Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dead-weights and Additionality

My husband had a prompt 9.00 start at work yesterday because it was a training day. As I drove him up to work for Part 2 this morning, he told me what he had learned so far - something about dead-weights and additionality.

When I think about dead-weights I think about people who don’t do their part of whatever it is. They are contributing little and everyone else is carrying them. That might be one application of the term, but not the one he had been trained to think about.

Suppose that you were thinking about making changes to a project. It is not a case of “doing nothing is not an option” because sometimes the doing nothing is the better option. If you chose to do nothing at all you predict what the results of doing nothing might be. Then you look at the changes you want to implement and predict what the results of those changes might be. Then you compare your “do nothing” predictions with your “do something” predictions and decide whether the time and the effort involved in doing something was going to be effective or not. The difference between the two predictions is the deadweight…I think.

Give me a break – he had a whole day to learn this with a million examples, I had a fifteen minute journey and all his examples related to crofting grants which I know very little about.

Take Paul, for example, in 2 Corinthians 2. The plan in chapter I was “to visit you (the Corinthian church) on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea”. By the start of chapter 2 the plan had changed to “So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you.”

To visit or not to visit – that was the question. The “doing nothing” option for Paul was not to visit the church. The “doing something” option was to stop off and say “Hi” on his to Macedonia and on his way back.

Paul looked at the possible consequences of a visit – “painful”. The trouble with Paul stopping off to say “Hi” is that he wouldn’t just stick to saying “Hi”. I think that the church had begun to associate Paul’s visits with rebuke, correction and harsh words. His actions and words were motivated by love but they were not always seeing it that way. His letters had been hard to swallow and, in the past, had not always led to the positive changes he was looking for. He could see the whole meeting as going down the tubes leaving them all distressed and unhappy. He declared it better for him the stay away. If he came, he would inevitably end up sorting them out, and in the process deny them their own step of maturity in sorting themselves out.

So Paul chose the “do nothing” option – but he wrote a letter instead, so he didn’t really choose the “do nothing” option at all. So maybe it’s not just a choice of “do nothing” or “do something” but also a “do something else instead”.

I like the idea of considering the option of “doing nothing” rather than insisting on “doing something” when you have not really considered whether the “doing something “is really going to change anything.

Of course, applying business jargon and principles to building God’s Kingdom doesn’t really work. The natural and the supernatural worlds don’t always work according to the same rules. Business principles work with the next month, or the next year or even a slightly longer view in mind. God thinks in terms of the next blink of an eye, or with eternity in mind – and not always in the blink of one's own eye, or one's own eternity.

Well, there you go – a little glimpse about the kind of conversations we have on car journeys.

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