Love

Love – genuine love for anything – is so often left out of the discourse of organisational life.

Apparently it’s not serious enough for business.

Sometimes we’ll allow ourselves passion – a word which is allowed, I think, because it sells us to others with its promise of energy and heat, commitment and making things happen. (We’re so tied up with endlessly making things happen that we’ve forgotten everything else that conspires to make it possible).

And we’ll allow ourselves cynicism and skepticism, moods which distance us from one another and give us a feeling of superiority (a kind of pseudo-sophistication in which we believe we have greater insight than everyone else around us, who simply can’t see what we can see).

Frustration and resignation are also welcomed in many organisations, because serious work is apparently meant to be difficult all the time and both of these moods, reminding us of our difficulty, tell us that we must be doing it right.

But love – genuine love? Deep, heartfelt love for something or someone that brings out our integrity, moves us, has us speak truth even when it’s inconvenient, draws us out of ourselves, can touch people with something beyond manipulation or self-interest? How often do we allow that in ourselves or in others?

We treat love with disdain.

And we’re much the poorer for it.

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She should know

“My manager (or partner, child, colleague, best friend, client, customer) should know what to do. She should. And because of this, I’m not going to ask. I’m not going to tell her what I need, what I want, or what I see. I’m going to stay quiet. Why should I say anything? Because she should just know.”

Where does this get you – even if it’s true?

Can you think of any move more sure to rob you of your power, distance you, and deny you the very thing you want or need most – except, perhaps, your wish to remain frustrated, bitter, resentful and endlessly disappointed?

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Blessings for all of it

In the Jewish tradition, as in other religious and spiritual traditions, there is a blessing that can be said for pretty much anything. A blessing for waking up, and a blessing for going to sleep. A blessing for sunsets and for lightning. Blessings for food and for rainbows. Blessings for new clothes, for reaching special days, and for anniversaries. Blessings for the bathroom. Blessings for encountering others. Blessings, even, for bad news and for dying.

The simplest way to understand blessings is as an act of thanks. But they’re also a practice in remembering what is so easily forgotten – that even the humdrum and mundane is neither humdrum nor mundane. And they’re a practice in noticing all those phenomena and entities which are often in the background for us but upon which all of life is standing. In this sense blessings require no belief in a deity but simply a commitment to marvel at life’s sheer beauty and complexity. They are a practice in staying awake. They are an invitation to live in a state of what Abraham Joshua Heschel called a state of ‘radical amazement’.

The rabbinic tradition invites people to say at least a hundred blessings a day. What would become possible, I wonder, if just now and again we each started to look at what’s become most ordinary and most unremarkable in our lives, perhaps even that which we’ve come to resent, and turned to wonder at the blessing within?

I’m republishing this today for P, a source of exquisite blessing in the lives of many

The antidote to resentment

Resentment is a mood that has, at its heart, the judgment that you have been wronged and there’s nothing you can do about it. It casts you in the role of the righteous injured party – the one who must get even in order to have any self-esteem, but is denied any route to do so – and the other person in the role of villain. 

It’s no wonder then, where resentment leads – either to a cold, aloof distance or to silently but subversively trying to get even. And when resentment shows up in relationships that matter (can it ever meaningfully show up anywhere else?) it quickly has a powerfully corrosive effect by perpetually casting you as the victim to the other’s persecution.

The antidote? Learning how to make requests. Because requests bring us in close, back into relationship, into contact – even if the other person says no to what’s being asked of them. Making requests of another accords the other person dignity, elevating them from mere object of your scorn into a full human being.

And sincere requests accord you the dignity of once again being human too – being one who has the power to make your needs and wishes heard. So learning to ask when you’re resentful, rather than distancing yourself, might be the most counter-intuitive and the most healing move you can make.

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The danger of silent expectations

It’s so much more powerful to make clear requests of others than it is to hold silent expectations.

If you expect all of your team to speak up for themselves…
but don’t ask them to

or if you expect your friends to remember your birthday…
but don’t tell them how important it is to you

or if you expect your family to invite you round…
but don’t say that to them

or if you expect your partner to put the bins out…
but don’t mention it

or if you expect people to be punctual in meetings with you…
but don’t let them know

If you do any of these, if you say ‘they should just know what I want’, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, resentment, and resignation.

Because silent expectations require other people to be mind readers. They set invisible standards that are almost certain to be missed because of their invisibility. And they cause confusion when others’ good intentions (that just didn’t happen to match your hidden expectations) fail to satisfy you.

Perhaps this is what you intend. Maybe you have expectations rather than asking because it keeps proving that nobody cares as much as you do.

It may feel clunky and awkward, but if you really care about things happening, and if you care about being in relationship in a way that maintains everyone’s dignity, it’s far more skilful to ask, directly for what you want to happen:

“Please, speak up in this meeting. I want to hear what you have to say”
“Please remember my birthday. It really matters to me”
“I’d love to see you more. Would you invite me round more often?”
“Please can you put the bins out?”
“It’s important to me that we start on time. Please be there before 9.”

At least then everyone knows what you wish for. And you give everyone the dignified possibility of saying no, or offering to do something different, both of which are denied when your request is hidden by a silent, invisible expectation.

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Fragile

We could do, once in a while, with remembering that all we’ve taken to be solid, and all we’ve used to shore ourselves up against the riskiness of life, is hardly as solid as it seems.

Our homes, so sturdy, can be swept away by earthquake or flood, war or uprising.

Our money, so secure, can disappear in financial turmoil or upheaval.

Our position in society, in an organisation, undone both by our actions and by the stories of others.

Our health, undone in an instant by a virus, a bacterium, a clot unmooring itself.

Perhaps if we do this, just once in a while, it will help us to see again as human all the millions and billions of others who have lost this kind of security themselves. Perhaps it will awaken us to compassion, knowing that each one of them is just another one of us.

Perhaps if we do this, just once in a while, it will help us to cling less tightly, to be more accepting of life’s twists and turns – that what is had can be lost, and what is lost can be gained, and that life is a never-ending process of change. And in doing this, perhaps we’ll be able to be a little less self-obsessed, and turn a little more genuinely and in deeper connection and care to all those around us.

Perhaps if we do this, just once in a while, we’ll have our eyes awakened to the miracle of whatever it is that we do have, whatever it is that we find we can truly rely on, and we’ll find a way of undoing our sense of entitlement and our sense of resentment at life’s unfairness.

Perhaps if we do this, just once in a while, we’ll have a better chance of living with a sense of gratitude for what is, and the possibility of dedicating ourselves to the welfare of everyone rather than desperately clinging on with only ourselves in mind.

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Keeping it going

Dramas – the stories in which we’re at the centre of things: ignored, hard-done-by, unfairly treated, not seen, unrecognised, imprisoned by the actions or insensitivity of others.

Of course sometimes our stories are not dramas in this sense at all, but genuine accounts of oppression or neglect, upon which action must be taken.

But it’s illuminating to see how often our drama stories are in large part an invention.

And how we keep them going.

Because, even when wildly inaccurate, dramas have huge payoffs.

They tell us we’re the centre of the world (doesn’t it feel better that way?)

They make others responsible for our difficulties (gets us off the hook)

They stir up our anger, resentment, fury – even our hate (all of which feel so much better than confusion, uncertainty, boredom)

And because of all this they’re usually wildly more attractive to us than any of the alternative truer stories, which would have us act, step up, step in, talk to people and take responsibility for our part in the difficulties in which we find ourselves.

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How to look at others

Can you allow yourself, for a while, to look for what you’re grateful for about others?

It’s such an easy habit, perhaps supported quite powerfully by your own inner-criticto keep on looking for all the ways in which people are disappointing, hurtful, irritating, obstructing, confusing and frustrating to you. You may not even quite realise that you’re doing this – how your background mood has quietly become one of scepticism or cynicism or despair.

So perhaps you could take up the practice of looking truthfully for a while in a different direction: at what you can be genuinely grateful for in each person, however small.

Write it down. Make a list. A long, ever-growing list of what you come to see.

The point of this is not to blind yourself to your difficulties or frustrations but to open your eyes to a wider kind of horizon than is available to you now; to bring about new kinds of possibilities, conversations and relationship with all the people who, right now, you can only see as obstacles to your intentions; and to find how out they might be supporting you and taking care of what matters to you in many more ways than you can currently see.

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Gratitude or Resentment?

Today

gratitude,

or

resentment?

Each leads to very different places,

and to very different relationships – with self, others, world.

Each creates a very different horizon.

Are you paying attention,

at all,

to which you’re cultivating?

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All the same

Seen against the ever-present certainties of our lives – we will die, we will grow old, all that we build or create will eventually fall apart – differences between us drop away. We are all the same.

It’s so hard to live consciously with this in mind, to reach out across the space we imagine separates us and be open to one another. So hard to share our fear, our longing, our truest hopes. So hard to stay present long enough to look deeply into the eyes of others, to fall into them, allowing ourselves to know and be known.

Why so difficult? Perhaps because of the shame we necessarily picked up along the way: sharpened every time we had to be told not to do this or that, to be this way or that way in order to fit in with our families or with our culture. Because of our self-doubt and our inner-criticism, which make it so hard to love ourselves fully (a pre-requisite for allowing ourselves to un-self-consciously love others). And because we are afraid.

And so we hold back, always reserving some distance even from those who love us the most, because that way it feels as if we’ll hold on to some measure of safety. Or we judge others, resent them or hate them, turning them into less than human-beings in our hearts, because it makes us feel better for a while.

Even though we know that our deepest connection with one another is precisely that which can save us from the void.

This is the great ethical work, so difficult to do and so necessary, which calls to us – learning the sensitivity to respond and be open to other people, who we take to be so different from us but with whom we share common ancestry, and common destiny.

For we are intimately related.

Family.

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Love

Love – genuine love for anything – is so often left out of the discourse of organisational life.

Apparently it’s not serious enough for business.

Sometimes we’ll allow ourselves passion – a word which is allowed, I think, because it sells us to others with its promise of energy and heat, commitment and making things happen. (We’re so tied up with endlessly making things happen that we’ve forgotten everything else that conspires to make it possible).

And we’ll allow ourselves cynicism and skepticism, moods which distance us from one another and give us a feeling of superiority (a kind of pseudo-sophistication in which we believe we have greater insight than everyone else around us, who simply can’t see what we can see).

Frustration and resignation are also welcomed in many organisations, because serious work is apparently meant to be difficult all the time and both of these moods, reminding us of our difficulty, tell us that we must be doing it right.

But love – genuine love? Deep, heartfelt love for something or someone that brings out our integrity, moves us, has us speak truth even when it’s inconvenient, draws us out of ourselves, can touch people with something beyond manipulation or self-interest? How often do we allow that in ourselves or in others?

We treat love with disdain.

And we’re much the poorer for it.

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Working with the critic

When you’re apparently under attack from others, a large part of your difficulty might be coming from your own inner critic. So there’s much to be gained by studying all the ways it’s in play.

You could start simply by noticing what the critic has to say: the endless stream of criticism and judgement in your thoughts, and its absolute commitment to your unworthiness.

Write it down, verbatim, and just look at all the exaggeration, wild fantasy, fearfulness, and overblown certainty. Read it back to yourself. Then it back to yourself or someone else again, this time in a comedy voice (which can do a great job of showing you all that is crazy about the claims it’s making).

And then, understand this:

  • this voice is not you, but just a part of you
  • you did nothing wrong (or right) to get it – it’s part of the human heritage
  • nobody who is human, no matter how successful or powerful, escaped having this
  • most of us are very good at hiding it from others
  • it’s not helping you – even though it claims you need it
  • you don’t have to listen

This, the last point, is the one to work on most rigorously. Because when you stop listening to the voice of your inner critic as if it were the truth you’ll discover that you can start to listen to the actual voice of others at last.

And instead of collapsing or raging or tuning out, you’ll have the opportunity to deepen your connection and to learn together about this strange, crazy, necessary and life-giving phenomenon we call human relating.

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Under attack

It is, it seems, an unavoidable part of the human condition to have a super-ego or inner critic, a part of you that is directed towards keeping you within certain bounds of appropriateness at all times.

Long ago, when you were very small, you needed the adults around you to do this for you but now you’ve internalised those voices, or at least a distorted version of them, and they’re quite able to keep you in line even when there’s nobody else around.

And now, that harsh inner voice, the voice that can wound you at the slightest opportunity, is vigilantly on the look-out for the signs of disapproval from others that it takes as evidence of your shortcomings. Before you’ve even thought about it, it has inserted its judgements into your stream of thoughts, scolding you, judging others. That raised eyebrow? It’s because you irritate her, obviously. That offhand comment? You’re clearly an idiot. When she didn’t congratulate you on your work? Because you’re not up to much. He didn’t return your call? Because you’ve let him down.

None of these, I hope you can see, are necessarily the case.

The inner critic can turn even the most innocuous of comments into a perceived attack, and amplify a genuine attack so that it’s much more wounding than the attacker intended. And then, you’ll collapse and deflate, or rise in rage and indignation, and the strength of your reaction will surprise both you and your interlocutor.

And, in many cases, you’ll be reacting not to them at all but to this phenomenon that’s going on inside you.

Being under attack from others is made so much more difficult by the relentless attack you’re under from yourself.

Doing more with less

It’s the mantra of our times, ‘doing more with less’.

And it seems to have produced a frenzy of pace, of panic, of pushing, of blame, of shame, of anxiety. Hours worked go up, the number of emails circulating go up, and we turn ourselves into production machines, compensating in frantic measure for that which has been taken away from us. Everything and everyone feels like they’re on a knife edge.

And yet we’re not looking at the amount of waste this causes. The waste of attention as bodies first tire and then become exhausted. The waste of commitment as contributions are taken for granted. The waste of energy as we go faster doing work that’s not actually needed. The waste of trust as promises are broken. The waste of good will as relationships are allowed to wither and decay.

Doing more with less might, if you’re a machine, mean turning the crankshaft faster. But if you’re human, and working with others, it’s going to involve a certain measure of slowing down rather than speeding up.

You’re going to have to slow down to have conversations for relationship with the people around you. Are you all committed to the same thing? Are you sure? Have you addressed the differences in orientation between you? Have you listened well enough to understand what each of you care about? Have you worked out how you’ll respond to what you’re learning?

Going faster without doing this – and without returning to it regularly – is a way to become a supremely effective machine for producing resentment and resignation rather than the wholehearted commitment you’re going to need to get anything important done.

And you’re going to have to slow down to have conversations for possibility. Do you know what you’re actually aiming towards? Is everyone clear? Does everyone understand? Do you know how you’ll tell when you’re doing it? And how you’ll address the inevitable breakdowns along the way? Without making time for this conversation, you’ll be going faster but in different directions, spinning out further and further from one another as you go.

And you’re also going to have to slow down enough to have conversations for action, in which clear requests are made and clear offers made in return. Without skilfully doing this, you open up huge possibilities for duplication of effort, busy work, and the supreme waste of people working heroically to do something that nobody needs and nobody asked for. Modern organisations are full of this, and it leads to further resentment rather than the thrill of challenging work completed against the odds.

It takes bold, courageous leadership to take a stand against the tide of action and get people talking to one another in this way, because somehow we’ve concluded that talking and doing are in opposition to one another. But unless you make this stand and make it possible for others to do the same, you’ll be joining the growing ranks of depleted, exhausted organisations who tried to do more with less and ended up with a lot less than even they had bargained for.

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Irritating

Your team weren’t nearly as excited as you wanted them to be about your proposal.

Your colleagues didn’t deliver the report you were relying on.

The company changed its plans and now some of the work you did isn’t needed.

There were 300 mails in your inbox this morning.

The shoes aren’t lined up neatly in the hall.

You’re leaving the house in a hurry and you can’t find your keys.

The train was three minutes late.

An accident ahead of you held you up on the way to work.

You got ill and had to stop everything for a while.

Isn’t the world supremely irritating at times? Sometimes it’s downright exasperating. And there are times – perhaps often – when you just know that everybody and everything is out to get you.

A huge move, that will free up so much, is to begin to distinguish between what’s observable in the world, and what’s your assessment of it. What’s observable is what you could bank on others being able to see too, even those with very different personality or preferences to you. And your assessment is the interpretation that you bring to bear on it.

You can start to see just what a powerful role your assessments have by considering how other people would be in the same situation.

Stuck in the car, in traffic, you might rage at the frustration, the unfairness, the sheer wilfulness of others to get in your way. All of which does much to stir you up and little to address the situation. Or perhaps you’ll take the jam to be part of a much bigger picture that’s far beyond your control, and figure out how to use the time for something that’s genuinely of value.

When your team didn’t go for your proposal, you could blame them, judge them for their incompetence and laziness, and let them have the full force of your disapproval – all of which is likely to stir up judgement, blame and resentment in them too. Or you can get curious. Find out what your part is in it all (perhaps you didn’t make your original request skilfully) and what’s going on for them that had them take up something else they felt was important.

When the shoes aren’t lined up neatly in the hall, you can strop and strut and despair that nobody in your family seems to care about the home you live in, or start to look for the myriad other ways they’re already expressing their love and commitment to family life.

In every case, start to see that it’s not the world that is irritating, but that it’s you who is irritated. The arrangement of the world (observable). Your irritation (an assessment).

When you can own your assessments as yours, you can find out that there are assessments that bind you up tight and others that free you to act. And when you have your assessments rather than being had by them, you’ll find you’re way more flexible and powerful in moving the world than you’ve realised so far.

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Resentment

Our moods reveal the world to us, showing us what in other circumstances would remain hidden from view.

But not all moods are equally disclosive. Some moods have the world contract, hiding more from us than they reveal, leaving us with a much smaller space for action, for relationship, for possibility.

Resentment is just such a mood.

It shows you your supposed superiority – all the ways you’re right, all the ways you’ve been wronged, all the ways you’re meant to be getting what you want, all the ways to take revenge.

It distances you from others. And if directed at life, distances you from life. It’s riddled with arguments about why this should be the case – what you’re owed, the unfairness of it all. And its arguments wrap themselves around one another to form a tight knot in your body, in your mind – a knot that can shield you from looking at any of this in a different way.

Just about anything can be a source for resentment, if you’ll let it. It will draw your attention to everything you’re entitled to, and everything you apparently didn’t get. Love, money, status, respect, honour, a promotion, security, recognition, success, your way.

And although resentment can injure anyone, its biggest harm is to you as its sponsor as it twists you, hardens you, separates you from others. It’s like a knife turned back on yourself, like drinking poison with the misguided idea that it will cause someone else to die.

So noticing it’s resentment is vital, because it makes the world so small, so tightly sealed. And it’s doubly important to look, because resentment is wily. It disguises itself to look like anger, like boredom, like resignation, like a righteous principled stand. It’s none of these.

When you catch on to your own resentment, you’ll begin to find out the ways you’re responsible for it, and all the ways you’re cultivating it. And then, perhaps then, you’ll have the courage to let it go and find somewhere to stand that’s more honest about your part in things, kinder to yourself and others, more connecting, and more filled with possibility.

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