Engaging Our Humanity

Diverse group of school children
At what stage do we differentiate ourselves from others based on difference?

Diversity is about acknowledging and honouring the difference in people and groups. By necessity that is the difference between ourselves and others in terms of what we value, how we view the world, what we each consider makes the world work best, physical and cultural characteristics, and any other form of difference that may be recognised. Over the past few months I have become increasingly aware of examples where difference is feared and of behaviours used to distance self from those who are different. The key word to summarise these behaviours is ‘Objectification’, a process of dehumanising others so what we think, feel or do has less personal/moral significance.

There are many forms of objectification. Some historic and current examples I am aware of include:

  • A common complaint by women is that men objectify them. A woman, for instance, is seen for sexual utility, and not for the person she is. I grew up with the proverbial Playboys under my bed, and I spent a lot of time noticing ‘attractive qualities’ and disregarding those I deemed unattractive. As unpleasant as this demeaning process is, it is very common. Now with the availability of pornography, objectification of those meeting a person’s sexual preferences is even more prevalent and pronounced. They become sexual objects to be used, whether in reality or fantasy, rather than people who hold intrinsic value as themselves.
  • In 1974, Marina Abramović, a performance artist, stood for six hours with the audience invited to use any of 72 objects on her as they desired, Marina taking full responsibility for the consequences. Some were objects of pleasure. Others were destructive. Initially little happened, other than photographers taking pictures. Then people started to touch her, move her. She was then touch intimately. Items were attached to her. A man cut her neck with a razor blade. Her clothes were cut off. A loaded gun was put in her hand and aimed at her head. By the end of six hours Marina’s body was a canvas of how others had objectified her and taken licence because she was “an object” and they faced “no consequences”. When the six hours was finished, the gallery announced the exhibition had concluded, and Marina then moved and walked among the audience. No one would engage with her, experience the confrontation of what was done by them to a real person. (See article about the exhibition and an interview with Marina Abramović about the exhibition)
  • Hitler’s regime is well recognised for concentration camps and the heinous treatment of those sent to the camps. Jews are well known as targets of the cruel and barbaric treatment. Other groups singled out for specific attention included blacks, homosexuals, gypsies, those with disabilities, among others. Growing evidence highlights North Korea’s atrocious treatment of their own people, where three generations of a family may be sent to “work” camps for life for supposed crimes of one of the family. Starvation, torture and other acts of cruelty are alleged to abound. Recently allegations have been made that Chechnya has set up internment and torture camps for anyone who is, or is thought to be, part of the LGBTQ community, with abductions and murders apparently becoming more prevalent.
  • In the early 1970’s Ford fast-tracked its design and production of the Pinto, getting it to market with a design flaw it knew about. A low speed, rear-end impact caused the fuel tank to rupture. Deaths occurred. It took the tragic deaths of three teenagers in a fire ball, as they were going to church, to initiate a recall. Part of the decision to release the car with a known severe fault was a cost-benefit analysis. A dollar value was placed on a person’s life, and the fix (about $10 per car) applied to all cars cost more than the likely number of deaths multiplied by the value of a human life. In this case a human life became a financial object and an unethical decision was made.
  • A common approach within organisations is to consider and treat people as resources. This allows the utility of a person to be assessed, valued and applied (or discarded) based on operational merit. The approach allows decisions to be made that impact people with the decision maker holding a sense of distance from the human consequences. The same is true of a general choosing to send military forces against an enemy. While such analysis and decision making is needed for the machinery of civilisation to grind on, they are example of objectification.
  • People with Autism (and Asperger’s Syndrome, which has now been merged into Autism) tend to view other people as objects in their world, without much or any of the usual sense of human connection. Their objects can be interfaced and interacted with. There are objects that hold more meaning than others, such as parents, who are familiar and serve a more significant function than others. Those with Autism rely on objectification to define their world.
  • Stereotyping, whether by age, religion, gender, education, culture, colour, or any other attribute, is used to define difference and distance self from the group based on difference. That ‘difference’ may be perceived similarity when speaking as ‘we believe…’, ‘we want…’, ‘we hate…’ etc.
  • Gossiping is a marvellous way to objectify. The target of such stories, whether those stories are fact-based or not, becomes isolated and excluded from the group, the object of bullying, without necessarily knowing it is going on, by whom or why.

The antidote for objectification is engaging your humanity, which enables us to see and recognise the intrinsic uniqueness and value of each person, and feel compassion. If we hold a question open around who they are it is more difficult to objectify and dehumanise them. Their “differences” become a matter for inquiry and inquisitiveness, a chance to meet someone new and perhaps gain an alternative perspective on life. Often our fears of ‘the other’ are rooted in ignorance, and insecurity about our own sense of self, and whether we will survive meaningful connection.

How many wars, crimes and aggressions would happen if both sides truly sought to understand the views and perspectives of the other, allowed themselves to see the humanity (including vulnerabilities and frailties) of the other, without wishing to crush and exercise power over them.

In what ways would the assessment of a person’s value shift in a business environment if more humanity was applied? How would it impact culture and values of the workplace?

How do you recognise, acknowledge and value difference? In what ways do you objectify others? What would happen to those relationships if you were to connect with them with genuine interest to know them as people of value? Would decisions and actions you take in work and other settings be different if you recognised the humanity of those your decisions impact? Have you ever tried to reverse roles with others to gain insight into different views and beliefs?

If you choose to engage with this area of exploration, it can open a rich wealth of learning and meaningful human connection.

Embrace Change with Power and Purpose

Changing your mental context
Changes, a new mind-set required

According to James Baldwin, the American novelist, “Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock.”

Regardless of its nature, we need to embrace change with power and purpose. While there may be some change we do want, I also refer to those changes we do not want or seek. It is the challenge found in the unwanted and significant changes that truly tests our character.

Resilience, fear, and letting go are three factors we need to address when responding to change.

As humans, we have physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. Our emotional and mental bodies are similar to our physical in that without exercise and challenge they become flabby and lose tone. Our spiritual body does not so much get flabby. Rather we disconnect from it and lose sight of the being we are, or become aware we never have truly known who we are. It is our relationship with who we are that gets flabby. Change is the catalyst for encouraging and requiring “whole-of-being fitness”. How cleanly and powerfully are you able to respond to change? Does change throw you into a stressful place? Can you ride the wave of change and maintain your composure? The fitness of our whole being forms the basis of our resilience. Physical health, emotional intelligence, mental acuity and a powerful sense of who we are amidst change ensures we are internally resourced.

Fear is a natural reaction to change, even when we want the change. We fear losing the status quo, our current state. There is comfort in the familiar. We don’t KNOW what the end state will be like, even if the grass seems greener. There is the motivating force that pushes for change, and our reactive fear that retards our fluidity. If the reactive fear is greater than the motivational force, we are stuck.

When faced with fear we tend to be reactive and the four F’s come into play: FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE and FABRICATE. The first two are instinctual, reactions driven by the reptilian brain, the amygdala. Freeze is related to higher brain function becoming overwhelmed with information and decisions, and shutting down. We become stuck. Fabricate relates to creating or projecting a mask, a false image, like a chameleon changing colours, so we don’t have to fully face what we fear. It is a learned behaviour, often from our childhood, used to cover our fears. Whether belligerence, shyness, a whimpering “poor me”, these devices seek to control the actions of others in relation to us. We often use fabricate so fluently, these manufactured behaviours become confused with our personality, embedded patterns.

When I received the surprising news that I had a six cm benign tumour in my brain I left the specialists office and told my wife, Juanita, very matter-of-factly that I had a life threatening condition that needed urgent surgery. An observer could have misjudged me as being remarkably calm. I certainly portrayed calm. I was in fact overwhelmed, emotionally closed down. I coped by distancing myself from my emotional world. I was fabricating calmness. All natural, understandable, and in fact necessary. Time and space was needed for me to internally process and get my ducks in a row. However, I had to move past this initial reaction and connect with what was really going on for me to powerfully and purposefully work with the change.

To move forward powerfully, we need to bring the fullness of our being forward. We need to change our F’s to A’s. Fight, flight, freeze and fabricate need to transform to ASSERT, ATTEND, ACT and AUTHENTICATE. Assert who we are and what we need. Stay present. Take action. Be real and call on others to be as well, in themselves and in relationship with you. Then we are responding to change rather than reacting.

For the first few days I maintained my calm demeanour. There was also some overwhelm, self-pity and helplessness. I couldn’t be bothered looking for ways to be powerful or purposeful. Knowing the specialist was referring me to a surgeon, I was prepared to let the hospital process take its own natural course. My wife proactively followed up on it and found it was stuck in the system and would have never got to the surgeon without intervention. I would be dead without her efforts.

My overwhelm shifted. I took ownership of the process. I researched the tumour, and thoroughly understood its impacts and what the surgeon could do, and what the implications would be. By the time I saw the surgeon he was telling me what I already knew, apart from the date for surgery. A friend was a grief counsellor. In speaking with her, she suggested I actively enlist the support of friends as that would make the process easier for me and Juanita. I informed friends in various networks I was part of about my situation. I had been a facilitator of programmes for men for a number of years. I attended a meeting of men and shared my news, my terror and my uncertainty. I experienced a wonderful outpouring of love and support. That grew when the network of several thousand men were informed. We had friends from all around the world in a vigil while I was under anaesthetic, praying or otherwise actively sending positive energy in my direction. Over 120 people were on the update list who chose to be kept informed of my progress for the first few months. Many of those who were local visited me as I had strength to receive them. As shocking and frightening as the news was for me that I had a tumour, I never would have learned the power and support available in such time without it. It really was quite humbling. There was more good will available than I had the capacity to receive.

However, the surgery was only part of the journey. I found that as the post-surgical reality set in, I had enormous grief related to loss of function – primarily hearing, balance, and emotional composure. From time to time, uncontrollable grief welled up, and I would burst into tears for no apparent reason. I would have fits of rage, something entirely alien to me before surgery. These, among others, told me I was not functioning correctly, that I was broken. That is where the third major factor came into play. I had to let go of being who I had been and learn to accept my new self. Over time many of the extremes have disappeared, but my emotional world is much more volatile than it used to be, and some of the qualities I really liked about myself prior to surgery have been lost. Part of the process of letting go has been to reframe my new reality into something meaningful and workable for me. Reframing provides the brain with rationale for why the new situation is okay, positive, good. Once the brain becomes can then settle and find new and productive ways of working within the new context.

This experience has been a series of challenges for me. I have not always managed to embrace the change with power and purpose. In fact, sometimes I have struggled against my new reality, a thoroughly futile thing to do. However, I have never lost sight of the fact it is up to me, no one else, to create the life I want moving forward. While potently and patiently supported by my wife, who has been my rock, it has still been up to me to positively move forward, to assert myself, stay present, take action and be real.

What challenges are you currently facing? How could you strengthen your response to the changes so you claim and maintain your purpose and power? Whatever it is you face, I wish you potency and strength to face up to the challenges. May you find your resilience, your way to overcome your fears, and a means for letting go of what is no longer available in ways that work for you.

The Role of Rigidity and Flexibility in Adapting to Change

A gale rages. Grasses bend and allow the energy to pass by. A forest of tall trees copes by backing and supporting each other. The lone pine, finally worn by the buffeting, breaks. That is one analogy of the effects of rigidity and flexibility.

Have you noticed you judge some people as rigid and others as flexible? Which one is better? Where are you, if you assessed yourself as rigid or flexible? Why are you like this?

How does flexibility and rigidity affect your capacity to change?
How does flexibility and rigidity affect your capacity to change?

While these questions are interesting, I have realised they are too narrow and do not reflect the complex nature of what may constitute rigidity or flexibility. In fact, the question I find myself with is ‘What is the right balance of rigidity and flexibility?’ A person practising yoga, for instance, if too rigid cannot get into poses, needing greater flexibility, but if too flexible, without the requisite rigidity and they collapse.

Here are some contexts where we might assess people on their degree of rigidity and flexibility:

Principles and Values

People like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Adolf Hitler could be assessed as rigid to their principles and values. Each changed the world in their own way and refused to desist from their courses regardless of pressure. Their own lives were at stake, but they were firm (rigid) to the end.

You can probably think of people who change their principles and values to suit the situation. A victim of such flexibility is trust, any sense that the person has integrity. In ‘The Game of Thrones’ terminology they are ‘Sell-swords’, and their allegiance goes to the highest bidder, whatever the currency is for them, and past commitments only matter if it suits them.

Conserved or Spontaneous

In the area of change, conserve relates to our reliance on and application of established beliefs, practices, attitudes and behaviours. Someone bound to the conserve might say “But this is how we have always done it.” For example, the Corporate conserve may include formal processes, rewarded behaviours, and cultural folklore of ‘how we do things.’ The conserve makes us rigid to what has been, how we do it…

Spontaneity is the capacity to act or behave in a new and adequate manner (I.e. is not a perfect response but is suitable and productive ), whether it is new or pre-existing situation. Spontaneity builds on what is emerging now, rather than holding on to how it has been, flexibility in action.

Fear or Power

Fear causes contraction. What was flowing and easy becomes stifled, awkward and stiff. It robs us of the capacity to easily respond to what is present, and places us in a reactive state. Instinctual reactions of fight, flight, and higher brain reactions of freeze and fabricate, erode our capacity to take productive action. We might still do so, but it is not as easy as when free of the rigid and binding nature of fear. Many behaviours stem from fear. Examples include controlling behaviour (of self and others), micromanagement, denial, avoidance and biases/prejudices.

Power is our ability to do or affect something strongly. For us to exercise power we must expand, opposite to the effect of fear. Many confuse power with being able to MAKE yourself or others do your bidding. That is aggression, applying force, part of the fight reaction. Opposite to fear, power enables us to assert, attend (stay present), act and authenticate. I speak to these in my book ‘Appreciate the Fog’. It enables us to work with what is present now, take positive action, and develop and strengthen relationships. Fear makes us contract, rigid and reactive to what might be, while remaining in our power enables us to expand, be flexible and responsive to what is.

Attachment and Expectation

Attachments are those things we hold on to from the past. Expectations are our hopes, visions, dreams and aspirations of the future. In and of themselves they do not make us flexible or rigid. However, our inability to let them go when circumstances change does create the effect of rigidity as the individual pauses to process and adjust. At about the age of three one of my children threw a massive tantrum because they wanted something different from what was. Clinging to the pole of the clothesline in the middle of the backyard, screaming and crying, there was total refusal to let go of what they wanted. Not rigid in their body at all, they were stuck in place. Once the tantrum was over, their emotions fully expressed, the pole was released. Acceptance, then contentment and movement returned. Minutes later they had forgotten the tantrum. What we hold on to can make us rigid, especially when it is important to let go and move on.

I am very aware of how lightly I may hold on to things I consider safety-making, whether they are beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, or any number of other things, I often hold on beyond their use-by date and rob myself of my power.

Emotion

Many people, men particularly, are emotionally rigid, unable to connect with and express their feelings. Some cannot even discern what they feel. Childhood messaging such as “Boys don’t cry” served to teach a generation what previous generations had learned, that quashing the natural flow of emotion is important to control life and actions. Shame, embarrassment and fear are commonly associated with open expression of feeling, especially of grief and fear. Anger, in a man’s world, seems acceptable, though its link with violence is frowned on. Emotional rigidity has led to emotional illiteracy.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who are easily overwhelmed by their emotions, caught in a torrent of feeling, with little capacity to rein them in or manage them. That might be considered flexibility in the emotional world.

Healthy emotional expression lies between these extremes, with the capacity to recognise feelings, comprehend their significance, and express the needs that underpin the emotions. As we loosen emotional rigidity and gain access to and expression of our feelings, we gain a fuller, more authentic capacity to be ourselves. We are able to process what is happening to and within us more effectively, and adjust more easily to change. We are attuned to what is happening to us and the meaning we are making.

Conclusion

When it comes to adapting to change, your ability to adjust to the new situation depends on your beliefs, values, expectations, attachments, degree of fear, and your authenticity with yourself and others about what matters to you. These are part of what defines your personal power.

What gets in your way? What robs you of your capacity to be powerful? What robs you of fullness in relationships? What impedes you from responding to what is new and unexpected in a manner that serves you? How have over-rigid aspects of your being undermined your freedom to act? When have you been so flexible in a situation you lose track of what really matters to you? This is not about right or wrong. It is about the continuum of possible ways of being, and whether you are achieving what you want in a way that best serves you and those about you.

Relating Interdependently

Maturing with respect to external relationships
Maturing as a being that can relate to others

As part of normal development, we are born as highly vulnerable and dependent babies, reliant on our parents for food, shelter, protection, and love. As we grow up we learn to cope with things for ourselves and develop elements of independence. Developing independence is an essential ingredient in finding ourselves and being a separate and distinct being. Without independence we will not fully realise who we are, own our thoughts, feelings, desires and other aspects of ourselves, and will be limited in our capacity to be self-responsible. Interdependence becomes available to us once we have matured through independence. Then, we are able to choose to engage with others in relationship and consciously place trust and reliance in them, and retain our sense of who we are. From that place the relationship we experience is powerful and freeing.

A common experience when romantic relationships end is to experience significant fear, even terror, of being alone, a driving desperation to have someone else as a partner. You may fear that you are not lovable, that you will be forever alone, or that you cannot cope on your own. These indicate that you feel dependent on someone else for care and protection. From this place any relationship formed will have the dynamic of neediness (I need you so I feel loved etc.) and it is rare for one person to enter a relationship with another person who is not also exhibiting complementary dependence issues, leading to a co-dependent relationship where the fears of each are the basis for keeping them together. They feel good when they can rescue the other, and when they are rescued, a repeated reinforcement of ‘I need you; you need me’.

When you are between relationships, it is a marvellous time to strengthen and mature your independent capacity. Then, face your fears of loneliness, inadequacy, your sense of being unlovable, and learn from within, from your own sense of self. Get to experience that you are okay and you can be independent and experience love, protection, and take care of yourself from within your own being. You do not ‘need’ the other person to meet the hungers of fear within you. The quality of the relationship you form is one of choice, trust and love. You know you contribute, that you are responsible for yourself, and you are choosing to draw close to and rely on the other. This choice is not born of fear and desperation, and leads to an expansive experience. Fear leads to contraction, limits possibilities, and stifles opportunity. To enter a relationship without fear is to be fully open to the potential that exists, and step into a new space.

That is not to say that you won’t have moments of fear. You will meet situations that warm you up to past hurts, fears, and in those moments your responses are likely to be patterned after those from the past, be reactions. Being vulnerable and trusting of someone else when we hit those moments, and relying on them to still love us, is an act of courage that comes from having already developed your capacity to be independent, and then choosing to be independent. In those moments fantastic healing of the past can occur, and trust in each other deepened further.

If you find yourself outside a relationship, and feel some degree of desperation to be back in one, take some time to be alone and learn to be independent. However, some people choose to then stay independent, preferring this to exposing themselves to more hurt, and in that they miss some precious opportunities to experience life that only come from loving, trusting relationships.

What Crap Do You Create For Yourself?

A pile of crap
A pile of crap

The clearest indicator of our own limiting patterns of behaviour are those that arise when we are in a good space. It is always interesting when life serves up a plate that enables us to see our own deficiencies with clarity. I had a great experience of this recently. The summary is ‘When everything in life is excellent and turmoil arises from within me, I created that turmoil’.

I have had periods of my life where I experienced everything as a problem. At one particularly dark stage I trusted no one, including myself, was permanently anxious to the point of severe physical pain in my body, had no concept of what I could or ought to do, and carried a bag of blame, guilt and shame with me. If I could have photographed my inner world, it would have been dark, tumultuous and ugly. I experienced everything that happened around me or to me a serious threat. I sought certainty and control, and found surprises deeply unsettling. I was highly reactive and self-esteem was at an all-time low. I was unable to respond positively to opportunities and was quite miserable.

In such a state it is particularly difficult to extricate oneself from the crap. It is also very easy, and symptomatic of the state, to believe ‘lots of crap is happening to me’. Beginning to believe you can make a positive difference, and finding support from others can be a significant aid and is a key to reclaiming yourself from the darkness.

Life has changed for me since those days, and while the past couple of years have had some challenges in ways I have never experienced, I have been largely able to act with congruence to my belief that I get to choose how I respond and behave in a situation, and that I can create a better outcome as a consequence. Now I find myself in a space where most everything is improving over where I was a year ago, and I have plenty of reasons to be happy, full of joy, content, pleased to be alive.

In this setting it has been interesting to see the negative patterns that I still have. In fact in this space it is easier to see them. For example, my relationship with my wife is better than I have ever experienced a relationship before in my life. Recently I awoke with a feeling of anxiety that some accident might happen that would end my happiness. Wow! What a moment that was. I could immediately identify it as a thought pattern I have had before, such as in the early, black period of my life mentioned above. I also knew that if I allowed the sensation to fester within me I could get consumed by negativity, a little like an alcoholic having a drink might re-engage with a pattern they are attempting to leave behind. On this occasion, I shared the fear directly with my wife, expressed that as happy as I am some part of me fears the happiness being taken from me, me losing her. I was entirely clear that I was the source of that piece of negativity. I was able to treat the scared, hurting part of me that surfaced this pain with respect and love, and without judgement place a light on it, and let it be seen. In this way I was able to fully own my negative pattern and clear it, and reclaim my capacity to live more fully. It became a  self-healing moment that strengthened my capacity to receive whatever I create for myself and work with it for a lasting, positive outcome. I had generated my own crap, and I had also been able to resolve it positively.

How do you treat yourself when you notice something you are doing that doesn’t really work for you? Are you able to love yourself through the moment, or do you add judgement and criticism to it and make the situation even worse?

Am I a Leader or a Manager?

A leader introduces vision, change, new ideas, motivation to act, and others choose to follow them. They open and expand the system they are within and increases the flow of energy and life. Leadership requires spontaneity and creativity and is oriented towards love, the fuel for authentic power.

A manager provides containment, tidiness, ensuring the establishment of and conformance to cultural and organisational conserves through process and policy, with efficiencies arising from oft repeated and improved activities. These have the effect of closing the system, regulating the flow of energy and at best, maintaining the status quo and is oriented toward fear. Sometimes the manager may utilise shame, criticism and micromanage your every thought and action. There is never a good reason for that excessive and inappropriate control, and those behaviours are thoroughly fear-based.

In business, both have their place. It is important to know which is needed in a given situation and to not confuse the two. For example, a major cost cutting, people culling process is largely a management action, though successfully bringing the organisation through and out of such an endeavour requires sound leadership.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948)
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948)

The orientation toward love or fear can also be used to assess whether the outcomes achieved were the result of leadership or management, or something else. For example, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) inspired a nation and expanded the system the Indian nation was under, ultimately bringing freedom through “nonviolence” from British rule. Mother Teresa (26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997) created change in the world one person at a time.

Adolf Hitler is an interesting one. Was he a leader or something else? Certainly he had an amazing capacity to motivate and move the populous and create change. He had a great ability to put actions into motion and marshal people to create the outcomes he sought. Was it leadership or the actions of a strategic manager. Certainly much of his personal motivation and style involved fear, and he built his Third Reich on the people afraid of an alternative.

Similar principles apply to how you work with yourself. Your internal manager tends to work from a place of fear and directedness, and as a result you may find yourself anxious and experiencing contraction, holding on to what is familiar. Your leader within works from a place of love and trust, is open and spontaneous, and you are then able to remain available to opportunities and retain the capacity to create something positive and new. The manager works more in a reactive fashion; the leader with a greater vision of your long-term future. Both do have their place. Have you learned how to balance the two?