Sincere apologies for the late delivery of September’s Newsletter. I am back in Brazil, for a month of teaching and my newsletter this month is going to focus on an emerging phenomenon from that teaching.
This is not something new. I’ve worked with it for many years, and my work in the Thinking Environment was a next step in understanding how to release people from its consequences. Yet every time I confront this human dynamic, I am amazed by its power and impact in our lives. Anais Nin is famous for, amongst other things, saying “we do not see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”Put ten people in front of an event and ask them afterwards “what happened” and you will get significant differences in their replies.
Depending on the level of maturity of said people, some of them may be willing to go to war in order to be right that what they “saw” is what “actually happened.” The human story is filled with examples of our tragic need to be right, at the cost of vitality, affinity, connection and love.
Nancy Kline says that assumptions are the precursor to all our feelings and actions.
We know this, we really do, and yet – every day – in small ways and large, we turn life into something that is a particular way. We turn ourselves into something fixed and inviolable: “I am not good at maths”, “I am disorganised”, “I’m difficult to live with”, and we turn those assumptions into truths and hey presto! We occupy our disorganised life, being bad at maths and difficult to live with as if all of that is fact.
Ever since I entered the world of the development of human potential I’ve been fascinated by the power of the human mind to open and close. I’ve been intrigued by the hair-trigger amygdala, and its sometimes frantic attempts at keeping us safe that often result in the “hear we go again” scenarios of self-fulfilling prophesies. And I have been awed by the unbelievable force of the human spirit, which can choose to let loose the bonds of survival and soar above even the most damning circumstances to achieve unfathomable success.
We see this time and again. Poverty is a fact. Rape is a fact. Racism and sexism are structurally embedded in society resulting in facts of discrimination. And yet, some people can turn the shocking reality of these tragic experiences into the motivation to not only achieve the “impossible”, but to become compassionate, loving human beings at the same time as successful.
Some of us do not manage this choice as well as others. We are all at varying stages along the continuum of this ability to fulfil potential and create possibility. It seems to me that each of us faces the dual challenge of cultivating the courage to choose, and the compassion to self-forgive when we settle for the assumption that we had no choice in a given situation.
Viktor Frankl wrote one of the most definitive books and powerful books on this subject: Man’s Search for Meaning. As Frankl reiterates again and again throughout the book, when all else has been taken away, man still has his last freedom -- the freedom to "choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances."*
I’m acutely aware, as I write this, that some of us, myself included, have been given an inordinate degree of good fortune, making it an inevitable thought for someone less fortunate to think: “that’s all very well and good, but how would she manage in this life of mine?”
But Frankl wasn't just paying lip service to the power of optimism and a sense of purpose: he himself had experienced some of the worst possible circumstances, living through Auschwitz and losing his father, mother, brother and pregnant wife -- everyone in his family except his sister -- in the concentration camps.*
In his book, he offers suggestions for that which can give meaning in our lives – the ingredient he believed essential to enable us to transcend suffering and turn our lives into an art form in the face of it. Some of his ideas include: love, sacrifice, a cause greater than yourself and a sense of humour.
I also believe that the Thinking Environment offers me a practice that supports the choices that can turn base metal into gold. The practice of Incisive Questions, rooting out untrue limiting assumptions and replacing them with the choice to view life through the lens of something more liberating, is at the core of Thinking Environment work. The commitment to presence the system of human behaviour called The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment, with its invitation to practice a 5:1 ratio of Appreciation to criticism is another.
Choosing to face challenges, even those that are emergencies, with Ease, can transform the way I respond to life. Encouragement invites me to move beyond the internal narrative of whether I am good enough, moment by moment and Diversity allows me to celebrate my difference as opposed to twisting myself into a bitter ball trying to fit in to places that would rather see me as “less than” for something I cannot change, such as my gender.
And most of all, the day by day discipline of listening to others in a way that legitimizes them to themselves, is, as Humberto Maturana says, the development of love: “the only emotion that expands intelligence”. If being listened to like this was our birthright, from our arrival on planet Earth to the day we depart our physical form, who knows what kind of exponential growth in our ability to choose might result? "
excerpts from: 'This Man Faced Unimaginable Suffering, And Then Wrote The Definitive Book About Happiness', by Carolyn Gregoire, Huffington Post