Philosophy Tuesday

Hubris.  A great and interesting human capacity we all share (and that I’ve spoken about before here) that is responsible for 94% of all downfalls.*

And one of the ‘best’ hubristic follies we pursue is the belief that “I’m not human.”  Not literally – at least, usually not literally – but more along this flavour: “Other people might be tricked, or swindled, or taken in, but I can’t be.  Other people might be susceptible to advertising, or social media, or disinformation campaigns, or the addictive ways companies manipulate the base of our brain stem, but not me.  I’m too smart/careful/clever/advanced/enlightened for that. I’m better than them.”**

Of course, that is not only not true, but that very arrogant certainly makes us all the more susceptible to all of that… because when we’re certain it can’t/won’t be happening to us we are totally not present and miss all the signs that it is indeed happening, or, even better, that would warn us away before it starts.

It’s like one of my former roomates, who prided themselves on being a pretty good manipulator.  Putting aside the oddity of being proud about that kind of thing, the ‘joke’ was that instead, they themselves were often manipulated.  And they didn’t realize it.  To someone more skilled at manipulation (again, not something to be proud of) they were an easy target, and someone aware of their manipulative attempts could diffuse it to no advantage, again without them realizing it.  Like my theory of the Tai Chi Push Hands Skill Differential Exponential Experience Factor, all that bluster of certainty only got them into way more trouble than they could feel.  They found themselves on the floor without even realizing they were there, let alone how they got there.

We are bombarded with missives and messages every day, both genuine and manipulative.  And for the latter, both directly with unscrupulous intent and indirectly through algorithmic chicanery that is designed only to hook our limbic brain and keep our attention hooked (for the purposes of making money).  And through this time of shelter in place we’re even more exposed.  To walk blindly forward like we are an unassailable fortress is just inviting all sorts of opportunities to render ourselves fools (and to maybe let the whole world know it).  Just like “I am human, therefore I have biases”, “I am human, therefore I am capable of being tricked, hoodwinked, and hijacked to ill intent.”

By keeping ourselves mindful and cautious, we can avoid being hooked, avoid spreading it far and wide, avoid harming ourselves and our wellbeing (financial, emotional, relatedness, etc), and avoid destroying the very structures, institutions, communities, and families we hold dear.

 

* Note, not a real statistic, but that doesn’t necessarily make the notion entirely untrue…

** Where ‘them’ in this sense is used pejoratively.

Philosophy Tuesday

It is often good to be reminded that the little voice inside your head is not you.

(For some of you, it’s the voice that just said, “What little voice?  I don’t have voices in my head…” Yeah.  That’s the one.  That’s the little voice.  And it is not you.)

It’s just the little voice in your head

Thoughting away as a direct loudspeaker from your always-agitated calculating self.

But if you let it be, and let things be still and quiet down, the little voice grows calm.

And into that peaceful oasis can your central, authentic voice, begin to speak, in all its resplendent and radiant tones.

Philosophy Tuesday

It wasn’t long ago that I was again mentioning this… but it’s very much worth a revisit right now:

For one:  We often (as in, nearly always) talk about “the economy” in the same way we talk about gravity, as some fundamental physical and organizing force in the universe that we have no choice but to follow its laws.  Yet, from the grandest galaxies to the humble quarks that form all matter, the economy is not present.

For two:  Therefore, the economy is nothing but our invention.

For three:  We invented the economy to serve us.  Not the other way around.

For four:  In other words, money is all pretend.  People are real.

For five: “When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character.  This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor.  But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw.  Stigmatize those who let people die, not those that struggle to live.”  — Sarah Kendzior  [To which I add, especially those who do so to enrich themselves.]

For six:  Continuing from the above, our belief about meritocracy has some serious downsides.  Namely that when we believe so much that things are, currently, truly, meritocratic, then it becomes easy to moralize and demonize people.  Especially since things are, currently, absolutely not very high on the meritocratic scale, especially when it comes to wealth and wellbeing, and even if things were, chance and happenstance play so much a role (compounding into the future) that it is still highly erroneous to ascribe saintliness or rottenness or slothness based on that metric.

For seven: If a system isn’t working for creating what we want in the future, then – remembering that we are the authors of it – we ought to alter the system.

For eight:  If we do think the system is working correctly, then say out loud how it operates in reality and what its results are, to be sure that it does indeed match our rhetoric.  If it does not, then we have a break in authenticity.

For nine:  We are the authors.   We often forget, and we often abdicate our role, but we are.  When we participate, when we create, when we make our presence and our mark known, when we work to building a community and the ideals we say we stand for, then we are mighty.

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.