Pragmatism & Hope

Pragmatism and hope

Some notes made from Wicks & Freeman (1998)

Pragmatism & philosophy

. . . the purpose of philosophy is not to find foundational knowledge; it is to generate hope

Hope

. . . hope is optimism about the possibilities for the future

. . . hope is a disposition to experiment with alternative ways of livig that hold some promise to realize our aspirations and those of others

Tasks

. . . experimenting with new ways of living

. . . finding more liberating vocabularies

Pragmatists

. . . does this idea work in this place and at this time?

Politics are important

. . . what can those of us here now agree to?

Example: Karl Weick and sensemaking

  1. We can (and do) interpret events in different ways.
  2. How do we come to an agreement about why things are the way they are and what we can do about them?
  3. How does our understanding emerge from what we did and with whom? And from what each of us did and with whom?
  4. When we are in an unfamiliar situation, we impose ourselves on it to make sense. [Pragmatists emphasize that without noting the context, we cannot make sense of things or of the way we make sense about things.]
  5. A limiting boundary condition to the amount of change we can make is what we can understand and what people around us can understand

 

Wicks, A. C., & Freeman, R. E. (1998). Organization Studies and the New Pragmatism: Positivism, Anti-positivism, and the Search for Ethics. Organization Science, 9(2), 123–140. https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.9.2.123

 

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.

Management theory is reconsidering is philosophical rots

Offer your problems to God, and they may open opportunities that you never imagined.

I am not religious, and if they haven’t clicked away already, my friends who are ‘evangelical atheists’ will think I’ve taken leave of my senses

Management theory is reconsidering its philosophical rots

[Yes, I did mean roots but the typo is apt.]

I heard the idea of presenting one’s problems to God from a Rabbi on Radio 4 today and it is an idea that has been forgotten by management theorists for a long, long time.  It is being actively and vigorously revived though, and if you want to be involved in modern management education, “opening yourself to the imagination of the universe” is an idea that you have to get you head around.

Old school management sucked the life juices out of us

“Old school” management is goal-oriented, and fundamentally arrogant and negative.  It goes like this. “I define the goal and until you have completed it, you are not up to scratch.”

We might even say that old school management is evil. It is even evil even when we are setting our goals for ourselves and not others.  It’s  arrogant to believe that we know what is right, not only for today, but for tomorrow whose shape we barely know.  It is very arrogant to believe that we know and the other does not.  It is evil to undermine the worth of other people and to daily put ourselves and others in situations where we are not up to scratch.

But how do we open ourselves to the imagination of the universe?

For all my exploration of modern management theory, I am still a psychologist and I want to know “what am I going to DO?

“offering a problem to God”, as I understand it, does not mean letting go.  It means beginning where we are, with our sense that the present does not meet our sense of what is right and wrong.   We begin by accepting our negative evaluation, our arrogant assertion that on this matter we believe we are right,  and our overbearing willingness to judge others.  We accept that this is ground we stand on at this moment.  This is our reality at the minut.

Then, we put this evaluation on the table, probably privately, it is offensive after all.  And at last,  we listen to what the universe has to say.    What does the universe have to say about this problem?

We’ve raised the flag.  We’ve said we will hear.   Now we listen!

But are we predisposed to listen?

The difficulty is though, that in this mood, when we feel the world is wrong, and we are right and that we are allowed to tell others they are wrong, in this mood, listening to anyone is far from our minds.

Positive psychology, an overlapping school of positive organizational scholarship, kicks in now and has a lot to say on how to reach a point that we can listen and hear.

We begin by reminding ourselves that it is quite natural, housed in a human body, to feel alarmed when we notice something is wrong.   Our biology is programmed that way.  It is natural .  .  .  well .  .  . to exaggerate.  When times are rough, and we reel from trauma to trauma, or just from hassle to hassle, it is not long before we begin to shut down and focus solely on what threatens us, or simply annoys us.

Positive psychologists help us stay out of this zone of despair, cynicism and negativity.  We look to them to keep us in that positive space where we can notice that something is wrong (or a least not to our taste) and listen to the universe.  It is a tough balancing act.

Positive psychologists are not our only resource, though. Most world religions have rituals to manage this emotional housekeeping.   Balancing our ‘alarm systems’ and listening to others is such an important skill that all cultures have ways of explaining the challenge.    What is saying a brief prayer before a meal but a momentary regaining of balance where we take stock in an appreciative not panicky way?

In our secular world, we explain every thing more wordily but we are not necessarily wrong.  Just ploddy.   Two other very important factors in maintaining ’emotional tone’ are exercise and friends.

The contribution of positive psychologists

Positive psychologists advocate a simple ritual of a gratitude diary.  A few brief notes at the end of each day makes the difference between believing that we have to solve every problem ourselves and “hearing” what the universe has to offer.

Offer your problems to the universe and allow yourself to be delighted by opportunities you never imagined.

And to my evangelical atheist friends, if you are such an objective scientist, try it before you knock it.

Unless we have a relationship with ‘the other’, we cannot believe in our success.

What happens when we connect strength with strength and hope with hope?

We know what happens, but we don’t dare hope.

Because we don’t believe the connecting steps at the edge of our group.

We know what happens but we don’t believe it will happen here.

Because we don’t believe the other has strength.

That’s why first and last, leadership begins with a leader’s belief in his followers.

We lead well when we believe in our followers, deeply.

When we believe, others believe.

When they believe, they connect,

strength with strength,

and we advance together.

And then we must trust ‘the other’ too.

And as each trusts each other, we are liberated from anxieties.

Unless we have a relationship with ‘the other’, we cannot believe in our success.

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?

Test your positive thinking: make yourself the main character and feel pain

How deep is your positive thinking?

So you’ve resolved to live happily ever after?  And your friends and colleagues are mocking your for your new found happy ways?

The big test

Here is the big test for your commitment to happiness.

Imagine yourself in the most horrible circumstances

Write a short novel with you as the main character.  And write the worst things that can happen to you. Not the most horrible things in other people’s minds but the most horrible in yours.

Think of things that are so bad that your heart races and you feel as if you could pass out.

Now write yourself out of those situations.

When you can describe the worst and write a story that takes you out of those places, then you understand your hopes and values. Then you are truly thinking positively.

My first try

I am going to try this over a cup of coffee.  And you know what?  I know the first hurdle.  I know I don’t want to write myself out of a bad situation because then it is obvious I could get out of it!  And when I define the situation as bad, I don’t want it to suddenly be quite manageable (if disgusting and terrifying).  I wonder if I will ever manage this!

Tell me about your first try?

 

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You will understand the economic indicators of the US with this visualizaton

Did you study economics?

I’ve never studied economics formally but I wish I had. Not because I think Economists get right.  Some of my best friends are economists (:) really!).  They are intelligent, thinking people.  But they rarely get anything right.

I wish I’d studied economics because I think it is important to understand economic statistics.   How can we function without knowing where the economy is going?   How can we make political choices if we don’t understand what is happening around us?

Thankfully contemporary visualizations help us understand economic data

I might be let off my need to improve my economic literacy by the accelerating trend to slurp numbers and arrange them so that more of us can understand them.

Here is a marvelous visualization of the US economy.

On almost every indicator, the US economy seems to have bottomed and turned.  It’s a  snappy little presentation allowing us to click quickly through ten indicators.   The data readjusts with a springy look which reminds us, I think, the short-term instability of economic data.

Before I saw this visualization, I hadn’t appreciated how well the American economy is doing.

I wish we have an equivalent presentation on UK economy.

Who is audacious enough to hope?

Do have a look.  I find myself not daring to hope that they are true.  I wonder how many more people want to wait a bit before they get their hopes up?

For an inspiring 20 minutes: JK Rowling @ a Harvard commencement

Just in case you don’t know, JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books. She was also invited to address a Harvard graduation day (they call it commencement on that side of the Atlantic.)

JK Rowling tells her life story and she is very very funny. She also illustrates positive psychology. You will be inspired

One and two: Twenty minutes together.

Celebrating my supporters

It’s barely daylight

Today, my mobile phone woke me rudely “It is time to get up: it is 5.30”.  Groan.  Another commute.  Another day.

But I didn’t get up.  I’ve stopped doing that.

I don’t want to stagger through life making someone else’s dreams come true.  I want to make my own dreams come true!

Ah, dreams  . .

Is it possible?  For dreams to be not dreams?

Perhaps not in the blink of an eye.  And certainly not if I panic when I look at the gap between where I am now and where I want to be.

But I can ask myself this question:

Who would like to support me in my quest?  Who would take the greatest of pleasure in helping me along the way?

I smile.  And I hope you do too!

From anger to effective action

Anger: Stage Two of the Banking Crisis

Today, senior bankers fronted up to a Select Committee to make their apologies.  Shortly afterward, BBC ran a chat show and asked the public whether apologies were enough.  The public had a lot to say and the BBC presenter was clearly testing the depth of our anger.

Anger is Stage Two in the FIVE stage process of receiving bad news: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

So what does acceptance look like and how do we get there?

David Whyte, corporate poet, tells a good story that helps us understand the beginning and end of the five stage process, what we have to do to move from start to finish,  and why it is so difficult to take the first steps.

Whyte was trekking in Nepal.  He had left his friends and came, alone, on a ravine with a rope bridge in poor state of repair.  He was horrified.  It was too dangerous to use the bridge and too late to turn back and rejoin his companions.

So many situations are similar. We are stuck. It is to0 dangerous to do what we want to do and we cannot immediately see a way out of our predicament.  We are overcome by a mix of frustration, anxiety, shame and fear, and are in Stage One and Stage Two.  We are ‘all emotion’, and reasonably so.  After all, we are in trouble.

But in that funk, we cannot think clearly and cannot find a way out of our dilemma.

Tomorrow, I’ll break the situation into psychological terms and point out what we have to do if we are ever to move on.

Come with me!

Do bookmark this site, or add me to your feed reader, and come back tomorrow.  Looking forward to seeing you!

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