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”

On Responsibility, Possibility, Reality And The Transitoriness Of Life

….. the transitoriness of our existence in no way makes it meaningless. But it does constitute our responsibleness; for everything hinges upon our realizing the essential transitory possibilities. 

Man constantly makes his choice concerning the mass of present potentialities; which of these will be condemned to nonbeing and which will be actualised? Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal “footprint in the sands of time”? At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.  

Usually …. man considers only the stubble field of transitoriness and overlooks the full granaries of the past, wherein he had salvaged once and for all his deeds, his joys and also his sufferings. Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with. I should say having been is the surest kind of being.…..

The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. 

On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all life he has already lived to the fullest….

What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No, than you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

– Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

The Bus Driver’s Gift

Our default way of being-in-the-world is to deny our freedom. Which freedom?  The freedom to choose.  Whilst I can talk about this philosophically, I prefer to point this out using a story.

The Bus Driver’s Gift

One afternoon a bus driver was taking 40 children home from school. As the bus made its way down a steep grade, the brakes failed. The driver was unable to steer the bus to the left because of a high embankment or to the right because of a steep cliff.

As the bus hurtled down the hill, the driver recalled that there was a narrow gate at the bottom which led into a field. He decided to try to steer the bus through the gate and into the field, figuring it would eventually come to a safe stop.  He hoped that no cars or other obstacles would get in his way before he got to the gate.

When the bus reached the bottom of the hill, the driver saw the gate approaching fast. But to his horror, he noticed a small child sitting on the gate, waiving at the bus.

It was too late to change plans now. If the driver tried to avoid the gate, 40 children would die. He cried out in anguish as the bus slammed directly into the game. The innocent child died instantly in the collision, but that bus and all of its passengers were saved.

Emergency vehicles were the first to arrive on the scene, followed shortly by relieved parents and grandparents. Many of them wanted to show their appreciation and gratitude to the driver who had kept the bus under control long enough to save their children. But the driver was nowhere to be found. They asked the police officer where he had gone.

“They’ve taken him to the hospital,” the officer said. “He’s suffering from severe shock.”

“Well that’s understandable, ” they replied.

“No, you don’t understand, ” said the officer. “You see, that little boy on the fence was his own son.”

To be human is to be be free, condemned to choose

We play little, we find excuses, we pretend that we are merely ‘victims’ or ‘passengers’ in the game of life. What this story does is to remind us of a truth that we’d rather not see nor face up to. Why?

Because with this truth, comes responsibility: responsibility for the way our life is, responsibility for the way our community is, responsibility for the way our organisations are, responsibility with the way life is.

Stuff happens, that is simply the way the universe works.  Sometimes, even often, we don’t get to choose what happens.  And always we get to choose how we will respond to that which the universe puts our way.  This is the essential truth that this story brings alive for me.

Get real!

Mitt Romney‘s wealth is estimated to be between US$190-250m. He was the CEO of Bain & Co (renowned management consultancy).  He co-founded Bain Capital one of the largest private equity firms in the USA.  He was the the Governor of Massachusetts from 2002 to 2006.  He then got busy on his ambition to become president of the USA.   Just keep this in mind, I will come back to Mitt Romney later in this post.

I notice that a lot of people are hurting.  I notice that some of the people that are hurting, are hurting so badly that they are on their knees.  Thankfully, I am not one of these people.  You might be one of them. What am I talking about?   I am talking about the tough economic times in the western world (Greece, Spain, UK, USA..) where many people have lost their jobs, their businesses, their livelihoods.  This is new for us – not new for many others that live in this world that peoples us and is our home.

In many parts of the world life is difficult and has been difficult for a long time.  It is not only difficult it is oftentimes harsh/brutal/unforgiving.  Because this applies to just about everyone (except the elite) people in these parts of the world do not say “I am in this position because of me.  If I am in this position then that means there is something wrong with me.  I have failed.  I am defective….”  Nor do they go about saying that about others.

This is not a luxury that is available to those of us who live in protestant countries especially the UK and the USA.  Why?  Because the dominant narrative and thus listening that one person has for another is as follows: how your life turns out depends on you; look everyone, EVERYONE, can make it; if you have not made it then you must be responsible; you are at fault – you are the source of the hardship that you are experiencing.  With this narrative comes a lack of compassion, kindness and generosity towards one another.

What is astounding is that so many people in the USA/UK have bought into this myth that they are hard on themselves.  That is to say that you/I find ourselves on our knees and we  blame ourselves.  We are ashamed of ourselves.  We berate ourselves.  We think that we have failed and that there is something wrong with us.  “Look, I live in a country where ANYONE can make it.  I have not made it so there must be something wrong with me!”  Put differently, we lack compassion towards ourselves because we have a FAULTY map of the world.

I say get real.  I say get that you/I are not Gods – we are mortals and as mortals our circumstances and our destiny is to some extent ‘shaped by the Gods’.  The Greeks got this beautifully.  The Greeks got that at the end of the day man is subject to the ‘whim of the Gods’ and the best that s/he can do is to ‘fight the good fight’.  This is what makes the human situation a tragic one; we are not like the stone, the plant nor the tiger – we can do so much; and yet we are mere mortals, not Gods.  This might not be concrete enough for you so allow me to make it real by going back to Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney lost!  He spent six years of his life and a spent something in the region of US$750m and he lost.  The richest person to run for the presidency lost.  One of the most influential people in the USA did not get to realise his ambition.  Many thought he was going to win.  He, himself, thought he was going to win and so had a massive celebration including fireworks planned.  And how did it work out?  He lost!  All his wealth, his fame, his track record, his influence, the $750m he spent .. did not get him the presidency.  In Greek terms ‘the Gods’ were not on his side, they favoured Obama.

I say get real!  I say be compassionate towards those who are hurting right now – whether that is your fellow man or yourself.  We are not masters of our fate.  Whilst we can do a lot, we cannot shape, entirely, how our lives turn out or how the world turns out.  

Werner Erhard, found this out in 1991.  Many thousands of people flocked to take part in his seminars (est, and later the forum).  Werner created ‘transformation’ and he touched many lives – indirectly he has touched mine through my  participation in the courses delivered by Landmark Education.   Werner preached ‘responsibility’.  He urged the est participants to take responsibility for their lives – just they are and are not – rather than play ‘victim’ and blame others.   Werner was soaring at the heights – both in terms of the impact he was making and his fame/fortune.  Then in early 1991 he found out that CBS News were going to show a programme that was going to ruin his reputation.  Despite his best, including his offer of taking a lie detector test, he could not persuade CBS News not to run the programme.  And he left the USA and found himself in exile – reputation ruined.  Many years later the allegations in the CBS News were retracted. And the impact on his life had been made – there was no ‘going back’.

Finally, I say that if you/I find ourselves on the receiving end of the ‘whims of the Gods’ like Werner did then we can put ourselves in a powerful position to be with and deal with what is so.  First we can be compassionate towards ourselves. Second, we can in the context of this compassion take responsibility for our lives – including getting ourselves off the floor.  Werner Erhard did just that.  He left the USA and he invented a new life for himself outside of the USA and he has been making an impact all over the world.

And finally, if you find one of our fellow human beings hurting and/or on the floor (emotionally, financially, physically) then I ask you to give that person a helping hand.  If you are finding that difficult because you are under the myth of ‘man as God’ that is so dominant in the USA (and to some extent in the UK) then I remind you of Mitt Romney, six years, $750m spent, and no presidency!



If you want your life to work then connect with reality as it is

“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch

This week I had a difficult conversation with a young man that is struggling.  This young man experiences little or no joy in his experience of living.  He finds his work boring/hard and his experience is that he is always behind.  It occurs to him that he is so far behind where he needs to be that his ‘ship is sunk’ and cannot be recovered.  He says he has no friends.  When he looks towards the next day he experiences sadness.  And when this man looks towards the future he sees doom – he is doomed to be at the mercy of the world, to live an unhappy/hard life, one without friends, one without joy…

That is not the way that this young man shows up for me.  That is not the way that his life, his circumstances, his future shows up for me.  I see a strong willed young man who stands up for the values he stands for.  I see a young man who is tenacious/determined to do well and who has done well by working hard.  I see a young man that can be light and bring magic/laughter/joy into the lives of others when he is not being so serious.  I see a young man who has so much potential.  And that which limits him, is himself and in particular the story that he tells himself about himself, about others, about the world, about the future and how is life will turn out.

Which brings me back to the Jack Welch quote at the beginning of this post.  Why did Jack Welch utter such an obvious statement?  Because when he took over the reins at GE he found that time after time he was presented with briefings that had no sound relationship with the ‘facts on the ground’.  Put differently, everyone seemed to think that the world ran to his view of the world, his agenda, his preferences, his wishes.

Why is it that each of us has such a poor relationship with reality as it is?   Let’s listen to someone who shows up for me as having an insightful grasp of the human condition:

“Man keeps looking for a truth that fits his reality. Given our reality, the truth doesn’t fit.” Werner Erhard

Let’s unpack the profound insight here.  What is man’s reality?  The first point is that man’s reality has no relationship to reality as it is and as it is not.  Man’s reality is always personal and unique – it is how the world (including self) shows up for him.  That is to say man authors his reality through the story that he tells himself about himself, about others, about the world at large.  Man’s story has such a grip on him that man is hostile to truth that does not fit with / disturbs his story.  Why?  Because man is his story.  And any threat to the story is a threat to man himself – his identity, his self.

Back to my conversation with this young man.  After some time the young man uttered with frustration “The reality is too painful to face!” After further discussion he asserted “It is easier to make myself believe that there is something wrong with me, the way that I am made, the way that my brain works, then to take responsibility for my life as it is.”

As we continued the conversation the really story came out. “If I accepted that I have a say in the way that my life turns out then I have to accept responsibility for the way that my life has turned out.  And the way that I am experiencing my life.  And I would have to do something about it.  Whereas it is easier to believe that I am simply made this way.  That I am unlucky and that is simply the way the world works.”

At this point I did become vocal, I thundered “YOU are the ONLY person who can change your life, to the kind of life that you want to live.  Nobody else is going to do it for you.  I know that you are secretly hoping that someone will do it for you.  And that is not going to happen.  Your future lies in your hands, in the story that you tell yourself: about yourself, about your future, about the world.  Choose: choose to live a life of joy or a life of misery.  It is your life!”

Today, I met up with this young man and he told me that he had experienced a great day.  The best day for some time.  He had found his work easy and had got a lot done.  He had been invited to play sports and liked two of the three people he had played with.  He said that he had enjoyed his day.

I say that the deepest truth of reality when it comes to me and you is this one:

“At all times, under all circumstances, we have the power to transform the quality of our lives.” Werner Erhard

Are your ready to face reality as it is, as spelled out by Werner Erhard?  Your life, your choice!

An extraordinary understanding of and orientation towards responsibility: “I am cause in the matter of …”

The ordinary understanding / orientation of responsibility

What is my ordinary, taken for granted, understanding of and orientation towards responsibility?  I say that it is pretty much captured by the following definition:

  1. The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.
  2. The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.

Is this a powerful place to stand? No. Who wants to be beholden to duty?  Doesn’t duty show up in my world as a burden?  A burden that is imposed on me by someone else?  Isn’t some element of the burden present even if I say I have a duty to do X and not Y? Looking into this further duty is given/imposed upon me by some outside authority including religion and culture.

Then there is the territorial orientation towards responsibility.  I particularly notice this at work where marking out territory and defending it can be and often is important.  Often the orientation is something like “This is my responsibility!” where the hidden message is I own this, it is my business and I don’t want you involved.  Or the orientation is that of “It’s not my responsibility!”  Either way the orientation is territorial.  And we use territory to assert ownership and exclude each other.

Who wants to leave himself open to blame, to criticism?  I don’t, I really don’t, I absolutely do not look forward to being criticised and even when I criticise myself I do not feel good.    Is it any surprise that many of us avoid responsibility and accountability as we wish to avoid being criticised, being blamed?  Isn’t my first response, your first response, something like “It’s not my responsibility.  It’s not my fault, I am not to be blame.  So leave me alone, let me be.”

Werner Erhard makes a great point. Blaming does not work.  Look there is spilt milk all over the floor.  How is blaming myself, or blaming you help with the situation?  No amount of blaming, responsibility pinning, is going to deal with the spilt milk.  The appropriate course of action is to mop up the milk!

Self-help orientation towards responsibility

If you read enough self-help literature you are going to come across the notion of ‘responsibility as response-ability’. That is the notion that between the stimulus (that which triggers your response) and your response (to that stimulus) you have a window of opportunity to choose your response.  That is you have the ability to choose your response.

Look into this deeply enough and you might just find that the phenomenon of stimulus-response is more complicated than that.  It is mood dependant.  When you and I are in the mood of being calm/relaxed then the window of opportunity is large enough to choose our response.  On the other hand if you and I are stressed, pre-occupied, grappling with our stuff, then the response to the stimulus is automatic.  Yes, we can unlearn this behaviour and it is likely that it takes many many hours of practice.

Werner Erhard: an extraordinary understanding / orientation towards responsibility

There is a radically different way of understanding and orienting oneself towards responsibility.  An understanding and orientation that leaves one in a powerful position.  Werner Erhard came up with and articulated this understanding.

The first point to make is that Werner Erhard’s definition/orientation is not a description of what is so. No, his orientation is generative.  What does it generate?  Possibility.  And a powerful place to stand when it comes to how your lives have turned out and how they can turn out in the future.   So what is Werner’s definition/orientation toward responsibility?

For any situation in our lives, in the world, I can freely take the stance: “I am responsible for……” as in “I am cause in the matter of…..”.   And in taking this stand I move from showing up as victim of the situation, or simply a bystander looking on the situation, to being someone who declares himself to be a causal agent, someone who has a say in the situation at hand and how it turns out

Let’s make this real. I have been experiencing disappointment, frustration, anger, bewilderment towards one my sons and how he behaves.  And we had a relationship that goes along with that: mainly one of ignoring one another.  I was clear that he is responsible for his behaviour, I am not responsible for it.  It is he who talks disrespectfully.   It is he who leaves stuff lying around the house.  It is he who walks into and all over the house with dirty shoes making a mess.  It is he who picks on his brother and sister simply because he is bored.  Standing in this ordinary orientation towards responsibility I was left feeling powerless, a victim of my son’s behaviour.  And I was wondering how it was that a child that I lavished love and attention upon turned out this way.

My wife provided the opening for me to get present to and take Werner Erhard’s orientation toward responsibility as regards my relationship with my son. She simply told me that my ‘bad behaviour’ shows up in the absence of relationship.  This got be present to taking the stance, freely/voluntarily, that “I am cause in the matter of my relationship with my son.  I have contributed to what is so.  And I have the power to influence how our relationship turns out.”  With this shift in orientation, I led, I became the causal agent.

I asked myself the question, what is missing the presence of which will make a difference here in my relationship to my son?  The answer was simple, spend 1 to 1 time with him doing what we both enjoy doing.  And give up blaming my son. Since then I have been playing pool with my son several times a week, we have gone to the cinema, we have played badminton and we have cooked together.  Interestingly, I notice that mutual affection and respect is present.  Two days ago my son said “You know Papa you don’t have to do so much for me, I know that you love me”.

Summing up

Coming to grips with and living from Werner’s articulation of responsibility, as in the sense “I am cause in the matter of…”, is fundamental pillar of living an extraordinary life. This understanding, this orientation, allows me/you/us to move from a position of resignation (I can do nothing, I have to put up with life) to one of authorship/leadership (I have a say in how the situation is and how it turns out).  And this shift from resignation to authorship/leadership/causal agent makes all the difference to my experience of living and your experience of living in this world that we co-create and inhabit together.

On freedom, choice and responsibility

A conversation with a young woman

I was in communication with a young woman recently and the conversation went something like this (this is the best I can do from memory):

Me: “Is the light on inside?   Is joy present on the inside?”

Her: “No.  It hasn’t been present for a long time.”

Me:  Why not? What is getting in the way?”

Her: “I feel trapped – living this life, here with my parents, my family. Sometimes, I think about running away and starting a new life, my life.”

Me: “What is preventing you from taking that step, moving out, living your own life?”

Her: “The impact it will have on my parents, what it will do to them.  Sometimes, I get so angry with them that I hate them for keeping me here, living this life.”

Me: “I see, you get that you have choice and you have made the choice to live with your parents and the life that goes with that.  I don’t get why you are blaming your parents.  Your parents are not responsible and do not deserve your blame/bitterness/anger. You are free to leave any time you wish.  Yet, you choose to stay.  So you are the person who is responsible for the life that you live and your experience of living.  You are responsible for your unhappiness, you bring this on to your self.”

Her: “Don’t say that.  If  believed that then I’d want to kill myself!”

Freedom, choice and responsibility

Yes, we are thrown into this world and we don’t get a say in where we are born, whether we are born male or female, healthy or unhealthy, who are parents are, what kind of circumstances we are born into, what culture we are born into, what schools we go to (if we go to school) etc.   Yet at some point we grow up and are no longer children, no longer dependent and at the mercy of others.  Like this young woman we leave home, we go to university, we get an education, we dabble/experience the bigger world, we get to stand on our own two feet….

I say that the process of ‘growing up’ is coming face to face with freedom, choice and responsibility. As beings-in-the-world we are faced with choice.  You could say being confronted with choices and making a choice is the evidence of our freedom. Even in the most difficult of circumstances where what we can and cannot do is severely limited we still get to choose: we get to choose our attitude towards ourselves, others and the circumstances in which we are embedded.  Put differently, sometimes we get to choose between two flavours of ice cream say chocolate or vanilla.  And sometimes life presents us with only chocolate and even though we get only chocolate we are free to choose  our attitude, our stance towards chocolate being present in our lives.

With choice comes responsibility.  Put differently, we are responsible for our lives and our experience of living – just as it is and just as it is not. Look, sometimes I feel sorry for myself when I look at how my children behave.  And when I look at the situation honestly/courageously I see that I am totally responsible for what is so.  When my children were younger, many people – wife, parents, parents-in-law, friends – pointed out that I was allowing my children too much freedom, not setting strong boundaries, not being controlling enough.  And I ignored all of them. Why?  I was committed to allowing my children the widest degree of freedom. And I reasoned that as they got older I could talk with them, reason with them and they would regulate their behaviour so as to get on/along with the people around them.  My theory did not work out as I had anticipated that it would work out.

What is the ultimate choice that confronts us?

I say that the ultimate choice that confronts us is the choice of owning our lives or not.  Owning my life is owning freedom, choice and responsibility.  I am free to make choices and I am responsible for the choices that I make and that which flows from and shows up from the choices that I make.  So, ultimately, each of us takes, is taking a stand towards freedom, choice and responsibility – whether we are present to making this choice or not.

You and I can look honestly at lives and face up to/get that we are the authors of our lives:  that we get a say in how we live our lives, how our lives turn out, our experience of living.  As such we can invent/project/live from and live into possibilities that move-touch-inspire us.

Or we can pretend that we are victims (like this young lady) and when we are confronted with ownership/authorship of our lives, our experience of living, we can strive to shut out this conversation  that confronts us with our freedom, choice and responsibility.

What choice are you making?  Are you owning your life and your experience of living?   If you are owning and being responsible for your life just as it is and just as it is not then who is owning / being responsible for your life?  

I know where I stand: the most powerful place to stand for me, is to own my life and my experience of living just as it is and just as it is not.  And being the owner, the author, of my life I am free to imagine and take different paths through it. This matters because it puts hope, possibility, new worlds into my life, my living. It is this stance that opens up a transformation in our living, in our world.