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‘It’s the strong swimmers who drown.’ –Swedish Proverb

Consider that for most of us, especially for the ‘specialists,’ the more we know or believe that we know a subject the less willing we are to broaden our view/perspective and the less willing we are to invite, listen to and consider diverse voices and the narrower our focus.  Our strength becomes our weakness.

The expert tends to define a challenge in a way that support his or her expertise.  To makes matters worse, the more useful an idea is – whether or not it is appropriate to the challenge – the more overconfident the expert is.  I am thinking of the surgeon who too often uses surgery to address a health challenge even if the challenge could be handled by a less invasive procedure.  Sadly, for some, there may also be a financial incentive involved in the mix.

As Charles Munger notes: [The expert’s] professional reputation is all tied up with what he knows.  He likes himself and he likes his own ideas, and he’s expressed them to other people – consistency and commitment tendency.

SOME STUFF TO KEEP IN MIND:

  • Dr. Schwietzer (the German Missionary) noted: ‘An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight. The truly wise person is colorblind.’
  • Overconfidence can motivate me to embrace unreal expectations and actually make me more vulnerable to overreacting to disappointment.
  • If I am an expert I must consciously strive to recognize my limits (WHAT!!! I have limits?!). A question I hold: How well do I know what I don’t know?
  • Focus on the unintended consequences and on what can/might go wrong. Develop a number of scenarios that might help you when things go wrong (notice, gentle reader, I wrote ‘When;’ I did not write ‘If’).  Two guiding questions: How can I go wrong? Who can tell me when I go wrong?
  • We need complete toolkits…not just hammers. We must seek out, invite, listen to, and discern the ‘value/truth’ of diverse voices (for the physician specialist, the diverse voices of other physician-disciplines is crucial).
  • Commit to being a life-long searcher, seeker and learner.
  • Remember: Know thyself. The unexamined life is not worth living.  To refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral.

 

 

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‘All men think all men are mortal but themselves.’ [Thanks: Edward Young, poet]  Optimists tend to believe that they are better performers, more honest and more intelligent and have a better future and are less vulnerable than the ‘average’ person.

Optimists also tend to overestimate their ability to predict the future.  Thus, they put a higher probability on desired outcomes than on undesired outcomes.  For example, optimists are over-optimistic about the outcome of planned actions.  Optimism is good.  I have friends who are optimists.  However, when it comes to crucial decisions, realism is more helpful.

Consider that as human beings we tend to over-estimate our abilities and future prospects when we are knowledgeable – when we are an expert.  We also over-estimate when feel ‘in control’ and after we have experienced being successful.  ‘There is nothing like success to blind one of the possibility of failure.’ [Thanks: Roger Lowenstein, author]

Research shows that when we are successful (independent if by chance or not), we credit or own character or ability.  Any investor can chalk up large returns when stocks soar, as they did in 1997.  In a bull market, one must avoid the error of the preening duck that quacks boastfully after a torrential rainstorm, thinking that its paddling skills have caused it to rise in the world.  A right-thinking duck would instead compare its position after the downpour to that of the other ducks on the pond. [Thanks: Warren Buffett, who is a realist who knows a thing or two]

When we stumble the mumble we often blame external circumstances or bad luck.  On the other hand, when others are successful we tend to credit their success to luck and we also blame their failures on foolishness.  When we embrace this way of being we hinder ourselves from learning from our mistakes.  As Warren remind us, we also underestimate luck and randomness in outcomes.

I know this trap well.  As a ‘consultant’ when things go well I am tempted to take too much credit – or to accept too much credit.  When things go wrong I am tempted to look outside of myself for the ‘reasons’ (and if I ‘give in to this temptation’ I can find the culprit to be ‘out there’).

Consider the kind of toast that we will seldom hear in corporate life – for most folks, a toast like this will only get one fired.  The realist is not welcomed when toasts are called for.  Charles Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner, another realist who also knows a thing or two, share with us the toast we seldom hear (gentle reader you can translate this to situations that are, for you, ‘closer to home’).

Munger writes: …Arco was celebrating their huge triumphs of making a lot of money out of the North Slope oilfields in Alaska.  And the house counsel there was an Irishman who was very outspoken and had a fair amount of charm.  And he was highly regarded.  So he could get by with talking frankly.  And the whole group was toasting one another: “Aren’t we great people for having done this great thing?” and this Irish house counsel raised his glass and said “Well, I’d like to toast the man who really caused our triumph.”  He said, “Here’s to King Faisal…Every calculation we made was off by 200%.  All the costs were way higher and the difficulties way greater than we ever conceived.  All the predictions we made went totally asinine and wouldn’t have worked with the oil prices we projected.  But along came King Faisal and the oil cartel and raised the price of oil so high that they made us all look good.  Let’s honor the proper man here tonight.”

 

 

In May, 2016 my friend, George, sent me the photo that follows.  As I sat with the photo, savoring it.   The words from a poem by William Stafford entered into my consciousness.  I searched and found the poem.  This morning, Gentle Reader, I offer you George’s photo and Stafford’s poem.

by George-3-8-16 (2)

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?

How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

 

You are veiled by your own self. –Sufi Proverb

A question I began holding – and continue to hold – more than 50 years ago: How urgent and necessary is my inner work?

One of my favorite Sufi stories helps me hold this question.  Here’s the Story:

The Mulla Nasrudin was riding on a ferry.  On the first day of a four-day journey, he met a famous scholar.  As they were enjoying the fine weather, savoring their tea, and feeling the cool spring breezes wash over them, the scholar ask the Mulla if he had read the Qur’an in Arabic.  I have not, replied the Mulla, I have never learned Arabic‘How unfortunate’, intoned the scholar (an intonation that only great scholars can offer), without a foundation in Arabic, you have missed out on the subtleties of the Holy Book.  I am afraid that you have wasted half your life.’

The following afternoon, the scholar asked the Mulla if he had heard of famous Islamic sages such as Rumi, Hafiz or Ibn Arabi.  No, the Mulla knew little about them.  ‘How incredible!’ the scholar responded.  ‘Truly you have wasted three-fourths of your life.’

During the night on the third day a fierce storm arose.  The Mulla rushed to the scholar’s cabin and shouted ‘Professor, do you know something about swimology?’  The scholar opened the door, felt the wind and the rain and replied, ‘Are you talking about swimming?’  ‘Yes! Yes!’ exclaimed the Mulla.

The scholar paused a moment and then spoke: ‘Oh, in my busy life I never had time to learn how to swim.’  The Mulla looked at the scholar with dismay; ‘How tragic!  The ferry is sinking and we have no lifeboats or life jackets.  I am so sorry to tell you that you have wasted your life!’

I bookend this story with two questions I continue to hold: ‘In what ways have I chosen to waste my life?’  ‘What is the inner work that I must choose to continue to embrace and engage in in order to avoid wasting my life?’ 

One does not become enlightened by imaging figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. –Carl Jung

You are the traveler; you are the path; you are the destination.  Be careful never to lose the way to yourself. –Yahya Suhrawardi

How often do I miss the obvious: It is crucial to be awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full when it comes to discerning the paths I must take and the pace at which I must move.  How often do I miss the obvious: I am the traveler, I am the path and I am the destination; a paradox to be sure.  I must be care-full so I do not lose the way to myself; so I nurture myself more than deplete myself.  I must be careful so that when I lose my way/my self that I am able to find my way/my self again.

Consider that life’s external journey is easy when compared to the inner journey that we are each called to make – the inner journey that determines so much, if not all.

It is also important for me to remember that at times I will need two guides.  There is the external guide that I will encounter – and I must recognize this guide when I encounter him-her-it (an external guide can be an experience – hence an ‘it’).

There is also the internal guide that resides in each of us.  Some call this our inner teacher; some call this our conscience; some call it the voice of the Spirit or the voice of God; some call it a ‘feeling;’ some call it ‘intuition.’

I must also be committed to my journey; my commitment is not a one-off commitment but requires me to continuously commit.  When my commitment falters so do I and then I begin to lose my self and my way.

All of this makes sense to me if I believe that my primary purpose in life is to evolve into the fullness of my being – to move toward becoming the person I am called to become.  For thousands of years the great traditions have reminded us – continue to remind us – that each of us has been created for a just cause and a determined time [my thanks to the Qur’an for these two concepts].

All of my actions and acquisitions, important as they are, are secondary to my sacred and primary duty to move in the direction of realizing my just cause, determined time and sacred potential.

The great Sufi, Rumi, reminds us that if I perform and remember all, yet forget my essential purpose, then I have done nothing.  I am merely a clanging bell and a noisy symbol; at best I am a distraction for others and at worst I encourage others to ignore their essential purpose.

As a human being I have been gifted with free will.  I can choose to strive to achieve my sacred purpose.  I am, like all of us human beings are, imperfect and so I choose foolishness and I choose to behave in ways that betray and belie my sacredness.  I choose to ignore my sacred trust.  I am, again, thinking of Antonio Machado’s powerful question: What have you done with the garden entrusted to you? [Another paradoxical metaphor: I am the garden and the gardener and I have been entrusted with both.]

If you know the value of every article of merchandise but don’t know the value of your own soul, it’s all foolishness. –Rumi

…look upon the human face; see clearly within laughter, the essence of ultimate truth. –Rumi

If you are not already ‘in the know’ – I love stories.  I especially love teaching stories.  Some of the most thought-provoking and humorous are the Sufi teaching stories featuring the Mulla, Nasrudin.  If you do not know much, if anything about Sufis one thing to note is that they laugh a lot.  Over the centuries, from this sustained laughter has emerged the mythical Mulla, Nasrudin.

The Mulla is the village jester and sage rolled into one.  He has no formal education.  His wisdom appears to emanate from a source beyond book learning.  The most popular image of the Mulla is the picture of him riding backward on a donkey.

The Mulla is followed by his students.  He rides looking backwards so he can connect with his students.  Although he is their ‘leader and teacher’ he sees himself as their servant and guide. The Mulla is timeless and placeless – look for the Mulla.  The Mulla is still roaming about waiting to be ‘found.’

Today’s story is one of my favorites.  Look for the ‘life metaphors’ – I will give you a hint.  When the story opens we find the Mulla tending his garden.  The ‘garden’ is the ‘garden’ that we image when we hear the word.  The ‘garden’ is also the Mulla himself.  Each of us has been entrusted with the ‘garden of self.’  The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado asks us: What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?

TODAY’S STORY:  A traveler approached the Mulla, who was tending his garden, and asked in which direction he should walk to reach a certain town.  The Mulla pointed the way, and when the man asked how long it would take him to reach his destination, the Mulla stared at him and resumed his gardening.  The man asked again, but again the Mulla ignored him.  Cursing the Mulla, the man started to walk.  After a little while, the Mulla, who had been intently watching the man walk away, shouted out, “Three Hours!”  The man stopped, turned, took a few steps back towards the Mulla and in angry tones that would have run off a rampaging bull asked why he had not told him this earlier.  The Mulla smiled the smile of the wise [An Aside: Why are the Wise always smiling?].  The Mulla replied: First I had to see how fast you walk!

Now, Gentle Reader,that is ‘Being Intentional.’ 

 What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts?  Listen…It is the glorious sound of a soul waking up! –Hafiz

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. –John F. Kennedy

This morning Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider two more critical thinking processes.  As in PART I, I will offer you a number of questions to consider that will help you engage the process.  And I also invite you to become aware of additional questions that might arise from within you and to make note of them and spend time reflecting upon them.

PROCESS #3: Assumption recognition and analysis.  This process involves emerging, naming and analyzing our assumptions – particularly our deep tacit assumptions for these are the most powerful assumptions we hold and they reside in our subconscious.  Our assumptions determine how we interpret and respond to the context and situation.

  • What have I-You-We ‘taken for granted’ in response to the context and the situation? What do we ‘assume’ to be ‘true’?
  • What beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices, core values and core guiding life-principles have I-You-We integrated that support My-Your-Our assumptions – especially those that support My-Your-Our deep tacit assumptions?
  • Which of My-Your-Our assumptions have contributed to the situation and context?
  • What are My-Your-Our rationales-Justifications that support My-Your-Our assumptions?
  • How might I-You-We determine if an assumption ‘we’ hold is ‘correct-true-valid’?

PROCESS #4: Reflective Skepticism-Deciding what actions to take.  This critical thinking approach involves questioning, analyzing, and reflecting on My-Your-Our rationales for decisions.

  • What rationales do I-You-We have for ‘this’ decision?
  • What aspects of the context-situation require the most careful attention? Why these?
  • Why is it (or was it) crucial for Me-You-Us to intervene?
  • Why ‘intervene’ now? (This is an especially crucial question if the situation has been ongoing for some time.)
  • If I-You-We are going to take a number of ‘steps’ what is the first step, second step, etc. that I-You-We will take? Why this order?
  • I-You-We are imperfect so ‘priorities’ will be missed. What are the priorities that I-You-We might miss (or what are the ones already missed)?
  • Once an action has been taken then: What was done? Why was ‘this’ done?  Did I-You-We get what we wanted from the action taken?  What did I-You-We want?
  • What are 2-3 alternatives that I-You-We might take? Or, if action has been taken: What are 2-3 alternatives that I-You-We might have taken but did not take?  Why did I-You-We choose not to take them?

He who asks a question might be a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question is a fool forever. –Chinese Proverb