Leadership, media, Pausing, politics, Reflection

Different perspectives

Have a look at the cube above. Now look again and see if you can see it from a different perspective.  Most people can – but not see both views at the same time.  It’s lucky we can still do this with the cube because as political animals Americans seem to have lost it.

It gets worse.  Presidents and newscast hosts get involved in slanging matches and start competing for the “Bully of the Year” award.  People become very self-righteous for different reasons and with different reactions.  Some of us have high expectations of appropriateness and when we don’t see it, we become outraged.  Others follow the Twitterverse for its entertainment value.  Values are clearly in play.  Some feel discouraged, others feel helpless.  It’s one thing to deal with a surly adolescent or screaming child at home.  It’s another when you’re dealing with a leader of the free world.

As Tom Friedman observed recently in a New York Times article, “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”

It’s more than disagreeing on facts. We seem to have graduated to disagreeing on values. How can people who have so much common history seem to be living on different planets?  The clue may lie in how we determine values as much as we do facts.  While even expertise is distrusted these days, a bit of expertise might now come in handy.  I turn to Jonathan Haidt and his book, The Righteous Mind.

Haidt’s premise – that we are intuitive first and rational second – has much in common with Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.  Haigt as a social psychologist framed this concept in an earlier book, The Happiness Hypothesis, using the analogy of the mind as a rider on an emotional and instinctive elephant.  He sees moral judgment based more on more on intuition than on conscious reasoning; it is automatic.  If we want to change other peoples’ minds, he says, we talk to their elephants.  It is through relationships with others not our arguments that different points of view have a chance of making an impact.  There is more than one way of looking at things and if you return to the original image and looks at it long enough, you can see it in two different ways.

After in-depth  research on moral thinking, Haidt has identified these moral foundations arising out of different cultures and historical traditions but now almost universal in presence – if not in emphasis:

  • Care: Ability to “feel the pain” of others, to show a nurturing kindness. The opposite is harm
  • Fairness: it can be interpreted in more than one way- equal treatment for all or proportionality.  The opposite is cheating.
  • Loyalty: our ability to form groups and put the needs of the group first. The opposite is betrayal.
  • Authority; respect for leadership and traditions. Its opposite is subversion.
  • Sanctity; respect for the physical body and the need to keep it pure and clean. Its opposite is degradation.
  • Liberty; individual freedom and hatred of bullying and domination  Its opposite is oppression.

It gets interesting when you start to apply these foundations to politics. Haidt notes that Democrats and Libertarians are strong on the first two and Libertarians especially on the last one – while Republicans value all six – giving politicians more road maps in how to appeal to voters. The “facts” may matter a good deal less to the elephant than the emotional response they arouse and we see lots of that going on right now.

I’ve also been reminded of another book whose title seems prescient – Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, published after his death.  A rabbi and psychotherapist, Friedman served as an advisor to six US presidents and it would be interesting to think what he would have to say to the current one.  Long before the current turmoil, be saw America as overcome by anxiety.  Both presidents and parents need to understand different roles as leaders.  I have zero confidence that the current leader would take Friedmans’ advice, but it might have some usefulness for the rest of us.  There’s room for more than one leader among us.

The leader’s role, Friedman says, is to be a non-anxious presence – to maintain one’s own integrity when facing sabotage – which any rise to power will automatically bring.  The real job is to maintain a sense of self while at the same time remaining connected to the opposition.  The very time one is under attack is the time not to react by hitting back in the same way.

Any emotional relationship involves a triangle. It can be three people – any parent has seen how the game plays out among mom, dad and teenager – or any two people or groups with an issue in which they disagree.  In an earlier work, Generation to Generation, Friedman explores how earlier generations become part of our triangles even after their deaths. Friedman notes that we are all part of multiple triangles simultaneously involving our jobs, our parents, our significant others, our finances, our health – and even our vacation preferences.  Three levels of government present another set.

Any triangle is a recipe for high anxiety – so the ones we are dealing with right now a perfect storm. In human terms, trying to change the relationship of the other sides of the triangle hardly ever works.  All of us, I suspect are trying to be more responsible than the other players. That doesn’t bring a solution – what it does bring is stress.  Anxiety is contagious and we are in the midst of an anxiety epidemic.

What to do?  Friedman would say –

  • Self-differentiate. The only person’s behaviour we can change is our own.
  • Maintain a sense of humor and be playful. If this were a play or a novel, the modern scene would win prizes for farce of a very high order.  The fact that it is happening isn’t so great – but life is long and things change.
  • Focus on personal strengths and do what one can to enhance them. Let other people work on theirs.
  • Stay in touch with what’s going on. There is a tendency to want to hide under a rock, but we can’t.
  • Be honest. Speak your piece but don’t fall into reciprocal slurring.
  • Question beliefs. Haidt notes that there is a difference between “What can I believe?” and “What must I believe?”
  • Live in the real world – not just the digital one – liars and cheaters are easier to spot there.

I like a quote from a recent memoir Safe Passage, by Ida Cook.  She and her sister helped many Jewish families escape the ravages of the second world war before it started.  She notes that when the war began, her 70-year-old father told the family that he was going to enroll as a stretcher bearer.  His wife replied that he was more likely to be on it than carrying it.  One of the sisters was worried about her father’s silence and projected that his feelings were hurt.  She said, “We think it is fine for you to want to be a stretcher bearer, Dad, even if mother thinks it is impractical”.  His reply would have gladdened Ed Friedman’s heart. He said, “I don’t care in the least what any of you think so long as I do what I think is right”.

We can stop being outraged.  We can stop being entertained.  We can stop expecting others to change.  We can stop being tired of foolishness.  We can start working on our own integrity and acting on it. We can also recognize that there is more than one perspective on the right thing –  giving some the right to emphasize some more than others and follow our own.

 

Standard
Beauty, Pausing, Reflection

Seeing

One of my very favourite arrivals on Sunday morning is the latest version of Brainpickings,org – Maria is an amazing curator of interesting sources of reflections on life.  And today’s talk is about busyness.

It’s interesting to read how concerned that Kierkegaard was in 1843 – complaining about people being “brisk about their food and their work”.  So it got me off the hook to spend more than three hours over a relaxing lunch saying good bye to friends who were moving soon – I wish I could say the same about the briskness of daily tasks.

Hesse is also quoted extensively today on other ways to avoid busyness – but there is one way that moving into new quarters has worked for me,  He says:

Just try it once — a tree, or at least a considerable section of sky, is to be seen anywhere. It does not even have to be blue sky; in some way or another the light of the sun always makes itself felt. Accustom yourself every morning to look for a moment at the sky and suddenly you will be aware of the air around you, the scent of morning freshness that is bestowed on you between sleep and labor. You will find every day that the gable of every house has its own particular look, its own special lighting. Pay it some heed if you will have for the rest of the day a remnant of satisfaction and a touch of coexistence with nature. Gradually and without effort the eye trains itself to transmit many small delights, to contemplate nature and the city streets, to appreciate the inexhaustible fun of daily life. From there on to the fully trained artistic eye is the smaller half of the journey; the principal thing is the beginning, the opening of the eyes.

On the first evening of daylight saving time even that sky helps take us away from our petty distractions with a moment of awe.

 

Standard
media, Pausing, Reflection, reporting

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?

social-media-icons-the-circle-set

How do we cope with a Tweeting leader?  Should tweeting be subject to censorship when it spreads lies or hatred  by anybody – no matter who?  Are social platforms really publishers even though they think they are not?  What power does an ordinary citizen have? If I protest, do I deserve a backlash from people who voted for the leader – even though they think they had a numerical majority when most reliable sources say they didn’t –  but they believe the lie because a certain leader tells them so.  Now when the press is called the opposition party, I really wish Marshall McLuhan were around to help us straighten out the time worn phrase that the media is the message.

Social media have been professing themselves as merely the conduit of free speech for quite a while.  Perhaps it feels different lately.  Faith in letting people say anything they like seems to be wavering among tech leaders – especially when it affects their own employees as it did last weekend.  We all need to pay attention, reframe and rethink responsibility in a digital age.

Standard
Pausing, Reflection

Changes

changes

Today marks the end of a long business association that I have enjoyed for 18 years.  I have every respect for the company but they are regrouping in terms of how they work and my own life and needs are going in a different direction.  It will seem strange to let it go.  At the same time it makes space for something completely different and new.  It’s interesting and somewhat scary not to even know what it is.

Standard
Pausing, Reflection

Was it a good Christmas?

Rowan

People that I haven’t seen for a while keep asking me this.  Another responded today by showing  groujp of us a video. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams spoke to that question in an address in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London UK earlier this past December.  Williams started by talking about the words of the Christmas carols we sing so enthusiastically – especially the second and third verses which are full of quite amazing ideas that pass most of us by.  You can watch the address and the questions that he answered following the lecture here.

In closing, Williams gave a really important reminder.  Who have we ignored in the past year – and how could we make that better – with a phone call, a letter, letting something from the past go?  That’s a simple way to get the season to end well.

 

Standard
effectiveness, Learning, Pausing, Reflection

Fund Raising Campaign Wrap-up

pledge

I put out a request for availability today to wrap up a fundraising campaign that took the better part of the last year.  I’ve also spent several days assembling a hard copy of all the documentation for the next team – as well as creating a digital backup.  It’s a good and necessary way to see where we have been and start to evaluate the results.

Past lives have meant working my way through several such campaigns.  Because I know and understand the process, that has worked well for me but also created problems.

These things were good about it:

  • We started well in advance with a schedule and assigned dates
  • We kept to the schedule
  • The materials were prepared well in advance, carefully reviewed and they went out on time
  • We approached team leaders to follow up and got good acceptance from our invitation
  • Many responded quickly and and contributed well.
  • Personal messages by commited members of the organization were well received and reached a wider audience through social media
  • Our campaign ran concurrently with one for refugee support; the same people responded to both with generosity
  • Several new people came aboard.

These things could be improved going forward:

  • By working in pairs with team members, I limited the involvement of the whole group. Doing the work is the best motivator and builds commitment of the fundraising team.
  • The kick off event was too tame.  It needs to be exciting.  The closing event was better but also too cautious.  These things need to be fun.
  • While not holding too many meetings at the beginning was an advantage, we should have met regularly during the campaign itself to keep the energy level higher.
  • Keeping a firm check on follow up might have produced better results.
  • There was much “preaching to the choir”.  It’s more demanding to make the case for what the money does in terms of changed lives.  We need more and better stories.

These are just my own observations.  I look forward to hearing from the others.

Standard
Beauty, Pausing, Reflection, self realization

Light

candleFor most of my life I have been an inveterate self-help reader – expecting resources from the not-for-profit or the churchy world to provide the answers to my recurring shortcomings.  This isn’t totally bad but it gets complicated when I try to integrate about a dozen of the gimmicky solutions.

Most of the resources have lots in common.  The churchy world ones are often simpler and better – but they come with a lot of baggage that doesn’t make them useful in more secular settings.  So to talk about them without seeming totally arrogant is a challenge.

But here is a small one.  Silence is necessary.  Just shutting up simply allows the quantity of stuff in our minds to come to the fore.  One way to tamp it down a little is to focus on something – and a small candle helps.

This one is more than 10 years old and came from a visit with my late husband to beautiful Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC. Lighting it, looking at it and just sitting for a half hour is one way to try to move into the silence.

Standard