When messages come in different languages, from vastly different experiences, and in different times — and they still mean the same thing — I tend to see them as having a high possibility of being truth.
I recently met a friend who shared a Korean proverb with me, that roughly translates to “If you want a well, only dig in one place.”
I’ve never dug a water well, though I understand the imagery and meaning of this proverb. When digging a well, you need to dig deep enough to discover water, and rather than dig numerous shallow wells, the chance of discovering water is better when you dig a deep one.
Water from a deep well can then spread far and wide. Replenishing. Hydrating. Giving life.
In a separate moment, perhaps a day before, a wise loved one shared with me:
“Niaz, remember to think about depth and breadth. Depth brings breadth.” He then went on to share that having depth in one area is different from being “12 feet wide [in knowledge] and only 2 inches deep”. What I took from this conversation is that by digging deep — in our knowing of self and circumstance, in our experience, in being aware of our feelings, in drilling into a field to acquire knowledge, and yes, in being deeply present in the moment, etc… — we can also stretch far and wide in our breadth, using what we know to extrapolate, to contribute, to understand, and to apply ourselves effectively to most everything and anything.
Depth Leading to Breadth in Business
I’ve had a number of experiences in business. A lesson that doesn’t change, regardless of the field or the scale of opportunity, is the importance of how prospective business partners converge and negotiate for mutual benefit. To me, this is critical for determining whether a foundation is worth building upon or if if it is worth foregoing. To illustrate this, I met a business group that was seeking a partnership related to the entertainment industry and film production. Right from the start, there was a challenging and even unpleasant nature to discussions. The deal nearly severed at a number of time-points, as there seemed to be an “I win, you lose” ethos in effect and zero-sum game at play. While the contract was eventually signed, the opportunity ended up dissipating quickly. It was birthed through fear, stress and mistrust.
The essence of how relationships are formed is key. In a different field of business and just this past week, I received a 37-page commercial real estate lease by email. I felt that the sheer length of the lease was a warning sign. In addition, when seemingly reasonable requests for edits were not acknowledged and there was an unwillingness to meet “somewhere in the middle”, I without hesitation passed on the opportunity. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about renting 500 square feet of space or 100,000 square feet. The essence by which one approaches a new relationship defines its arc and its possibility. Thus, the depth and attention to one experience (related to entertainment and film production) informed another one (that related to the real estate lease).
As a son, grandson, friend, student, teacher, CEO, technologist and investor — when we understand and pay attention to the experience at hand, with depth, this gives us a breadth that can inform all that we do, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Time, attention and reflection bring depth.
This matters in business, courtship, family and friendship, community-building, nation-building, leadership, and the gamut of human relationships.
Two Writers Who Have Taught Me About Depth, Breadth and Truth
I’d like to call on two individuals who, through their writing, have shared with me messages of depth, truth and a life force for living. The first is author James Baldwin, who has not only taught me about courage and truth, but also showed me, through action and word, that when we understand ourselves deeply, we can truly understand our world. I recently re-read his essay “A Letter from a Region in my Mind”, which was published by the New Yorker in 1968. He writes:
“I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering—enough is certainly as good as a feast—but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are. That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows, if he survives his effort, and even if he does not survive it, something about himself and human life that no school on earth—and, indeed, no church—can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakable.”
What I believe he was saying is that when we know ourselves deeply, when we pass the crucible of experiences that challenge us, those experiences that might attempt to subjugate us or make us feel less than — if we can maintain our spirit of can-do and if we can know our beauty and worthiness, we have the opportunity to know the world in sharp relief and in breadth. While he didn’t explicitly say so in this passage, I know that he would agree that when we can love ourselves and know our beauty, then we can also love the world. Conversely if we denigrate our world and those around us, then we denigrate ourselves (and vice versa). Local love of self leads to how we can love broadly and excel as a world, globally. Through this blueprint, we can transcend limits and labels, and see different possibilities.
The second individual I’d like to call on is M. Scott Peck, MD the psychiatrist who wrote “The Road Less Traveled”. Close in timing to my reflections about depth and breadth, I read a passage about serendipity, which has a devoted chapter in Scott Peck’s book. (The chapter is called “The Miracle of Serendipity”.) Scott Peck explains serendipity as a beneficial event for human growth, which while it cannot be explained rationally, often has remarkable and implausible timing between apparently separate events. For example, this might describe times when we have thoughts or dreams that play out in close timing to reality, or possibly when timing and sequencing bring two people together for benefit; or sequencing of events allows someone to walk away miraculously unscathed from a potential physical injury. In my heart and mind, my experience with Mouse, Mouse Bless My House was an example of synchronicity and serendipity.
Timing, Synchronicity and Serendipity
Timing and synchronicity can give us signals of truths. I especially note this when different sources, apparently unconnected, say the same thing in close timing. As an example, I believe that there are many truths in books from different world religions, precisely because many core messages — for example, loving one’s self and neighbor — resound as an identity in the midst of differences in language, time and culture. In speaking about “depth and breadth” with a loved one in the U.S. and then speaking about “digging wells” with my friend in Seoul, South Korea, I heard the same message — in their own beautiful ways — which spanned experience, years, time and space, all in a short period of time (2 days). Thus, I know that it is important for me to pay attention to the idea of “digging one well” and giving some thought of what this means to me.
When I said goodbye to my friend as I left Seoul to travel onward to Hangzhou, China (I am now writing this by the beautiful and moving West Lake 西湖 in Hangzhou), we told each other that we would stay connected, and I shared to my friend as we parted: “dig one well”, to which my friend responded with a smile, “dig deeply.”
Not too shortly thereafter, I received a text from this same friend, which I revisited while writing the passage on Scott Peck. The text read: “And I thought about depth after talking to you. Strangely, my email ID is seren”deep”ity407!”
The synchronicity of conversations about depth and breadth, chapters about serendipity, and seren”deep”ity in email addresses, all remind me of the magic and miracle of it all.