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What are You Witnessing?

You are a witness to your own truths. They exist in your head and you get to choose whether to accept them, reject them, alter them. They do not dictate your words or actions but if you aren’t conscious of them, they will influence how you behave and interact with others. As I have allowed my prejudice towards specific positions to soften, I have released one set of ideas and felt them dissolve as my curiousity, compassion or conscience created a new frame to be considered. But, how do I reconcile the probability that my conclusions are wildly and widely different from someone/everyone else? Does the sum of my experiences shape or define how I construct certainty? It is likely if I am not diligent about my reflection and discernment, I will wade the confirmation bias creek and swim my way to a comfortable, possibly biased, conclusion.

When I am open to shaking things up and letting the ideas in my head, that I hold to be real, to evaporate and make space for new pathways to connect I might arrive at similar conclusions or may wander widely and wildly in another direction. Discovery rarely happens if I take the same journey on the same route so I will try to observe different twists and turns along the way.

Give it a try tomorrow morning and let some of your presumptions, assumptions, pronouncements, and postures to melt and make room for an adventure that is as yet unimagined.

B

Original Thought · Uncertainty

Historical Truth – Really?

History gets rewritten every couple of generations and the story gets told through the lens of the narrator and with all current sensibilities imposed in the past. We see things that were done in the past and recorded as progress described as a tragedy. We witness heroes fall as their prejudices, foibles, and exploits are re-examined and seen under the world view of the present. In Canada, we are witnessing a movement to change the names of bridges and schools because of the actions and intentions of the historical character who was honored by the naming. We see statues and monuments, in southern states, being removed and history being rewritten or re understood.

When I first heard the news of bridges, schools, and airports being potentially renamed because of the character and values of the person who they were named after, I thought “that is ridiculous”. I wondered how we could judge a person’s action with hindsight and how could we rewrite what we believed to be true. When I reflected for a few hours, I realized that at its best history is only factual for the writer (and as they say usually the victorious dominant group). I am sure that any conflict would be seen differently from either side of the battle line.

Are my revelations and the suggested changes (and the ones that are happening) a sign of maturity or more political correctness gone wild? Should we stop commemorating people in public spaces because eventually someone will have a concern or be offended? I almost wrote legitimately or not offended but then wondered if that is ever an appropriate qualifier for offense. Should we undertake better diligence before we honor someone with a street name? Or should we just call it the 6 St Bridge or Second Avenue or Calgary International Airport? Can we still honour people that we feel have made a significant contribution? Can we adapt when we realize that others don’t see the actions the same way? Should we?

If we discovered, uncovered or acknowledged that one of the First Nation’s leaders we have named a public institution or roadway after was masochistic, or misogynistic, or had killed dozens or hundreds should we remove his name? If Nobel prize winners from the past didn’t live up to today’s social norms, what should we do?

The issue isn’t simple but I have heard all the simple answers. I hopr yo continue to wrestle with this issue and hope that you do too.

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Are you Courageous?

Courage; where does yours come from? Courage isn’t the opposite of fear, it is the opposite of complacency. Complacency is the bastard child of certainty and convenience. When those two get together, they sap our curiousity, commitment, collaboration and destroys our courage by convincing us to continue clamoring confidently along. When we believe we are right, we don’t need to be courageous – just stubborn. When convenience removes all challenges or worse convinces us to avoid circumstances that cause inconvenience, we get stuck deeper in the muck of mediocrity (complacency’s cousin). It doesn’t take much mediocrity to bring about inertia. When the muck gets above our knees we become paralyzed.

Does it sound like a terrible state and a trap to be avoided? I spend a lot of my day reminding myself that I need to create a bit of chaos so I remain curious and vigilant.

The practice of avoiding complacency and encouraging courage, for me, is about embracing a bit of ambiguity in every moment.
I avoid over analyzing circumstances, which is an easier practice than I imagined. If I start digging into weeds, I lift up my head and think about the garden and the sky. If I go all big picture and start considering the global ramifications, I try to focus on the bottom of my feet and breathe deeply.

I have, thanks to Gretchen Rubin and Bernadette Jiwa’s work, adopted a habitual morning practice. It still causes me some angst to say that because I once felt that habit was a handcuff. But now I begin my day at 5am with a guided meditation and some language learning. By the time I get to my first coffee I have awakened my heart with reflection and my brain with a small challenge. The remainder of the morning before a run or workout has me roaming news and information sites. A forty minute to an hour exercise session takes me to 07:30 and the routine ends. The rest of the day can feel like fire fighting (some of the flare ups that I started) and work with clients and causes.

While I am often sharing responsibility for my time with appointments and meetings I avoid letting someone else highjack my agenda for the day. The choices I make either lead me to predictability or adventure. Predictably I usually choose adventure. If I believed in destiny, I would say ” I am destined for the next adventure” or ” Adventure is my destiny”. If I succumb to spending 12 hours working on a clients problem and curtail my personal plan for one day, I can make up for it. But if a demanding issue, that isn’t within my manifesto, begins to consume me I need to take back ownership of my schedule.

In an effort to combat certainty and manifest courage, I passionately stand up for my values and respectfully listen for points of agreement and points of diversion and then try to understand and synthesize differing points of reference and view. In diplomatically defending my ideas, I am forced to consider the why, what, where of the views and why I am so sure that they are valid. I bring myself to listen to and hear opinions and ‘facts’ that differ from mine and consider why, what, where again. It is hard to get complacent when I intentionally put myself on a rollercoaster.

In my bravest moments, I am not afraid of the change that comes from embracing uncertainty. I still surprise myself when I hear my voice digging in on a position with defensive posturing. ” Experts have shown”, ” We all know”, “The facts are” are all cowardly bullying if I am sincere in exploring new ideas and testing old ones.

I try to avoid definitive statements, definitive articles, and definitive tone when in a discussion or friendly debate. My curiousity should be to understand not to win points. If I practice an indefinate approach and keep my head, hands and heart open, I will hear, see, and feel the world differently and that is what excites me.

Make Today Remarkable, by exploring the impossible, embracing the unimagined and trying the undoable,

Bob

Uncategorized

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

One foot in front of the other, repeat. Moving forward isn’t difficult to imagine but it can be hard to accomplish. When I head out for a run in the morning, I am full of enthusiasm and energy but after a few hundred feet, my brain starts telling my body all the reasons that I should turn around and go home. ” you are too tired” ” you didn’t eat breakfast yet”,” you don’t have water”,” Your knee is sore”, ” you are working too hard”. This goes on for about 3 kilometers. At about 12 minutes, the naysayer’s brain becomes quiet and I am in a rhythm that allows me to clock miles while disposing of unwanted and unneeded baggage in my head.

” The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, then starting on the first one.” ~ Mark Twain

If I have a project that isn’t literally bipedal motion, I still need to move it forward step by step. As a destination focused person, I struggle with the incrementalism of this approach but can attest to some monumental failures when I tried to get ahead of the next action without taking the previous. Even when I reverse engineer a plan, for myself or a client, I then need to begin at 1 and move through 2,3,4, … to 123,124 …
Following each measured step can be monotonous but I have learned that it is the most efficient and more often, I discover that there are multiple stems that could be tried and I get to make more informed decisions at each juncture. There have been many times that this one-step-after-another process has lead me to an as yet unimagined possibility and ultimately to a different and better destination.

This has occurred so often that I am now treating each stage of the journey as a mini destination. The running metaphor runs out of steam at this point but I confess that there have been times where I had gone too far and needed to coax myself along with the mantra ” you can stop and walk in 100 more steps” and then I have slowed and walked and said ” you will start running again in 100 steps”. Luckily I have never needed to go on full out repeat of that set but it is a good reminder that setting small goals that lead to bigger ones can be motivating and reduce the paralysis of being overwhelmed.

The final benefit of methodical forward motion is that you eventually reach the destination; maybe not where you thought you would be or on the schedule you expected, but you get there. Finishing a marathon in 3 hours is a whopping big goal but finishing a marathon is still an amazing accomplishment. And the best thing about reaching your destination is the feeling of achievement that goes with it.

Step up today and step out. Stretch out your leg and put your foot down, lift up your other leg and do it again. Who knows where you might end up.

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Teamwork · Uncertainty

Simon Says

simon

Simon Says’ was a game I played as a child. A group of us stood and one of us was Simon. He proceeded to give commands ” Simon says stand on one foot”, Simon says hold up your right arm.”, “turn around”. If we didn’t do what Simon says or did do what was commanded without Simon says, we were eliminated. The last one standing became the new Simon. Supposedly, I learned to listen rather than react and to obey when the right person gave the order, In reality, I didn’t learn either very well. Obedience and its synonyms submission, subservience, deference stick in my craw when the orders come from some authority, real or referent, that is looking to kick me off the island if I don’t comply completely. Mindless blind compliance ensures that we live a life of mediocrity and never reach the potential we were designed for. When I refer to design, I am referring to the millennia-long evolution that has brought us to this time and place. The destination wasn’t ordained, the process wasn’t prescribed. Evolution doesn’t have an endgame beyond the immediate issue and the solution path it has chosen. Evolution is adaptive. When a change occurs, it is measured and if it improves survival, it is fostered and if it detracts, it is rejected and a new adaptation is tried. But all decisions have an impact and the consequences aren’t easily forecasted so the journey and the destination are still an adventure.
“You could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole.”
— Fichte, The Vocation of Man (1800)
I am not sure how apt Fichte’s quote is but it provides for me a sense of the power of the unwinding march.

Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.

Noam Chomsky

Back to obeying the leader for fear of being called out. In a game, this might be trivial but following orders without understanding them, considering the ramifications, or speaking out against them when they violate your sensibilities and values is demoralizing and destructive. When a boss ‘suggests’ that quotas could be met if corners were shaved and you trim the edges regardless of the consequences, you impact more than sales. If a religious head advises that a certain behavior is a sin and associating with anyone who commits the act is also a sin and you begin to distance yourself from a friend or family member, you may think you are saving your tomorrows but at what cost for today?

Obedience without question or consideration is subservience, not loyalty or patriotism or fielty. Obedience without question removes the need for courage, conscience or consciousness. Those three c’s are important enough that they have survived millions of evolutionary adaptations and surrendering them to a president, priest, or popularity contest winner is a tragedy. I am not suggesting mindless cold-hearted disobedience. I am recommending deep reflection and careful consideration before acting on the commands of someone you know, trust and/or respect. If you have doubts or reservations about the character and motive of the commander, then be doubly cautious in joining their parade and marching to their drum beat.
In the end, I hope I am remembered for something other than “he was good at following orders.”

Make Today Remarkable by asking ridiculously impossible questions.
B

 

 

 

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Wicked

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

goodandevil

What makes us wicked? Apparently, according to Robert M Sapolsky from his book “Behave” the little girl with a girl is just like the rest of us. ” Sapolsky has been reflecting on the origins of human behavior, starting deep in the brain moments before we act and working his way millions of years back to the evolutionary pressures on our prehistoric ancestors’ decisions, with stops along the way to consider how hormones, brain development and social structures shape our behavior. He also has been thinking about free will and comes to the conclusion, based on the biological and psychological evidence, that we do not have it.”~ Stanford News, Nathan Collins.

We have limited control over how the regions of our brain become habituated. Evolutionary changes fixed certain paths millennia ago and hormonal response to pleasurable and painful stimuli point and prod us to act in certain ways depending on context,

He relates a story about a young man entering a room through a closed door and is surprised to discover his grandmother sitting on a chair. He crosses the floor to her and gives her a long warm hug. In a second version a young man entering a room through a closed door and is surprised to discover an alien with slime and sharp teeth. As the creature moves toward him, he picks up a weapon and kills it. In both stories, the young man’s brain receives the same dopamine hit because in both cases the action is what was right to do.

What is right to do and the motivation to do it is the meta narrative that covers all the chapters in Sapolsky’s easy to read and sometimes funny. Richard Wrangham from the New York Times describes “Behave” ; “We begin in the first second before a behavior is produced, our guide taking us confidently into the amygdala, the dopaminergic system and the frontal cortex. We continue the tour with events that occur minutes, hours, days, months and years ago, finally stretching back thousands of generations to the level where Darwinian processes explain why the systems that produce behavior evolved in their particular, haphazard way. By the time the book returns from these expanding horizons it has given readers the opportunity to feel astonishingly comfortable with a rich slew of fascinating neurobiology basics.”

So if Sapolsky has an inkling of ‘truth’ in his thesis, am I not responsible for my actions ‘cold hearted kindness’, ‘warm blooded rage’ or any other combination? Like one of the writer’s in Christian scripture says when asked “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not!” Of course not. We must be held to account for our actions regardless of the supposed causes of the actions. He asserts that even when there has been a brain injury that impairs some function, we can’t accept or condone behaviour that violates our current norms.

“To illustrate, he cited the case of a Catholic nun who ministers to prisoners on death row in Louisiana. These men, he said, are “some of the most frightening, nightmarish humans who have ever walked this Earth.”

When asked how she can spend her time with such men, Sapolsky said the nun answers, “The less forgivable the act, the more it must be forgiven. The less lovable the person is, the more you must find the means to love them.”

“As a strident atheist,” he said, “this strikes me as the most irrational, magnificent thing we are capable of as a species. We are not just a ‘unique-ier’ species, we are the ‘unique-ier-est,’ simply because of this. …

“And this one does not come easily … this contradiction, to take the impossibility of something to be the very proof that it must be possible and must become a moral imperative. The harder it is to do that, the more important it is.””

As I journey from a recovering post modern fundamentalist to a burgeoning social humanist, I have needed to re evaluate where my morality resides and where it came from. At one time I believed that it was endowed by a Creator who dictated both the rules and the sanctions for violation. I now think that my morality is far more dynamic and contextual. What I hold to be good, fair and just is more a function of how the regions of my brain react to the circumstances. Similarly, my neuron activity that arises in moments of fear, disgust, or distrust are triggers for action that would be indefensible under different conclusions.

My life is a draft and as I work through it, by writing about it and living it there are edits and amendments that are required. I appreciated that you are following along.

Make Today Remarkable, whatever that means for you today,

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Grab a Pen and Paper

If you are reading this today, it is too late. Let’s look towards tomorrow. Before you crawl into bed tonight, stop and write down your 3 goals for tomorrow. Put the list of three things somewhere where you will see it first thing in the morning. I always try to follow Mark Twain’s advice around goals; “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Once I get the biggest, least appealing goal out of the way – often within the first hour, I am on track to accomplish even more.

remarkable-people

Back to the night time list. If you write meaningless or vague goals that don’t inspire you, they will likely get left undone or you won’t be able to recognize when you have achieved them. Goals beget goals like steps turn into a movement. Start with something smaller, and meaningful that begins where you are. There is no point in creating an unrealistic goal of doing 100 push-ups if you haven’t ever done 1. But ” I will complete 10 push-ups before 9am and another 10 push-ups before noon” may be doable and specific enough to succeed. This type of goal can progress by adding reps (10 3xs a day) or more push-ups (11,12,20…) or becoming habitual 2×10 every day.

I prefer to set goals around my strengths. So reading 150 books in a year was feasible and I am well on my way to exceeding the target. I needed to break the big goal into smaller chunks. ” I will read 100 pages of “Superstitions” by Bruce M Hood before 9pm tomorrow” is specific enough for me but if my schedule and lifestyle was busier, I might need to ” read 100 pages of “Superstitions” by Bruce M Hood between noon and 1pm and on my 40 minute commute home, tomorrow”. Knowing how you succeed and what will work for you is the path to capitalizing on the opportunity.

I am a morning person and a, usually up about 5am so getting stuff done early in the day works for me. If you tend to be a night owl, that might be better. I can’t draw a circle, freehand, but I can write 1500 words a day so if I have a goal of shring a position, an idea or a message, I play to my strong points.

If I have a monthly monetary expectations like $5000 in sales commissions, or $3000 in new business, or $10,000 return on investment, I need to set daily goals that will keep me on track to do the work that leads to the money. ” I will make 5 follow-up calls to clients between 10am and 11:30am”, ” I will prospect 10 new leads by cold calling 60 names from the company list tomorrow afternoon. I will keep calling until I have reached the 60 calls.”

When you set a good goal and can’t ever achieve it, ask what isn’t working. Maybe you are playing against tendencies, against best practices, or against your best interests. Or the goal doesn’t really have meaning for you. Or you don’t have the resources or tools to complete the tasks. Evaluate and adapt the goal or drop it.

Start tonight by writing your goals for tomorrow and then wake up ready to get started.

B

Original Thought · Teamwork · Uncertainty

The Usual Suspect Might Not Be

I suspect that my suspicions are unwarranted. Or at least they are unsubstantiated. My ability and tendency to make decisions easily and quickly mean that I also come to judgement quickly and easily. If the ease and speed aren’t tempered with research, reflection and discernment, then my confirmation bias takes over and I begin to categorise ideas and people based on sketchy and incomplete information. Unfortunately, first impressions, valid or not, are lasting. If I conclude that someone has ulterior or selfish motives, it will take a long time and consistent effort to move me from that position and I will likely hear everything they say through a muddy translation.

Changing how I react to perceived circumstances is entrenched from years of using this heuristic. My rush to decide won’t be easy to change but I can be aware of by predisposition and be aware that it may not be accurate. Awareness of my tendency opens the possibility that I can deliberately short circuit the shortcut.

Have you ever made a choice, a decision, a judgement and in the light of time, information, and/or confirmation changed your mind? I have been enamoured with an idea that I later realized was clunky logic. I have been awed by a person and her rhetoric only to discover that there wasn’t anything substantial there. I have opted to dislike a friend of a friend because of how I interpreted something that they said only to discover that my translation of the event was significantly different than theirs and they became a respected colleague. I have rejected people and ideas because of their proximity to ideas and people that I disagreed with so I discredited the new ideas and people by association.

I have also felt the sting of guilt by association, the pain of rejection because of a misunderstanding and I know I have disappointed people because their initial view of me and my capabilities exceeded my willingness and skills.

Knowing that and having felt that I should be able to draw on the sum of my experience rather than a narrow bandwidth of it. If I can pause and draw on the wider view, my snap decisions should be better,

Make Today Remarkable, by doubting your initial observation,

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Sharing Economy · Teamwork · Uncertainty

Fear versus Hope

I am afraid that the fear mongers are winning and yes I see the irony. After writing for weeks about hope and her great liberating, creative, and generous power I find myself slipping over to the dark side more often than I like. Even though I understand that choosing hope has a positive and infectious impact on my life and those around me, I feel like I have been inundated by media, social media, and conversations with a message of distrust, hatred, and terror. So much of what I hear and read has a bias towards suspicion, division, and polarization. Is our world tumbling out of control? Will the schism we are creating bring dire and fatal consequences for our species?

I am taking off the grey coloured glasses of despair and seeing the world in the brighter glow of hope. What I take in through my eyes and ears will be curated towards the best of our city, province, country. I am not going to naively ignore news but I will intentionally seek generative, positive stories. Afterall, the best and the worst are nothing more than fictions that we tell ourselves and if collectively more of us lean into narratives about responsible government and personal responsibility, climate care, equity, joyful relationships, then more coverage of those will be offered and more will be generated.
My position isn’t Pollyanna pie in the sky. It is a deliberate and intentional choice. I can be positive and passionate and opinionated and respectful with being inane, insane, or weak. Hope can raise the water for my little boat and can carry a flotilla of like minded travellers. Therein lies the rub. I am looking for people who are willing and courageous enough to say no to fear and yes to hope.

We can build a new movement; one that is democratic without being political. One that is passionate without being partisan. One that is confident without the vitriol of certainty. Are you interested in joining others to create something hopeful, even if it just adds joy and inspiration to those on the boats? What if the Armada’s positivity infects a few dozen, a few hundred, a few thousand new sailors? Are you seeking hope? Do you know others around you who are ready to stake their position and take a stand? If we created an online presence like a Facebook page (or other suggestions)
would you join and contribute? Hope won’t win if we just lurk around her edges. We need to wrap our arms around her and then tell others our stories of hope.

Today I had three conversations with younger people from early 20’s to early 30’s who seem immune to the rubbish that is being spewed through conventional and new mediums. Their outlook on today, tomorrow and the future were refreshingly expectant. They weren’t so much concerned with the trappings of the world but more interested in what they are and will experience and the value that they can add to their friends, family and community.

They believe they are and can make a difference in the world and they are. It is that simple and that complicated but it began with a choice to view the world in a light shining brightly.

Make Today Hopeful,

Bonce-you-choose-hope-anything-is-possible

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Serenity

The Serenity Prayer is a troubling bit of naive advice.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Amen.

The more well known first five verses set up the contrast between action and inertia, between courage and wisdom, between divinity and humanity. For believers in a monotheistic world, it seems to be a means to shift blame and justify inaction. For unbelievers, it points to wisdom as the inspiration for decisions rather than any god or gods. The Glori Patre formulation brings familiarity.

The second stanza becomes very Buddhist for the first three lines. Accepting the world as it is rather than as I would have it be, is easy to say and certainly harder to do. In my morning meditation, I can be accepting of my surroundings; the light, sounds, and energy around me. I have learned to accept my aches, physical, emotional, and intellectual for the moments that I rest in awareness of my body but the experience is fleeting as I return to the room, the house, the world.

The metaphoric invocation is abrupt but temporary in line eight. Almost as an aside, an incantation that harkens the magic and power from beyond. The poet becomes frenetic jumping from self to Saviour as the reason to live and the means to solve the anxiety of decisions. If I relinquish the decision and the responsibility for it, I am absolved. Even if I don’t fully and truly accept the Christian myth, I am restored for making or not making a choice to act.

The prayer ends, as all good prayers should, with the incantation; repeated and bleated by so many. In the call for agreement, we reinforce the fiction that we have created together and which is necessary to make any sense of our world, our place and the concept of prayer.

As the prayer closes, it makes the big promise that regardless of whether I have wisdom or courage or knowledge and without consideration for how my self-imposed choice impacts others, I will live forever with the one who releases me of the responsibility.

To be clear, I have prayed this prayer on many occasions and my significant action bias always won out even when I didn’t have the necessary information to make the choice wisely. For the times when I know that my choice to act caused harm and for those times that I don’t recognize the hardship I contributed to, I accept responsibility. For the times that my limited view of the world suggests that my action was neutral or helpful, I accept responsibility too. No passing the buck, no shared fiction, just me being responsible or irresponsible in the moment.

This post was precipitated by having someone say to me ” God helps those who help themselves” in what I felt was a callous response to some homeless people we had an encounter with. He didn’t appreciate me suggesting that his statement was an acknowledgement that there is no god and if he still believed there was then, from my reading of scripture, that he was missing the big point by weaving a thick veil with a whole lot of very small stuff. Not my finest moment. But I was frustrated by his words and concerned that I didn’t have a better response to the two women and a man other than the giving of alms (which readers of this post will remember, I have referred to as a status verification absolution practice. ) If charity is the best we can do, so be it. But charity shouldn’t stop us from looking for root causes. If we continue to manage social issues, social issues manage to continue.

There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction. ~ John F. Kennedy