Are you grasping for the moon in the water?

die Nacht des Werwolfs by itta mar via FlickrWhat is the moon in the water for you?

My profession is riddled with questions that were once as compelling as the moon in the water.

  • Leaders are born
  • Leaders are made
  • Intelligence comes in bigger and smaller packages.

It took us some time to realise that what we wanted so badly wasn’t unattainable – it was an illusion.

It’s not so bad, though, to lie back on the grass and look at the moon overhead, is it?

We’ve just got to let go and let the universe whisper its secrets to us.

 

I watch the people in the world

I watch people in the world
Throw away their lives lusting after things,
Never able to satisfy their desires,
Falling into deeper despair
And torturing themselves.
Even if they get what they want
How long will they be able to enjoy it?
For one heavenly pleasure
They suffer ten torments of hell,
Binding themselves more firmly to the grindstone.
Such people are like monkeys
Frantically grasping for the moon in the water
And then falling into a whirlpool.
How endlessly those caught up in the floating world suffer.
Despite myself, I fret over them all night
And cannot staunch my flow of tears.

 

Taigu Ryokan (1758-1831)

Happiness & sorrow are two sides of a coin; it’s in the maths

4 puzzles of positive psychology

I forgot to finish my series on the 4 puzzles of positive psychology, but I was reminded by lines I read in Khalil Gibran.

The maths of happiness

Old school

It is easy to forget that everything written about psychology is based on an underlying mathematical model.  Psychologists like measuring things and as soon as they do, they’ve made an assumption, whether they realize it or not, about the shape of the thing measured.

Much of our work uses as straight line – like the ruler we used as school.  We fill in questionnaires. We get points and we get a score. We think of intelligence, for example, as being a straight line.  We have more. We have less.   And we can describe our intelligence as a point on that line.  A point.

New school of positive psychology

Positive psychology tosses that assumption of as straight line out of the window.  Mostly.

We stop seeing something like intelligence or happiness as being more or less.  We discard the line.  And we definitely discard the point.  Points will now signify illness. And what’s more, serious illness requiring hospitalization and round the clock care.

The new school of positive psychology psychological phenomena in terms of “flourishing” or “languishing”.  Are we moving around the world freely, or are we stuck in the mud unable to move in any direction?

The mathematical model that we now use describes what is means to be flourishing.  It is a model of movement, not a model of stillness.  It is a model of action & reaction and how we change from one moment to the next.  It is not a model of how we stay the same.  If we are a fixed point, then the new model regards us as ill.

Kahlil Gibran came to my rescue to explain the combination of happiness and sorrow  in poetry

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Sorrow and joy are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other.  When our life is all one or all the other, we are ill.  We are living in a make-believe world.”

Personal, persistent & pervasive

But being what we are, we humans tend to think that “what is” will continue forever.  When times are bad, we tend to feel that bad times will continue forever.  We often feel that a situaton is “personal, persistent & pervasive” when in reality is nothing more than  a natural oscillation that in this moment is giving us particular pleasure or sadness.

The danger is that in our anxiety we might bring our worst fears to pass.  The trick of a flourishing life is to mourn that which should be mourned but not to over-generalize and claim that everything else is also a source of sorrow.  Nonetheless, over-generalizing is a trap that we all fall into sometimes.

Happiness is not a point – it is constant movement between many points

Enough for now.  The important idea to grasp is that happiness is not a question of a mark on a ruler.  Happiness exists only in contrast to sorrow; so it coexists with sorrow.  Oscillation between the two, and all the points in between, is normal and healthy, because without sorrow, it would not be possible to be happy. It would not be possible to appreciate happiness.  If nothing changed, if nothing ever changed, we would not even notice it were there.  It is impossible to be happy all the time because if we were, we wouldn’t notice.

Not a contraction; just maths

It is not a contradiction to say that happiness includes sorrow.  It just depends up on the maths that you assumed at the beginning  : a line of fixed points or constant movement in space.

CHECK OUT SIMILAR POSTS

Personal leadership: Answer the moral challenge of our age

Psychology blossomed in the noughties

Positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, and mytho-poetic tradition are well understood and taught in psychology and management classrooms in all corners of the world.

But we need a name

Paradoxically though, the technical names for these fields are relatively unintelligible to lay people. If there is anything we want to achieve in this field, it is to be intelligible to ordinary people.

Would personal leadership do as name?

Eventually, I settled on the term personal leadership.

We are concerned about styles of leadership that are personal.  What I do, for example is not strictly relevant to what you do.  And what I do today, has little bearing on what is relevant tomorrow.

And does the name contribute to our understanding?

Having described the rationale of this new field in these words, is it truly a discipline that belongs in the professions?

How can this definition of leadership generate a theory that is useful in practice? After all, if what is relevant today and is not relevant tomorrow, what use is that theory?

We have an ontological challenge

The difficulty is less in the epistemology, that is in the way we study leadership, than in the ontology, the nature of leadership.

We used to think of leadership as something we do.

Now we look at ourselves in context. Our unit of analysis, as researchers say, is “ourself in context”.

What are the practical implications of defining leadership as ourselves in context?

We don’t exist when we don’t see

David Whyte refers to attention. “When my eyes are tired the world is tired also”. We are our habits of attention. We are what we attend to. We are our capacity to pay attention.  When our way is lost, we find ourselves by paying attention. By becoming mindful and “touching and feeling” what is around us.

The big change in our understanding of leadership

Who we are is not what we do repeatedly and well.

Who we are is our frontier. Who we are is the place where we are curious about the world. Who we are is the frontier we cannot ignore.

Paradoxically, often when we feel tired, it is not because we are at our frontier, it is because we are not. We are not at a place where we are confronting the unknown carried by the energy of compulsive curiosity.

Leadership is not a spectator sport

We feel alive when we are in a place where “we want to know”. We are leaders when our curiosity about a situation leads us to ask questions. We are leaders when our compulsive curiosity asks questions which holds a mirror up to a situation.

We are leaders when our questions allow people to ask their questions.

How can we understand leadership in a way that allows us to share knowledge?

This question has two goals.

#1  What is the knowledge I can share?

There are many ways of sharing knowledge and we know stories are much more effectual than dry statistics answering questions that were unlikely from the outset to produce a practically significant answer.

We also know that knowledge is also more likely to be absorbed when people trust the presenter – when the presenter shares the journey of the students.

#2  What can I charge for my knowledge?

And probably more important is the heretical question of what can we charge for our knowledge. How can we claim and sustain status for our knowledge?

It is this question that personal leadership answers. We share knowledge not because we are right, but because we are willing to share in the gains and losses of a decision.

It is here that the field of personal leadership enters into the spirit of our age. Authority comes from being willing to share the gains and losses of a decision.

Are we so curious about the people we are with that they are willing to be changed by them ~ without notice and without guarantee?

That is knowledge to be passed on. Am I willing to act with you right now?

Flying pigs: social media is really showing up old media

Epworth
Image via Wikipedia

Following the flying pigs

I had a follow-up to my post on Managing in Africa.

My curiosity about the fate of warthogs that got in the way of a jet taking-off at Harare International Airport received some dry feedback.  Apparently, there were no pigs.  The plane ‘just’ lost its landing gear.

The pilot should obviously be congratulated for bringing the aircraft to a safe stop with no injuries.  The media should be following up the safety of that make of aircraft!

But pigs at airports that turned out to be flying pigs  . . .

A funny story that teaches us something about judging the accuracy of media reports

I was slow to detect BS.  That got me thinking.

  • I did notice that story was unfinished.  No one told us what happened to the pigs ~ or congratulated the pilot.
  • This is another example of how old media are only too willing to report the accounts of powers-that-be, even when they are in Zimbabwe.
  • This is another example of how old media are only too willing to regurgitate each others “news” without checking for themselves.

And I have lost my instincts for the truth of stories coming out of Zimbabwe.  I have been away too long.

We all judge stories by their narrative form and an essential player in every narrative is ourselves  When we are not part of the story, we will have difficult spotting inaccuracies.

Third parties are not necessarily good observers

Good accounts always have many perspectives.  Perhaps the first checks on any story is

  • Who said it?
  • Who repeated it?
  • Who was left out?

And above all, follow the money!

Enhanced by Zemanta

For people who don’t get Twitter, Facebook, etc. Nice story ~ other people can read it too

This is a long story and a tame story in many respects, read on . . .

I am a psychologist. Any one who has majored in psychology knows that we are trained at university and college to be distant from our clients. We are even trained to call people “subjects” – or we were in my day.

We are also trained to see ourselves as people who have facts – to see ourselves as right, because we know the truth.

This is how we demonstrate to ourselves and our peers (other people trained like us) that we are right. We predict what will happen, and after what was supposed to have happened happens, we check whether we were right, preferably by counting something. Not all bad, but wait.

Positive psychology often continues this tradition. Positive or appreciative management goes further. The critical idea is one of generativity – that we engage with other people without defining our objective. So we cannot say what will happen, and because we cannot say what will happen, we cannot check whether we are right. That has psychologists of my generation heading for the hills! And that is a pity, because positive psychology has something to say.

Anyway, that is the back story – psychologists had to learn a way of thinking at college. We learnt it, and learnt it well. Now we encounter a new way of thinking, we find it hard – disorienting actually. Giddy making. It is difficult to follow what is good about appreciative management when it clashes so fundamentally with the way we learned to think early in our careers.

How 2.0 helped me

My task. I undertook to make a presentation on the new psychology to psychologists. Using the principle of going from the familiar to the unfamiliar, I wanted to keep in the step of checking results and I needed a reference or idea to fill the hole.

How did I do it? Fairly predictably, going to Google and Google Scholar didn’t help. What I did was check through my del.icio.us bookmarks and see what who had similar interests to me. And I found my paper on the evaluation of generative methodologies! Bookmarked by one other person! Amazing. In half-and-hour to an hour, using what I saved on del.icio.us for earlier projects, I found exactly the rare article I needed!

How was this different from the way I did things before? Wasn’t that what we have always done? Searched around libraries until we found something? Ah, I didn’t search around the Library. I searched around people I didn’t know and who don’t go to the same conferences and meetings as me. Not only did someone I not know help me, they helped me in good faith, that I would help the next person and the next person, etc. This is the O’Reilly principle that web 2.0 systems get better the more we use them.

So what did I need to do that I didn’t need to do before?

  1. I must join in with a view to finding like-minded people rather than experts.
  2. I must put a trail of my activity out there. The end of the rainbow is where my trail intersects with the trail of someone else – not lots of people – one person. At the intersection is the person who interests me – and it is very likely that I interest them.

Could I have been more 2.0?

Yes. I could have engaged and reciprocated! I could have written to the author, thanked him and allowed him to benefit from my project.

Sorry! I was still in 1.0!

4 “get your head arounds” of the new science of psychology

Today, a very useful though long blog post on the new science of psychology popped up on my Google Alerts.  Blogspot was acting slow, so here are my comments.

#1 Formal differences between classical science and new science

For 20 or so key terms describing the difference between old fashioned methods & stats in psychology and new methods that are consistent with new forms of management

#2  Phase states illustrated with examples from psychotherapy and neuroscience

New science doesn’t look for incremental improvements, it looks for the sudden change of state – a bud bursts into bloom, an egg hatches, a baby is born.

#3  Procrastination is acknowledgment of pending self-re-organization

Going from wish to intent, from planning to procrastination – crossing the Rubicon – is a matter of “bearing the unbearable”.  We resist – we apply negative feedback – out of fear of who we will become – or a prolonged goodbye.

We are unwilling to be successful because we cannot “bear the unbearable”.

#4  The supportive psychologist is an active player in the change process

Psychologists aren’t ‘objective’.  We have to be sufficiently bold to be part of the change process and for the change process to change them too.  That is the essential ingredient of empathy.

Leaders require the some capacity but provide the empathy in the hurly-burly of life.  We work in more protected settings and with a promise to put the interests of our client above our own.  A leader puts the interests of the group above his or her own and includes our individual interests in so far as they strengthen the group.

A good article but blogspot, fail.

Ignorance is bliss but please don’t charge me for your services!

It’s a good thing they don’t know

Today I had glass of warm water and a few drops of lemon juice for breakfast to allow the medics to do a fasting blood test.  A fasting blood test helps them get ‘reliable’ readings for something for other.  Happy in my ignorance.

We spend most of our waking hours in ignorance of what we are doing or why – happy to let someone else decide.

So, for those of us who have taken it upon ourselves to teach, we find ourselves in a daft situation.  We can be annoyed when the knowledge of our profession is not taken seriously.  We are seriously annoyed when the professionals in our field don’t know the basics.

And none of us really know

To talk glibly of “evidence-based practice” is really rather irritating.  We boil water for our glass of warm water, in many countries in the world to kill bugs.  But let’s face it.  Many bugs survive boiling water.  Some thrive in concentrated sulfuric acid.  What we mean is that of the things we know how to do and can do in our kitchen, boiling water is pretty useful at killing some bugs that kill us.  A very northern hemisphere idea, btw.  It’s just as good to put your water in a clear bottle and leave it in the sun.  But of course, there is not to much sun in the UK.  It works fine in hotter climes.  Do you get my drift?

We need to communicate in terms that can be understood

All our knowledge is based on custom and folk-lore and we are not exempt.   To pass on knowledge to people who are not experts in our field in language and practice they can relate to is not a disgrace.  It is a professional necessity.  They don’t want to know the ins and the outs.  They want to know what to do.  They are leaving uswith the responsibility for the result.

It is a disgrace not to know the basics

But what a disgrace it is to not know the basics.  When we start to believe that boiling water kills bugs rather than some bugs do not survive boiling water, then we perhaps should have our license take away.

Knowing the basics leads to creativity

It is knowing the basics that helps us think of new solutions.

Imagine if I were on the proverbial desert island, wouldn’t it be better to have the idea in my head that I must get rid of bugs in the water that might kill me.  I am abundant in my ignorance.  There are so many bugs that can kill me and fair handful that scientists don’t even know about yet.   Therefore, the question is not what is the solution but what are the many ways I can ‘purify’ [another misleading idea] the water.  And the right action is to do what I can and begin as General Colin Powell says, when I have a 40-60% chance of being right.

Research-based practice or more snake-oil?

So don’t talk glibly of research-based practice.   You are trying to wave a spell in the air.  Actually, you are trying to get me to pay you more money.

Show me your protocols.  And make sure

a. They are intelligible to me

b. I don’t know more than you

Otherwise, we might just chase you out of town.  We won’t call you a witch, because that is still illegal in UK, but we won’t allow you near our food.  Get your own.

Show me your protocols – in language and experiences I can understand and where I can see the goal and the basic idea.

Psychologists, 2009 AD, recessions, life

Ned’s challenge

Ned has solved my dilemma about what to write about this weekend.  Commenting on my post on Hope, he asks:

How do positive psychologists quantify this information if you are no longer studying behavior? In other words, how do you maintain empiricism?

Learning to be systematic

As I said in my post on Hope that during my training as a psychologist, Hope and such moral virtues, were out-of-bounds.  Like most psychology departments at the time, we were behaviourists and positivists.  We studied what we could see, and we looked for the underlying ‘laws’ of behaviour.

Learning to watch carefully

I am still in favour of psychologists being taught in this way.  A lot of psychologists arrive from the ‘Arts’ and the ‘laboratory method’ is a good counter-balance to their prior training.  The first step in developing empathy is to recognize the ‘other’.  And even psychologists (particularly psychologists) struggle with this.  If I have to describe you, and you alone, and if I am given the challenge of describing you in exactly the same way as the next person sees you, I begin the journey of separating what I want, from what you want. And as a result, I will be a lot more effective in everything I undertake.

Practically too, quantitative questionnaire-based studies are heaps easier to do for your dissertation!

Learning to tell a story

The analytical tradition is not, though, the whole story.  When we work as psychologists, we have to learn to synthesize information about a  person.  We have to bring together all the measurements we have gathered, and understand the person as a whole.  Regrettably, even at the post-graduate level where people are training to go into practice (as doctors do in the clinical part of their training) psychologists are given little help in this formative task. They are taught, after all, by people whose university careers depend upon being analytical.

At this juncture in a psychologist’s training, people who came from the ‘Arts’ have a better time.  Our measurements need to be woven together into a coherent narrative and people who studied Literature and History at school are now at an advantage.

The new age is the age of synthesis and morality

Practising psychology has been a journey, for me, towards learning to synthesize information.  I was pleased to see that Mihalyi Cziksentmihalyi, who you probably know for his concept of Flow, has predicted that synthesis is the new science.  And more so, synthesis with a moral edge.

  • It does mattter that we can walk in other people’s shoes.
  • It does matter that we can judge the effects of our actions on others.
  • It does matter that we can understand how our actions hurt others, and how an action that seems essential to us might be repulsive, disgusting and quite repellant to other people.
  • It matters too, that we have the capacity to imagine a narrative, or story line, in which we are not at each others’ throats.  Development and world peace depends on our imagination.

We are part of the contests and conflicts of life

The difficulty with the analytical tradition is that it pretends that we are above the fray.  We are part of the story of this planet.  Thankfully.  And I intend to play my part in making the tough decisions of life.  To raise issues. To look for ways forward.  To press my case and the case of those dear to me  To negotiate. To look for common ground.  To apologize when I have it wrong.  And to go to war when necessary.  But understanding that to do so might put me in a position where I get a heap lot wrong.  I’ll try the diplomatic route first.

But above the fray, No!  Always right?  Good lord.  The only way to be always right is to be in a laboratory.   To lock oneself up and throw away the key.

Rethinking psychology

The world is not like this.  We are giving-and-taking all the time. That is life.  That’s the part I like!  Can psychology cope with it?  We need to learn an expression common in management theory.  A business is path-dependent.  It is completely unique in other words.  From studying other businesses, I can develop a sense of the possible.  I can learn to look at my situation methodically from a variety of perspectives.  But they way things turn out is not predicitable.  The way things turn out is the result of all our actions – yours, mine and people we don’t even know.  All these taken together are far too complicated to predict with any specificity.

Occupational hazards

The unknowability of life may be depressing if you are wedded to the idea that the world is predictable.  But who said that it is?  The analytical tradition asks, only, what can we predict?  Unfortunately, if you spend to much time in a psychology laboratory, being rewarded for finding phenomena that are amenable to analysis, you start to think that everything must be analysed and if it can’t be subjected to experimentation that it is not important.  An occupational hazard of being a research psychologist is that you gradually lose your capacity for synthesis under real life conditions.

Are we up for the fullness of life?

David Whyte, British corporate poet, has a wonderful poem that he calls a Self-Portrait.  It begins:

“It doesn’t interest me if there is one God or many gods”

and ends

“I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence of love and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat.  I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even gods speak of God.”

So while I endorse analytical training for people embarking on a career as a psychologist, training in synthesizing information is also a necessary part of our ‘clinical’ training.  At the same time, we learn to understand that it is not about our clients getting it right, or avoiding the downside of life.  It is about our clients entering the fray.  Of putting their passions at the disposal of the collective.  Of living with glory, and with defeat.  And doing so knowing that a full life for the collective and themselves depends upon they doing their job ,with their special talents, even though sometimes it feels like a ‘cross to bear’, and a ‘cross to bear’ with no certainty that we are even doing the right thing.

One age at a time

That is life.  For most twenty-somethings, this is very hard to understand.  I am happy they take the first step in understanding their personality is different from others, and that to have winners, by definition we must have losers.  Those concepts are hard enough.  They will learn more later, just as our stumbling one years olds delighted us by running like gazelles in their teenage years.

What’s next?

2009 promises to be a hard year.  The financial crisis is even worse than most people understand.  My analytical training helps me here and I am collecting visual explanations on the page Financial Crisis Visually.

This month has also been a horrible month with out-and-out conflict breaking out in Gaza (hence some of the fiercer imagery, perhaps).

But it is our year.  It is our time. And our life, in 2010, depends entirely on what we do together, now.

Come with me,

life is contested, but it is ours.

P.S.  Ned has persuaded me to re-orient this blog more to non-psychologists.  Please let me know if I am on the right path and what you think I should be doing!

Enhanced by Zemanta

What psychologists can learn from social media

Still rapt

Image by bowbrick via Flickr

Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion

I was trained as a psychologist and I ultimately trained thousands more in the same tradition.

To qualify as a psychologist, in most jurisdictions, we are required to master the art of the “lab report”.  I had done A level Physics, so the format wasn’t unfamiliar to me.  Indeed, the whole rigmarole was based on 19th century physics which psychologists were copying madly.

I don’t think it is bad thing to learn to write a lab report.  I studied Latin too.  Disciplined methodical thinking is important and if you learn how to follow one method, you realize that you can learn to follow any method.  And it is much much easier for students to write up experiments and surveys than handle qualitative studies which are usually too demanding for the 20% 6 month load that most students have allotted to the task.

Holistic Thinking

That said, we have to unlearn a little too.  Psychology leaves us two unfortunate ways of thinking. We are analytical – we break people into parts.  And we are trained to believe that what we are studying is separate from us – a thing.  Most unfortunate when we are talking about people.

A few years after we qualify, we generally stumble over the insight that we have to retrain ourselves to look at a set of data, not as data, as but as a person with hopes and fears, history and future, and most of all a purpose and morality that is not a reflection of our purpose in the interaction.

Even harder to do, is to understand that we are not separate from the person we are “testing”, “counseling”, or “coaching”.  We have our own stories, yes.  But why should ours be sacrosanct or privileged and totally unaffected by the person with whom we are working?  And, can that ever be?  Can it ever be that two people in the same room, or reading a blog post written by another, don’t share some past and importantly some future?

What psychologists can learn from social media

We are affected by our clients.  In the realm of social media, marketers are struggling with the same idea.  I found this excellent quote:

“To succeed in Web 2.0, your site cannot be an optional layer added to people’s lives.  It must be inserted directly into the lives of the consumer.”

If we we are in their lives, how can it be that they are not in ours?

Enhanced by Zemanta

“we” and “they” in psychology

A good way to test a psychological theory is to ask: does it “do something to you” or does it help you to find “your place in the family of things” (Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese)?

UPDATE:  I saw today a post on what we type into Google.  It seems that when we type “is it wrong to”, we are making a personal decision.
When we type “is it unethical to”, we are talking about nothing in particular.  Or at best, what other people should be doing!

Today I wrote a post about your psychologist being 100% on you side.  Make sure they are!