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Archive for September, 2021

CONSIDER – ‘INTENTIONAL FREEDOM’

There are a number of freedoms: Freedom From. . .Freedom To. . .Freedom For. . .  Eric Fromm reminds us in his powerful book, ‘Escape From Freedom,’ that we humans spend a great deal of time and energy attempting to figure out how to flee from freedom, its responsibilities, from the choices involved when one said to ‘be free,’ and from freedom’s consequences.  In his essay, ‘The Varieties of Human Freedom,’ anthropologist David Bidney invites us to consider what he calls ‘Intentional Freedom.’  Bidney notes that the ‘defining characteristic of man’ is ‘Intentional Freedom’ – ‘the human capacity to form an intention and to seek to realize it in action.’

This implies that one knows the difference between ‘right and wrong,’ and ‘good and evil.’  How did we humans come to know the difference between ‘right and wrong’?  For the ‘People of the Book’ [Jews, Christians, Muslims] this ‘knowing’ occurred with Adam and Eve.  When they ate of the tree of knowledge one of the things they learned was the difference between right and wrong – a differentiation that only God previously knew.  In order to decide whether to eat of the tree of knowledge Adam and Eve needed to have choice – ‘Intentional Freedom’ – ‘Free Will.’  For the People of the Book, God created human beings possessed of free will in order that they might be in a position to acquire merit by acting rightly ‘when it was possible for them to act wrongly.’  Thus, we human beings are free to choose – right and wrong, good and evil.  Evil, then, must be present in the universe in order for evil to be chosen; without evil, good would not exist.  Without free will, ‘intentional freedom,’ would not exist (neither would any of the other ‘freedoms’).   St. Paul captures this quite wonderfully when he writes: ‘For the good that I would do I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.’ 

The great philosopher, Pogo, once noted: ‘I have seen the enemy and he is us!’  As human beings our true enemy lies within each of us and this enemy is as strong as our uncontrolled passions and appetites; a question each of us might ask: ‘What do I feed my passions and appetites so that they are fully nourished and sustained?’  Perhaps, then, the ‘true’ cause of wrong choice, then, lies within each of us and is rooted in our free will, in our ability to choose, in our ability to exercise ‘intentional freedom.’ 

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ASSUMPTIONS – CONTEXT IS CRUCIAL

Good morning Gentle Reader.  This morning I am going to spend a bit more time exploring ‘Assumptions.’  Context is Crucial.  The ‘context’ will move an assumption into a ‘helpful,’ ‘harmful,’ or ‘neutral’ position.  For example, most ‘if-then assumptions’ are appropriate depending upon the situation that exists at any given time (the ‘context’).  Thus, it is crucial that we seek to understand the conditions that are in place as we strive to understand whether an assumption is ‘helpful,’ ‘harmful,’ or ‘neutral.’  It seems that too often we believe that an assumption we follow has a much broader range of accuracy than is actually the case; we apply it ‘generally’ when it might well be more helpful – more helpful – to apply it specifically.  Here is a common example (an assumption that I have held to be true in the past).  This assumption has been stated by many leaders and you, Gentle Reader, have probably heard it and you might well hold this assumption to be ‘generally true’ for you as well.

Assumption: When I praise someone for work well done the person being praised will continue to work hard (this is a classic ‘if-then assumption’). 

This is rooted in the idea that positive behavior is repeated when praised (acknowledge, recognized, rewarded).  The idea is espoused in many leadership manuals and workshops and is generally held to be true (by the leaders and by the led). 

‘But wait a minute sparky,’ I say to myself.  This assumption might not be relevant for some, it might even prove to be ‘harmful’ for some.  What?  Consider the following. . .

If the praise is not recognized (affirmed, accepted, acknowledged) as praise. . .then, praise will not have occurred.  This idea is rooted in Nel Noddings concept of the ‘Ethic of Care’ where the recipient of the care (in this case the praise) must affirm, acknowledge, or accept the care as care.  If the person does not do so then care (in this case praise) has not occurred.

If the praise given is too public. . .then harm might actually occur.   I learned this first-hand during my first trip to Singapore.  Many Singaporeans are of Chinese descent and the Chinese have a ‘communal’ culture, not an ‘individual’ culture (as we do in the U.S.A.).  By pointing out an individual publically for praise the person can actually be highly embarrassed (even by praising the person in private the specter of the community is always present).  It is crucial to understand the ‘context’ (in this case the culture) before one simply praises publically. 

If the praise is contradicted by one’s behavior. . .then harm might also occur.  This harm is generally manifested by ‘cynicism.’  We know that we tend to believe a person’s non-verbal cues and behavior more than a person’s words.  I have observed supervisors, managers, and executives verbally giving praise to a person – or a team – that they did not ‘like’ or ‘respect’ or ‘value’ and their non-verbal communication silenced their verbal praise.  One result – unintended I believe – was that the seeds of cynicism were sown or nurtured into life (in some cases the tree of cynicism was already flourishing and the praise simply continue to nurture its growth). 

So, uncovering and understanding our assumptions is crucial in many ways and so is the context within which we function.  In one context my assumption might be helpful, in another the same assumption might be harmful.  Once again, being awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full become important to us. 

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THINKING ABOUT ‘ASSUMPTIONS’

I was introduced to a certain way of thinking critically in 1964; I was a sophomore in college (it is interesting, to me at least, that sophomore means ‘wise fool’ – and I was one).  Two professors, a philosopher and a Shakespearean scholar, took the time and helped me begin to learn about and understand what it was to think critically.  They introduced me to the concept of ‘assumptions’ and after a few sessions with them I was hooked; I continue to immerse myself in seeking to understand them.  My current thinking is that there are three types of assumptions that powerfully impact who we are, how we ‘see’ the world and help determine what actions we choose.  So, this morning, Gentle Reader, I invite us to briefly explore together: ‘Assumptions.’

The most challenging assumptions to uncover and to let go of and replace are what I have come to call ‘Deep Tacit Assumptions.’  These are the tap roots that feed our view of our world.  We insist, by the by, that these are not assumptions; we insist they are ‘facts’ and we insist they reveal the ‘truth’ to us.  I have learned firsthand – in my own life and as I have had the privilege and opportunity to be a thought-partner with others – that deep tacit assumptions are only examined following a great deal of resistance.  It requires a great deal of ‘disconfirming evidence’ if one is going to even begin to accept that an assumption is afoot.  We can begin to uncover our deep tacit assumptions by becoming aware of our word choice, our personal metaphors (and the metaphors that others hold that resonate with us), by the questions we ask, by paying attention to the stories that we tell and that we affirm when others tell their stories.  This will take some time and energy as it requires us to see where ‘alignments’ among all of these exist – once we have identified an alignment we are on our way to uncovering – and naming – a deep tacit assumption.  Here is an example of a deep tacit assumption: ‘Humans are inherently competitive.’  So, Gentle Reader, I invite you to take five minutes and generate some words, metaphors, questions, and stories that would be in alignment and hence support this assumption as ‘being true.’ 

The second type of assumption I call ‘Ought Assumptions.’  These are easier to uncover and name for they are rooted in what we believe ‘ought’ to happen in a given situation.  When we say ‘people ought to behave’ in a certain way we are tapping into an ‘Ought Assumption.’  These assumptions, like the third one yet to be named, are rooted in our Deep Tacit Assumptions.  For example, I assume that adult learners are ‘self-directed learners’ and hence my teaching methods reflect this assumptions: ‘A true adult learner ought to be a self-motivated learner’ is an example of one of my ‘Ought Assumptions.’

The third type of assumption I call ‘If-Then Assumptions.’  This is a type of cause-effect assumptions; they are the easiest to uncover and name.  These assumptions ‘predict’ what will occur.  A variation of this type of assumption is the one rooted in ‘history’ – this happened, the events today appear to be the same so we can assume that ‘this will happen again’ (if we don’t learn from our history we will repeat it).  Often we rely upon the past in order to emerge an ‘If-Then Assumption.’ 

The power in all three of these is that at times the assumption actually plays out in reality; the trap is to ‘assume’ that this will always be so and then to act as if this is true and to dismiss the times when it is not ‘true’ and name these times as ‘abnormal’ or as ‘aberrations.’ 

We need assumptions in our lives for without them we would spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to figure things out (this, of course, is another assumption).  I leave us with this wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw: What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.

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LABELS, LABELS, LABELS

…maybe once we stop labeling ourselves, then maybe everyone else will. –Octavia Spencer

For the past ten days or so I have, once again, been immersing myself in Tolstoy’s thought-provoking book ‘What is Art?’  This morning as I was reading and reflecting upon what Tolstoy was offering me I began to think about ‘Labels.’   As I continued to hold the concept I took up pen and paper (yes, Gentle Reader, pen and paper, not keyboard) and engaged in some ‘free writing.’ Following is some of what emerged for me this morning.

Why do I label people?  Labeling the other(s) makes it easier for me; labeling simplifies the complex. 

We know that there is a power and impact of labels; the question is: How do I-You-We respond or react to the labels assigned to us (assigned to us by the other(s) and assigned to us by ourselves)?  I used to be dramatically limited by the labels placed upon me until I began to realize that many of my limitations weren’t a result of their labels but were the result of my accepting and integrating the labels I created for myself (this is not to negate the deep impact the labels that others assigned to me – especially the labels I integrated into my own identity).

What are the labels I have integrated?  Which ones confirm ‘weaknesses’?  Which ones limit my potential?  Which one’s open pathways to growth?  Which ones affirm specific strengths?  Which ones identify growing-edges? 

Which labels describe what is inherent and which ones describe the labels that have been imposed upon me by the other(s)? 

Why do I accept, embrace and then integrate labels that limit my potential or that demean who I am? 

What enables the ‘label-assigners’ to be open to changing the labels they have assigned to the other (person, group, cause, etc.)?  For example, my mother communicated to me – and to others – that I was not ‘smart enough’ to become a doctor (physician).  When I completed graduate school with honors (a 4.0 grade point average) the first thing my mother said to me was: ‘You are smart enough to go to medical school!’ 

What labels are subtly assigned and what labels are openly assigned?  I invite you, Gentle Reader, to reflect: What labels have you embraced and integrated that were subtly assigned?  What were the labels that were openly assigned to you – the ones you embraced and integrated?  Which of these labels were depleting and which were nurturing?  Why did you continue to live into the depleting labels? 

What labels were assigned ‘by accident’ and which ones were embraced and integrated?  [‘By Accident’ means that they were not intended.]   For example:  I know a fellow who went through a ‘rough’ divorce when his daughter was three years old.  He learned, many years later, that she ‘heard’ that as a female that she, too, might not be loveable enough and that if her father could divorce her mother then, if she were not loveable enough, her father could also divorce her (or she could be ‘divorced’ by others because she was not loveable enough).  The label ‘You Might Not Be Loveable Enough’ was a powerful label that impacted her for years. 

Why do I assign labels?  Do the labels I assign get me what I want?  What do I want as a result of assigning a specific label to another?  Do I really want to know some of the labels that I have assigned to the other(s)?  Do I really want to know the labels I have, for example, assigned to my children?  Do I really want to become more aware (knowing that ‘awareness’ brings with it a sibling called ‘disturbance’)? 

Well, Gentle Reader, there is more but this will have to suffice for now.  I leave us with the words of Bryan Batt: When are we going to stop labeling everyone?

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I will conclude my brief exploration of a few Disciplines with two more ‘Spiritual Disciplines.’  As a reminder here are the Disciplines I have been exploring:

HUMANIST DISCIPLINES: Reflection, Listening, Advocacy/Inquiry, Dialogue

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: Meditation/Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Service

Fasting.  I was raised in two Christian Traditions.  My mother was a Roman (Polish) Catholic and my father was an English Presbyterian.  As a result, I have received a variety of blessings; one of them being two different types of guilt.  I was introduced to ‘fasting’ when I reached ‘the age of reason’ – which, according to my mother, was when I celebrated my sixth birthday (just in time for the season of Lent).  It was not until I spent my eighteenth year in a monastery that I learned that fasting had little to do with deprivation.  Fasting, I learned, was a discipline that nurtured the body, the heart and the spirit.  I continue to fast (I have also, because of my mother, reframed ‘Lent’ – but that is another story).  I met my first Muslim in 1995; she was part of ‘FAS’ an organization that served at risk children and adolescents in the Baltimore area.  She taught me about Ramadan including the thirty day fast.  She taught me that there are two essential elements to this fast.  They are:

Intention

You must have the intention to fast before fajr (dawn) every night during the month of Ramadan. The intention does not need to be spoken, because in reality it is an act of the heart, which does not involve the tongue. It will be fulfilled by one’s intention from the heart to fast out of obedience to Allaah.

Abstaining from Acts that nullify the Fast

The second essential element for your fast to be accepted is that you abstain from the acts that nullify the fast from dawn to sunset.  There are certain acts that if one ‘chooses’ to do them then the fast will be nullified.  For non-Muslims, the most common is to choose NOT TO EAT OR DRINK from dawn till dusk.  If one maintains these two essential elements during fasting, then their fast will be valid and accepted.

For me, there are two types of fasts.  The first is modeled on the Muslim Fast of Ramadan; several times a year I will for seven days follow the two essential elements listed above.  Then once every other week (at minimum) I will hold the ‘Intention’ and then consume 200-400 calories (a high protein drink generally) a day.  I will also continue to drink water.  For me, the most important element is my INTENTION.  During my morning meditation I will emerge an intention for the day and I will seek to then be intentional and purpose-full as I consciously hold the intention for the day. 

Service.  For me, service is focused upon an ‘intention’ which I hold: ‘Do those served affirm that they are cared for and do they grow as persons?’  This discipline requires that I am ‘conscious’ (awake and aware) and that I am intentional and purpose-full.  As with all of my disciplines, I seek to be consistent rather than perfect (remember I am blessed with two powerful types of guilt and ‘seeking perfection’ is a tiger’s pit for me). 

There is more I could write about each of the ‘Humanistic’ and ‘Spiritual’ Disciplines but this is enough for now.  Gentle Reader, what are the disciplines that you follow?  Why those disciplines?  What is your intention when you embrace those disciplines?

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