In the film Lawrence of Arabia, there’s a scene where Lawrence is crossing the desert. One of his group, Gasim, has fallen from his camel and is lost. The tribesmen tell Lawrence that to return for him would lead to certain death under the unforgiving sun – “it is written”.
It’s a common human response to stress. Rather than admit to anxiety or doubt, we double down on vehemently held beliefs. We seek to tame the unknown and the complex by eliminating any talk of risk or possibility. We feel safer talking about the state of the world than admitting a humbler truth about our fears and uncertainties.
Rather than admit to sadness for Gasim, or fear for themselves, they talk about “the way things are”. In so many work situations, people would rather say, “that won’t work” or “this is how we’ve always done it” than admit, “I don’t know”
Unwilling to leave Gasim to die, Lawrence defies this wisdom and vanishes into the sands in search of him. He subsequently returns, with Gasim alive, and tells the bedouin, “nothing is written”.
Life is unruly and unpredictable – our best approach is to remain open, curious and flexible. Rather than giving people reassuring “right answers” we may do better to model experimentation, curiosity and openness.
You can download the whole book here.