Playing Big Involves A Certain Kind of Relationship Towards Wrongdoing

A stone has a certain kind of being. What kind?  The being of a stone is stillness. A stone just sit there – it’s way of being has no capacity for acting in/on the world. It is indifferent to what is so and it cannot be otherwise for a stone.

The being of human being is very different.  The way of being of human beings is involvement in the world. And choice in the matter of what shape this involvement takes. Further, this involvement necessarily involves doing – taking action.

Yes, man can be indifferent to that which is but this indifference can never be the indifference of the stone.    The indifference of a human being is an active – chosen – indifference.  Man is implicated in his indifference and thus subject to moral judgement, the stone is not.


By nature of the being of human beings you and I are implicated in all that which is and which is not. If the world is not as you and I wish it to be then you and I are confronted with choice – how to be (including the actions we take or do not take) in the face of that which is and is not.  You and I can choose to resign ourselves to that which is, point the finger at others and leave it at that, or take responsibility for shaping the world to be more in line with which we wish it to be.

What has brought up this conversation today?  My confrontation with wrongdoing.

When faced with wrongdoing what do I do?  Do I pretend that it is not happening?  Do I join in with those doing wrong? Do I help those who are the subject of the wrongdoing?  Do I accept that wrongdoing is occurring and say it is not any of my business?  Do I merely go through the pretence of doing something whilst staying in the good books of the wrongdoer?  You get the idea.

When it comes to the matter of wrongdoing Martha C. Nussbaum has something to say:

… where the perpetrators are like General Dyer, human, the consequence of recognising wrongdoing … is clear: the witness must oppose such evil at great cost and denounce it to others...

In our contemporary world, in which it is a good assumption that most of the starvation and much of the other misery we witness is the result of culpable negligence by the powerful, metaphysical resignation would, again, be relatively good news, letting the powerful of the hook.

But the truthful new of Greek tragedy, for us, as for the Athenians, is far worse than that: for the bad news is that we are culpable as Zeus in the Trachiniai, and the Greek generals in The Trojan Women, and Odysseus in Philoctetes, and many other gods and mortals at many times and places – unless we throw off our laziness and selfish ambition and obtuseness and ask ourselves how the harms we witness might have been prevented.  

As Philoctetes knew, pity means action: intervention on behalf of the suffering, even if it is difficult and repellent. If you leave out the action, you are an ignoble coward, perhaps also a hypocrite and a liar. If you help you have done something fine. 

– Martha C. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness

If you and I turn a blind eye to the wrongdoing then let’s be clear we are playing small.  Playing BIG necessarily involves doing that which Martha says: taking action, opposing evil, helping those subjected to wrongdoing/evil.

Further, I invite you and me to consider that where we are being obtuse, lazy, and selfishly ambitious it is most likely that we are playing small.  Given this recognition you and I have the choice to stop this and play BIG.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time…

How To Play Big In Our Dealings With Our Fellows

Our automatic/default way of being with regards to our dealing with our fellows is one of being controlling is it not?  I have a view on who you are / what you are / how you should show up and travel and given my attachment to this view I seek/strive to control you: control you as my child, my spouse, my sibling, my colleague, my friend… Right?

What shows up when we relate to our fellows in this habitual way?  If we succeed in our efforts we do so by cutting limbs of the other to fit the Procrustean bed we have created for them.  If we do not succeed then we blame / criticise them. Either way there is something amiss in this way of relating to others.

Is there another way of relating to our fellows?  Is there a way of being-in-the-world that frees our fellows to be  – to simply be – without having to fit into a particular mould we have created for them?

I invite you and me to listen to these wise words:

Last summer I noticed a strange plant in our pasture. I did not know what it was, I had no picture in my mind of what flower or fruit it would bear, but I freed it. That is, I dug around it and opened the soil that the rain might fall on its roots, I cleared out the thistles with which it was entangled so that it might have room to spread, I cut down the undergrowth of small maples near so that it could get the sun. In other words, I simply freed it.  Every friendship which is not treated in this way will surely suffer; no human relation should serve an anticipatory purpose. Every relation should be a freeing relation with the ‘purpose’ evolving.”

– Mary Parker Follett, Creative Experience (1924)

This may be a BIG ask for you.  It is a HUGE ask for me.  Which is why it is game fit only for those of us committed to playing BIG in our dealings with others.

Finally, I invite you/me to play BIG in our dealings with ourselves. I’m inviting you and me to free ourselves in the way that Mary Parker Follett describes.

Now, I get what the folks at Landmark were saying when they counselled us to “Listen coming from nothing”- listen / relate to others without any preconceptions.  In the space of nothing, anything has the ‘space’ to show up.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

Playing BIG With-Towards Imperfection

Imperfection, imperfection, imperfection!

I disappoint myself. Not always but certainly from time to time. I particularly disappoint myself when my relating with others is not working out as I want it to work out.  I am so imperfect!  It really takes something to be with this. Mostly, I am not being with it as I am so busy lashing at myself.

What happens when you disappoint me?  Your imperfections, where you fall short, are lit up and I see them – all of them.  How do I treat you? I lash out at  you – sometimes the lashing makes a sound, other times it is silent.

Thats the way to be if one is committed or merely resigned to playing small.  My default setting is to play small when it comes to imperfection. It may be yours.

What’s the starting point for playing BIG in relation to imperfection?

Lets start with an insight – perhaps the insight when it comes to human beings and human worlds:

…..We are all imperfect. 

Such a vision not only invites but requires Tolerance: active appreciation of the richness and variety of human beings on this earth, along with the understanding that we all struggle with the same demons, we all share the same fears and sorrows, we all do the best we can with what we have.

The Spirituality of Imperfection

Please get that imperfection is not a bug it is a feature.  Imperfection is a feature of human existence. Wherever you find a human being or human beings you will find yourself, sooner or later, face to face with imperfection. There is no escape from imperfection – it is intrinsic to human existence and pervasive.

Given this insight what is it to play BIG in relation to this feature of human existence?

The following story provides a great answer to this question:

A man who took great pride in his lawn found himself with large and recurring crops of dandelions. Although he tried every method he knew to get rid of them, they continued to plague him. Finally, in desperation, he wrote the Extension Service of the Agriculture Department of the State University, enumerating all the things he had tried and concluding with the question: “What shall I do now?”

After a somewhat prolonged time even for such correspondence, the reply finally came: “We suggest you learn to love them.”

The Spirituality of Imperfection

Damn! I have been ‘on it ‘with several members of my family: My mother, brother, and uncle for selling my father’s land despite his express request to not sell the land; My wife; and my eldest son.  Playing BIG necessitates getting ‘off-it’. Am I ready to do that?  I suspect this conversation provides a pointer.

Now what is the stance I take toward myself?  Do I start lashing out at myself for getting ‘on-it’ and staying ‘on-it’ for most of this week?  That would be falling into the same trap – lashing out at myself for not being OK, for being imperfect.  So what is it to play BIG here with regards to myself and my inherent imperfection?

If you could really accept that you weren’t ok you could stop proving you were ok.

If you could stop proving that you were ok you could get that it was ok not to be ok.

If you could get that it was ok not to be ok you could get that you were ok the way you are.

You’re ok, get it?

-Werner Erhard

Yes, it’s ok to accept my imperfection – all the areas in which I fall short. Yes, it’s ok for you to accept your imperfection.

It would be too simple, too Western, to leave this conversation here. So let’s introduce paradox (through Zen) for life is paradoxical through and through:

Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.
―Shunryu Suzuki

Nothing we see or hear is perfect. But right there in the imperfection is perfect reality.
―Shunryu Suzuki

I thank you for your listening. And I ask you to play BIG even if you find that like me you are finding your playing BIG imperfect.

“I did do something… I made you.”

Refugees fleeing the Middle East. Risking not only their lives but also the lives of their loved ones to make it to Europe. There, these fellow human beings, come face to face with the kind of violence that is most difficult for a human being to bear: being looked down upon, being treated with indifference, being rejected…. Unwanted by our fellow human beings.

UK. Spike in hate crimes. Racism out in the opening post vote for Brexit. The foreigner (black, brown, white..) is not welcome: “Go back to your f***ing country!”.  So, no surprise, that folks who look and/or sound foreign find themselves fearful.

USA. The legacy of slavery is out in the open. White folks shoot black folks without impunity. Some black folks have had enough of this….Dallas.

Centre of Brussels. I walk and find myself face to face with many folks sitting on the pavements begging. How can this be?  Brussels, the heart of Europe. Europe a continent of wealth. Seeing some folks begging, just about everybody walking by, this does violence to my soul.

What is my instant / natural response to all this? What is my gut level reaction to a world that doesn’t work?  What is yours?  Isn’t it that which is vividly illustrated by the story below:

Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”

For many of us God is dead so we replace God with Government: Why doesn’t the government do something about this?   The government should do something!  Aren’t the folks in government just like us: looking for others, including us, to do something?  This is a weak stance is it not?  It is the stance of child is it not?  This is playing small is it not?

The spiritual tradition is clear on what it takes to make the world work:

Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”

And out of the long silence, God said: “I did do something about them. I made you.”

Looking for a source of inspiration? An ordinary fellow human being who showed up and travelled in this manner? Today, I cannot think of a better example than Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Central Brussels. Each day I ensure that I have enough cash in my pocket. As I come across a fellow human being begging, I look that person in the eye, and place some money in his/her hands. I continue to do this until there is no more cash in my pocket. I have not changed the world. Yet, I made a difference to at least two people every day: the person/s begging and myself.  I have moved from being one who looks on from the stands and despairs to an agent who acts.

I thank you for your listening. Wherever you are I hope you will play BIG.

Abdul Sattar Edhi: An Inspiration For Those Who Are Up For Playing Big

You and I want our lives to matter. We want our lives to make a real difference — to be of genuine consequence in the world. We know that there is no satisfaction in merely going through the motions in life, even if those motions make us successful or even if we have arranged to make those motions pleasant. We want to know we have had some impact on the world. In fact, you and I want to contribute to the quality of life. We want to make the world work

-Werner Erhard

Yesterday I learnt that Abdul Sattar Edhi is no longer. You’ve probably not heard of him. Yet, in my eyes, he sit there alongside Gandhi as one of the world greatest examples of humanity: a peaceful warrior for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcasts…. A living example of what is possible when one makes one’s life a stand for something noble – something that calls to the deeply human in us, no matter how deeply it is buried.

Sadness. Tears, Sadness. Tears, Sadness. Tears….. A profound sense of loss. Yet, I have never met the man, merely donated money to the organisation he founded. So from where does this deep sense of grief arise?

What is it that i find my deepest self (that which is beyond my conscious control) mourns for?  The loss of a saint, the humanity he embodied, and the humanity he called forth in many people. I suspect that he left heft many of us feeling better about ourselves and the world that we find ourselves.

For as long as there is one Edhi there is hope. More, an Edhi is an opening, a clearing, for our humanity to show up and make difference: to contribute to the quality of life – for all.


People have become educated, but have yet to become human.

-Abdul Sattar Edhi

So this is my invitation to you, to me, to us: Let’s play BIG, starting right now, by putting our humanity, the kind of humanity that Abdul Sattar Edhi,  into action.

I thank you for you listening. And I ask that you show up and travel in manner that makes a positive difference to the quality of your life, our life, life itself.

Play Big: Embrace A Stranger The Nicula Way

I’ve been working in Belgium this year. Typically I take flight out to Brussels every Sunday night or Monday morning. And take the flight back to London late afternoon every Friday.

I work with a great bunch of people: Jeroen, Martijn, Patrick, Rupert, Arun, Prashanth, Alexandra……. They show up and travel in a manner that leaves me feeling welcome, respected, part of the team.

There is something special about Alexandra. She kind of ’embraced’ me without ever having met me. How by ringing me whilst I was recovering from back surgery.

Upon my return to work/Brussels Alexandra made me feel welcome by seeking me out and taking me out to lunch.  Not just once but several times. Now and then when she takes a break and goes out for a cigarette she invites me along. Sometimes I take up her invitation.

This week Alexandra invited me to her home. I found myself both surprised and delighted. Why surprised? “She hardly knows me!”  Why delighted? She trusts me enough to invite me to her home; and she finds me sufficiently interesting to invite me to her home.

The result? I spent a lovely evening at her place. I met her son: a beautiful young fellow, alive, curious, playful and intelligent; he enjoys chocolates; and loves his mother. I got to learn a little about her partner.  Alexandra also shared some of her life with me. Being English I tend to be somewhat reserved yet I found myself telling Alexandra about some aspects of my life.

What is there between myself and Alexandra? Gratitude! Gratitude for what? For being the first and only Belgian person who has invited me into her home, her family, her life.  For  puncturing my sense of being a stranger in this land.

I invite you and I to play big by embracing a stranger the Nicula way!  Who can you invite into your life and by so doing touch his/her life for one lunchtime, for one evening, or for a lifetime?

And finally, I dedicate this conversation to Alexandra Nicula – a remarkable woman. And someone who now shows up for me as a friend.  Thank you Alexandra for your kindness, your generosity, and your way of being – which I find refreshing and inspiring.










Play Big: Embrace The Truth of Human Existence

I have been reading the book Man for Himself by Erich Fromm.  There is one passage which resonates with me. And this is the passage I wish to share with you as it occurs to me that it gets to the heart of playing BIG in my/your living.

Man can react to historical contradictions by annulling them through his own action; but he cannot annual existential dichotomies, although he can react to them in different ways. He can appease his mind by soothing and harmonising ideologies. He can try to escape from his inner restlessness by ceaseless activity in pleasure or business. He can try to abrogate his freedom and turn himself into an instrument of powers outside of himself, submerging himself in them.  But he remains dissatisfied, anxious, and restless.

There is only one solution to his problem: to face the truth, to acknowledge is fundamental aloneness and solitude in a universe indifferent to his fate, to recognise that there is no power transcending him which can solve his problem for him.Man must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only by using his own powers can he give meaning to his life.  

But meaning does not imply certainty; indeed the quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning.  Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.

If he faces the truth without panic he will recognise that there is no meaning to life except the meaning  man gives his life by unfolding  of his powers, by living productively; and that only constant vigilance, activity, and effort can keep us from failing in the one task that matters – the full development of our powers within the limitations  set  by the laws of our existence.

Man will never cease to be perplexed, to wonder, to raise new questions. Only if he recognises the human situation, the dichotomies inherent in his existence and his capacity to unfold his powers, will he be able to succeed in his task: to be himself and for himself and to achieve happiness by the full realisation of those faculties which are peculiarly his – of reason, love, and productive work.

I invite you to grapple with the speaking of Erich Fromm. I invite you (and me) to take responsibility – right this moment – for our living and our lives.  It is a BIG ask which is why it is only for those up for playing BIG.

Until the next time….