Philosophy Tuesday

One thing I really enjoy is asking people what they are passionate about.

It’s not a common question, and sometimes it can take a little bit of prodding before they are able to answer.  At other times though, people will launch into exuberant sharing even without being asked, talking for minutes upon minutes before feeling apologetic for having, they fear, rambled on.

But no apology is necessary.  It is a delight to hear.

“Whole-hearted listening is the greatest spiritual gift you can give to the other person.”

“…if we would only listen with the same passion that we feel about wanting to be heard.”

— Harriet Lerner

There is a lot of talk “out there” about speaking strong and letting the world hear you and hear about you.  But there’s always the other side of the equation that isn’t mentioned or considered as often and yet we should and need to think about in at least in equal amounts.  Because for every speaker there has to be at least one listener.  More often it’s a whole group, which means that to really build passion we ought to spend more time listening than speaking.

It isn’t just a matter of speaking with passion – we need to listen with passion.

And it is that space that invites unexpected outpourings of enthusiasm and joy, no prodding needed.

It is a space we can create by listening for the gold and watching as vitality, possibility, and connectedness all blossom.

Philosophy Tuesday

Einstein is reported to have been very much enamoured with compound interest.  While it is unlikely that he – despite the memes floating around – ever proffered any highly quotable declaration on the subject, compound interest is quite a potent thing.  When the growth of something builds upon its previous growth, which then builds further upon that growth in turn, the results pile on real fast.

So it goes not only in the world of finance and savings accounts but also when it comes to all realms of self-cultivation, and in several ways.  For starters, as we develop our mindfulness and work to create clearings from old (and usually unintended) patterns, views, and straightjacketed ways of being, it becomes easier to do more of the same.  With less crud in the way we move more quickly, discover insights more quickly, and develop ourselves more quickly, further compounding our skills in mindfulness and in the arts of living and being in the world.

Even greater are the specific, measurable, as lived results that, as we create those clearings and unleash our agency, power, freedom, self-expression, and peace of mind, naturally show up in our lives.  All those things that we want build up on themselves, creating a compounding train of ever greater results and ever more of what we want.  And when something goes awry – for that is inevitable – we’ve got both the mental/spiritual clarity as well as a nice foundation upon which to remain mindful and thus able to deal with it with proper equanimity and while never denying our humanity.

And humanity is the pinnacle of this compounding greatness.  For just as easily as we can see how the positives in our lives can and do compound, we can easily recognize, get present to, and be willing to confront that negatives can also do the same.  A bad break here can all to readily lead to further bad breaks and downward spirals.  It may have happened in our lives, it may be happening now, but even more than that, it can happen to any of us.  And with that realization we can forestall our judgement about ourselves and, especially, about others.  When we see people down on their luck or struggling or acting out of sorts, who knows what paths were compounded from years ago?  Who knows their starting place?  Who knows what compounded itself downward?  And the same goes in the other direction too.  A single break or a position of privilege quickly pushes these two realms apart.  Neither our nor any one else’s position on the economic/social/etc ladder is ever a pure reflection of either morality or worthiness.

With this in mind we get to synthesize and compound all of the above, taking agency and working on self-cultivation to build ourselves and our lives (and the lives of those around us) while never losing sight that chance and happenstance is never far away, influencing outcomes and ready to put a thumb on the scale.

When we look at our designs for ourselves and the world and when we look at what we want to create and leave behind, we can ask “what do I want to compound?” and go from there.

Philosophy Tuesday

“When I give a job interview, I always ask after past mistakes. Several reasons for this. It’s genuinely informative about how they handle adversity, yes, and it shows if they can learn. But also, it shows if they can acknowledge that they’ve made mistakes.  Having no stories of mistakes (or mistake stories that immediately blame other people) are yellow flags. Not red because I get that some folks are scared to “screw up” the interview out of inexperience, but it becomes a direction to investigate.  But if It seems they can’t admit fault, I’m a fast thumbs down. Such a person, no matter how good, can never learn and will make things steadily worse for everyone around them.

Now, I should add, I love mistakes. And not just because of my VAST COLLECTION of them. A mistake can be IDENTIFIED and corrected or learned from. Clear problems are a GIFT.  This is because in most situation, the opposite of clear problems is not no problems, it’s obscured problems. If there are no mistakes in anything beyond a certain size, the only reasonable conclusion is that the problems are hidden.

And it’s hidden problems that get you. Failure may sometimes come from too many known problems, but even then you can regroup and adapt. Disaster comes out of the unknown ones.

Which is why the folks who won’t acknowledge mistakes are so toxic. Not only do they hide and ignore problems, they normalize that behavior and encourage others to do the same. And if those problems harm others? Hoo boy.

So, yes, failing to acknowledge mistakes (to say nothing of outright wrongdoing) is pretty harmful. But, and I say this with sympathy, it’s EASIER.  Admitting fault is scary as hell. It triggers all the “BEAR ATTACK!” Parts of our brain which scream at us to hide.  Worse, since so many of us have our identity tied up in our capabilities (“you’re so smart!”), acknowledging mistakes can feel like we’re denying that label and therefor ourselves and everyone who we perceive as valuing us for that thing. Faced with the choice between right action and self-protection, it’s not shocking which way people jump.

This is why this skill needs practice. It is something which genuinely gets easier as you do it more, and one of the (many) virtues of transparency is that you quickly discover this is nowhere near as scary as it seemed (though it can still be scary).  In a work context, it may feel counterproductive to draw attention to problems that might reflect on you or your team, but if that’s the PRACTICE, your team gets better because they’re FIXING those things (and that’s visible too).  In a personal context, it helps you form more genuine connections with people as you speak to things that really matter and can spend less bandwidth on pushing them off to maintain a facade.  The other alternative is to just get better at hiding problems and blaming others. I won’t pretend that’s not a path to success. There are enough toxic environments and spiky tribal groups that you can 100% find success that way. You just have to live with it.

Because, ultimately, you know what you did, even when no one else does.

Rob Donoghue

Philosophy Tuesday

At the yell of “Go!” we pulled the Trojan Horse beyond the gates of Troy.

Ok, natch, it wasn’t the actual Trojan horse, nor were we anywhere near Troy.  We were standing on dusty ground at Burning Man, but there was a horse, and a big one at that.  Five stories tall, made of wood and nails and paint and weighing in at some 40,000 lbs.  It was something.  And we were about to pull it.  Hundreds of us, spread out over six ropes affixed to its base, with me an orange robed figure melding within the crowd.

In my mind, I knew how this was going to go:  we would begin pulling, the horse might rock a bit, then it would begin moving, slowly at first, gradually picking up steam as we struggled and pulled with all our might against its weight and the wheels sinking into the sandy playa.  I readied myself.  The signal was given.  I gripped the rope and… Just walked.  Like nothing was there.  I looked back – had something gone wrong?  Nope.  The horse was following us, as easily as a toy being pulled on a string.  What?

Turns out when you have hundreds of people, the load divides out to be individually a pretty small number.  As soon as we pulled the horse leapt forward with no hesitation and no ramp up in speed.  We were generating thousands upon thousands of pounds of force.  Collectively, we were mighty.

Ain’t that the truth?  In that moment it certainly became viscerally clear for me in a way that it hadn’t been before.  Our greatest strength as a species is our capacity for collaboration.  When we (whether willingly or unwittingly) align our actions, we produce immense results.

Again, ain’t that the truth?  We can see it all around us.  In so many ways.  And inside of that, the phrase and the thought of “what I do doesn’t matter or won’t make a difference” immediately loses its air of veracity.  Because it’s almost never just a single “I” that’s acting there.  It is countless “I”s acting in inadvertent unison, producing an equally inadvertently outsized result.  And this goes for many things, be it voting, or stewardship, or ‘norms’, or how we respond to challenges and adversities, and on and on all the way down to include how we treat each other when we go to the store.

“It’s just me” is often an illusion.  It’s a thousand me’s, a thousand us’, a collective of “I”s that together, through action or inaction can wreck and cause harm, but with a little intention and engagement can also move mountains.

(And giant horses too.)

photo source by Scott London

Philosophy Tuesday

Another reason to practice being present is that if you’re not, you’re going to miss shit.  Shit that you do.  Moreover, shit you say you don’t do.  That you don’t want to do.  That you’re immune to doing.  That doesn’t represent who you are.  And yet, there you are, doing just that or those things.

And wow then are you ever wide open to some rather hypocritical shit.*

If you say you are committed to learning and mindfulness and philosophy and being a great human being, and yet you don’t practice it, yet you do not want to hear about it when you’re not, yet you are not even willing to be present to when you are not being present, then you are, quite simply, lying.

 

* And I, for the record, am completely fascinated by our human capacity for hypocrisy.  And I’m not being facetious here… I am genuinely fascinated that we can oh so easily flop around and speak out of both sides without even noticing it.  And that’s the kicker; we can so easily, readily, unintentionally, and automatically do it and that we are pretty much always completely oblivious to the fact that we have even done it.

We can and will and do proclaim and defend and argue and run up the ramparts about something on the one hand and then – sometimes even almost immediately – do the same for something that is completely the opposite.  And as above, this is even for things we say and vehemently assert that we hold fundamental to our core – beliefs, morals, theories, history, stories, ‘truths’, actions – they are all immensely and readably fungible at a moment’s notice.

Last week’s post is a prime way this can happen, but so too is this very much tied into our identities as well as various other things.  They all engage our rationalizing engines such that what we – unless we develop our mindfulness and bring being present to bear – say and do shit that in the moment feels ancient and pure and rock solid yet is anything but, born of the moment and as nebulous as vapour.  And in those moments, we undermine our authenticity, our integrity, our morality, our ideals, and our humanity.

As I said, I am fascinated by this capacity of ours… and inspired for when we, through mindfulness and being present and self-cultivation, interrupt it and instead create who we want to be, and live by our authentic, central, selves.

Philosophy Tuesday

It is not a matter of either/or.  It is not a matter of rational versus emotional.  For is not that one is bad and the other good.  They are not the antithesis of each other.  True, that is often how we do present them:  pitted against each other, one scorned, the other lauded.

But we are human.  Awesomeness and capability come from integration.  Not separation.  It is about being knowledge intelligent as well as emotionally intelligent.  For without the two holding hands in tandem we are all too easily led astray.

Remember – we can rationalize anything.  Our consciousness and awareness come to us already pre-filtered.  Without integration, we don’t realize when we’ve been hooked and we hoodwink ourselves into beliefs and actions that, while we are ready to viciously defend them, are unproductive and even counter to that which we profess.  Sometimes even beliefs and actions that run counter to the very logic altar at which we claim we worship.

Remember – we can feel anything.  All sorts of things.  And that emotions and feelings come and go.  And that is great.  It is a delicious part of being human.  Without them we wouldn’t feel joy, delight, wonder, gratitude, happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, lust, love…  Even better, shaped by our past, in any given moment emotions also provide to us valuable signals.  They are an indicator that something’s up.  That we might want to pay attention.  It is a signal, however, that can get very intense.  Without integration, if we give them full control of the wheel, it can lead to some pretty wild driving indeed.  Fishtails, spinouts, burnouts, and crashes easily follow.

With that we can step into the practice of integration.  Intertwining.  Letting our knowledge intelligence, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and indeed all of our various intelligences speak to each other, collaborate, and operate together.  And together, in harmony, choosing the best mode to be in the moment, giving us being and actions that move us forward in the best of ways.

And to cap it off, we get to enjoy it all.

 

(I still blame Descartes…)

Philosophy Tuesday

“Resentment is a fire that burns with more light than heat.”

— Shakespeare (Well, not really, but kinda)

There is much to commend in that quote.  Resentment, animosity, bitterness, rancor, anger, malice…  these can all be powerful motivators.  As in, they can really propel us to get a lot done.  Channeling them pushes us into action and make us productive.  Sometimes even very, very, productive.

The thing is though, just as there is a difference between being efficient and being effective, there is a difference between being productive and being fruitful.  Resentment may get a lot done, but the results are often crap.  It doesn’t produce outcomes or works of weight and worthiness that we can be proud of.

So, while it may give us that burning rush, it’s all just a light show, with nothing left to actually drive the engine.  It doesn’t move us forward.  Worse, we may well, unwittingly, instead lead ourselves backwards.

It can be work to find a fuel that burns warmer than that of resentment and its ilk, but it is worth it.  It may not churn out things as fast, and it may feel less viscerally intense, but that which it produces endures… solid, authentic, beautiful, and worthy of who we truly are.

 

* For an additional take on this, here’s a video by John Green

Philosophy Tuesday

Many years ago, I read about a research project* that was studying people’s opinions and decision-making processes, and specifically the speed at which they/we came to those conclusions.  What initially caught my attention was that the research was about web sites:  How long did it take someone to decide whether they liked a web page or not?

From the conclusions in the research paper, very fast.  As in on the order of a fraction of a second fast.  Webpage loads, and boom: like or dislike.

That’s how quick this happens.  That’s how short the window can be before our filters (a new one, in this case, but also heavily influenced by many already existing ones) come slamming down to colour our perception going forward.

And colour them they do, for the even more interesting bit was when the researchers followed up to show the participants a different site that was, in some way, better or more functional.  Most stuck with their initial choice, even if it was harder to use or to accomplish what they wanted from the site.  Partially in a “devil you know…” kind of way, but mostly very much in the “filtered view” kind of way.  Having decided it was a good site, so it remained.**

Our filters are amazingly powerful things.  And they’re not bad per se… but it is highly useful to know they are there.  Know that they can and do influence our feelings, thoughts, and emotions.  Know how they hook into our rationalization engine.  Know how they can figuratively blind us to what’s in front of our eyes, limiting possibilities and potentially making our lives much more arduous than it needs to be. And to know just how quickly they can come into being and lock us down, without us even being conscious that it happened.

When we do the work to go beyond just knowing about our filters and practice being mindful and present about them and their impact, we gain freedom:  freedom to take what our filters give us, or to set it aside and take a fresh and clear second (or third, or fourth) look.  And the freedom to do that at any time, no matter how long the filter has been in place.

 

* That for the life of me my Google-fu is not strong enough to find again…

** In a lot of ways, it could also be tied to “othering” – having decided we like this site, the site becomes part of the tribe, and so everything else becomes an outsider and therefore unconsciously viewed in a harsher light.

Philosophy Tuesday

As we go through life – and this is doubly so when we are young, for it starts very early on – we hear things, see things, and learn things about the world and about living in it.  Things that we ourselves are years away from having to actually live through or to deal with.  Even in the cases where we experience some aspect(s) of it directly, like being a child of a parent, we are not on that end of it yet.  It is still some other world that lives out there in our, potential, future.

But we’re still getting ready for it.  Not deliberately… no, our minds are simply always vacuuming in all the data it can and vacuuming it in from everywhere.  Some comes from directly observing those around us, some comes from hearing what they say and describe, some comes from education, and a surprising amount comes from the stories we hear.  Just by the sheer amount and presence of media (be it books, movies, TV, etc) and, especially, due to the narrative structures they use to make it compelling, the stories we consume play a big role in what goes into our vacuum.

And like that our minds continue to pull it all in, cross-referencing, checking which ones agree with each other, bolstering those that are repeated, and all the while forming its model of the world.  A model that turns out to be invisible to us and that is, to our day-in and day-out lived experience, simply reality.  It’s how things are.

Until that one day when BAM!  In an instant we cross that bridge and are now confronted with a whole ‘new’ situation.  BAM, married.  BAM, a parent.  BAM, in the workforce.   BAM, an adult.  BAM, (fill in the blank here).  All of a sudden, we’re thrust into it.  We’ve never been there.  We’ve never done this.  We’ve never been in this position before.  There’s nothing for our prediction engine to guide us on how to behave/be/act.

Except, of course, for those realities, all those things about the world and living in it that, for years, our mind has dutifully been storing and crafting.  And so we immediately pull from it, and likewise immediately begin living it out.  We perpetuate it.  It becomes a self-fulfilling story.  Even if the outcome may not be great or bring us or those around us joy, freedom, love, or peace of mind, it’s how it IS… we’ve even got all this evidence for it.  How could we act or be in any other way?  It’d be like breaking the laws of physics, right?

Not at all.  No physics breaking required.  Just being present, mindful, and remembering that many of the ways we experience things and many of the ways we be in life are not intentional on our part.  We weren’t squeezed out of the womb with it.  Rather, we are just repeating a pattern that we automatically cobbled together over time.  And, most importantly, it doesn’t have to be that way, nor do we have to be that way.  It is interruptable.

And with that we instantly gain a measure of freedom and choice.  In that clearing, we can reorient ourselves towards new and glorious possibilities, possibilities that enliven us and all those around us.