What do your expletives do for you?

Cat and butterful from WomEOS via FlickrAnyone or any thing that does not bring you alive is too small for you

So says David Whyte.

I was marveling this morning about a client who sucks the life out of us.  They are difficult to deal with.   They change their minds.  They are arrogant.  They are rude.  Goodwill rapidly spins into the black hole of lack of expectation.  If our despair was contained to our dealings with them, it might be OK.  But we rapidly feel tired and lack energy even for tasks we love.

Mood hoovers. . . I hadn’t heard that expression before I came to the UK.  As I pondered my mood, and wondered my options, I also wondered if mood hoovering isn’t a normal activity in UK.  Do you see where despair takes you?  In the blink of an eye, we are into the “personal, permanent and pervasive“.

Do we swear differently in different countries?

Then I pondered the nature of expletives in different countries.

Expletives in a multi-lingual coutry

I come from a country where two languages dominate the workplace.  As a first year student, our lecturers would deliberately expose us to cultural behaviors that might shock us.  Actually we had a civil war going on at the time, and they might deliberately say things that are so provocative, and often my first impulse was to dive under the desk for cover in case war broke out in the classroom too.

One of the things I learned was by accident.   The lecturer was demonstrating subliminal attention and its effect on action.  This is an important effect, so listen up.  But the results in a multi-cultural setting were quite funny.

He flashed up various words on what is called a tachistoscope.  A willing student stared down a tube and called out the words.

Up came an expletive, or taboo word, or swear word, and the “subject” would take markedly longer to call out the word.  It’s like having a test at the optician.  They would “report” that they hadn’t actually seen it.

Not so with expletives across the language line. We call out each others expletives just as fast as we call out ordinary words.

That wasn’t what the lecturer meant to demonstrate but hey, unwanted side effects are sometimes serendipitously useful.

Some expletives are harsh and aggressive

Getting back to expletives, my language group would use the harsh expletives of Europe.  But by the time these ugly words had crossed the language line they changed their meaning slightly, we got sentences like this quotation I received from a tradesman:

If I fuck it up, you pay me bugger all.

Well that was clear!  Actually quite charming in its sincerity and engagement and had not a hint of aggression.  I doubt he knew he used words that we regard as rude.

Some expletives are soft and including

Two cherished expletives that crossed the line to us were

Whatiichiii?

and

Eish!

I marvel at the softness of sound.  I marvel at the simple statement of “I am surprised”.  I like the gentle chiding of “you aren’t making sense” in the form of “this is disappointing me”.

I like the pulling oneself together in “Eish!”

I felt better when I tweeted, “Eisshhhhh!”

What do your expletives do for you?

What do your expletives do for you?

Do they make the situation worse?

Or do they encourage you to engage once more with a smile on your face, hope in your heart, curiosity in your questions, respect for others and a willingness to move on?

How do you swear “when you are at home?”

There is only an open invitation to take part every day in whatever part of the world that I find myself

The defining moment is how we react, not the tragedy

I heard these key words a moment ago on a program about Poland on BBC Radio 4.

The words are true.  We know it.  We are just not well practiced in dealing with tragedy.

  • It feels sick to rehearse dealing with tragedy.  It follows that we are not ready when we are called to be.
  • When we cope well, we suffer ‘cognitive dissonance’.  If we aren’t falling apart, then surely events are not so bad after all?
  • Alternatively, if we cope well, maybe that means we don’t understand.  Maybe we simply insensitive.

Tragedy messes with our heads because we don’t know how to behave or how to tell our story.

The world doesn’t respond to blackmail

But sulking is a poor story too.   It’s silly because the world doesn’t care.  And it doesn’t respond to blackmail.  The world doesn’t care if we don’t like it.

It’s also self-destructive. We give away initiative to events.

Let me try explaining again.

From loser to hero

Sometimes a tragic story, or potentially tragic story, can be turned into a hero’s story.

A journalist on BBC4 this morning got back from Norway by getting a ride on a container boat and then a train.  Another took a taxi.  Angela Merkle flew back to Portugal.  The Noregian Prime Minister was last seen using his iPad sitting calmly in an American airport.   Our story is “what we did when . . .”

People who are enjoying the quiet of English birds singing in the early spring, feel apologetic.  I know I shouldn’t be enjoying this but . . .  They are feeling guilty because their story defines the cancellation of all flights as an advantage.

We hate it just as much when we miss events.   When the great volcano erupted, I was, well, I wasn’t doing anything sufficiently important to be interrupted.  I wasn’t important enough to be inconvenienced or be involved.   Oh, we don’t like that at all.

We cannot have a hero’s story without a push-off event.  We need a conflict or obstacle to have story and our reaction to the event is the story that we choose.  And we hate it when life doesn’t give us push-off events.  Do you get our screwy psychology?

What do we do our lives are turned upside down?

Let’s play this along a bit more.  In the early hours of flights being cancelled, we heard clips of people at airports who were disappointed.

I am sure their heads were reeling.  Could they make alternative arrangements?  They would have been blaming themselves for not travelling a day earlier.  They would be hastily making other arrangements (including getting home again) and calculating the costs.  They would be annoyed with their insurers who are very likely trying to get out of paying up.

There is a real story in their confusion, their choices and their actions.

Hassles show we are alive

Sadly, we heard them being angry.  With whom exactly?  They talked and spoke as if someone had done something to them.  One man even cursed the Icelanders?  Huh?  Badly expressed irony?  Professor Brian Cox mildly explained that we need volcanoes. If there were no volcanoes, the planet would be dead and so would we.

OK, volcanos are “natural”.  They clearly aren’t people.

But airlines are people.  Traffic controllers are people.  Aeronautical engineers are people.  That we travel by air is a people-thing. It isn’t natural.

We got into our situation by being human. By doing people things. It is part of being alive in 2010.  Should we refuse to travel by air?  Should we refuse to take part in life?

Of course not.

We don’t measure up when .  .  .

But shit happens.  How we cope with shit is the story.  We don’t measure up when

  • We refuse to acknowledge the shit.  It happens. Call shit, shit.
  • We refuse to learn.
  • We refuse to work with others.
  • We have no interest in what is happening to anyone else.
  • We don’t help anyone else.

We don’t measure up when we refuse to respond to life.

That doesn’t mean the story will be the one we prefer

Yup. We might not be able to change a particular story into a hero’s story because no one wins.

To change my metaphor, sometimes life is like a game of rugby when someone breaks his neck.  We don’t carry on playing.  We might play again tomorrow, but not today.

If the game is so rough that the chance of someone breaking their neck becomes to high, we stop playing.  We switch to another sport.

The story of life is not always gratifying.  Sometimes we even wonder why we bother.

What do we do when there are no heroes because we are all losers?

We aren’t always heroes because sometimes no one wins.  There are only losers.

The only story is damage control, be calm, work with others.  That is the only story.

It’s when we still try to be a hero that we lose.   Sometimes we have to accept that life is out of our control.

No one promised  . . .

No one promised we would be in control.  No one promised that we would be heroes.

We were only promised a chance to be alive on a planet with angry volcanoes, people jostling for advantage, hare-brained human ideas like air travel. I like hearing the birds and walking in the fields but I wouldn’t have any of that if the volcanoes died, no one made enough money to ship food across the world, and there weren’t daft engineers making metal birds to fly through the sky.

No one promised that I would always have it good. No one promised that I would always come out ‘looking good’.  No one promised I would always feel good about my efforts and reactions.

There is only an open invitation to take part

There is only an open invitation to take part every day in whatever part of the world that I find myself.

An open invitation to take part. That’s all.

I don’t have to feel gratified.  But I can be grateful.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing

Risk

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
To reach out for another is to risk involvement
To expose your feelings is to risk
exposing your true self
To place your ideal, your dreams before a crowd
is to risk their loss
To love is to risk not being loved in return

To live is to risk dying
To hope is to risk despair
To try is to risk failure

Yet risks must be taken
Because the greatest hazard in life is risking
NOTHING

The person who risks nothing
Does nothing
Has nothing
Is nothing

Self-realization is harder than
Self Sacrifice

UPDATE1:  Shazoor Mirza (contactable via the comments) kindly told me this poem was written by William Arthur Ward.  Thank you, Shazoor!

UPDATE2:  Is it our risk that matters?  Or can we learn from Anais Nin and the willingness to risk listening to others and hearing their story?

Poetry to remind us that withdrawing doesn’t solve rejection

Is is easy to retreat from life

Barack Obama said of his natural father – he had difficult life because he did not reach out to people.

When times are difficult, we tend to retreat from the world.  When we are unpopular in the playground, we pick up our toys and go home.  Then we really have no one to play with us.  Do you know that people who are lost in the bush or surrounded by fire actually hide from their rescuers?  When times are bad, we may be tempted to hide.

We may be rejected but it will help us little to go this way

“I am learning to abandon the world
before it can abandon me.
Already I have given up the moon
and snow, closing my shades
against the claims of white.
And the world has taken
my father, my friends.”
By Linda Pastan, a new poet for me.
When we are out of sorts with the world, we must ask ourselves how we can change the conversation and fall in love with life again.
When we are feeling bruised, we might also remember “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver.  “You do not have to walk on your knees for 100 miles through the desert . .  You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves . . Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh, and exciting ~ over and over announcing your place in the family of things”.
UPDATE:  I’ve just found this old post and link to a tremendous poem on living with fear
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Pull people together? No? Is the problem that you don’t believe in you?

Down-to-earth expressions

I heard the expression “pull people together” today for the first time in a long time.  General Colin Powell used it ~ and he is a very down-to-earth man.

Down-to-earth actions

But how many of us have any ability to “pull people together”?  When was the last time that you “pulled a group together”?

  • What happened?
  • What needed to be done?
  • How did you focus their attention?
  • Why did they listen to you?
  • Why did they trust you?
  • How did you know they were listening and would continue to listen?
  • How did you thank them?

Why don’t you take the lead more often?

Is it because you don’t feel the group is together?

And if so, why don’t you pull them together?

Don’t you believe in them?

And if you don’t, why are you still part of this group?

Or is the problem, you don’t believe in you?

Despair

When you no longer believe in you, that is called despair.  You want to do something about that.  Really.  Start doing small things.  Little things.  Start listing what you love to do.  Start listing all the things in the day you would like to repeat.  Run some little, little, experiments.

Despair is amenable to repair, but you have to begin, and you have to begin small.

Poets advice for surviving the financial crisis

In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.

Dante in the Inferno

Mid-life crises, sudden loss, tragedies, and world-wide financial crises are certainly different in degree, and different in content.  But they have one thing in common.

They are unpleasant to experience.  We feel that we have lost our way.  And we have a vague yet pervasive feeling that there isn’t a way and that we were mistaken to believe that there is.

David Whyte, British corporate poet, explores this experience in poetry and prose, and uses stories and poems about his own life to illustrate the rediscovery of our sense of direction, meaning and control.

Using his ideas and the ideas of philosophers and poets before him, we are able to refind our balance, and live through the financial crisis, meaningfully and constructively.

Come with me!

David Whyte has a 2 disk CD, MidLife and the Great Unknown.

If you get a copy of his CD, I will listen to it with you.  And we can discuss it online?

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Positive psychology on despair and world conflict

To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already there?

As I’ve watched the supersonic work pace of Barack Obama, I’ve also been annoyed with the curmudgeonly spirit of many commentators.

I believe they are scared.  Not because of anything Barack Obama may or may not do, but because Barack Obama may be the person we all want to be.   If it is possible to be articulate, poised, present, warm, honest, then we don’t have to be scared, hesitant, insecure, insincere and most of all ‘outsiders’.  We can just ‘be’ and ‘be accepted’.  To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already here?

Don’t let disappointment be an excuse to delay arrival

Nonetheless, I was very disappointed by the bombing of Pakistan.  Sending an unmanned drone into a civilian building seems to me a murderous act.  How can we defend this?  I would like this to stop.

We want what we don’t like not to be

My emotional reaction to this event follows a spiral that, I believe, is quite common when ordinary people follow politics and world events. I read the reports and I felt disgust.  Then I felt judgmental.  And then I wanted to reject what disgusted me.

And when reality does not cooperate, we sulk

But the source of my disgust is in power (and popular).  Rejection is not an option open to me. So, I felt down and dejected.  Feeling that there was nothing I could do but endure the undurable, I withdrew, at least emotionally, and felt alienated, despondent and dejected

Curmudgeonly behavior is a mark of esteem in UK but it is “wet”

It is very likely that many people who express a curmudgeonly view are going through a similar process.  Something specific disgusts them, and they allow that one point, important as it may be, to allow them to feel despair about all points.  Positive psychologists call this ‘catastrophizing‘.   We go from one negative point to believing that we lack control.  Not only do we believe that we lack control on this issue, we go on to believe that we lack control on other issues too.  And we don’t stop there.  We go on to believe that we will always lack control, to the end of time.  In other words, we feel that what has gone wrong is persistent, pervasive, and personal.

So what am I going to do?

Put the strength of my feeling in words

Well, this issue is important to me.  I am sickened by the bombing of civilian targets.  I am ashamed it was done.  I leaves me uncomfortable and embarrassed and feeling that our condolences are woefully insufficient.  I don’t even know how to express this adequately.

Be a player

But it is also wrong to write off the hope that has come to the world.  One day I may be in a position to influence decisions like this.  And if I am to open a conversation with influential people, I need to be informed, and much more informed than I am now.  So I will become so.

List specific small things that I can do

And for now, should I meet my MP, who is a UK specialist on the conflict in Afghanistan, I will ask him.  I will tell I am unhappy and that I want to know more.  And though the whole matter makes me want to throw up, I will listen and learn.

Stay where the decisions are made

If we want the world to be as we wish, we cannot pick up our toys and go home every time we don’t like something.  I am afraid the art of politics is to be where the decisions are made.  Sometimes we have to stay and engage.

Stop the decline into ineffectiveness

Positive psychology does not say that the problems of the world will go away.  But it does help us not sink into despair and become ineffectual.

Come with me!

  • Is there something that makes you angry and fearful?  Are you overgeneralising from one issue, thinking it is ‘persistent, pervasive and personal’ – catastrophising?
  • If you put aside your general despair and remain in the forum where decisions are made, what do you need to do to become more effective at influencing our collective decisions?
  • And having thought this through, can you see a way that you may be able to influence events in future?