Embracing chaos

I recently awakened to discover that a plant thief had raided my succulent garden at the front of our house, snipping off cuttings and pulling out some plants entirely by their roots. Having poured years into developing my garden, I felt shocked, angered and violated. Before long, paranoia set in, and I impulsively purchased a motion-detecting camera to better catch the thief. For several nights I slept fitfully, waking up periodically to check any recordings on my camera. Plants moving in the wind, a wandering cat, and a dog walker were all I caught.

As happens, I’d forgotten a lesson I learned years ago about chaos: I’m better off embracing rather than fighting it. The complexity of existence – what we experience as chaos – is inconceivable, which is to say greater than anything we can imagine. And, like all of us, I am an agent of chaos, exercising individual will within the confines of civilization. Civilization is humanity’s attempt at collective control – of ourselves, others and nature – but as an attempt to control chaos, it’s had decidedly mixed results; self-control varies widely, control of others is extremely difficult, and over the long term nature cannot be controlled at all, just wrecked.

I’d learned a lesson about chaos years ago was while I was the owner of a website development company. Having designed and developed dozens of websites and managing the hosting for clients, my small team of programmers and I decided to offer hosting on our own private server as an additional revenue stream. Within weeks of going operational, hackers attempted to break into our server and use it for their nefarious ends. Within a month, one of my programmers was spending 75% of his time dealing with server security, battling chaos.

After a short while, I realized my mistake. The chaos of the online world was too great for a small website developer like me to fend off. I needed to embrace chaos, not try to defeat it. We immediately set about a course correction, dispersed all of our client websites across a variety of commercial hosting servers and instead focused our attention on providing redundancy, recovery and resilience that allowed us to immediately reload any website if it were hacked.  The approach paid off. We couldn’t stop the chaos of hacking, but we could successfully mitigate its effects.

People are particularly good at discovering patterns and altering behavior to anticipate outcomes, a survival skill of mind that has no need for language. That innate capability of mind mirrors the control efforts of civilization, contributing to the illusion that chaos can be prevented. Setting aside human will, the unpredictable effects of chance alone highlights the weakness of absolute reliance upon anticipation.

After some quiet contemplation, I remembered my lesson and set about mitigation by creating a new succulent garden space. As it is, chaos had intervened last year when my neighbor to the south decided to remove some very large trees from their backyard. The rear of my property went from filtered shade to full sun, perfect for growing many succulents. I built two new garden beds which, although out of public view and enjoyment is also less accessible to plant thieves.

I’ll still happily maintain my garden in the front, but with less paranoia and anxiety. By embracing chaos, I have a new garden to develop and enjoy, with no need for a motion-activated camera.

3 thoughts on “Embracing chaos

  1. well done larry. i don’t know if you embraced chaos, but you certainly coped with it admirably. may your succulents thrive, and you with them.

  2. This sounds very mature – taking care of what you can control – in tennis we call that taking care of your side of the court.

    Your garden is phenomenal!

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