The Angolans are masters of using the word confusion, or confusão as they say it in Portuguese. They use it on a regular basis to explain any situation that doesn’t go according to plan. Or at least, that is how I understood it. Angola is where confusion got a special place in my vocabulary. Not always in a positive way.
Since then, I have come across it in different settings. The most interesting was during a lecture series by Manfred van Doorn. In his interesting session on the Double Helix Model (which describes the cycles of development that keep returning through our lives) he referred to the following quote:
‘We have not succeeded in answering all our problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.’
(Look here for information on the origin of the quote.)
While here in Cape Verde, working on social targeting, I seem to go from one level of confusion to the next level of confusion. Just at the moment when my colleagues and I think we have grasped the matter and have identified a suitable approach and mechanism for identifying poor families, and that we are ready to celebrate our success, we come across to a new matter or question, and have the feeling we have to start all over again.
There are times when we do not seem to be able to overcome the hurdles and this leads to moments of despair, like last week Friday. After a very productive brainstorming session on Thursday, the information we came across on Friday morning was an enormous setback. By Friday afternoon I had lost all confidence in being able to solve the challenges that crossed our paths and was uncertain if a clear solution could be found.
And I realised it feels like the journey of the hero where there are moments you feel you are invincible and you are convinced that you have everything (skills, knowledge, resources, you name it) that is needed to face the challenge ahead. Then you realise that it was overconfidence guiding you which made you blind to possible failures, the need for persistence and further growth before getting to the envisaged results.
So, after a day of rest, with renewed energy, we met on Sunday to investigate new options and approaches to go ahead, not yet prepared to give up. On Monday, we had some positive results and agreed on a steady working plan for the rest of the week with the rest of the team. Enough reason to have the feeling we are on track again.
However, we’re also a bit more careful about stating that we have the answer, especially since we realise that we are still as confused as we were last week Friday. And I personally realise that my challenge is that I don’t want to be confused, and that I don’t need to try and solve it all.
Instead, I have to be able to accept that recurring confusion is inherent in a development process like this, and to be able to recognise the right level of confusion to complete the assignment. That’s especially true when my more automatic reaction would be to search for new answers and information once reaching a new level of confusion.
And even though it is great if some stories never end, in the case of social development, it is helpful if some good ideas (which might not be perfect) at least get implemented instead of staying on the drawing broad.