Aug2019: What Are You Committed To? – Part II

by Brad on July 31, 2019

 “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” – Greek Proverb

Resolving the “big challenges” of our times invites “big commitment” – commitment to the greatest capacities of human consciousness: integrity, respect, compassion, dialogue, critical thinking, personal responsibility, shared belief in the possibility we represent. Last month explored how divisiveness, deception, denial and denigration of others have crept into our world, threatening the very process on which resolution of big challenges depends. This month: creating a positive personal path, a path of self-trust, through life’s uncertainty and negativity.

You’ve no doubt had a taste of the shift needed here … back to our innate humanness. Recall a heavy argument you may have had with someone. There were probably times when you felt hopeless or angry, as if you were on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon yelling at each other. With such a divide between you, it’s tough to reach out the hand of love or peace. Yet as you do (and only when you do), resolution becomes possible.

This journey to possibility is available to you for “big stuff,” too. Your contribution may feel small, but deception, denial and entitlement can’t stand the bright light of humanness; they survive only as long as bullies are allowed to keep peddling them. For our part, “allowing” comes when we are either complacent or complicit. Gandhi once said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” This means, among other things, that we can’t take on tactics “they” use – anger, force, denial, judgment – for this leaves us complicit with what we wish to change. It means we can’t isolate ourselves as “they” do – hiding from public scrutiny, human connection and meaningful conversation – for this leaves us complacent. So, what path can be effective and offer us peace?

Change happens from the inside out. It begins with a meaningful relationship with yourself, followed by meaningful relationships with others. Both take time; yet we claim we have no time. Perhaps this is how we mistake connecting (which is technological) with relating (which is human) … then wonder why life feels empty. As a step toward connecting with self, last month’s exercise suggested getting to know how you respond today to our big issues. That awareness alone can open you to your innate capacity for curiosity, question and learning – the building blocks of critical thinking. And perhaps a bit of a leap here (at least until you experience it yourself), but self-awareness and curiosity lead directly to your humanness – compassion, respect, integrity, collaboration, shared belief in possibility. How? Just start to ask questions – of yourself, of others, of everything.

Questions carry power, perhaps the kind Gandhi meant in “being the change.” Powerful questions aren’t riddled with judgment; they’re about learning, the foundation of critical thinking. Here are some to get you started:

  • Does it make sense to me that a passionate, painstaking search for truth would yield a refusal to dialogue about it?
  • Does it make sense to me that denigration of others is valid evidence that they’re wrong (or worse, bad people)?
  • Does it make sense to me that bold, new possibility to benefit all of humanity comes from unilateral declaration?
  • Does it make sense to me that one event or one piece of data can negate years of scientific research and learning?
  • Does it make sense to me that the louder and more belligerent the voice, the greater the likelihood of its truth?
  • Does it make sense to me that they’ve “done everything possible” there’d not be a shred of evidence for it?
  • Does it make sense to me that if 49% of the population is upset by a solution that it represents unity and agreement?
  • Does it make sense to me that an issue is truly resolved to the benefit of all if I’m left in abject fear of what’s next?
  • Does it make sense to me that “my rights” have to be violated just so they can be entitled to “their rights?”

To answer these questions has little value; answers are easy. Learning to ask them (then be with them a while) evokes awareness and curiosity, which leads you to clearer, more objective thinking. This shifts your consciousness … toward self-trust. To trust yourself allows you to (as I heard at a friend’s wedding recently)“find tolerance for prejudices, reverence for the beauties, and respect for the truths you encounter as you go forward.”

Exercise:  Negativity is draining because our often-unconscious reaction is one of hopelessness, and sometimes anger. While the emotions themselves are natural, our common reactions to them take us nowhere, hence the drain. The ideas presented here are aimed at offering a path beyond that hopelessness, a path that invites growing your self-awareness (something you are 100% free to choose). When you see yourself and others more clearly and objectively, you feel more constructive in the face of negativity.

As you learn to see with greater clarity and objectivity, you also see what so many of the naysayers miss – that life, and the world, are uncertain by design. We can’t know everything. This awareness allows us to stop pretending we have to, and it allows us to peacefully embrace the beauty that uncertainty offers in our lives. As I read recently, “certainty is a product of a bad education, not a good one.”

You need not be a scientist to respond effectively to fake “science.” You need not be a lawyer to know when you have been lied to. You need not be a mathematician to know when the data doesn’t “sound right.” You need only become curious. Awareness plus curiosity re-connects you with your innate power of self-trust. That’s why the questions posed above might become the basis of everyday practice. “Be open, but question everything” as the Ruiz’s say in The Fifth Agreement. This is the “good” kind of skepticism, the kind that opens us to conversation.

So, when things don’t make sense or when negativity yells back at you for asking big questions, yes, it is a signal. But it’s not a signal to shrink back into complacence. It’s a signal that you’re on to something. Keep going. You don’t have to have all the answers; chances are, no one does, simply because they don’t exist. It’s the questions that lead us where we need to go. Keep asking.


Life lessons from nature: I’ve written before about feedback in nature. The phenomenon of feedback offers a goldmine of possibility for our lives, too … if we could learn to listen. Feedback is a natural information flow that is inherent to all living systems. (Yes, that means us, too.) Whatever is happening in nature – whether it’s a river carving a canyon, a tree drawing water from the soil, a woodpecker looking for bugs in a tree, a hurricane approaching land, or any of us living our lives – there is an exchange of information between the two parts, information to help guide “what comes next.” That’s why nature doesn’t have goals, agendas, project plans, management teams or external measurements. It doesn’t need them! The “answers” to nature’s questions are embedded in the experience of the process. If the rock is in the way of the river’s natural flow, the river finds another path. There’s no “edit” to the plan, no summit meeting, no judgment that something went wrong. Nature’s path is made by walking it; each step reveals all she needs to know in order to take the next one. This is why there are no “issues” in nature. Everything just is. It’s curious to me why we make life so difficult for ourselves, mainly by planning how it’s all going to work out, then complaining about why it didn’t … when all we need to know about what comes next is already in the experience of what’s happening right here, right now. We need only listen.

The products of our educational system have always “told us” how that system is working, and exactly where the failings are. The results of our health care systems have always “told us” what’s working well, and where we need to pay attention to changes. Continued data breaches have long “told us” where we’ve failed in our designs. Our planet has always “told us” the impacts of the choices we make. The issue is not the flow of information. It’s inherent in the experience. It’s called feedback. The issue is our willingness to listen. As long as we believe we know more, and believe it’s up to us to force our way to a “better answer,” we risk missing this most reliable, valid and meaningful source of guidance. No other creature in nature, despite perhaps more limited capacities and lesser life “challenges,” fails to listen to its environment. Every event in nature is the “result” of a process in touch with its environment … except, it seems, how we humans tend to live our lives. My common “summary” of all this: even a chipmunk knows not to poop in its kitchen.


Book of the month: Alone Together, why we expect more from technology and less from each other, by Sherry Turkle.  There’s probably ample evidence here, in both last month’s article and this one, that even the most caring and aware of us can lapse into that place of “hiding” with such easy access to technology. Following on last month’s book recommendation, Sherry digs more deeply into the perils [that accompany the admitted advantages] of our technological world, opening us to the often-lost potential and innate wonder of our humanness. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.


Download August 2019 pdf


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