Making Waves

The world is hungry for goodness, it recognizes it
when it sees it, and it has incredible responses to the good.
There is something in all of us that hungers after
the good and true, and when we glimpse it in people,
we applaud them for it. We long to be just like them.
Their inspiration reminds us of the tenderness for life
that we all can feel.

– Desmond Tutu

One of the findings of the new science that I have had a little fun with is the theory in modern quantum physics that everything, all light and matter, has both wave and particle properties. The theory was described by Albert Einstein in the early 1900’s and is known as the wave-particle duality. I have been intrigued by this idea ever since reading about experiments with light in Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics.

“The wave-particle duality marked the end of the “Either-Or” way of looking at the world,” writes Zukav. “Physicists no longer could accept the proposition that light is either a particle or a wave because they had ‘proved’ to themselves that it was both, depending on how they looked at it” (p. 65).

As I try to re-image myself as of our planet Earth, and therefore within the processes which created our Universe and Earth, I have tried to imagine how this wave-particle duality might work on the human level. What follows is what has emerged so far in my musings, and the profound implications it has for approaching daily life and our relationships.

In this moment in time, as I come before you, or, literally, as I sit in my chair beside the window with my morning cup of tea while I write these words, if you were to look in on me with intention, you would see, well, me. I would look to you like “Pat,” the person you expect to meet, having come to know me to the extent that you have in the period of time that we have been in relationship with one another. But, imagine now that who you see is the “particle” Pat. You look at me and in that moment see the concept of me, frozen in that instant in time. You see the physical me before you, embellished perhaps by the image of me that you hold in your consciousness. The “particle” Pat is present to you, behaving, if I am aware of your presence, as you would anticipate me to behave. In essence, the Pat that you meet “happens” as the particles do in the light experiments for the scientists – because you looked.

However, and here is the fun part, that “particle” Pat is not the sum total of who I am. In fact, even while you are looking at me, and assuming a static image, I am in motion at many levels. I had better be, or I am dead.

All the cells, bacteria, neurons, organs – all the physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual parts of me are in motion. I am on the move, making waves. Why? I am pulsing with energy. And my energy, whether you are ready for it or not, is about to have an influence on you. Just like the sound wave passing through the atmosphere, I am influencing everything around me, knowingly and unknowingly. Whether it is like the blast of a jet engine or the rustle of leaves in a gentle breeze on an unsuspecting eardrum, I am a wave of energy having an impact. Using another metaphor, I am like the magnet we played with as children, attracting iron filings from across the table.

In coming to recognize my own wave energy, I realized also that the trick is to become more and more intentional about the kind of influence I will generate, and that means paying more attention to the kind of wave energy I am sending out. That new realization brings me to share insights from my present reading, which is on studies in “positivity.” defines positivity as the state or character of being positive. In our lives and relationships we are much more accustomed, perhaps, to thinking in terms of “negativity” than its opposite. We have come to recognize people who exhibit negative energy, but talk less about people who convey a positive influence.

Essentially, positivity involves choosing positive imagery, thinking, and values to influence people and organizations toward a better future. I first came across this approach in an organizational development process conceived by David Cooperrider at Case Western University known as “Appreciative Inquiry (AI).”  Instead of trying to improve organizations by looking at their problems, AI looks at “the best of the past and present.” It looks at what is working, not what isn’t, and seeks strategies to build on what works utilizing the resources available.

Contemporary studies show that to a greater extent than normally acknowledged, we create our own realities through mental processes and images, says Cooperrider. He argues that “just as plants of many varieties exhibit a tendency to grow in the direction of sunlight…there is an analogous process going on in all human systems.”[iii] We grow under the light of positive thinking, values and behaviors.

More recently, I was introduced to the work of Edward D. Hess and Kim S. Cameron through the book, Leading with Values: Positivity, Virtue and High Performance. Their book is filled with exciting examples of the impact of positive values on the workplace. Values such as honesty, respect, trust and dignity are not just nice words, but translate into behaviors that help to create an environment in which people and organizations flourish.

Hess and Cameron explain that the trend toward positivity stems from various recent studies into the positive in a variety of fields: positive psychology, social psychology, positive organizational behavior, and “virtue ethics” – all of which highlight positive phenomena. These studies show that the effects of positivity “range from physiological health benefits (such as less illness), emotional benefits (such as resistance to depression), and psychological benefits (such as longer memories) at the individual level to organizational effects such as higher levels of profitability, productivity, quality, and satisfaction of both employees and employers” (pp. 2-4)

I have just finished reading Judy Cannato’s new book, Field of Compassion. She marvelously captures the dynamic process of positivity when she writes:

No matter what we do, we are always affecting the energy around us, in either a negative or positive way. Why should we not then become aware of our power and choose consciously rather than unconsciously how we will shape our world? (p.6)

Having been introduced to this concept of positivity and its effects, I now think a lot more about the kind of energy wave I am sending out. Especially in difficult or confrontational situations, I check my emotional state, and if necessary, do what I need to do to move toward a more positive state before interacting with others. Sometimes this simply means getting more sleep. At other times it might mean giving myself some space with a short walk before engaging in a potentially confrontational conversation. I also have learned that finding myself caught up in negative energy might just mean that I am hungry, and need to stop for lunch. I learned a long time ago to tell my friends and colleagues: “If I ever stop being the kind, gentle, humorous, understanding person you have come to know and love – just feed me!”

What practices have you, or might you, develop in order to become a wave of positivity?

Cannato, J. (2010). Field of Compassion: How the New Cosmology is Transforming Spiritual Life. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books.

Cooperrider, D. Positive image, positive action: The affirmative basis of organizing. At Accessed 4.6.10.

Hess. E.D. and Cameron, K.S. (Eds.) (2006) Leading with values: Positivity, virtue and high performance. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Tutu, D. (As cited in Hess. E.D. and Cameron, K.S. (2006) Leading with values: Positivity, virtue and high performance. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. p. 3)

Zukav, G. (1979) The dancing Wu Li masters: An overview of the new physics. New York, NY: Bantam.

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