I first heard about “letting go” from Dr Wayne Dyer’s book Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life. The book evaluated the Tao Te Ching which emphasizes this relaxed, passive approach. When I first read it I thought that it meant giving up. It didn’t. It actually means that our holding on tightly is what is probably causing the exact situation that we despise.
From a philosophical perspective, it can be explained by examining water. If you want to grab water, you can’t tightly grab onto it and carry it where you want to go. No, water is too elusive for that. But if you relax your hand and form a cup, you can take the water and bring it with you, drink it, or transport it. It takes a much different approach.
From a systems standpoint, there are several principles of systems that can be examined. First is to look at what is called Bounded Rationality. In its simplest form, it means that the individuals in the system are acting based on rational decisions and that anyone in that situation, with that information, would act in a similar manner. When someone from the workforce gets promoted to management they will likely take on a similar philosophy as management despite being in the workforce and potentially despising management’s actions in their previous role. When the system is the same, the people can change but they won’t change the system so much as the system will change them.
This explains culture of an organization very well. Over time the new employee either buys into the culture or they are no longer in the organization. They will perform poorly and be removed, determine it isn’t a good fit and move on, or struggle through until they finally can’t take it anymore.
The next important point is that when there are two opposing forces and one increases force, the other increases their force to match. Looking at the war on drugs we can see this. Law enforcement wants to have less drug traffic, addicts want more access to drugs and dealers want everything to continue as normal. When law enforcement increase the pressure on drug trafficking, the addicts get more desperate for drugs and the dealers get more creative on how to bring drugs into society. Getting “tough of drugs” doesn’t bring the desired effect of less drugs on the street.
Most people think that the answer is to apply more and more force but looking at similar situations where this tactic was employed will show that it isn’t the best strategy. In the revolutionary war, America was receiving more and more force from the British. What started as a tax issue, quickly escalated into a full-blown war. By the British decision-makers increasing their force, they pushed the opposing side more and more until drastic measures were taken.
The Tao Te Ching guides us away from increasing force to get what we want and instead talks about letting go. Let go of our desire to control and we will likely realize that the opposing forces will let go as well. Prohibition was a great example of this. Once prohibition ended, most of the increased criminal behavior around alcohol ended. As the lawmakers and law enforcement pushed, the pro alcohol citizens pushed back.
These are only a few examples and there are many examples when force was used to overtake the opposition and create change. For me I learned that letting go didn’t necessarily mean giving up. Just as cupping the hands in water causes one to be able to hold the water, changing the approach from force and resistance can be effective. What is it that the other side wants? What goals are aligned with the other side?
I have learned that if I can truly understand the other side’s point and work to agree with their point, I can usually think of the problem in a new way and come up with a new solution that benefits both sides. This takes practice but at the core is the ability to let go. Once you master letting go, you can then explore shared goals and solutions that benefit both sides. This understanding of systems can drastically increase your ability to be effective because you don’t spend all of your time fighting against the other side. Instead you work to find a better solution.