I’ve always loved ideas. Having them, talking about them, writing about them, implementing them. I’m part of an innovators group through my church for people launching their own ideas into action. We meet every week to collaborate about the progress and development of our projects. Album producing, micro-green gardening, injury prevention training, tutoring, yoga instructing. Each person shares what they’ve been up to, what milestones they’ve reached, and what roadblocks they’ve encountered. We ask questions, share thoughts, and brainstorm next steps.
It’s my dream scenario: generating ideas for other people without any responsibility for executing them. Thinking big, impossible, stupid, unique ideas and then giving them away.
A few months ago I had my own idea and started an organization called Level Ground. It was my turn to put an idea into the world — in tangible, novel, and useful form. As an ideas expert and executing guru, I thought I was ready.
And then I encountered an unanticipated fear. Not of having a bad idea or one I didn’t believe in. And not of failing, per-say.
My “Oh, sh*t” moments come as I’m hit with the realization that my idea could do real damage to how people see, think about, and experience the world and treat one another. Fear comes when I recognize the potential and collective power of an idea as other people practice and embody it.
Like DNA, I’m afraid my idea will replicate itself, and like diseased DNA I’m afraid of it being replicated beyond my control, to tragic ends.
I believe as people we have lost (or maybe never had) the ability to speak to one another across our differences. We sequester ourselves onto a side of people who think, believe, act, and look like we do and assume anyone else is wrong, if not bad. I believe that art allows us to experience the stories of people on the other side at a level of complexity we wouldn’t encounter otherwise. And I believe within this complexity lies the potential for reconciliation.
I’m realizing there’s a difference between a belief (or a theory) and an idea. I expect my beliefs sound nice, perhaps optimistic, or overly Utopian. But having an idea means more than just believing something, it means building a platform to create change. In other words, you have beliefs and you do ideas.
In my fear I often think I’d rather write a book or talk about my beliefs in a classroom. Books and classrooms are fine vehicles for ideas, but there beliefs exist within my control to package and predict with convincing eloquence and rhetorical strategy. There it remains for someone else to do something with my “ideas.”
To have an idea is to put your beliefs (and yourself) on the line. To be tested, rebuked, heckled, and judged by that idea. It’s to put something into the world without the ability to control or dictate what happens to it (or to you). It’s to give yourself and your name to future generations to tell about.
Most people have beliefs. Some people do ideas. Hitler, King Leopold, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, Alan Chambers, Van Gogh, my friend Dave. Most begin as good ideas, some turn out to actually be good ideas. Few people intend harm with what they put into the world, yet the future of our ideas remains beyond our control and intention.
To do an idea is to recognize the power of belief put into motion. (What I like to call inertia.)
I find this the terrifying reality of ideas; an inherently unsafe process that demands guts, humility, and community.