Ideas that are too bright for their own good


A friend of mine once set me a riddle. He asked “What do you do if someone you really care about is about to make a big mistake?” I remember a range of answers popping into my head:

Stop him?

Warn him?

Try to talk him out of it?

Point out the risks?

And so on. My friend (a wise professor) then offered this answer: You help him along that route as fast a possible.

I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. Do we really help people by standing in their way, even for the best motives ? Surely yes, if we save their lives. But is it really helpful if we simply get in the way of their opportunities for learning and development?  I have certainly used this approach suggested by my friends more often than not. We need to flow with the creative impulses of those we care about.

Yet there can also be occasions where someone is shining so brightly that they are actually blotting out their own view ahead with the glare. Light can help us to see better in the dark, but too much light can blind and even burn.

In nature, shadow is a vital element. Shadow is a place to shade from the sun’s glare. Shadow protects moisture from evaporating and shadow is a place to hide. Shadow creates softer shades of colour and is part of Nature’s beauty.

Shadow has a role to play.

If someone we care about is shining too brightly, then the brining of shadow can create a more sustainable and gentle light. If our ideas are too evangelistic, and we are even mad with them, a reality check, some devil’s advocacy, some well placed doubting, can rebalance a person’s awareness – both of themselves and the world around them.

We can become so positive that something will work, often because we are shining wishful thinking all over it, that we can lose our touch with probability and even certainty. We do not spoil then we cast shadow over something, especially where the opportunity to learn from mistakes isn’t possible or beneficial in the situation.

It’s no use letting someone test their wild idea if the result is they will be fired. or if they might end up in deep legal waters. There’s an intuitive skill here, which requires awareness and sensitivity to the needs of the other person. We may well let them flow with their brightly lit idea, or we may well be the “yes but” that just saves their life.

Shadow can make glare more bearable, and in this softer light, the person can see more clearly. They may still progress their idea, or they may “think twice”.

Often we become so fired up with an idea that we are closed to any questioning or challenging. Here we are like a powerful beam, shining our will into the future. Yet, away from the light is an environment we are unable to see, so trapped are we in the bright glare of our own wishes and vision. Hope can motivate, and it can also blur.

Then shadow can be a softening gift, something that frees us from our own too bright place in the world. We come back to a more balanced place, and can make more conscious choices. Often our ideas are all the better for it in the longer run.

We can become obsessed with our ideas and decisions. We can convince ourselves we are into a sure winner. The more obsessed we become, the more we bathe in the glow of our own optimism. Only a friend might see the dangers. Here they might appear to be trying to bring darkness to our impulse, to spoil the party. Yet their questioning and challenging seems dark only because of our relatively much brighter position. They aren’t bringing darkness to spoil, but to offer balance. They are bringing us back to the centre of the way. A good idea is rarely too bright – it will survive the challenge of shadow to its shining.


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