I remember being extremely fascinated by the concept of “potential energy” in school. My earliest memories of the concept are from sometime around junior high, maybe eighth grade, on the second floor, end of the hallway in the big science room. If you think about that, this is saying something because, seriously, how often can you recall when and where you first pondered scientific concepts?
However, potential energy was always quite a strange but compelling thought to me. If you need a refresher: “Potential energy” is the energy that something possesses by virtue of its position relative to other objects, stresses within itself, electric charge, and other factors.
The most common and easy to understand example of this is gravitational energy from an object’s mass and relation to the center of another’s mass. Elastic potential energy is fairly easy to grasp too, but electric, chemical, and nuclear become a bit more difficult to wrap your mind around.
The point, however, is that everything, and I mean everything, has potential energy at all times. This was always interesting to me because I believe we usually tend to think of energy only in terms of something like the “power” an object has when doing work and moving through space — as in, an object’s “kinetic energy”.
Yet, as I’m writing this, my cat is curled up on the edge of a chair in the lamp light, taking a nap and still as can be, with massive amounts of potential energy. She has even more of it because part of her body is hanging over on the slick, sloping edge of the chair. She looks so peaceful, silent, and still that you wouldn’t look at her and think, “Whoa, so much energy here!” But, there it is — a beautiful little mass of potential energy.
For the last year, and increasingly the last 6 months, I’ve pondered potential energy in our own life and in terms of our ideas and “work” in the non-literal-physics sense. I’ve pondered it a lot. I’ve gone so far as to even say to my wife, “I need to form a complete philosophical theory around this and give it a cool name.” However, I’ve recently discovered that Aristotle actually beat me to this a few hundred years ago with his aptly named principles of “potentiality and actuality.” …I guess I can work with that.
Potentiality and Actuality
“Potentiality” is, in its simplest definition, all the possibilities a thing can be said to have. “Actuality” is, in its simplest definition, the change or activity that represents a fulfillment of a possibility.
Aristotle’s ponderings on these two concepts extend into far-reaching thoughts that involve cool words like energeia, entelechia, dunamis, telos, and more, and while they’re excellent things to ponder, they are far outside of the scope of what I’m wanting to say here.
Aristotle believed that for any possibility to become real it required reason, desires, and careful choices. We must be intentional in our thoughts and actions concerning any possibility.
I don’t know anyone that would disagree with this thinking in theory, but, unfortunately, I don’t know many people with actions that show they truly believe this in, well, actuality.
Everyone I know has longings for certain possibilities they’ve at least somewhat identified, but I know very few who are consistently intentional in their considerations and deliberate in their choices to see these things become reality. I don’t know whether this comes from a lack of understanding, a laziness, or perhaps a lack of truly grasping the potentiality of a thing. I’ve also considered that maybe some things are simply more difficult when it comes to identifying their potentiality.
What I mean is, if you plant a tomato seed, then you already know that seed’s potentiality (dunamis) fairly well. You might not know it exactly, and with different factors at play, the actuality of the work that seed does might surprise you quite a lot. Odds are though, you’ll see soon that you understood it fairly well because that tomato seed has a given, intrinsic destiny, a “telos”, already that is pretty easily known.
A human, though, is entirely different. A human’s idea — also extremely complex. These things have so many given possibilities, with so many factors at play, that it takes extreme amounts of patience and application to even identify possibilities and even more so, to realize them in actuality.
It’s easy to settle for the here-and-now in the day-to-day and weekly grind of life. We apply our energy to these things and we feel as though we’ve done work that matters. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, of course, but it doesn’t matter in near the same ways as we would convince ourselves it does. Especially if you’re a leader of an organization or idea, your job is to do the hard work, apply your “energeai” and “entelechiea” (perhaps I’ll write more on these terms later) to taking the potential energy of a thing and turning it into a pleasing actuality for others — or to return to a strictly physical sense, turning it into “kinetic energy”. This takes extremely deliberate and extended hard work though.
For myself, I know that I am strongly motivated by an idea’s potentiality. I believe most of my credibility, influence, and leadership in life has come primarily because of my curiosity and drive to envision things and relentlessly work to actualize them.
I don’t boast when I say this because I have had very little conscious thought in this. I was taught from a young age on the farm and ranch to constantly consider all possibilities for the sake of personal and family survival as well as for advancement and accomplishment. I was taught to continually work hard until hard work wasn’t abnormal or even hard anymore. And, like most everything in life, the longer you do something regularly, the easier it becomes. It becomes natural and usually even enjoyable.
Now I can’t look at any task, person, or idea without naturally trying to imagine multiple possibilities. It’s actually quite harder for me to stay engaged in something after the possibility is being realized and kinetic energy is being maintained. In fact, if all we’re doing is maintaining a thing, I will almost certainly check out.
The potential energy of a thing still fascinates me and drives me. However, the actuality that so many rarely concern themselves with potentiality fascinates me too — just in more of a sad and perplexing way.
Why do so many not seem to share this excitement and motivation over a person’s or thing’s potentiality?
I would propose to that person that you should simply just begin the practice of contemplating potentiality. Find an interest and simply begin to imagine possibilities of it and begin to imagine how you would see these possibilities through to become actual realities. Also, be humble enough to ask others for help and mentoring. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re incompetent; it means you’re wise.
Contemplating potentiality may seem difficult at first, but again, like everything in life — and I don’t think I could even explain why — it becomes easy and natural with practice. It becomes enjoyable and motivating! Everything from your work, business, communities, side-hustles and ideas, relationships, physical health, spiritual health, home environment, city, and so on, have massive amounts of potentiality just sitting in them waiting to be actualized into better realities.
Put some energy towards it. Do the hard work to create a better reality.
P.S. I’ve been extremely busy the last 5 months, doing exactly what I’m talking about here. Between planting a church, building and leading all the systems and enormous possibilities for The Majesty’s Men, and also recently creating a web development and marketing business called SOZO.DO, I’ve had my plate pretty full. However, I’ve recently formed a better strategy for producing and sharing content on this blog about the concepts, tools, and things I’m doing and learning in these works. So, expect more posts like this in the near future, and subscribe if you’d like to see more!
Also, I have just begun a weekly (or more) vlog that I plan to maintain for at least the next full year. This will be covering much of the same content but through very personal video insights into my every day life, work, decisions, relationships, and spirituality. Because of the more intimate and faith-based perspective of this content, you can view or subscribe to these weekly videos at my other blog, elasson.com.