Pause Your Judgement and Notice the Beauty

Steam locomotive
A beautiful example of a steam locomotive

I had a wonderful experience the other day that reminded me of my own biases and judgements. I got to see them clearly, and the beauty that exists in those I might judge. I was richer for the increased awareness.

I caught the train into Wellington city and one of the conductors collecting tickets walked along and clicked each ticket and said in a very robotic, short, sharp fashion, “Thank you.” He was stern looking and seemed quite stiff in his body. Click. “Thank you”. Click. “Thank you.” Click. “Thank you.” My judgement: he was bored to tears and going through a learned process or routine. Then magic happened. He finished the ticketing process and stopped to chat with a small group. His whole being softened. His face lit up. He changed roles and was instantly a bright, engaging, excited and friendly character. In that moment, for me, he shifted from being alien and difficult to fathom to a beautiful and vibrant human being. I got to see the problem with my own biases and judgements.

Judgement is a very natural survival- and fear-based process that occurs within milliseconds of meeting anyone. It enables us to simplify the complexity of life and make decisions quickly. It was massively helpful when walking around a corner and meeting a sabre toothed tiger or a mammoth, or a strange cave person. It does help us now as well. Is this a hostile or a friendly audience? Is my customer pleased to see me, irritated, or angry? Judgement is natural and essential. It is not always accurate. Some of our judgements are biases we have learned, as children from our parents or from our own experiences. Often they are very contextual and then get applied generally. They limit our openness to others, particularly those we judge as different.

A friend of mine, who has some clear understanding of some of his biases, was taking his daughter to choose a new school. In meeting with the principal, he heard, paraphrased, “We are largely a white school”. His response: “I may be a racist but that doesn’t mean my daughter has to be.” They went looking for a different school.

Research highlights that diversity in our teams and organisations creates an environment where we get better solutions and results. The varied opinions, experiences, thinking processes, however annoying we may find them from time to time, create variation that challenges and improves the outcomes.

I remember an organisation that decided project managers must be Myers-Briggs ENTJ. Any other type was excluded from being a project manager. Their projects all had a common look and feel, and failed to respond to variation in a similar fashion. It is difficult to learn from others when those others are the same as you. In a different organisation I had consulted with them for several months, and had worked with the manager in a different context for several years. Then, because he was considering offering me a permanent role, he had me psychometrically assessed. I did well in all the cognitive and behavioural aspects, but he turned me down for the role because, in his opinion my Myers-Briggs suggested I was a business analyst, not a project manager. That was a thoroughly unscientific judgement based on his own misuse of the tool. This was in spite of him having observed me as a successful project manager in a variety of different contexts over the years we had known each other.

What challenges are you aware of in building diversity and inclusion in your teams and organisations? What benefits have you noticed? What judgements get in your way? Do you surround yourself with those you feel comfortable with or do you actively engage with those who are different from you, who may challenge your ideas? What value is lost when there is a push for sameness rather than diversity?

From the book…

Appreciate the Fog book image
‘Appreciate the Fog’ book

Whether we have a positive attitude to personal learning and growth or require life circumstance to motivate us on to a path of self-exploration, life as an adult is about unlearning deficient patterns and opening to new ways of being authentic. It can be exciting, is every bit about growth and development as growing up from baby to adult was, and it will involve pain insofar as we resist the unfolding. Through this process, we gain access to our unbridled potency, our power, and can return to manifesting our true and full essence.

Hereditary Traits

You’ve probably had those moments where you realise you are indeed like your parents in some of their habits and behaviours. That may even be true for those that you promised yourself you’d not repeat when you grew up. Oh, the agony of realising that despite your best efforts, indeed perhaps because of them, you are like your parents in ways you’d rather was not the case.

Checking out DNA and hereditary characteristics
Checking out DNA and hereditary characteristics

That is not to say parents are bad. I have been a child of parents. I know there are definitely things they did that I did not wish to reproduce in my life. I am also a parent, and I get that at times my kids say, to themselves if not always out loud, “Dad, you’re weird. I will not be like that when I am older.” Good luck!

My dad left the family when I was turning 8. Now, after 40 years without contact we are developing a relationship, getting to know each other. Even with such a short period of influence on my life it is really surprising and interesting to realise that in so many ways I really am like him. Like magic… got you! I have found creative ways to exhibit some of his behaviours in my life. For example, I swore I’d never be into cars, gleaning more performance for racing, as I remembered him doing. Not me! Instead I spend my energy on my computer creating a better system for myself. Same behaviour, different application!

The flip-side to this is that I am also learning a lot that is great about him, and also about myself. I know more of his background that shaped him, and as a consequence understand some of the areas I have had to work on for myself. For example, I had often been in survival mode, expecting the world to deal with me harshly, and generally expecting the worst. Not all of that can be placed on my dad, but I now know he lived through the Second World War in London, was very much in survival mode, and on any given day there could be news that someone who mattered was dead. I have not been through a war yet I can see the influence of his war experiences in how I have lived my life.

What have you inherited from your parents? It can be an illuminating experience to review your behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, (including prejudices) and check which parent contributed them to you. Have fun!

Reminded To Live and Love

relationship bridge building
Rebuilding a connection with another person

A dear friend of mine, Christina, died this week and as I went to her funeral yesterday with my partner several thoughts were foremost in my mind, aside from the loss of her from this mortal sphere. One was a deep reminder of the importance of living in the moment and making the most of what life has to offer, particularly my connection with others.

Avoidance happens all too often when we have conflict or have experienced hurt with others. While not addressed, there is wasted energy that goes towards maintaining the protections we erect against being hurt again, particularly by those we have cared about. Not only do we lose capacity to connect with the other person but we also deny or disown to some extent that part of us that actually cares about and loves that person. We deny that part of us because we don’t want to open our heart and be hurt again. We may even condemn that part for being stupid enough to  expose us to hurt. Have you ever loved someone deeply and had your heart broken?

I have learned there is amazing value in reclaiming that part of me that has loved another by healing through the hurt and opening my heart in love to them again. Then I can fully love and reclaim the part of me that loved them. This does not require that person to be in my life though that can help. There are a number of people who I love deeply that I don’t expect to ever connect with again. However I am freer as a person as a result of the healing process. I have reclaimed those loving parts of me, and don’t have to waste energy protecting myself in those areas.

I have had some fabulous experiences where I have enjoyed the fruits of engaging with my healing process related to someone and then, out of the blue, having them reconnect with me. One such experience was reuniting with my father who I had not had contact with for 40 years, and for much of that time had not known or cared whether he was alive or dead. When I did meet him, having already healed the past as much as possible, I was better able to deal with whatever arose in real time. Healing relationships with those we have loved is more about reclaiming ourselves than any specific outcome with the other person. Whatever we do, they may not wish to reconnect. In doing our work we become freer and better able to live life fully.

Anger Management

I wouldn’t call it a great movie but the movie Anger Management‘ released in 2003, starring Adam Sander and Jack Nicholson, did highlight an aspect of anger that is often overlooked and ignored, that of inappropriately not feeling or expressing anger. I can totally relate to this.

I spent many years believing I was patient and tolerant as a person, and that I was naturally even tempered, and well in charge of my emotions. I did not get angry. I did not feel angry. I felt composed most of the time. If I did not feel composed I squashed the feeling response until I did. I grew up with little emotional response to things that occurred around me, and my judgement of myself was that this was good. As an approach it kept me safe, and I now know that is what it was all about, feeling safe. By stifling my experience and expression of emotion I was able to control my external response to people and situations. I looked calm and did not take any sudden action, or cause any ripples with those around me. In fact I had layers of protection that ensured I kept myself to myself.

I had a four-year-old part or role that ran away and hid, feeling unwanted and inadequate. I had a seven-year-old part that looked after the 4-year-old part, keeping him safe and hidden, and could be quite comforting. He was very vigilant to danger and emotionally shutdown. I could cope better as a 7-year-old if I did not show my emotions. The 11-year-old part of me was even more protective, even more emotionally shutdown, keeping both the 4 and 7 year old parts safe, with less of the caring component. At 17 I developed another role within myself that was a response to anger and physical danger. It would use anger and urgency to silence any part of me that wanted to speak out or be noticed. Anger was buried very deep within me under all these layers.

For more than 15 years I have been developing awareness of each of these roles within me, understanding the events at the time that encouraged these roles to develop, addressing the threats and fears that these various roles were created in response to, and learning to express myself more immediately and authentically, sometimes with anger. I now know that anger was a strong part of my life, but feeling unable to express it, I directed it at myself. That was damaging on many levels. Unexpressed anger is problematic and needs to be worked through so full, authentic expression is possible.