Being a good father is very important to me. I know this because when my children say or text “I love you papa” then a smile appears across my face, my body becomes relaxed and I feel totally great. I feel proud of myself. And nothing else matters – at least in that moment.
The other day I watched ‘The Book of Eli’ which is described as a post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind. Whilst the story is engaging enough, I was mostly touched by three life insight / lessons.
Lesson 1. The main character (Eli) had been on a mission to take the book (the Bible) westwards to a home. This mission had given Eli a reason to live (purpose) and a basis to orient his life (make choices, make decisions, what to do, what not to do). Do I have a clear purpose? And do I use that purpose to fashion (organise) my living so that it is in harmony, in alignment, with that purpose?
Towards the latter part of the film Eli is presented with a choice to give up the book or to die. He chooses not to give up the book. The villain then presents Eli with another choice: to give up the book or let Eli’s companion die. Eli gives up the book and his companions life is spared. Later the companion joins up with Eli and asks him why he did what he did. And Eli’s answers give rise to the next two lessons.
Lesson 2. Eli states that after carrying the book for thirty years and memorising it by heart, he got that the key thing was to live by the principles in it. To practice what the book preaches. And in Eli’s case the lesson of the book was ‘to do more for others than you do for yourself’. What kind of a world would be possible if enough of us were willing to do more for others than we do for ourselves? Am I willing to be one of these people? In which areas can I start doing more for others than I do for myself?
Lesson 3. I was struck by Eli’s insight that he had got so gripped by the mission (protecting the book) that he had failed to live by its central principles – the core values such as a respect for life, tolerance, do unto others as you would wish them to do unto to you…… How many of religious folks get so wrapped up in their religion that they fail to practice the central principles? How many of our institutions fail this test? How many of us fail this test? And of course how I fail this test – especially when I am stressed.
Yesterday my wife and I sat down to talk. She called the meeting as she was upset with me. As we sat down to talk my wife shared her frustrations:
a) I had made a decision – to cancel paytv – that impacted the family without consulting her;
b) I had been impatient with her in front of my mother and that had caused her pain as it had ruined a special occasion;
c) I had not done enough to win her back – to let her know that I got her pain and that I was doing everything in my power to make amends.
Well we talked. More accurately my wife talked about her upset and my insensitivity to her needs. When I mentioned that I rarely made any decisions without consulting her. It did not count. What mattered was that I had said that I was not going to renew the paytv subscription. When I said that I had been floating a kite to see her reaction. I was told that I should not play games. So I gave up and just listened to her frustration. Whilst I was listening to her criticism of me I got that when you want something from someone criticism is not the path to take. A better, much better, path is to share your pain in a way that leaves the listener touched and inspired to take action. I got that whilst I know the route to take, I rarely take it when I am focussed on myself and my concerns.
Then we got on the the major upset: my being a jerk – once – at my mothers house when my wife wanted my help in presenting her gifts to my mother. I listened to the upset and I explained that once I had realised I had been a jerk I had apologised. First I had apologised on the phone as we were in different locations. And when I came home, I apologised and given her a hug. In my wife’s world that just did not count. I had not done enough for her to get that I had gotten her pain. And importantly I had not humbled myself enough – to show that I was truly sorry. I did not react well to this initially – I mentioned all the actions I had taken since being a jerk to make up for being a jerk. In my wife’s book that simply did not count.
The more I put forward my point of view the more my wife resisted my point of view. I got that when someone wants to talk he/she wants the listener to listen. Yet the natural reaction of most listeners is to defend. By defending they invite more attack.
At this point there were two forks on the road. Continue to defend and my wife would continue to resist. Or give up my point of view and accept my wife’s point of view. I choose the second. As I started listening to my wife go over the matter again I started to feel down, really down. I was feeling down as I was feeling sorry for myself: trapped, unappreciated, misunderstood…. And the more my wife talked the more down I became. I even wondered if it was worth living – and convinced myself it was not.
Then in an instant I switched to a completely different state. A state where I felt powerful, in control, in a position to grant a request. How did I do this? I remembered a passage that I had read earlier that day. The passage had drawn my attention to the fact that one can either be a master or a slave. A master (of self) chooses his/her mood irrespective of the circumstances he/she faces. The slave is the slave because he/she reacts to circumstances – his response, his state of mind depends on external circumstances. If the circumstances are favourable then he is happy. If they are not then he is unhappy, negative, feeling oppressed and so forth.
On remembering the passage I chose to be the master of myself. I chose to be in a good mood. I chose to grant my wife her views without any resentment. I chose to give my wife a hug.
That choice brought the upset and the conversation to an end. We both walked away from the conversation content. We walked to the bedroom and I gave her a hug until she fell asleep. It turned out that all she wanted as me to listen to her powerfully and gracefully. To get her perspective – as a master not as a victim. And above all she wanted a hug – to know that I still love her. I went to sleep amazed that I had changed my state in an instant – really in a second or two.
I was dropping my daughter at school the other day and noticed a hand made sign just outside the classroom. It read ‘Who I Am Makes A Difference’. And it got me thinking.
The sign has been put there because the default setting is the opposite: I am insignificant, I am powerless, I do not make a difference. Does everyone operate on the default setting? No. Does it mean that many many people, probably the majority, operate on the default setting? Yes.
Given that you and I do not come into this world thinking one thing or another how is it that the default within us becomes ‘I am insignificant, I am powerless, who I am does not make a difference’? Clearly this default gets set in the home and in the school.
If we wake up in the morning and boot up with the operating system called ‘Who I am does NOT make a difference’ then how are we likely to behave? First and most important as sheep, as followers: we search for and follow authority figures. Second, we be slot into games and parts that others have created and assigned to us rather than creating the games and parts we want to play. Third, we think, act and feel like victims – at the mercy of other people and circumstances. Fourth, we are unlikely to be generous, caring, inspiring towards any non-authority figures – they are insignificant as well. Finally, we will not take good care of ourselves.
If on the other hand I woke up and played the game of ‘Who I am makes a difference’ I would strive to be someone – to be an authority figure. Because I have learnt that authority figures get to create the games, make the rules and get the best parts for themselves. Clearly, a small minority of us will – through determination or luck – get into authority. Once there we will strive to keep that authority and grow it. Knocking on our inner door will be the hand of fear – fear of losing our authority and the privileges that go with it.
Personally, I advocate playing the game of ‘Who I am (being) makes a difference’. The key to this game is being. At all times and under all circumstances my being is entirely in my hands. Furthermore, it is impossible to not be. I am being bold or not. I am being inspiring or not. I am being generous or not. I am being helpful or not. I am being active or not. I am being resourceful or not. I am being passionate or not. I am being relaxed or not.
If I played the game of ‘Who I am (being) makes a difference’ I would be mindful of:
- Eating – what I eat, how much I eat, how I eat, who I eat with;
- Thoughts: what thoughts arise and keep arising
- Story Telling – the stories I tell myself (and others) about myself, about others, reality, life;
- Resource Allocation – where I spend my time, my attention, my resources – self, family, tribe, humanity, life;
- Health – state of my health and particularly the role and extent of physical exercising;
- Being – who I am being and how I deal with the high’s and low’s
- Posture – how I physically carry myself during the day;
- Voice – the tone of my voice;
- Feeling – what feelings arise, which I covet and which I ignore;
- Mindfulness – being present, being aware, being mindful of the game I am playing, the results that are showing up.
The challenge with playing the game of ‘Who I am (being) makes a great difference’ is to keep being and doing in the foreground – together, simultaneously. In ordinarily living – at least in the West – doing is in the foreground and being is lost in the background.
For a long time I have thought of myself as a peaceful fellow. I arrived at this conclusion on the basis that I have not and do not seek to inflict physical pain on any living being – human or animal. Two days ago, I changed my view.
Two days ago I was hit with a sudden insight: violence is more than hitting and killing, it arises in many flavours. Whilst one of these flavours is obvious and gets most of the attention, the really important flavours escape unnoticed by many of us:
1) Hitting, maiming, torturing and killing;
4) Labeling – in a way that robs the other of self esteem, self confidence, of dignity;
7) Not allowing the other ‘voice’ – to speak or to be heard;
8) Imposing one’s view of the situation, of the world, on another;
9) Failing to acknowledge what is worthy in the other.
Of these sins of violence the one that is most important – for me – is number 9: imposing one’s view of the situation, of the world, on another. Even though I recognised this several days ago, I have found myself doing this again and again – it is simply natural to me and it runs me.
So what have I learnt? I am automatically violent and I do not see this violence as violence – it is just standing my ground, standing up for what I believe, correcting/help others to live a better life or simply not to make mistakes……..
What am I doing about being non-violent? Three practices come to mind:
a) Whole, complete, perfect;
b) Treat others as I’d wish to be treated – respect, caring, love;
c) Give up something especially my point of view.
About an half an hour ago I was spending a little quality time – some ten minutes – with each of my three children before they go to sleep. It is ritual that I started a long time ago and which each of the children value. Normally, I will tell them I love them and I will ask them about their day. Today, the Game of Three Questions and Three Answers was created. I want to share that game with you.
As I was about to say goodnight to my daughter the Game of Three Questions and Answers arose in my mind. So I asked my daughter if she wanted to play this game. She agreed. So I asked her the first question: What three aspects of yourself are you proud of? The answers I got were great. And yet they were answers to another question: What three aspects of your life can you be grateful for? So the Game of Three Questions and Three Answers became:
Q1: What three aspects of your life can you be grateful for?
Q2: What three aspects of yourself can you be proud of?
Q3: What three actions did you take to create a better world?
Q4: What three things did you learn about yourself, people around you and the world?
Whilst I was asking these questions and listening to the answers, I was struck by the thought that I should be asking myself these questions and providing answers – at the end of each and every day.
As I write this, I cannot help thinking and feeling that we can benefit from playing the Game of Three Questions and Three Answers with ourselves and the people closest to us.