Beyond ‘looking good’ and avoiding ‘looking bad’: embracing the ‘dark side’

As human beings we are not individuals.  This probably occurs as shocking and offensive statement to many brought up in the USA and the UK.  For people brought up in other cultures like say Japan and even the Mediterranean countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece this statement is rather obvious.

In a nutshell each of us is living in, totally immersed, in a social content and as such we strive to ‘look good’ and avoid ‘looking bad’ in this particular context.  That goes for me too!  So whilst I want to be a wonderful (enlightened, considerate, generous, compassionate, kind) human being, it can be argued that I fail more than I succeed.  This was brought home to me recently when I received the following gift from my son:

PapaNow I can take that many ways.  I have chosen to see this as gift in two senses.  First, it bursts the bubble (I or anyone else may have about me) and thus encourages humility in me.  Second, it shows me the work that there is for me to do.  Specifically:

  • To check and not assume especially when things are difficult or not as I wish them to be;
  • To speak respectfully – at all times, under all circumstances, to all fellow human beings;
  • To avoid sarcasm – which is another way of saying ‘to treat my fellow human beings’ respectfully;
  • To keep giving hugs – which I love to do’ and
  • To spend more 1 to 1 time with my family members.

We all have a dark side. And it loses its hold over us if we accept that is the case, embrace it and work with it.  So I am going to give that a go.

On being wrong or giving up your point of view

I had, in my opinion, a difficult upbringing.  What got me through it was the conviction that my parents (their beliefs, their culture, their practices) were narrow minded and plain wrong.  And that I was right: more open minded, more tolerant, more widely read etc.

Since that time I have made a life out of being right.  I have read on philosophy, psychology, sociology, neuroscience, history, politics, religion etc.  I have spent three months or so reading a whole collection of works to get to grips with Islam (the religion) so that I could prove my parents to be ignorant and wrong.  And of course I did and it felt great.  Yet, it did not help me to build a bond of mutual respect and affection.

It is interesting, for me, to realise that I ended up in consulting.  What are consultants great at?  Being right: we know what you should do, how you should do it, when you should do it, the right process and tools to use.  Put differently, I have made a living out of being right.  And so it is no surprise that the action that I find the hardest is to “give up my point of view” and accept that my point of view is one amongst many, many points of view: specifically that I am too simple to comprehend the complexity and dynamic nature of life.

Then I came across the following TED talk, which I encourage you to watch and listen to:  On being wrong.   Here are some key quotes:

  • Kathryn Schulz: “This attachment to our own rightness keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely need to, and causes us to treat each other terribly.”
  • St. Augustine: “I err therefore I am.”
  • Buddha = Schulz + Augustine: “Ignorance is the root cause of the cycle of existence and suffering.”

If you have not already done so then I urge you to watch the following TED video on empathy: A radical experiment in empathy”.  I recommend that you first watch “On being wrong” and then watch “A radical experiment on empathy”.  Put differently, if I can accept that I may be wrong then it helps me to get the other – to empathise.

I thank my friend Arie for extracting the following from the TED empathy video:

“Step outside of your tiny little world.

Step inside of the tiny little world of somebody else.

And then do it again, and do it again, and do it again.

And suddently all of these tiny little worlds they come together in this complex web.

And they build a big complex world.

And suddenly without realizing it

you’re seeing the world differently.

Everything has changed.”
To sum it all up

Accepting and standing in the circle that “I could be wrong here, how I perceive and think about stuff is only one way of doing so” is the access to not only wisdom but also to empathy and through that to better relationships, more love and joy in our lives and finally a better world.   Then again, I may have got it totally wrong!

How one simple practice can help build strong relationships

I have been married to the same woman for over 15 years and we have known each other for longer than that.  Over that time we have gone through the roller-coaster of relationship many times: spring, summer, autumn and winter.  There have been times when we have created and bathed in a delightful relationship.  There have been times when the relationship has been simply ok.  And there have been times when it has been so painful that I have wondered how I got myself into the relationship and into that position.

Recently, I have noticed that my relationship, my relating, with my wife has gone up dramatically.  And all because we have incorporated a practice into our lives.  Because it works so well I want to share that with you.   Here is how this practice works:

  • Twice a week, every week, we spend time together and talk about our experience of our relationship.  What is working, what is not working, what can be improved.
  • We are clear that the purpose of these sessions is to build the relationship and not to simply vent. And so any sharing has to be mindful.  Yes, I can share what my wife did (Teh behaviour that occurred), how it landed for me and how it has left me feeling.  No, I do not give myself permission (nor does my wife) to  label, criticise or condemn her.  Why?
  • Because we have agreed that we will listen to each other as persons of worth – each of us being up for building a loving relationship and going about it as best as we can.  And so any behaviour that does not contribute to that is open for discussion but not the worth, the dignity, the motivation of the other.
  • We start by checking in and compliments.  Checking in is simply getting present to where you are at in the relationship. Specifically, are there any issues, grudges, resentment, anger that stands between me and my wife.  Once I have shared this then I get present to what specifically my wife has done that has made my life easier, better or simply enjoyable.  Then I share that with my wife and thank her.   Then she does the same.
  • Next, we take turns to share whatever stands between us – the irritations, the disappointments, the upset, the grudges, the frustrations etc.  And we do that using non-violent language.  In the process, I may find that I have done something that has landed badly for my wife and I had simply been unaware of it.  For example, I may have made a casual remark that hurt my wife’s feelings.  When that happens I tend to be genuinely remorseful and apologise.  That tends to be enough for my wife because she gets that it is genuine.  On the other hand it may be that I am asked to do something that my wife needs me to do.  Or to stop doing something.  We discuss, we understand, we make requests, we come to an agreement.
  • During our talk, our sharing, we have agreed to focus on specific events and behaviour that happened between the last time we talked and this time.  That means that we tend to be talking about stuff that happened in the last three days.  I find that really works for me because I am dealing with specific behaviour rather than generalities and grudges that were born, weeks, months, years ago and have not yet been killed off.

Do each and everyone of these sessions go smoothly?  No.  We have worked out that it is better to rearrange if you are feeling down or simply juggling with so much stuff that you are not in the state of mind to be the kind of person you need to be to honour these sessions and make them work as intended.  Have these sessions helped us to understand each other, to empathise?  Yes.  Have these sessions helped more love enter into our lives?  Absolutely.  Do we listen to each other differently every day?  Yes and that makes all the difference.  It is amazing what can grow when you listen to each other as persons of worth up for and playing the game of lets build a great relationship, a great life.

Here is a link to an interesting talk on TED.  It is all about walking in the shoes of the other and how that builds understanding.  I suspect that is what we are doing through these sessions.

Why we all love our friend Shaky

This weekend our friend Shaky popped in and lit all of us up and our home like beautifully laid out lights on a Christmas tree!

Each of my three children love spending time in Shaky’s company.  My wife loves spending time in Shaky’s company.  And I love spending time in Shaky’s company.

What is Shaky’s secret?  Does he have a bag of tricks and techniques?  Has he been to charm school?  Perhaps he has read the latest books on how to build great relationships? The answer is much simpler.

Shaky loves people and he makes you feel special.  How does he do that?

  • When Shaky is with you he focusses on you and does what you want to do, talks about what you want to talk about;
  • Shaky accepts you just as you are and as you are not – no judgement, no evaluation, no criticism, must plain acceptance and validation;
  • Shaky is gentle – he speaks gently, he moves gently;
  • Shaky will enter into a conversation with you and share is point of view yet he will never argue, criticise or condemn your point of view;
  • Shaky never looks towards your wallet – he is always the first one to take is wallet out and pay and we have to fight to pay;
  • Shaky never complains – never complains; and
  • Shaky always offers a helping hand – he never acts like a guest, always like a family member.

We love you Shaky.  We are sad to see you leave our home today.  And we are looking forward to being in your company again.

Finally: I thank you for the gift that you gave me this weekend.  The gift of your friendship and the gift of helping me to better understand myself – and be a better human being.  I look forward to seeing you soon.

I am making progress and there is still much to do

Yesterday evening I celebrated my birthday with wife and children by sharing a meal, talking and generally enjoying being together.  Being fortunate, I simply do not need stuff so my request is simply for family members to write a personal card and give it to me.

This year not all the family members ‘got their act together’ and provided those cards (3 did, 1 did not) so I asked them to point out my positive qualities – what they like about me.  This is what I heard:


  • “You are caring”
  • “You can be funny”
  • “You are straight  with people”
  • “When you realise you have made a mistake, you admit it and apologise”


  • “Loving”
  • “Good at helping me deal with problems – you help me make sense of my problems, you provide good suggestions”
  • “Willing to give lots of hugs and ticklish; you give me lots of attention; you tell me stories and explain the life lessons; you lend me your clothes”
  • “Always up for going for a walk to the park with me”
  • “Always call us when you are away from us due to work”
  • “You can be funny”
  • “You give me hugs in the evening”

Youngest Son:

  • “Loving – emotionally open and expressive unlike many dads: you give me hugs”
  • “You stand up for me and with me; you trust me”
  • “I love your driving – you make it fun”
  • “Your dancing”
  • “You make the most of your life; I enjoy our walks together”
  • “Streaks of wisdom etched on your face as a result of your hard work”

Oldest Son:

  • “No bullshit – you are straight talking”
  • “Hard for things to get by you – you are on the ball”
  • “Loving, affectionate”
  • “Over protective – good and bad”
  • “Soft hearted – you have a really warm heart”

I enjoyed listening to this and being reminded of what (about my behaviour) matters to and makes a positive contribution to my family.  Then I asked for the negative qualities – what about me causes them pain, problems or my behaviour they simply dislike.  This is what I heard:


  • “Impatient”
  • “Defensive, can become critical and talk down to people”
  • “Like to be right – don’t like being questioned”


  • “Overprotective – sometimes and rarely”
  • “Soft hearted – you will not say no even when it hurts you to do stuff we are asking for you”

Youngest Son:

  • “Impatient”
  • “When I hurt myself you tend to be critical (serves you right you should have been paying attention) rather than sympathetic”
  • “Sometime you cut me off – don’t allow me to say what I want to say  – making me feel that you treat me like an animal”

Oldest Son:

  • “You run away from problems and conversations that you find difficult (family conflicts) – you never really sort them out”
  • “Over protective: you rush downstairs when you hear us shouting – you assume we are fighting!”

What I take away from this

A little while ago, perhaps at the beginning of this blog, I wrote: “On violence in day to day living” .  Well, it looks like I really have not made that much progress on taming my violence towards my family.  Now I have a choice: I can feel bad about myself; I can give up; I can be with what is and simply accept it; or I can use what I have learned to re-commit to being a peaceful person and incorporate practices into my daily living to help me with that.

After careful consideration I choose to live in the possibility of being a peaceful, calm, person no matter what the circumstances.  And this possibility inspires me and puts a smile on my face –  that lets me know that I have chosen the right path.

A final word

Aldine, Rohan, Marco and Clea – I thank each of you for being a part of my life.  I thank you for sharing yourselves with me on my birthday.  I thank you for being honest with me.  I thank you for loving me and believing in me.  All these things make a HUGE difference to me.  Please know that I love each of you deeply – even if that is in my own imperfect way.

An insight into myself: I prefer ‘I-Thou’ and feel uncomfortable with ‘I-It’

There are often times that I have struggled to live and feel comfortable in England where I have spent most of my life and the country that is home.  Having had the fortune to travel, I have noticed that I have felt more comfortable in other countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and even Pakistan.  Why?

To use Martin Buber’s insight, I believe that I am more inclined toward the ‘I-Thou’ orientation rather than the ‘I-It’ orientation.  What does that mean in plain English?  It means that I am most comfortable treating my fellow human beings as fellow human beings in themselves. And not as objects or roles.  It means I welcome the warmth and hospitality that I experienced in Spain, Italy, Portugal……  It means that I struggle when human beings are described and treated as resources.  It means that I feel most comfortable when I look up and treat the waiter or waitress who is serving my food as a human being rather than an object – a person fulfilling a role.

Perhaps it is not the English culture or society.  Perhaps, it is just that I have spent so much time in corporate business where human beings are simply objects fulfilling roles and/or executing tasks.  It is telling that, at best, they are defined as Human Resources – resources that simply come in a human shape.  That has never sat well with me.

I remember the first time I noticed this, I must have been between 16 – 18 – the age when I started going to discos.  I assume that I was as hormone charged and attracted to the young women there as my friends.  Yet, I did notice a difference.  My friends saw and talked about the young women there as objects and commented on them as such.  And of course their aim was conquest.  I remember thinking that they were talking about human beings as objects – as lumps of meat.  And it did not sit well with me.  What I saw, right in front of me, were human beings: someone’s daughter, someone’s sister.   Whilst this may sound daft, I considered how I would feel if these friends of mine were talking that way about my sister – even though I did not have a sister at the time.

So maybe that is why I was touched so deeply when my son wrote “I love you, Papa” on the computer screen and left it for me to see before I went to sleep; earlier in the evening I had spent some time in helping him with what he enjoys doing – trading via eBay.  He had asked me for help, I provided it.  He asked me for my credit card and I provided it – I simply trust him to use it wisely and he does.

Perhaps, it is because I value my fellow human beings that today on my birthday I am thinking of friends, clients, colleagues old and new.  John, Natalie, Kate, Ray, Dan, Laura, Wil, Hailey, Ruth, Thakor, Manoj, Dawood, Phil, Pooja, Justin, Lina, Chas, James, Catherine, Rosemary, David, Kevin, Mel, Ansar, Fred, Simon, Derek, June, Hugues, Suzanne, Ralf, Meme, Joyce, Michel, Gayton, Jean-Claude, Dave, Tim, Gisella, James, Aldine and on and on.  Who has not touched my life?  I thank each and every person who contributes to my life.  Thank you, the world is a richer place for your existence.

This morning when I woke up my daughter danced into the room to wish me a happy birthday.  And I asked her what three things she liked about her daddy, that made him special to her.  This was her reply:

  • Kind and loving
  • Peaceful
  • Always there so I see lots of him
  • Enjoys spending time with me

That made my day.  And then I got to the computer and found messages from  friends near and far. I thank each of you, send you a big hug and look forward to when I will see you again and give/receive a hug.