Coping

We have numerous coping mechanisms and self-defense practices to help us get through the day. Many seem innocuous and inconsequential. But like most devices, we can dangerously overuse them and isolate ourselves from our reality and those around us.
To the world, I look like an extrovert and in the sense that I process outside my head, I am. But after spending an afternoon, a day, or a week in the midst of people – I am exhausted and need to retreat to a quiet space where I can ‘be’ inside my head and heart in order to get refreshed. While not quite the dictionary definition of ruminate, I do ponder the intent, the words, and the actions I took today and consider where I may have been unnecessarily harsh, too provocative, or selfish. In my rumination, I review and revisit but I don’t beat myself up. I try to learn from my missteps and I try to do better next time. Connecting dots backwards helps me see how I can be more supple and subtle in the future. On the days that I wrestle with myself and am open to my gentle probing and receptive to being better, I am invigorated.

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When I allow distraction or laziness to keep me from reflection, I begin to seed trauma. While I pretend to keep busy with other tasks, my head and heart are using kinetic energy trying to reconcile fragments that require focus to understand. I bury the instance or interaction and insist that it is forgotten but until I acknowledge the emotions, atone for any infractions or forgive myself, I allow the boil to fester. The trauma compiles with and compresses yesterday’s stuff that wasn’t dealt with and the day before and … Before long the stress is too much to bear and I present and resent in unhealthy ways. I either lose my temper, my composure, or I begin plotting some ridiculous vengeance. None are necessary or helpful.

There seems to be evidence (I know not pure scientific research) that when I let the boils of discontent fester without rumination, I suffer from stress and when I reflect, grimace and reconcile I celebrate growth.

I am better when I am better at mulling, accepting, confessing, and remedying. I will reflect on that last sentence tonight before I fall into blissful sleep.

B

You and Your Neighbours Can!

I really like talking with eager, talented neighbors about social change. Maybe, too much. Conversation, discussion, debate, brainstorming, ideation, evaluation, analysis are all great tools but without action and disruption, it is only empty rhetoric or worse self-absolution.

I heard Mark Lakeman speak last night at a Resilient Community event. He made many provocative statements and offered dozens of actions that he and his village have taken in Portland, Oregon. My paraphrase of the one that stuck with me was ” We don’t deserve to talk about sustainability if we can’t solve issues of abuse and injustice towards women.” I would add that we don’t have the right or reason to survive as a species if we can’t solve abuse of children, women, and seniors.

Action

I recognize that issues can be wickedly complicated. But when we use the complexity as an excuse for inaction, we become complicit in the issue and its impact. When we delay our action, hoping to find the best options, we leave people struggling and in danger. Many readers know that I have a significant action bias and that I have made hundreds of decisions that later need adaptation and improvement. But by acting, the ball started rolling and its momentum, direction, and scale could be altered.

I recall seeing a sign in the airport in San Francisco, a number of years ago. ” If you see something, say something”, resonates with my action focus and I would amend it to read ” If you see something, say something, and do something”. Do anything, do the best that you can in the moment, do the least that you can do in the moment, just do something.

You/I may not be able to solve the issue for all sufferers or even solve the problem completely for one person, but we can act. And we can surround ourselves with like-minded, willing and able, neighbours. What if four concerned citizens all agreed that there should be no child hunger at their community school? Or that the two children from their block would always have lunch. Or that the senior, living alone, would have someone to have a cup of tea with and talk with, every afternoon. Or the woman from the house where there is always shouting would have a safe place? If you look at your world and see something amiss, can you ask ” what can I do?” And then can you imagine you and your ‘team’ taking some meaningful action?

Every day in thousands of communities, millions of neighbours have come together to make it their problem. Their ‘it’ is different from yours, their response isn’t the same each time, but they are all acting and in their action they are making themselves and their villages a better place.

Make Today Remarkable, by beginning a conversation with a commitment to act together,
B

Insignificant

In the grand scheme of things, I feel insignificant. On a planet with 7.5 billion people that has been spinning in our galaxy for 4.5 billion years amongst stars that are nearing their 14 billionth birthday, my 175.25 cm frame is a grain of sand. And yet, in my most important relationships, I mark a much larger space. I am making a dent in the lives of my clients and colleagues. I have a spot in the heart of friends, grandkids, children and my beloved. In my head, my delusions of grandeur can run wild. I can imagine that I am a giant among men.

So which image is true? Are all of them relatively real? Does it matter? In this time and place and under these conditions can I feel important and inconsequential simultaneously?

“We are more ready to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential. Hence the remarkable fact that many inventions had their birth as toys.” ~Eric Hoffer

When I learn to be quiet and comfortable in insignificance, the pressure to be a performer subsides. My mind stops swimming in rough waters and a tidal ebbs and flows set in. Floating without judgment washes away the toxicity that my ego and my competitive tendency create. Out goes the claim to fame, megalomania and space opens for gentleness and generousity. Without the desperate need to be acknowledged, I find self-awareness. As I rest, nudges towards a different shore begin like the current of a slow moving river. If, I allow myself to be carried rather than resisting because of an agenda, there is a possibility for learning. It takes determination not to rush to a conclusion. Instinct wants me to stake a claim to the island and say ” look at my great new thing”. The moment I name it, the tide ceases. I am learning to ride further and without anticipation, relish the distant shore where my self is rinsed and raised.

I return to my keyboard and peck and pound, hoping that the scratching finds and audience with a niggling realization that my very survival requires moments of delusion. Allowing the rhythm to be a natural element of my life saves me from fits of inferiority and rages of superiority.

Make Today Remarkable, by finding your insignificance,

B

Is a B+ Good Enough?

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A writer once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If this is true, which five people would you like to spend your time with? This was the WordPress writing prompt one day this week. I have been thinking about the question in the light of my Remarkable People philosophy; remarkable people use their strengths to strengthen themselves and others. Who do I spend time with? Is the 100 hours a week with my beloved a significant impact in how I think, how I feel and how I behave? No doubt that her kindness rubs off on me and her commitment to family makes me a better father, a better grandfather and maybe a better brother.
Does seeing my youngest grandson for a day a week make me appreciate small things and big things and all things like books, toys, smiles,? He helps me notice trucks and machinery and squirrels and birdhouses. I am more attentive to my surroundings after a few hours in his presence.

Am I better when I am on vacation with friends who show consideration and courtesy to everyone they encounter? Does their willingness to be of service in tragedies, be of good cheer in adversities and be generous in the face of inequities make be more willing?

What does it mean to be average? Are you smarter than 2 people but less smart than 2? Do you have less compassion than some but more than others? Money? Health? Relationships? Can the average be raised? Lowered?

If you use your strengths to strengthen others and others do the same, can the bar be raised? I believe it can. If true, then it does matter which five people you spend time with? It matters more how they share their gifts, skills and strengths with those around them. It matters how we choose to influence and be influenced. I know that when I spend time with angry, cynical people, I am insensitive and self-righteous. If I listen to rhetoric and join in vitriol, we all become intolerant and joyless.

I was reading a review of “A Paradise Built in Hell” by Rebecca Solnit that reinforced my belief that we are all remarkable when we build on the gifts we bring to the table and community. The reviewer asks “If we think about our own personal experiences, no doubt we have each gone through something “disastrous” in a communal setting. In those situations, there is always something that compels us to rise to the occasion and to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do. We begin to feel our common humanity a little bit more.” Have you risen to the occasion in 2017? Have I risen to a challenge? Will I rise tomorrow and then again and again?
Have we used our strengths to strengthen ourself and others? How have you been remarkable? Fourty-five days into this year, I realize that I haven’t been remarkable on very many of them. That is sad enough for me but if my actions, my words, and my attitudes are having a significant imapct on the folks I hang out with, then shame on me.

Miss Vivienne, an 8 year old girl is rising to the occasion in San Francisco with Making A Stand to eliminate slavery. She is selling lemonade on her street and encouraging others to join her around the world to raise awareness and resources to stomp out bondage and abuse.
Closer to home Emma is using her heart and art to strengthen homeless families in Calgary. She creates one of a kond mini masterpieces and auctions them on a Facebook page.
WestJet staff and volunteers lift the spirits of weary travelers by reducing their anxiety. THey respond with kindness to meaningful and meaningless questions and requests without missing a beat.
A friend is preparing meals and providing support to her extended family, from outside the city, as they go through medical treatments.

The possibilities to be remarkable are abundant and maybe ever present when we open our eyes and ears to the world that surrounds us.

Think about 5 people (or 10, 20, 30) that you would like to surround yourself with and rise to the occasion together by celebrating, supporting and sharing each other’s lives. Are those the folks you spend time with? Are you the kind of person that they should be investing their relationship energy to be with? Are you raising the bar this week or are you pulling the average down? We all have bad days, bad weeks, and trying times but if we know that as they fester, they infect others would we have fewer of them?

My challenge and now yours is to be someone who chooses to set the average very high and then set about to be someone who raises the curve.

B

Being Present

The greatest defense against passivity, mediocrity, and ambivalence might be presencing. The guru on being present, Peter Senge, in Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Society, and Organizations, states “Too often, we remain stuck in old patterns of seeing and acting. By encouraging deeper levels of learning, we create an awareness of the larger whole, leading to actions that can help to shape its evolution and our future.”

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But it takes muscle and determination to break our evolutionary responses of fight or flight – neither of which live, well, in the moment. As we simply react rather than rest in and reflect on the circumstances, we reinforce habitual behavior (hear certainty) that stifles or worse strangles curiosity and learning.

While most of the time we aren’t in the kind of danger that requires the amygdala response I, frankly, suck at being present. My tendency is to live through time rather than in it. I am looking towards the next moment, the next appointment, the next thing. My attention drifts because I practice distraction instead of attention. Most people I encounter, from 7-year-old grandchildren to 30 something postmoderns are seeking the next stimulus and then the next. We bypass opportunities in favor of a new fix. Technology and social media have been built to serve this pathology through a nasty co-dependent relationship. I, like so many, spend far too much time seeking the next thing; a like, a friend, a thumbs up, an emoji. According to a post on Networlding says ” We’re obsessed with our phones, a new study has found. The heaviest smartphone users click, tap or swipe on their phone 5,427 times a day, according to researcher Dscout. That’s the top 10 percent of phone users, so one would expect it to be excessive. However, the rest of us still touch the addictive things 2,617 times a day on average. No small number.”
Fight or flight becomes swipe or click with the same consequence; we are missing the moments and the world is spinning past us. Can I intentionally become be more present?
I have written before about the importance of breathing and awareness of breath as an important factor in preparing to live in the now. Recognizing that you involuntarily sustain life through the inhalation and expiration of air should be a dotted line to understanding the miracle of your life. When you ‘marine breathe’ – inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and remain empty for four seconds, your awareness of each tick as it passes is heightened and is a primer to focus.
I use a couple of exercises to help me stay in the moment. I narrow my view. From the cacophony that is our world, I find stillness and silence. There is a place just behind our attitude, feelings, and prejudices where peace precedes the noise and business of the world. It is in your head and in your heart and regardless of your surroundings, it can be discovered. In the moments leading into a new engagement, a personal discussion, or when I am aware that I need to be prepared, I close my eyes and become aware of the sensation of my own physical presence, my body’s weight,(where am I tense in my sit muscles? am I grounded and sitting erect?). I return to my breath and feel it on the inside of my nostrils. Where does it go when I breathe in? Is there a particular part of my body that is uncomfortable or fidgety? I imagine my breath flowing out to the distractions and calming the sea. If I can envelop myself in an internal silence and stillness for as little as two minutes before a difficult meeting, I can use the energy to stay focused for almost an hour.

After a scheduled discussion or difficult coaching session, I leave a five-minute window to recuperate. I turn my intention back on me. I try to pay attention to what m mind is contemplating. Am I blathering? feeling joy? am I exhausted? I try not to get involved in creating a solution, just observe my own mind in action. If I can give myself permission to take these few minutes for my personal well-being, I am a better coach, consultant, husband, father, and grandfather. If I deny myself the break, I will present a much less interested, compassionate and attentive person because I will be in the room but living someplace else.

Make Today Remarkable, by pracicing presencing,
B

Again this is an easy to say and harder to do practice but I guarantee that if you honestly try it for a week, you will make it a constsnt habit.

You Suck, I Suck, We All Suck

I appreciate that political correctness and liberal politics continue to abhor unfair, abusive, illegal, and immoral treatment of others. When politicians and government make grand statements of attrition and reconciliation, they need to continue to have an eye to the reality of the present. In Canada, when all levels of government apologize for the treatment of first nations people for the way we treated them at first contact, it is empty words because of the abhorrent conditions we continue to press them into. When a city council changes the name of a bridge because the person the bridged honoured for 50 years was a proponent of the residential school system while urban aboriginals are dying from their poverty, it seems disingenuous.

An eye to the past is important so that we don’t repeat our mistakes and help us continue to learn from them. An eye to the past can act as a shield to taking meaningful, difficult steps to remedy a current situation. If I/we don’t know how to, don’t have the commitment to, or are afraid of the ramifications of a difficult issue, like first nation poverty in Canadian cities we take an easier path. Creating an Aboriginal Poverty Reduction Strategy that sits on a shelf without resources or teeth is self-serving and possibly mean-spirited but somehow offers satisfaction to the writers and their sponsors. It may not help those struggling with poor housing, poor nutrition, poor health, and poor self-esteem but it gets headlines in the mainstream press and impresses potential voters and supporters.

I use the tactic too and am frustrated by the obvious dodge it can become. When I don’t know how to remedy a wicked question, I often answer a different one. ” How do we eliminate child hunger in Canada?” and I responded with a school lunch program in Calgary for children identified by an authority as being food insecure. I accepted congratulations for the work (3000 kids a day got fed) and celebrated the immediate, relevant and concrete solution to a very narrow problem. But the solution of providing a nutritious lunch to some hungry kids at school, on school days doesn’t begin to answer the wicked question. I don’t recall anyone challenging what we were doing because after all we were feeding hungry kids and it feels good to be doing something. Successive parliaments and numerous legislatures have passed unanimous motions to eliminate child hunger to great applause and little impact.

All of us need to get past the rhetoric and easy actions and begin having very difficult discussions and trying unbelievably risky experiments if we hope to solve the issues that are destroying lives and killing people. If we continue to manage social issues, social issues manage to continue. Most of what we do and say feels and sounds good but without challenging what we are doing, it seems that we are perpetuating the problems with a faint hope that they will somehow disappear.

Think and Act on Solutions,
B

 

Socrates Suggests

An unexamined conviction is not worth having. Following up on the very high bar that Socrates has set with the ‘unexamined life is not worth living.’ Why wouldn’t he just claim that an examined life is better than the not? Why the sharp rebuke? If in fact, Socrates said this it is the kind of device he would have used to challenge an audience. In a world where absolutes reign, it is easy to understand the resistance we have to examining and re-examining those deeply held convictions that we have built our value set and worldview upon. But, if we are sentient beings; fully able to feel and perceive, wouldn’t examination be a first nature response?

I have lived about 2/3 of my life convinced that I understood and believed stuff that I had never given proper consideration to fully examining. I firmly and stubbornly held a worldview that had more to do with my father and little to do with logic. I accepted a pile of rubble because I agreed with one nugget of gold that was buried in the mess. Some of my certainties were/are embedded in ancient wisdom that is only ancient now. As we examine our world, we may see that things have changed. It has only been about 200 years since we came to understand that the world was likely older than 4004 years. Almost everyone held that belief until they didn’t because their awareness and understanding changed. As humans, we are subject to bias and prejudice whether we are willing to acknowledge them.

During my childhood and teen years, I lived in Saskatchewan and the rhetoric and myths of successive governments formed a big piece of my family’s value set. During the early 1960’s, the government of the day introduced the first form of Medicare, in Canada. The principals of universality, equality, privacy and single payer were layered into the fabric of the practice and philosophy of healthcare. For decades, I held to those principles with the zealousness of an evangelist. I defended the cumbersome system with all it’s failures because I unconditionally accepted the founding principles. There wasn’t any room, intellectually, emotionally or practically to question the system because of the sacred propositions.

When I found the courage to examine these convictions, I discovered that I could support the institution of care for all who needed it without holding universality, equality, and privacy sacrosanct. Under an early examination, I concluded that universality and equality were or had been reduced to lowest common denominator thinking. If we had 10,000 patients needing hip surgery (and the system could afford the cost) and 100 surgeons able to do the surgery at a rate of 1 per day, then universality and equality stated that some would need to wait 100 days or more. The system and the principles were weighted heavily on a first come first serve mentality. But if rather than equality, we used equity as the standard, we don’t reduce the wait time for some but those in most dire need would be moved to the front of the line. As I worked through my own analysis (unscientific but with rigor) on two more occasions, a few years apart, I still concluded that equity is a more efficient and humane practice. The upshot is that I let go of equality as a criteria for policy and program creation (in healthcare, education, housing …) and embraced equity.

When I suggested this to colleagues and friends, most were offended. That isn’t a good enough reason to stop the examination or toss the conclusion. In fact, it may be further reason to look at the embedded fundamental truths, that they had learned at the feet of their own history.

I will stop here with the disclaimer that I am not trying to convince you or unconvince you of any of your convictions. I confess that I am trying to convince you to examine all your convictions on a regular basis. I still regularly revisit the philosophy and practice of equity, usually when I have become intransigent and cocksure about my position.

What fundamental conviction do you hold that hasn’t been revisited for years or never? Do you have the willingness and courage to disrupt your own cart of comfort?  Fair warning – as you examine your convictions, you open the door to your life and how you lead it. Even if there is no change in how you hold the firm declaration, just by observing it under a different light, you can help but changing the observer.

Take up a conviction challenge today,

B

What’s left? If you aren’t sure about God, what do you believe? If you don’t see the bible as a complete and inerrant set of instructions, how do you guide your life? If there isn’t anything after this life, how do you keep going? When you stop believing, what’s left?

I flippantly and defensively said “everything” when I was asked that question a few months ago. But the word stuck with me and the idea that I had the world at my doorstep began to grow. If I wasn’t bound by a history and tradition that had been an important part of my life I was free to explore a range and diversity of ideas, opinions, and traditions. I could undertake rituals and readings that were outside the canon and liturgy of my faith community without feeling guilty. I was able to hear the same scripture with new ears and either embrace it or reject it without reprisal. There wasn’t a 6-course meal in front of me with the clear instructions that I needed to swallow it all. I could order a la carte and if I wanted only have soup or desert. I could even fast and not eat anything that was on the menu. I could even go to another restaurant or make my own meal at home. While that freedom isn’t the reason I have become an agnostic, nor should it be, it was an unexpected and beneficial outcome of standing firmly in doubt and curiosity.

When I was asked by someone who was/is concerned about my soul ” what’s left”, I am sure that they meant that there is nothing left worth living for and I discovered that there was everything to live for and live with.

In a world where for the first time political realities and armed citizens have made me uncertain about freedom, I find myself free to be uncertain. The next statement is about me and not pointed at anyone else. I think I am smarter because I am uncertain. When I had easy answers, I asked questions that conformed and confirmed. Now I ask myself and others better questions out of a sincere desire to understand. My queries are framed differently and use softer language that seems to elicit more open and thoughtful responses. My conversations have been ranging because, in my desire to understand, I get to pause and wait for others in the discussion to reflect, find their voice, and craft a response.

Tim Ferris, in “Four Hour Work Week” says that “most people will choose to be unhappy over uncertain”. I think he is referring to an addiction to a weekly paycheque and the choice to stay doing a job that enslaves you and offers no autonomy or purpose rather than make changes that allow you to live a life of meaning. Making meaning is a choice too but when you are constricted by rules, rituals and reasons from the minds and swords of others, you can’t see the choice. As the world changes and when we are conditioned to be fearful that if we don’t put a forkful in our mouth and swallow, we might starve, it is convenient and easier to suck it up and stay the course.

Right or wrong, I am choosing to risk it all. My brand, my reputation, my soul to discover what is out there if I can only wait and listen for the whispers.

 

B

Some Ideas Should Be Self Evident

Just because someone has influence doesn’t mean they have character. ~ Art  Jonak

It became crystal clear again this week that in the absence of character bluster and bravado are a poor replacement. When authorities and leaders resort to ad hominem and strawman attacks because they have made self-righteous and self-aggrandizing choices that they can’t defend with logic or honesty.

It would seem that I should be equally skeptical of the corollary ” just because someone has character doesn’t mean they have influence”.  It would be depressing and disappointing to consider that honesty, transparent, caring people lack influence. It is likely just a matter of scale. If 100,000 Twitter followers or 10,000,000 YouTube views suggests influence then a meaningful relationship and mentorship is insignificant. But if a changed life, a changed disposition or a changed heart is the measure then influence may be inversely proportional to following or views.

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I had two remarkable meetings today where we discussed a range of issues and differences of opinions. I left both with a fresh perspective, new data points and challenges and a sense of fulfillment. Both meetings were far more influential than any Facebook post or Instagram photo I will encounter today.

Make Today Remarkable, by setting your expectations at a human scale,

B

We All Get to Decide

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

In light of so many events this week, I needed to be reminded of this quote and I thank the fates and the twitter post that brought it to me. I have chosen to use my strengths to strengthen others for the past decade. There have been many days that I did that consistently and fewer days that devolved into self-righteousness.

happiness quote

There have been days that I was completely wrong.  Days that my enormous ego got in the way and tricked me into focusing on just me. And there have been days that I was ignorant; ignorant of the circumstances, ignorant of how my action impacted others and ignorant in my choice of language.

The good thing is that tomorrow I get to decide whether to walk in the light or succumb to darkness. That good news is yours too. Whatever you did or said or thought yesterday or today, you get to choose a different path when you get a fresh 24 when you wake up. Plant a seed tonight. Before you fall into slumber, think about how you will be a better light tomorrow and wake up with that intention fresh in your heart.

Make Today Remarkably Generous,

B