A hypothesis of generosity

None of us suffer from a deficit of experience. In fact, “stuff’ happens virtually non-stop.

The daily rhythm of life is that we have ups and downs. Problems manifest, big and small. Complications arise, both profound and mundane. We encounter joys, concerns and everywhere in between. Items get checked off our to-do list. Or not.

Amidst the backdrop of our existence come the many challenges to our equanimity. Often these arise as times when we feel confronted, slighted, or disrespected, Other times we may feel shunned or even attacked.

Maybe we get get cut off in traffic or treated rudely by a stranger. A friend doesn’t call us back. A co-worker doesn’t include us in an important meeting. Perhaps we don’t feel truly heard by our partner. Maybe we even sense that we are being judged or harshly criticized by someone who loves us.

If you are anything like me, you might find yourself drawn to apply a strong filter of negativity, propelled by self-righteousness, defensiveness and anger. If you are anything like me, you might start to make up quite a lot about what’s actually going on and what it all means.

So what if instead we started with a hypothesis of generosity? What if our filter was set to kindness and curiosity instead of assuming the worst possible interpretation? What if we followed Brene Brown‘s advice in her book Rising Strong and we asked ourselves “what is the most generous assumption about this person’s intentions or what this person said?”

In choosing this path we have to challenge our ego. We have to let go of the need to be right. We have to stop getting our needs met through propping ourselves up by putting others down. We have to move toward connection, rather than run from it. It’s not always easy. And it means telling ourselves a fundamentally different story.

But as Brene goes on to remind us:  “What do we call a story that’s based on limited real data and imagined data and blended into a coherent, emotionally satisfying version of reality? A conspiracy theory.”

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This post also appeared on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

We over me

The other day President Trump talked about how “my military” was successful in carrying out a bombing run.

Regardless of how one feels about the merits of taking military action, or which side of the aisle you happen to sit on politically, it’s hard to imagine a leader who deserves less credit for the strength and skills of the US armed forces. It’s also shocking in its failure to recognize who foots the bill. Criticism was deservedly fast and furious.

Contrast that with superstar golfer Jordan Spieth (who, by the way, is nearly 50 years younger than Trump). It’s rare for Spieth to not say “we” when talking about his play. In fact, the times when he tends to use “I” or “me” are when he hasn’t played particularly well. In a sport which is highly individualistic, he is quick to credit his team; to value the we over me.

Of course, we drive every day on roads we didn’t pave.

We sit in offices we didn’t build.

We use an internet we didn’t design and don’t maintain.

Almost of all us eat food we neither planted, nor tended,  nor picked, nor hauled to the store.

It’s easy to be selfish, to value the me over we.

And often harder to give credit where credit is due.

Harder still, it seems, to be grateful for all all we have whether we deserve it or worked for it or had it fall into our laps by luck or some measure of grace.

 

This post was also published on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

That which we worship

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” – Greg Beale

The word “worship” most often has a religious connotation. But we can revere, adore, exalt, venerate and glorify many things beyond whatever concept of a Higher Power we have–or don’t.

We can worship money.

We can worship being right.

We can worship a bigger house filled with more and sexier stuff.

We can worship the demonization of people different from us.

We can worship busyness.

We can worship expanding and protecting our ego.

And on and on.

Of course we can also worship compassion.

Or generosity.

Or acceptance.

Or forgiveness.

Or love.

The thing to remember is that which we worship is a choice, each and every day, in the present moment.

The other thing to remember is that, ultimately, we become what we worship.

 

Alternative facts and the reality distortion field

“I dream of a world where the truth is what shapes people’s politics, rather than politics shaping what people think is true.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Waking up to a life of purpose, passion and love requires the ability to separate the truth from the lies and to discern the underlying essence of deep meaning from a false narrative merely perpetuated by ego. The moment we begin to cling too strongly to a story, particularly a story shaped (marred?) by our personal attachment, is the moment we risk veering down the rathole.

Steve Jobs was famous for what was both affectionately and derisively known as his “reality distortion field.” The RDF was a term first coined by one of Jobs’ colleagues to describe the Apple leader’s uncanny ability to, as Wikipedia describes it, “convince himself and others to believe almost anything through a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence.” Whether highly calculated or borne out of subconscious habit, the effect was to manipulate his teams to accomplish things they did not think possible. Of course the RDF can be a force for good or evil.

Today we see another leader trying to push an agenda of “alternative facts” and to create his own RDF. People of integrity and substance are rightly seeing through the veil of deceit and calling bullshit.

Of course, more common, but just as pernicious, are the lies, distortions and manipulations we foist upon ourselves and those with whom we are in relationship.

We may try to impose an alternative reality upon a loved one out of fear or simply to advance our own selfish agenda; unaware of how that ultimately serves neither of us.

We may fail to confront the authenticity of our own pain, thinking we can go around it, rather than through it. Spoiler alert: we can’t.

We may tell ourselves we are unworthy of love, when nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s important to recognize the distinction among facts, perceptions, beliefs and interpretations. They are all valid and they each serve their own unique purpose. And context matters.

Yet neither our own personal growth nor the good that needs to be done in the world is served through a failure to confront reality, the perpetuation of delusion or the encouragement of false narratives. Depending upon the circumstances, ignoring this can create minor annoyance or have outcomes of great consequence. As Voltaire once opined: “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we can do this to ourselves as well.

The best time to stop the nonsense was before it even started.

The second best time is right here, right now.

 

Our own Kellyanne Conway moments

Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway is off-the-charts good at what she does. If you care to witness a master class in denial, spin and gaslighting, just watch just some of her interview from the other night with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. And if after viewing it you feel like clawing your eyes out, perhaps this will cheer you up.

I don’t believe in Hell, but if it turns out to exist there will definitely be an extremely special section for her. But I digress.

Anyway, it seems clear that Ms. Conway is a very intelligent, well educated and highly skilled political operative. So for most of us it’s easy to conclude that she knows the truth, but is very intentionally setting out to mislead. That should be rather easy for any and all of us to judge quite harshly.

What is perhaps harder to see–and accept–is that many of us engage in our own Kellyanne moments; sometimes with great frequency. It’s just that the target of the denial, spin and gaslighting is often ourselves, and we do so unintentionally and subconsciously.

We can have an interesting argument as to how damaging the incoming Trump administration’s propensity for manipulation will turn out to be. We can debate the degree to which we might affect a different outcome and what tactics should be taken to stand up to this often dangerous and malicious nonsense. We can prop up our own egos by blogging, tweeting and posting on Facebook our various forms of righteous indignation. In fact, most days I wonder if that is precisely what social media was invented for.

But we shouldn’t discount how pernicious our own capacity to ignore reality is and how we can often do everything in our power to avoid confronting our own stuff.

Deflection and intellectual tap dancing my amuse or horrify when we spot in others, but we are only harming ourselves when we can’t wake up to the little bit of Kellyanne in all of us.

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First, get naked

Never let them see you sweat. Have all the answers at the ready. Don’t let those pesky emotions fog up your logic. Be impervious to the Sturm und Drang of every day existence. Know where you are going at all times.

Nonsense.

We can’t ignore the need to pick a lane at some point.

We shouldn’t get stuck and spin endlessly as we mull over a sea of options.

We ought not to totally collapse in the face of challenges or throw up our hands in despair.

And yet…

And yet we should fight the urge to pray at the altar of a culture that values perfectionism over our flawed humanity, materialism over essentialism, quick and convenient decisions over considered choices that emanate from a deep understanding of ourselves and how we derive our passion and purpose.

When we are doing the work that matters the place to start is not borne out of snap judgment, reactivity or trying to sort out and conform to what other people think. And it’s rarely continuing what we’ve always done or what feels the most comfortable.

The place to start is to get naked; to strip ourselves of our worn out and tired stories, to give up the need to be right or in control, to eschew the habits that no longer serve us.

On our path to a life of greater love, kindness, passion and purpose we need to get raw, to experience our feelings directly rather than stuff them or try to navigate around them. We need to expose ourselves to the light. To be vulnerable. Laid bare.

Whether we are trying to figure out our next career move, how we wish to show up in important relationships or simply trying to decide how to best prioritize our time, I’ve found it’s worth digging deeply into three core questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I really want from my life?
  • How can I serve?

The answers that will keep us on our path aren’t likely to come easily or quickly. And they won’t come at all if we aren’t willing to get naked first.

 

h/t to Deepak and Sheepak for inspiring this post.

 

Prison break

In spiritual circles it’s common to talk about being “on the path.” The path to God (or however we may describe a Higher Power), the path to redemption, the path to awakening, the path to enlightenment.

And we are hardly lacking for guidebooks and maps. Addicts may employ the Twelve Steps to work through their spiritual recovery. Buddhists have the Noble Eight-Fold path to inform their journey. Other wisdom traditions have various rituals, methods and practices to light the way. An entire self-help industry exists to inspire spiritual exploration through books, seminars, retreats, podcasts, YouTube videos and more.

The journey along a path IS real. For most of us, it’s long, filled with twists and turns, peaks and valleys, glimpses of light, flashes of despair. We stumble often on our wanderings through the Dark Night of the Soul. We wish there were an express lane–an easier, softer way–but there is not.

Yet we can spend a long time hiding in our shadow, staring longingly through a window out toward the light. We can convince ourselves that spiritual growth is inherently complicated. We can obsessively analyze competing “truths” and run through countless gurus and teachers. We can get overly focused on arriving at some imagined perfect destination and entirely miss out on what is possible along the way–right here, right now.

The invitation is simply to begin, to emerge from the places and situations that keep us stuck, entrapped. But it’s hard to escape from a prison if we can’t see that we are a prisoner.

Yet, right now, we can in fact acknowledge that we are prisoners of our habituated, reactive thinking, trapped in a room of ego protection, a pathological desire to control and a failure to accept reality.

Right now, we can see the forks in the road, the profound choices we get to make moment to moment. Do we choose forgiveness over revenge? Compassion or judgement? Being open-hearted or walled-off from connection? Do we fundamentally embrace love or fear?

Right now, we can accept that so many of the answers are within us–and available to us–in the present moment.

Often, we witness other people peering into our prison cell, and we think (hope?) that they have the answers, that they will drag us out, that they hold the key to our freedom.

But more often that not, we have the key, we just don’t see it.

We need to see it. And we need to use it.

We need to open those windows and unlock the door. And then we need to walk over the threshold and out into the light. There the path becomes so much more clear.

And we can begin the journey with a lot less baggage.