The Order of Things

The other day, a friend of mine told me he thought there were two kinds of people in the world–the chaotic and the orderly.  He, being an orderly person, implied that chaotic people needed orderly people in order to survive.  As I pondered his observation, the famous Aesop fable “The Grasshopper and the Ant” came to mind.  Clearly, the fable, whatever version, portrays the grasshopper as a chaotic wastrel who suffers a deadly fate due to his lack of orderliness and preparedness.  As a child, I definitely remember “getting” the moral of the story, but I also remember feeling sorry for the poor grasshopper.  No doubt countless children have matured into adulthood with the belief that idleness and irresponsibility are bad and even deadly.  

Are there pros for chaotic people?  Maybe chaotic people are more likely to be spontaneous and flexible.  Perhaps, they are able to change their minds easily and go with the flow.  They might be more in the present moment, less worrisome, and more playful.  Maybe they are good at breaking rigid routines, rituals, and practices, challenging the status quo, and being agents of change.  Chaotic people probably are able to improvise and to use whatever resources are available at the moment.

What are the pros for orderly people?  Most likely they bring stability and predictability to most situations.  They probably prioritize and get things done.  They might be more steady and dependable.  Orderly people are probably good at establishing the routines, rituals, structures, procedures, and rules needed to guide, direct and organize human behavior.  They are apt to provide safety and security for others.  They probably produce and construct many things.

Are there cons for chaotic people?  For orderly people?  There undoubtedly are.  I suspect both types have some awareness of the downside of their salient characteristics, so I am not going to enumerate them.  However, as I pondered my friend’s observation another thought entered my mind.  Maybe there is another facet or dimension that needs to be added to this dichotomy–malevolent and benevolent. Malevolent means having harmful intent.  Benevolent means having generous intent.  This gives us four types of people–chaotic/benevolent, orderly/benevolent, chaotic/malevolent, and orderly/malevolent.  With this added dimension, the intent of the behavior as well as the behavioral patterns distinguish a person.  What would these four types look like?

 The grasshopper could represent the chaotic/benevolent.  Clearly, he is a harmless presence which is of great value alone.  Additionally, the grasshopper is a creative/artistic presence that brings music and laughter into the world.  The benevolent/orderly could be represented by the ant, but this is questionable because the ant refuses the grasshopper entry into the colony resulting in the grasshopper’s demise.  A benevolent/orderly person would be someone who actively seeks to organize and secure humankind but without imposing or suppressing humankind.  An alternative version of the fable where the ant welcomes the grasshopper would put the ant in the benevolent/orderly category.  (There is a 2015 adaptation of Aesop’s fable with a happy ending written by Jerry Pinkney entitled The Grasshopper & the Ants,  This author has published a number of children’s books with alternative endings to the moralistic fables of Aesop.)  

 What would a malevolent/chaotic person look like?  I met such a person years ago when I was the director of an inpatient alcohol treatment center at a Naval Hospital.  One day, a civilian woman in her early 50s approached my office and asked to speak with me.  I invited her in, and as she sat down, she expressed a desire to do volunteer work on our unit.  She had just completed her third Master’s degree, this one in the field of addiction counseling, and she wanted to get firsthand field experience while she applied for jobs.  She said she would do this for free.  The unit was full and I had only two alcohol counselors, so I thought this is too good to be true.  Nevertheless, I welcomed her to the unit and introduced her to our two counselors and our social worker, and encouraged her to arrange a schedule to work with them.

All seemingly was going well for the first couple of weeks.  Then the chaos set in.  Patients started having arguments with other patients.  Factions developed.  Staff began complaining about each other.  Patients complained about the staff.  Complaints were lodged against me to my superior officer.  Everyone was in an uproar.  My commanding officer called me into his office and asked me what was going on because he had never seen so many disgruntled, angry people.  I told him I would get to the bottom of it.

 I scheduled a staff meeting, laid out the situation, and invited input.  It was discovered that our volunteer had been playing the social game identified by Eric Berne in his book Games People Play.  He named the game, “Let’s you and him/her fight.”  In this game, the perpetrator’s intent is to divide people and to create chaos by telling negative things about people behind their backs so as to turn people against each other.  All of us quickly realized our volunteer was at the center of every conflict and controversy.  We agreed she was a highly toxic presence on the unit and the next day I asked her to leave.  Immediately upon her departure, the unit settled back down and harmony and productivity once again prevailed. 

About a year or so later I saw a front-page article in the local newspaper.  It was about major upheavals and infighting amongst the city council, the mayor, city employees, and citizens.  Apparently, the crisis had reached a boiling point.  Who was at the center of it all?  Our chaotic/malevolent volunteer! 

Lastly, there is the malevolent/orderly type.  This type imposes order on whomever he or she can control.  Iron dictators and tyrants fall into this group.  They seek total control, not for the well-being of others, but to force their will on others for their own benefit and power.  These types are the most dangerous and destructive entities amongst humankind.  

So why am I even writing about this?  I am writing about this to say we need both chaos and order but in balance and with the right intent. We need to respect and value differences rather than judging and suppressing them.  However, let’s wake up to the fact that the extreme human characteristics that arise from prejudice, judgment, and ill intent are the problem–not differences.  So, if you tend toward the chaotic, be grateful for that orderly person in your life.  Likewise, if you tend toward the orderly, be grateful for that chaotic person in your life.  In both cases, you can become a more balanced and magnanimous person because of them.

Nevertheless, be wary when someone tells you they only have your best interest at heart when, in fact, they are steering you in directions that are for their benefit only.  Whether chaotic or orderly, these people with ill intent are on the world stage, but they also operate in your workplace, community, local government, religious institutions, self-help groups, and anywhere people are gathered together.


1 Comment

  1. Karla Gallagher

    Very interesting! I think I’m somewhere in between the ant and the grasshopper. And benevolent….most of the time!😄

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