Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Runaway Train

San Francisco, California, USA

March 5, 2004

This essay, Runaway Train, is the companion piece to

The quality of life isn't rooted in situations. You and I have the ability at all times under all and any circumstances to transform the quality of our own lives, of the lives of others, and of Life itself.

Without this as a foundation, things may get better but they're almost guaranteed to get worse. There's more to do. We've more to manage. There's more to attend to. Things get more expensive. We get older. Things get harder and more arduous. They require more time and more energy. There are more people and fewer resources. We pollute the environment. We wage war. We damage the ecological balance in the name of economics. And when we do each of these, we do them because we think they'll solve a problem in some unworkable situation. Instead each of these solutions creates their own legacies of many more unworkable problem situations.

I notice when I give up the fancy that things will get better, and instead get into alignment with Life exactly as it shows up rather than how I picture it ought to show up, there seems to be more room to breathe, more power to be with what's so, indeed more unerring ability to impact what's so and to make a difference, and less becoming caught up with and getting stuck in the machinery. There's deep, profound happiness requiring nothing in particular. There's the possibility of being completely satisfied simply by being alive and awake. In other words, when I give up the fancy that things will get better, they do.

But for the most part, the future of the untransformed world seems to be like a runaway train: careening along its tracks, unable to brake or even to slow down, ending up who knows where with God knows what consequences.

When Werner Erhard distinguishes taking a stand for the future, he creates the analogy of the world as a runaway train. I enjoy his analogy so much I'm recreating it here to share it with you. The source scenario is Werner's. The words are mine.

There are passengers on a train going somewhere. They're enjoying the scenery as the train chugs through beautiful countryside. They begin to meet and talk with their fellow passengers. Everything's fine on this train ride.

Almost imperceptably the train begins to go faster. At first the evidence of this is little more than a shorter time between each clickity clack  as the wheels go over the railroad ties. But then the train starts to shudder. And soon the passengers become more than a little alarmed as it goes around bends.

Then the runaway train starts to lean precariously and rock from side to side, and a visceral sense of danger becomes palpable for everyone on the train. Clearly something's very, very wrong.

A woman stands up and takes charge.

She says "Everyone sit on the left  side.".

They do.

It doesn't work. The train doesn't slow down. Neither does it balance more securely on its tracks.

Then a man says "OK. Sitting on the left side doesn't work. Everyone sit on the right  side.".

They do.

But it doesn't work either.

Now, clearly they're in dire straits. All the passengers take turns giving their opinions about the predicament they're in. When they've finished giving their own opinions and they've heard and understood everyone else's opinions, they notice the runaway train still hasn't slowed down. It doesn't seem fair. It doesn't seem right.

So they all vote about the fairness and the rightness of the situation. When they've all finished voting for what's fair and what's not fair and for what's right and what's not right about their predicament, when they've counted all the votes and declared a winner, they notice the runaway train still  hasn't slowed down. So they try something else.

Professor Albert Einstein said "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.".

Finally when they've tried everything, when they've tried it again, when they've tried it some more, when they've tried doing it better, when they've tried doing it differently, they realize as long as they're trying new things within the confines of their already always  thinking and listening, absolutely nothing is going to work, absolutely nothing is going to stop that runaway train.

Then slowly, very slowly at first, it dawns on them - each passenger individually, one person at a time very, very privately and very, very intimately: what they're going to have to do is get out in front of that runaway train and lay some new track.

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