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.

Odd Nostalgia

I miss flame wars.  (Weird thing to say, I know, bear with me…)

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that term, or seen it used in any fashion to describe something happening online.  So long, in fact, that I wonder if I need to define it because there may be some reading this who are not familiar with the term at all:  A lengthy exchange of angry or abusive messages between users of an online forum or other discussion area.(src)

But wait, you say, that definition doesn’t sound unfamiliar.  Not at all in fact.  That kind of thing happens – well, it happens all the time.

Exactly.  That’s just it.

I don’t miss flame wars per se, and I certainly don’t miss the animosity and the vitriol, I miss the fact that they used to be rare enough, confined enough, and specific enough that they had their own term to differentiate them from the more ‘normal’ online interactions.

There were certain topics that were known to be flamebait.  Or occasionally a thread may strangely devolve into a flaming pile, full of hyperbole, personal attacks, and back and forth screaming.  But they were outliers.  Today, it seems that just about everything can, and often does, devolve to that level.  It’s so ubiquitous that we’ve lost the need for any specific name for it.  It’s just “the comment section.”  Or “Twitter.”  Or “Tuesday.”  Post you don’t like a certain kind of cake?  Look out…

So that’s really what I miss (while fully acknowledging all the rose coloured glasses effect that goes along with nostalgia):  A time when flame wars were flame wars, and there was still a greater chance than not for good faith discussions.  Discussions that might well become quite heated, but nonetheless remained squarely in that realm.

 

* To give an example, there’s this one online forum for D&D that I occasionally frequent… my usual thing is to read the first page or two to get a sense of the discussion, then jump to the last few pages to see what consensus seems to be forming.  Or, at least, that’s what I envision.  Instead, those last few pages have typically become five random posters hurling barbs and insults back and forth ad nauseum.  Most unfortunate.

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

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…)