Listening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary.

Listen by Marcus Q via FlickrListening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary.

I’m not sure what Dan Pink was really trying to say in this post, but the last sentence is terrific: Listening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary.

Surviving kidnapping

Earlier this morning, temporarily forgetting it is June in the northern hemisphere a long way from the equator, I thought 3.30 was morning and inadvertently spent an hour listening to stories of religious people who had been kidnapped in Colombia and held for long and (more importantly in my opinion) indeterminate periods.  It was only when I wondered why BBC thought this was breakfast viewing that I realized my error.  That said, it was an interesting program.

Despite the Stockholm syndrome, the advantage of being kidnapped is that we know who the enemy is.  Often in real life, horror emanates from people we want to like.  Not knowing how long a horror will go on for is really horrible.  It’s difficult to budget one’s energy.  We cannot use the line I read about long term jail sentences: Do your time; don’t let your time do you.

It’s in that phrase that we see the value of religion in these never ending horror situations. When we say “don’t let your time do you”, we try to go on as usual.  We try not to change ourselves.

I never comprehend religious arguments.  They seem circular to me.  But what I gathered from the people speaking to BBC was a determination not to broken by the experience.  We can be changed by it, not broken.

Religious people have within their narrative the power to ‘offer’ the horrific situation to God.  Give it back.  Secular people have to reason logically.  This situation is bad but I am not.

Whatever narrative we use, the goal is to be happy within the situation.  I wonder if the programme is available on iplayer because it is difficult to repeat what the former hostages conveyed. Maybe being logical is not helpful.

Remember rather: Listening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary.  What is your story?  What in this story is a story you can repeat, initially to yourself?

Immoral press

The Moral Maze on BBC4 last night ‘discussed’ ostensibly the outrageous behavior of BBC and other media outlets during the Cumbria shootings.  Beginning with bad manners and utter lack of empathy, they trampled over Cumbria turning other people’s tragedies into titillating gossip for people with nothing else to watch on TV.

Immediately following trauma, we need practical help

The program veered off this point into the personal prejudices of the panelists as is the Moral Maze’s wont, but some of the brave professors who gave of their time to be ‘witnesses’ made an important point.  In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, we don’t need professional help.  Immediately, we need practical help: a blanket, a cup of tea, a working mobile phone to contact loved ones.

Professionals concentrating on emotions do more harm than good.  I know from my own lit reviews that professionals are unlikely to do better than chance (one third get better, one third get worse and one third stay the same).

Why counselors might make trauma worse

Professionals probably do harm for three reasons:

  • They distract us from the immediate needs of the situation: a blanket, a cup of tea and get in touch with loved ones
  • We rehearse the bad parts making it more likely we will remember the bad parts
  • In the immediate shock, we have no story. Our story got demolished along with the actual event and we need time to think through a coherent and positive narrative.

The last sounds as if we are making things up.  We are not.  We are making sense of what happened.  And unless we have prior experience (and a story made up in advance), it takes time to reorganize our brain just as it does when we are finding our way over any unfamiliar terrain.  We are not ready to talk because we can’t organize our thoughts coherently.  Not yet.

But to leave our story as the story written by the perpetrator, or a story written by chance and bad luck, that is madness.  To live our story as so much debris tossed around on the waves of chance and misfortune, that is madness.

Once we have had a chance to catch our breath, we remember that Listening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary. Being buffeted by events means we are alive.   Taking notice of events means we are sane.  Listening to our own voice is revolutionary.

If. . . We wouldn’t be We

If

If freckles were lovely, and day was night,

And measles were nice and a lie warn’t a lie,

Life would be delight,–

But things couldn’t go right

For in such a sad plight

I wouldn’t be I.

 

If earth was heaven and now was hence,

And past was present, and false was true,

There might be some sense

But I’d be in suspense

For on such a pretense

You wouldn’t be you.

 

If fear was plucky, and globes were square,

And dirt was cleanly and tears were glee

Things would seem fair,–

Yet they’d all despair,

For if here was there

We wouldn’t be we.

E.E. Cummings

Teaching the challenges of morality

I’ve spent a lot of my life teaching young adults.  Every subject begins with teaching “declarative knowledge”, the labels for things, the things that can be tested with multiple choice.  Then we move on to “procedural knowledge”, getting our hands dirty, and the things you can only know if you have done the job yourself.  It is here that morality arrives.  We have to consider consequences.  And we have to consider that we will not always be “right”.

Let me explain with two extreme moral positions

At school, a friend of mine didn’t  like putting sulphuric acid on zinc chips  She was convinced that she could hear them squeal with pain.  That is one extreme.  She saw consequences which others did not see.

In social sciences, we are required to fill in forms in lieu of considering ethics.  We even go to great lengths to remove the effects of what we do from experiments. That is the other extreme.  We pretend, indeed we are required to pretend that we are not acting in our self-interest and that our actions have no impact on the world.

The world in flowing motion

Of course, all this is a nonsense. Everything we do affects the people we do it with.  And we are affected in turn.

This is the lesson that students should learn.  They need to learn to listen and to understand how other people are affected by their even seemingly innocuous actions.

And yet moral choices are not ‘pc’ or paralysing

And then they must decide. The students must decide.  Are they going to act anyway, and why?

Students find it hard to accept that moral choices don’t leave us feeling good

Somewhere buried in there is a hard lesson of life – that are our actions and circumstances don’t always reflect well on us ~ and that we are never comfortable with that.  But that is a good thing.  The day that we are uncomfortable with the uncomfortable,  then we have lost it.  We should feel bad about bad stuff.

But we also have to make choices despite the fact we are not going to feel good.

But feeling bad is shared and it important to recognize that the bad feelings are both valid and shared

I like that Cummings ends with We wouldn’t be we.  Because the journey that brought us together into this uncomfortable place is our shared journey.  Our discomfort is a product of our shared journey.

I may not like that I am in this bad place with you, but I am.   That cannot be denied.  And I have to act anyway.  Just as you do.  I just try to act thoughftully, knowledgeably, fairly.  Often I don’t even achieve that, but I try.

And that I act does not deny that all this is bad.  It’s bad.  I act.  That is.

And that it is bad does not change that tomorrow may not be bad.  With you or without you.  That is, too.  It just is.

And to pretend that we don’t have agonizing choices to make denies that We are We. That is bad.  Very bad.  That is much worse than the lousy circumstances and awful decisions.  The worst thing we can do is deny that We are We.

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The ups and downs of the Hero’s story

When your story, which genre do you use?

Are you the Hero?

Were you rollicking along quite happily when an unexpected call for your attention, effort and skills arrived out-of-the blue?

Did you hesitate but eventually relent?

Was your journey rocky at moments, yet in quite surprising ways, did the world come out to help you?

Did you triumph eventually, though most of the time you thought you would fail, horribly?

Did you come home at last, and sadly find an unappreciative audience?

You might be a Villain of course

You were rollicking along quite happily doing your thing when, suddenly, you had a chance to do something, well, not so honest, pleasant or fair to advance your cause?  And you took your chance.  You succeeded wonderfully.  You have the champagne and fast car to prove it but you will never be a push-over again?

Or you might be a Tragic Victim

You weren’t rollicking along quite happily and you got the call for your attention anyway.  And it was a pain in the rear end.  And it all went badly.  As it always does.

Do you prefer the Hero story?

We tell all three stories but it seems that we like the first best.  We like the scary Hero story which comes out OK in the end.

But it is very scary along the way.

1  Refusal of the call

We no more want to accept the call than we want to get up at 5am on a Sunday morning.  Our creature comforts are important to us.   But equally we are glad, pretty much as we do when we are up and about before sunrise. Our horizons widen and we feel vital and alive.  It’s a viseral thing.  It’s not scientific or measured by a questionnaire. It’s visceral.   We feel our pulse quicken.  We feel engaged.  We feel that we are living.

2  Trials and Tribulations

Yes, we have the special skills and qualities to pull this off for those who ask, but it is a big ask.  And failure flashes before us.  It really seems that this is the one that will get away.

And not everyone wants us to succeed, either.  There are plenty who would have us fail and will do their utmost to make sure we do.

Yet, there are others who come out to help us.  Once we have got over our earlier procastination and unwillingness to get going, the universe conspires to help us.

We don’t know that we will succeed.  But we do that we want to, for ourselves, for the people who asked, and for the people who joined us along the way.  Our desire to succeed makes the possibility of failure all the more scary.

3  The return

And the oddest feature of all in the hero’s story is the disorientation we feel on our return.

We may be a hero returned from a war.  We might have won a gold medal at the Olympics.  We may have graduated from uni.

We have the party.  We have the parade.  But it is a let-down.

We aren’t being party-poopers or ungrateful.  It’s just that we are no longer who we were when we began, and nor are the people we left behind.  We have a lot of catching up to do.

Some people don’t try.  They leave again and try to relive their adventure.  Grand prix racing drivers spring into my unkind mind.

Some people go quiet.  Old soldiers do particularly.  People cannot understand what they have gone through.

Others understand that they are in a new phase of their lives.  They engage with the community around them and they bring their new selves to what is happening around them.  They may have a relatively quiet period as they become reoriented and re-weave their place within it.  This can be hard.  But it is easier when we live the question.

How can we, who have been away, find our way in the old life to which we return, but which is really a new place whee we return as a stranger.

What is our call now?  What is our new adventure?  What is the new call from the people around us?

The words of poet Mary Oliver get us a clue.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

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.

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No 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Map of Botswana
Image via Wikipedia

Have you read The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency?  Or did you see its premiere on BBC1 last Easter Sunday?

The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency is that – the first detective agency run by a woman – and its novelty is that this series of detective stories is set in contemporary Botswana.

The star of the series, Patience Ramotswe is a heroine, with a large heart, but she is no superwoman.   She is famously ‘traditionally built’ and has few pretensions.  She runs her detective agency on the basis of one “how to” book, and has no particularly skills.   She dislikes telephones, and drives with her handbrake on.

Jill Scott’s  plays Patience Ramotswe in the BBC series.  Ian Wylie quotes Scott’s description of her character:

“She believes in justice and she loves her country.   . . She’s a real woman who has experienced the loss of a child, being heartbroken with her first marriage, but decided that life is so much better, that there’s so much more than those particular heartaches.”

The series of books are written by Alexander McCall Snith and are available from a library or book shop near you!  Fabulous reading but do read them in order as the lives of the characters unfold.  No 1 Ladies . .  is the first in the series.

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Is the essence of a happy life a point-of-view?

I read a great post this morning suggesting the Clay Shirky has it wrong.  We don’t really have a cognitive surplus, or we cannot make use of the cognitive surplus, because people prefer desultory entertainment to purposive action.

Positivism vs constructivism

The author writes in a scholarly genre: dealing with facts and evidence in a positivist way.  I almost responded likewise.

What if the author, Steve, looked at the world through other eyes?

What if the mytho-poetic tradition, a la Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, are correct and we like to hear a narrative?

  • Does that explain why we prefer to watch stories about someone?  Rather than a read explanations of some thing?

What if we like to write stories in a narrative (even though it was beaten out of us at college)?

  • Would we feel more cheerful, me and Steve included, if we were allowed to tell stories about
    • action,
    • purpose,
    • calling,
    • doubt,
    • triumph?
    • All the human attributes banned from psychological reports?

Positive psychology and the narrative

Positive organizational scholarship, for example appreciative inquiry, are quite clear that a positive approach includes social constructionism – in other words, our voice and the voice of others.  The positive principle is expressed not only as something positive and not negative, but as something purposeful, compelling, engaging, enduring, exciting, soothing, validating.

Positive psychologists (as opposed to positive scholars) tend to retreat back to questionnaires to measure their strengths and virtues.  Just as happiness strictly refers to a life well-lived (not a mood, person or moment in time), I suspect someone better read than I can explain why a strength or virtue belongs in a narrative, probably as a ‘calling.’

In short, the Hero’s Journey, or narrative structure is still to be adopted by positive psychologists with vigor.

The essence of positive psychology is a point-of-view

Would I be going too far on this Saturday morning to suggest that the essence of a positive approach is a point-of-view?  We all want to hear who does what, and why.  What was their deep moral case for spending time the way we do.

And is it so wrong to relax by following the moral case of others?

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So if I am not going to reify my organization, what should I do?

I was following up the new field of “performance studies“.   I have lost the link unfortunately.   Here are five statements and questions I re-phrased in “plain-language”.

1.  We make the company every day by what we do.

2.  Together we act out a story.

3.  Remember there is more that one story we could tell.

4.  Why do I have to speak for you?  What can’t people speak for themselves?

5.  What does the story we are acting out say about our relationships with each other and are we willing to talk about this question?

Poetry and essays on the Hero’s Journey

Sometimes during the working day, I arrive at a website.  I have no idea how I got there and I have no idea why I have never been there before.  But there I am, at the place I want to be.

A site with essays and poetry about the Hero’s Journey.

For people new to the Hero’s Journey, the HJ is a narrative form, the structure of a story, that seems to be a suitable way of organizing our stories about our own lives.  Who else is the hero of our journey but ourselves.