Jul2019: What Are You Committed To? – Part I

by Brad on July 1, 2019

“Our job is to excavate the unsaid. That requires courage and vulnerability.” – Brené Brown

Resolving big challenges means making big commitments. Collectively, we certainly have plenty of challenges – as individuals, families, communities, nations, world. Examples: stewardship of our planet, excellence in public education, access to quality health care, information security. Each is wildly complex. None has an easy answer. Yet despite complexity, chaos, uncertainty and much bad information, there’s still a lot each of us can contribute. [This month: the dilemma. Next month: creating a personal path of peace through life’s uncertain territory.]

Meaningful resolution to any of these requires two kinds of big commitment: (1) collaboration across our many institutions, disciplines, even divides – scientific, political, technological, economic, ethical, legal. (2) adopting a [rather daunting] set of crucial human capacities: personal integrity; respect and compassion for others; critical thinking; dialogue; passionate and objective search for possibility; acceptance of life’s complexity and our inherent not-knowingness; evidence-based decision-making; shared belief in something bigger than ourselves; care for the world inherited by our grandchildren. (Note: none of these belong only to the privileged or intellectual.)

Yet evidence suggests there’s a trend today that’s taking us in a direction opposite of that needed for both kinds of commitment – a trend toward divisiveness, judgment, deception, personal entitlement, self-aggrandizement and denial. It’s a trend toward acceptance of two thinly-veiled beliefs: that personal opinion counts as evidence, and that denigration of others constitutes valid and effective display of power. Not sure about you, but I see yelling, denial of others and refusal to dialogue as sources of weakness, not power. (Maybe it’s because “truth” doesn’t need to yell, and it doesn’t need to divide others; it simply is.)

What’s behind this trend? Many possibilities, but likely culprits include: (1) a fear-based need for a strong sense of self in a growingly chaotic, uncertain world; (2) a ‘by-product’ of technology that says communication need not involve human connection; (3) problems so complex that we can’t know enough … so we feel compelled to pretend we do; (4) an omnipresent internet that makes it easy to both spout off and hide at the same time, again avoiding human connection. Together, however, these point to an increasingly isolated sense of self, one that is actually weaker, not stronger, and far less effective rather than more (remember: nonsense, whether repeated ad nauseam or at high volume, doesn’t become truth.) This emerging fabric of reality is both sad and disturbing. While it may give a few opinion-mongers and wanna-be “experts” their day in the limelight, it obfuscates the potential for sharing of rich (even divergent) views, the possibility of meaningful discourse, and the hope for a world in which all of us might live.

So, where does all this leave you and me? Well, for one, it’s easy to feel hopeless (or angry) in the midst of the turmoil. Yet there’s a far more positive path. It depends not on trying to know more (so you can argue more effectively), but simply on becoming aware of how you see and think about the issues today. Your awareness alone can help you “show up in the world” with your humanness and its capacity for collaboration and dialogue, rather than by fueling the divisiveness so prevalent in our world today. Your opinion in the matter means far less than the thinking you used to formulate your opinion. And you don’t have to be a scientist, a lawyer or a politician to make a contribution to the big issues of our time. Responding with awareness and critical thinking, you take a huge step toward preventing deception, denial and judgment to become the new norm.

And this, from a recent publication of the Institute for Noetic Sciences (IONS), a research and educational center founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell exploring the intersection between science and human experience: “As we celebrate the 50thanniversary of the first moonwalk, we recognize that it is time again for humanity to make an unprecedented moonshot. This one is not “out there” but inside ourselves. The world is ready for, and in urgent need of, a Copernican-scale shift in consciousness. One that leads us toward taking care of ourselves, each other, and our beautiful planet. And one that activates our human potential and extends our circle of compassion.”

Exercise: From this month’s book recommendation: “The case for conversation begins with the necessary conversations of solitude and self-reflection. They are endangered: these days, always connected, we see loneliness as a problem that technology should solve. Afraid of being alone, we rely on other people to give us a sense of ourselves, and our capacity for empathy and relationship suffers. We see the costs of the flight from conversation everywhere: conversation is the cornerstone for democracy and in business it is good for the bottom line. In the private sphere, it builds empathy, friendship, love, learning, and productivity.”

An opening to more human, and more effective, conversations is to learn to have more effective connection with yourself. Because as you learn to rely on yourself instead of others, you’re building those crucial human capacities needed to head off the deception and divisiveness so detrimental a world inhabitable by all of us. A familiar suggestion by now, but the power of simple awareness here is far undervalued, and largely misunderstood. The simple act of noticing your own perspective and thinking helps to create both personal peace as well as a shift in your perspective and thinking – toward more inclusivity and connectedness.

Take a moment to reflect. Choose one of life’s “big issues,” either from the article or from your own experience. How do you relate with this issue? This doesn’t mean what you think about it. It doesn’t mean if you agree or disagree. It doesn’t mean what you say you do or say you care about. It’s about “how you actually show up in the world” when this issue is at hand. Examples: Perhaps you’ve consciously committed yourself to constructive conversations. Perhaps you’re acting unconsciously, out of an unexamined belief or assumption. Perhaps you’re ignoring it all, hoping it will “just go away.” Perhaps you like stirring the pot. Perhaps you’re just tired of hearing about the arguments.  One of the curious things about “how you show up” is that it’s 100% visible. (If you walk away from an issue, it’s visible. If you ask big questions in the interest of learning, it’s visible. If you hold strong opinions yet refuse conversation, it’s visible. So for now … reflect on where you stand; about how you show up in the world. No judgment; just awareness. And this is not about having a “position” on an issue; it’s about exploring how you, as a human being, relates to the significant forces affecting our lives and times.

I’m not advocating what’s right or wrong, (only you know what’s right for you), but rather the significance of becoming consciously aware (better, consciously choosing) the kind of relationship you have with any issue that touches your life. A conscious connection leaves you with far more personal power and resilience in the face of life’s chaos than any form of “not knowing.”


Life lessons from nature:When I hike in the mountains, I’m emotionally held by the connection I feel with the land. Wilderness is compelling: I’m enveloped by nature’s jewels – rich earth, soft mosses, maples and hemlocks, a rushing stream, a waterfall. I hear birds singing, leaves rustling in the breeze, a splashing waterfall growing louder as I approach. At the summit, however, my world changes. My focus moves from the close-at-hand to the big picture; from the peak I see a much larger world. It was always there, but now it emerges into view. What captivates me here is relationship. I see forests instead of trees. I see the way the rivers cut and sculpted the land, and how mountains and valleys coalesce to create the tapestry we call landscape. I realize it’s not just the “stuff” of nature that holds meaning and beauty. The relationships among the parts of the whole open up new possibilities. When I’m walking in the woods, I may want to save a butterfly in its seemingly risky journey across my path. But when I’m at the summit, I want to save landscapes, to cherish how it all fits together, to imagine how it was all created, and to wonder what possibilities may come next.


Book of the month: Reclaiming Conversation, The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle.  Student and scholar both, Sherry explores how technology distances us from ourselves. We’ve deluded ourselves by seeing a digital connection as “human conversation,” and then use that as support for not revealing our true self. This has a strong appeal; uncomfortable as we are with ourselves and our own silence, we can now be “loud” (online) and avoid both the discomfort and the scrutiny. The good news: conversation cures. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.


Download July 2019 pdf

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeffrey July 1, 2019 at 6:08 pm

Hi Brad,
Just finished your July The Road Not Taken. Wonderfully rich in hope; insightful and challenging.

Thank you for all,


Arianna Alexsandra Collins July 8, 2019 at 3:52 pm

WOW! YES! Right on!


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