Wisdom for Good Times and Challenging Times


It occurs to me that we in the West are living in the midst of interesting times. Some see opportunity, others are enveloped in fear.  If you and I are up to playing BIG then what kind of stance to take?  How to show up and travel in the midst of such times?

These were the questions that I was dealing with and my eyes happened to land on book that I read a long time ago: Love by Leo Buscaglia.  I opened it and found myself to the following words of wisdom from Joseph Zinker in his paper called On Public Knowledge and Personal Revelation (bolding is mine):

If a man in the street were to pursue his self, what kind of guiding thoughts would he come up with about changing his existence?   He would perhaps discover that his brain is not yet dead, that his body is not dried up, and that no matter where he is right now, he is still the creator of his destiny. 

He can change this destiny by taking his one decision to change seriously, by fighting his petty resistance against change and fear, by learning more about his mind, by trying out behavior which fills his real need, by carrying out concrete acts rather than conceptualizing about them, by practicing to see and hear and touch and feel as he has never before used these senses, by creating something with his own hands without demanding perfection, by thinking out ways in which he behaves in a self-defeating manner, by listening to the words that he utters to his wife, his kids, and his friends, by listening to himself, by listening to the words and looking into the eyes of those who speak to him, by learning to respect the process of his own creative encounters and by having faith that they will get him somewhere soon. 

We must remind ourselves, however, that no change takes place without working hard and without getting your hands dirty.  There are no formulae and no books to memorize on becoming.  I only know this:  I exist.  I am.  I am here.  I am becoming.  I make my life and no one else makes it for me.  I must face my own shortcomings, mistakes, and transgressions.  No one can suffer my non-being as I do, but tomorrow is another day, and I must decide to leave by bed and live again.  And if I fail, I don’t have the comfort of blaming you or life or God.

Yes, we live in interesting times. Brexit has happened. Trump has happened. Hate has been unleashed and hating the other is now clothed in patriotism.  Yet, the future is NOT determined.  Destiny has not already been set in stone. You, I, we can shape the future by the stance we take: our attitude, our way of showing up and travelling in the world.

You and I are like strands in a rope.  The rope does that which no strand can do by itself, on its own.  By coming together, working together, the strands bring into being the power of the rope.

Coming together means more than coming together with the folks we like – those who are just like us.  Playing BIG necessarily involves showing up and travelling from a specific context: a world that works for all, none excluded.  Which necessarily means involving oneself with the other with compassion. Consider that if we, individually and collectively, had not excluded and then ignored those who are excluded there would have been no Brexit, no election of Trump as president of the USA.

I thank you for listening, wish you the very best, and invite you to play BIG in these challenging times.

 

 

 

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…

“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.

Does Calling Forth Beauty Requires A Willingness To Be OK With Ugliness?


During the course of my life I have played many games and many games have played me. The game of fame no longer calls to me. The game of success / wealth no longer calls. The game of competition (beating others) no longer calls…

The game that calls me today is a two-sided game. One side of the game is for my existence to add to the beauty of this world in which I dwell. The other side of the game is to show up and travel as blessing to others. It occurs to me that when I play the game of being a blessing unto others I add to the beauty of this world. And that when I play the game of adding beauty to the world I am creating an opening for me to occur as blessing to folks.

Every game has a price.  When I played the game of going from being called a ‘Paki’ (being spat at and looked down upon..) to being somebody, the price was hard work – years of it. When I played the game of being a husband and father, the price was to put myself second always….. When I started playing the game of self-expression (like writing blogs) the price was a willingness to stand, be seen, be subject of criticism/ridicule…

So what is the price that comes along with playing the game that I have chosen to play – the game of adding to the beauty of the world and showing up as a blessing to others?  It occurs to me that the price is accepting even embracing the ugliness of the world. And not letting this ugliness to cause me to lose heart and thus give up on the game that calls to me.

What is it that I am getting at? Allow me to illustrate by sharing lived experiences.  On a recent assignment to a new place, new organisation, and new people, I found myself deliberately choosing to notice something noteworthy about folks and complimenting them on that which showed up as noteworthy for me.  For example;

  • On a cold day I came across a woman in her 40s dressed as if it was summer whilst I had suit, overcoat, scarf and gloves!  So I remarked on the difference and complimented her on her ability to deal with the cold so well. This brought a smile to her face and allowed her to share her optimistic take on life. This exchange took less than a minute or two.
  • Walking down the stairs I noticed a fellow glide down the stairs whilst I kind of hobbled. I called out to him and complimented him on his agility, his swiftness, his grace of movement. He laughed and told me that it was easier to go down swiftly (which was what he was doing) than go up swiftly (which is what I was doing). This exchange took less than a minute.
  • In the open plan office, I came across a young lady dressed well – really well. I thought I noticed a style: the French style. So I complimented her on her style. Said it reminded me of the French; told her I was married into the French. Then I asked if she had any French parents. She didn’t. But she did have a Czech mother. I wished a great day and carried on. The exchange took about a minute.
  • Watched what occurred to me as remarkable demonstration of the concept of integration/APIs/enterprise bus: the most abstract showcased in the most human / concrete of ways. I came across the guy who led that demonstration. I acknowledged the brilliance of his demonstration. He smiled. He opened up and shared something of his background like going to Cambridge University to do his PhD…
  • Came across a young man in his 20s. Noticed that he dressed differently to all the other folks in the area that we sat in. He was wearing a suit. So I acknowledged him for how good he looked in his suit. He smiled and we got talking – I learned he is Danish.. One day he came up to my desk (we sat at desks that were nearby) and asked me what I thought of his clothes. I told him that it was the most colourful shirt I had seen. That I loved it – it went well with his suit. And I’d only change one thing. The tie – I’d go for a plain blue tie rather than blue tie with colours…. We had a chat about that….

I could go on and on. I came across so many people and every time an opportunity for a genuine acknowledgement / compliment came up I took it. Why? For me there is a certain beauty that occurs in the world when the folks that I come across smile – genuinely smile. Further, it occurs to me that in England, and English culture, folks are starved of genuine compliments.

So where is the ugliness in this?  I initiated conversations which resulted in many folks smiling. I called forth conversation. I learned something about folks, they learned something about me. Some folks searched me out on LinkedIn and invited me into their network. Other folks I invited to connect up with me on LinkedIn and they accepted. A few of these folks, having worked with me, provided me with endorsements of my skills. All positive. So where is the ugliness in this?

After the assignment was over I had a post engagement review with my manager.  What was his feedback. Folks at the client were really happy with my work: clearly knew my subject area, worked hard, professional, helped them on their problems, and delivered on the scope of the Statement of Work. But one problem. One of the key people – a female manager – had made a complaint. What complaint?  A young lady had come to her and told her that I stopped her in a public area (open plan office) and made remarks about her dress style.  This made her uncomfortable.  Luckily for me, that was the extent of it. No formal complaint had been made of inappropriate behaviour.

How to take this? Allow me to be straight with you: I did not take this well. I found myself in shock. I kind of felt betrayed by my fellow wo/man. I felt like saying “I quit. F**k them. Let the English be a bunch of miserable b*****ds.”  I found myself asking myself what kind of world am I living in. How does it make sense that in an open plan office I can compliment Stefan (the young Danish) guy on his dress sense and build up a ‘buddy’ type relating. And in the same open plan office compliment a young lady (same age range as Stefan) and find myself faced with a complaint. “How the f**k does this world make sense?”

Once I stopped playing the game of victim I a few things hit me:

  • If the game that I am playing was an easy one in the English culture then most folks would be playing it and the English would not be the English.
  • That every game has a price. And the price of the game I am playing (calling forth, adding to the beauty of this world) involves being OK with the ugliness of the world – including the ugliness of folks not being able to take compliments or misinterpreting them.
  • That I have a say in the matter of how I am going to show up and travel given the way that it is and the way it is not.  I can choose to focus on the one complaint or I can focus on the tens of smiles and conversations that I generated over the course of four weeks.
  • That I can choose to ignore this complaint. Or I can learn from it and be more sharply attuned to the person I am acknowledging / complimenting – maybe some folks are simply not ready to be with that which comes with being complimented. Maybe some folks prefer compliments / acknowledgements in a private setting. That I can use that which occurred to be wiser.

I found myself ‘comforted’ by these words of wisdom:

 

stone tiger man y gasset quote

Is there anything more to say? Yes, I continue to play the game of adding to / calling forth the beauty of this world including my fellow wo/man. And I get in the process all kinds of obstacles will show up. That it is up to me as to how to face them. Further, at any time, I can choose to play this game differently. Or choose to play an entirely different game.

I thank you for your listening. I wish you great living. Live beautifully and as the French say “a la procaine”.

 

 

Play BIG By Listening To And Heeding The Call


After fifty or so years of existence I am clear that there is a profound difference between living in resonance with a calling. And the experience of living without a calling.

What project calls you?  What possibility calls you?  What challenge calls you? What endeavour calls you? What opportunity calls you?  What is your calling?

Which person/s call you? Which place/s call you?  Which craft calls you? Which sport calls you?  which adventure calls you? Which vocation calls you? Which projects and/or possibilities call you?

How are you called to be?  How are you called to ‘show up and travel’ in this world?

Are you attuned to that which calls you?  Are you heeding the call?  Are you living the call?

It occurs to me that if you/i are attuned to and living the call, then you/i will experience our living as meaningful – full of meaning, aliveness, fulfilment, even joy.

It occurs to me that if you/i find ourselves experiencing a hollowness, a flatness, an emptiness, in our living then you/i are either not listening – attentively, deeply enough – to that which calls us. Or we have heard the call, and have not heeded the call.

So, it occurs to me that the first step in playing BIG is listening to that which calls you; listen deeply / often enough and you/i will find that which truly calls us. The second step is to heed the call – act; our access to making a contribution / impact is through action, our access to causing that which we find ourselves called to cause is through action.

I find that my deepest calling is to: bring nobility to human existence; to bring genuine humanity to a world obsessed with elevating technology and diminishing wo/man; to remind folks that ‘it is ALL made up’ and that which is made up an be unmade-remade by you/me/us; to be of help to those who find themselves less fortunate than me; and to be here for those who count on me to be here for them (children, wife, parents, siblings…).

When I find myself living in resonance with this calling I live powerfully and I am rewarded with a life of meaning, of fulfilment, of aliveness, of joy. I also find that whilst I do not wish for death, I do find myself ready for it.

What about you: what is your deepest calling?

Play BIG: Give Your Life Meaning By Inventing And Struggling For Your Ithaca


Have you read Homer’s The Odyssey? If you have you will know that the hero, Odysseus, undergoes ten years of struggle/hardship to return to Ithaca – his kingdom, his home, where his family awaits him.  His ten years are not years of ease, pleasure and happiness. The ten years are full of everything that life offers. Even in his darkest hours, Odysseus does not give up hope. Why?  He lives to return to Ithaca: to his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus.

In an age where most people, when they allow themselves to get present to it, find that their living (and the society they live in) lacks meaning, it occurs to me that it is up to you/i to create our own Ithaca.  And strive for it.  In the process turning a meaningless existence into one that is meaningful.  Does it matter what this Ithaca is?  No. You/i can choose and indeed have to choose.  Yes, it is great if it is an Ithaca that really calls to you/me. And yet, one invented for the sake of invention, can also provide meaning. What do I mean by that?  Allow me to give you an example – a real example from my own life.

For more than three weeks my back has been playing up. And I have been in pretty much constant pain. At the start I could not sit at my desk at all. Somewhere along week 2 I could sit for some 15 minutes. Now I can sit for as much as 30 minutes.  There were nights where I was in so much pain that I could not sleep.  Amidst this pain, I chose to create-invent an Ithaca: learn more about marketing automation and take/pass the exam to become a Certified Pardot Consultant.  So I found myself lying on back, MacBook open, watching videos. I found myself sitting at my desk for 15 minutes at a time, making notes. I found myself printing stuff off so that I could walk around read stuff. learn it, memorise it.  I found myself with a sense of mission, engaged, and in the process the bad back was merely an obstacle.  The first time I took the exam, I failed. Did I lose heart? No!

The mission was still intact – in fact stronger than before.  Now, I found myself wiser: I knew what I had not learned. So that very day, the day I failed the exam, I started studying again. A week later, still in pain, I drove to the test centre (despite my wife’s concern-protests) in pain, and sat the exam again: I passed, I attained my Ithaca.  Is it a big deal that I passed the exam and find myself a Certified Pardot Consultant. No, not really: it has not transformed my life. Yet, the journey over the three weeks did give me meaning. And allowed me to show up as an author of my life rather than the victim: the poor victim of incapacitating back pain. That is what matters to me – the experience of living whilst walking the path.

Why did I share that with you? To provide the context that will allow you to make sense of and hopefully resonate with the following poem:

Ithaca

As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.

– C.P. Cavafy

Finally, I wish to acknowledge and thank my dear “old” friend: James Harvey.  James, I thank you for reaching out to me after my last conversation here. I have been working with my Chiropractor (Sandra) to get my back fit for a normal life. As Sandra and I have been working together for 5+years, she was able to make a big difference quickly. And I will treasure the care/love that I experienced as a result of you reaching out to me. I want you to know that I am truly grateful that you exist; i find this world to be a richer place as a result of your existence.