Earl R. Smith II. PhD

(Read More From My Blog)

It’s a kind of clash of cultures; particularly amongst the educated in the West. The echoes of Descartes, Kant, Newton, the Socratics and generations of fellow travelers have embedded the idea that rationality is a salvation of the human race. When Westerners first encounter Zen thinking, the impact is often severe vertigo. Unlike Western philosophy, which shuns ambiguity, Zen and indeed the entire massive stream of Eastern thinking embraces it ardently.

Repeatedly, I encounter a similar reaction during the early months of some of my Zen mentoring work. It’s roughly the equivalent of, “What the hell does that mean?” Effectively it’s a request to nail down meaning, define definitively and drive ambiguity away. The search for meaning, including the meaning of life, is narrowed to a demand for rational explanation.

But Zen is completely uninterested in such a request. Ambiguity is not only an unavoidable part of the experience of being human: it is an essential part.

Some decades back, a way of thinking emerged - principally in the Southwest, high desert of the United States - which was distinctly non-Western. It built on the work of people like Lotfi Zadeh. At first, they focused on something called “fuzzy logic”. There was massive opposition, particularly from the University engineering schools. The whole idea that A was A and Not Not A was so central to the dominant thinking that the proposition that A might be more or less A and a little bit B and more than a little bit C was completely unacceptable.

And then, in a nunnery in New Mexico, an organization called the Santa Fe Institute was born. Fuzzy Logic evolved into Complexity Theory and Chaos Theory. Ambiguity was readmitted into the cutting edge of Western thinking. The output of the Institute, and the similar organizations that have emerged, as had massive impact on the nature of Western society. But my focus here is the enabling impact that it can have when Westerners begin to struggle with Eastern thought and the ambiguity which it brings.

I will say here what I tell those that I work with as they struggle with the idea of ambiguity. “Get thee to a nunnery!” That recommendation has proven helpful to many. A basic understanding of complexity theory and fuzzy logic is often the kind of lubrication that eases the understanding of an idea which seem so radical to those who have grown up in the Western tradition.

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD

I look back on the first three months of my work with Dr. Smith with wonder. My journal reflects a journey of self-discovery so vast that I hardly recognize the person who wrote the first entries. It's been a year now and I am happier now than I have ever been.

PJ, Mentoring Client

"It's the most amazing experience I have ever had. I needed to find a new path. A friend recommended Dr. Smith. What was most amazing was the wisdom and perception that he brought. New vistas have opened up and, as a result, a new chapter in my life. There's no way that I could put a value on what he has contributed to my life."

Mentoring Client, CEO and Serial Entrepreneur

"Chief - that's how Dr.Smith was introduced to me and, based on our work together, I have come to understand why - helped me focus on the possibilities that I had been missing in my life. He guided through developing a new vision for my life. My life is richer because of working with him."

Mentoring Client

"Earl is a wise mentor with lots of experience. He has a great way of explaining things and getting you to look at them from another perspective. Dr. Smith is a tough mentor, but, if you can learn just some of what he knows, your life will change forever."

Mentoring Client, Deloitte

“Dr. Smith is a very different kind of mentor. If you’re looking for a warm and fuzzy adviser, this is the wrong guy for you. But if you are dedicated to change and want to be challenged by a very experienced mentor Earl may be just what you are looking for.”

CEO of Croix Connect and Host of ABC Radio’s ‘Taking Care of Business’

“Dr. Smith's mentorship has been of great value and inspiration to my personal and professional development. I felt the need to take a new direction. He helped me sort out the possibilities and showed me ones that I never considered. Working with him has been a truly life-changing experience.”

Partner, IT & Telecom, Defense Solutions