Power And Force

I was out of town when the Charlottesville events happened last week. I have been spending some time processing what has happened, and I have something to say.

Most of my writing assumes good will on everyone’s part, but cluelessness at times. That is, I don’t think people want to oppress others, and that they do want to know if they are doing something that keeps others from speaking up. Sometimes, however, people are very explicit in how they try to keep others down. Right now, white men are marching with torches claiming they are superior, they won’t be replaced by any minority (Jews, people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, etc.) – and they are using violence to intimidate people into letting them have their way.

We also have a president who advocates violence and bigotry, and this is allowing people to speak up about their own bigotry in ways they had to hide in the past. What the person at the top says makes a difference all the way down the line.

I think that all of the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc, is about power. There are some white men who are afraid of losing power to people they think are beneath them, and they will do anything to keep their power. They will kill, and threaten, and beat up, and elect powerful people who think the way they do.

These people seem to think that power is a zero sum game. That is, there is a finite amount, and if someone else gets more, that means they get less. They also view the world in a very hierarchical way – everyone is either one-up or one-down from others. I don’t agree with this world view. I think that everyone is equal, no one is better or worse than anyone else, and that everyone can hold personal power without taking away from anyone else’s power. However, power is not the same as force. That power is personal power to speak our own truths. It is power to bring multiple points of view into the world and work out how they can coexist. It is power to build, not destroy, and to understand, not suppress.

I’m disturbed by the number of people who have forgotten what every kindergarten teacher tries to impart – we are all in this world together, we need to share, we need to help each other, we are all worthy of love and attention, and we all need to let other people have love and attention too. There is enough love and attention for everyone. We don’t need to take it away from others to get it for ourselves. No one always gets their own way. We need to compromise to be able to live together. Force just makes people angry and resentful. Hate begets hate – and help begets help.

I think the world is stronger with everyone’s viewpoints in it. I think the world is better when more people are able to be fully present and alive and seen and heard and valued. I will fight bigotry and hatred with love and compassion, and continue to insist that every voice must be heard. Together, we are stronger.

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Revising Our Thinking (Advanced Problem Solving)

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This quote has always struck me as both wise and difficult to do something about. On the one hand, the thinking we have now is what led us to consequences, perhaps unintended, that are causing problems. On the other hand – how do you change how you think? Thoughts are just there, like air.

Actually, it turns out that thoughts can change. I think this is fascinating stuff.

First step – pause. If there’s no pause, there’s no chance to question. We believe what we think because it’s always there, informing everything we experience. If we can take a breath, stop the knee-jerk reaction, pause before moving ahead, it gives us a chance to do something different.

One way to practice the pause is to meditate. One school of meditation suggests that you notice what you are thinking, and then let it go. Aim for total quiet in the brain. Thoughts and feelings will come through, and rather than getting snagged in them, just let them pass. This takes practice, and honestly, doesn’t work all the time. When I meditate, I spend plenty of time thinking. But even a little practice in letting the thought be separate from the thinking of it helps create a pause. Seriously, even 3 minutes once a week.

Second step – question. I’m going to quote the wikipedia page about Byron Katie for this:

Byron Katie’s method of self-inquiry, The Work, consists of four questions and what she calls turnarounds, which are ways of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. The questions are: 1. Is it true? 2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? 3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? 4. Who would you be without the thought?

Contemporary neuroscience identifies a particular part of the brain, sometimes called “the interpreter,” as the source of the familiar internal narrative that gives us our sense of self. This discovery, based on solid experimental work, show that we tend to believe our own press releases.

If we can question our own thoughts, we can start to figure out where they might be right, where they might be wrong, where they might be more compassionate, where they might be more expansive, etc.

Pause, and question. How often do we do this in our own lives?

I’m going to tell you a parenting story. My son has sensory processing issues, which means he’s sensory seeking a lot of the time. He was playing with a toy on a string, enjoying the feeling of it swinging around his head, swinging against furniture, swirling around on the floor and against the edge of another toy. All that swinging was driving me crazy. I saw the floor being scratched. I saw the toy about to hit things on shelves, about to sweep the papers off my desk, about to hit me. I kept asking him to stop, and he didn’t stop. I was getting madder and madder.

This time, hallelujah and hooray, I remembered to pause, and question. I took a break, went outside, and asked myself what was going on. I helped myself remember that my kid gets hooked by how things feel. He wasn’t continuing to swing the damn thing around in order to piss me off, he was doing it because he liked how it felt. It was hard for him to stop because it fed something in his brain. I had a choice how I responded. I’ve tried yelling, I’ve tried grabbing the toy away, and these things don’t usually end well. What other choices did I have?

Once I calmed down, I went back inside. I told him he could use the toy on a string in a certain area, but not in others, because he could damage things. He agreed, and after a while was done swinging it around and moved on to something else. Relationship preserved, boundaries enforced with kindness, no yelling. What a difference. Pausing, and questioning.

I think it can be unnerving to be still and open to new ideas. It’s much easier and more comfortable to just be Right. All. The. Time. But we can’t solve our problems with our current thoughts and frames of reference. If we are open to new ideas, all sorts of creative possibilities open up. It’s a little uncomfortable to feel like a vessel for new ideas flowing in. (That may be another blog post.) But how wonderful to find a new solution!

Where have you paused, and questioned? What happened?

Friends at Work

What do you need to make friends at work?

You are put together with other people who at least share a passing interest in whatever work you do, even if it’s just enough interest to earn a paycheck. Hopefully you all share some amount of passion for the project you are on. But you may not come from the same background, or have the same hobbies, or share the same view of the world. What do you talk about?

I will be doing a team building workshop this weekend for a group that’s getting together just for the summer. Some of them know each other already, some don’t. So I’ve been thinking about what makes teams bond, and what helps people to make friends. Here are some ideas:

Shared experience. People who have a shared experience, especially an intense one, often form friendships based on that shared experience. People who went to drama camp together, or law school, or basic training, share a bond based on that experience.

One of the premises of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is that the process of building ideas and feelings and metaphors and stories can sometimes be uncomfortable. The emotional content of the discomfort is part of what makes the stories memorable and important. We hope that the participants mostly feel comfortable, but if they only feel comfortable then what they are doing together is less impactful. In fact, resolving the discomfort in some way as a group goes a long way to making the group a more desirable place to spend time.

Self-revelation. The Johari Window below diagrams the amount of ourselves that we reveal to ourselves and others.

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The larger the open area is, the easier it is for people to get to know and like us. The process of revealing more is part of the process of creating bonds. Self-disclosure is the easiest, and it helps us create connections around shared experience. (You like toast? I like toast!) Feedback is more difficult, since it gives us information about ourselves that we might or might not want to hear. But if someone sees us that clearly and shares what they know, it creates a connection too.

The greatest bond comes from shared discovery of areas that were previously unknown to everyone. And this is something that LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® does well. The hand-brain connection helps people with self-discovery, figuring out what they think as they build. Since everyone else is doing the same thing, the process creates chances to reveal things to each other that each person might not see at first. As everyone explores the unknown together, people get the emotional bond from doing something intense, as well as the bond from learning new things together.

Not everyone will bond to everyone else based on either of these. Sometimes people just don’t click, no matter what you do. Sometimes the best thing for a group is to change the people in it! But that’s a drastic answer, and often not necessary. Often all that is needed is shared experience and a chance to tell our own stories.

Pure Potential

I have always been seduced by blank books. There’s so much potential in them! The reality never quite lives up to the hopes though – sometimes I write in them, sometimes I don’t, but once something goes in, the possibilities are narrowed and the perfection I seek doesn’t exist.

Recently I’ve started coveting planners. Again, so much potential! I could get organized this time. I could save all the important stuff in one place. Plus, it has the blank book feeling of possibility. Yum! I have a tendency to start a planner, be really devoted to it for a few weeks, then I stop carrying it, or I start writing on scraps of paper instead of in my planner, and pretty soon it’s just another “should” for me.

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Sometimes I think that one reason we like children so much is the potential we see in them. They could do anything! They could learn and grow and become the savior of our economy or ecology or a great musician or anything at all! Once they start working mundane jobs, all that possibility is gone. At least, it feels like it’s gone. It’s harder to get at in working adults, even if it’s still there.

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I also think this feeling of possibility shows up in strategic planning sessions. And, so does the falling back into old habits. It’s so exciting to plot a new course, to envision blue sky possibilities, to come up with ideas that could change everything! And then, we go back to work, and have to put out fires, or deal with drama, or just get buried under paperwork, and all that hope gets forgotten. The new ideas become “shoulds” that feel like burdens, not freedom.

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I have two ideas about how to change these patterns. The two ideas come at it from different directions. One, make friends with not being perfect. One reason a lot of my blank books only hold a few pages is that what I put in there isn’t perfect, so I abandon the effort. But when I can accept that what I put in doesn’t have to be perfect, I can keep going with it. I my not live up to the full potential of the book, but I’m still stretching and growing and that’s all that matters. No one can fulfill all potential at the same time.

The other idea is around habits. It’s easy to fall into old patterns. If we want to change that, we have to work at it. So, I’d say block time into the planner to review where you want to go every day or week. Figure out the best use of your time. Delegate or let things go. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But if we don’t focus on the changes we want to make, they won’t happen at all. Starting the day by looking at our guideposts can help us head in the right direction.

My final idea is this: be gentle with yourself. Punishing ourselves when we don’t live up to unrealistic expectations is setting ourselves up to stay stuck and unhappy. Let’s live free and joyous and imperfect but expanding lives!

I’m a Turtle

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I have always been a late bloomer. I didn’t date in high school. I developed late. But I thought that once I got there, I’d be on the same fast track as everyone else.

Lately, I’ve been taking classes that promise breakthrough results and exponential growth. What I experience is incremental growth. I mean, I keep learning and changing, but it’s slow going.

In addition, I’ve realized that every time I stretch and grow, I need to withdraw and integrate what I’ve learned. I often withdraw far, running to the opposite extreme and hiding from the world. I always have blamed myself for this, thinking that somehow I should always be able to be on the cutting edge. But that’s not how I work.

I’ve been hearing about the idea of radical self care, and somehow I keep thinking this means scented baths instead of quick showers. But it really is a radical idea that taking care of oneself is more important than continuing to press on. Whether it’s a bath or a nap or reading a book, if I can honor the times I need to withdraw into my turtle shell, it makes it easier to come out again.

Just the idea that it’s not somehow shameful to need to rest is freeing! To honor the way I work and what I need to grow feels indulgent, but then I get so much better results. I’m able to see my need to turtle as part of the ebb and flow of the world. Everything in the universe is in motion, and my movement includes expanding and contracting, and there’s nothing shameful about that.

So here’s to the turtles of the world. We might not get where we are going quickly, but we never give up. We need to experience safety in order to risk putting ourselves out in the world. And we have so much to offer the world! I’m learning to love my turtleness instead of blaming myself for it. I hope you do too.

Social Capital

I’ve been thinking about this idea of social capital for a while. I feel like I only have so much influence, and I need to be careful where I spend it. It’s like the strategy games my husband likes to play. If I have 20 influence points, do I want to spend 10 of them on changing the font on the flyer, or do I save all 20 to fix the grammar? I’m afraid I can’t do both. And so, I don’t always speak up on matters that seem to be small, so I can save my influence for things that seem big.

My fear stems from being too much. I’m afraid that if I speak up all the time, people will stop listening to me. If I take up more space, people may take what I say less seriously. It’s like the more rare a thing is, the more valuable it is. So I have to make my voice be rare, so it can be valued.

I’ve been trying to question this story, because it is a story that I’ve invented. I could tell myself another story, such as my voice is so important that people want to hear from me all the time. That the more I speak up, the more of an expert I am, and the more people will pay attention to me.

But the idea of limited influence points didn’t come from nothing. We get it when someone says “Let’s hear from someone who hasn’t spoken up yet.” I like hearing those words, because I like hearing from everyone! But at the same time, it can imply to a sensitive speaker that they are oversharing. In fact, TMI, Too Much Information, implies that there is such a thing as just the right amount of information, and we need to be socially adept at telling where that line is.

How much is too much seems to depend on social status. Men can get away with talking more in meetings than women can. Higher ranked people can talk more than lower ranked. White people can express more opinions than people of color. At least, that’s my perception of how the world seems to work.

But this means that people don’t speak up about the microaggressions that happen every day. They save up their energy for the big things. They fight for those people of color killed by police, rather than the judge who assumed the man at the table had to be the defendant, rather than the lawyer, based on the color of his skin. I didn’t tell the very tall man that he loomed over me and could he please step back a bit, he was in my space. Why? I was waiting to see if I would have to speak up about something he might say or do that would be more clearly crossing a line. My own comfort is small potatoes compared to assault.

Not speaking up eventually leads to resentment and disengagement, at least in my experience. So I am practicing speaking up about the little things that I once regarded as not worth using up my influence. I’m choosing to believe that there is not a limited amount of social capital, and that I have the right and even obligation to speak my truth whenever it seems important to do so. No one else can speak it for me.

What is your experience? Do you believe in a shortage of social capital? Why or why not?

Gratitude

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When you wake up, do you dragged down by all the things you don’t want to do today, or do you feel excited to be awake and alive? When you get sick, do you feel miserable all day, or do you feel grateful that you don’t get sick that often?

I know it’s hard to let go of feeling bad. There are such juicy pay-offs! When I feel bad I can complain to people, and get their sympathy. I don’t have to work too hard because I need to take care of myself. I can bond with people over things we don’t like, but I don’t have to stretch my comfort zone to try to change anything. Change, even change I want and try to make happen, is difficult and uncomfortable. It’s just so easy to stay feeling stuck, sick, bored, sad, frustrated, angry, apathetic, unmotivated.

If something hurts, it’s hard to ignore it. Pain, discomfort, and trouble breathing are all very insistent on getting attention. I feel justified in letting my illness or injury run the show. It’s too much work to make my intentions larger than my circumstances. I’ll just wait til my circumstances improve to do anything too difficult.

And – welcome to victim-hood. Where nothing changes. Where no goals are met. Where everything is a little bit grey and boring.

It’s fascinating to realize that the only thing needed to change the picture – the only thing – is a change in perspective. Yes, I can’t breathe well right now. But how wonderful that I haven’t been sick in so long! I had health for a long time and I will again. Yes there are things I don’t like to do planned for the day. Just think how happy I’ll be when I get through them! I hate having them hanging over my head. Plus, each dreary phone call gets me closer to actual paying clients, or whatever goal I have for the day. (New school? Nursing home? Lawyer? Getting info and making calls helps in every case.) Then I can end the day feeling proud of myself.

I’m not saying that genuine depression can be lifted by thinking happy thoughts. My brain doesn’t make the right neuro-transmitters, and so I use store-bought ones. I was unable to think happy thoughts until I had the right brain chemistry. So I want to be clear that I’m not saying that if you are on the floor crying it’s all your fault and that you have to be different than who you are for things to get better. There is no fault, no blame. You are enough, just as you are. You are perfectly you, and no one can tell you you’re doing it wrong.

Once you have the capacity for joy, love, excitement, hope, and gratitude restored to you, then you can practice exercising those muscles. The negativity will always try to lead. It’s a survival mechanism. There’s nothing wrong with you for having all the negative thoughts. But how wonderful to think that if you’re miserable from all your negative thoughts, you can have a different experience if you change your thoughts!

Changing thoughts often takes practice. Try finding three things to be grateful for, right now. Can you breathe? Awesome! Do you have a place to sleep? Epic! How about hot running water? Fantastic! How are your eyes? your feet? your liver? All working? Sweet!

Now, let’s try the next level – find three things you’ve done well today. This can be very hard for people who are used to beating themselves up for all the things they did wrong. Did you make it to work? Awesome! Did you say something kind to someone? Epic! Are you clean and dressed? Fantastic! Have you fed yourself? Fed someone else? Had enough water? Sweet!

Now – can you see yourself as the hero, not the victim? Can you see the power you have? Can you take your power back from your circumstances, your health, your boss, your employees, your spouse? You have the power to choose how you face the day. Are you grateful the sun came up, or are you grumpy that the sky is grey? Can you smile when you hear birds sing, or do you curse that they woke you up too early?

I want to say this is both an instant fix, and it isn’t. On the one hand, I can choose what to focus on and that can make an immediate difference. On the other hand, in order for my focus to change generally to the positive requires diligent practice. I need to keep gratitude lists, lists of things I do well, lists of positive adjectives about myself, lists of people to call if I lose my positivity. I need to rewrite these lists often. I need to get exercise and eat well. When I do all these things, I find myself drawn more and more to see things in a positive light. And when I don’t, it’s easier to switch. (I still take anti-depressants though. That won’t change any time soon.)

I guess I’m sharing all of this because I feel like my life is getting more spacious, my possibilities are increasing, my power is growing, my heart is expanding, and my joy is overflowing with these changes that I’ve been making in my life. I want you to have this too. My mission in life is to help get every voice heard, and part of that is making space for the voices to speak up. And, part of it is helping the voices feel like they deserve to be heard. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to take up space. I hope I can help support you on your own journey to possibility and joy.

The Power of Questions

What if…

How many new ideas have come from those two words? What if we could fly to the moon? What if we made an ice cream sandwich using a donut as the bread? What if my car could drive itself for me? What if we crossed a poodle and a labrador?

I was reading How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J Gelb, and he talked about the power of questions to shake up how we see things. All sorts of problems can be solved when we ask the right questions. Not just what is the problem, what is the advantage of leaving it the way it is? What are the underlying issues? What paradigm might be limiting my perception? What problems may come from solving this problem? Who is affected? Who perpetuates it? Who can help solve it? When does it happen? When does it need to be resolved? Why is it important? And why again, and why again… These sorts of questions can help define a problem, find solutions for it, and even get our brains to start climbing out of the boxes they live in so we can see things from a different perspective.

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Byron Katie also asks questions. Her questions are very powerful, because they are addressed to our most intimate of possessions – our thoughts and beliefs. And she asks – is it true? Is it always true? What a question to ask!

I’m not going to speak up because speaking up always leads to bad consequences. Better to blend in.

Is that true?

Of course. Mom used to yell at me when I interrupted her reading. My third grade teacher would make fun of me for asking questions. My last boss fired me for challenging him. Speaking up leads to humiliation and loss.

Is that always true? Has speaking up always led to humiliation and loss? Has speaking up ever helped me? Is there a cost to not speaking up?

Well, there was that time. I told Mom I didn’t want to play piano any more and she eventually agreed, without any yelling. Other teachers liked hearing my questions. And one boss recognized me for saving time and money by my suggestions. So I guess speaking up and being noticed isn’t always bad. And I sure would like to catch the eye of that person I’d like to date…

I’ve found that I need someone else to ask me if a thing is true, since I firmly believe it is until it’s questioned. What’s really amazing is the amount of freedom I’ve experienced from letting go of thoughts and beliefs that weren’t true, or at least not always true. Realizing that some of my fundamental beliefs about the world are only stories I tell about the world to make sense of it really shook me at first, but now I can write new stories that serve me better. Rather than saying I overeat because I’m pathetic and hopeless, I say I overeat to cope with feelings I’m afraid to face, at least for now. Much gentler, and leaves open the possibility of things changing. But I believed I was pathetic and hopeless for a long time.

What do you believe? What would change if you questioned that belief? What problem are you having that needs a new perspective? Like Byron Katie, like Leonardo Da Vinci, ask yourself lots of questions!

How To Live

I’ve been thinking about the systems people put in place as guides to life. Some of it is religion. Some of it is aphorisms or sayings to keep in mind – do unto others as you want them to do unto you, for example.

So, what do I live by? I was born Jewish, and I still feel a part of the Jewish community. And, there are a damn lot of rules about how to be Jewish. I don’t follow a fraction of them. In the end, though, what are all those rules about? How to be fair. How to be kind. How to be healthy. How to be grateful. (I feel a need to put an aside here, because from experience someone will come up with a rule that doesn’t meet these guidelines and tell me that I’m wrong. So, just know I’m being somewhat general here.)

I actually feel a lot of affinity for the Wiccan motto: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Doing no harm is difficult! Almost everything harms something. Eating a carrot harms the carrot. But if the focus is more on whether eating the carrot harms the earth, then growing food and eating it can still be done with care and reverence. And it shows us how much we are all connected, that all of our choices have consequences. Is using that plastic bottle harming the ocean? Maybe we should find out.

I like that the next thing is – do what you will. There are so many people telling us to do what they want us to do. I love that freedom to explore what it is we feel called to do inside – as long as it causes no harm. We can’t give in to the impulse to kill, hit, or destroy, but we can build a block tower just so we can knock it down because we want to experience that destruction. I think so many of us are not giving our gifts to the world because we are afraid to show our true colors. What if all of our differences and gifts and preferences were admired and supported? What if everyone was called to do what mattered most to them?

I think there is one piece that is missing. I don’t want it to be a law, since it’s sure to backfire. But I think a reminder to find gratitude and joy and love in everything around us is important. When I focus on things I’m grateful for, I see more of them. When I focus on things I’m resentful about, I see more of those. I know which way I feel better, and can be of more service in the world! In fact, I only want to be of service when I revel in the gratitude and joy and compassion and connection. When I feel resentful, badly treated, or not respected I don’t want to be of service. I want people to serve me! It takes a pretty big mind shift to inhabit the world of abundance and happiness rather than pettiness and greed. I know if someone told me I had to make that shift, it would push me further into the world of resentment. But I think it’s very important as part of a world view.

And so, my simple (yet complex) structure to serve as a guide to life:

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