A calm message for Christmas from Lao Tzu

Columbia River Gorge, Nov 2009 - 19 by Ed Yourdon via FlickrIn dwelling, live close to the ground.

In thinking, keep to the simple.

In conflict, be fair and generous.

In governing, don’t try to control.

In work, do what you enjoy.

In family life, be completely present.

From Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu to Contemporary Management via Psychology

Suspicious of poetry

As a young psychologist, I bought into the notion that psychology must tell us something that is not common sense.  Many leading psychologists still think this way.  I don’t think it is right.  The profession is setting itself apart from the world, above the world, beyond the world.   It is now other worldly.

We should be more like management scientists.  You know those tough guys who schedule the plans and manage the electricity grid so an airport never has more planes and people than it can cope with and the national grid doesn’t fall over when we all make supper at the same time?

Hard core scientists don’t set themselves up against common sense.  They support common sense.  Maybe they also read poetry.

Bridging the divide between poetry and management

That being said, maybe we need some prose to help people take the first steps.  Writing coach, Joanna Young, tweeted this Lao Tzu quote today.

Kindness in words creates confidence.

Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.

Kindness in giving creates love.

LaoTzu

The core of contemporary management thinking

Sounds soppy, but these words from 1500 years ago are the core of modern management thinking.

Kindness in words creates belonging and the possibility of collective efficacy.

Kindness in thinking leads to creativity and strategic clarity and hence provides the bedrock of common action.

Kindness in giving creates the common ties that allow resilience and flexibility.

Some time on Google Scholar and you will drown in academic references.

Leadership, management, human resource management

Leadership:  who are we journeying with and why are they essential to our journey?

Management: which way are we going and what can each of us do to help?

Human Resource Management: who feels secure with us and will be with us tomorrow?

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I am good at dealing with recessions!

or will be!

Professional responsibility can be demanding

In an earlier incarnation, I had a reputation for taking on the tough projects – multiple constituencies, vested interests, and consequences for everyone involved.  I loved that work.  It took listening, carefully; it took discretion; and it took carefully working through details to find solutions that others had missed and being very clear about the consequences we asked each party to tolerate.

During most of the time I did this work, I also taught at the local university.  Students were always surprised when I told them, usually to encourage them when they were losing heart over a project of their own, that there was a moment during every project when I felt the project was going to beat me.  There was always a moment when I had felt that this would be the one.

Running a small business is a lot scarier

Starting a small business took anxiety to a whole new level, and the question I ask myself, is why?  Why is worrying about cash flow so much more scary?

Is it because we are so much less in control?

Is it because the stakes are higher – if we mess up we may have to pack up the business?

Is it because running out of money assaults our middle class identity more severely than not acing a professional project that was regarded as difficult in the first place?

Is it because I have higher self-efficacy or self-belief in professional work?

Is it because professional work is for other people and I am less motivated to look after myself?

Psychological advice almost seems flippant

There is a lot of advice around for dealing with debilitating anxiety and I have dispensed a lot of it myself.

  • I like to be well prepared so I have no reason to be anxious.
  • I make sure I have a fall back position.
  • I remind myself of good times.
  • I value my social support – I know it helps.
  • And I make sure I get exercise, sleep, and eat sensibly.

The truth is is when we feel deep anxiety, it detracts from anything else.  We don’t feel prepared.  We don’t have a fall back position.  Good times in the past aren’t really relevant.  We’re on our own.  And now we, can’t sleep, can’t eat or eat too much, and exercise makes us feel like we will pass out.  And if we are really lucky, we have a full scale anxiety attack that looks like a heart attack to anyone watching.

Lao Tzu might have better advice

I pondered this problem for a day and equally pondered the inadequacy of our advice.  We are able to tell people how to deal with theoretical fear, not the real thing.

Then I stumbled on a saying on the Positive Psychology Daily News New Year blog (which is worth reading for itself – check out the Garbage Truck video and the Gratitude Chain).   About four authors down, Kirsten quotes the Chinese Philosoper, Lao Tzu.

Seek not happiness too greedily and be not  fearful of  unhappiness.

This is very much like Franklin Rooseveldt”s “there is nothing to fear but fear itself”, but it says more.  It does not suggest that we should dismiss negative emotions, or try to arrange our life to avoid them.

A full life includes the positive and the negative, all four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, winter, and we need to be competent in managing all of them.  To think of winter as the absence or negative of summer, distracts us from learning how to deal with winter, and more importantly, how to enjoy it.

The idea of happiness promoted by Losada’s work on the dynamics of happiness makes us think of emotional space that includes joy and grieving, linked together on a trajectory shaped like a three dimensional butterfly.  It is just as healthy to be in a place of grieving or fear, as one of joy and pleasure, provided it is a place we are passing through and approached  in a spirit of inquiry, inclusion and emphasis on what works.

After reading the Lao Tzu quote, the mental trick I found useful was to think of myself inside fear – not looking at it, but being inside it, looking at it around me.  That seems to restore a sense of what I am doing.

I have to get good at this!

It is not accepting unhappiness, which one reading of the quotation might suggest, but seeing myself dealing competently and effectively with negative situations.

I hope that this helps anyone else who faces perilous decisions this year!

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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