The Inherent Risks of Absolutism in Times of Transition

HomeBlogThe Inherent Risks of Absolutism in Times of Transition

“I mean, look at me!” my daughter exclaimed, thrusting her phone in my face and pointing at a picture on Instagram taken 2 years ago.

“I. Was. UGLY.”

I looked down at the photo. Staring up at me was the face of my child at that awkward developmental stage that is 12 years old.

“And, I know what you’re going to say, but that’s what you are SUPPOSED to say. You’re my MOM!”

I looked at my daughter, smiled and responded gently, “Oh, really?”

“Yeah,” she countered and went back to grimacing at her picture.

“Well,” I started slowly, “I was going to say I remember feeling the same way. That’s why I don’t believe there is a single picture left of me during that time in my own life. I destroyed all of them.

My daughter looked up suddenly. “Really?!”

“Yeah, really,” I said sitting down next to her. “And you know what else?”


“I don’t think we can define ourselves by a transitional time in our lives. I mean, what if a caterpillar tried to exemplify its identity and value at the time it’s half eaten up within the chrysalis becoming a butterfly? I think that is most likely a pretty ugly stage if you evaluate it simply by how it looks. The thing is, as we transform, it is often awkward and messy. If we become absolute about what this time means, without looking at the larger picture, we miss its true purpose and significance. We also risk creating a lot of unhappiness and strife in our lives.”

My daughter quietly nodded, eyes round, listening intently. I continued.

“We may not be the most beautiful and put together during times of transition, but without those times, we can never become transformed. The awkward cygnet cannot become the lovely swan, the caterpillar cannot become the butterfly and you cannot enter the next stage of who you are meant to be without this essential time of transformation.”

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I was recently tagged on a post about pronouns. The author of the post stated that the “right” thing to do these days is to clarify and use the pronouns that apply to how we want to be identified and, like with names, make sure we are using the correct one when referring to someone else. The person went on to say that if we fail to do this, we are being offensive and disrespectful to the person and their choice of identity.

I see this a lot these days … statements of absolutism. “If this, then that” comments that draw a straight and unalterable line of belief and definition.

I experience it from my daughter. I mean, try to tell a teenager that (s)he may not be seeing or understanding the whole picture. They are right, and that’s that. It’s a very “I know it all” stage.

Developmental times of “becoming” tend to look this way. As we each move through the process of individuation, we hit the “adolescent” stage of our transformation. We concretize our perspectives as a way to ground us to something, as this time of change is one of extreme fluctuation and unpredictability. It’s hard to know which end is up, and having certainty in our thinking and beliefs gives us something firm on which to stand.

We can get caught in the practice of discovering “the way” and then affixing ourselves to this as we would a life raft that is offered as we are struggling not to drown in stormy waters.

The key is to have foresight and realize that although we seem oh so certain of what we understand and choose to believe now, when we mature into the next stage, we will be given a greater perspective on just how much we didn’t and couldn’t see before.

At this time, we are all growing into new ways of doing things. As we question and reevaluate so much in our lives, there are shifting ideas on how to establish ourselves on so many levels. We are looking for answers and solutions for the changes and challenges. Just like teenagers trying to figure out their developing identities, with this can come a type of orthodoxy in what we find and determine is the new “right” way.

I see this in the leadership world with the expectations around leaders being “servants” and “selfless.” Again, like the teenager who wants to see himself/herself as an adult and to be treated like one, we might view the solution, but not be ready to BE it, yet. If we don’t progress, naturally, through the stages of awareness, engagement and ownership, first, to learn who we truly are, we risk not becoming true servant or selfless leaders, but instead becoming martyrs to others’ expectations of who and what we need to be. We must allow the developmental process to play out before we are truly ready to step onto that next stage. It’s good to hold up the ideal, but then realize we reach it incrementally.

When we are in the process of becoming, it is important to have grace, humility and curiosity. A lot still is unfolding and needs to transform within us so that we can be ready to identify, fully, with a new way of being. The 18-year-old boy can put on his father’s suit, and even if it fits, this doesn’t instantly make him a man.

When it comes to following the trends and things we are being told from the outside world, it’s best to be careful not to immediately assume that any one way is the magic solution that will deliver us from the confusion and uncertainty that we feel.

Again, like with the transitional stage of the teenage years, this is supposed to be a time of confusion and uncertainty. This type of environment sets the stage for us to discover who we are and find our way in the world. It is a crucial time for engaging with ideas and testing them out. We must be allowed to try on and experience, for ourselves, what seems true and feels right, while also remembering this is an interim period. We are only visiting this phase of our lives, it is not, as with all times, where we will always be.

If we too strongly attach ourselves to absolute identities, ideas, viewpoints and beliefs, it will have us missing the larger picture and can have us, again like with teenagers, at odds with others and challenged and challenging in our demeanor and approach.

So, when we find ourselves so sure that our way is right and the other person’s way is wrong or that simply identifying a possible solution means we all need to jump on that bandwagon and expect ourselves and others to instantly follow this new way, a good rule of thumb would be to pause and reflect instead.

As we do this, we can consider that there may be more to learn and know, and perhaps, we are being too hasty in our fixed thinking and expectations. We can remind ourselves that it is good to question our own assumptions and test our theories before we jump to conclusions. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we can be curious in our inquiries and observations as we investigate what is true for us. It is also only fair to allow others to follow the cord of their ideas and what they are meant to find through their own discovery.

With time comes wisdom, and just because we think we may know better doesn’t mean we are ready to do better.

We get to allow ourselves this necessary time of grasping around in the dark to identify who we are now and what we are capable of doing and being. We are in a time of deep experimentation and exploration, and we only truncate this developmental process when we become too rigid.

As a word of caution, in a time when it is so easy to jump to absolutes, when we don’t take the time to step back and consider that we might be wrong, or at the very least, we may not be seeing the entire picture, we risk creating realities we cannot easily rectify.