Questions for the new year

You’re not separate from the world.

Put another way, you’re always being brought about by –

the environments you spend time in and how you spend time in them – where you live, what you have around you, the place where you work, how you travel, the pattern of contact with the built world and the natural world

the tools you use and how you use them – smartphones, screens, pen and paper, pots and pans, musical instruments, technology, what you read (and what you don’t read), money, the tools of any work you do

the social systems of which you’re part – family, society, city, nation – with their rules, expectations, norms, culture,laws, stories about people and about what’s possible

who you have around you – your family, friends, colleagues, those who’ll tell you what you want to hear, those who’ll tell you the truth, those who you can ask for help, those who ask for help from you, communities you’re part of, solitude

and the conversations you’re part of – what gets spoken about, and what doesn’t

And this is one of the many limits of new year’s resolutions. They assume that you are an individual shaper of your own world, when it’s more the case that who you are, and so much of your way of being in the world, is being brought about by what you’re part of.

In that light, it might be helpful to go into the new year with some measure of acceptance, that not everything can be changed by you alone.

And with some big questions in mind:

What kind of people do I want around me?

What kind of environments?

What kind of community?

Who am I becoming through what I own, and how I use it?

What conversation do I want to be part of?

Who can help me in all this?

And who can I help in return?

 Photo by Lior Solomons-Wise

Towards and Away

Difficulty in your team? In your family?

You could turn away, into your stories, into your certainty that they are at fault.

Or you could turn towards, and begin a new kind of conversation – most likely one you’ve never had before.

It may be that what you really want is to preserve your sense of your own rightness, and hold onto the powerful feelings of self-esteem which resentment and resignation can build.

But if you don’t want this, if you do want an outcome which builds trust and the possibility of ongoing relationship which path, do you think, is most likely to bring about the outcome you desire?

The path of turning away, or the path of turning towards?

Photo by David Hawgood at Wikimedia Commons

Defending against the critic

I write here often about the inner critic because it has been the cause of so much struggle and difficulty since I was very small. In writing I discover new angles and new waysof responding. I hope it will be of help also to some of you who are reading.

For years I did not want to hear anything that others had to say about me, whether praise or criticism, loving or ill-intended. It was all pretty much the same to me – a wounding reminder of my own constant self-judgement. Such harshness in my inner world led me to take on inner self-numbing as a serious project. The comments of others, however offered, simply reconnected me with what I was working so strenuously to avoid.

I extended this project into the outer world too, of course, trying not to draw too much attention to myself. I’d stay out of the limelight when I could. And I developed a reputation for shyness and quietness, for not being too much trouble to anyone, for looking ok, for being humble and self-effacing: all powerful supports for the inner numbing to which I was so committed.

At the time, I doubt I would have understood any of this as something I was actively doing. But such is the power of the critic, it can shape a life from the inside out, and for that reason I think it’s a topic of enormous importance.

It was only in my mid-thirties, when a teacher of mine was generous enough to tell me how self-critical he found me, that I began to see that I had a critic at all. Until then I’d thought it self-evident that the world was made up of exactingly high standards that I could never reach and populated by others who knew my many failings even before I discovered them myself. It had never occurred to me that my hyper-vigilance for criticism, inside and outside, was just one possible way to live an adult life.

The foundational, liberating move was to identify the critic as an entity in its own right – a part of me – and to see that the harshness it generated was not life itself. In this way the critic became something I have rather than something that invisibly has me. And having it opened up the possibility of cultivating a new relationship with it.

I learned how to see the critic as an attacking force and, gradually, how necessary it is to defend against its attack. Reasoning with it (a familiar habit for me) or otherwise engaging with it does not help, because the critic is insatiable. It has higher standards in all domains of life than I can ever reach. Whatever I do it’s on the immediate lookout for what else is undone or not perfect. It cannot be placated by persuasion, by argument or by giving in, and it is not at all interested in the evidence of my eyes and ears and heart. Living with the critic is like living with a rabid dog.

Defending requires meeting the critic with equal and opposite energy to its attacks, pushing them away with considerable force. Expletives help – the more evocative the better. What does not help is passivity: quietly waiting, staying small, until it goes away. This strategy, familiar to me from my childhood, just invites the critic to keep going.

When I remember to defend myself adequately I gain a measure of freedom, some space, into which the longings of my heart and conscience can step forward. It turns out that the critic – though it will defend itself by telling me it is my conscience – is interested neither in what I long for nor in what is right. It cares only about maintaining a vanishingly small world in which nobody can ever be disappointed and no shame can occur. And it’s willing to use the very disappointment and shame it so fears from others in order to keep me in line.

And so I have to remember to defend, every day. As time goes on the attacks become more disguised, more wily. It’s a lifetime’s work. And necessary, if I am to live fully, and if I am to take up the freedom and capacity to contribute that is my – and everyone’s – birthright.

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Into unfamiliar territory

It’s common to think that insight is required before you can make a change to your life, to your work, or to your relationships. From this perspective you’ll put off changing until you’ve “got it”, until you’ve understood what’s called for.

But it’s equally true to say that insight is what happens as a result of the changes you make.

Being different, or understanding more deeply, often requires first standing in a different place to the one you’re standing in now – giving up your certainty, taking up new practices and behaviour and a fresh, perhaps temporary, story about who you are and what’s possible for you. You have to step purposefully and with some courage into the unfamiliar territory of not knowing before you have much chance of understanding from a new perspective.

If you’re waiting for insight to strike you first, you might have it exactly the wrong way around.

Feeling what life is like

Perhaps today is the day to start allowing yourself to feel the impact of the life you’re living.

What joy, sorrow, tenderness, anticipation, love, fury, despair, disappointment, acceptance, hope is being brought about by your life?

What does it feel like to be you, really?

It will probably take some softening, some slowing down, and some opening on your part, so that you can feel beyond the numbing and automatic habits we’re all prone to fall into.

Once you start to tune in to what life is actually like for you, you open the possibility of a new and fresh response arising – one that honours your life and that of those around you.

And what better project could there be to take up at the dawn of a new year?

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Whirling

I’m learning how easy it can be to experience life as an affront.

When life shows up this way my attention is drawn to everything that is absent. I see how much I long for that cannot be, and the many reasons why that is the case – the limits of my resources and power, the particular place and time in history into which I was born but which I did not choose, the people I have met and not met along the way, the many choices made and the many chances missed. How nothing is ever complete. And how nothing is ever perfect.

Life as an affront is nothing but a series of unrealised and unrealisable expectations which somehow I’m expected to take care of.

It’s not hard to amplify the feelings of shame and resentment and despair that arise from this. I can easily dwell on all the ways I imagine I am to blame for it all. Or, in a more grandiose sense, I can get to feel entitled to a life that spares me from the ever messy, partial, uncontrollable situation in which we all find ourselves, and resentful and fearful at its impossibility.

Sometimes I catch myself in the act of choosing this interpretation of life, for a choice it is, and see that it’s a habit – a way of thinking and feeling in a predictable and familiar way, over and over. A way of sameing myself.

I’m reminded that choosing differently will be difficult and unlikely to become a new kind of habit without my dedication, commitment and constant practice.

So I’m hoping over the coming months to learn from traditions that have chosen a different and more joyful interpretation of life. I want to follow in the footsteps of those who have been attuned to the very real difficulties and suffering we experience and who have nevertheless deeply cultivated their capacity to look upon life with both wonder and joy.

The Sufi tradition in Islam, Hasidism in Judaism, the Jesuit order in Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism all have a strong streak of joyfulness and laughter woven through their stories and practices. They are able to laugh at and laugh from within life, and take joy in the sacred messy incompleteness of everything.

I’m seeing what it could be like to whirl and be whirled by life, to consciously practice finding joy at what is, to love and be loved by life rather than habitually being affronted by it.

Already I’m seeing so much in ordinary life that normally passes me by.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

With thanks to my friend and colleague Lizzie Winn, who invited me to take seriously the idea of living life as a ‘whirling dervish’ and from which this post, and this inquiry, arose.

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Widening Circles

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I 2

If you and I are not living our lives in widening circles, it must be the case that the horizons of our lives are staying the same, or shrinking.

Which becomes possible has something to do with each of us. There is choice involved. Widening the circles of our own lives takes dedication, attention and effort. It cannot come to be without our active participation.

As Vincent Deary points out to us (more on his work in the next few days), we’re always actively participating in bringing about something. And if we’re not changing, we’re sameing.

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Sharpening ourselves

I think there’s much to be said for cultivating moods that bring about possibility – hope, joy, love.

But sometimes there’s good reason to despair, to fear, to rage, to grieve, and in these moments it may be asking too much for these more optimistic moods to arise. At such times it’s our capacity to show up, to stay involved, and to keep on contributing that’s called for.

Our responsibility – not to have our ability to act on what’s important become blunted by moods, or by our opinion (however accurate) of the state of our lives, of our work, or of the world.

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Despair and Hope

Inspired by the author David Grossman whose eloquent and beautiful work takes on many important topics – most recently grief in his book ‘Falling Out of Time‘:

There are often so many reasons to despair. All that we want to bring about that is beyond us, all that seems it cannot change, all that we do not have the power or wherewithal to address.

But, despair itself brings about despair, and hopelessness brings hopelessness, because they draw our attention most strongly to what is despairing and what is hopeless in our worlds.

For Grossman, if you despair ‘you declare that you are a victim of the situation, that you have no control over circumstances, that you are at the mercy of the behaviour of your opponents, that you are totally trapped and motionless.’

And for this reason it is important to hope. Because it is the act of hoping itself that points us towards what is possible, in any situation, for us to do.

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Two conversations

Two kinds of conversations you can have when you’re in difficulty with others:

The first is an inner conversation.

You talk to yourself, in the privacy of your own thoughts, about their thoughts and motivations. You invent moves and counter-moves, and you weigh your course of action against the imaginary actions of your foe. You’re sure you can read others’ minds. You reassure yourself that you’re right.

In this conversation, you get to decide what’s true, even if it’s far removed from what’s going on.

You may be way off the mark. You may well be keeping the conflict going. But at least you’re in charge.

The second is an outer conversation.

You speak with the other person, asking them what they want, listening deeply and fully. You make requests clearly and completely.

It’s risky. They may say no. You might find out you’ve misunderstood.

And you’re making yourself vulnerable to disappointment, to shame, to your own self-judgement.

In the second conversation you no longer have the monopoly on the truth. But in giving up your rightness, you’re much more likely to discover what is true.

And you open yourself to the possibility of hope, surely more powerful than spiralling further into rigidity, certainty and mistrust?

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Remembering and forgetting

What a miracle our consciousness is.

That an assemblage of matter, atoms and molecules, earth and stardust, coheres into cells – entities with processes and membranes and the capacity to produce themselves, and cells into organs…

… and that those cohere into a living, breathing, thinking being that can experience itself as alive, and think about itself, and take conscious deliberate action…

… that we can have other people and what happens matter to us…

… that we experience joy and love and grief and disappointment…

… that we can choose and speak, move ourselves and others to action, create and build and make and destroy, teach and play and invent and compose and undo ourselves…

… that we form relationships, communities, organisations…

… that we make worlds.

Maybe it’s only when we come into first-hand contact with death that we appreciate all at once what a miracle any of this is. And most of us do not come often into such contact directly. We are hardly in touch with the inevitability of our own end. Death is a rumour, a whisper, a great silence of which we are reminded only occasionally. It is, mostly, what happens to others.

I am coming to see that when I forget death I also forget how improbable any of this is. I forget that my body lives and that I live because of it.

It feels safer that way.

In my forgetfulness I am quickly distanced from the realness of things. I try fit in, to be liked, to avoid judgement, to stay within familiar horizons. I hold back. I retreat into the security of my own mind, where my suppositions and judgements of people can not so easily be tested. I become concerned with looking good. I get distracted, reaching repeatedly and automatically for what feels recognisable, for what will soothe me. But in order to shield myself from death something has to die and freeze and become very small within me.

I’m gradually finding out that the miracle of my own consciousness and the consciousness of others comes with a compelling responsibility to take care of life – to turn away from automatic pilot, and towards creativity, compassion, fierceness, love. Away from distraction and towards being present. Away from disconnection and towards listening deeply and speaking out. Away from denial and towards what’s true.

Towards life itself.

Because in my forgetfulness I also forget – and oh so quickly I forget – just how soon this miracle will be over for me, and for you, and for everyone we know.

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Untrue

If your assessment is that another person is untrustworthy, you’re giving yourself little choice than to be suspicious, watchful, checking always for many ways they are out to get you.

And when they encounter your suspicious watchfulness, and feel your uncertainty around them, they may well wonder whether you can be trusted. They become cautious, furtive, secretive around you, all of which produces exactly the kind of behaviour that seems to confirm your initial assessment.

Before you know it, a cycle of mistrust is created and sustained that may have had little foundation in either of you before it began.

In this way the assessments you make of others matter. Because when they’re untrue – when they are your ungrounded, unchecked suppositions – they have an uncanny way of coming into being simply because you’re making them.

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Meaning Belonging Contribution

Three basic human needs, none of which can be met directly by accumulating more stuff, more status, or more prestige:

  • Meaning
  • Belonging
  • Contribution

If you’re yearning for something, it might help you to consider which of these is your particular wish – that which would bring you most alive.

And perhaps it would be worth considering whether what you’ve dedicated so much effort to chasing instead  – money, more possessions, getting ahead of others – can ever hope on its own to address what you’re really longing for.

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Zombies

A recent client counted up the number of hours he was spending in meetings per week. The total? Almost 25, many of which are meetings-of-obligation, in which there is little or nothing for him to contribute.

How many of the rest of us are eating up so much of our precious time and commitment in this way?

We’re turning ourselves into meeting zombies: dulled and silent, resentful and over-busy, saying yes to hours of commitment to which we bring nothing, and from which we expect nothing.

So, some simple rules to apply the when the next meeting invitation comes in (or, worse, when someone else simply books a meeting in your diary):

  1. If you ask me to join a meeting where I’m expected to be an observer, I’ll say no.
  2. I’ll automatically decline any meeting invitations where you have not made clear, in ways that I can act upon, why you want me there and what you think I can bring.
  3. If it’s still not clear to me, I’ll expect that we’ll talk about it before I decide to come (and, no, we will not schedule a meeting to talk about the meeting).
  4. I’ll only come to a meeting when I know that I can contribute.
  5. When I’m there, I promise to do exactly that.
  6. And if I’m not there, you can tell me what was learned or decided later.

What freedom – and productivity – could be generated if we applied these rules to our own meeting attendance, and to everyone else who joins us?

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On waking

You wake.

The sky is dark outside, just the faintest glow of dawn lights the edges and crests of the rooftops.

You have been returned to yourself, as you are each morning.

What greater faithfulness and what greater love could life show you than this, the everyday wonder of returning? Or the miracle by which you find yourself aware, feeling, inhabiting your own body once again?

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Go to bed

The most powerful influence on our effectiveness in waking life is sleep.

But it is also what we’re most willing to give up first in our endless quest to be more productive.

We have no idea how impaired we have become through our commitment to keep going – our compromised functioning blurring and distorting our very memory of what it is like to be awake.

Our lack of sleep leaves us more vulnerable to illness and to accident. It mutes our creativity. It negatively influences our moods, increasing our irritability and reactivity towards others.

And yet we carry on as if we are inexhaustible, wearing our sleeplessness as a badge of honour or bravery or commitment.

We’ve elevated productivity above taking care of ourselves, producing exactly the opposite of our intentions. We lie to ourselves about what we’re up to.

We’ve forgotten – or denied – that we have bodies with limits.

And as we do all this we fall asleep to our own aliveness.

When are we going to wake up to this madness and go to bed?

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Talking

You’re all so busy that there’s no time for a real conversation. Not a moment for the simple act of explaining something, or asking for what you need, or agreeing with someone else what needs to be done and not done.

And because there’s no time to talk you’re inundating each other with emails and voice messages. Nobody will pick up, because nobody has time. Everyone is too busy processing what’s in their inbox.

And so you’re duplicating effort, doing what’s not needed, having to work the same things out again and again – things that somebody already knows how to do.

And because you’re wasting so much of your effort, you’re busier than ever and convinced there’s no time for a real conversation.

And this is where the error lies. Because this rolling difficulty is solved only one way.

By talking.

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Letting go

Among the most profound works of our adult lives is learning to let go of everything we care about.

Learning to let go of people we love.

Learning to let go of our projects, our possessions.

Learning to let go of experiences.

Learning to let go of emotions we’re holding, and that are holding us.

Why learn to do this?

Because, in the end, we will be forced to give up all of them.

And because in our capacity to let go before we have to – to give up our hidden, desperate holding on – lies the freedom to bring ourselves to everything without trying to own, control, dominate or force into our own image.

In letting go in this way, we let go of our own neediness. And it’s only in this freedom that we can fully encounter the aliveness of that which was never ours to hold in the first place.

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The opposite of polite

Being polite at work always involves suppressing something.

Politeness is doing what’s considered reasonable and appropriate rather than talking about what’s true.

Politeness calls on us to say what will be acceptable rather than what will help.

Politeness has us be liked (although in a shallow way) rather than be trusted.

When politeness dominates we force our concerns underground, hiding them from the light, and from each another. There in the dark where they cannot be acted upon directly our difficulties fester, becoming resignation and resentment. Many a polite organisational culture – in which people are outwardly friendly – masks a deep vein of frustration and despair that can find no useful expression.

The opposite of politeness is not cruelty, or unkindness, or wilful injury to others – unless in your pursuit of truth you also abandon your capacity for compassion.

No, the opposite of politeness is – perhaps surprisingly – respect. Respect for oneself, respect for others, respect for action that matters, and respect for the important work that you are here to do.

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On the background

Behind any life, and any society, are numerous background narratives that give us a sense of who we are, who other people are, and what’s possible for us. They tell us how we can live, what’s of value, and how to relate to one another. And they tell us what’s important to pay attention to, and what’s marginal.

Sometimes the background narratives are visible and explicit in a family or community, such as the way in which biblical narratives give a sense of belonging and orientation to people who are part of some religious communities. But most often – even when there are visible and explicit narratives available – the narratives we actually live by are invisible, and we see them clearly only as an outsider entering a society for the first time, or when the narrative runs into trouble and starts producing unintended consequences.

For the last century or so in the West, we’ve lived in a background narrative that’s directed our attention most strongly towards what’s measurable, particularly what’s financially measurable, and has discounted almost everything else. The bottom line, financial return on investment, this quarter’s results – all have been taken for what’s ‘real’.

And at the same time, we’ve considered what’s not measurable largely ‘unreal’ – the quality of our inner lives, our relationships with others, supportive and close-knit communities, the care we give and receive, our capacity to nurture and appreciate beauty. We can’t pay much attention to these, we say, because in the ‘real world’ there are tough business decisions to make. There are profits to be made.

I’m not arguing that profit is somehow unreal, while beauty and care are real. That would be an equally narrow way of looking at the world. But it’s becoming clearer and clearer how our narrowness – our failure to appreciate and include all dimensions of human life in our businesses, institutions, and in our public discourse – is wreaking havoc in our present and seriously limiting our capacity to respond to the complexity of the future we’re creating. The shocking rise of inequality in even the richest of the worlds societies, the shaking of our financial systems, our seeming inability to respond creatively to climate change – all ought to have ourselves asking whether what we take to be unquestionably true about how to live is, really, deeply questionable.

We urgently need to expand our horizons – to start to take seriously that which we’ve marginalised in the relentless colonisation of all aspects of human life by the narrative of economics.

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Waste

It’s easy to think of waste in material terms – waste of money, or waste of resources.

But our busyness – which keeps us feeling involved and engaged even when we’re not doing what matters to us – covers up many other kinds of waste, equally significant.

Here are five that are addressable by shifting your requests and your responses to requests:

  1. Not asking: The waste that comes from expecting that other people will know what you want and all the waiting, resentment, and frustration that comes when it turns out that they don’t.
  2. Imagining you’ve been asked, when you haven’t: The endless waste of projects and tasks duplicated and not needed, in your eagerness to be seen to deliver and be productive.
  3. Not checking that what you asked is possible: Skipping the necessary to-and-fro of conversation which checks that the person that you asked understood and had the time, capacity and skilfulness to respond. Without all of these, your requests are, often, as good as nothing.
  4. Not saying no: moving into action without checking your own capacity. This one leads to the endless waste of time and commitment that comes from being overstretched, or being unable to fulfil the promises you’ve made.
  5. Not paying attention to your own changing circumstance: Saying, and meaning, a genuine yes to a request but later finding yourself unable to deliver, and pretending nothing changed… leading to both damaged trust and delays.

If you worked on becoming more skilful at these five, you’d make huge strides in your capacity to do what matters without so readily wasting your own, and others’, time, resources, commitment and good will.

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Please, tell me

Please, tell me – why is it that you are so sure that your inner voice is telling you the truth about you?

Do you believe everything that others tell you in this way?

Do you give your inner conversations credence simply because they are so close in (so close that only you can hear them)?

Is distance reason enough to give up your questioning? your capacity to seek truth?

What would you do, do you think, if you found out how many inner inaccuracies about yourself you were in the midst of believing – and acting upon – every day?

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Bracing

How much of your energy, do you think, do you dedicate to bracing yourself against the world?

You may have to look closely and quietly for a while to find this out.

It may not be at all obvious.

We all learn to brace, in one way or another, from when we’re very young, to protect ourselves from experiences that are overwhelming. Later, our bracing continues, long after it has ceased to be a useful or necessary protection. And in our bracing is much of our stuckness, much of our tuning out, and many of our habitual, automatic, numbing reactions to the world and to people.

Where to look for all this? In the tightness of your jaw, the scrunching of your eyes and cheeks, the contraction in your chest or in your belly, the crossing of your arms, that slight but definite collapse in the middle that hunches your back, in the way you raise the angle of your head so you look – at some distance – down your nose at the world, in the constriction in your throat when you speak.

All of these bodily responses – and there are many more – are subtle but powerful ways of holding your experience of the world at bay. Most of us are hardly in contact with what’s around us and we’ve barely seen how much effort we’re putting in to not being hurt, or upset, or worried, or afraid, or seen.

If you want to relate deeply to others and to your own life there can be fewer more immediate steps than discovering the bracing holds you live in day to day and gradually working to release them.

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For its own sake

To be a consumer (as we’re all told we are these days) is to look at the world with ever-judging eyes. Too hot, or too cold, not fast enough, or productive enough, helpful enough, entertaining enough, loving enough, committed enough, or rewarding enough… We come to look at our relationships, our employees, our colleagues, our every experience of life as if framed always by potential disappointment. This is what a consumer, in the end, is – the one who reserves the right to complain or withdraw at any moment.

It only takes a little thought about this to see how inappropriate a consumer orientation is for most of what’s important in life. In friendship, in intimate relationships, in a marriage and in a family being ‘consumer’ reduces us to an endless stream of demands and the thinly disguised threat that if we’re not pleased any more we’ll leave and look for something better. It’s perhaps harder to see that a consumer orientation to the people who work with us (in which they are only ever really ok if delivering to the targets and standards upon which we’ve insisted) is equally limited. The problem in all these cases is that being a consumer means replacing commitment with a demand. We stay in relationship only as long as we feel satisfied, a stand which seriously undermines the very trust upon which all meaningful relationship rests.

Our encounter with just about everything else in the world can be similarly compromised by being a consumer. We stop experiencing the inherent wonders of nature, technology, art and relate not to the thing in itself but to our own momentary like or dislike of what we’re experiencing.

What possibilities we can open when we look at life, and all it brings, with much bigger eyes than this. And what would we discover if we were willing to see beyond our like and dislike, our demand that every experience and every person do something for us, and appreciate each part of our lives – people, objects and all – simply for its own sake?

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Idiots and Monsters

The problem with all of our judgements about others

‘He’s an idiot’

‘She’s a monster’

‘He’s useless’

is that they turn the other person into a non-person, a label, an object upon which we can project all of our frustration, all of our disappointment, all of our despair.

Fantastically powerful in maintaining our own self-esteem, judgements give us a sense of self only because they strip the other person of most of their self-hood. How much love, care, dignity, integrity can we see in another – however angry or frustrated we are – while we have them be an idiot, a charlatan, a waster?

Our judgements conveniently blind us to our own contribution to the very situation which matters to us so much. As long as ‘he’s a crook’ we’re freed from our capacity – and our responsibility – to speak up, to make requests, to listen, and to break out of the patterns that are our own part in keeping the difficulty going.

And, most of all, our judgements absolve us of the responsibility to understand the other in their fullness, stifling our interest in what about them and their lives has them behave in this way. And they stop us bringing the necessary compassion and wisdom that’s always required to find if we want to find our way out of the prison of our frustration, resentment, disappointment and anger.

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Applause

Our workplaces are riddled with mechanisms, procedures, evaluations and assessments that are designed around generating approval rather than taking action of consequence.

Can you see this in your own work? And can you see the cost?

And what would become possible if you were willing to do what you do, bring what you bring, not because of other people’s applause but because it matters?

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What to take on

We necessarily spend the first part of our lives learning to hold back so we can fit in with the family and culture into which we’re born.

Even our rebellions are usually, in one way or another, defined by this (a reaction against what’s around us rather than something truly new).

So our responsibility in adulthood is to work out how to give up holding ourselves back so that the life that we are – creative, flowing, responsive – can be expressed and so that we can make the contribution that is ours to bring.

And this perhaps is the biggest and most important work any adult, and anyone who wants to lead or touch the lives of others, can take on.