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 Live

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.

Book Review-Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities

I’ve been a part of or have led many groups in my time. Each one had a unique “feel.” Some were hyper focused, and others generally organized around a topic. Some were high technology and others decidedly not so. Developing communities has always been interesting, since some communities flourish and others languish. Understanding how communities are formed – particularly communities that exist, at least in part, in the ethereal space of our digital age – is what Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities is all about.

The Way Back Machine

Before getting to the content, it’s necessary to explain that this isn’t a new book. It was published in 2009. I was first introduced to it through a book by Michael Sampson called User Adoption Strategies, which I read all the way back in 2011. Back at that time, my note-taking was substantially more primitive. I wasn’t writing reviews on a regular basis. I was working on some user adoption content for a client and stumbled across the reference – and the desire to revisit some of the sources that shaped my thinking about user adoption strategies.

Reviewing a 9-year-old technology book feels like dusting off dinosaur bones in the space of communities and digital collaboration – but though many of the examples cited in the book have been lost to the sands of time, the underlying principles of how communities come together and stay together haven’t changed. While myspace lost to Facebook, and some of the thriving communities from 10 years ago are all but gone, the need for humans to connect hasn’t changed in a few thousand years.

Alone and Together

Alone Together takes a negative view of how technology is driving us further from one another. Bowling Alone speaks of our continued abandonment of physical communities. There is a certain component of destruction in new creation. Digital Habitats is focused on the creation part of the process. It speaks of how communities are drawn together – whether in person or online – and how technologies can enable and support that process.

While it’s possible to create technologies that isolate us from one another, it’s equally possible to create connections.

Rhythms and Interactions

Digital Habitats speaks of our connection with others in communities in two parts. First, there are the rhythms – that is, the patterns of being together and apart. Second is interactions, which is described as participation and rectification. Rectification means “making into object.” In this context, I’d adjust this to say that it’s consensus building – whether written and formalized or not.

Rhythms of connection – and disconnection – are important. They form the basis of our ability to merge with the group identity and separate to regain our own standalone identity – or merge ourselves into other groups. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more on the identification process.)

Interactions are the part of communities that most of us consider when thinking of the community – but from the narrow perspective of the episodes of interactions rather than the outcome of those interactions. Interactions can divide; but more frequently within a community, they build our understanding and create consensus. We learn about different perspectives and nuances about the thing that we’re in the community to learn about. Sometimes members of communities convert the consensus into an artifact that can be leveraged by others to speed their learning about the topic. (For instance, take a look at my posts about the Indy CIO Network and my summary of those conversations, like Marketing Information Technology to the Organization or Effective IT Steering Committees.)

At an individual level, we gain knowledge through our communities. At an aggregate level, the artifacts created from the interactions of those passionate about a topic – whether expert or not – creates value to the world as those artifacts are available to others.

Orientations

Digital Habitats asserts that there are different orientations to every community, and those orientations shape the needs of the community. The orientations and their key needs are listed here:

  • Meetings – Emphasis on regularly scheduled meetings
  • Open-ended conversations – Emphasis is on the ability to reach out and connect in a conversation at a time
  • Projects – The desire to work together to complete specific projects
  • Content – The desire to create content
    • Library – Providing an organized set of documents
    • Structured self-publishing – A forum for participants to publish information using a consistent format and metadata
    • Open self-publishing – Participants contribute but in a format and structure that suits them
    • Content integration – Participants build a network of links that connect information available publicly into a consumable structure
  • Access to expertise – The community forms so that the members can have access to expertise that they don’t possess
    • Access via questions and requests – Questions are broadcast in a way that experts can respond
    • Direct access to explicitly designated experts – Specific folks are identified as the experts that others seek to get access to
    • Shared problem solving – Group members help individuals solve problems
    • Knowledge validation – Artifacts are routed to members until they’re fully vetted
    • Apprenticeship and mentoring – Learning of the individual takes place through the mentorship of a skilled practitioner
  • Relationships – Connecting with other people on a common interest
    • Connecting – Networking with people who are likely to be useful
    • Knowing about people – Getting to know others at a professional and personal level
    • Interacting informally – Interacting one-on-one and in small groups
  • Individual participation – Creating opportunities for individuals to engage
    • Varying and selective participation – Various forms of participation are offered as ways to engage
    • Personalization – Members can individualize their experience of the community
    • Individual development – The community helps the development of individual members
    • Multimembership – Coordinating access across multiple communities
  • Community cultivation – Focused on the creation of the community itself – or the broader community
    • Democratic governance – Self-governing structures of self-management
    • Strong core group – A caring group of people take a nurturing role in the community
    • Internal coordination – A small group takes the role of coordinating the community
    • External facilitation – An external facilitator who is typically not a subject matter expert is responsible for managing the community
  • Serving a context – Orientation to the member’s point of view
    • Organization as context – The community is seen in its relationship to the host organization
    • Cross-organizational context – The community as seen as serving multiple organizations in a larger community
    • Constellation of related communities – The community sees itself in terms of the related communities that it serves
    • Public mission – The community sees itself in terms of the public mission it’s moving forward

While the ability to distinguish between multiple goals of different communities is important, I find this taxonomy unwieldy. Because this is a multiple selection-type organization, every community falls within every category to some degree or another, making it difficult to put your finger on exactly what the goals are.

More troubling than that, it seems as if, rather than being one set of categories, what we have are a few dimensions. I’d propose that there are a set of dimensions for communities as follows:

  • Context – Self-serving or other serving
  • Organizational approach – Completely democratic and free-form to completely bureaucratic
  • Expected Participation – From the “lurker” who never posts to the highly engaged
  • Relational – Is the objective casual professional talk or deep relationships that transfer outside of the group as well?
  • Intent – Meetings (ritualized gatherings), open-ended conversations, access to expertise, projects, and content creation

Technology Stewards

Ultimately, Digital Habitats seeks to empower technology stewards. That is, to take the caretaker for the habitat and enable them to make intelligent technology decisions to help the membership to get out of the group what they desire. In this, the book explains some categorizations and selection criteria that didn’t survive the test of time very well but provides a focus on the needs of the community, which will always be relevant.

Every digital habitat needs a caretaker, someone who will look after their Digital Habitats.

Book Review-I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”

I’ve read much of Brené Brown’s work, but it wasn’t until I read I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” that I made it back to the beginning. I had previously commented in my review of The Gifts of Imperfection that I was reading her work in non-sequential order and how that can sometimes be disorienting. I had already read Daring Greatly and Rising Strong (my review is split into part 1 and part 2). Despite having read some of Brown’s later work and some of the references she uses, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) still had things to teach and remind me.

As a sidebar, the book was initially self-published by Brown in 2004 with the title Women & Shame: Reaching Out, Speaking Truths, & Building Connections. It was 2007 when Penguin bought the rights and released it with this title. I’ve taken some of Brown’s work here, put it together with pieces from other resources, and created a shame map:

Shame Researcher

Brown frequently describes herself as a shame researcher; that is, she seeks to understand shame. Along the way, she’s clarified that guilt is someone feeling that they’ve done something bad, and shame is a separate emotion where people believe they are bad. Brown believes that shame separates us from one another, and it’s this separation that makes shame so particularly toxic to our being.

Shame is a self-sealing proposition. As shame disconnects and silences us, our shame becomes a secret, and secrets are where our mental sickness festers. The challenge with shame is the feeling itself makes it unsafe for us to share the shame with others. It erodes our trust in ourselves and others.

Beyond the definition of shame and cataloging experiences of shame she has sought to identify those skills and temperaments that make folks more resistant to shame and there by to live a happier and healthier life.

Connection

Before we can confront shame for what it is, we must acknowledge the truth that life is about connection. We’re inherently social creatures. We’ve been designed to be in community, and we experience psychological pain when we’re isolated and removed from every kind of human connection. Loneliness explains the lack of connection and how it differs from the physical state of being alone. The Dance of Connection speaks about the need for and the way to get connection. Dr. Cloud describes the need for connection – and healthy connection – in The Power of the Other as being core to our human condition.

When we accept that connection is essential to our human condition we can realize that shame has the power to separate us from others through our fear. If we ourselves believe that we’re bad and therefore unworthy of connection, isn’t it realistic to expect that others will believe that we’re not worthy of connecting to? That’s our ultimate fear: that we’ll be excluded from the group. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more on exclusion.)

Fear

I attribute most of my shame resilience to stealing fear as a basic component from it. It was years and years ago when I decided that I wouldn’t live in fear. I’m not saying that I won’t be afraid, everyone experiences fear from time to time. What I’m saying is that I made a conscious decision to not live in fear. If that meant that I made financial choices so that I wasn’t in debt, and the consequences were a beat-up car, a small house, and modest clothes – then that’s what it meant. I realized that my first concern was going to be not allowing fear to build a stronghold in my life.

Over the years, as people have attempted to shame me, I’ve resisted, in part because I refused to accept the fear of disconnection. I would confront the fears directly and speak with people about what was real and what wasn’t real. I’d use my friends like a GPS system to triangulate my real position. (See Where Are You, Where are You Going, But More Importantly, How Fast Are You Moving? for more on this idea.)

Fear is an essential component for shame, and without it, it’s like starving a fire of oxygen. Eventually, it will go out. Not immediately, not without a fight, but eventually it will yield.

Courage

Courage comes from the Latin root word cor, which is “heart.” In its earliest forms, courage meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” We’ve lost this definition with our focus on courageous acts, which are framed around charging into burning buildings and taking great personal risk (altruism). However, courage in its purest sense is the ability to work through the fear of being rejected for who you are to defend people or ideals that you hold dear. (Look here if you want to get clear on the distinctions between Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism.)

Notice that courage requires fear. You can’t be courageous without vulnerability – and thus some fear. Vulnerability comes in the ability to be hurt. Without vulnerability, there is no fear and no courage.

Vulnerability

Why would anyone want to allow harm to – possibly – come to them? What possible motivation could someone have to become vulnerable? In a word: connection. Without vulnerability, there is no connection. Without our ability to share an unvarnished, unprotected part of ourselves, there’s no way that someone can get close to us. Wearing a suit of impenetrable armor also makes it impossible for someone to touch you – to connect with you.

Vulnerability in our relationships with others isn’t a binary thing. We don’t one day wake up and say to ourselves, “Today is vulnerability day.” Instead, we choose how much we share with others, how much we let them in and let them see us, warts and all. Often, we do this slowly, as we send over little test balloons. He might not like me if he realizes I’m saddled with debt, so maybe I can whine about my car payment and see how he reacts. She thinks that I have my act together. I wonder how she’d react if she knew I’d been in counseling for depression for years. Maybe I can suggest drinks at that bar “right next to the counseling center” and see what happens.

As we are vulnerable and aren’t attacked, we can open up to more to places and ideas that we’ve not yet broached. Each bid for connection – another way of thinking about being vulnerable – that is met with a positive response opens us up for more. (See The Science of Trust for more about bids for connection.)

Vulnerability may have a purpose and a need, but that still doesn’t make it easy. The process of being vulnerable to build trust takes time to build and a moment to lose.

Perceived Safety

In walking around in cities that I don’t know, I’ve probably walked into neighborhoods that I wasn’t really safe in. I probably shouldn’t have been there alone – or there at all. However, in most cases I felt fine. I was being vigilant about my surroundings, and things were fine. The funny thing is that one of the places that I can remember feeling the least safe was in downtown Manhattan. I couldn’t tell you where exactly I was, but I can remember the thing that triggered the feeling. It was the graffiti on the steel, roll-down doors on the shops.

Intellectually, I knew that there were uniformed officers a block away, leisurely chatting. They weren’t actively or intently scanning their environment. They seemed pleased that they had received such an easy assignment. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t safe. I started processing the fact that these shops needed these steel doors. I started to process the bravado required to mark the doors. I had fallen for what Malcom Gladwell described in Blink as “broken windows.”

There are times when we feel safe when we are not – and distinctly, there are times when the opposite is true. When it comes to our willingness to be vulnerable – our willingness to walk into a new neighborhood – it’s our perception of safety that is important. Strangely, our perception of safety may have been shaped years ago in our childhood. How Children Succeed explains the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, and how if you were exposed to adverse childhood events, you’ll be more cautious and reserved as an adult. You’ll be predisposed to not be vulnerable, because your perception of safety will be lower than most people.

Conversely, people who have a high degree of inner safety – which they had to develop – will take risks that no sane person should. (I may resemble this remark at times.) For these folks, there’s very little reason to spend energy protecting themselves, because they don’t believe they can be harmed – they don’t perceive their safety to be in jeopardy.

Clearly, there’s a balance here. You can’t have your set point for safety set too high, or you’ll step out in front of a beer truck and get flattened; but being so afraid that you can’t leave your home is also dysfunctional. We need to have enough safety to be vulnerable in a world with sympathy suckers.

Sympathy Suckers, Empathy Engagement, and Compassionate Connection

Sympathy is about separation. It’s an acknowledgement that things look bad – for you. The person who throws the blow-out pity party of the year is looking for someone to acknowledge their pain. That’s fine – as long as they, at the same time, don’t insist that you can’t understand. If you want someone to come alongside of you and invest themselves in your experience, you can’t tell them that they’ll never get there or, worse, make it impossible for them to get there.

Sympathy suckers want the energy associated with sympathy and don’t realize that it’s not a connection. It’s pity. The result isn’t two people getting closer together, it’s two people getting farther apart. A healthier approach is to seek and accept empathy. This is a simple expression of “I understand this about you.” It isn’t to say that one person understands everything about the other. It’s simply that there’s an aspect of your experience that I understand. I’ve never lost a child, but I’ve lost a brother, and I can use that tragic event to connect with others who’ve experienced a loss of someone close to them. I can demonstrate my compassion through my attempt to experience my own pain again, so that I can understand more of them and seek to find a way to alleviate their suffering in some small way.

You can find out more about my perspective on Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism in my post.

Bad Labels

The research on labeling, and how the labels that we apply to others and to ourselves shapes our behavior in subtle but persistent ways, is well-replicated. When students are labeled bad by their teacher (or administration), they do more poorly. When people label themselves as stupid, dumb, or incapable, they inevitably become this. (See Mindset for more on labeling.) Whether you believe that you can succeed or that you will surely fail, you’re right. However, you’re right not because of your skill, but rather because of the label that you apply to yourself.

One of the challenges with shame is the possibility that it will clue on to you your worst moments. Somehow your shame defines you by the moment that you were weak or at your worst and fails to recognize that this isn’t the whole picture. We are – none of us – one moment in time or one decision. We’re a series of good – and bad – decisions.

A healthy act of shame resistance is to resist being defined by our worst moments. We can – and should – acknowledge that it happened, that it was bad, make restitution, reform ourselves, and so on. I’m not minimizing the need to address the consequences of the action or inaction. Rather, we should not be defined by that moment. We should refuse to be labeled as a thief (and a no good) because of one incident. We shouldn’t label ourselves as insensitive when we missed the tear in the eye of a loved one. We can be compassionate and have times where we’ve lacked compassion.

Caregiving

It can be absolutely exhausting. Caring for another human being can take its physical toll on you. However, this feeling pales in comparison to the emotional exhaustion that many caregivers experience. The warm glow from the comments of friends fades, as you don’t have time for yourself and can’t make it to see them, because you’re too busy taking care of someone. The feeling of joy for being able to take care of someone when they need it is overtaken by bitterness and resentment, as you realize that you may be saving or helping their lives at the seeming expense of your own.

Slowly, the thought creeps in. What would it be like if this person died? What if I didn’t have to sacrifice my life for theirs any longer? And the thought starts to linger longer and longer. However, the thought itself seems shameful. What kind of a monster am I? What kind of a person would want someone they loved to die just so they can spend more time with friends? Why can’t I just suck it up and accept my fate?

The problem is that this perspective – shame – fails to realize that this is a normal response to exhaustion. The conclusion isn’t the right one, but the path that’s being walked makes sense. It’s a sign that you’re overburdened – not that you’re a monster. However, shame won’t let you see this. You’re supposed to be the perfect father or mother or relative. You’re supposed to be able to handle this on your own. You don’t need tights and a cape, but you’re supposed to be super.

If you’re in this situation, I know it’s tough. The difficult challenge is how to get the support you need to not become exhausted. It’s difficult when your siblings won’t help to take care of your aging parents and refuse to find them care, because it’s too expensive. They want to control the decision making – or influence it – but they’re unwilling to come support you while you’re supporting your parents. The answer – though it’s hard – is to stand your ground and insist that you need to be able to take care of yourself, your family, and your life too.

Peak Perfection

I’m always amazed at how put together other people appear. Whether it’s your favorite musician or the TV star or the celebrity, it seems like their life is right. From the outside looking in, everything seems perfect – until it isn’t. It takes a toll. Projecting the image that you’re perfect when you’re not is hard. You’re always considering what you have to say and where you need to be, what you need to wear, and what you need to drive.

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to believe that you must be put together. It’s hard to hide the gambling addiction or the liver problems caused by drinking too much too often. Preachers hide their marital trouble from the congregation. Politicians hide their financial problems from their constituents. The mayor is worried how long it will be until the town finds out about how much he’s been drinking.

Perfection takes work – and a bit of careful editing. How many takes happen before your favorite action thriller’s scene is done correctly? Two or three? Or thirty? How much work is put into hiding the mistakes and making the best take seem perfect? It’s not reality that anyone’s perfect. No one can be perfect, but in our highly edited society, we believe that it’s possible.

The problem is that no one has that kind of energy. No one can be all things to all people at all times. If we’re unable to allow ourselves to be real and vulnerable, then we’ll end up feeling lonely inside and shame has won. We silently condemn ourselves for not reaching the perfection we seek without consciously realizing that it’s an impossible goal.

Need for Learning

The understanding that perfection is an illusion isn’t an opportunity to sit back and do nothing. We need to learn from our mistakes, and we need others who are willing to do the same. We need to find ways to grow that are real. We’re not trying to be perfect, but we’re striving to be better. One of the amazing things about humans, both individually and collectively, is our capacity to become more than what we are.

The best way to do this is to learn from our trials and failures. The more willing we’re able to stare into the places that we haven’t done well and examine what happened, the more we can figure out how to do better. We become the best possible version of ourselves through our learning.

Multifaceted

When you meet someone at work or in a community club or a kid’s activity, you associate them with that one thing that you know them for. However, everyone is more complex than the one view that we see them through. They’re more than the stereotypical soccer mom. They’re more than the corporate executive. Everyone of us has facets to our life that others don’t see. While it’s normal for us to seek to simplify other people into categories, it’s equally frustrating.

People need simple, but I spent my whole life building this complexity. For me, my interests are so diverse that people struggle to put me into a box. They don’t understand embedded systems programming and multithreaded technical detail with an interest in information architecture or psychology or user adoption. These facets of my personality – my me – seem incompatible. It’s frustrating to try to explain the interests and the passions and to have folks not understand.

People wonder how you get anything done with so many diverse interests. The question lingering in the minds of folks is how can both be true? How can all of it be true? I can tell them that the answer is hard work and dedication, but that’s not an answer that they can hear. It’s easier to find a single-dimensional view of others – of me – even if it minimizes others to cardboard cutouts, even if it means that you miss their richness.

Disconnected from Ourselves

The saddest thing about shame is the way that it disconnects us from ourselves. It causes us to focus on one facet of who we are, judge it, and disconnect with others, but we also lose the richness of our understanding of ourselves for the single-faceted focus. It seems like it should be easy to know yourself. It seems like you should be able to just know who you are, what you like, and what will make you happy. However, Daniel Gilbert points out in Stumbling on Happiness that we don’t know what will make us happy. Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis and Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow point out that we’re not one commander at the helm of the ship of our lives, we’re two. We’re the emotional elephant with pattern recognition and the rational rider trying to justify and explain the decisions made by the elephant. Dan Aisley points out that we’re Predictably Irrational – but we don’t know it’s so. Eagleman shows us how our brains lie to us in Incognito.

All of this is to say that, though understanding ourselves may seem easy on the surface, it’s perhaps the hardest thing we’ll ever do – and the most rewarding.

Strength from Weakness

In the end, the way to conquer shame is to become weak. The path to victory runs through the forest of defeat. The way to connect is to realize that, even though I Thought It was Just Me, it isn’t.