Play BIG: Let’s Show Up & Travel Like Lorenzo


Its been a little while friends. I have been busy making good use of my health and the weather: to go walking in the countryside, to cycle along the Thames… To read books that touch the heart, and some that require study rather than mere reading.

One of the books that I have read, and read again is If This Is A Man by Primo Levi. Take a moment to click on the Primo Levi link:  learn a little about Primo Levi – one of the handful of Italian Jews (from tens of thousands) who made it out of Auschwitz alive.  Ready?

Primo Levi makes it clear that their German captors were ruthless/disciplined/systematic in their drive/practices to reduce their captors from men (human beings) to mere animals/beasts. Those who stood up to this ultimate in human degradation were killed – publicly and violently.  Now lets listen to Primo (bolding is my work):

“In this world shaken every day more deeply by the omens of its nearing end, amidst new terrors and hopes, with intervals of exasperated slavery, I happened to meet Lorenzo….

In concrete terms it amounts to little: an Italian civilian worker bought me a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months; he gave me a vest of his, full of patches; he wrote a postcard on my behalf to Italy and brought me the reply. For all this he neither asked nor accepted any reward, because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for reward.

This should not sound little…”

Why shouldn’t this sound little?  Because of the context in which it occurred. What is noteworthy of this context? The Jews were deliberately given filthy rags to wear – not fit for the cold/hostile environment in which they were made to work outdoor, and starved – given something like a litre of soup a day such that they soon became mere skin and bones. Those who did not wish to turn out this way had to ‘hustle’ to make bargains, to barter something of worth. It was not the kind of context which called forth goodness. The reverse: each for himself.

Let’s listen to Primo again:

“However little sense there may be in trying to specify why I, rather than thousands of others, managed to survive the test, I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today;”

Let’s stop here.  Ask yourself what is it that Primo is pointing at when he talks of “due to Lorenzo that I am alive today”?  Is Primo talking about the bread – given that Primo was starving (a kind of starving you and I do not know)?  Is Primo talking about the vest – given that Primo like others wore only flimsy rags? Or perhaps Primo is talking about the postcard to his family?

Lets find out by listening to Primo:

“I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside of our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.

The personages in these pages are not men. Their humanity is buried, or they themselves buried it, under an offence received or inflicted on someone else….

But Lorenzo was a man; his humanity was pure and uncontaminated, he was outside this world of negation. Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.”

Just sit with this, I mean really sit with this.  What is the profound truth that Primo is pointing at?

  • Man’s deepest need may be for the Lorenzo’s of this world – those who embody in the very being / showing up the goodness/nobility of man. 
  • One person can/does make a difference! How you show up matters! How I show up matters!
  • Man is the being whose need for nourishment extends way beyond the material necessities;
  • Each of us embodies a certain vision of what it is to be human – to be a man / woman, and this necessarily impacts those with whom we interact and co-creates the kind of work that we end up living in;
  • Man to be and thrive as a man necessarily needs to be regularly nourished on a noble vision of what it is to be man. 

To get this is to get the awesome opportunity and responsibility that necessarily resides with each of us.  The question is are you, am I, willing to show up and travel like Lorenzo?  Or will we continue to play small in the myriad of ways that are open and attractive?

It is my hope that you, and I, choose right now to show up and travel like Lorenzo. I say the ultimate in playing BIG is to provide hope and inspire playing BIG in our fellow human beings. How? By being a humble/gracious exemplar of playing BIG.

I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time…

 

 

Playing BIG In The Presence of Death – Death of a Good Friend


Richard HornbyI last saw my friend Richard Hornby on Sunday 4th March 18 when we shared three hours of our lives with one another. He was in bed, in a room by himself, in a hospice for the terminally ill. I woke him up with “Hello Richard!” He was pleased to see me, and I was pleased to see him. We talked. We brought to life shared memories of times gone by. We laughed with one another.

And I helped him with the little things that had become huge things: getting fresh/cold water and helping him to drink it; helping him eat his fruit salad  – the only thing he wanted to eat from his lunch; intervening on his behalf with the doctor to get his pain addressed; and getting the nurses to give him the morphine that the doctor prescribed.

After taking his morphine and as he was about to go to sleep I took my leave with “I’ll be coming over to see you next weekend.”  I did not get to keep that promise. The next day, in the evening, I was told that my friend had died: He had died peacefully – spared physical pain, and the indignity of being at the mercy of others.

Even today, two weeks later, tears flow when I allow myself to be present to that which is so: my friend is no longer – there will never be another occasion when we walk together, eat together, talk together, laugh together.  I get that he died at the right time – and I am delighted by that. This, intellectual view of the matter, does not do away with the grief/sadness that is present in me right now.

What has helped me to work with the death of my friend and the loss of our friendship is me asking myself this question: “What does playing BIG look like in the presence of loss – the loss of dear friend?” Being with this inquiry I found an abode of peace. And this inquiry helped turn my attention toward Richard himself: what is it that I so admired/liked about him?

What is it that my friend Richard embodied?  What way of being-in-the-world showed up when Richard showed up?  A certain humbleness / lightness that tends to be present in those who do not see themselves as more important than others. A disposition towards looking at life in the manner of the glass is half-full.  His being there for me whenever I needed and asked for his help. And, his unflappability:

What does playing BIG look like in the face of Richard’s death? My answer  for myself is manifold:

  • To accept the sadness and allow the tears to flow down my cheeks without embarrassment;
  • To allow myself to feel the full strength of grief as in the kind of grief where one cries from the stomach with the whole of one’s being;
  • To remember our times together and the contribution he made to my existence – the times that I needed his help and he was there for me; and
  • To keep in existence, as in embody, that which I value/admire about Richard – his humility, his genuineness, his helpfulness, and his unflappability.

I realise that what has allowed me to Play BIG with his death is that I played BIG before he died. When he told me 10 months ago he had terminal brain cancer I cried. And then I  made and lived this commitment – to walk by his side, to make a positive difference to his existence in the face of his impending death.

How am I doing in keeping in existence that which Richard embodied? Badly as in failing more than succeeding. Is that bringing me down? No. Why not? This is a conversation about Playing BIG and that necessarily involves stretching – taking on that which lies to some extent beyond that which one is today.  If I already embodied all the qualities of Richard that I admire/value then I probably would not have valued/admired Richard as much as I do.  Put differently, sometimes Playing BIG is a marathon rather than a dash for the finishing line.

I dedicate this conversation to Richard Hornby. A human being that called forth both affection and respect from many if not all.

 

Play BIG: Own It!


It is the way it is and the way it is not

This is simply so no matter where one finds one’s self, and with whatever it is that one is facing and/or grappling with: It is the way it is and the way it is not.

If one can be ok with the way it is and is not then one can simply go about one’s business – living – harmoniously.  Conversation over.

Playing small with regards to the way it is and the way it is not

Rare, is the person (in the West) who can be ok with the way it is and is not.  The conversing starts here: that which is wrong with the world, wrong with this government, wrong with state of leadership, wrong with the media, wrong with the business world, wrong with capitalism/socialism/communism, wrong with the folks I work with, wrong with the folks I live with…..

When I am in this place, the place of its not ok the way it is and is not, what is it that I am doing?  I am in the stands looking at that which is occurring  over there in the arena. Not liking that which I see, I complain about him/her/them/this/that.

This showing up and operating from the stands complaining about what is and is not happening in the arena is playing small.  Playing small is ubiquitous – I do it, you do it, we all do it.  Playing small is the dominant mode of being-in-the-world.

Playing BIG with regards to the way it is and the way it is not

There is an alternative to complaining about that which is and is not. Or about becoming resigned to the way that it is and is not.  What’s the alternative?

Playing BIG as in moving from the stands into the arena, taking ownership as in owning it heart-body-soul, shaping that which is occurring, effecting change.  Realise this: the switch from playing small to playing BIG with regards to that which matters is the biggest change you can make to your experience of your existence in this world!

Allow me to share a small example and thus bring this conversation to life.  It’s Thursday morning for me, it’s Thursday afternoon for my five colleagues in India.  I ask them what they have accomplished over the last 3.5 days. Silence. I ask them who is leading them / managing the work that has to be accomplished. Silence.  I ask them if they know what they have to work on tomorrow. Silence.  What is clear is that no work has been assigned, no work has been done, and no work will be done if things continue this way.

Playing small, the default, would have been to complain: complain about the chap who is supposed to be leading this team and managing their work; complain about the onshore-offshore model of getting IT development done; complain about the situation that I find myself in; and finally to complain about myself to myself for allowing myself to be in this  position once again – different project, same old s**t!

This time I chose to play BIG: to own it!  What do I mean by that?  I mean to own the way it is and is not AND accept responsibility for shaping the way that it is and is not.  What did this involve?  It involved:

  • Asking for help from a person who has the requisite knowledge of the development work to be done by this team;
  • Working with this person to think through how long it is likely to take to configure/code the user stories, and which development skills are needed for each user story;
  • With the help of this person assigning the right work to each person – day by day for the next two weeks;
  • Spending half a day copying information from one system into an Excel spreadsheet;
  • Communicating the assignment of work along with all the information they need (Excel sheet) to do their work; and
  • Accepting that owning this would necessarily mean trespassing on the territory of the chap who is officially leading/managing this team and working with the trouble this person can be counted on to make.

I invite you to consider that the ultimate in playing BIG is owning (the state of) that which matters to you: the state of your health, the state of your relationships with family/friends, the state of your community, the state of your workplace, the state of the environment, the state of the word….

If I have not been clear then let me say this: Owning some state of affairs (as it is and is not) is to take FULL responsibility for the way it is and is not.  That necessarily includes taking FULL responsibility to shaping the game, effecting the changes that one wishes to see in this state of affairs.  If there is to any complaining then it is complaining to oneself about oneself as a form of reflection to call forth more effective ways of being-doing.

Now it is up to you to choose whether, for that which matters to you, you wish to play small – in the stands complaining and/or resigned to that which is happening or not in the arena – or BIG -in the arena, taking action, effecting change / shaping the play.y

Since I wrote this one of best friends died. Brain cancer. So I say to you and me: We are mortal, our days are limited, so if you and I are up for owning it then let’s start owning it right now!  I can assure you that it has been that much easier to deal with the loss of my friend knowing I had owned my part/contribution in his existence since I found out he had terminal cancer back in May17. He died on Monday, and I spent three hours by his bedside on Sunday – talking, helping, making him laugh.  In this time of sadness this makes a big difference – no regrets!

I thank you for your listening, and wish you the very best.  Until the next time….

Play BIG: Beyond Being, Towards Becoming


I spent Sunday afternoon with my friend Richard.

One of the qualities that I noticed about Richard is the ease with which he gets along with others.  He shows up as being comfortable with others – all kinds of others Arguably, he is his best when he is the company of others.  It is this quality of his that I find attractive. And have sought to emulate.

Imagine my surprise when Richard told us that he is innately shy: “What! You shy. I find this the most surprising thing that you have told me.  You are so affable, so outgoing, so easy to speak with. And you have an ease with which you strike up conversations with others. Lastly, you seem to be your best when you are with people – you come alive.”

Here’s Richard’s response: “I grew up on a farm in Lancashire. There were few people around, and no other children….. During the holidays my parents would send me to my uncle who lived in a town in Merseyside.”

Why did Richards parent Continue reading “Play BIG: Beyond Being, Towards Becoming”

Play BIG: Invite a ‘Stranger’ to Lunch


stone tiger man y gasset quote

The story

Four weeks ago we were strangers – he representing the client and I leading the vendors consulting team. Since then our communicating/relating has been strictly professional. There has even been tension on several occasions due to difference on what is and isn’t in the scope of the work. And on the timing of when certain pieces of work will occur.

Two weeks ago, he told me that he was leaving that week. Without hesitation, I ask if he wishes to go out for lunch with me on his last day – as long as he is not busy, of course!  He accepts my invitation.

A week or so ago, it’s raining and I am holding his umbrella so that both of us can shelter under it. We are looking for a restaurant.  It’s his last day of work at this company and I have invited him to share a meal with me before he departs.

We’re sitting in a Pizza Express. I ask him how is wife is doing. He tells me that his wife is better now that she is back at work, with her colleagues, working.  This going back to work has helped take her mind off her miscarriage.  I listen. I empathise. I open up and say a little about what it was like for my wife, and me, when she miscarried.

We continue the dancing of communing with one another. He tells me of how it that he ended up coming over to the UK, working here, and ultimately becoming a UK citizen.  I disclose how it is that I ended up in the UK at the age of 5.  We move onto other matters like how we met our wives. And how we see our futures unfolding.

He is clearly a religious person as in tune with the philosophy of his religion, and importantly in the faith he has in the Godhead – whatever that may be.  He tells me that he has been working as freelance project manager for many years and has never been without a contract for more than a week.  And he absolutely trust that things will work out again this time. If they don’t then they don’t – the Godhead gives blessings or burdens and his job is to be grateful for and work with whatever comes his way.

It’s time to end lunch as I have a meeting to get to.  I can tell that we both enjoyed each other’s company. And that some barrier has been crossed.  We are no longer strangers to one another. We may not be friends and there is no doubt that the first (essential) step towards cultivating friendship has been taken. I do not leave things to chance. I say that I wish create a friendship between us and ask if it is ok to keep in touch. He gives me his phone number, and links up with on LinkedIn.

This week, I texted him. And to my surprise, he texted me to wish me well – he remembered that I was going into hospital for cancer treatment/scan!

The Story About This Story

What did it take from me to leave this chap with a good memory of his last day?  Not much. Not much at all. Simply a willingness to step beyond my narrow self-concern, and treat him as I would like to be treated.  If it was my last day, I’d like at least one of my colleagues to take me out to lunch – to leave me with the feeling/experience that I am seen / accepted / valued.

What did I have to step over to make this happen?  Give me the concerns that were present. Which concerns?  We don’t know one another.  Our relating to date has been patchy.  Will we have anything to talk about for an hour?

What helped me to get over these concerns?  Simple,  I asked myself  two questions: First, what course of action constitutes playing BIG in this situation?  Second, what is the right thing to do – as in how would I like to be treated if our situation were reversed?

I am so glad that I played BIG. Why?

When it came for him to leave he went to say goodbye to the folks he had been working with – his boss, his colleagues.  It was clear to anyone with any human sensitivity that the folks were going through the parting ritual without any enthusiasm. The words were there. The feeling (of care, of respect) that is essential to human relating wasn’t there.

When it came to my turn I gave him a hug. Thanked him for lunch. Wished him the best. And told him that I would be in touch.  Further, I kept that promise – I texted him the following week.

I invite you to play BIG: Which of your colleagues are strangers? Step over your concerns: invite one of these colleagues to lunch.  Like all invitations you are free to accept or decline.  If you accept you create the opportunity to open up / expand your existence.  If you decline – you get to stay closed in.  Your choice.

I thank you for your listening. It is your listening – especially those of you who either like these conversations, or comment- that keeps me speaking.  Until the next time….

 

 

Play BIG: Befriend One Who Can Do With a Friend


What is it to befriend?  In this case you/i don’t need a dictionary as the word speaks that which it is pointing towards: be a friend unto another.

Why be/do that which it takes to befriend?  A good question given that so many of us lead busy lives – rushing (as in the experience of rushing) from one place/activity to another. If you read the media you will come across those who speak of a loneliness epidemic in the UK.  If you look to your own experience, it may be that you can access the experience of being without friends (at a certain place/time) or being befriended by another when you found yourself in a new place/situation/phase of life.

Late 2017, I get a text from my sister asking if I am willing to befriend her friend’s father who happens to have cancer, not that long to live, is lonely/depressed, and can do with company/friendship of someone like me – someone who himself has cancer including a friend that is dying of a brain tumour.  She thinks we will get along.

I sit with this.  I ask myself if I wish to give cancer a bigger role in my life than it already has – I already have one dear friend who has been told he has 6 months to live, I strive to spend every second Saturday with him.  I ask myself if I am willing to take on that which comes with befriending one who is depressed – I have experienced the helplessness in facing a loved one who is depressed.

I act.  I send my sister a text saying I am up for meeting her friend’s father and telling her to pass on my mobile phone number.

Later it hits me that I have almost certainly acted in bad faith. I have been playing the good guy on the surface – one not wanting to disappoint/displease his only sister.  And hidden from view (even from myself to some extent) is the thought/hope that this chap (her friend’s father) will not call me – he’s old school English and we, the English, are known for keeping ourselves to ourselves – not intruding upon others.

Later it hits me that I know better, am better, and most certainly can choose to be better. It occurs to me that  I must make a fundamental choice without knowing the other: am I willing to befriend this person, who is suffering, without knowing anything about him?

Then I ask myself what would be the logical course of action (for me) if I chose to Play BIG in relation to the ask of the situation.  The answer is clear: I’d show up & travel with conviction – owning the game as in leading, shaping the game, and dealing with that which shows up. I wouldn’t wait for the other to make the first move – I’d make the first move and I’d own that move – really own it.

I call my sister. I ask her for the name of this chap and I ask her for his contact details: email, and mobile phone.  She’s surprised. She hadn’t been expecting me to own this matter, to lead it, to be the one reaching out to this chap and asking him to meet up with me.  She asks for time to speak with her friend.  A couple of days later, I get a text with the contact details.

Being British ( English) I know that the least intrusive, most socially acceptable way, of making contact is to email.  So I send that email – introducing myself, and asking this chap when he’s open to meeting up with me, and what he likes to do.  In doing this I am perfectly calm – my whole being is relaxed operating out of the possibility of friendship, of contribution, of making a positive difference in the life of a fellow human being.

We text one another several times. We meet – we talk, I drive us to a pub for lunch, we eat, we talk, I drive him back home.  I text him to say my thanks for his company. He texts back. I text again during the week – to ask where he’s at. He texts back…. We meet again. We text one another…. We have co-created a friendship between us!

Now here’s the thing I wish to get across.  I often find myself starved of the kind of conversation that I look for – intelligent, broad range, human existence centred conversation.  And this is exactly what I get when I am in the company of this older man who has lived a full life.  It so happens, that he also enjoys my company, he considers me to be a worthy conversation partner.  It turns out that standing in & operating from the possibility of friendship I have gifted myself with a friend, and a meaningful/enlivening friendship.

Here’s my invitation: Play BIG – be a friend unto another who can do with a friend.  If you are wondering who can do with a friend. I say you do not have to look far – most of us are lonely, some are deeply lonely, and can do with a genuine friend. If you are still looking then I say: look for older people; look for those who happen to be in the minority; look for those who happen to be awkward, shy; look for those who are always smiling and telling jokes…

I thank you for listening. I wish you the very best. Until the next time…

 

Playing BIG: Picking Up Autumn’s Leaves


“Who am I?” occurs as an innocent/superficial question until I grapple with it.  I experience the same experience when I contemplate this question “What constitute playing BIG?”  It’s the looking into the BIG part that has led me down a difficult path from time to time – a path where I end up thinking/feeling that I am not playing BIG. Therefore, to talk BIG is to show up / travel as a hypocrite. Hence, I fall silent: no longer a source of inspiration to myself nor to others.

This Autumn my neighbour opened the cage within which I had placed myself. He disclosed to me the meaning of playing BIG as in the experiencing of playing BIG. How did he do this, and of what do I speak here?  Allow me to share story/experience with you.

On an Autumn day, my neighbour Irfan knocked on my door. After customary greetings and little catching up, he told me that he was in the process of cleaning up his garden and had used up his brown bin.  And asked if he could use my brown bin (for recycling grass, leaves and such like) if it was empty and if I was not using it.

I showed enthusiasm for what he was doing because I was genuinely enthusiastic.  I told him that my brown bin was empty and he was welcome to use it – especially as it was going to get picked up / emptied the next day. I also mentioned that I had been lazy myself – pointing to the mass of leaves lying around on the left hand side of my front drive.  And that he’d now given me the motivation to pick up the leaves on my front drive. But not today – today I didn’t feel up to it. Then I rolled the brown bin to where he was standing and gave it to him…

Not long after, I happened to be in the kitchen.  Looking out towards the front of the house. What did I see?  I saw Irfan picking up the mass of leaves on my front drive and putting them into the brown bin that I had handed to him.  I can see him, right now in my minds eye, picking up those leaves. Simply picking them up.  What was present?  Surprise. Shock. Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude. Sense of wonder – how such a small act of kindness can make such a BIG emotional/spiritual impact.

This experience disclosed the following to me:

  • It’s not the scale nor the difficult of the task/project that makes it BIG;
  • It’s the difference/impact of that which one does in the lives of our family members, friends, neighbours, community, strangers etc; and
  • That which is given / done without it being asked for, and done without imposition or expectation, that often makes such a big impact.

There is something more.  Irfan picking up his garden leaves is Irfan picking up his garden leaves – ordinary.  Irfan popping over and picking up my garden leaves, without being asked, Irfan showing up as extraordinary – making a positive difference in the world.

I wish to end this conversation with this thought: playing BIG as simple/easy as popping over to your neighbours front drive and picking up the garden leaves, or cutting your neighbours lawn, or inviting your neighbour over for a tea and a chat.

Next time I will share with you the larger impact of Irfan’s action – the avenue that it opened up for me to make a difference in a fellow human being’s life.

Until the next time….