Sunday, January 24, 2021

TO HEAR IS TO SEE: 2020 vision for 2021

 

A version of this article first appeared in SA Coaching News, Vol.3 Issue 1. January 2021


“Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart”- Rumi.

 

 

Coaches have an important role to play as we move into 2021. It’s a good time to try and make sense of 2020 and where we stand now (and story can contribute to sense-making), to contemplate alternative possible futures and a preferred future (stories) and develop our individual story and images of the future: our vision.  The topic of a personal vision - one that provides meaning and purpose, ensures that we know why we exist and therefore are not steered off course by every new wind that blows as we move forward, but instead are sure and resilient – seemed right for this edition of SA Coaching News.

 

But here’s the rub: we live at a time where existential psychiatrist Irvin Yalom’s four givens of life seem more present than ever: the scary aspects and developmental appeal of meaninglessness, freedom, death and alone-ness or isolation. Also, in these unprecedented times there seems to be little room for those who know a lot about a little, less room for those who know a little about a lot, and an increasing call for those who know lots about lots. Trouble is – even if we fit the last-mentioned category, then we still don’t know a lot – which is far more than what we do know (or think we know)!  Sure, the amount of data we can access is growing, as is information - albeit to a lesser extent. Even less available is practical knowledge and real understanding. And wisdom is in short supply. We just don’t know the unknown, the future.

So how to proceed?

 

As a starting point we need to see that vision is vital

 

Alice asked: “Would you tell me which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to” said the cat.

“I don’t know where” said Alice.

Then it doesn’t matter which way you go” said the cat. (Carroll, L. 1977)        

 


Without a vision we are lost, lose direction and focus…

Leave blow pipes (pea - shooters), paper balls, sponges in a conference room, during a tea or lunch break. When the participants return, in the absence of any other instruction, it will not be too long before these objects are thrown around, or at other people - with increasing intensity and hilarity. No matter how senior the participants.

After a while, without saying a word, place a picture of a target on a wall and immediately attention and energy is directed at it - in the form of the pea shooters, the balls and sponges, of course!   As soon as a single, clear target is shown and seen, there is a firm, definite focus.

 

Try to put together a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture (the end result that you are trying to achieve). Difficult. We need to picture where we are going. Frankl draws on his Oswieciem (Auschwitz) concentration camp experiences during the 2nd world war to explain that people need meaning and a future to hang on to (especially when the going is tough): "Any attempt to restore a man's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal”.  (Frankl, V. 1985)

Ex World heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali put it this way (The second line of his couplet is seldom quoted and speaks of the veracity of vision):

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see”.

 

Recognise that true vision for many follows hearing the ‘Divine’ (however you understand or experience this)

 

Studdert Kennedy was an army chaplain and poet who bucked the incompetent bureaucracy that resulted in so many First World War casualties and wasted lives.

He refused to give safe, cosy, sermons behind the lines, and heard a call and chose instead to spend his time with the soldiers, in horrific conditions in the trenches. Not preaching, but being with them, coming alongside in their time of need.  

He’d often hand out a Woodbine cigarette and became known to the soldiers as Woodbine Willy. Years later when he died, his simple funeral was attended by thousands, and a single packet of Woodbines was placed on top of his coffin.  

Kennedy gave the precious gift of being present for the other person and listening with unconditional, positive regard in their time of confusion, fear, and existential loneliness. (Target, G. 1987)





Mother (Saint) Teresa heard a still, small voice within speak gently to her in a dream on a train ride, and her vision from that day forward was to serve the poorest of the poor. This led to her setting up the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.  As Rumi puts it, she heard from “the one who talks to the deep ear in your chest”.

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be”.   (Rutte, M. 2006)  

Vision gives purpose. Without it we face ennui. If we think our work and our life has no meaning, feel jaded, nothing new and exciting ever happens, we are dissatisfied, unfulfilled, aimless, listless... If ourlives are swamped by burdens, responsibilities, chores that are mundane and routine, and we stay in the in the drone zone… then the dis-ease we’re suffering from is the absence of purpose.

.Establishing our deep inner reason for existing is the most important work any of us can do.

 

How can we hear better in order to see more clearly?

 Things that you may wish to weigh up:

  • In this age of electronic interactions, it seems that our attention-spans and retention-spans are reducing. Perhaps we can become more open to listening and hearing by spending more time in nature, more time in reflective mode. At such times listening blockages within are more likely to reveal themselves so that we can bypass or remove them: they may be hurts, resentments, blind spots, self-defeating attitudes, limiting beliefs and unconscious biases.

  • Avoid being too cerebral and analytical. Allow for and explore the possibility of heart-knowing. “Research in the new discipline of neuro-cardiology shows that we have a “heart brain” with a vast array of neurons that are processing sensory information on their own and communicating that information to our brain, nervous system and other organ systems. This means the heart is able to learn, remember, and make decisions independent of the brain”. (Tafler, A. 2019)  Physicist and philosopher David Bohm’s notion of a deep, invisible “implicate” order (which we will never fully comprehend and understand) and which lies below and beyond our observed “explicate” reality, makes sense to me. (Horgan, J. 2018) We can learn from the vision quest rite of passage practice, associated rituals and crying for a vision” ceremonies that is a part of Native American Indian culture – and learn to hear from a wider reality than that which is confined to our conscious awareness.

 Be patient. Having a clear vision – purpose - calling is as much about being as it is about doing. If you haven't yet figured it out, don't become frenetic and anxious. There is no quick fix: “The supreme achievement of the self is to find an insight that connects together the events, dreams, and relationships that make up our existence". (Baillas, L. 1986) We are spoken to at different times in our lives, and in many different ways.  (And if we hear we will see): 

SOME OF THESE WAYS MIGHT BE:

§  Consider if what you are doing right now is your purpose (calling) but you are

not seeing it.  Elle Luna explores the differences between a job ("something typically done from 9 to 5 for pay"), a career ("a system of advancements and promotions over time where rewards are used to optimize behavior"), and a calling ("something that we feel compelled to do regardless of fame or fortune"). (Luna, E. 2015)

 A man questions three workers at a building site. “What are you doing?”

The first answers, “I’m laying bricks”.

The second, “We’re building a wall”.

The third, “We’re creating a wonderful cathedral to the glory of God”.

 

§  Some may wake up after a dream, suddenly aware of their life purpose, and of the legacy they would like to leave. Others undergo a life crisis or an experience (physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual) which confronts them with a need or cause that they were not previously aware of and triggers their now-uncovered purpose. Their own trauma, addiction, life-threatening illness, event or status-change (for example motherhood, redundancy, crippling accident) gives rise to a conviction to reach out, assist and support others who are in the same boat.

 

§  Yet others have their purpose gradually unfold over the course of their life as they mature. Sometimes our giftedness or calling is pointed out by someone else: they see what we don’t yet see.

 

§  And for some, when the time is right, an exercise to determine an embedded motivational pattern, conducted by someone competent in this area, may be worthwhile. Elements may include a recurring motivational thrust, preferred subject matter, abilities usually brought to bear, relating preferences, typical trigger circumstances, driving values. (Dr Martin Luther King’s familiar and inspiring speech, given nearly 50 years ago, “painted the picture of a new, more just and loving society scarcely imagined by the American people at that time” and enabled listeners to visualise these values. “Visions themselves are based on deep values”. (Zohar, D. and Marshall, I. 2004)

 


In 1972 Trina Paulus wrote and illustrated the parable Hope for the Flowers, which beautifully illustrates how values may lead us to discovering our purpose and meaning in life. Two caterpillars, Stripe and Yellow, in their striving for success, climb a kind of corporate “caterpillar pillar” to find that there is nothing at the top. In the end, surrendering to the cocoon, they finally fly, and become what they were meant to be. (Paulus, T. 1972

 

 

Good luck as you reflect, listen, hear and see as you move into 2021.





Bibliography 

Baillas, Leonard J. (1986) Myths, Gods, Heroes, and Saviors Twenty-Third Publications   

Carroll, Lewis (Rev. Charles Dodgson) (1977) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland MacMillan

Frankl, Viktor E. (1985) Man’s Search for Meaning Basic Books NY

Horgan, John (2018) David Bohm, Quantum Mechanics and Enlightenment Scientific American. Cross-Check

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/david-bohm-quantum-mechanics-and-enlightenment/

Luna, Ella (2015) The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion Workman Publishing Co. Inc.  NY   

Paulus, Trina (1972) Hope for the Flowers, A Newman Book, Paulist Press, NY

Rutte, Martin (2006) The Work of Humanity: project heaven on earth citing Patanjali (in Seeking the Sacred: leading a spiritual life in a secular world. (ed Mary Joseph) ECW Press, Toronto, Canada

Tafler, Afshan (2019) How Your Heart May Be Your Wisest Brain

https://unyte.com/blogs/news/how-your-heart-may-be-your-wisest-brain

Target, George (1987) Words that have Moved the World Bishopsgate Press, London

Tillich, Paul (2000) The Courage to Be, Yale University Press, New Haven

Zohar, Danah & Marshall, Ian (2004) Spiritual Capital Bloomsbury

 

Illustrations

Alice and the Cheshire Cat   Tony Grogan

Flooded Communication Trench     In the Public Domain

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Trenches_and_fortifications_of_World_WarI#/media/File:Flooded_communication_trench_(4688581846).jpg

Martin Luther King   Tony Grogan

Singing bird   Photograph by Jacques Myburgh, SA Coaching News


Friday, January 1, 2021

Counter Intuitive Leadership 2021

 



Pixabay. License Free for commercial use. No attribution required

 
 
COUNTER INTUITIVE LEADERSHIP IN POLITICS, INSTITUTIONS AND ORGANISATIONS. THE CASE FOR LEADERS WHO ARE FULLY MATURE, CHARACTER-LED, PARTICIPATIVE, AND HAVE AN ACCENT ON BUILDING BRIDGES AND RELATIONSHIPS.
 
 
 
LEADERSHIP KEEPS CHANGING
 
Leadership theories, models, styles and fads change often – sometimes radically. The following theories emerged in the last century or so and provided a wide range of lenses to examine the study and practice of leadership.
 
Great Man theories: mid-19th century
Trait theories: 1930–1940s
Behavioural theories: 1940s–1950s
Contingency theories: 1960s onwards
Transactional/transformational leadership: 1970s onwards
Implicit leadership theories: 1970s onwards
Charismatic leadership: 1980s
Contemporary theories (which included values-based leadership, authentic leadership, servant leadership, spiritual or ‘conscious’ leadership, positive leadership, dispersed or distributed leadership, adaptive leadership, agile and resilient leadership, mindful leadership from the inside-out). 
 
We saw shifts from command, coercion and control, to an accent on influence and persuasion. An increasing focus on environmental sustainability, social responsibility, good corporate governance and ethics, engaging employees via principles and purpose, meaning and values, and harnessing of the power of diverse ‘work-forces’. Most recently the call has arisen for digitally savvy leaders who are adept at managing remote workforces.
 
 
 
COVID -19 HAS USHERED IN NEW DRAMATIC CHANGES TO AN ALREADY FAST-CHANGING WORLD 
 
We have witnessed a political and societal trend towards a widespread polarisation and separation of groups and individuals (for example, identity politics characterised by extreme, aggressive argument and assertions, and an intent to dominate) and ‘we-first’/ ‘me-first’ and ‘we only’/ ‘me only’ positioning accompanied by fake news and false stories, cleverly spread. 
The Covid-19 pandemic has and will continue to impact on relationships at all levels. One manifestation has been how those in power exercise their authority to further their own interests at the expense of others. Another is the short and long term disorientation, dysphoria, uncertainty and fear introduced by insensitive communication and inept governance.
All in all, we are likely to witness further dramatic declines in civility, respect and trust. And we need to re-imagine participative democracy at all levels of governance in institutions and organisations.
 
A shift from distancing to compassionate connection calls for the utilization of bridging story (stories that build bridges not walls) at all levels. 
The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced the need for bridging stories in fast polarizing societies. As- yet- unknown impacts on the nature of humanity and our well-being may be drastic, and increasingly severe in the longer term. Whatever the public health intent and efficacy of lockdown curfews, quarantining, social distancing, the compulsory wearing of masks and coercion to be vaccinated to prevent the spread of the coronavirus - adverse and unintended separation-effects will result. To a greater or lesser degree these will include:
 
The new (ab)normal of (un)social distancing is teaching people to see each other as carriers of life-threatening disease, threatening strangers to be feared and avoided . Distrust, alienation and a tendency to detach clearly have the potential to work against a sense of ‘we are in this together’, connection and compassion for the other, and against warm relationships in general. 
 
Masks distort verbal communication (clarity, volume, tone, pitch) and hide facial expression. ‘Face-to-face’ communication becomes less effective than using Zoom or telephone.   
 
Resentment by certain members of the population due to their loss of freedom of choice (mask-wearing, vaccination, mobility and other measures) whether real or perceived. This may result in friction with those who feel differently. Such polarization may be exacerbated by the way in which governments impose regulations – for example, thoughtless command and control and enforcement without proper education campaigns nor the display of psychological sensitivity 
 
Effective management of the spread of the virus, ensuring availability of medical facilities and equipment, nurturing the economy and social fabric, and taking care of the all-too-often neglected psychological impacts (uncertainty, anxiety, loneliness, dysphoria, fatigue, stress, confusion, numbness) and paying ttention to the likely consequences on well-being (physical, social, emotional and spiritual) – calls for caring and savvy governance. Savvy governance in turn demands a holistic, inter-disciplinary, common-interest, systemic-knowing approach and citizen-participation. Participatory governance in turn requires positive bridging between medical, political, economic, legal, social, psychological, actuarial, epidemiological and other players in the wider community
 
(The principles and process of bridging story sharing (a project I am working on with close colleagues for a World Scientific Publishers encyclopedia to be released in 2021) will assist in some way to addressing these enormous challenges to our very humanity). 


WHY DO DEMOCRACIES FAIL AND NATIONS DECLINE?
 
Cicero’s statesmanlike analyses and reflections led him to conclude that the Roman Republic’s decline was the result of a decline of morality and ethics, beginning with leadership. Extravagant spending, a lust for wealth, abuses of power by corrupt officials at all levels of government, as self-interest overrode public interest, and individual rights were trampled upon - fuelled the moral decline. Tinkering (too little too late) happened instead of the radical transformation that was needed.  
French historian Alexis de Tocqueville’s 19th century assessment of democracy (which he favoured) included an honest assessment of its shortcomings – inefficient, incompetent and corrupt public officials, wealth and power elitism. He also pointed out the potential ‘tyranny of the majority’. 
 
Déjà Vu?
(Certainly in South Africa the conditions that now exist are a Government that has lost its moral compass and been exposed to deep and wide corruption, a malfunctioning economy on the point of collapse and with dangerously high unemployment and under-employment, a badly torn social fabric with racism being advanced by the ANC and EFF in many statements and actions (and sometimes ominous silence), a relishing of control, command and coerce with little sensitivity for the plight of millions who suffer - financially, physically and psychologically, and a frenetic attempt to introduce unconstitutional legislation in a number of areas. There are far too many signs that our "democracy" has failed)   
 
 
WHAT ACTIONS CAN WE TAKE – WHAT STICKS AND CARROTS CAN WE LEVERAGE?
 
When power, wealth, education and wellbeing imbalances between population groups or individuals become too wide, we face big trouble as a collective. 
 
Sticks. It would be good to see parliamentarians, politicians, public officials, institutional and organisational leaders:
 
Run for office on the basis of what and educated and informed electorate prescribe 
Directly, consistently and properly held to account and taken to task for their failure to deliver on campaign promises or mandates, and on delivery of results expected by their electorate 
Forced to immediately resign and pay their debt to society when caught in misdemeanours, corruption, falsehoods and other unethical behaviour 
Shamed and castigated for focusing on their personal careers and self-interest at the expense of serving the interests of citizens/ followers 
Prohibited from taking certain decisions on behalf of the citizenry or being allowed to tamper with national constitutions or principles, even under emergency conditions, without prior sanctioning by those who elected them 
 
Carrots. It would also be good to see the application of a consultative, systemic-knowing tapproach to important challenges and issues. In an increasingly complex world, full citizen and employee engagement, and the mobilising of a range of expertise, knowledge and wisdom, is becoming iimperative. 
(Such a participative approach will be easier to implement in institutions and organisations than at the nation-state level - where any determined effort by government and influential power-holders to hang onto their power, existing wealth and vested interes will make it extremely challenging to achieve the required wide representation, and collective participation.  But ways can be found once the right will, intent and determination exists).
 
Such a truly democratic approach promises a diversity of viewpoints from informed sources, a holistic consideration of pertinent factors, less emphasis on adding rafts of legislation, and more accent on measured decision-making for the common good. Power and responsibility is shared
 
 
 
SO - WHAT ARE THE MOST PRESSING ISSUES THAT WE FACE?
 
1. A flawed democracy where power shifts from the electorate to politicians, and which results in a command-and-control way of operating, largely devoid of citizen engagement. We must replace this with a collaborative, unified collective approach where sensitivity and compassion are valued. And the common good is pursued.
 
2. Continued separation and polarisation fuelled by self-interest and false narratives. A counter to this will be narratives and practices of inclusion and belonging  that build bridges instead of walls. 
 
3. Deep and lasting fatigue, hurts, loneliness and trauma of individuals and the collective - which result from lack of attention by authorities to psychological well-being. A grass-roots swell of community - building based on values that count, will show the way. 
 
4. Continuous and radical change calls for reinvention at every level. (Here, we should avoid knee-jerk reaction to unrestrained technological development and reactive reinvention. And instead apply thoughtful, proactive actions that are determined by the values and needs of a civilised humanity. This calls for a paradigm of technology as enabler not leader, ethical constraints on potentially harmful development in the hands of a few wealthy individuals for manipulative profit motive or where militarisation is likely, and the restraining of development where humanity is threatened (for example, by a result that would mean wide-spread unemployment and under-employment. German philosopher Martin Heidegger warned that the consequence of continuous, fast - paced science and technology development is that we begin to see ourselves and the world we inhabit in scientific and technological terms. It then becomes more about doing than about being - although of course technology carries the promise of many benefits for humanity -  and puts us in danger of losing the high-touch that is vitally needed to balance high-tech.
 
If we fail here, then we will continue to follow a selfish, anthropocentric narrative of exploitation, growth, wealth, ‘progress’ and separation.
 
 
 
IN ORDER TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES, WHAT LEADERSHIP IS NOW NEEDED?
 
Given the context above, we urgently need:
 
1. A leadership that is mature (cognitively, emotionally, socially, ethically and spiritually); that continually works at waking up, growing up, cleaning up and showing up; that operates from the inside out. Anaïs Nin’s sentiment applies here, “I believe the lasting revolution comes from deep changes in ourselves which influence our collective life”.
 
2. A leadership that is primarily based on character. (Gender, race, age, charisma - while important - become secondary considerations). One obvious outcome will be the exercise of compassion in a society beset by fear, dysphoria, uncertainty, fatigue and mistrust 
 
3. A leadership style and structure that is participatory, consultative, distributed and dispersed. This facilitates the re-establishment of trust, belonging, a diversity of viewpoints (This will add quality and capacity, and impact favourably on culture).






Wisdom from African-American activist Ella Josephine Baker, an advocate of participatory democracy: “The emphasis on participation had many implications, but three have been primary: (1) an appeal for grassroots involvement of people throughout society in the decisions that control their lives; (2) the minimization of hierarchy and the associated emphasis on expertise and professionalism as a basis for leadership; and (3) a call for direct action as an answer to fear, alienation, and intellectual detachment” (Mueller, C. 2004). 
 
4. A leadership with an accent on building relationships. This means consistently behaving in a way that encourages and builds as well as sanctions, and corrects when required. This means setting up arrangements and mechanisms to facilitate wide-spread relationship-building – for example formalising far more informal one on one conversations, setting up buddy systems whether on or offline, and establishing informal circles that allow connection and confidential conversation to happen in small groups. 
(Yuimaru ゆいまる  is Okinawan for ‘connecting circles’ of warm-hearted co-operation, underpinned by a feeling of spiritual connectedness. The overall impact can be very powerful)   
Using trained “spotters” to identify, reach out to and then come alongside the isolated and suffering will achieve much more than an army of ‘‘enforcers’’ of rules and regulations. Slowly this wil create a culture of people who see each other through. Pope Francis says it is always possible to ‘add more water to the beans’ – to share not only food but space, know-how, and love.
 
 
This essence is captured by Daniel Bonnell’s Road to Emmaus. (Bonnell, D. 2011) ; a coming alongside, going through despair and joy together, and jointly facing both a warm embracing and hostile destination while travelling together.




Pie in the sky?  A mature, character-driven, participatory leadership with an accent on relationship has been demonstrated before. It is the practice in precious - few corporations (about which I've written before now) and hardly in national government that I am aware of. 
Desirable? Yes
Feasible? Maybe ............. 
 
 
 
A REFLECTION ON HANNIBAL OF CARTHAGE 







2 millenniums ago (round about 220 BC), in a time of uncertainty about the future of the Mediterranean world, Hannibal of Carthage (present day Tunisia) led an army from Spain, across the Pyrenees, across the Alps, in order to invade Rome. Possibly the greatest military undertaking ever, his contingent of 30 000 or more men and about 40 elephants had to contend with landslides, snow storms, hostile barbarian attacks, intense hardship. On the 4 - month journey, some 15 000 men and many of the elephants were lost.
The Romans, expecting a Sicilian invasion, were caught totally off-guard by the overland invasion. The surprise effect, together with their unfamiliarity with elephants, put them at a tactical disadvantage. During his subsequent 15 - year occupation of Roman territory, Hannibal mustered more followers, destroyed over 400 towns, and at least 30 000 Romans were killed in battle. He was eventually defeated when reinforcements failed to arrive.
 
How did Hannibal mobilize his very diverse followership? How did he retain their loyalty and commitment during this ‘mission – impossible’, during which not a single mutiny took place? What were the leadership secrets that might apply today?
Head attributes such as strategizing, problem solving, thinking laterally were clearly evident.
He possessed strong, practical ‘hands’ competencies such as achievement through results-based leadership, being hands-on or hands-off as appropriate. He practiced cat-napping to maintain his energy levels. 
But it is his two ‘heart’ competencies that stand out: 
 
being socially intelligent (empathizing by sharing on an equals basis, listening deeply to his advisers, refusing any special physical comforts, eating only when he absolutely had to, commanding attention when required); and 
 
being values-driven. The times were hard and cruel, but we can deduce that Hannibal placed great importance on forging alliances, being daring and innovative, respecting viewpoints, reasoning, treating his followers with respect. As Chief Magistrate of the Carthaginians, after the wars, Hannibal is remembered for the steps he took to eliminate corruption. These are prime competencies for modern leaders. (Williams, G. 2001)
 
 
REFERENCES
 
Bonnell, Daniel (uploaded 2011) The Road to Emmaus https://bonnellart.com/  (All digital images are offered free by the artist)
Mueller, Carol (2004) Ella Baker and the origins of “participatory democracy” 
The Black Studies Reader, Ed. Jacqueline Bobo, Cynthia Hudley and Claudine Michel. Routledge, New York and London
Williams, Graham (2001) Learning Reflections for the 3H Leader: the new millennium imperative for activating followership http://www.haloandnoose.com/content.asp?PageID=105









Saturday, November 28, 2020

TO HEAR IS TO SEE (personal visioning)

 An article to be published by SA Coaching News




“Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart”- Rumi

Coaches have an important role to play as we move into 2021. It’s a good time to try and make sense  of 2020 and where we stand now (and story can contribute to sense-making), to contemplate alternative possible futures and a preferred future (stories) and develop our individual story and images of the future: our vision.  The topic of a personal vision -  one that provides meaning and purpose, ensures that we know why we exist and therefore are not steered off course by every new wind that blows as we move forward, but instead are sure and resilient – seemed right for this edition of SA Coaching News.

But here’s the rub: we live at a time where existential psychiatrist Irvin Yalom’s four givens of life seem more present than ever: the scary aspects and developmental appeal of meaninglessness, freedom, death and alone-ness or isolation. Also, in these unprecedented times there seems to be little room for those who know a lot about a little, less room for those who know a little about a lot, and an increasing call for those who know lots about lots. Trouble is – even if we fit the last-mentioned category, then we don’t know a lot – far more than what we do know (or think we know)!  Sure, the amount of data we can access is growing, as is information - albeit to a lesser extent. Even less available is practical knowledge and real understanding. And wisdom is in short supply. We just don’t know the unknown, the future.

So how to proceed?

 

As a starting point we need to see that vision is vital

 

Alice asked: “Would you tell me which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to” said the cat.

“I don’t know where” said Alice.

Then it doesn’t matter which way you go” said the cat. (Carroll, L. 1977)        

 

Without a vision we are lost, lose direction and focus..

Leave blow pipes (pea - shooters), paper balls, sponges in a conference room, during a tea or lunch break. When the participants return, in the absence of any other instruction, it will not be too long before these objects are thrown around, or at other people - with increasing intensity and hilarity. No matter how senior the participants.

After a while, without saying a word, place a picture of a target on a wall and immediately attention and energy is directed at it - in the form of the pea shooters, the balls and sponges, of course!   As soon as a single, clear target is shown and seen, there is a firm, definite focus.

 

Try to put together a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture (the end result that you are trying to achieve). Difficult. We need to picture where we are going. Frankl draws on his Oswieciem (Auschwitz) concentration camp experiences during the 2nd world war to explain that people need meaning and a future to hang on to (especially when the going is tough): "Any attempt to restore a man's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal”.  (Frankll, V. 1985)

Ex World heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali put it this way (The second line of his couplet is seldom quoted and speaks of the veracity of vision):

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see”

 

Recognise that true vision for many follows hearing the ‘Divine’ (however you understand or experience this)

Studdert Kennedy was an army chaplain and poet who bucked the incompetent bureaucracy that resulted in so many First World War casualties and wasted lives.

He refused to give safe, cosy, sermons behind the lines, and heard a call and chose instead to spend his time with the soldiers, in horrific conditions in the trenches. Not preaching, but being with them, coming alongside in their time of need.  

He’d often hand out a Woodbine cigarette and became known to the soldiers as Woodbine Willy. Years later when he died, his simple funeral was attended by thousands and a single packet of Woodbines was placed on top of his coffin.  

Kennedy gave the precious gift of being present for the other person and listening with unconditional, positive regard in their time of confusion, fear, and existential loneliness. (Target, G. 1987)

Mother (Saint) Teresa heard a still, small voice within speak gently to her in a dream on a train ride, and her vision from that day forward was to serve the poorest of the poor. This led to her setting up the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.  As Rumi puts it, she heard from “the one who talks to the deep ear in your chest”.

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be”.  (Rutte, M. 2006)  

Vision gives purpose. Without it we face ennui. If we think our work and our life has no meaning, feel jaded, nothing new and exciting ever happens, we are dissatisfied, unfulfilled, aimless, listless... If our lives are swamped by burdens, responsibilities, chores that are mundane and routine, and we stay in the in the drone zone… then the dis-ease we’re suffering from is the absence of purpose.

Establishing our deep inner reason for existing is the most important work any of us can do


How can we hear better in order to see more clearly?

  • Things that you may wish to weigh up: In this age of electronic interactions, it seems that our attention-spans and retention-spans are reducing. Perhaps we can become more open to listening and hearing by spending more time in nature, more time in reflective mode. At such times listening blockages within are more likely to reveal themselves so that we can  bypass or remove them: they may be hurts, resentments, blind spots, self-defeating attitudes, limiting beliefs and unconscious biases.

  • Avoid being too cerebral and analytical. Allow for and explore the possibility of heart-knowing. “Research in the new discipline of neuro-cardiology shows that we have a “heart brain” with a vast array of neurons that are processing sensory information on their own and communicating that information to our brain, nervous system and other organ systems. This means the heart is able to learn, remember, and make decisions independent of the brain”. (Tafler, A. 2019)  Physicist and philosopher David Bohm’s notion of a deep, invisible “implicate” order (which we will never fully comprehend and understand) and which lies below and beyond our observed “explicate” reality, makes sense to me. (Horgan, J. 2018)  We can learn from the vision quest rite of passage practice, associated rituals and crying for a vision” ceremonies that is a part of Native American Indian culture – and learn to hear from a wider reality than that which is confined to our conscious awareness. 
  • Be patient. Having a clear vision – purpose - calling is as much about being as it is about doing. If you haven't yet figured it out, don't become frenetic and anxious. There is no quick fix: “The supreme achievement of the self is to find an insight that connects together the events, dreams, and relationships that make up our existence". (Baillas, L. 1986) We are spoken to at different times in our lives, and in many different ways. (And if we hear we will see):


Consider if what you are doing right now is your purpose (calling) but you are not seeing it. Elle Luna explores the differences between a job ("something typically done from 9 to 5 for pay"), a career ("a system of advancements and promotions over time where rewards are used to optimize behavior"), and a calling ("something that we feel compelled to do regardless of fame or fortune") (Luna, E. 2015)                    

A man questions three workers at a building site. “What are you doing?”

The first answers, I’m laying bricks”
The second, “We’re building a wall”
The third, “We’re creating a wonderful cathedral to the glory of God”.
 
Some may wake up after a dream, suddenly aware of their life purpose, and of the legacy they would like to leave. Others undergo a life crisis or an experience (physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual) which confronts them with a need or cause that they were not previously aware of and triggers their now-uncovered purpose. Their own trauma, addiction, life-threatening illness, event or status-change (for example motherhood, redundancy, crippling accident) gives rise to a conviction to reach out, assist and support others who are in the same boat.
 
Yet others have their purpose gradually unfold over the course of their life as they mature.
Sometimes our giftedness or calling is pointed out by someone else: they see what we don't yet see.
            
And for some, when the time is right, an exercise to determine an embedded motivational pattern, conducted by someone competent in this area, may be worthwhile. Elements may include a recurring motivational thrust, preferred subject matter, abilities usually brought to bear, relating preferences, typical trigger circumstances, driving values. (Dr Martin Luther King’s familiar and inspiring speech, given nearly 50 years ago, “painted the picture of a new, more just and loving society scarcely imagined by the American people at that time” and enabled listeners to visualize these values. "Visions themselves are based on deep values”. (Zohar, D. and Marshall,I. 2004)

 

 



In 1972 Trina Paulus wrote and illustrated the parable Hope for the Flowers, which beautifully illustrates how values may lead us to discovering our purpose and meaning in life. Two caterpillars, Stripe and Yellow, in their striving for success, climb a kind of corporate “caterpillar pillar” to findthat there is nothing at the top. In the end, surrendering to the cocoon, they finally fly, and become what they were meant to be. (Paulus, T. 1972

 

 

Good luck as you reflect, listen, hear... and see... and move into 2021.


Bibliography 

Baillas, Leonard J. (1986) Myths, Gods, Heroes, and Saviors Twenty-Third Publications   

Carroll, Lewis (Rev. Charles Dodgson) (1977) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland MacMillan

Frankl, Viktor E. (1985) Man’s Search for Meaning Basic Books NY

Horgan, John (2018) David Bohm, Quantum Mechanics and Enlightenment Scientific American. Crosscheck https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/david-bohm-quantum-mechanics-and-enlightenment/

Luna, Ella (2015) The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion Workman Publishing Co. Inc.  NY 

Paulus, Trina (1972) Hope for the Flowers, A Newman Book, Paulist Press, NY

Rutte, Martin (2006) The Work of Humanity: project heaven on earth citing Patanjali (in Seeking the Sacred: leading a spiritual life in a secular world. (ed Mary Joseph) ECW Press, Toronto, Canada

Tafler, Afshan (2019) How Your Heart May Be Your Wisest Brain

https://unyte.com/blogs/news/how-your-heart-may-be-your-wisest-brain

Target, George (1987) Words that have Moved the World Bishopsgate Press, London

Tillich, Paul (2000) The Courage to Be, Yale University Press, New Haven

Zohar, Danah & Marshall, Ian (2004) Spiritual Capital Bloomsbury


Illustrations

Flooded Communication Trench     In the Public Domain

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Trenches_and_fortifications_of_World_War_I#/media/File:Flooded_communication_trench_(4688581846).jpg

Martin Luther King   Tony Grogan