Chaos is a ladder


A phrase occasionally jumps off the page and grabs the mind and will not let go — even if the meaning is not clear. "Chaos is a ladder" seems such a phrase for our time. It is timely as we stand amid debris of shards of a world we once knew. We dance around on sharp pieces on sore feet.

The dance of each person is different. Some are incapacitated, buried without hope of recovery. Some try to cling to the top of the debris.

A common response is borrowing down to create a cave for protection — the ostrich effect. Some even pray that the rubble won’t cave in. A more likely response is to moan with fear, to get angry, and to curse the groups or powers that caused the chaos, thereby shaking our fists in real or virtual warfare. That generates an awful and destructive way of life! Another response is to crawl upward and scramble hand over hand toward the top, perhaps praying such movements won’t cause avalanches below or from above. We might reach the top with knees, elbows, and hands bloody and hurting, only to look out over other desolate landscapes.

The best activity is to imagine a ladder that reaches toward a more flourishing landscape and a better life, and then to begin organizing rungs for a ladder reaching toward the sky. Start construction of the rungs one by one along the following blueprint:

First, clear and create a solid foundation of hope. That is essential. A positive worldview along with a goal and vision that transcends material things provide a sturdy shovel. A firm ethic forms a guardrail to prevent one from heaping curses and casting debris on others trying to join you.

Second, choose from the shards of the rubble those with qualities to be good building blocks for a new structure.

Third, begin to fashion from new materials the ideas, architectural plans, and social structures needed to build a more stable building that will protect everyone, including our new neighbors.

Fourth, seek out other people strewn around the rubble and engage them in serious discussions. Together plan how to assemble a new community to occupy the new building. Be sure to include our new neighbors from expanding circles.

Fifth, look around for any portions of old edifices still standing that could be strengthened to incorporated into new structures. Some organizations, institutions, and leaders from our heritage might still be standing, even if weakened.

Sixth, inspire more people to become engaged in the rebuilding process. It will take a village to build a ladder. A single handful or an individual can’t build or maintain a stable ladder.

Seventh, this day is a workday, not a rest day. Keep expanding the foundation and enlarging the structure for an expanded new community.

Eighth, a day to view the new uplifting structure, perhaps to pronounce it good, certainly better and more beautiful — and then rest.

Thereby, out of the rubble emerges a ladder that enables the community to reach new levels of flourishing. One hopes a sturdy Crawfordsville ladder, will fit larger Indiana, American, and global ladders for flourishing communities and citizens. Hope is the firm foundation.


Raymond Brady Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities emeritus, contributed this guest column.