Monday over Coffee: Goldilocks

Published May 10, 2021 by SMBC

Need a Word of Encouragement?


With its trio of anthropomorphic bears and young, blonde-haired antagonist, the story of Goldilocks, while winsome and charming, is weighted with more than just a hint of menace. Goldilocks, though trespassing egregiously, survives the encounter; however, my lasting memory of the story is not so much focused on the risk she took in entering, then lingering inside the home of a family of bears, but rather the plot line involving the chairs, the porridge, and the bed. If you?re like me, what you remember most about this fairy tale is its theme of discovering what is ?just right.?

There's also a more winsome and hopeful feel now about where we are in the continuing story of our collective emergence from the coronavirus pandemic. But while the clouds continue to break, there remains some anxiety hanging over this liminal space between the present and the post-pandemic era. Perhaps this stems from the fact that we?re not all on the same page with respect to where we are. Without trying to pinpoint that exactly (as I?m not completely sure myself), let me instead offer a word on how we might deal with our concerns that some are going too slow or some are going too fast in our shared season of recovery. Let's talk about the concept of ?just-rightness.?

Michelle Gelfand is a psychologist, a professor, and the author of a book called, Rule Makers and Rule Breakers. She recently took a position at Stanford's School of Business where, in the Fall, she'll teach graduate students and continue her research on cultural norms, negotiating, forgiveness, and what she and other experts in her field call ?T-L? or ?Tight-Loose? mindsets.

In her book, as she introduces a vocabulary for this area of study, she's quick to point out that neither a ?tight' nor a ?loose? mindset is inherently good or bad, but rather they're just different. Someone who has a ?tight? mindset carries an appreciation for what could go wrong in a society or organization when the rules aren't followed. This person attends to social norms, focuses on avoiding mistakes, and has a good deal of impulse control. They like order, prefer structure, relish routine, and become increasingly on edge as signs of chaos emerge. A ?loose? mindset person, on the other hand, might be more creative but tends to be less predictable and attentive to social norms, is more impulsive, and perhaps less punctual. They?re more comfortable with ambiguity and risk. They acclimate to new situations a bit more readily and welcome change even if it involves some disorder.

As you might expect, Gelfand concludes we need both impulses to survive and thrive, noting that we seem to flourish best when there's some flexibility, agility, integration ambidexterity, she calls it?in regard to our tightness or looseness settings. To this end, she urges that we take stock of our own ?tight-loose? mindset and become more aware of how it might clash with those of others. Developing a capacity for tight-loose ambidexterity, her research shows, goes a long way to determine whether we'll experience welcomed social harmony or needless social friction at work, at home, in school, and in a variety of other settings.

You can take Gelfand?s ?T-L? quiz to see where you are on the Tight-Loose spectrum here. I got a score of 73 - which put me in the moderately tight category - and just knowing this started to help me see other points of view better and recognize how I?m liable to annoy someone in the 40 to 50 range due to my rigidity or likewise irritate someone in the 80 to 90 range with my flagrant willingness to bend the rules.

Of course I think 73 is just about right?it's my Goldilocks zone?but if I want to have more rewarding contacts with everyone I encounter, pausing for a moment to realize that not everyone in the world is a 73 just like me is probably a good idea. Maybe I could be a little more agile with respect to my number based on whom I?m with, what I?m doing, the challenges at hand, and the evolving season we?re all moving through together at differing speeds. Perhaps that's part of what Jesus was getting at when He spoke of going the extra mile.


Whereas my own behavior, my own perspective, my own discretionary judgments seem well-calibrated to me?
in my own Goldilocks zone?they aren?t ?just right? for everyone. Help me to expand my capacity for ambidexterity with reference to tight and loose thinking and see there's always room for a widening grace.


Greg Funderburk