Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited

It was October of 2013 when I wrote the post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy. While the post is an anchor post, there are a few things that deserve some clarification. (If you’ve not read it yet, now would be a good time, since the rest of this post builds on what is there.)

First, I failed to adequately express that trust leads to perceived safety that allows vulnerability. It was one of the places where I had the curse of knowledge (see The Art of Explanation for more). To be vulnerable, we need to feel safe. This is the primary concern that I have about Amy Edmonson’s work as described in The Fearless Organization. The premise is that you can make a psychologically safe organization, and therefore everyone will be courageous and bring their whole selves. There are so many external factors that influence your feeling of safety that I can’t accept this conclusion. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make our organizations more psychologically safe. I am saying I think it’s not enough. I believe that Brown’s work on helping individuals to be more whole themselves is also required. (See I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness for more.)

Second, though the post explains that trust isn’t a single thing and that trust and trustworthiness are often confused, it doesn’t go far enough to explain the nuances of trust. Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order goes further in explaining how the focus of trust can both be shaped and itself shape entire societies.

Third, in my discussion of vulnerability, there was an underlying current of appropriate vulnerability. But I never clearly articulated that, when it comes to psychological vulnerability, there are some who’ve not earned the right to hear your story. Vulnerability needs to be earned through trust built on the backs of smaller disclosures. John Gottman in The Science of Trust explains that there are bids for attention, and these bids make a big difference. The way we make ourselves vulnerable to others is with small bids for them to build trust. They’re an opportunity for us to take an appropriate risk to see if the other person is worthy of trust.

The Relationship Between Trust and Vulnerability

It’s a catch-22. You must have trust to be vulnerable. You must be vulnerable to build trust. From a single, causal perspective, there’s no good solution. One requires the other. The trick is that it’s a systems thinking problem, not direct line causality. We’re taught to think in a single-iteration causal kind of way. We’re not taught to think about things that influence success. (See The Halo Effect for more.) We fail to realize that we don’t have positive control, we have degrees of influence on the outcome. Trust leads to more vulnerability and vulnerability leads to more trust – in the general sense.

Systems thinking gives us the second part of the solution for this conundrum. Systems are iterative. They keep going, and the outputs feed back into the inputs. The language of systems thinking is stocks and flows. We have a storehouse (stock) of trust that can cause us to be more vulnerable (a flow), and the outcome of that vulnerability – when it’s honored – is greater trust. If you want to learn more about systems thinking, see Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Though The Fifth Discipline popularized the idea of systems thinking, Thinking in Systems is more complete coverage.

Bringing these concepts together is Gary Klein’s work about the mental models that we use to make decisions – including decisions like whether we should be vulnerable or not. What Klein discovered was that people build mental models in their heads. They simulate situations and decide on courses of actions based on those simulations. (See Seeing What Others Don’t and Sources of Power for more.)

When we make the decision to be vulnerable, we make that decision based on the probability that our vulnerability, and therefore trust, will be rewarded or we will be betrayed. The more that our trust is rewarded with a correct prediction – and we’re not betrayed – the more our model will predict that trust is the right answer.

Building Trust with Ourselves

An important aspect of trust is how we trust ourselves. The degree to which we trust ourselves influences how much we trust others and the degree of safety that we feel and therefore how willing we are to be vulnerable. Everyone has some degree of mistrust of themselves. Some trust themselves more and some less, but everyone has some level of doubt.

Like any form of trust, trust is contextual. You may trust yourself to get to work on time, but you may not trust yourself to forgo the chocolate cake for dessert. Your trust – or lack of trust – for yourself will influence how you trust others. It’s often been observed that we get the most frustrated with others for the things that we ourselves struggle with. Our goal is to increase trust with ourselves so that we don’t burden our trust of others with our lack of trust for ourselves.

Commitments

The way to build trust is to create and meet – or renegotiate – commitments. This applies to our relationships with others and with ourselves. If we find that we’re not meeting our commitments to ourselves, we’ll begin to trust ourselves less. (See Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet for more.) It may seem odd to be making commitments to ourselves, but we do it all the time – we just don’t do it formally.

We say, “I’ll take the trash out in the morning” or “I’ll find time for me (self-care) tomorrow.” When we don’t do these things, we reduce our self-trust. It’s natural to have some degree of forgetfulness, and that’s why self-acceptance is important. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on acceptance.) However, you can’t put all the cards in the acceptance basket. We must find ways to improve our ability to meet our commitments to ourselves (and to others as well).

For probably a decade now, I’ve had a reminder on my phone to take out the trash Wednesday at 6:30 AM. Generally speaking, I know I’ll be awake, and I know the trashmen don’t come until at least 8AM. The result is that I don’t have to worry about meeting my commitment to take the trash out. In fact, I don’t even make this commitment to myself anymore. It doesn’t even come up, because I’ve got a system to support it.

I don’t have a reminder system to support my self-care. However, with exceptions for temporary situations, I generally make time for self-care. I’ll forgo it to support a sick child or if I need to help a friend. However, since I typically meet the commitments that I make to myself, I’ve got more than enough acceptance to believe that I’ll resume my self-care soon. Often, I’ll renegotiate to “I’ll find some time for me (self-care) next week.” Given the level of trust I already have, it’s easy enough to accept the renegotiation.

Bad Commitments

I’ve worked with some friends who have struggled with a self-trust that is very low. Many have come from the depths of addiction and have made so many commitments to themselves about what they’ll abstain from – and they find they cannot – so they relapse. The most challenging issue isn’t that others have lost their trust of a friend or loved one impacted by the relapse. The most challenging issue is the fact that they’ve lost trust in themselves. They’ve developed learned helplessness, or they’ve lost their sense of control (or hope). (See The Hope Circuit for more.)

The climb out of this spot is long and hard. Twelve-step programs start by admitting there is a problem, admitting that the person is not capable of saving themselves, and, more importantly, that someone can. (See Why and How 12-Step Groups Work for more.) The first two steps seem like they’re tearing down the person’s sense of hope – and, to some extent, that’s true. They’re there to ensure that the person is ready to address their addiction. The third step externalizes the hope that things will get better. This transfers the weight of correcting the situation externally and allows the addict to focus on being themselves. By believing that someone or something else can help you, you can regain the hope you’ve lost.

For an addict to claim that they’re not going to relapse, without support, is wishful thinking. At the point that they’ve identified themselves as an addict, they’ve already demonstrated it doesn’t work. When they make that commitment, they’re making one they’ll miss – and further erode their trust. That’s one reason why addicts make commitments for the day. “Today, I won’t drink” is a powerful commitment. It is more likely to work, because it’s not forever. Even when there is a relapse, the addict can retain some level of trust, effectively saying, “Of the 365 commitments I’ve made not to drink over the last year, I’ve only missed the commitment twice.”

Still some commitments are bad commitments to make. Commitments made from reason – like New Year’s Resolutions – that must be carried out by our emotions and willpower aren’t the best choices. You can frame this from the point of view that our willpower is an exhaustible resource, which frequently fails when we’re tired or hungry, or from the idea that our emotions are in control. (See Willpower for more on willpower and The Happiness Hypothesis for the fact that our emotions are in control). Either way, making commitments to yourself that you’re likely to not meet won’t help to build self-trust.

Commitments and Trust

To proceed through trust, vulnerability, and intimacy, we must first practice with ourselves. We must trust ourselves – and that means meeting our commitments to ourselves, whether they’re made explicitly or implicitly. We must learn to accept ourselves and recognize and accept our vulnerability, because we’re all vulnerable in one way or another. All of this is so that we can know ourselves more and more. (For more on knowing ourselves, see my thoughts on integrated self-image in Rising Strong, Schools without Failure, Compelled to Control, and Beyond Boundaries. Also, see my thoughts on stable core in How to Be Yourself, Dialogue, and Resilient.)

Ultimately, as social creatures, we yearn for connection to others. To connect with others, we need to first connect with ourselves. The path that we use to find our way to others is one that we must first travel alone.

Step, Step, Click

I have never been in a literal mine field, and I’m not anxious to explore the opportunity. However, like all humans, I feel like sometimes I’m wandering around a field of emotional landmines. I can’t predict what will set someone else off – or what I can do about it. The truth is that others have the same experience with me. A well-intended comment can set me off if it touches a landmine from my past.

Landmines of the Past

Landmines are leftovers from long-forgotten hurts. It’s the time that you got yelled at, belittled, or felt shame. Those things, while buried underneath the usual pleasantries, are there just waiting to be stepped on, so that they can be unleashed.

We can, sometimes, diffuse or partially diffuse these situations. I know, for instance, that I react very negatively to stonewalling. (See The Science of Trust for more on what stonewalling is.) I react when people suggest that others need to be on anti-depressants for the rest of their lives. (See Choice Theory for more of my views on this.) Both examples are despite a great deal of work and earnest attempts to mitigate the response.

I’ve addressed the obvious ways that these reactions surface. It’s not like I don’t know I’m sensitized to stonewalling. It’s that I don’t realize situations that will set off a reaction. Our children being coy about what they’re doing or who they’re going out with can set it off – though not so much anymore. It seems like every few months there’s a new dimension of hurt that I didn’t quite address.

Flags on the Landmines

The first step to preventing an explosion in yourself is to know clearly where the landmines are. Clearly, I’ve managed to locate a few of mine. I know, at least to some degree, what some of my landmines are. Discovering your emotional landmines isn’t easy, but it does require some honest assessment of your previous responses. The easiest way to find landmines is by looking at the craters that they create.

When was the last time you flew off the handle or lost control? Those are your clues for where the landmines may be. The more challenging step is trying to identify what in the situation set you off. We’ve all been told we’re stupid – but what about that situation was different? We’ve all been subjected to unrealistic expectations, but why did this circumstance cause you to blow your stack?

To find the exact location of the landmine – so we can mark it and be careful about avoiding it – we must move from the generic to the specific. We’ve got to find similar situations where we didn’t get triggered. The funny thing about emotional landmines is that they generally have a very narrow exposure pattern. It takes something very similar to the original hurt to set them off. If you feel like you’re getting triggered by many things, then perhaps you’re not dealing with one emotional landmine but several.

Waning Willpower

To find the key characteristics that triggered us and separate them from those that aren’t important, we have to recognize the distorting influence that our willpower can have. It’s quite possible that you were fuming underneath your breath because you were triggered by something, but at that particular moment, your willpower was high, and therefore your ability to control yourself was more than enough. While it’s great that you maintained your cool, it’s important to recognize that you won’t always have a high degree of willpower.

Willpower is an exhaustible – and replenishable – resource. You’ll naturally have more sometimes and less others. In our quest to find triggers, we can’t ignore that sometimes someone will step on an emotional landmine, and you’ll contain it with your willpower. Other times, even getting near the landmine will set it off, because you have precious little willpower left. (See Willpower for more.)

You can’t eliminate yourself and your level of willpower when trying to differentiate between the times when you were triggered and lost it and those where you did not. It’s entirely possible that the only difference was willpower – and you can’t always depend on willpower.

Disarming Landmines

The beautiful thing about identifying landmines specifically is that you can sometimes go back and work through the hurt that created the landmine in the first place. If you’re sensitive to stonewalling – like I am – you can work on revisiting the situations that created this sensitivity and recharacterizing them or seeking to better understand them.

Albert Bandura became famous with his work to desensitize patients of their phobias. (See Moral Disengagement for more of his work.) He’d take someone with a paralyzing fear and progressively move them through greater and greater degrees of safe exposure to the thing that they were afraid of. We can use the same approach with our emotional landmines. We find safe ways to explore the space that would historically set us off.

Safety

The difficult part is to understand how to be safe as we’re dealing with sensitive issues. Often, we find ourselves reliving parts of our lives where we were vulnerable, and people took advantage of us. We find ourselves temporarily trapped in our former selves. This can be a scary experience. However, the truth is that we know we’ll make it out of the situation – because we already have.

Safety, we find, is a perception. It’s not reality. We feel safe driving our cars and unsafe on an airplane, but statistically speaking, our car is a substantially riskier activity. As we’re dealing with landmines, we want to place ourselves in circumstances and surroundings that are most likely to create the perception of safety. It’s the safety that will allow us to get closer to the original fear or hurt that created the landmine, so we can remove it.

Other’s Landmines

While we may not be able to anticipate others’ landmines, we can create safety for them, so that they can have a greater chance of dealing with their landmines – and prevent us from getting caught up in it.

Book Review-An Appeal to the World: The Way to Peace in a Time of Division

I’m no stranger to the Dalai Lama’s writings and conversations. An Appeal to the World: The Way of Peace in a Time of Division didn’t fundamentally shift my understanding of his point of view. However, it did give me a chance to reflect on some of the positions that I’ve observed through his writings.

This is a short book. It is only 128 pages in its printed form. As a result, there isn’t much to say – nor many notes from me to pull from in writing this review. The good news is if you’re looking for a quick read to understand the Dalai Lama’s position on peace in general, this can be a place to start

Internal Peace

You cannot give what you do not have. It’s a simple axiom. It stands to reason, then, that if you want to give the world peace, then you have to have peace yourself. We’ll never convince our world to resolve its differences if we can’t resolve our differences with other people. We can’t hope to find forgiveness and acceptance if we’re not willing to practice it ourselves.

To create peace in the world, we need to first create peace in ourselves. We must learn to let go of anger and hate. We need to learn how to cultivate understanding, acceptance, and compassion.

The Path to Peace

Finding world peace has become a cliché that’s used in movies and pop culture to represent an unobtainable goal. On a personal level, many people believe that they’ve got a pathway to peace. They believe that they have figured out the one answer to inner peace.

In a sense, I’m sure they have. They’ve figured out their way to their inner peace. They’ve found the perfect recipe that leads them to calm. However, if you’ve ever been to a chili cookoff, you probably know there is more than one path to great food, and the same is the case with inner peace.

Just like there are some common ingredients in chili – no matter what the recipe – there are some common components in the cultivation of inner peace.

  • Patience – The patience to accept that not everything happens in the present moment.
  • Detachment – Recognizing the impermanence of life and how everything has a time – and how we don’t control outcomes, we only influence them.
  • Acceptance – Reality is what it is. People are who they are. We’re not going to directly change those facts, and to attempt to do so denies the fundamental reality of the world.
  • Empathy – Our ability to connect with others is hard-wired into us. When we “understand this about you,” we connect with others and align more fully to the way we are created.
  • Compassion – Compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of another, which, obviously, requires empathy. But it goes further and recognizes that we’ve become the dominant life form on the planet by helping each other.

The techniques that are used to include these ingredients together may be meditation or something else, but these components make up the core of any good path towards inner peace.

Our Better Selves

If the goal is greater world peace, and that comes through greater inner peace, then all that is left is how to cultivate that in everyone. The list above are a set of characteristics or states that lead to peace in each of us. However, what are the paths to these?

In most of the world – particularly the Western world – education is focused on the technical, logical, and rational endeavors of the mind. While we recognize that we’re an embodied cognition that includes both rational and emotional components, for the most part, we train and skill ourselves in only those things which we can touch and measure.

That’s why the Dalai Lama suggests that we need education of the heart.

Education of the heart

So, what is education of the heart? What is it that we’d teach? A list from the book appears below – with my descriptions:

  • Love – Most of the time, it appears that the intent is loving kindness, or the Greek word agape used for God’s love or universal love. Love comes naturally to humans, but in many people, it is snuffed out or reduced to embers that don’t resemble the burning fire that we start with.
  • Compassion – As mentioned above, this is the desire to alleviate someone else’s suffering. At times, the Dalai Lama has appeared to use the words love and compassion interchangeably.
  • Justice – What is right for everyone isn’t always easy to see. Learn to see another’s point of view and accept a need to find a solution for all.
  • Forgiveness – This is letting go of the hurt that someone has caused you; without allowing it to continue is essential to prevent the escalation of violence.
  • Carefulness – Here, I might use the word “mindfulness.” It’s simply paying attention to what you’re doing and caring how that would impact others.
  • Tolerance – Another word might be “acceptance.” Allowing other people to be who they are if they’re not harming you.
  • Peace – Not a singular thing but a set of things that result in an undisturbed mind.

You can’t test the results of education of the heart with a standardized test. You don’t ever arrive at completion, but perhaps if we can educate the heart, we can answer the Dalai Lama’s Appeal to the World.

Book Review-A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

If you start a list of the people who are the most concerned with the welfare of everyone on our planet, names like Mother Theresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama are certain to make the list. In A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World, we get a deeper look into what the world might be like if the Dalai Lama got what he believes is best for us.

Our Responsibility

The vision starts with our responsibility to our fellow humans and to the fragile planet on which we live. Historically, we might have been able to delude ourselves into the belief that we are not all connected to one another. We could believe that our actions didn’t impact others and theirs didn’t impact us. However, in the last century, we’ve conquered travel and communications and made remote destruction all the more possible. We’ve learned about our delicate ecosystems and how changes in one part of the planet have ripple effects everywhere else.

Despite the reality of our world today, we continue to believe that we’re the center of the universe. The sun and universe don’t just revolve around the Earth but around me personally – or so we think. The self-centered, ego-centric view isn’t new or unexpected, but it is harmful. Through self-reflection and developing compassion for our fellow man, we can break the bonds that have us all – to one degree or another – thinking first from ourselves and then to others.

In the Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod demonstrates how, historically, cooperation tended towards better results. A Force for Good speaks of the research of Kiley Hamlin. Children show an affinity for shapes that “helped” other shapes in a simple movie; even before their second year, they’ll show generosity.

So, while there’s a natural tendency towards self-centeredness, there is a counter-balancing force towards cooperation, collaboration, compassion, and even altruism.

Thinking About Feelings

One of my all-time favorite learnings is the idea that anger is disappointment directed. Why is this such a pivotal learning? It’s simple. Anger is a frightening emotion that many have been told isn’t safe or acceptable. (See How Emotions Are Made for some thoughts on the emotion itself.) However, converting anger to disappointment makes it safer. It’s safer to deal with disappointment than anger, because it’s not so burdened by the judgements that others layer upon it.

When teaching conflict resolution, the idea that anger is disappointment directed is always at the core, because it allows people to convert anger into something that they can process. They can assess who they’re disappointed in – whether that’s someone else or themselves. Further, they can evaluate whether the disappointment is realistic or not.

Basically, the transition here is the ability to think through a feeling to understand how it is formed. It’s not that any emotion is bad. It’s only that we gain the ability to contemplate our feelings when we have a framework for taking them apart and examining them.

We are encouraged to review our wisdom and our hidden assumptions; however, as a part of our path towards an integrated self-image (see Rising Strong part 1 and Beyond Boundaries for more on having an integrated self-image), I believe we should also consider examining our emotions to understand them – but not necessarily to change them. I mentioned in my review of The Book of Joy that it’s relatively easy to address perspectives, and this can lead to changing emotions.

Destructive Anger

In Destructive Emotions, there is a long discussion about the possibility of afflictive (destructive) compassion and non-afflictive (non-destructive) anger. The conversation includes the Dalai Lama saying that anger (translated from khongdro) is, by definition, afflictive. The example given is anger at someone who isn’t listening to you, yelling out to them to stop – because they’re about to harm themselves by walking off a cliff.

I think that here, I believe there are multiple things going on – as the discussion in the book says. I believe that there is a compassion to help the other person, which is good. I think there is then also an anger at yourself for being unable to stop the harm. Let me unpack that a bit. So, there’s a belief that your yelling out to them has the capacity to impact the outcome. You expect that it will. When you fail to be effective, you’re disappointed at your lack of efficacy and therefore angry – at yourself. This anger is then displaced to the other party, because your ego thinks it silly to be angry at yourself when you’re demonstrating compassion. Here, we get to anger through compassion – but not really. We get to anger through the gap between our expectations of our power to change others and the inability to accomplish that.

It is possible that the Dalai Lama is right that there is no anger that is non-afflictive; however, I do believe that sometimes it’s necessary to cause action and provide the energy necessary to make change happen.

Buddhism – Religion or Philosophy

In an interesting turn for the religious leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama seemed unconcerned as to whether others considered Buddhism a religion or a philosophy. “If,” he concluded, “you consider Buddha as a buddha, okay. But if you consider him a philosopher, a teacher, a social theorist, or a scientist—that’s okay too.” In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama commends on Gandhi’s response when asked if he was a Hindu: “Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” The book finishes with, “We were looking for human truth, and we would drink from the cup of wisdom from whatever source it came.”

For me, it’s easier to accept Buddha as a philosopher and a teacher. It’s easier to see him as someone who struggled through his thoughts to find a path that was better than those around him.

Compassion and Burnout

The Dalai Lama has some of the best conversations with folks. He gets to have conversations with leading scientists and luminaries who study our inner states through modern technology and time-honored meditative practices. A focus of his has been the development of compassion, both personally and for the entire world.

Compassion and burnout seem miles apart. Compassion is about a desire to alleviate the suffering of others, and burnout is the experience of having been consumed, to be depleted of resources. It intuitively makes no sense that a desire to help others – and, presumably, expend additional effort to reach that goal – could possibly insulate and protect someone from the effects of burnout. Despite this distance and lack of intuitive sense, it appears possible that the very contemplative development of compassion may have some role in protecting individuals from burnout.

Transparency and Trust

There is a degree of trust in the development of compassion. We trust that our fellow human beings are basically good, and that we have the capacity to help them. However, trust is contextual (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more.) We trust some people more than others and some situations more than others. Trust takes a long time to develop – and can develop with different loci among different groups (see Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more). One of the catalysts for the generation of trust is transparency.

Ironically, the development of trust is triggered by very little need for it. The more transparent your dealings with others, the less they need to trust you and the more, over time, their trust grows. Think about this from the point of view of compounding interest. If, in your first encounter, you consume only a small portion of the trust that someone is willing to grant you, that trust remains in their bank account for you accruing interest. The less trust you consume, the more is available – and over time, the buildup of trust can be quite large.

This may account for the positive effects seen for long term friends and acquaintances. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more on this.)

Positive Other, Positive You

An interesting pattern that was offered for dealing with conflict involves a confrontation between Mike Tyson – the boxer – and a philosophy chair. Told to stop by the philosophy chair, Tyson asked if he knew who he was. The response was to acknowledge Tyson’s preeminence in the world of boxing and to then indicate his high status as a philosophy chair. The interaction is interesting because of its ability to diffuse conflict.

I’d venture to say that, having acknowledged the status (and worth) of Tyson, he had little need to prove what was already known – a fight between Tyson and a philosophy chair isn’t a fight, it’s a beating. Instead, Tyson could be curious as to what would make a philosophy chair be willing to put himself in danger. Curiosity, then, could create the space for conversation.

Ten Thousand Year Death Rate

Would you say that we’re living in the most peaceful or most violent times? If you look back into the past and look at the death rate due to human-on-human violence, you find the rate to be somewhere between one in five to one in ten deaths about ten thousand years ago. Today, the death rate seems to be about one in one hundred forty people die by human-on-human violence. So, in the long arc of time, we’re hurting each other less – even if we’ve got better media now to recount all of the human-on-human violence. Even if we account for all the world wars and the conflicts across the world, we’re still better off today than we were ten thousand years ago.

If you reflect upon your life and the forces that you apply to the world around you, do you view them – in summary – as good or bad? Are you leaving the world better than you found it, or worse? If your trajectory isn’t what you want it to be, then perhaps it’s worth taking a look at the Dalai Lama’s vision for our world in A Force for Good.

Book Review-Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder

Sometimes a story of burnout is actually a story of resilience from burnout. Though Arianna Huffington describes her literal collapse and resulting injuries as a mixture of burnout and exhaustion, from the outside, it seems like just exhaustion, not burnout. That’s the opening context for the transformation that led Huffington to write Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. The first two metrics are money (wealth) and power. They’re the temple guards of our society and have been with us for what seems like eternity.

What’s Wrong with Wealth and Power

Before getting to Huffington’s new metric, it’s important to acknowledge why it’s even needed in the first place. After all, wealth and power have faithfully served our society for years. The problem is the one that was popularized by Daniel Kahneman in his research in Thinking, Fast and Slow. One problem is that is there never enough wealth and power; the more you have of it, the less it makes you happier. A ten thousand dollar a year raise when you’re making twenty thousand is a big deal. When you’re making two million, ten thousand dollars doesn’t seem like much.

More than that, the pursuit of these two leads us away from caring about others. You’ve heard the saying, “It’s lonely at the top.” That’s not just because there aren’t many people vying for the top spot. In the process of climbing to the peak of wealth and power, you’ve had to let go of friends and colleagues who just can’t make it. To pursue the gods of wealth and power, you have to let go of relationships and people.

Status Report

If we were to build a balanced scorecard or dashboard for humanity, we might not like the numbers. Our quality of life is on the decline. 40 percent of American workers leave vacation days unused. We deprive ourselves of sleep to the detriment of our emotional intelligence, self-regard, assertiveness, sense of independence, empathy towards others, and more. Individuals rate themselves as more stressed out than ever before – a 10 to 30 percent increase from 1983 to 2009. It’s estimated that 60 to 90 percent of doctor visits are a result of stress-related conditions. Depression in children has increased fivefold from 1930 to 2010.

The list of statistics about how we’re killing ourselves through our fixation on our society and the trappings of our world goes on and on. Not just in Thrive but in other sources as well. Our gross domestic product may be going up, but our quality of life doesn’t seem to be. Something is getting in the way of our well-being.

Burnout as a Cause

I came to Thrive because of work Terri and I are doing to extinguish burnout. In a room of professionals, we ask, “How many of you feel like you’re in some degree of burnout right now?” Some hands shoot up, indicating the severity of their condition, and others slink sheepishly up next to the person’s head, expressing the shame they feel. In the end, somewhere around 20% of the room has raised their hand. When we ask the second question, “How many of you have ever been in some degree of burnout?” nearly every hand is raised. Burnout has become accepted as a thing that happens to you when you work.

Burnout occurs when you feel as if you’re no longer effective. The result is cynicism and exhaustion. However, exhaustion, like in Huffington’s case, isn’t always caused by burnout. Sometimes exhaustion is literally that your body can’t continue. Similarly, while burnout has been statistically linked to later depression, there are many causes of depression other than burnout.

So, while burnout is likely a factor in the decline of our wellbeing, it’s likely not the only cause.

Huffington’s Incident

It’s only fair that I share my disagreement about whether burnout was the cause of Huffington’s incident. She describes it as a mixture of exhaustion and burnout, where I’d say it was only exhaustion that drove the collapse. Burnout tends to cause you to feel exhausted before your body actually collapses. Burnout is like the thinking that the human body can’t run a four-minute mile, with the belief in place that no one could. Once the belief is removed, suddenly many people begin to run a four-minute mile. Burnout causes you to stop trying from exhaustion, not collapse.

Certainly, I’m on shaky ground to disagree with someone about their experience. However, I’d say that burnout was the specter that Huffington was avoiding. Burnout is feared and avoided – and, at least before this incident, quite successfully. In no way am I trying to minimize the result either the pain from the collapse or the benefit to the world of the renewed perspective on what’s important. I only am careful to develop and maintain clarity around what burnout is so that others can find their way out of it.

Burnout’s Cost

It’s tragic to go to school to be a doctor only to become one and realize that it’s not what you thought it was. A decade or two of a life is lost in the pursuit of a rainbow that seems to move every time you get close to it. If you view burnout as the gap between what you expect and what you believe you’re actually doing, it’s easy to see how physicians get burnt out. Most physicians become physicians to make a difference in the world, to help people be healthier. However, they spend too much time with paperwork. They encounter patients who won’t follow the instructions that will make them healthier.

The day-after-day appointments are monotonous. Physicians don’t see positive results, because the patients don’t come back to tell their doctor, “Thanks, I’m all better now.” The only feedback that physicians get is negative, when the patient says, “That didn’t help.” The systemic message being sent to physicians is that they’re not saving the world, and they’re not even making a difference.

The gap between their expectations of themselves – or maybe their aspirations – and reality are a hard load to bear, and too many are crushed under its weight. The result is hundreds of thousands of dollars in schooling and effort are thrown in the trash bin, as the physicians find another career that doesn’t involve their soul getting crushed every day. Society loses good physicians, and they spend the rest of their lives trying to get out of debt.

Self-Care

One of the largest gaps in our behaviors that lead to burnout is simple. It’s the absolute insistence on taking time for self-care. This isn’t just time for oneself to watch a TV show – though it can be. It’s about finding time for the activities that both physically and mentally prepare you to be stronger. Physically, it can be managing diet, proper hydration, or enough sleep. In fact, proper sleep can improve professional athletic performance – so it follows it should help the rest of us, too. Mentally, it can be meditation, yoga, or simply peacefully wandering through the woods. In our overcommitted world, we all too often refuse to protect our time and insist that the time we need for us is not a nice-to-have but a necessity.

This often comes from our awareness that we can survive without a little bit of self-care for a while. We know our own needs and our own capacities better than other people, so we can evaluate and say that we are capable of the sacrifice – however, we don’t know if someone else might be more capable, or if the value someone will get from our sacrifice will be worth it. The trap is that we often forget that we’re agreeing to make a short-term sacrifice, and we continue to sacrifice self-care for too long. Sometimes, the most positive thing we can do is take care of ourselves.

Positive Thinking

Positive thinking can help insulate us from the momentary hiccups in our lives. Barbara Fredrickson aptly focuses on this in her book Positivity, which describes not only the benefits of positive thinking but the ratio of positive to negative thoughts in terms of our wellbeing. These must be honest positive thoughts, not Pollyanna thoughts that aren’t the truth. However, when you can honestly say that you’re having three positive thoughts for every one negative thought, good things seem to follow in your life.

For most folks, it’s hard to consider the number of positive thoughts we’re having compared to the negative ones. It’s not something that’s easy to measure – unless you have someone willing to interrupt you randomly and ask you whether you’re thinking positively or negatively. Many professionals struggle to understand their feelings. Most of us grew up in homes where feelings weren’t talked about much or weren’t safe. We were told that we should bring our emotions to work. However, more and more we’re seeing that we need to remain integrated with both our thinking and our feeling

Having an Emotional Relationship with Ourselves

My favorite mental model of all time is the Rider-Elephant-Path model (see Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for more). Fundamentally, it’s the same as Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 thinking from Thinking, Fast and Slow. The model has our rationality as the rider sitting on top of a large emotional elephant – who is the real one in charge. This is powerful in its own right; however, there’s a subtlety about the relationship between our rationality and our emotions that is easy to miss. We don’t often think much about the relationship between our rational brain and our emotions.

When our rationality trusts “our gut,” there’s a respect for our emotions; similarly, when our emotions can be calmed easily by self-talk, our emotions respect our rationality. Another way to think of this is that our emotional parts trust the relationship with the rational parts and are willing to remain “comfortably uncomfortable.”

The more that we can create this trust, the more we move towards the opportunity to thrive in a whole and fulfilling way.

Leisure and Working Classes

Something’s upside down. The so called “leisure class,” those who have more money and resources, are working longer hours and taking less time for leisure than the so called “working class.” In the pursuit of money, power, and just stuff, the leisure class is literally killing themselves by working so hard. They’re filled with stress and turmoil that the working class doesn’t have.

The heart of this inversion is the lack of need by the “working class” to prove their power or status, and, as a result, they don’t stress over it. Certainly, there is a portion of this group of people who are living hand-to-mouth who have other stresses, but, by and large, the “working class” isn’t working as much, and they’re not staying in such constant stress.

Managing Stress

Stress is a useful biological technique that us humans have coopted for purposes it wasn’t designed for. Instead of the momentary stress of a lion in the plains of Africa, we have the constant looming of our businesses failing, failing to pay our mortgage, and that impending fight with our family. It would be difficult to overstate the potential negative impacts of stress in our lives. I’ve written a three-part summary of Robert Sapolsky’s book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers that covers the physical impacts, the psychological and neurological impacts, and the causes and cures. The shortest version is that it’s very bad. (Profound, eh?)

The trick to stress, however, isn’t the stress itself but how we manage the stressors. That is, how we manage our response. By choosing our response to the stressors that do have to happen to us so that they’re less impactful and by working on strategies to minimize the number of stressors in our lives, we can dramatically reduce the amount of felt stress that we have.

Because stress is our adaptation of an evolutionary trick that we’ve coopted, we can change the way that we view it – and eliminate (or reduce) the negative long-term impacts.

Learning Compassion

At the heart of learning to thrive is our ability to cultivate compassion for our fellow man. Compassion isn’t an emotion nor a fixed quantity. We have it in our capacity to enhance our compassion for others. It’s in this ability to enhance our compassion for others that we make it possible for us to truly thrive beyond the traditional measures of wealth and status. Don’t you want to learn how to Thrive?

Book Review-Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing

In our modern cultures, death is hidden, both physically and emotionally. If we acknowledge death as a part of life, then we must confront our own mortality, and that is something few are willing and able to do. However, some professions come face to face with death every day. Whether it’s emergency responders, health care workers, or palliative care, death is an inescapable reality. It’s from this experience that Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing comes. Bronnie Ware worked as a palliative care giver in Australia, and she recorded the things that she learned from her patients to share with all of us, so that we can learn the lessons before the end of our lives.

The List

The list doesn’t match what you might reasonably expect to find. If you look at the values we have as a society, you might expect that the dying would have wanted that one last deal. Perhaps you would have expected to see something like having purchased that special car. Instead, what you find are deeply connected and deeply personal topics:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier

The general theme is not one of personal achievement but rather one of personal courage. The courage to be yourself, to accept happiness, and to stay connected with others. It turns out the things that we think are so important as we go through our daily lives aren’t so important in the end.

Surrender

There are two types of surrender: surrender accept and surrender defeat. When we speak of surrender, most people see the white flag, and they consider what it’s like to surrender in defeat. They think of what happened when the Confederates had to accept that the Union had won. However, this is not the most powerful and healthy kind of surrender; that’s surrender acceptance.

To some degree, the difference is one of perspective – and timing. Surrender defeat often leaves no choices. Surrender accept is full of choices. It’s a conscious decision to not fight the situation around you and to accept whatever the world has to offer.

Surrender acceptance is a courageous and difficult act. We let go of the illusion of our control and instead focus on how we can get the most out of life without fighting it. It’s a courageous act to accept our lack of control, because this puts us at higher perceived risk.

However, what you get back by not expending energy in the vain attempt to control situations can be immensely liberating. You have so much more to offer when you’re not wasting energy on a pointless fight.

To Thine Own Self Be True

It’s frightening to be yourself. What if people don’t like you? What if they reject or criticize you? If you’re projecting an image and someone doesn’t like it, you just change the image you’re projecting. No big deal. However, if it’s the real you, those rejections, corrections, and challenging conversations can be difficult and painful.

It looks easy on the surface. You just project an image that others will like, and, if they do, you get to feel good that they like you. There’s a catch though. The catch is that they really don’t like you. They like the image you project. As a result, you don’t ever get to know if someone really likes you – you don’t get to have a real connection with another human being. And as a result, you may end up feeling disconnected and alone. Loneliness – being isolated and alone – is one of our deepest fears (see Loneliness).

What would it be like to accept that some people do not like you and other people do? How would it feel for some people to reject you – but others embrace you with open arms? This is what those who contemplated their lives were looking for, that connection to other people that somehow validates they were real, important, and valuable.

Their Expectations

As humans, we’re machines for predicting the behaviors of others (see Mindreading and The Blank Slate). We know that other people generate predictions for our behaviors. They’ve got their own set of values and beliefs that drive how they think other people ought to behave. Our parents, our families, our colleagues, and our friends all have expectations of us. For the most part, our fear of being rejected causes us to try to live up to those expectations.

We sometimes get so wrapped up in being the person that other people believe we should be that we sometimes forget to be ourselves. That’s the first regret. That we didn’t live a life true to ourselves – not to others’ expectations of us.

Stepping out of their expectations takes courage. It takes willingness to be real and authentic. You can’t get that authenticity just through working a job. You must work at life to be authentic all (or most of) the time.

Hard Work

No one is knocking hard work. Peak tells us that working purposefully towards a goal can make us the best of the best. Mindset teaches us that it’s not what we’re born with that matters. It’s what we’re willing to do to grow. It’s not that hard work is bad. However, in the end analysis, we too often get wrapped up in work and forget to have relationships.

Sometimes it’s the certainty of the rewards. If we work, we’ll create something, and we’ll be praised or financially rewarded. Work is a convenient way to reminding ourselves of our value. One more project done. Another award to put on our resume. Work is often a place where folks can see tangible and nearly immediate rewards for their work.

Sometimes it’s the messiness of relationships. In any relationship, there are times of conflict and turmoil, and no one ever prepared us for how to deal with such things. It’s hard when you love someone, and you don’t know how to help them, so you run away. It’s hard when you’re in a conflict, and you don’t see a way out of it, so you run away.

Sometimes, it’s just life. We get so caught up in the treadmill of making enough money to live that we forget to have a life. We become obsessed with making money, so we can survive. Sometimes, that survival isn’t really at risk. We decide that we need the new car, and that takes money, and so does the new house or the private school for the kids or something else. When you add these things up, they start to take more and more financial resources, and eventually you must work hard just to pay for your things.

The regret of hard work is less about accomplishing things and more about the addiction to work that keeps people from the hard work of relationships.

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

If there’s one irrational fear that can stand in the shadows and condemn people, it’s the belief that their feelings aren’t “right,” acceptable, or justifiable. Somewhere in the deep recesses of our mind, feelings emerge, and we fear that they may not be the right feelings. We don’t know how they come to be or what to do if they’re not right.

As a result, we often disconnect ourselves from others by ignoring or hiding our feelings. We don’t have to accept others’ ridicule of our feelings if we don’t share them – and if we don’t acknowledge them ourselves. The result is that we somehow end up as half a person. We end up denying part of our very existence – and for what?

The reality is that all (that means every) feeling is acceptable. It’s the feeling that you have, and it comes from somewhere deep inside of you. Something about your experiences and your beliefs leads you to it, and it’s always acceptable. It’s important to note that not all behaviors – the responses to a feeling – are OK, but the feeling itself is. Said more concretely, it’s ok to feel angry but not to punch someone in the face.

It’s difficult to speak to the fear in the corners of our mind and quiet it when we feel like we’re unlovable. Our feelings are taking control of us – and being irrational isn’t acceptable. Except that it is. Our feelings are designed to help us survive. In fact, they’re the basic wiring that helps us survive. To deny our feelings is to deny a part of ourselves. That is what far too many people regret having done. Too much denial of who we are and the validity of our feelings over the course of a life.

With a Little Help from My Friends

We live in an age where it is easier to stay in touch with – and reconnect with – friends than ever before. We can keep connected via LinkedIn or Facebook. We virtually follow friends as they move, take new jobs, go on vacation, and so on. We have internet search tools and companies willing to help us find lost contacts. The tools that are at our disposal are like ones that couldn’t have been dreamt about a generation ago.

Despite this, more and more people report having fewer close friends. (See Alone Together for more.) We’ve become more connected and disconnected all at the same time. Instead of staying in closer touch with those we care about, we tend to connect less. There is some good news, as reported in When: older people have fewer friends, but because they’re actively pruning relationships to only those that are emotionally meaningful. In other words, older people are starting to focus their energies on those who matter most. That may allow them to be happier.

Living Happy

The final regret is the failure to find ways to bring more happiness into their lives. While happiness is an elusive prospect, as we’ve seen in Stumbling on Happiness, The Happiness Hypothesis, Hardwiring Happiness, Flourish, and The Hope Circuit (to name a few), it’s a good goal to seek more happiness in our lives. Sometimes our happiness is blocked by a hurt that we just can’t let go of. Maybe it’s a loss that we can’t get past. It might be a betrayal that cut too deeply.

Sometimes we believe we don’t deserve happiness. Maybe we did something bad (guilt). Maybe we feel like we are bad (shame). Whatever the root cause, we feel like happiness isn’t something that we can or should aspire too. It’s too much to ask.

Blocked happiness appeared too often in Bronnie Ware’s care of people. It occurs too often in life. Maybe if you read The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, you’ll be better able to live the life you’re given fully and completely. Maybe you’ll find your way to death without any regrets.

Book Review-The Rise of the Creative Class: Revisited

There have been references spread out through many of the books that I’ve read to Richard Florida and his estimates of the number of “creatives,” people who work creatively every day. These references come back to the original version of The Rise of the Creative Class: Revisited. The original version of the book was published in 2002, and the revision came 10 years later. It’s a classic book in more than just the sense that it’s old. It’s classic in that it transformed the way that business leaders and civic planners thought about industries and economies.

Being creative is important, because the way that you motivate creative people is different (see Drive for more). Creatives impact the economy differently. They’re simply different than the kinds of people that our ancestors were and how they worked, and these differences matter.

We’re All Creative

Before we get too far, it’s important to note that we’re all creative. It’s not like some of us have a creative gene and some do not. Creative Confidence argues that, at some level, we’ve pushed this creativity from ourselves by increasing fear and reducing safety. However, whether driven away or not, it remains as a core part of our being.

The Rise of the Creative Class is neither an anthem about how creative people should rise up and take over the country, nor is it an attempt to define a privileged few who should be given more opportunities, more latitude, or more of anything. Instead, it’s an attempt to understand the social dynamics that come into play in economies. Florida is a student and scholar of economics and sociology. The Rise of the Creative Class is an expression of understanding about how we’re changing as a society and how that impacts economies.

Diversity and Innovation

Fundamental to Florida’s view is that innovation is necessary for today’s economic world. Simply doing the same things that we’ve always done won’t cut it any longer. Innovation allows us to radically change the way that we’re doing things – hopefully for the better. This innovation requires diversity. Here, Florida means more than just diversity in the sense we think of it today. It’s more than just including women or other races. By diversity, he means also inclusiveness and tolerance. That means for those who don’t look like we do, who don’t believe like we do, and who don’t think like we do. The Difference points out that this leads to a greater diversity of thought – and, ultimately, more productive teams. At least, if they can get past the storming phase of team development.

Innovation is the result of the right conditions. Conditions of psychological safety and diversity of thought that allows multiple different perspectives and ideas to combine in new and interesting ways. Innovation isn’t created by diversity, and more than bread is created by flour, eggs, yeast, and sugar. However, unlike bread-making, putting the right ingredients in the right place allows for the emergence of something new.

Material Needs

Life was harsh. While today, we speak of corporate jungles, rat races, and constant pressure, our ancestors had the real struggles. Death was a constant and unwanted companion. Disease lead to death. Accidents lead to death. Starvation was a very real concern for many people.

Today, as I write this, I’m on an unstructured vacation in Maine. We don’t know where we’re eating or staying, but thus far it has just worked out OK. We have no real concerns about going hungry. We didn’t pack provisions to ensure that we’d have something to eat. Nor did we worry about packing a tent in case there were no hotel rooms available. Our GPS guides us to our next destination. (We’re up looking at lighthouses.) Our car goes until we refill the tank with gas. Our cell phones are ever-present tools for looking at maps, looking up resources, and connecting with friends.

From a material world, things have changed in the last century or so such that working for our material needs – to stave off the specter of death – has largely disappeared. Social programs and broader opportunity mean that material needs are not a problem for a majority of us today. (For those few that remain, I hope that the future where this is not a struggle finds you soon.)

Replacing the Material Struggle

What has replaced the material struggle has been a psychological struggle. Instead of addressing the lowest levels of needs, we’ve stepped back into the ideals that the founding fathers of America expressed in the declaration of independence – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Though radical for 1776, these are ideas that we accept as basic human rights today. Gradually, we’ve moved from a life filled with toil to survive to a life that is expected to provide us happiness.

We’re moving from a materialistic society, where the material goods are scarce and prized, to one where belonging, self-actualization, and quality are the goal. We’re already seeing how people are seeking experiences over things. Millennials are choosing to delay the status symbols of stability and success such as home ownership and marriage to afford (or finance) experiences.

Organizational Struggle

Large organizations are beginning to realize the need to embrace the changing perspectives of workers. Instead of chasing the latest tax incentive or highway interchange, they’re chasing the people, and the people are chasing experiences that pull them towards natural resources and beauty. Finding talented workers has become the big challenge in organizations today. People drive organizations, and we realize that having the best people – whatever that means – is essential. Without dipping our toes into leadership too far, “the right people” means people who can work together to drive the business forward – whether at the direction of a leader or not.

In the past, finding work was difficult and essential. Unemployment rates hover below 5% – and have for a long period of time. One must wonder how low this rate can get and how long it can stay there. Certainly, there are many components to unemployment and many people who are still looking for meaningful work; however, unemployment rates are changing the way that organizations are hiring. They know that they must attract employees as much as employees must attract employers. That’s a relatively new phenomenon.

Security and Freedom

Employees used to value security. Working for a large organization used to be a golden ticket. You would work for the company, and the company would take care of you. However, the contract changed. (See America’s Generations.) Organizations couldn’t bear the load of all the people on their payrolls and purged. Children growing up during this time became disenfranchised with large organizations and the illusion of safety. Instead, they decided to rely upon themselves – and a greatly improved market in which they could market themselves. Suddenly, security was in what they could do.

The result is what has sometimes been called the “gig economy.” Earning is spread out and diffuse between different employer/customers. The kinds of projects that people do are sometimes diverse as well. Someone might do baby-sitting or house-sitting and drive for Uber or Lyft when things are slow or when they have a few minutes. Somehow, they piece enough money together to make it all work, even if it’s unclear – even to them – how that might happen.

The other side of this change is a new freedom to accept the jobs that you want and to pass on those that you don’t. The transaction between an employer (or really customer) and the worker is transactional and temporary. It’s a “gig.”

Implications to Employers

We could debate the benefits and weaknesses to the employees of this new creative “gig” economy, but there’s another side as well. The employers get more agility, because they can terminate contracts quickly and reduce their burden – something not practically possible with employees. But at what cost? Freelance contractors can move from one organization to another inside of an industry spreading know-how to your competitor. (See Sharing Hidden Know How for more on how this knowledge sharing is supposed to work inside of an organization.)

Similarly, retaining the knowledge of how to do things becomes harder when the employee that knows the critical information isn’t an employee any longer but is instead a contractor. While organizations struggle to keep knowledge from being lost, the use of freelance contractors increases turnover and makes the problem of knowledge management even more challenging. (See Lost Knowledge for some tools on minimizing knowledge loss.)

Collecting the Creative

The problem with a bunch of freedom-loving, diverse-thinking folks is that getting them to see themselves as a cohesive group isn’t easy. Developers and artists don’t perceive themselves to be the same, though their work styles and need for creativity may very well align perfectly. The solo entrepreneurs who work for themselves may or may not be creative – but they’re unlikely to see themselves as part of a broader movement beyond their chosen industry. (See The E-Myth Revisited for more about solo entrepreneurs.)

People don’t unite in their home offices – they’re separated by them. We’ve taken away personal contact on multiple levels. (See Alone Together for more about how we’re using technology as a proxy for real connections.) It takes more than just a home office and a temporary badge to make the “gig” living work – but many are doing just that. Sadly, few are connecting with others even in their own industry.

As a result, it’s unlikely that creatives will find their way into a union or a cooperative. Instead, they’re likely to operate independently in the shared space of the economy. It’s more like an antique shop that has many different vendors who share the burden of the infrastructure but set their own pricing and rules.

Tolerance and Intolerance

Florida says that tolerance of other people and their diverse ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives is critical to economic growth. Ironically, accepting people who believe in living up life may be key to economic growth. Various indicators, including those that account for the number of creatives and the number of gays, predict economic growth. It seems that tolerance of others creates the opportunities for creativity and innovation, and, as a result, economies grow.

There is some intolerance that seems to be helpful still. That is intolerance of mediocrity. Finding a desire to have excellence in whatever you do is a needed component as well. (See Peak for how to become the best and continue pushing to be better.)

So, on the one hand, you must create conditions of tolerance and acceptance of other people (see How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on acceptance), and on the other hand, you must desire to not accept OK as good enough. (See Good to Great on more about how good can be the enemy of great.)

The Anti-Economist View

I’m not an economist. I don’t work for the government trying to plan how to grow the economy. So, for me, the rigor of statistical analysis is lost. Whether it’s Florida’s Bohemian-Gay index or a Global Creativity Index or something else entirely isn’t really that important to me. What’s important is that we’re changing as a society. We’re moving from one corporate job to a creative economy driven by gigs that may not last that long. It’s a view that allows us to become more fully ourselves and to accept greater levels of risk. I don’t believe that we’ll ever see a movement in the creative class – however, I do believe that, if you’re someone who does anything creative, you might want to read The Rise of the Creative Class to understand what’s happening in society and, perhaps more importantly, what’s happening inside your own head.

Book Review-The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition

Just how does cooperation evolve? If you followed Darwin’s survival of the fittest, cooperation doesn’t make sense. How do you benefit from sacrificing for someone else? That’s the problem that game theory sets out to solve. Along the way, they found an emergence of cooperation as a normal form of evolving to win in a competitive environment. The Evolution of Cooperation walks through the models and competitions that lead to a better understanding of how we evolved to cooperate.

Scientific Computer Programming

It was my junior year of high school, and I got into a class named Scientific Computer Programming. It was so named, I was told, because the science department wanted to teach it, and there was some conversation about whether the math department should be allowed to teach it. The man who taught it was also my physics teacher. He was a tall man and a gentle but imposing force to be reckoned with. Somewhere along the way, he prepared us to write a competitive game.

I didn’t know then, but I do know now, that it was a variant of the game that Robert Axelrod ran. It was called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. The basic construct was two prisoners are caught and separated. Each is given a deal. They can rat out their co-conspirator – to defect — for a lesser sentence. If both defect, they both end up with long sentences. If they both cooperate (don’t defect), both prisoners end up with shorter sentences. If one defects and the other doesn’t, the defector gets the best possible deal, while the person who didn’t defect gets the worst possible result – even worse than if both had defected.

There are some more rules, like non-communication between the two prisoners (competing programs) and so forth, but the one interesting thing is that you can record what happened in prior moves. In our class, I remember I took the average of every prior move that the opponent had made and used that to predict what they would do next.

In our case, as in the second edition of Alexrod’s competition, there was no way for the program to know when the last round would be played – there was a small probability that each round was the last. This prevents the strategy of always defecting on the last move, since there’s no better alternative.

Game Theory

I didn’t realize back then that I was learning about game theory. It was just another assignment in the class – which, though I liked it, was still a class. I got a reintroduction to it in Gottman’s The Science of Trust. In a book on relationships, it seemed like a stretch. That being said, it had an important lesson, one that Axelrod’s competitions played out. There are two equilibriums possible. The first is the von Neumann-Morgenstern equilibrium, where everyone looks out only for their best interests. The second is the Nash equilibrium, where people look out for the overall good – not just their own good.

Axelrod showed through the simulations how independent programs – or organisms – could collectively develop towards the Nash equilibrium, even using something as simple as an eye for an eye.

Tit for Tat

As it turns out, my program was beat rather handily by some others in the competition, but it was fun anyway. What I didn’t expect was that Axelrod’s competition, which drew entries from scholars in many different disciplines, was beat by a very simple program. The simple program that won his competition was Tit for Tat. It cooperates on the first move, and then every move after that, it simply does what the other program did. Thus, if the other program defected, Tit for Tat would defect. It’s very simple, but its simplicity got great results.

While Tit for Tat didn’t ever get the highest score, it always got a good score. Whether it was competing with itself or other strategies, overall, Tit for Tat was the winner.

Characteristics for Cooperation

Axelrod took his findings from running these competitions with many different programs and generalized a set of principles that defined the winners for the competition he established. He asserts that, to win this game, the programs needed to be:

  • Nice – The nice programs won over not-so-nice programs
  • Provokable – The program needed to respond quickly when the opponent would defect.
  • Forgiving – Once the other program started to cooperate, the program should start to cooperate too.
  • Clear – The program should make its behavior clear enough that the opponent would be able to understand the behavior and learn to work towards mutual benefit.

Tit for Tat was an ideal approach based on these rules. It started with cooperation, and after a single defection, it would defect to penalize the opposing program. Once the opposing program started responding with cooperation, it would respond in kind. Its logic and approach was neither complex nor cloaked. The other program could easily anticipate how Tit for Tat would respond after only a few rounds.

Barriers to Cooperation

Tit for Tat, you may recall, never got the highest score – it couldn’t. However, it did consistently get good scores. Tit for Tat avoided some of the barriers that other entrants had, like:

  • Being Envious – By being worried about your opponent in the current challenge, programs were less effective.
  • First to Defect – Programs that were the first to defect tended to do less well.
  • Failure to Reciprocate – Whether it’s niceness or not-so-niceness, programs that gained long-term cooperation tended to reciprocate.
  • Being Clever – Programs that were too clever didn’t allow a condition to occur where the other program could predict its responses.

All in all, these barriers to cooperation are largely opposites of the kinds of characteristics that drive cooperation.

Additional Learnings

Some interesting learnings show up if you randomize the different programs and run a sort of evolutionary game with them. The programs that get the most points collectively every few rounds get to replicate, and those who lose consistently die out. The result is that the programs that weren’t nice may have won for a while when there were “sucker” programs, but when the suckers died out, the not-nice programs eventually became extinct as well.

There were some challenges, however. Once an environment became All D (short for “all defects”), it was impossible for any strategy – including Tit for Tat – to gain a foothold. However, if you introduced new programs in clusters, so that at least some of their interactions would be with like programs, it was possible for programs like Tit for Tat to not only get a foothold, but also to start to eradicate All D. This works, because the benefits of both programs collaborating far outweigh the benefits for both programs defecting. Tit for Tat does so much better against itself that it ends up with a point surplus, even if it has to give up one move to All D. (The first round, All D will defect, and Tit for Tat will cooperate, giving it a disadvantage – however, a round with two Tit for Tat programs handily makes up for this small difference.)

Applicability to Life

Perhaps my greatest concern with the exercise and the learnings is their applicability to our lives as humans. I don’t intend to discount what we’ve learned but rather, I want to make clear the narrow space where this works.

Cooperative Ratios

One of the key driving factors for this game is that the cooperative payoff is collectively larger than one defection and one cooperation or both sides defecting. Effectively, this is a built-in bias that cooperation is the winning move – when you can get both parties to agree. The good news is that, on this front, I expect we’re in relatively safe footing. In most cases in life, we’re better off cooperating versus competing or attempting to take advantage of one another.

Will We Meet Again

The second concern is that the game presumes that the participants will meet again. In fact, retaining the probability that the participants will meet again is absolutely key to the system working. When you remove the chance that you’ll meet again, the best strategy is to defect. As mentioned earlier, this caused Axelrod to modify the game to not have a fixed endpoint, since knowing the end caused defections at the end.

In our world today, it’s unclear to me how much we expect that we’ll meet with others again. It’s unclear how much our reputations precede us and how much our behaviors impact our future interactions. I know that they should. I know that, for the system to remain stable, we must believe we’ll meet again, because otherwise there’s no point in working with someone. There are better payoffs to take advantage of them.

As we move from smaller communities to larger towns, and we have higher mobility, I’m concerned that this critical condition may be lost.

Value of the Future

Another inherent requirement is that the future not be discounted too much. It’s important that we believe that giving up some level of benefit today is worth the future benefits of cooperation. This obviously goes down when we don’t think we’ll meet again – thus we can’t assume cooperation. However, more than that we learned in Thinking, Fast and Slow that we discount things in the future more than we should. Whatever true value we get in the future has to outweigh our cognitive bias against it.

Lack of Escalation

In most things in life, there’s a compounding that happens. Compounding of interest at a modest 12% causes money to double in six years. The Rise of Superman, Flow, and Finding Flow spoke about how a 4% improvement each year in skill can lead to performances that seem impossible today. Fundamental to The Prisoner’s Dilemma game is a lack of escalation. This leads to the future not being seen as more valuable – and that can be problematic.

Variation and Non-Zero Sum

Most of life isn’t zero sum – and The Prisoner’s Dilemma illustrates this to some degree. However, the stability of the outcomes for each round isn’t what we see in life. Some interactions are more important than others. They’re worth more. In effect, there’s a relatively large degree of variation in real life in terms of the rewards (or punishments), but these aren’t captured. In real life, someone can die – or exit the game – if they’re hurt too badly. However, this is explicitly prevented by the rules in The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Ultimatums

There’s been a human behavior that has fascinated economists. As I mentioned in my review of Drive, there’s a strange human behavior in The Ultimatum Game. In short, two people play with a fixed amount of money (say $10) that the first person decides how to split. The second person gets to decide whether both get the split – or neither. From an economist’s point of view, the second person should always take the split, because they’ll be better off. However, that’s not what happens.

If the split gets too unbalanced – say $7-$3 or $8-$2 – the second person starts to prevent either person from getting money. Seen in the context of The Evolution of Cooperation, this makes sense. It’s necessary for someone to punish the other when their behavior exceeds acceptable boundaries.

Social Loafing

An area of concern that Collaboration raised was the issue of “social loafing:” people not pulling their own weight and relying on others to do all the work. Accountability is the proposed solution. We see this in The Prisoner’s Dilemma, where it’s important for misbehaving programs – or people – to be punished. We also see that when all the “suckers” are weeded out, those living off of those “suckers” also die out. So evolution has primed us to weed out those folks who are social loafers.

For each of us, there’s a line between “social loafing” and being able to contribute our fair share to the community. Finding that line seems to be one of the things that happens in The Evolution of Cooperation.

Special Event: Conflict: De-escalation and Resolution

We (Rob and Terri) will be delivering a workshop titled “Conflict: De-escalation and Resolution” at the Medical Academic Center at 13225 North Meridian St, Carmel, IN 46032 on November 1st from 6PM-8PM. A light dinner will be provided. Registration is free and open to everyone.

Conflict erupts in all our lives – both professionally and personally. Despite its frequency and regularity, few have been taught conflict de-escalation and resolution skills.

Professionals can learn to address conflict by identifying the conditions that create conflict, the causes that trigger it, and the techniques for resolving conflict. Success under conditions of high stress, risk, ambiguity, and complexity require effective conflict resolution skills. While it is impossible to resolve all conflict without the collaboration of the entire team, someone must lead these efforts.

In this session, we’ll teach you the essential skills necessary to de-escalate conflict and then to resolve it through instruction and exercises that we’ll all complete.

Register Today

Book Review-De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less

There’s an angry person standing in front of you, and you want to help them with their problem – but you can’t. You can’t not because you’re incapable of solving their problem, but instead because they won’t let you. They can’t get past their anger to let you work with them to solve the problem. This is the heart of the problem that De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less discusses. There are plenty of conflict resolution approaches that seek to understand the problem and create a collaborative approach to creating solutions. What De-Escalate addresses is the critical first step of diffusing the emotions.

Emotional Invalidation

We all just want to be understood. Our basic human need for connection cannot be overstated. (See The Dance of Connection if you want to know more about this need.) As much as a person who is emotionally agitated wants their agitation to go away, the thing they need more urgently is to feel like they’re understood. Unfortunately, we often start working with an emotionally-agitated individual by telling them – in effect – their emotions are wrong.

We confront the angry person and tell them there’s no need to be angry. This is telling them that we don’t understand them, and they’re “wrong.” As a result, we increase their agitation, because they’re not understood. Now they’re angry at us, because we’re telling them that their feelings are wrong.

All Feelings are OK

One of the things that’s important to understand about other people’s feelings – and our own – is that all feelings are OK (See Parent Effectiveness Training for more on feelings being OK). While not all actions are acceptable, all feelings are. Our feelings are a part of us. There is something that we’ve experienced that triggered the feelings either in the moment or through a combination of things in our past and the current situation that has come together to make our feelings.

Buddhists believe that feelings aren’t good or bad. They describe feelings – or emotions – as either afflictive or non-afflictive. That is, the feelings either harm you, or they do not. It might interest you to know that anger is not necessarily an afflictive emotion. It’s certainly a powerful emotion, but, when harnessed correctly, it can be a powerful force for change (see Emotional Awareness for more on afflictive/non-afflictive emotions).

Emotional Validation

At the heart of the process that Doug Noll lays out in the De-Escalate book is the process of affect labeling. Affect labeling is telling the other person what they’re feeling. Noll is critical of the advice that many of us have been given to use “I” statements not “you” statements in a heated discussion. (See Crucial Conversations for other ideas for how to handle difficult conversations.) In follow-up correspondence with Noll, I believe that he’s making strong statements in the book to cause people to project their desire to understand the other person and not water down things so much that the other person can’t see you’re attempting to identify their emotions.

Noll quotes some research by Dr. Lieberman, whose research, he says, indicates that labeling the other person’s emotion causes them to have a lower amygdala response and better prefrontal cortex control (PFC). The problem is that Dr. Lieberman’s research doesn’t say this. In reading it, the research says that, if a subject can label what they’re seeing, they themselves will have better PFC control. The research says nothing of the person being labeled. (In the research, they were labeling emotions they saw in pictures.) Normally, this would cause me to discount an author completely, because I hate it when authors draw conclusions that the research doesn’t support. However, in this case, I think there’s middle ground.

First, I recognize that we’re all emotionally-driven, no matter how much we want to believe that we’re rational. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Predictably Irrational for more.) I know that the techniques we use for non-emotionally-charged conflict resolution and problem solving are fundamentally based on creating understanding – and thereby connection. Active listening is a skill designed to ensure that what is being heard is what the speaker means. (See Motivational Interviewing, Parent Effectiveness Training, and A Way of Being for more on active listening.) So it only makes sense that reflecting – and clarifying – emotion should have the same effect on emotionally-charged individuals.

Second, I played with it. I tried some situations that I could normally work through, but I tried it by reflecting and validating the emotion – before or in addition to the content of the message. The result was quicker resolution than other techniques that don’t acknowledge the emotion first. Motivational Interviewing describes an approach of open questions, affirming, reflection, and summarization. This technique is normally focused on the content of the conversation – but it works well when focused on the emotional context as well.

I and You

Ultimately, as I was experimenting with the technique, I found that I needed to not be blunt about what I thought the other person was feeling. Instead of “you are feeling angry,” I’d say something like, “It seems like you’re angry.” This way, they should feel free to correct me – and I wasn’t telling them that I knew what they were feeling better than they did. The result was having the other person correct me – not always gently. That was great, because it helped me to understand the emotional context and allowed them to feel like I was really listening.

With a few of the folks that I experimented with, I realized that I was helping them to articulate how they were feeling. They were able to evaluate my statement and acknowledge that this was their feeling – even if they couldn’t put a word to it.

Emotional Intelligence

In reviewing the situation, it seems like folks who have lower emotional intelligence – and particularly self-awareness – were more open to me labeling them, and I could be more direct. However, people like myself, who are more highly aware, bristled if I got too direct. (See Emotional Intelligence for more about what emotional intelligence is.) Over the years, I’ve had to say to some others that I get to feel my feelings – they don’t. I can feel annoyed – but they can’t tell me that I feel annoyed if I don’t.

In the end, the key is sensitivity to communicating your perception of the other person’s feelings – and giving them an open door to tell you that you’re wrong. You can be wrong as long as the other person feels like you’re listening.

Just Stop Listening

Noll also includes advice to not listen to the words the other person is speaking. Only listen to the emotions they’re conveying. While I wholeheartedly understand the factors that Noll is concerned with, I believe that the approach is sort of like “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Noll’s concerns are that you’ll be overwhelmed with processing the words and the emotion and that you’ll get triggered. Both are valid concerns – but, in my opinion not sufficient to stop listening.

Overloading Processing

There’s a fixed capacity for our brain to consume glucose and process information. (See The Rise of Superman for more.) Much of what our brain is designed to do is filter and simplify information. (See The Paradox of Choice and Predictably Irrational.) However, despite these truths, the idea that you shouldn’t listen to the words that people are saying because you’ll be overloaded processing that and the emotion doesn’t hold true to the neurology. The Tell-Tale Brain walks through the verbal processing centers of the brain and how language is processed in the brain. However, emotional context is – almost exclusively – processed in other areas of the brain.

One of the observations about people in the mental state of flow is that there are areas of their brain that are more or less shut down to enable higher capacity in the areas that are demanded by flow. (See Finding Flow and Flow for more.) However, people rarely enter flow when engaged in a conversation. It’s not hard to understand why when you see the need for a small gap between capacity and current skill to drive the growth that flow provides – and the fact that our brains process somewhere between 450-600 words per minute and the spoken word is generally spoken in the 150 words per minute range.

In short, when someone else is talking, we’ve got plenty of capacity to process what they’re saying – and do other things. The key when someone else is speaking isn’t getting enough processing done. The key is staying focused on the right thing and not getting distracted by our own insecurities or triggered into emotional flooding ourselves.

Not Getting Triggered

It’s much easier to say “don’t get triggered” than to live it out. Hurting people hurt people. When faced with an agitated person, you’re facing someone who is psychologically hurting. They’re likely to say mean and awful things about you. They may be true, partially true, or complete fiction. No matter what they are, you must keep from becoming wrapped up in the emotions that these verbal barbs might trigger.

Noll’s suggestion is good in the sense that, if you can’t hear the words, then you can’t process them and get triggered. However, there’s a lot of neuroscience that says that what’s happening consciously and what is happening unconsciously can be – and often are – two different things. Just because you’re consciously ignoring the words doesn’t mean that your unconscious is. Unfortunately, it’s the unconscious that triggers the emotional response. Being triggered is all about emotions.

I believe that the key issue is the perception of safety. If you feel like you’re safe – both physically and emotionally/psychologically – then you’re not likely to react to even vile language hurled at you. (To understand safety, I’d suggest Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order and my post Why and How 12-Step Groups Work.) So, for me, the issue of not getting triggered is less about ignoring the words and more about putting them in the proper context. If you can evaluate the context of the words and whether they’re really threatening to your safety, you have a better chance of staying centered.

Staying Centered

Unless you’ve studied martial arts, you’re likely to not know what “staying centered” means. After all, how can you stay centered emotionally? The answer relies on the idea of balance and of interacting with the world. When your body is physically centered (or rooted), it takes quite a bit to knock you off balance. When you’re aware of the center of gravity of your body and where your limbs are, you don’t need to be so concerned with whether an attack will knock you down. In many martial arts forms, the ability to remain centered allows you to deflect or transform an attacker’s energy in a way that prevents that energy from harming you.

This is the same perspective on emotional centeredness. The verbal attacks don’t disrupt your perspective of yourself, the situation, or the person launching the attack. You can attend to it in a detached kind of way, knowing that you’re relatively safe no matter what happens.

This is the key to de-escalating a conflict. You can’t pour your gasoline on a fire that you’re trying to put out.

The Truth in the Conflict

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in this review explaining where I disagree with Noll (and supporting that with references). However, the truth is that my disagreements with Noll are a matter of degree. De-Escalate is a solid framework for de-escalating conflict, so that you can move forward to improving understanding, finding options, and, finally, solving the problem at the core of the conflict. While I disagree on the precise approaches he outlines in the book, I agree with the concerns and the concepts. As I followed up with him via email, I realized that there is a subtlety and an understanding of the need to adapt his hard-fast rules into something usable for every day. We disagree less about objectives and factors – we disagree about precisely how to accomplish them.

It’s a fitting thing for two folks that preach conflict resolution. We understand each other and can accept where the other person has a valid point – even without accepting it as ours. Hopefully you can De-Escalate conflict and build understanding with everyone you encounter.