Be Unfinished

Unfinished Business-

Something that a person needs to deal with or work on : something that has not yet been done; dealt with, or completed.

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Thomas Mathiesen, a Norwegian sociologist, published ‘The Unfinished’ in 1974, about political action theory. In this book Mathiesen argues that radical change can come about by pursuing an agenda of proposing unfinished business. To remain unfinished means neither working for reform entirely within a system nor completely separate from it. The first option was said to risk being defined and neutralised by existing ways of thinking and the second option risked being marginalised and treated as irrelevant. Hence Mathiesen proposed that alternative ways of thinking should at most be outlined, never shaped or formulated.

In terms of personal change a parallel can be applied. If one is totally concretised by pre-existing attitudes and values then self-reflection is likely to be impotent in terms of new ways of seeing. On the other hand, to be anarchic risks social isolation and marginalisation. In contrast, the permanent attitude of ‘being unfinished’ allows room for self-doubt and  meaningful separation from the status quo with ongoing opportunities for new learning. The teacup story is a Zen parable that may exemplify this.

The story is that there once existed a very wise Zen master who lived in isolation. However, he did allow people from far and wide to travel to consult him about matters that troubled them or for personal wisdom and enlightenment. One day a very important person consulted him. This person was used to getting his own way, spoke in a commanding voice and had a pompous manner. The Zen master received him courteously and invited him to have tea. This offer was accepted as an appropriate gesture by the visitor. The tea was served  and the Zen master asked the visitor to ask his questions. When these had been voiced the master proceeded to pour the tea. When the cup was full the master continued to pour tea until it went over the top and onto the floor. The visitor screamed “stop,what are you doing?” The Zen master explained ” you are like this cup, already so full that no more can be given. Please come back when you are empty enough for me to give you something.”

The attitude of ‘being unfinished’ can be nurtured by allowing natural curiosity to have its place. Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, locates curiosity in the inner ‘child ego state’ which can profit from a nurturing and harmonious  relationship with the more grown up parts of oneself. Self-reparenting is a technique that may encourage this process. Descartes, the French philosopher, famously coined the term ‘cogito ergo sum’. This means ‘I think, therefore I am’ and this was given as a proof that our lives are not merely imaginary. Another relevant motto could be  ‘curioso ergo sum’,  ‘I am curious, therefore I am.’

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