Readings on Possibility

Readings on Possibility

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” Paulo Coelho

“So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.” Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

“I am looking for people who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.” Henry Ford

We keep looking so hard in life for the “specific message,” and yet we are blinded to the fact that the message we really need is all around us, and within us all the time. We just have to stop demanding that it be on OUR terms or conditions, and instead open ourselves to the possibility that what we need may be in front of us all the time.
Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander,  from The Art of Possibility

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankel writes about how he survived a concentration camp during World War II. He realized that the people who survived were often those who found a way to live beyond their horror of their current situation. Some of those who died were those who could no longer see the possibility of a different life beyond the camp. They simply gave up, stopped engaging in life, and turned their face to the wall.
This is where possibility comes in. When we can see that any situation comes with choices, that it is always within our power to make a choice, possibilities arise. We can change our point of view so that a bleak situation has a shaft of sunlight. That shaft of sunlight is a way forward which allows agency, gives us back our dignity.
It might not be an easy way forward, it might be a strange way forward, but once possibilities reappear, so too does hope.
Frankel found this to be true in the concentration camp. Prisoners who could focus on their loved ones, or tell stories, or make music, who reminded themselves that life could be different, tended to survive. They were able to enlarge their frame of reference, and imagine themselves still connected to something good.
One group of men turned themselves into a university, offering a variety of classes – with no pens and papers, no books, just their knowledge and experience. They weren’t living in a fantasy, ignoring the harsh reality of the camp, but they were able to reach for something more, a university – which elevated them into scholars and students, not just prisoners. This activity gave their lives meaning. In telling a new story about themselves, they made themselves more than their circumstances. By enlarging our frame of reference, changing our understanding, we imagine new worlds.
Rev. Fiona Heath

If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, young and ardent, sees the possible…And what wine is so sparkling, what is so fragrant, what is so intoxicating, as possibility!

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
Howard Zinn

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small people who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.
Muhammad Ali

This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge…
It watched you play with the seduction of safety…
Wondered would you always live like this.
John O’Donahue

“One Hundred and Eighty Degrees”
Have you considered the possibility
that everything you believe is wrong,
not merely off a bit, but totally wrong,
nothing like things as they really are?
If you’ve done this, you know how durably fragile
those phantoms we hold in our heads are,
those wisps of thought that people die and kill for,
betray lovers for, give up lifelong friendships for.
If you’ve not done this, you probably don’t understand this poem,
or think it’s not even a poem, but a bit of opaque nonsense,
occupying too much of your day’s time,
so you probably should stop reading it here, now.
But if you’ve arrived at this line,
maybe, just maybe, you’re open to that possibility,
the possibility of being absolutely completely wrong,
about everything that matters.
How different the world seems then:
everyone who was your enemy is your friend,
everything you hated, you now love,
and everything you love slips through your fingers like sand.
Federico Moramarco

The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.
When relationships are determined by manipulation, by the need for control, they may possess a dreary, bickering kind of drama, but they cease to be interesting. They are repetitious; the shock of human possibilities has ceased to reverberate through them…
It isn’t that to have an honorable relationship with you, I have to understand everything, or tell you everything at once, or that I can know, beforehand, everything I need to tell you.
It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.
The possibility of life between us.
Adrienne Rich

The Zenith Drilling Company prided itself on being the best drill-bit-producing company in the world. In many ways, they had revolutionized the industry, using tungsten-tipped drill bits. The problem is, the competition caught up with them and began to erode Zenith’s market share to the point where profitability was in question. The board of directors decided to get a new CEO who could perhaps help the company recover its previously held market-leader status.
The new CEO called all the leaders and managers to a three-day crisis conference, where he asked everyone to clarify what they thought the mission of the company was. After much conversation and deliberation, they decided that their mission was not only to make drill bits but also to make the best drill bits in the world. They all agreed this was an excellent purpose for the company.
At this point, the new chief executive said, “No! Your job is not to make the best drill bits in the world; rather it is to make the best holes in the world!” They went on to innovate laser drilling and become the best hole-making company in the world.
Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford, adapted from On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church

Our premise is that many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may only appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view.
Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander , from  The Art of Possibility

God Says Yes To Me
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
Kaylin Haught

Radical fundamentalism casts human existence as an epic, ongoing, still-undecided battle between the forces of good and evil, of the divine versus the demonic. This is the most primitive human myth of all and the most powerful. Wherever humanity has walked, wherever it has gathered to hear fables at firesides or offer ritual around altars, good versus evil is the story at its most elemental and descriptive.
We UUs do not have the “easy” solution of a theology that blames all evil on the workings of some devil. But many of us have witnessed unspeakable human acts that can only be described as evil: in Auschwitz, Cambodia, Dresden, Rwanda, and in the barbarity of biological germ warfare. Some formalists would argue that the very existence of evil in the world would seem to negate our humanist valuing of dignity and worth in every person, expressed in the First Principle of Unitarian Universalism. But it seems to me that just the opposite is true. Our cherishing that Principle leads us to live by a view of human nature that is antithetical to radical fundamentalism.
The witness and mission of liberal religion have always been to seek the liberation of the human spirit—in the words of the hymn, from “the bonds of narrow thought and lifeless creed.” We stand willing to testify for a religious approach grounded in human possibility rather than pathology. Our starting place is the exaltation of the human spirit, rather than its denigration.
People are almost equally capable of both good and evil, but most of the time—say, three times out of five—people choose the good. The seesaw tilts just a few degrees toward the good in this tentative world, but those few degrees are the difference between peace and Armageddon. The job of the church is to put the few stubborn ounces of our weight on the side of goodness, and press down for all we’re worth.
Patrick O’Neill

“Somewhere, a signal has arrived. Now. Now. Now, it says. Stop waiting. Begin. Move despite the trembling. Don’t wait for any of it to be perfect. Just move.” Julia Fehrenbacher

“Nothing keeps us from changing more than our tendency — our willingness — to remain locked… into personae and identities barred in by heavy leaden rods of self-righteousness.” Maria Popova


Longer Texts

Margaret Wheatley challenges the non-profit sector on the power of possibility.

The Atlantic provides several in depth articles exploring the ways technology is opening up new possibilities.

From On Being, from Lily Percy Ruiz, a consideration of curiousity creating new possibilities.



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