Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that the world is a communion of subjects and not a collection of objects. [Everyone and everything in the world has a story. You can connect to the story if you lead with curiosity rather than judgment.]
It has occurred to me (many times) that everybody walks through worlds made of stories. The stories are, after all, how we make sense of ourselves.
Our own stories – our struggles, our mistakes, the choices we make and the results of those choices, the lessons we’ve learned and the ones we keep ignoring – are windows through which we display who and what we are. Each of us has a unique, custom-made story that we rework every day.
And since there are only so many ways any human can move through the world, each of us is very likely to find similarities and insights in every other person’s story. These findings can often be applied to our own selves.
Probably that’s why we like looking through other people’s windows. Probably that’s why other people’s stories fascinate us.
Some smarty-pants scientists who research such things tell us that our brains fire up more strongly as we listen to a story rather than to a list of factoids and dry-as-dust measures and measurements.
Our minds go sailing off into other worlds on the wings of a story well-told. The best storytellers transport us.
We actually can “see” where they have been and their words take us along with them on their journey-memories. Our brains rev up and go into overtime. We remember stories.
That’s a heck of a lot different than the sleepy-time induced by power-point presentations and soporific lectures that pile a lot of facts on our heads and bury us in a confusing avalanche of teeny-tiny details that don’t actually help us put together any kind of coherent picture.
Crabb believes that it is the connection that forms between people that is important in the act of storytelling and story-listening.
He says, “I think some people think it’s all about talking about you, you, you. But what it really is is reaching out into the void and connecting with people and letting them know they are not alone.”
The Moth, an acclaimed nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling, has been flying high for more than 20 years now. It’s the brainchild of writer George Dawes Green.
Here’s a YouTube video, “The Courage to Create,” that was published by Cole Hahn US in 2016. It features Green talking about the transformation that happens onstage when storytellers tell a tale and their audiences connect with it.
The Moth attracts all kinds of storytellers – bad and good boys and girls, and the famous, the infamous and the anonymous. And, many times, the magic happens – over and over again.
HOW THE MOTH WAS BORN AND GREW
George Dawes Green loved the storytelling sessions at his friend Wanda’s home on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia where he grew up. The moths that gathered around the porch lightbulb and the magic of friends gathered together, drinking bourbon and “talking story” were a part of the parcel.
After he became a published author and was living in New York, Green began missing the story sessions on Wanda’s porch. He wanted to recreate the experience, where ordinary people could deliver well-crafted, well-told personal stories, for his friends.
Green started hosting gatherings of storytellers in his New York loft, and the magic he remembered kept happening.
By 1997, Green’s idea had grown into a nonprofit organization named after the moths he remembered. Twenty years later The Moth had presented over 20,000 stories, told live and without notes to standing-room-only crowds worldwide.
Thousands of people have participated in Moth storytelling workshops, performance opportunities, and StorySlam competitions.
There’s a Moth Podcast that’s downloaded more than 44 million times a year as well as a Peabody-award winning radio show, The Moth Radio Hour, which airs on 450-plus public radio stations around the globe.
There’s even a Moth Corporate Program that provides industry-specific storytelling solutions.
And then there are the books. In 2013, The Moth published its first story collection. The list kept growing.
The latest of them, THE MOTH PRESENTS ALL THESE WONDERS: True Stories About Facing the Unknown, is one compiled by Catherine Burns, The Moth’s long-time artistic director.
It is amazing.
This YouTube Video, “THE MOTH: The Best Storytellers In The World,” was published in 2013 by THNKR.
It showcases a behind-the-scenes look at the astonishing effort and enthusiasm that goes into getting the storytellers ready for performing in one of the most prestigious live shows in the line-up that the group produces and it touches on what the participating storytellers get out of doing it.
It is a revelation that there are all of these people who have the guts to volunteer and come forward to tell their own story in front of a large crowd of strangers.
What’s so mindboggling, however, is that all of the other people who attend the events have made the effort and taken the time to come and listen to strangers, regardless of the topic.
As one commentator pointed out, “In a world of negativity, this…allows people to escape from the concept that everything must be internalized and that we are alone.”
I agree that “it may very well be one of the biggest acts of love this world has to offer.”
Here’s a poem:
CHICKEN SKIN KINE
In the streetlight halo at the corner,
Cocky young ones gather
To whisper warnings to each other
In spooky-story guise.
Don’t stop for that white-clad woman
Hitching a ride in the dark night.
Turn to challenge her strange silence,
Find her changed…or just not there.
Don’t carry pork over certain mountains.
There are spirits lurking in the passes there.
The pork will draw them to you and they’ll surround you.
Give them what you carry; maybe they’ll release you.
Another road, a moonless, starless night.
Quiet paws padding, the snick of sharp claws pacing behind you.
Don’t turn your head; there’s nothing there.
Show no fear; you might make it to the light.
Honor now the ancient kapu laid upon this place.
Those there are who pass in proud procession,
Ghostly torches lighting their endless path through time.
Hide. If they see you, they may take you with them.
The darkness presses inward, heavier with each new warning.
Tendrils of gossamer terror quietly spin out, a web
That catches at the day-bright glow of innocence and joy
And leaches into the wanderer’s golden longing for home.
Bold laughter chokes
In throats turned tight with dread
Of the easy road home,
Shrouded now by the magical night.
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Sunrise, sunrise” by Chris Chabot via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
Probably every wanna-be Creative has been told (at some point or other) that in order to reach their full potential as a writer, visual artist, musician, performer or whatever, it is imperative to “find your own voice.”
Now, in the Age of Social Media and Self-Branding — when the “Creative Mindset” is supposed to be The Way to $ucce$$ and Happiness — we are told that we must go looking for our individual, unique voices. Our success depends on it.
I confess, I almost lost it when a pragmatic, more literal-minded friend snarked, “I KNOW where my voice is. It’s right here in my mouth!” Gales of laughter came bubbling up.
Explaining this “voice” thing gets confusing because even people who are engaged in developing themselves in a craft or an art or some other skill that doesn’t use words and doesn’t engage the mouth’s ability to make sounds can get all tangled up in trying to figure out how to find their own “voice.”
Now that the business world has turned on to getting creative, it seems that everyone wrestles with the idea of developing a voice.
There are Titans out there – the guys who built empires using their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses by surrounding themselves with people who have other, complementary strengths. Lots of people admire them and want to be them.
There are Mega-Stars and Rainmakers and Heroes and Idols and Headliners and Leaders and Big Cheeses and High Muckamucks and Household Names and Treasures and Wonders and Leading Lights and so on and so forth, ad nauseum.
Every one of them will probably tell you that they reached the stratosphere of massive accomplishments because they were successful in finding their own unique “voice.”
WHAT IS YOUR VOICE?
This concept of the elusive “voice” all wanna-be Successes are supposed to be nurturing is the crux of a story I encountered in a blog published by a flamenco dance teacher, Rina Orellana.
She relates how students come to her asking, “How do I find my voice? How do I allow myself to become the dancer I want to be?”
When dancers ask her this, she says, to her it’s an indication that the dancer is “not quite comfortable in their skin. They’re thinking too much and not feeling or allowing themselves to be in the movement.”
Her advice to these students is particularly insightful, I think.
Orellana tells them that they “need to allow themselves to be the bad-asses that they are” and she reminds them to “look at themselves in the mirror not to correct any physical part of the dance but to CONNECT with themselves as the person dancing.”
She assures them that looking at themselves in the mirror with acceptance will ultimately lead to their being confident in their movement and in their skin.
Being comfortable in your own skin is how you tell when you are speaking with your own voice.
Your “voice” is how you’re recognized by others. It’s the “tone” and the themes of your body of work (whatever it is).
Every time you do anything that other people notice, whether you’re an artist, a businessperson, an intellectual, a scientist or a geek, you are also putting your values and the unique perspectives and skills you bring to your work on display.
What is on display is the meaning and the mana that you have developed so far in your life. Your work shows how you are standing in the world.
Like every other human thing, your “voice” changes as you grow and evolve. It develops nuances and layers. It deepens. It may develop greater clarity or get muddied up by life-induced confusions.
As an accomplished dancer and teacher, Ornella says, she cannot help passing along her own ways of moving and styling as well as the basic theories and techniques surrounding the craft.
However, in the middle of all that, her aim as a teacher is to encourage each individual dancer to find and focus on the movements that feel “right” for the dancer and to explore the rhythms that resonate.
Kevin Fitz-Gerald, a professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, in this YouTube Video “ARTS: Finding Your Voice,” which was published by the school in 2007, agrees with Ornella. The video was produced by artistshousemusic.org.
As Fitz-Gerald points out in the video, the things that his students point to as things they don’t like about themselves are very often what sets them apart and makes them unique individuals. It is those things that can help them move beyond being “average” or “mediocre” and generic.
Both of these teachers advise their students to discover and develop their own natural strengths and make allowances for their inherent weaknesses and limitations by working on improving their techniques and by choosing a framework within which they can reach for their best work.
Both of them say that you will only be able to discover and use your own voice to present a message that is unique to you when you are able to explore and accept the whole package that is you.
VOICE, AUDIENCE AND YOU
All performers (and businesspeople are performers too) need an audience. It’s part of the dynamic of this self-expression jones Creatives have. They trip out on the reactions they can engender in their audiences.
Every Creative understands that their audience will have an effect on how the artist does what he or she does. Often the audience will determine whether the artist can continue to do it.
As a performer you want your audience to actually see who you are. You want them to pay attention to what you have to say. The audience doesn’t have to like what you say. They don’t even have to like you.
Getting these others to pay attention to what you need to say can be the most important, life-affirming thing a human can do.
As a young girl who was a victim of sexual abuse by a trusted adult, acclaimed poet Maya Angelou had to choose between going silent and remaining trapped in an untenable situation or finding and using her own voice to get the help she needed to escape and to transcend this soul-shattering thing.
The girl chose to speak, and she kept on speaking and affirming life throughout her long and productive time on this earth.
In this YouTube Video, “Finding My Voice,” published in 2010 by visionaryproject, she tells how she brings herself out of her inherent tendency to go silent and closing herself down by deliberately making herself speak and speak and speak.
As Angelou points out in the video, mutism and freezing when overwhelmed by the circumstances in your life can be a very dangerous thing. It can become too comfortable.
You become invisible.
Angelou was acclaimed as a poet, story-teller, and writer. At one point she became an actress, playwright, producer, and director. She was renowned as an educator and as a civil rights activist.
Angelou died in 2014, at the age of 86. Throughout her long life, she was not invisible.
THE SHAPE OF THE SELF YOU SHOW
Your audience – anybody who’s watching what you do – will respond to the You that you present to them in your performance. They can only know what you choose to show.
Maybe you’ve decided to spend your time imitating what those who have become the icons and the “best-of-class” in your field do. Maybe, you think, if you do what they did, then you will glow with their kind of shine.
There’s only one problem with doing this: The You that you are showing to your audience will never be more than just a copy of somebody else.
For example, there are excellent Elvis imitators out there. They serve a useful function: They help keep the legend of that good ole boy alive. But, really…off the top of your head, can you actually recall the names of these performers?
The same is also true in any other field of human endeavor. Imitation is its own reward. Maybe you win a lot. Mostly not.
I suppose, “finding your voice” is all about choosing the You that you want the World to know. And, probably, you do hope that the You that you choose to show will not be ignored, dismissed or mocked.
Let’s be frank here. You really do want at least some of the other people in this world to like that self you’re showing them because, basically, you do need to win enough support for what you are trying to do so you can keep on doing it.
Part of that is a matter of survival. You have to eat. You need a place to lay your head that’s more comfortable than a piece of cardboard under some highway underpass. You need to take care of the people you love too.
And you have to achieve all that among all these other people (seven billion and counting) who are wanting to do the same thing as well.
However, it seems to me that if you’re any kind of a Maker, what you really want out of all this dancing around is to get to a place where you will have the freedom to get on with doing what you like to do best.
HOW DO YOU GET ON THE BUS?
The biggest problem with all this head-scratching and mooning around trying to hear your own voice is, as jazz great Miles Davis once pointed out, often a matter of spending enough time just doing what you want to do. Miles said, “Sometimes you have to play for a long time to be able to play like yourself.”
For one thing, there are a lot of different “selves” inside every one of us.
All the wise guys and smarty-pants agree. All of us humans are pretty much assemblages, made up of the bits and pieces we’ve picked up over time from the other people around us as we continue to wander through the world.
These assorted bits get glued onto the basic package. Sometimes all those life-bits turn us into lumpy messes.
To find the self that best encourages other people to respond positively to your spending your days in ways that resonate with that self you actually started out being can be a bitch of a project.
Every hour of every day and night you’re dealing with the pressures and demands of all of your dailynesses. Work, and the needs of your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors, and your stuff eat up your time.
Trying to deal with satisfying other people’s priorities, goals and expectations and maintain the life you’ve become accustomed to is often simply overwhelming.
Now, on top of that, we’re supposed to dig out our true selves and find our own voice as well? Ri-i-i-ght….
Todd Henry is the founder of Accidental Creative, a company that works with people and companies all over the world to foster creativity, productivity, leadership and passion for work.
Besides explaining why finding your voice is important if you are looking for the meaning and mana in your ordinary life and in your work, Henry puts forward questions to ask and ways to find your own answers to them.
Here’s a list that he put together:
What angers you? What triggers an urge in you to rectify a great wrong?
What makes you cry?
What have you mastered? What do you do well?
What gives you hope? What do you look forward to?
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do?
What would blow your mind?
What platform do you own?
What change would you like to see in the world?
If you had one day left, how would you spend it?
YET ANOTHER 30-DAY CHALLENGE SERIES
It occurred to me that Henry’s question list would make good 30-day challenge material. Here’s the how-to:
Grab an ordinary small-kid kind of composition notebook and a pen and label it “The Voice Project.” (No need to get fancy with this.)
Now, choose one of those Henry questions or make one up that’s your own, then make a commitment that for just ten minutes every day for the next 30 days, you will think on that one question and write down your answer to it in that notebook you’ve labeled. (If the time you take to answer the question stretches past the five minutes, that’s fine too.)
Do this notebook thing every day for 30 days. Be honest with yourself. Nobody else is going to see this thing. Just you.
If it starts to get boring, you might want to use colors and drawings and other stuff to illustrate the thing. Cut out magazine pictures and stick them in there. Write a poem. Whatever. Have fun with it, but answer the question.
By the end of that time, you’ll at least get some idea about the kinds of thoughts that arise when you ask yourself this one question.
After you finish the first 30-day challenge with the question of your choice, do it again for the next question, then the next, then the next.
Ten minutes a day for thirty days equals 300 minutes – a minimum of 5 hours total in a 720-hour time period.
It’s less than the time spent attending yet another workshop or working your way through one more online course.
It’s less time than the time spent participating in networking events listening to everybody else’s pitches and slinging some your own self.
In between the question-answering sessions, you might want to go back and read over and look at the stuff you’ve produced. You might ask yourself whether you really agree with all this blather and B.S. you’re shoveling.
That’s when you really start figuring out what you actually think about the thoughts you think. You find the shape of your own basic self – the one that just sits there waiting for you to notice.
It gets to be quite fascinating after a while.
I notice that the weirdest result of this little exercise is how just answering these questions and others like them affects you in your daily life.
You might start doing things that surprise you: accepting an invitation to a gathering that you might normally not consider, taking on some project or supporting a cause that resonates strongly with you, or trying something you never tried before just to see whether you might like it.
These things may have some pretty amazing results. It can be a very good thing.
Here’s a poem:
THAT IS THE SAD
Melancholy sits, a knot at the small of my back,
My companion as I walk through sunshine and through rain,
As I do my days,
Charging at windmills,
Taking in the wonderments,
Drinking down the joyousness,
Choking on the tears.
Maybe I’m understanding now:
The sadness is only the residue
Left behind as a flood flows
Through my heart cave yet again,
Leaving behind a high-water mark.
You know, of course, that all that shiny stuff
Running through all of our heart-caves are
Tributaries that merge together into a great river
Running through this ancient universe,
Pumped out by the jostling masses of living creatures,
Flowing all together like the notes of one grand song.
The birds singing their morning hosannas as they greet the sun
Go on through their day with the sound of that
Mighty chorus sounding in their ears,
Content that they’ve established their place in the world.
I am thinking we humans are no less connected than they,
But ours is a darker richer song,
Its complexity woven into our days and nights like a subsonic rumble
As we delude ourselves into believing we are immune –
Apart somehow – from the music we are making,
That grandiloquence that touches the edges of our own universe and beyond.
We fool ourselves and think we can sidestep the consequences
Of our myriad tiny choices,
That we can stand apart and inviolate, away from the all of everything.
And so we stand uncertain, unsure that this how, this place is righteously ours…
Unlike the bold birds who understand otherwise.
That’s the deep sadness, I am thinking,
The “suffering” wise guys ponder – this forgetting that is uniquely human –
The disremembering that, one and all, we are
The favored children of this old universe…
Welcome, gifted and alive,
Swimming in the same golden stream.
That willful denial keeps us grabbing at the silly, glittering flotsam,
That awful lostness rasps and scrapes us raw,
Dogging our days and trotting us around all crazy.
You have a really crazy idea that you absolutely, deep down in the pit of your stomach, KNOW will be totally RIGHT for you. You want this. You irrefutably NEED this!
You get a truly awesome limited-time chance to make it happen and it is imperative that you do this thing right now, or else….well, you just keep doing whatever you’re already doing.
Right then fear will rear its ugly head.
You get the shivers running up and down your spine. All the hair on your body — on your arms and behind your neck — stand up. Sweat pours out of you.
Your eyes narrow down and your nostrils flare as you get really, really focused and all the Boogey-Man thoughts take over your brain.
Your head aches because all of your internal sirens are wailing and every one of the alarm bells are bonging and clanging.
Maybe you start trembling. Maybe you want to cry. Maybe you want to throw up.
You get tense and you are all ready to rabbit away…run-run-RUN! Or you freeze in place, paralyzed by all the noise in your head.
(Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m exaggerating a bit.
Sometimes you’ll just get a squirmy feeling in the pit of your stomach, nervous foot-shuffling and a really dry throat.
Other times it’s just a teensy twinge of tingly nerve endings rather than a full-blown panic attack.)
WARNING! WARNING! WOOT! WOOT! WOOT!
I’ll bet that every time you were on the verge of doing something that was different than what you had done before — every time you tried to push the edges of your comfort zone and every time you tried to go somewhere or do something that you really wanted to do or faced something that was new-to-you and most uncertain — all this trauma-drama showed up like a scary pop-up.
It is a given: Fear will show up EVERY time you’re growing or going in the direction of your dreams and every time you have to face something new or different or other.
Fear always shows up when you are getting ready to undergo any kind of change — anything that disrupts the life you’ve known so far.
It doesn’t matter that the change is going to bring good things into your life or stop bad things from happening.
It’s Change-with-a-capital-C, and with change there will always be that feeling of risk. There will always be the feeling that you’re stepping out of line somehow.
Basically, the smarty-pants who study such things say that all these body-symptoms of fear are like the blip-blip-blip of the standard-issue radar equipment that’s part of your internal early warning system.
As you go through your day, your mind always scans ahead, looking for things that are out of place or different. When it detects something that is not-the-same, your brain responds by sending out these fear signals throughout your body.
Fear puts you on alert. This is fear’s job. It gets you ready to respond to whatever is coming out of the ethers at you.
Fear is a signal that you are moving into a situation that is different than what you’ve experienced so far.
It is invaluable when you are facing situations that are dangerous and/or life-threatening.
(If you’ve survived for a while in the world, you’ll probably be able to recognize those dangerous or dicey situations easily enough and can work on figuring out how to avoid, mitigate or arrest any developing debacles.)
It becomes problematic, however, when the fear-signals trip you up on your way to your own kind of better.
WHEN THERE’S A TIME-LIMIT
The worst thing about this automatic response-readying system we call “fear” is that it can screw up your ability to take an appropriate action at the time when it’s really needed.
There are times when you are one critical choice away from accepting an opportunity to move forward and reach towards whatever goal you’ve set and that choice is in-your-face right NOW.
If you let the fear-signals stop you, the chance for change will dissipate. It just won’t be there anymore.
Maybe that’s okay for you.
But, what if it’s not?
In one of his blog posts, productivity and marketing guru Seth Godin once pointed out, “By the time the fear subsides, it will be too late. By the time you’re not afraid of what you were planning to start/say/do, someone else will have already done it, it will already be said or it will be irrelevant.”
Godin advises that you can use your fear-signals to guide you in your actions. Rather than shying away or coming to a dead stop, he suggests that you go towards that thing that’s scaring you.
He says, “The reason you’re afraid is that there’s leverage here, something that might happen. Which is exactly the signal you’re looking for.”
If you can make a practice of moving forward to meet and deal with your fear of the opportunity you have been given to make progress in the direction you want to go and to do what you really want to do, then maybe you’ll be able to find more and more ways to keep on doing that.
Maybe you’ll even grow enough to be able to keep on doing it over and over again until you make your dream become real.
The quintessential go-for-it guy, Richard Branson, once said, “Don’t let fear hold you back from achieving your full potential…I know I’d rather look back on life and say ‘I can’t believe I did that’ than ‘I wish I’d done that’. How about you?”
HOW TO GET MOVING WHEN YOU’RE SCARED
The thing you have to understand, though, is that your body is really lousy at math and logic.
Rational thoughts and piles of paper spreadsheets, goals, schedules, and lists of pros and cons as well as to-do lists constructed in your more lucid moments do not help make the fearful, fearsome blip-blip-blipping stop.
Being all prepared and everything won’t get you moving.
This YouTube Video, “The Secret to Stopping Fear and Anxiety (That Actually Works) was published in 2017 by motivational speaker Melanie “Mel” Robbins. She is an on-air commentator on CNN, a television host and a serial entrepreneur.
The technique Robbins demonstrates in her video is one she developed to help people understand that the kind of fear you experience when you are trying to do something outside your own comfort zone can actually be reframed as “excitement” and can be used to push yourself forward.
“The secret isn’t knowing what to do – it’s knowing how to make yourself do it,” she says.
“Pay attention!” What happens in your head when you hear those words?
Childhood memories of parents, teachers and other Big People ordering you to do it probably aren’t your fondest memories. It almost always meant, “I’m going to tell you something you probably are not interested in or something you don’t want to hear. Listen anyway!”
Public address and warning system pronouncements and alerts that begin with “Attention!” are either boring, unintelligible, or scary…stuff that produces sinking feelings in the pit of your belly or a blank-out of white noise in your head.
In the military and other groups, “Attention!” is an order. There’s even a special, specified way to “stand at attention” that indicates to the leader-person that you are, indeed, alert and ready to receive your next order.
I suspect that whenever most of us hear the call for attention, there’s a kind of automatic shut-down.
For many of us, our attitude on being ordered to attend to something is summed up by Quora contributor Josh Manson’s comment in this 2015 thread that centered around defining the meaning of the phrase:
I am too broke to pay attention most of the time.
I’m too broke to pay my respect to anything.
I am ok with paying no mind to things that don’t concern me.
To pay means to give something of yourself to another. It is normally associated with money, so we don’t need to specify anything when it’s money we pay, it will be assumed. But to pay attention or pay respect is still giving something of yourself to another.
One question that springs to mind is this: “Okay, so I pay attention. What does that buy me?”
THE VALUE OF PAYING ATTENTION
As adults, the value of paying attention is likely to be self-evident. Somehow, we know, it’s the key to many things related to our lives.
We have to pay attention to walk across a busy street.
Our self-esteem and the authenticity of the way we walk develop according to the attention we give to our own thoughts and feelings, needs and values, beliefs and ideas.
Our happiness and the satisfaction and fulfillment we feel as we meet the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves is enhanced by our attention.
Our relationships and the communities we build are a lot more satisfying if we actually pay attention to each other and to the world around us.
Our business affairs, our careers, and the work we do to develop various skills require our attention.
Learning anything new demands our focused attention.
Our finances certainly benefit from our attention.
If we have health issues, we need to pay attention to our way of living in order to heal ourselves.
We can miss many of the moments of our life because we are not fully present for them and are moving around on auto-pilot, going through our daily routines, unaware of what we’re doing or experiencing as we ignore the world around us and multi-task our way through our days.
ATTENTION VS JUDGMENT
Okay. Now it gets convoluted.
In order to do this “paying attention” thing right – the kind that can change our lives — first we have to understand that there is a difference between “attention” and “judgment.” Very often the definitions of those two words get mixed up.
Attention is neutral. We just notice something. We “pay attention” to it and see that whatever we are noticing is just there and we are there with it.
Judgment, on the other hand, is what comes after the noticing. We humans are really, REALLY good at doing and fixing and solving stuff. Because we are bent that way, we tend to look at everything we see as something that needs to be assessed, critiqued, and then probably “fixed” or rejected or enhanced. We want to do something with this thing we noticed. We jump right in and start rearranging and moving stuff around.
We even do it to each other, which leads to all kinds of story-making, poetry, tragedy and comedy and such and all sorts of turmoil in our lives.
While “judgment” is certainly useful, it is not “attention.”
Attention is about noticing and being with something without trying to change it. Attention means taking the time to fully explore, to discover whatever there is to know about something, and to watch as things change by themselves with no interference from us.
Isn’t that starting to sound familiar? It’s like that stuff we’ve heard from all kinds of wise guys about “being mindful” doesn’t it?
It’s also a lot like what all those life-coaches and love counselors tell us about the most effective ways to enhance our relationships with others: Be open. Notice all those other people without judgment or criticism, welcome them, accept them, be patient, be kind.
The same advice applies to developing your relationship to your own self. (The best thing about being an adult is that we also have the capacity and the wherewithal to pay attention and to nurture our own selves as well.)
And the key to all of that is just simply to “pay attention.”
YOUR BRAIN ON “PAYING ATTENTION”
It’s an amazing thing. Numerous studies by neurologists and other smarty-pants scientists keep showing that the way we think and what we pay attention to does physically affect us and have tremendous impact on our lives. Those wise guys of old were right!
One 2009 best-seller book, BUDDHA’S BRAIN: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, mixes neuroscientific breakthroughs with ancient wisdom teachings from thousands of years of contemplative practice and is filled with information about the practical tools and skills that help you deal with life in our complex and complicated modern world.
Hanson, a psychologist and a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley California, is also the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. According to him, the scientists have found that “attention shapes the brain.”
What we pay attention to is literally what we will build in our brain tissue. Whatever we focus on affects how the neurons in our brains develop and wire themselves together.
This YouTube video, “How To Change Your Brain,” was taken at the Greater Good Science Center as part of the “Science of a Meaningful Life” series. It is a fascinating look at how mindfulness meditation, a way of practicing disciplined attention, is like training your muscles.
The practice, he says, can strengthen our brains as well as help us focus our attention.
Emily Fletcher is the founder of Ziva Meditation and the creator of zivaMIND, the world’s first online training (it says here). She is highly regarded as a leading expert in meditation for high performance.
Her YouTube video, “What You Put Your Attention On Grows,” was published in 2014. It is a lovely reminder that you do have a choice about what you want to pay attention to.
I’ve been beating my head on the wall I’ve made using the flood of abundance-mindset and positive-thinking books – past and present – that populate my shelves as well as articles and posts and audio tapes and video thingummies and podcasts that lurk in the spaces my computer can reach.
It all sounds so good. It’s all warm and fuzzy and smiley-face cool.
It’s also cotton-candy unsatisfactory. I’ve got a really bad sugar-high going and the crash is imminent, looming, and certain.
THERE IS PLENTY – INSIDE AND OUT
It’s a truth, you know. It really does feel better to understand that, for real, there is plenty for everybody and that we live in a spectacularly abundant natural world.
Understanding that there really is enough for you and yours is a marvelous thing to carry around with you in your head and in your heart.
As a wise old guy I knew once said, “You live most of your life inside your own head, so it makes sense to make sure it’s a good space.”
I’ve always liked that one. It’s been one of my guiding lights as I wander around in this old world.
No matter what’s going on outside, if my inside is together and is what Hawaiians call “pono” – righteous and balanced between myself and others – then I can keep on walking and keep on getting to where I want to go and I can walk lightly instead of stomping around like some cut-rate T. rex. (Dinosaurs are so yesterday, ya know.)
She says, “As long as we remain vigilant at building our internal abundance – an abundance of forgiveness, an abundance of service, an abundance of love – then external lack is bound to be temporary.” She’s right too.
Teacher, speaker, and author Charles Eisenstein has spent a lifetime looking at the Big Questions (Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?) and fiercely focuses on themes like civilization as we know it, human consciousness, money, and cultural evolution.
His is one of the best explanations of the effects of so-called “scarcity thinking” I’ve ever come across.
“From our immersion in scarcity arise the habits of scarcity. From the scarcity of time arises the habit of hurrying. From the scarcity of money comes the habit of greed. From the scarcity of attention comes the habit of showing off. From the scarcity of meaningful labor comes the habit of laziness. From the scarcity of unconditional acceptance comes the habit of manipulation.”
And that’s another truth.
ABUNDANCE IS NOT ALL THERE IS
The thing is, I do sort of agree with Richelle E. Goodrich, a poet and novelist who does epic young adult fantasy books and has published a couple of collections of musings about life as well.
In one of her books, SMILE ANYWAY, she says, “You can add up your blessings or add up your troubles. Either way you’ll find you have an abundance.”
The whole abundance thing can easily get to be…well…sort of dogmatic.
It’s easy to maintain the mindset when you’re surrounded by supportive group-think folks. It’s like being in the middle of a wonderful group hug. It feels really good.
But, the whole abundance movement thing can get hairy when you’re not surrounded by like-minded people and affirmations are a really crummy shield when there are guys gunning for you and acting out of their own sense of scarcity and not-enough.
There are predators in the world.
There are manipulators.
There are bad breaks and you can get blindsided by factors and conditions you haven’t noticed or considered.
At any given time, there are resources that you want and need which are not available to you when you want or need them.
While it is a truth that you create your own world, it is also a truth that everybody else creates their own worlds as well…and together we make the world we all have to live in.
The one thing about being human is that nobody is the sole creator of this consensus world of ours nor are we the progenitors of Life-Its-Own-Self. Humbling, I know, but there it is.
Some parts of our consensus world are not so good. It’s a work in progress, after all, and the builders often disagree on what goes where and what happens next.
An old proverb (probably German) tells us, “God gives us everything we need, but he doesn’t throw it into the nest.”
That one’s been around a long time. Another truth. It’s all out there, but you have to notice it. Then you have to get up and go get it.
I find that I’m leery of the idea that I’m a magnet à la that Law-of-Attraction thing. I keep seeing images of stuff flying through the air and hitting me upside the head. Ouch!
MY OWN THOUGHTS
My own thought is that abundance-thinking is just a part of your Living Life toolbox.
What the abundance-thinking mindset helps with is figuring out a way to go for it which does not cause a lot of collateral damage that comes back to bite you or that haunts you until the end of your days.
This, I think, is a very good thing.
Maybe the positivity thing is like vitamins and minerals. You need a minimum daily dose of the things for your body’s optimal performance and you can take supplement pills to make sure you get them all, but you do have to stay aware that even stuff that’s good for you can kill you if you overdo it.
THE ANTIDOTE TO THE PARADOX
Perhaps the only antidote to this paradox is developing receptivity and looking at the appropriateness of any given action.
“Receptivity” is all about noticing. You see and accept what’s in front of you.
“Appropriateness” is doing just enough to move something in a certain direction and nothing more.
It’s like an aikido of the mind. The whole point in aikido is to notice the direction your partner-in-play is making and to help them go in that direction (perhaps more definitely than they want) and, thus, to move them out of your own way.
Then you’re free to go do what you want to do.
ALWAYS MORE QUESTIONS
Here are some questions to consider before you go off loaded for bear or walk through an outlaw town as the guy or gal without a gun:
Is the action you’re planning to take an appropriate response to whatever circumstance you are facing?
Are you receptive to the world around you? Are there conditions or factors in a situation that could have an impact on what you are trying to do? What can you do about them?
Are you noticing things that are wonky in another person’s walk? What can you do to mitigate the effects of that?
Are you noticing things that you are doing that just don’t work? Can you do something different that might work better?
One of my favorite quotes is from poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
That last may be the biggest test to run on any action before you take it: How will it make other people feel? Are you good with that?
In 2010, Steven Kealohapau’ole Hong-Ming Wong – “the slam poet known as Kealoha” — was designated by Governor Neil Ambercrombie as Hawaii’s first (and, so far, only) official state poet laureate.
The following 2010 YouTube video, published by poetryfan808, shows the multi-genre, multimedia collaboration that opened the 2010 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards Show, the annual premier music awards in Hawaii. (Think of it as Hawaii’s Grammy Awards.)
The show’s opening act, which was spearheaded by Kealoha, features performances by renowned Hawaiian musicians that include the late O’Brian Eselu, Keali’i Reichel, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, Anuhea, Mailani, Natalie Ai Kamau’u, Amy Hanaiali’i, Jake Shimabukuro, Henry Kapono and John Cruz as well as two hula halau, Na Pualei O Likolehua and Halau Na Mamo O Pu’uanahulu.
WHAT’S A POET LAUREATE?
The mandate given to Kealoha at the time of his elevation to “poet laureate” by the governor was this: “As Hawaii Poet Laureate, Kealoha will highlight poetry in all its forms as enriching to our lives and giving voice to our history and way of life in the Aloha State.”
His duties, the governor’s office said, include reading, writing and spreading awareness about poetry appreciation as well as performing at official state events like the dedication of a sculpture garden at the Hawaii State Art Museum and performing at the governor’s inauguration.
He can also be asked to represent Hawaii at similar ceremonial events around the country and the world.
Kealoha was doing all that for years before he was named Hawai’i’s official poet laureate. It has all been a part of a spirited journey that took some unexpected turns.
GETTING TO THE BEST DREAM
Kealoha is a local boy. He was born and raised in Honolulu.
Like many bright island youngsters he went away to school in the Mainland. At the time he was dreaming about becoming a nuclear engineer, working on atomic fusion, and changing the world.
He returned home to Honolulu at the end of 2001, after earning a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and after spending a couple of years after he graduated working as a business management consultant in San Francisco for the Mitchell Madison Group, a worldwide company with clients such as Adidas, Visa, Samsung, Mattel, Sun Microsystems and Health Net.
Looking at it from the outside, there doesn’t seem to be much of a connect between business management and his major in nuclear physics (with a minor in writing), but as Kealoha says, scientists and engineers are trained to solve problems.
Corporations value that ability and problem-solvers are well-paid. At Mitchell Madison, he oversaw marketing, aggressive sourcing, business development, internet strategy, corporate strategy and energy research.
It was in San Francisco that Kealoha discovered slam poetry. He told PBS Hawaii “Long Story Short” interviewer Leslie Wilcox about that time.
The poetry he heard when he attended his first poetry slam in 2000, he said, just blew him away. He was instantly hooked.
He said, “…my work just sort of got pushed to the side ‘cause I would spend all my time writing. I was spending all those late nights, on Sunday night going to these poetry slams. And Monday morning, going to work all tired. And I didn’t care; I was living again. I had something that really inspired me.”
Meanwhile, his work as a consultant had become less meaningful to him.
Kealoha needed to re-think where he wanted to go with his life, so he did what a lot of local kids do. He did the Full Circle; he came home.
One interesting question that Wilcox posed during her interview with Kealoha struck me as noteworthy. She asked whether Kealoha had a five- or ten-year plan. He chuckled a bit ruefully and admitted that he did not.
The guy does not deliberately plan out his path. He just takes off in the direction that looks like it could work for him and then whales away at it until it does work. Maybe there is a lesson in that.
HAWAIIANS AND THE SPOKEN WORD
When he got back to Honolulu, Kealoha discovered that the urban poetry and art scene was alive and lively.
At the time of his homecoming, Wordstew, the brainchild of poet-performer Jesse Lipman (recognized as the godfather of Hawaii Slam Poetry), was drawing crowds at the Wave Waikiki nightclub’s open-mic nights.
This YouTube video features a poem by Jesse Lipman, “Jewipino Flowers,” at an early First Thursday gathering in 2013.
Other literati, musicians, deejays, and artists were cultivating “art spaces” where sound and visual artists could meet to collaborate. Kealoha found a thriving literary and performing arts community.
Its existence was probably due in part to the reverence for the spoken word that has always been strong in Hawaii.
Before there was a written language, all of the native history and traditions were contained in the chants and the mele (song-poems) that were passed down through the generations.
Even when speaking the Hawaiian language was discouraged by those in power over a conquered people, the songs, old and new, could not be silenced. The habit of word-play continued.
More than one observer has noticed the affinity the island peoples have for it. Spoken word artist, author and publisher Richard Hamasaki found it to be true when he participated in the state Department of Education Artists-in-the-School program.
Hamasaki found that many of the children he encountered in the program had an affinity for word-play. He said, “They had ingenious ways of combining what they heard on the radio with the language of their culture and they produced work that was honest and alive.”
This is no small thing. Hawaiians are descended from poets and songwriters as well as warriors, farmers, artisans, and sailors, and even the children can dance with words.
Perhaps this is because, for Hawaiians, words hold power. There’s an old proverb, I ka ‘ōlelo no ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make. (In the word is life. In the word is death.)
It comes from a time when the performers of the chants and the mele had to be word-perfect. They were, after all, the ones who carried the words of the ancestors and of those who held the old wisdoms. These words held power and magic.
AND THE DREAM COMES REAL
Kealoha joined right in, working open-mic nights, competing in national slam competitions and helping to build a “poetry scene” in Hawaii.
He helped to found HawaiiSlam, a non-profit organization dedicated to showcasing poets from the islands.
HawaiiSlam has been running the nationally certified First Thursdays slam poetry competition, the largest registered poetry slam in the world, and Kealoha has been SlamMaster since 2003. HawaiiSlam’s ongoing First Thursdays competitions in Kaimuki draws more than 500 attendees each month.
Kealoha has also been on the “Artists-in-the-Schools” roster since 2005, helping to introduce youngsters to the power of words and poetry and he works with young poets who are hoping to compete in the national slam poetry competitions.
HBO’s 2009 “Brave New Voices” documentary produced by Russell Simmons featured Kealoha as the strategic coach for “Youth Speaks Hawaii”, a slam poetry team that won the entire festival that year.
He has ventured into theatre as a director, playwright and actor, has performed internationally as a poet and storyteller, and was selected as a master artist for a National Endowment for the Arts program as well. The list goes on and on.
In an interview for his alumni on-line newsletter, “Slice of MIT,” Kealoha said that being named the official poet laureate for the state was a great honor.
He also said that he feels most fulfilled when people tell him that his work has moved them or changed their perspective.
“That’s the goal – that’s the good work,” he says.
And isn’t that the best reason to make the journey into your own dreaming?
This YouTube video is Kealoha’s 2012 TEDxManoa Talk which features his poem, “The Poetry of Us”.
This YouTube video, “The Invisible Gorilla” features Daniel Simons talking about that experiment. It was published by the Beckman Institute in 2011 and won a regional Emmy award.
As Simons says, the human mind pretty much sees what it expects to see.
We are often blind to change because we are focusing on something else that we feel is important and that needs to be processed and attended to.
Distractions that occur within the same time-frame as the change, the age of an observer, as well as the use of psychoactive drugs also may affect whether we notice some change or other.
The guys in the lab coats call this mind-trick “change blindness” and, they say, we are all vulnerable to its effects. It’s an everyday phenomenon.
Drivers fail to recognize changes in traffic lights. They miss important signs and signals from other vehicles and from their surroundings. Sometimes they don’t notice pedestrians or other vehicles in their path.
Imagine what would happen if an air traffic controller did not notice some important change on their instruments. Yipes!
Arguments, misunderstandings and confusion are likely between people who fail to recognize that one or the other of them has changed in some way.
Eyewitness reports about any incident will differ radically from each other and, even worse, may have almost no congruence with what actually happened.
The number of big, smart and successful companies who completely failed to notice that their environment had changed is the stuff of legend.
The “buggy-whip syndrome” takes out those entrepreneurs who fail to notice the rise of some new technology or innovation that makes their product or their way of doing business redundant or obsolete. They bite the dust.
SO WHAT’S YOUR NEXT MOVE?
The researchers do say that knowing about your propensity for change blindness is a help.
They also tell us that what you pay attention to can help you navigate better through this ever-changing world.
They agree that you do have to know what is important to you and keep your eye on that.
Some of them also emphasize the importance of knowing how any major change that may occur will affect these important-to-you things.
That could be an overwhelming task, it seems to me.
Example. We’ve all heard about climate change and increasingly erratic weather patterns, but what does that mean to us personally?
Do we sell our coastal homes and relocate inland?
Do we stay where we are, but invest in retrofits and reinforcements?
Do we ignore the warnings and hope for the best?
It can be really hard to wrap your head around many of the major world changes and their possible effects on your life.
The final acts of some of the really big world changes are probably set for tens of thousands of years in the future.
Unless it’s your passion, it may be a bit difficult to work up serious personal concern about them in the here and now.
However, many of the challenges of other lesser changes (like you working in a failing or fading industry or your kids hitting puberty or your aging parent’s need for care) can be foreseen.
You can probably suss out at least some of the effects these changes may have on your life.
You are likely to find examples and models of different ways to deal with these sorts of changes that other people have developed and you may be able to construct specific plans that you can use to deal with them.
Doing this can allow you to gradually implement these plans to good effect.
Some Smarty-Pants advocate having an early warning system in place that alerts you to the need to work out what you can do to preserve the important things in your life before a change that could adversely affect them occurs.
I’ve lived all my life with an early warning system set up by the (American) National Weather Service that alerts us island folk of the approach of tsunamis and hurricanes.
The eerie wailing of that siren system as it is tested every month reminds us that the possibility of disaster is a given.
I’m not sure how I feel about having a personal early-warning system which might have the net effect of reminding me that at any time in this era of whirlwind changes my life could possibly turn to drek.
Trying to parse out every marginally likely worst-case scenario and then figuring out possible solutions or game plans for a whole array of these changes is more than a little daunting.
(It also sounds massively time-consuming.)
And then, of course, there is the Mike Tyson admonition: “Everyone thinks they have a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.” This, too, is a truth.
This YouTube video, “Getting stuck in the negatives (and how to get unstuck)” features social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood’s 2013 talk at TEDxUCDavis.
It looks at another way to deal with the events and changes that happen and will continue to happen every day in your world.
Listening to Ledgerwood reminded me that change blindness can also keep us from seeing how the circumstances of our lives have changed for the better.
As she points out, we humans tend to focus on the negatives and gloss over the positive, “good” changes that happen (and keep happening) along with the “bad.” Many of us are naturals at forecasting worst-case scenarios.
Consciously working on noticing the positives may actually be a better alternative than compulsively planning and preparing for every catastrophe and making an archive of back-up and contingency plans that may never be needed.
You only have so much time in the world. Do you really want to spend it making plans and preparing yourself for dealing with what might happen if The-Sh*t-Hits-The-Fan?
Some people do. Perhaps you are one of them.
If not, then focusing on practicing and stretching your ability to stay in Ledgerwood’s “gain frame” might be right for you.
AND ONE MORE
Happiness researcher Shawn Achor is well-known for his advocacy of positive thinking.
The coolest thing about kids, I think, is this: They come into this world as a bundle of wonder and curiosity.
BEGINNER MIND POWER
Kids know they don’t know, they’re hard-wired to find out, and they are absolutely single-minded in their efforts. They are the epitome of relentless, the very best role models for persistence.
Every one of them is working on mastery. They all want to know how to do it all well.
It doesn’t stop: walking, talking, tying shoelaces, making friends, riding a bike, playing games, finding out how something works and why you do this and not that. On and on and on.
They notice everything (especially the stuff the adults would rather they didn’t) and they are interested in every single little thing they encounter.
Their major mistakes are usually the result of ignorance. They just don’t know enough yet and a lot of their plans fall apart because of that. (That tends to give the people who care about them the heebie-jeebies, but so what?)
When they’re starting out, kids are determined to catch on and catch up.
They want to do it themselves.
They want to get good and they want to show they know what they know.
SMALL IS COOL
Kids start small. After all, they are little and they are weak and have to depend on the Bigs around them just for survival. (But, THAT is gonna change! Uh-huh.)
Every time they make a misstep, it’s usually just a small hiccup in their forward progress.
The little guys haven’t gotten to the big stuff yet and if they’ve got Bigs who help to keep them mostly safe from the ordinary life-threatening stuff, kids can pick themselves up and try again…and again and again…until they get to where they want to go.
If the circumstances in their lives are harder, more unfortunate, or even downright dangerous, then the ones who survive learn more and they learn faster and often they get even better at not giving up.
Every little win is its own reward. (One more down, what’s next?)
TIME IS ON THEIR SIDE
Kids know time is on their side.
They’re going to get bigger.
They’re going to get those flabby muscles built up and that tongue moving right.
They already know how to act cute, and they are going to learn how to make friends and influence all those Bigs too.
They’re going to keep on going until they get there.
Kids only absolutely know they have Now, and Now is when they want to do something, so they work with whatever they’ve got going and they do what they can with it.
They’re going to find out everything they need to know about everything they want to know…just, EVERYTHING.
PLAY AS SERIOUS WORK
Kids also know that play is really serious work. It’s how you learn what you need to know.
When they get the chance to play, they will go for it. Why not? Maybe they will learn something.
You can just see the wheels turning as they play.
You can just imagine them thinking, You watch: I’m going to get out there and I’m going to rock the world! Yes, I am!
GETTING BACK TO THE MOJO
Sounds familiar, right?
We all started out like that. Some of us manage to hang onto the wonder and use it to leverage ourselves up and on to doing more and more amazing things. The rest of us wonder how come we don’t.
There are a lot of lessons you can learn about mastery by watching kids. Here are some examples:
IT ALL STARTS WITH WONDER AND INTEREST. Even as adults, we know this. If you are not interested in something, you just don’t pay attention to it and you don’t notice the lessons that are right there in front of you.
SMALL WORKS. We’re all little compared to the Universe. We all have limitations. We get to where we want to go by doing what we can with what we’ve got.
NOW IS WHEN YOU DO SOMETHING. It’s the only time when you can. You can’t change the past. The future is out of reach. There really is no other when to do something.
PERSISTENCE AND WILL RULES. If you haven’t gotten to where you want to go yet, then that’s a sign that you’re not done yet.
MIS-STEPS AND MISTAKES THAT DON’T KILL YOU DON’T MATTER. So you fell down. Ouch! Now try to get back up. Not happening? Well, hell…you can crawl, right?
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. Whatever you know is what you know. What you know can be used to get to where you want to go. What else do you want or need to know? Go get it.
PLAY IS HOW YOU LEARN.
Isn’t it funny that these lessons are the same ones that we hear from all the wise guys and life counselors and self-help books?
My theory is that somehow, on our way to learning how to be adults, we got distracted by the details and have forgotten the power with which we were born.
I get the feeling that power’s still there, waiting for you to notice, and if you’ve forgotten what it looks like, then the Universe has lots and lots of little guys who can help you remember.
My own feeling is, if you’re stuck in the suck of trying to be a cog in some wheel not of your own making, the best thing you can do is watch kids…your own kids, kids belonging to your friends and family, stranger kids doing their thing, whatever.
Watch what they do. See what works. Do that.
This YouTube video is a compilation of jaw-dropping performances by some amazing kids. It was put together by People Are Awesome in 2017.
Here’s a poem:
The world is a bigger cup
Than your small hands can manage.
It is heavy and close to overflowing.
The hot liquid heart-blood it holds
Burns your fingers
As you concentrate on not-dropping,
As you try yet again to
Navigate over another
Wide, slick, sparkly-clean floor.
Your wrists ache
And you grit your teeth.
You try, try, try,
Harder and harder,
To hold onto that cup
That seems to get heavier
As you walk along.
There it goes…
The cup’s lying there, emptied,
And all the stuff’s spread out
In one grand sploosh spattered all over
That proud new pair of shoes
As old issues come bubbling up to blindside you,
As the shouting starts you notice that
The issues are not even yours.
Toddler lessons revisited:
My small, but not my bad.
It helps to remember that
The world is heavy
And it’s way, way big for small people…
It helps to remember that
We are all small.
Maybe we just need smaller cups.
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Power” by BadWolfBobbi via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
It’s a very different take than the more usual “give until it hurts” that Mother Theresa espoused.
Mother Theresa’s thing seems to encourage a degree of selflessness that’s way over the top. Some folks take it to mean that you’re supposed to give and give and give until you’ve nothing left to give….and then you give some more.
With that one, I’m not quite sure what you’re supposed to do when you’re totally depleted and unable any more to take care of your own self, your own dreams, and the responsibilities that are yours.
I’ve often wondered.
MINDFULNESS AND GIVING
Levinson’s take on the whole giving thing seems, instead, to encourage mindfulness, looking at whether the “help” you’re giving is actually a help to the other person and is not a detriment to yourself.
Is this help you are giving effective?
Are you empowering the other person?
Does the help you are giving encourage the recipient to continue walking their own road?
Does it help them to build themselves up so they can tackle their own problems?
Very often, you have to watch to make sure that the responses and moves you’re evoking from the other person as a result of the actions you’ve taken are heading in the direction that can allow them to make the best use of the energy (money, time, talent) that you’ve expended on their behalf.
So, what happens if it doesn’t? What if your gift keeps the other person from learning the lessons they need to learn? What if your gift actually diminishes them?
An everyday example of that is the effects of being raised by a so-called “helicopter parent.”
A well-meaning, overprotective parent who does your chores and your homework for you; tries to resolve your every social problem; is your personal rally squad who cheers you on for every little thing you might accomplish and attempts to completely eliminate any sort of contact you might have with frustration of any sort is NOT a help.
If every obstacle is eliminated for you, how are you going to learn how to do your own work-arounds and develop your own strengths to power on through the potholes and hurdles and to fix your own mistakes?
If your way of giving involves solving another person’s problems without giving them the chance to face their own challenges, the net result is that your gift can prevent them from developing their own abilities and making their own choices and decisions.
It sends the unfortunate message that you don’t think they can do it without your help. Is that a message you want to send?
AND WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Also, a major question you might want to ponder is this: When you are making this gift, are you using your available resources in a way that adds meaning and mana (inherent power) to your own life?
Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg has written about the positive effect generosity can have on one’s sense of freedom and our own sense of self.
When we give, we continually test our limits, she says. “The practice of generosity is about creating space. We see our limits and we extend them continuously, which creates a deep expansiveness and spaciousness of mind.”
The late poet Maya Angelou once famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What other meaning does the power of giving lend to your life? Is it worth the cost?
TWO ENDS OF A GIFTING TRANSACTION
It occurs to me that every gift has a giver and a receiver. The gift is a transfer of life-energy from one to another.
Gifting is always a transaction between the one who gives and the one who receives.
The thing is, human relationships are always complex. Questions to ask yourself before you offer to help someone with more than an easy-fix problem are these:
Does the person want your help?
Is the person ready to accept your help?
Do you have the skill, the time and the inclination to do what is really needed? Trying to help people when you don’t have the skills or the time or the commitment to a project is likely to do more harm than good.
Jumping into somebody else’s life and messing with their “stuff” does require a lot of heavy thinking beforehand. Be respectful. Be careful. That may be somebody’s heart you’re stepping on.
HOW ARE YOU HELPING?
Sometimes it’s just a matter of pitching in. Some project needs to be completed and you are willing and able to lend a hand.
The goal is clear, everybody agrees on the purpose and the method is fairly obvious. You go.
However, it does get more confusing and a lot more difficult when you’re trying to help others as they cope with circumstances that are catastrophic or perhaps the result of societal issues over which they have little control.
This YouTube video, “Help That Helps – Giving What Is Really Needed,” was published in 2016 by the Visalia Rescue Mission. It was put together by people who spend their days providing concrete help in many different ways for the homeless in their area.
The major take-away from this one is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the bigger, more problematic circumstances humans often face.
The book has a Christian bent. Its goal is to educate missionaries and ministries as well as other helpers who work in poverty- and disaster-stricken areas about how to effectively alleviate poverty for the long-term.
The authors advise that these helpers need to focus on the resources and abilities a community already has rather than focusing on what the community does not have.
The book is an interesting read for anyone who’d like to gain a better understanding of the different facets of helping those in need.
HOW TO TELL WHEN YOU’RE GIVING TOO MUCH
Professor Shawn Meghan Burn’s 2014 article in Psychology Today, “Twelve Signs That You are Giving Too Much,” gives a rundown of the signs that the help you are giving to someone may be dysfunctional and unhealthy.
He says the most successful and effective givers are those who rate high in concern for others and also in self-interest.
These givers contribute in ways that reinforce their social ties and they say yes to the things they for which they have the unique skills, resources or time to give.
They also limit what they do.
Failed givers, Grant says, tend to say “yes” to everything. Often they end up either overwhelmed, ineffectual, or resentful and put-upon.
LOOKING FOR THE SIGNS
Perhaps Levinson is right. Looking at the real effects of what you do to help other people can guide you in determining how much you give and how.
If what you are doing is truly a help, then it makes sense to keep on doing what you’re doing.
If it does not help (either because you’re making stupid or ineffective moves or because you’re dealing with blind people), then it’s probably a good idea to stop whatever you’re doing and reassess.
As one commentator pointed out, if you help the wrong person for the wrong reason or in an ineffectual way, you may miss opportunities to really help the right person who needs the kind of help you can gladly give.
GIVING IS A GOOD THING
We all agree that helping people is a good thing. We believe that it’s a way to ensure our own happiness.
Wise guys have told us that forever.
There’s a Chinese proverb that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
Saints, power dudes and other famous sorts all tout giving and serving others as the way to happiness.
Even scientific research provides compelling anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.
The guys in the lab coats have used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology to map out how giving activates the pleasure centers in the brain, just like food and sex.
Humans are hard-wired to feel great about giving, it says here. We like doing it. Giving makes us happy.
For some people, giving is as natural as breathing. For others, not so much.
If you feel like you are starving to death and the world is set up to take everything you have away from you, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be moved to generosity very often.
Generosity is a learned response and you can learn it from the people around you.
That’s what research by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith suggests, anyway. He concluded that it is certainly possible to absorb lessons for or against generosity.
This 2015 YouTube video, “Joy” was a story presented by Ashok Ramasubramanian in Speakeasy DC’s monthly storytelling series. It was part of a show at Town Danceboutique, a bar in Washington, DC, on the theme, “The Charismatic Leader: Stories about those we follow for the right and wrong reason.”
The video gives an example of how someone can be influenced towards more generosity. It’s also an engaging story.
Smith is not completely convinced that the increased activity that happens in the brain when we are being generous is actually responsible for increasing our happiness.
Maybe all that cogitating is triggered by questions like, “Should I?”, “Can I?”, “Is this worth it?”
He’s one of the guys who suggest that, maybe, because generous people tend to view the world as safe, secure and abundant, it could just be that they are happy because they have a generally sunny outlook. Whatever.
It’s a funny thing, though. Even seeing other people’s generosity tends to be uplifting and induces a bit of teary-eyed smiling. This sweet video, “The Most Generous Boy in the World,” published by filmmaker Meir Kay in 2017, is a smile-maker that way.
Another science of generosity finding backed by a lot of anecdotes and stories is that the more adversity someone has experienced, the more compassion he or she often feels. This compassion is likely to increase the tendency to be generous.
One of my favorite YouTube videos is this 2013 short film made by TrueMoveH, “Inspiring Power of Giving and the Power of Veggie Soup” that was published by Get Your Health Up in 2013. (Got your Kleenex handy?)
Here’s a poem:
An everyday wonder are the friends of your heart,
They see you and they let you know you are there with them.
They cherish you for who you are
And they honor what you are making of your own true self.
Their love’s embrace is soft,
But the love is solid and deep.
Like a gentle bay, they invite you to come and play
On warm, golden sands shaded by tall trees
With leaves that rustle in the softest breezes,
And swim in calm waters ringed by strong reefs.
You can build sand castles there.
You can float in the water cradled between sand and sun,
A peaceful bit of flotsam among the ripples.
Like the moana beyond the reef,
The deep, rolling waves of their love
Carry you on your way beyond the horizons
To new worlds that you can only imagine
As you dream on the beach while you watch the sun set.
I’ve just read Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s book, THINKING FAST AND SLOW, which is a summary of Kahneman’s lifetime study on how the mind works.
Kahneman, now in his 80’s, has been called “one of the world’s most influential living psychologists.” His work – which includes things with names like prospect theory, loss aversion, anchoring, separate mental accounting, the representativeness bias and the availability bias — has helped to shape and continues to influence the field of behavioral economics and finance.
For laymen, the book lays out Kahneman’s insights about two often-conflicting systems we humans use for making decisions. The book is written in a clear and engaging style that led to the book becoming an international bestseller in 2011.
I’ll probably go back to read this book several more times. It’ll be a reference book for me, sitting on my shelf.
THINKING FAST AND SLOW is one of those primers that is just chock-a-block full of useful insights that can be applied to regular living. It’s worth more than one visit.
THE TWO “SYSTEMS” OF THOUGHT
In his book, Kahneman builds mind-constructs that delineate and explain the two main ways we humans use our minds to decide how to move in the world.
These constructs are based on work from the decades-long collaboration he maintained with another brilliant psychologist, Amos Turyev, whose focus of study was decision-making and judgement. Turyev died in 1996 at the age of 59.
Kahneman sticks labels that he got from psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West on the constructs – System 1 (the automatic system) and System 2 (the effortful system).
As Kahneman explains them, these systems each have inherent strengths and weaknesses. They are available to us at all times. If we can learn how to work with both of them, then we’re likely to reach better decisions than if we rely only on one or the other.
GOING ON AUTOMATIC PILOT
System 1 operates with little or no effort. It’s sort of like breathing. You don’t need to call it up and you don’t have to pay any attention to it.
System 1 is always there, at the ready for action, and it is lightning-fast.
Because of this system of thinking we are all really good at creating a consistent story from the data and the observations we have on hand.
With that story, we can make up ways of walking and directions to take. We can create new things, evoking a Something out of the possibilities that present themselves because we have and believe that story.
This is cool and all, but there does happen to be a downside to it.
With System 1 running, we see what we see, throw in memories of old lessons learned and mix in assorted hints and rumors and allegations we’ve heard from someplace or other to build a logical sort of a story that becomes a platform from where we can launch off in some direction or other.
Kahneman likes to call the underlying mode of this system by the acronym WYSIATI for “what-you- see-is-all-there-is.”
Notice how the picture above is an automatic story-starter. (You can check out the photographer’s story about it by clicking on the caption. Did your story come close?)
In our almost-immediate story-creating, we do tend to ignore sometimes-critical information. After all, if we can construct a logical story from the information we have, why bother to see new facts, figures or ideas? Right?
Rebel-psychiatrist R. D. Laing once famously said, “If I don’t know I don’t know, I think I know. If I don’t know I know, I think I don’t know.” (Read that again. Like much of Laing’s work, it’s confusing but it does make sense.)
The fact that we are so prone to take things at face value does have a bearing on the problem with just running with System 1. When it comes to making decisions, we can be fearless in our ignorance.
In the absence of detailed, accurate knowledge we can construct stories that support our beliefs and act on those beliefs with a confidence that can border on insanity.
Using System 1, you can effortlessly form impressions and generate feelings that can be used to build complex patterns of ideas that engage your interest and influence your decisions.
You can even react to a threat before you recognize that it is one. (Sometimes you’re even right.)
The one fly in the soup is this: System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of information we hold. All it looks for is a coherent, believable story.
It’s the consistency of the information that matters for a good story, not its completeness.
We can make totally believable stories with next to no facts. We can even make totally believable stories out of downright lies.
That can be a problem.
Very often in our System 1 parkour-style free-running through life, we neglect to suss out the big drop on the other side of the low wall we’re jumping over and…ouch! Street-pizza happens.
[This awesome 2018 YouTube video, “Late For Work – Parkour Run,” was published by urbanamadei. I figured we needed a break from all the heavy-duty thinking.]
WORKING ON THROUGH SYSTEM 2
Kahneman calls the conscious and deliberative System 2 thinking “effortful.” It is neither automatic nor is it easy.
You would be likely to tap into System 2 thinking when you’re trying to solve one of those durned word puzzles on a math test. Very often these riddles are tricky. The first answer that comes to mind is probably not going to be the right one.
Here’s a cute animated YouTube video published in 2017 by funza Academy, “The Bat and Ball Problem That 50% of Harvard Students Got Wrong.”
As the video points out, we really have to push ourselves to get into the process of System 2 thinking. The mental work involved is deliberate, effortful and orderly.
If you are really grinding on a complex problem, even your body gets involved. Your muscles tense up, your blood pressure rises, your heart rate increases. Your pupils dilate. You stress.
It doesn’t stop until you either solve the problem or you give up.
Only the slower System 2 thinking can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps. To activate it and use it, you do have to pay much more attention to what you are doing than when you use the automatic System 1.
Think of an American driving in Europe for the first time. There she goes, driving down what she totally feels is the wrong side of the road.
You’d better believe she is paying strict attention to what she is doing, especially if that road gets busy.
The other thing System 2 can do, Kahneman says, is to overrule the freewheeling impulses and associations of System 1.
System 2 goes into action when you need to control yourself. When you’ve already made a mistake because of your inattention that requires fixing, you’ll reach for the System 2 thinking. When you need to be logical and rational, System 2 will be there on-call.
System 2 will keep you polite when you’re angry. When you’re driving at night, System 2 helps to keep you alert.
Also, when System 1 runs into difficulty, when tried-and-true solutions to some problem does not work or when you encounter a question for which you have no answer, System 2 can be mobilized to look for new solutions and for better answers.
The biggest problem with System 2 thinking is the urge to keep looking for one more factoid, one more factor, or one more aspect or angle. You can get so caught up in analyzing and philosophizing that you forget to get up off your behind and start doing.
“Paralysis by analysis” sets in and you need to call in System 1 thinking to cut to the chase.
When you get to the point where all the fact-gathering has you in “Park,” you need to dismiss the System 2 thinking and let the System 1 thinking take over again. Otherwise you’re never going to get out of the parking lot.
You take all your new insights and information from the System 2 thinking and you build another story using the System 1 thinking. Then you go.
The following YouTube video, published by The Commonsence in 2018, presents some thoughts on how to work with both of the systems in day-to-day living.
Knowing fast and slow thinking are a part of your mind’s toolbox means that you’ll be able to use them appropriately as needed, it seems to me.
I do recommend Kahneman’s THINKING FAST AND SLOW. It has a plethora of insights and ideas that can help you understand about how you are thinking and why you do that. It can also help you direct your course corrections more consciously.
One thing that Kahneman does not emphasize in the book is the part where you take all the insights you’ve worked so hard to gather using the System 2 explorations and figure out how to sink that new knowledge down into your bones so that the insights become a more permanent part of your System 1 story-making.
That one is the result of doing, repetition and deliberate practice — something athletes, martial artists and Makers of every stripe know is necessary to develop mastery. And that’s a whole other story….
Here’s a poem:
SLOW THINKER LAMENT
This is irritating!
In a world of fast thinkers and pyrotechnic wizards,