It’s Not What Happens To You, It’s What You Do With What Happens To You


If there is one statement that is the core of the existentialist philosophy it is this one from a relatively unknown and under- appreciated existential philosopher: Jose Ortega y Gasset.

Existence as Seen By Existential Philosophers

Take a moment to read it. I mean really read it. Does it not capture and thus bring one to the awareness of what it is to be human? Freedom. Choice. Responsibility. And, importantly the intermingling between the three such that they are so intricately connected that they can never be separated. Though language and our feeble minds do exactly that: trick us into thinking that they are separate entities.

Today I bleed and that bleeding is occurring at the level of the deepest Self. That is what is so. And, I must generate powerful/sound answers to two existential questions:

1-The dimension of being: Who do I chose to be in the face of this bleeding; and

2-The dimension of doing: In which manner do I chose to show up and travel in the world – the shared world of human existence?

Today, I choose to use the pain that comes with the bleeding to reflect on existence. And put something of value into the world in the hope that others may find some benefit from it. So allow me to tell a personal story.

What Happened?

Village on the outskirts of Mirpur city. Mother farms, father works in England. One day there is a new brood of baby chicks in the enclosure in our ‘garden’. I am around 3 to 4 year of age. So excited, I keep looking at them. I name the chicks. Mother feeds and waters the chicks. I pester mother, along the lines of let me look after them, they are my chicks! She shows me what needs to be done. And trusts me to do it. For days I do what I have been told to do.

One day, I don’t do what I am supposed to do. Why? Because I am keen to go play in the fields with friends. I am out all day in the fields. It is a hot day. I come home and go immediately to the enclosure housing the baby chicks. Almost all are dead. I am distraught. I cannot understand why they are dead, I left them food before I went to play.

Eventually, Mother comes home after her day of farming. I race up to her and drag her to the enclosure. I show her the baby chicks. And, ask her why they died? Mother says because you didn’t leave them any water for the whole day. And, they need water especially on these hot days.

That is what happened in the real world, the world on the outside – the one that we co-create and abide in/from. A handful of baby chicks died of thirst in a nowhere place. This whole event in itself having zero significance to the world in which we live.

What Did I Do With What Happened?

There is another world, right? It’s the inner domain – and this personal and unique for each and every one of us. What went on here, in my inner domain? In this domain, what matters is the stories we tell ourselves. And, the decisions we make. So what did I tell myself:

So and so (I cannot remember the names of the chicks, and I do remember naming each of the dead baby chicks) died because I failed to take care of them properly.

I knew that I had to give them feed and water every day before I did anything else. And, I have been doing that. Today, I didn’t because I didn’t want to miss out on playing with my friends.

Because of this – my behaviour – so and so died.

This will never happen again. Never! I will take care of those that I am responsible for. Always!

Decision: The Past I Put Into The Future

In making this decision – “This will never happen again. Never! I will take care of those that I am responsible for. Always!” – I put the past into the future. What do I mean by that?

I mean that I made an existential choice. A choice to BE responsible. And, a choice to show up and operate as a person who on taking on a responsibility does that which needs to be done to honor that responsibility. And, this choice was made on the basis of some pain/decision coming from the past.

Existential choices are non-trivial, they shape our lives. Why? Whilst the choice is made by one individual (in this case me) it impacted and continues to impact anyone that shares the local (work, social, personal) world with me.

How Has This Existential Choice Shaped My Life?

1-I think long and hard before becoming responsible for someone, or something. Example, when my girlfriend told me that she was pregnant. I didn’t give her any answer immediately – which is what she was looking for. Instead, I sat with that for the whole evening and night. By morning time, I had made my choice: to BE a father, a good father, to the unborn child. And, secondary to support both the mother and the child. Specifically, the family would always come first, and then if there was something left then I would use that for me: time, energy, money etc.

2-If those who I care and am responsible for are not prospering (happy, healthy) then automatically I assume that I am the source of that: I did something I shouldn’t have done, or I failed to do something that I should have. See the link with the past? Whilst this can have negative effects, it also has its positive side: the fact that I do not just assume that it is has nothing to do with me and carry on regardless of the suffering of the other that matters to me. I care enough to find out if I am the cause. And, even if I am not, then in the enquiring I am likely to learn what is the real cause. Thus putting myself in a better position to help a loved one.

How Has This Existential Choice Impacted Others?

Each of my three children know (mind, heart, soul) that I have done everything humanly possible for them – for their well-being (health) and their flourishing (dreams, self-expression etc). Further, they know they are loved by me – totally and unconditionally. And, that I am proud of who they are and who they are becoming. Finally, they know that I am here for them, totally, to the end of my days.

How did it work out for the mother of these children? Not that well in some domains. Why? One reason is if something was not working in her life and/or she was unhappy. I jumped to conclusion – it’s my fault – and got busy doing. Usually the wrong thing. To the extent that she learned to tell me something like “It’s not your fault, and I don’t need you to do anything. I need you to let me deal with this on my own. And/or just to listen to me.” On the other hand, it worked out rather well in a bunch of other domains. She was allowed total freedom. She has never been without money. She was supported in pursuing her dream of becoming a Counsellor and that is who she is and does….

I Bleed. Why Am I Bleeding?

I created myself through a number of existential choices. The first, and arguably the most important, in terms of determining my being and doing is that choice I have described and explained here.

One of the aspects that I am most proud of myself, and as such a source of inner power and self-esteem, is this aspect: accepting responsibility and being the person who is necessary to discharge that responsibility! Put differently:

1-My word is my bond. Ergo, you can accept my word and so no need to draw up and sign a contract.

2-Honouring my word as myself. Ergo, in honouring my word I honour myself (irrespective of what the world says about it). And in honouring myself I preserve or elevate my self-esteem: the esteem I have for myself. And, with a full tank of self-esteem there is nothing that I do not see myself as a match for. Everything that I am arises from my esteem for myself.

Now imagine, if someone truly important comes along and says words to the effect: “You are damaged goods. You made that choice as a child….It no longer serves you. I really think you should go and see a good therapist.”

At the level at which most of us operate – that which Heidegger referred to as the “they life”- this is perfectly understandable. Perfectly understandable. In that world this statement is a statement of care even love.

Trouble is I don’t operate at that level. I operate at an existential level. At that level this choice (and it’s consequences) is who I freely chose to be. I LIKE that I am a person who goes full out to care for those who matter to me, and those I find myself responsible for. I VALUE and RESPECT myself for being the person you can count on to play full out to honour his word: to himself, to you, to others, to the world.

I do not see this as a defect. Nor do I see myself as one who is defective. And, my deepest self bleeds because someone who truly matters to me, see me as defective. Defective enough to warrant therapy so he can be fixed. To see me this way is NOT to see me. That is the cut that bleeds my deep Self.

Summing It Up

The World does it best to cripple us: to strip us of our self-confidence, self-esteem, self–worth. That is just so – you will see this if you look deeply enough. And, falling in the concept “The World” fall those who are closest to us: our fathers, our mothers, teachers, those in the workplace etc.

I refuse to collude in diminishing myself. I have chosen myself and I continue to choose/own the existential choices I have made. If “authentic” means anything important, then authenticity is exactly this:

1-Creating oneself through one’s existential choices; and

2-Showing up and operating in accordance with who one has chosen to be in the face of the ‘resistance’ the world presents to this choice.

And, I urge you not to collude with anyone that seeks to diminish you: who you chose to be, your dreams, your tastes, your priorities, your natural self-expression….

If you are still here then I thank you for the generosity it takes to listen to my speaking. Wishing you the best. Until the next conversation.

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”.