or stop surrendering our own agency?
Am I too busy to live my own life? My irrational beliefs might fuel further needless delay.
Procrastination, it's more than all-nighters and the last-minute frenzy. It can be a problem with getting on with life itself.
Palmer, P.J. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life (Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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