Tumbling Dice

The world is a complex place and most significant decisions aren’t truly either/or, it’s usually a lot more nuanced than that.  However that makes it complex to explain, hard to report on.  The media prefer the simplicity of a straight choice and we tend to get caught up in these arbitrary black or white choices.

We are faced with many choices daily. For many of these there are no facts to determine the best course of action, or they are of little consequence.  For such choices it’s good to simply trust your ‘gut’ instinct.  This is your sub-conscious reaction and may be based on all sorts of reasoning that happens outside of our rational consciousness.

It can be hard to tap into these instincts sometimes.  If we find ourselves stuck my family has created a useful process for tuning into our ‘gut’. We simply flip a coin, roll dice, or draw straws.  It isn’t the result of the coin toss that is interesting but the reaction to it.  If you find yourself asking for the best of three you know what your instinct is saying to you.

The danger comes when you roll the dice and are bound by the result, regardless of your gut feel.  That would indeed be stupid.

Women think I’m tasty, but they’re always tryin’ to waste me
And make me burn the candle right down,
But baby, baby, I don’t need no jewels in my crown.
‘Cause all you women is low down gamblers,
Cheatin’ like I don’t know how,
But baby, baby, there’s fever in the funk house now.
This low down bitchin’ got my poor feet a itchin’,
You know you know the duece is still wild.
Baby, I can’t stay, you got to roll me
And call me the tumblin’ dice.

The Rolling Stones

Different People

pencilsAs a HR professional and coach I spend a lot of time encouraging diversity.  Diversity in terms of race, creed, nationality for sure – but most importantly diversity of thought.

It is patently obvious that none of us knows as much as all of us. Having a pool of knowledge, ideas and interests that is as a broad as possible can surely only be a good thing.

Yet there are increasing calls to protect our historic culture and values by keeping ‘different’ people out.  This goes much deeper than mere (ill informed) protectionism around jobs and wealth.

Most people judge their worth by comparing themselves to others.  If others are judged to have achieved less  (on whatever criterion is most damning) they are clearly inferior.  They must be lazy, stupid, untrustworthy etc.  We see this in in society at large – increasingly the poor are seen as undeserving.  If my riches are down to my effort your poverty must be due to you being feckless.  It has to be your fault as it cannot possibly be mere luck or family ties (or old school ties) that made me successful.  Penniless immigrants washed up on the shores of Europe are not only poor but foreign and must be kept out at all costs. Never mind that they have the resourcefulness,courage and strength to undertake a massive, highly dangerous journey.

This then creates a real problem when we find someone has achieved more – that surely makes us lazy, stupid, feckless… Of course that can’t be right.  They are obviously undeserving of their success – they stole it, got lucky, had rich parents…  But above all else they are different and must be made to conform or be driven out of the tribe.  After all someone ‘better’ than me is a constant reminder of my shortcomings.

We are social animals.  In our evolutionary past remaining part of the tribe was a matter of life and death.  We have evolved to be conformists, to fit in and follow the strong leaders rather than risk being exposed as ‘different’ and face expulsion.

Many (in)famous experiments have shown how we conform even when we ‘know’ our actions are questionable.  Otherwise bright students gave obviously wrong answers to very simple questions when following the lead of the planted stooges.  Subjects gave what they believed to be potentially lethal electric shocks to others when instructed to do so by ‘authority’ figures.

And so those who feel they have achieved less than they desire attack those who threaten their cosy mediocrity by having the talent, skill, persistence and creativity to achieve success.  They also deride those who have achieved less, those who choose not to or can’t afford to wear the ‘right’ brands and those who are poor as they are an unwelcome reminder of what might have been. Others in the tribe soon join in – maybe too weak to start the the pogrom they are still eager to conform and join the mob.  Some may feel uneasy but make sure that they are seen to throwing their support behind the attacks for fear of being next.

In this connected world of social media these attacks and exclusions are no longer physical, hiding behind a smartphone they are easier to commit by the weak but are no less wounding for the victims.

It takes real strength to dare to stand out by being different.  It takes strength to champion high achievers and see them as aspirational role models rather than threats.  To discover what can be learnt from them instead of silencing them for fear of having your own accomplishments diminished shows a real desire to be the best you can be – not simply the top dog in a weak pack.

It takes equal strength and compassion to stand up for those who have less than us, to support and nurture them.  Help them to be the best they can be. It takes real humanity.

Despite the fact that our differences make us collectively stronger it takes real courage to stand up to the mob and declare support for difference.  When we understand that the mob attacks from a position of fear and weakness they become much less intimidating.

Ask yourself if you have gone along with the status quo and stood silently on the sidelines, supported the mob or even joined in the attack.  How good do you feel about that?

Baby when you hold me
I can feel so wrong
You’re trying to console me
Your chance has long gone
So baby won’t you take my hand?
So we can do what the others can
We are alive tonight, we are alive tonight

I am going home forever and ever more
No I was never born and there’s no such thing as home
We used to stand so strong
That’s why the others have gone

Different person, different argument
In my shadow, no more compliments
One more person breaking the rules again
I’m still waiting for someone else to join in

Stand where the others stand
We’re alive tonight
Land where the others land
We’re alive tonight

Biffy Clyro – Different People

Who’s got a match?

matchIslamic State are sweeping across the Middle East, Ebola rages across parts of Africa, there are signs we are headed for a global economic slowdown, climate change seems unstoppable, UKIP have an elected MP, I think I am getting a bit of a sniffle…I could go on.

Recently I found myself raging at the radio and television as crisis after crisis unfolds and our collective response appears to be inadequate yet again.  I know that anger is a useless emotion and hurling insults at politicians on the television only serves to increase my own stress levels (and make me appear more than slightly unhinged).  I know that simply feeling overcome with sadness for the victims of war, disease and poverty achieves precisely nothing other than upsetting my own emotional well being.

And yet it’s all so complicated and so overwhelming that there is nothing an individual can do, is there?

Thinking about this I was reminded of an old Quaker saying:

“It is better to light one small candle than rage against the darkness”.

Of course, but where is the candle? And who’s got a match?

Again an old favourite came to mind – Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encourages us to only focus on concerns that we have control over. He outlines the “circle of concerns” as all of the things that worry us – and then a smaller “circle of influence” (within the larger “circle of concerns”) that only contains things that we can actually control.
His point is that we should only spend our energy on stuff that we can do something about. Focus only on problems that lie within your “circle of influence.”

By attempting to address every “concern” your energy becomes dissipated and is wasted as you start to obsess over details and situations that are beyond your control. Ultimately, you achieve nothing.

Does this mean that we should do nothing about these complex global issues and ignore them?  I don’t believe so.  My personal view is that we should stop shouting at the television and instead identify some tangible actions, within our control.  Worried about global warming?  Then lobby your MP, drive less, invest in renewable energy.  Taking small actions is likely to expand your circle of influence, so you can take ever bigger steps.

Identifying and taking tangible actions an individual can take to address these huge issues is not always easy, but it beats impotent raging.

Now, who’s got a match?

Who’s got a match I’ve got the petrol to set it to
I know I shouldn’t have trusted you
It’s making me tense when you’re telling me
It’s just the facts that don’t compute the classic way
I guess I’m wrong again anyway

I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight
I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight…

Biffy Clyro – Who’s got a match?

Atmosphere

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Today the British Prime Minister dismissed the current concerns about smog over the UK saying :

“I didn’t go for my morning run this morning. I chose to do some work instead. You can feel it.  But it’s a naturally occurring weather phenomenon. It sounds extraordinary, Saharan dust, but that is what it is.”

Well that’s not entirely true is it?  The truth is that we have our own pollution created largely from burning of fuels which has built up due to a stable high pressure weather system.  This weather pattern then drew in polluted air from the continent.  To this toxic, but largely invisible (and so unnoticed) mix was added sand blown into the atmosphere by strong winds across the Sahara.  Only the last part of this is in any way natural.

We are told that as the weather shifts to the usual westerly direction the air will come from the Atlantic and be much cleaner, blowing the pollution away. Presumably to Europe, thus creating an export we should not be proud of.

Annually 29,000 die prematurely in the UK from air pollution. Globally the figure is 7 million according to the WHO. That’s more than Aids, smoking, road accidents and diabetes combined, and makes it the world’s single biggest environmental health risk. Whilst the combination of factors have created a highly visible ‘perfect storm’ in the UK the fact is that air quality falls below European standards regularly.  Yet there seems to be no action taken, indeed there have been criticisms of ‘over reaction’ levelled at climatologists.  When we are told not to exercise outside and children are kept indoors at school breaks I think it should make headline news.

With my coaching clients I often use Stephen Covey’s concept of circles of concern/influence, to which I add control.  Surely this is a matter over which, regardless of my concern I have little influence and no control.  On that analysis I would better spend my time on those things that I can control or influence.  Whether it is correctly attributable to Burke or not, it feels like the right time to use the quote

“All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”

I can influence by raising awareness and I can personally reduce my own trail of pollution.  With that in mind my wife went off to work on her trusty bike this morning – risking her own health to save adding to the toxic brew we call an atmosphere.

What can you do to make a difference, however small?

 

Walk in silence,
Don’t walk away, in silence.
See the danger,
Always danger,
Endless talking,
Life rebuilding,
Don’t walk away.

Atmosphere – Joy Division

 

Get on with your short life

There’s a huge amount being written at the moment about positivity.  And there seems to be a rising backlash against this.

The critique goes that it may well be possible to cultivate an attitude of acceptance.  It is indeed what it is.  Acceptance may take away the negative emotions but it does not change the situation for the better.

Certainly we can choose our mood and we can choose to be happy.  We can picture a future in which we are successful and feel very positive about ourselves.  Happily sitting and positively hoping for something to turn up may feel good but it is not going to create success.

Surely a dose of reality, a little suffering, acts as the motivation to take the necessary and possibly unpleasant steps to actually change things.

It is not possible to think yourself successful and people should ‘get real’.

I agree with the logic but not the conclusion.  A happy fool watching daytime TV dreaming of ‘making it big’ is not my idea of positivity.

My view of positivity says that accepting that ‘it is what it is’ takes away unnecessary suffering.  The issue still exists but we can stop the futility of worrying about it.  Thus in a calmer state we can seek to address the issue and if it is something we cannot change, we can move on.

My view of positivity says that if you accept that you are the cause of everything that happens to you, you become much calmer, more likely to make changes and are more agreeable to be with. If you choose your mood and choose happiness you are much more likely to engage positively with others.

If you have a positive goal you are much more likely to take action.  By putting images of future success in our timeline we are asking our unconscious mind to find ways to achieve the goal.

The key certainly is taking action. And I prefer to get on with my short life with a smile on my face rather than a grimace of pain.

You keep saying that one day things could
Be fabulous,
If only you had the right shoes, new
Clothes, the dream team doing your hair.
Why do you have to waste time on your
Waistline when you could be having
Dinner with me?
Will you really be the winner
If you’re thinner?
How can I make you see?

Get on with your short life,
Get on with this sweet precious time,
You know you’re only dreaming
So why don’t you wake up and get on
With your short life

You keep praying that some day things
Will be different
If you only had the right lips, killer hips,
A sun kissed permanent tan
But does it really matter if you’re fatter
Than everybody else on the screen
It’s more important to be truthful than just
Youthful on the cover of some magazine

Get on with your short life,
Get on with this sweet precious time,
You know you’re only dreaming
So why don’t you wake up and get on with
Your short life 

Brian Kennedy

All The Small Things

This morning I took the dog for our usual circuit.  He’s just been prescribed some new anti-inflammatory drugs for his arthritis and I was watching him closely to see if he was walking any easier.  He was very excitable and the reason soon became clear.  The remnants of someone’s takeaway were strewn around.  A few drinks cans, milkshake cartons, polystyrene boxes, chip papers and, for the dog, discarded chips and kebabs.

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http://litterheroes.co.uk/index.htm

I’d heard some cars racing around late last night and it looks like someone had used the quiet lane as a late night picnic spot, thrown the rubbish out of the car and then raced around the field.  All depressingly familiar.  Looking more closely it was clear that this was not a one off.  The area was covered in plastic bottles, cans, paper and plastic.  I particularly appreciated the way a number of drivers had emptied their ashtrays on the road.

Walking back towards home I met someone who also spotted the rubbish.  Their considered wisdom was that someone ought to do something about it.  It made them angry. The parents should bring their kids up better, they should be ashamed.  The authorities ought to stop it and clean it up.  Someone should report it.

All sentiments I could easily agree with.

I finished the walk, put the dog in the house (his rickety legs wouldn’t cope with a further walk), grabbed a pair of gardening gloves and a black sack, walked back to the spot and started collecting litter.  At first I felt vaguely embarrassed.  This soon passed.  It felt good. Certainly better than raging, anger is a useless emotion.  After 10 minutes I had filled my sack and made a big improvement both to the area and my mood.

The small things do make a difference.  And small acts of compassion make us stronger.

All the small things
True care, truth brings
I’ll take one lift
Your ride best trip

Blink-182

Time for Action

bmw-driving-at-night1

I’ve been noticing a lot of  articles, blog posts and tweets recently about taking action.  Possibly there are more such posts doing the rounds at the moment.  I think it is more likely that I am simply noticing them more.  Just like when you choose a new car in an unusual colour and you start seeing them everywhere, I am seeing calls to action.

A coaching client this week left me very frustrated at his lack of action.  He knows what he wants and he knows he has to act and still he does nothing.  Session after session. Then I found myself feeling the same emotions with a friend and with my family.  Whenever I find myself feeling such a strong reaction on separate occasions I ask myself whether I am simply seeing a reflection of myself.  What we react most to in others is often what we consciously or unconsciously see as our own shortcomings.

It isn’t anything major but there are a number of things I have found reasons to delay.  I have great reasons to delay of course – other things to do, waiting for other things to be in place, needing more clarity, needing inspiration, seeing what happens with this other stuff.

I am three quarters of the way through one piece of work and really just have the tidying up to do.  I just have two documents to produce, I know what the end result has to look like and I don’t see it as being difficult.  I can even see the way to start.  What I am struggling with is the bits in the middle.  I want to know the detail of the entire piece before I start.  That seems to be quite common, not just for me but for everyone.  Before we start out we want not just a plan but a detailed plan of each and every step.

That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Last night I picked my daughter up after her dance class.  As usual it was late evening and this session was held in a small village out of town.  The route home was along quiet, unlit, twisting country roads.  With a cloudy sky it was very dark and the car headlights threw out a small cone of light into which we sped.

I knew where I was going but outside that small cone of light all was darkness.  At no time could I see more than a few hundred metres ahead and yet as expected we arrived home with no drama.  I didn’t insist on the entire route being clearly lit and made visible from my start point before driving off.

That would be stupid, right?

Not having a plan is planning to fail and not taking action is daydreaming.

It feels like this is the time for action.

Standing in the shadows,
Where the in-crowd meet
We’re all dressed up for the evening
We hate the punk elite (who are the punk elite?)
So take me to your leader
Because its time you realised…

That this is the time
This is the time for action (time for action)
This is the time to be seen (time to be seen)
This is the time for action
Time to be seen

Dave Cairns (Secret Affair)

P.S.  I’m not perfect – I wrote this instead of the piece I was really meant to write…