Archive for January, 2019

The German mystic, Meister Eckhart, says, “You should be less concerned about what you have to do and think and more about what you must be.  For if your being is good, your work will be of great value.” 

Gentle Reader, consider that Meister Eckhart is correct and that it is our “being” that must be transformed.  How does one go about transforming his/her ‘being?’  What will one ‘Do’ in order to ‘Be’ different?  [Transformation = a fundamental change in character or structure]

Consider, doing ‘differently.’  Consider, being awake, aware, receptive and ‘seeing.’  You and I are not problems to be fixed; if we try to fix ourselves or others we quickly run into resistance – most of us ‘resist’ being fixed (we either don’t believe we need to be fixed or we rebel against the presumed authority and control of the fixer).  If we are not ‘problems’ to be fixed what are we?  Consider that we are, at our healthiest, living paradoxes to be embraced.

Consider that transformation involves ‘seeing’ things in a new way.  Change comes through ‘seeing.’  For example, as a leader, if I see you as a problem (to be solved) I will treat you in a particular way; if, on the other hand, I see you as a fully human being (a living paradox) I will treat you in another way.

Consider: If you are a problem you are an ‘it’ and ‘object’ (or a ‘cog’ or a resource or a commodity or an asset or a liability or a symptom or a ‘dis-ease’) I will ‘treat’ you (diagnose you, intervene so you will get better, or attempt to fix you).  If, on the other hand, I see you as a fully human being (a living paradox, imperfect as I am imperfect as the team or the department or the division or the organization is imperfect) I will not treat you but relate to you and I will invite you to relate to me; relationship is a major tap root that nurtures transformation.

Consider that if I ‘see’ things differently then. I can actually change my mind. for I now have a new way of ‘seeing’, of looking at things.  The wider my ability to ‘see’ things differently the more I am able to transform.

What might I choose to ‘see’ differently?  I might choose to discern the metaphors I use and ‘see’ what the world looks like if I ‘see’ through the lens of a different metaphor; I might discern my deep beliefs, values and assumptions and then I might choose to ‘see’ through the lens of different beliefs, values and assumptions.  I might ‘see’ the questions I ask and ‘see’ what happens if I ask other questions.  I might ‘see’ what a different alignment of metaphors, beliefs, values, assumptions and questions reveals to me about me, you and our relationship.

Strength is not needed in order to do this; good will is – good faith, good intention – the good will to choose to ‘see’ differently.

Where do I resist choosing to ‘see’ differently?  Why do I resist choosing to ‘see’ differently? To what extend does ‘fear’ play a part in my being resistant to ‘seeing’ differently? Where am I willing to ‘see’ differently?  What, in me, makes this choice possible? What in me makes this choice a challenge, if not ‘near impossible’?   

Here is a photo that my good friend Yim Harn sent me.  What are the ways you might ‘see’ this photo?  What emerges for you when you choose to ‘see’ this photo in different ways? 

by Yim Harn-Early Snow-Japan-DSCN0567

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Recently I had the privilege of engaging in a searching conversation with a man who had become a designated leader 18 months ago. At one point he asked me what it took for a leader to help create an atmosphere of ‘freedom’ and ‘trust.’ After some reflection I suggested that he consider that this ‘creation’ depends in a significant way on the personality of the leader. ‘Who the leader is’ will powerfully determine the extent to which he can help create an atmosphere of ‘freedom’ and ‘trust.’

For example, the less the person reeks of and seeks ‘ambition’ – to be the center-stage star – the easier it will be for him to help create the freedom for others to move to center-stage and the easier it will be for him to engender trust in who he is, as a person and as a leader. The more the leader has the courage (think: heart) to take the risk to stay ‘off center-stage’ (perhaps even to stay in the background, off-stage) the more freedom others will have to move to center-stage and take risks.

Those who choose to take the risk and move to center-stage will not ‘act’ in the same way the leader would act and so it is important for the leader to check his or her defense reflexes and focus on ‘outcomes’ more than on ‘methods.’ The more consistent a leader is regarding being supportive and in holding in trust those who choose to move to center-stage, and act, and the more the leader holds the ‘actor’ response-able, responsible and accountable, the more trust is engendered.

Given this, the leader, as person and as leader, must seek to ‘know one’s self.’ Thus, a crucial self-discipline (think: practice) for the person-leader is the discipline of ‘self-reflection.’ It will help the person-leader to understand the values, beliefs, principles and assumptions (especially the deep assumptions) that motivate him or her. Some reflective questions that might help the person-leader are: ‘How important is it for me to be on center-stage?’ ‘How unbiased am I, really?’ ‘What biases do I have and why do I hold onto them?’ ‘What hinders me from trusting – either myself or the other?’ ‘How does my presence engender trust?’ ‘When trust is broken how do I contribute to its breakdown?’ ‘How do I strive to re-build trust?’

The leader must trust him/her self. The leader must trust his/her abilities, skills, gifts, talents and capacities. The leader must be driven to become a high achiever (how many settle for mediocrity). In order to engender ‘freedom’ and ‘trust’ in others the leader must also be willing to take risks (calling others to be on center-stage and helping to create space for them to act, for example) and must be willing to be vulnerable (in the end, it is the leader who will be held accountable – the ‘buck does indeed stop here’). The leader must be response-able and responsible while holding others to also be response-able and responsible. The leader is always ‘act-focused’ as this helps create space for the other(s) to act (think: freedom to act) and for the other(s)s to trust (the leader and themselves).

In closing, I am reminded of the words of the great Chinese sage, Lao Tzu:

The best rulers are those whom the people hardly know exist.
Next come rulers whom the people love and praise.
After that come rulers whom people fear.
And the worst rulers are those whom the people despise.
The ruler who does not trust the people will not be trusted by the people.
The best ruler stays in the background, and his voice is rarely heard.
When he accomplishes his tasks, and things go well,
The people declare: It was we who did it by ourselves.


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Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.  The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. –Franklin D. Roosevelt

As I bring my brief exploration of ‘Whose Freedom’ to a close I extend to you, Gentle Reader, an invitation.  My invitation is for ‘We the People’ to engage in a series of searching conversations exploring broadly and deeply the concepts of freedom that I have been writing about.

This is not simply a conversation about semantics.  We are involved in a ‘Culture Conflict’ focusing on an idea.  If our traditional idea of freedom changes radically, then freedom as we have known it will become transformed [again, Gentle Reader, I am speaking of the traditional freedom of Washington, Lincoln and FDR].

We must believe that we humans act on our ideas.  Ideas are not simply abstract things.  Ideas are the tap roots that feed, nurture and sustain actions.  Ideas define Ideals.  Ideas frame and form our behavioral norms, our Cultural Norms.  Ideas help us define and distinguish between ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’  Ideas support or change our understanding of our Cultural and National History.  Ideas help us emerge a vision of the future.  Ideas powerfully impact the laws we create.

Ownership of the ‘word’ and of the ‘idea’ determine all of the above – and more.  For example, the United States has, for many decades, been the beacon of democracy and freedom.  The question we must hold and engage: Whose Freedom and Whose Democracy?

Our Culture Conflict is real.  Democracy is rooted in compromise – in emerging a ‘third way.’  The ‘third way’ will dissolve the conflict.  Today, more than ever before in our history, we must discern, emerge, name and live into this ‘third way.’  The Radical Right and the Radical Left must be tempered by the rest of us – the majority of us, by the by.

Perhaps if we return to FDR’s ‘Four Freedoms’ then we might be able to use them to help us engage in a series of searching conversations.  Do you, Gentle Reader, remember or even know FDR’s ‘Four Freedoms’?  I invite you to look them up, write them down, and reflect upon them – perhaps even to write about them and perhaps even invite two or three other folks to join you in a searching conversation or two.

Let us never forget that government is ourselves.  The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President, and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the people of this country.  –Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does. –William James

Good morning Gentle Reader.  I concluded last time with a question: ‘What does all of this have to do with Freedom?’

Everything!  Why?

Simply stated, given our human nature there will always be radical disagreement about Freedom.  We all agree that when it comes to Freedom that there is a core that we all embrace.  BUT, the core is a vague Freedom; there exists crucial blanks that we must – and do – fill in.

When these blanks are filled in by, say, conservatives, moderates, and progressives, the results are three different ideas expressed by the same word, Freedom.  The further ‘right and left,’ the greater the more radical the disagreement.  There is irony here, however.  The extreme right – think Fascism – and the extreme left – think Communism – end up being basically the same.

Since the mid-1960s, at least, the Radical Right, as part of the ‘Culture War’ they have declared, is striving to fill in the blanks and redefine Freedom – the Freedom that Washington, Lincoln and FDR wrote and spoke about (think: ‘Freedom From’ and ‘Freedom To’).

As I have noted earlier, I am a conservative-progressive.  I believe in the importance of deep-searching conversations.  I believe that it is vital to understand how I-You-We think.  I believe that it is crucial for us to seek to understand our forms of political discourse, to suspend our own political beliefs and seek to understand the political beliefs of the other(s).  I believe that it is important to hold an attitude that ‘I might be influenced by your understanding.’  I believe that it is crucial to seek to understand how ‘our’ political and moral reasoning works (‘understanding’ does not mean ‘agreement’).

At stake for all of us is perhaps the deepest form of Freedom – the Freedom that comes from knowing my own mind and also knowing your mind.  If I-You-We are unaware of our own deep frames and metaphors then we are, truly, unaware of the basis for our moral and political choices.

Consider this crucial point: I-You-We cannot will something that is outside of our capacity to imagine.  ‘Free Will’ operates only on ideas in our brain.  ‘Free Will’ cannot operate on ideas I am not able to have.

To put it another way: ‘Free Will’ is radically constrained by the frames and metaphors shaping our brain and, hence, by their very nature they limit how I-You-We ‘see’ (think about) our-the world.

Our frames and metaphors influence, shift, change, and transform us, to a remarkable extent, through repetition (think: via politicians, PACs, and the press).  The past few hundred years have powerfully demonstrated the power of the press – both the ‘free press’ and the ‘non-free press.’  The ‘free press’ is a major tap root that feeds and sustains our other ‘freedoms’ and our ‘democracy.’  Our Founding Fathers knew this to be true.  They also knew that ‘Freedom’ does not mean license‘Freedom’ means choosing to be response-able, responsible and accountable for how we use our ‘Freedom.’

If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. –George Washington

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The metaphors we use determine the paths we choose. –R.W. Smith

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  More than 25 years ago a poem emerged into my consciousness.  I titled the poem: ‘The Metaphors We Use.’

 *We think using conceptual metaphors. Thinking via conceptual metaphors is normal.  The metaphors we use, plus the words we use that support the metaphors, plus the questions we frame that support the metaphors and words determine the choices we make – the paths we choose.

Throughout the history of our Nation we have integrated a number of powerful metaphors.  During the past 80 years or so we have integrated and combined two that continue to dominate our Culture: War-Sports.  These are so deeply integrated together that we use ‘War Metaphors’ to describe our sporting events and we use ‘Sports Metaphors’ to describe our ‘wars.’

You might remember, Gentle Reader, that during the first Gulf War the General who debriefed the Nation each day used, almost exclusively, sports words to describe the war.  We all knew what he was talking about.  In employing sports metaphors he also diminished the horrors of war.  War became more palatable for us.

We are usually unaware of the metaphors we use and live by.  Each political party – and each ‘tribe’ within each party – have developed and integrated and employ their own metaphors AND the meanings for each metaphor.  Consider: Freedom = license vs. Freedom = Responsibility.  One concept, Freedom and two very different metaphors: License & Responsibility.

 *Most thought does not follow the laws of logic. Political reasoning, for example, uses frames and metaphors rather than the laws of logic.  Thus, not all forms of reason, unlike the laws of logic, are universal.  All political entities are, in a real sense, illogical in their arguments.  [AN ASIDE: This idea has, for more than 40 years now, given me pause for reflection.]

 *The frames and metaphors we have integrated define what we mean by ‘Common Sense.’ Consider that ‘common sense reasoning’ is simply the reasoning we do using our integrated frames & metaphors.  For the past 68 years the conservative domination of public discourse has been changing what we, in the United States, mean by ‘common sense.’  By the by, the ‘world’ does not necessarily accommodate itself to our ‘frames’ and ‘metaphors’.

 *Frames Trump Facts. [AN ASIDE: Pun intended.] If a ‘fact’ does not fit your ‘frame,’ ‘metaphor,’ and ‘common sense’ then the frame-metaphor will remain and the fact will be ignored or denied or labeled ‘false news.’  For any fact ‘to make sense’ it must fit my existing frames and metaphors.

Facts do matter.  Deep and surface frames and certain metaphors must be integrated in order to communicate the ‘truth’ about economic, social and political realities.

Important-crucial national policies are defined and implemented on the basis of deep frames and tap root metaphors.  They define and enhance our most abiding values.  They define who we are morally, socially, and politically.  They also define ‘facts’ – certain realities that are made ‘urgent’ by our abiding values.

 *Conservatives and Progressives (and ‘others’ on the political spectrum) think with different frames and metaphors. No kidding!

 *Concepts that are contested have uncontested cores. The concept ‘Freedom’ seems to still have an ‘uncontested core.’  Generally, when one asks anyone in our Country whether he/she believes in ‘Freedom’ each person will respond with a resounding ‘Of Course I Do!’

Then, of course, it becomes interesting.  When asked to specifically define the term and provide ‘real-life’ examples then a person’s integrated deep frames and metaphors will kick in and we end up in the land of confusion and conflict.

For example, ‘coercion directly impinges on freedom.’  BUT, people of different political persuasions have integrated different meanings for the same term.

 *Rational thought requires emotion. WHAT?  Research continues to teach us that when people lose their capacity to feel emotions then they also lose their capacity to think rationally.  The Radical-Right, for example, has learned how to employ ‘Fear’ and combine it with rationality.  They are the masters.  ‘Fear’ has become a primary motivator.  ‘Fear Trumps Facts!’

So, Gentle Reader, ‘What does all of this have to do with Freedom?’  Everything.

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

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Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This morning we will continue our exploration regarding some of the significant contributions that Cognitive Science has gifted us with.  Last time I introduced us to conceptual frames. This morning we will continue our exploration of conceptual frames. 

 *Frames have boundaries. To keep with our ‘war frame’: The soldiers, tanks, planes and leaders are inside the war frame – they fit the roles that the frame embraces.  What resides outside of the war frame are ordinary citizens – including those killed by the warring parties.  Outside of the war frame resides the country’s infrastructure, the jobs lost because of the damage inflicted upon the ‘innocent.’

What is crucial here is that when one thinks within a frame, one tends to ignore what resides outside of the frame.  History continues to teach us this and yet we humans continue to ignore or dismiss what lies outside of the frame.  By the by, Gentle Reader, this is true for any Frame.  Thus the frame of one political party is different – can be radically different – from another political party’s frame.

 *One way to re-frame a situation is via the use of language. To continue with our ‘war frame,’ the Iraq War provides us with an excellent example of how language is used to re-frame.  Initially the Bush Administration framed the Iraq War as ‘regime change.’  We were told that the country would remain intact except for those who ran the government.  A new democratic government would immediately replace the old tyranny.

It quickly became clear that this frame was inoperative and that a re-framing was necessary.  Thus, Iraq became the ‘main front in the war on terror.’  You might remember that during the 2004 election that three out of four Bush supporters believed that Saddam Hussein had given ‘substantial support’ to al-Qaeda – he had not; he did not.  However, the re-framing was successful.

 *Frames characterize ideas; frames are ‘deep’ or ‘surface.’  Deep Frames inform and form our moral system and our worldview.  Surface Frames have a smaller scope.  For example, the reframing of the Iraq War as a ‘front in the war on terror’ was a surface reframe.  Generally, words are defined mostly in terms of surface frames.  For example, labels like ‘death-tax’ or ‘activist judges,’ or ‘fake news’ or ‘politically correct’ are surface frames.  The goal, in these examples, is to instill fear, to challenge people to take sides, and, at worst, to sow seeds of revulsion by demonizing the other(s).

 *Deep Frames show us where the action is. Deep frames structure how we are to view the world.  They embed moral and political principles so deep that they become part of our identity.  Deep frames are the tap roots that feed, nurture and sustain the Surface Frames.

Deep Frames are nearly impossible to change because they are, first, unconscious and second because they form and inform our very identity – and who wants to give up their identity?  Deep Frames are also nearly impossible to change because we are, by nature, social animals and if we change them, or even alter them a bit, we run the risk of being shunned by our group, community, or tribe.  Politicians, of course, run the risk of alienating their base and then of losing the next election.

The radical right’s re-framing of ‘freedom’ is a deep reframing.  The surface frames – the slogans, language and metaphors – are effective only if the deep frames have been embraced and integrated.

Speaking of Metaphors

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. –Reinhold Niebuhr

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Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.  The real safeguard of Democracy, therefore, is education. –Franklin D. Roosevelt

Good morning Gentle Reader.  This morning I will continue our exploration of our topic, ‘Whose Freedom?by focusing on what Cognitive Science has taught us – and what it continues to teach us.  As I look at my notes I expect that this exploration will require at least three postings.  In engaging this topic I am seeking to respond to Roosevelt’s ‘safeguard’ – ‘Education.’  Some of what Cognitive Science offers us to consider will not be ‘news’ to us; some of it will and some of it will intellectually challenge us [and that, it seems to me, is a major charge of ‘education’ to challenge us intellectually].

Cognitive Science has taught us – continues to teach us – that:

  • We think with our brains. Thought is indeed physical: neural circuits, once embedded/integrated do not change easily nor quickly.
  • Repetition of language has the power to change brains. Thousands of years ago Aristotle noted that we become our thoughts.  Consider that when a word or phrase (think: mantra, for example) is repeated over and over for a long period of time, the neural circuits that compute its meaning are activated repeatedly in the brain.  Thus, learning a word physically changes our brain and the meaning of that word becomes physically integrated in our brain.  The word truly becomes ‘real’ and our ‘identity’ is deeply connected to this word; we ‘become’ the word.  Given our topic, ‘Freedom’ is defined and redefined brain by brain.  Once embedded/integrated, we ‘become’ the definition.  Think: My definition of ‘Freedom’ becomes my identity and who wants to give up his/her identity?
  • Most thought is unconscious. Most of our thought is not easily available to us for conscious introspection. Many of us do not even know our own reasoning processes.  We are not aware of our deep tacit assumptions, prejudices, stereotypes, core values, core beliefs, core guiding principles and, given our topic, our core political beliefs.  Speaking of ‘education’: we have not been taught how to discern, emerge, name and challenge these.  In doing so we are, in a true sense, challenging our own identity and, again, who wants to do that?

Now, at this point, Cognitive Science becomes even more challenging.

  • All thought uses conceptual frames. ‘Frames’ are mental structures of limited scope, with a systematic internal organization.  For example, consider ‘war.’  A simple frame for ‘war’ includes these roles: the countries at war, their leaders, their armies, the soldiers and commanders of these armies, the weapons used, attacks, defenses, and battlefields.  This is the ‘traditional’ frame for ‘war’.  All words are defined with respect to frames.

Of course, this can get messy.  For example, our declaration of ‘war on terror’ against an elusive and amorphous enemy gave President Bush special war powers (war powers that we put in place for a ‘conventional war’).  These special war powers were extended and used (indefinitely it seems); even ‘we the people’ became suspect.  You might also remember, Gentle Reader, that the Iraq War framed Iraq as a threat to our nation.  One consequence was that anyone against the war was seen by the ‘Hawks’ as a traitor to our Nation.  In order to challenge even ‘simple frames’ ‘we the people’ must be educated and we aren’t and so we don’t challenge even simple frames.

  • Frames have boundaries. [To be continued…]

Freedom means responsibility.  That is why most mean dread it. –George Bernard Shaw

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