Thursday, June 25, 2015

Challenge and Response

When life serves up lemons, do we end up sucking them or making lemonade?  I find it fascinating the variety of ways people (myself included) respond to challenges.  Some people give up and succumb to problems and others rise above them.  We see around us people who overcome tremendous obstacles both physical and mental.  We see others who appear to be on the top of the world one minute, then carted away as suicide victims the next.  Why does one keep battling and the other give up?  What is the spark that motivates one person to climb out of the muck of adversity while another caves in?

A lot of it goes right back to attitude.  The same situation can be viewed as an insurmountable issue or an opportunity.  A chewing-out by the boss can lead to a decision to quit or to explore the grains of truth in the criticism and improve.

A sports team such as the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team may coalesce and defeat a more talented and experienced team while a team of all-stars may lose because they don’t care and have never become an integrated unit.

So how do we respond to a challenge?  Let’s take the example of a bad work environment.  When in this situation several times in my career, I learned to face four choices:

·         Change my attitude--I could accept the situation and try to make the most of it.
·         Change the situation--I could speak to my boss about what modifications would be necessary and convince him to make the improvements.
·         Suffer--I could moan and groan about it.
·         Get out--I could quit the job.

It’s a good test to run through the four alternatives in any challenge you encounter.  When faced with a bad work situation, I try first to change it.  If that doesn’t work, since I don’t want to suffer, I decide between leaving or changing my attitude.

Dealing with challenges entails hard work.  We have to motivate ourselves and need the discipline to persevere.  Everyone may be rooting against us so we have to dig down for the extra effort that only we can make happen.

The myth of Sisyphus comes to mind as the symbol of tenacity in a difficult situation.  The guy has to push a boulder up a hill.  Every time he almost gets to the top, the boulder rolls down again.  He sucks it up and starts pushing again.  With the four choices possible, he could just leave.  But in the myth, the gods have eliminated this alternative as well as changing the situation.  So his only choices are to suffer or change his attitude.  Does he mope all the time or does he enjoy the scenery while he’s walking back down?  And who knows.  One of these times he might get the boulder to stay at the top.

Joseph in the Bible is one of my favorite stories.  The kid was arrogant and had everything.  Then he’s sold into slavery and gets put in prison.  He hangs in there and becomes right hand to the pharaoh.  Along the way he could have given up, but he didn’t.  At the end he tests his brothers, but forgives them instead of being bitter and punishing them.  This is the epitome of exhibiting a positive attitude when faced with adversity.  He has all these adventures, responds to the situation, grows up and succeeds.

Part of maturity is learning what battles to fight, when to change the situation, when to change attitude and when to get out--knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

And human resiliency is truly amazing.  I’m still awestruck by the obstacles that people can overcome.

A haiku poem by Choshu has always been meaningful to me when thinking about challenge and response:

Broken and broken,

Again on the sea,

The moon so easily mends.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Acceptance and Tolerance

Pay close attention to the difference between tolerance and acceptance.  Be tolerant of different viewpoints, races, religions, cultures and styles.  Revel in the uniqueness of yourself and of others, but also recognize the common humanity of all people.  Do not accept the violence that drugs wreck upon the body and mind.  Do not accept the violence that guns cause.  Do not accept the violence of hate.  Resist not evil.  Be a judo expert with hate: let the force of hate neutralize itself rather than you trying to fight back with hate.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Both/and, not Either/or

Life is full of dichotomies.  We face many decisions: chocolate or vanilla, to spend time at work or with our family, to take the turn to the right or left.  In Western tradition we become used to these binary choices whereas Eastern tradition embraces polar opposites: each positive has a negative and vice versa, the yin and the yang, you are and you are not.

The overarching duality calls for us to be both individuals and members of humanity.  Both aspects define our humanness.  We all share a commonality, but each individual is unique.

Science in the last century has also embraced both/and.  It used to be thought that matter or energy existed in one state.  Then along came the discovery that light acts like both a particle and a wave.

The same dichotomy exists within our lives.  We can embrace the opposites and not be restricted by an either/or viewpoint.

We can learn to balance both work and family so we’re not sacrificing one for the other.  Parents may bring children to work, take work home, set priorities and be successful in both roles.

In business people get labeled as visionary or action-oriented.  How about being both?  How about having a clear vision about where a company is going while taking the steps to make it a reality?

Rather than having to be either focused or aware of things around you, how about being both?  Like a good firefighter who is concentrating on the fire but also aware of threats around him that may prevent him from quenching the fire.

Do you need either to have an imagination or be pragmatic?  How about both?  How about dreaming up wild ideas and then implementing one with down-to-earth pragmatic steps to make it a reality?

What about being either intuitive or logical?  How about being both?  Make the intuitive leap and then build the bridge, plank by plank that gets from here to there.

Do you have to either accept your situation or improve it?  No.  You can both accept your current situation with a realistic assessment of all its warts, problems and challenges and then take the necessary steps to improve it.

Embrace dichotomy.

And by the way it doesn’t have to be chocolate or vanilla.  You can order a swirl.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Faith: Positive or Negative?

“Have faith,” someone says.  It’s another way of indicating, “have hope, don’t give up, hang in there.”  That’s a good trait.  Stick-to-itness.  The Stockdale Paradox is to have faith in a positive outcome and do everything possible for that positive outcome, but be grounded in the reality of your current situation.  That’s faith based upon reality.

But there is another type of faith.  Blind faith.  This is the faith that runs counter to logic, rationality and what is happening in the real world.  This is the faith of fundamentalism.  If it is written in the old testament, new testament or Koran, then it’s to be believed literally.  If a priest, minister, mullah tells you to murder in the name of God, do you do it?

This becomes the danger of our time.  The misdirection of faith, faith run amok, that takes life rather than preserves and enhances life.

We see all around us the two types of faith.  On one hand appears the faith of joy, giving, following the true teachings of Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, Confucius.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Resist not evil.  Love your enemies.  The Eight-fold Path.

On the other hand we see the misdirection of faith.  I’m saved, and you’re going to hell.  I’m right, and you’re wrong.  My family, tribe, nation or religion is justified in killing members of your family, tribe, nation or religion.  My book has the literal truth of God, and yours is the misguided ramblings of lunatics.

How can so many people believe that they have the literal word of God and all the others don’t?

What we need today entails seeing the truth in many different religious traditions and to focus on the common truth rather than the exclusivity of one prophet versus another.

Each religion starts with insights into the human predicament.  Unfortunately, a structure is wrapped around the core teachings to become institutionalized.  Then the message is lost in the trappings of the formal faith.

So keep the faith.  Just don’t kill others with it.