Stupid Is As Stupid Does

November 30, 2009

Three Examples

Two young men were charged with trespassing in the Calgary Zoo after hours. They not only climbed the fence around the zoo but also the first perimeter wall around the tiger enclosure. One of the interlopers was mauled so badly his arm may have to be amputated. The Calgary Sun newspaper summarized the public sentiment on the event with editorial cartoon that depicted a tiger with the thought balloon caption “Well Duh!” What were they thinking?

Hurricane watching is a bit of a sport in Nova Scotia. We get a lot of fading storms caressing our coast blown up from the Gulf of Mexico. The storms bring big waves for surfers (yes we surf in NS) and spectacular seascapes. Arguable the best view is at the historic lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove. During a recent storm three people we posing for pictures well beyond the permanent “dangerous surf” warning signs. They were swept off the rocks and spit back on the shore by the next surge with broken bones but luckily no life threatening injuries. What were they thinking?

There is construction zone traffic merging from 2 lanes to 1. The cement truck to my left pulls ahead leaving a gap in the lane in front of a red dump truck. As I nudge into the gap the dump truck rolls ahead. “Oh yeah”, I think, “I’ll show him.” And I play chicken and keep going determined not to get stuck in a jam. He keeps on truckin’ and in slow motion rubs rubber off his tire up my driver’s side to the back door. Thankfully my baby in the passenger side car seat doesn’t wake up. What was I thinking?

What do the stupid people in these stories have in common? What were they thinking?

It’s temptation to judge stupidity. Before you cast stones from glass houses I invite you to ponder the answers to the questions.

What they were thinking were typical of “box thoughts.” They are thoughts that arise when we think we are better than others and focus on two very simple questions: Who and What?

Who Focus : Self (My world view is all about me)
What Focus : Justifying (My thoughts and rationalizations keep my “me first” viewpoint)

In order to maintain a grip on a world view that is all about me (self-first) I need to create a box of built by justifications. Take a minute to review the 3 scenarios above and imagine the internal dialogue that must take place in order to override the common sense that usually protects us from doing stupid things.

Step 2: Invite yourself to reflect and grow by reviewing a recent incident in your life where you put self first and justified your actions till the point of stupidity. Feel free to share your insights on this blog. I’d love to hear that I am not alone in a stupidity haze.

Step 3: Read the book “The Anatomy of Peace” Click Here for More

Next week: How to have “who and what” focus of a Joyful Servant Leader

Stupid Does

Stupid Does

Advice on Advice

August 31, 2009

A young subscriber submitted the following at the Ask Peter page’ out of concern for a friend still living at home. Perhaps you’ve had a boss like this?

MM wrote:

One of my friends is having difficulties with her parents. They don’t take her seriously and she’s kind of forced to live in the shadow of her siblings (who have grown up and moved out) — as in, she isn’t allowed to do anything that they didn’t do. This is exacted to the point of ridiculousity – her sister wasn’t allowed to dye her hair till grade 11, same for her.

Do you have any advice I can give her on how to handle this? Like how to get them to take her seriously, and to realize that parenting is not one-size-fits-all? What can I do to help? The big thing I guess is she and her mom need to learn to get along, but her mom isn’t really inclined to bother trying to be nice. I’ve given her some advice already (including thinking about what needs of her mom aren’t being met)… but I figured you’d have some more wisdom to add.

My Advice on Advice

Giving advice is tricky as most people unconscious project what they need to do in their own life into the situations of others and that may or may not be useful. And with some professionals relationships can be downright harmful i.e. A counselor/psychologist with unpacked personal baggage. You have to be very aware of your own dirty laundry and make sure you don’t ask some one else, vicariously, to do your laundry. Most people want to change in others what they have not come to love in themselves.

Better role for a friend is listening unconditionally and non-judgmentally, to help her feel less alone and open an honest exploration through open-ended questioning (What would it look like if…? ) to help her tap her own imagination and empower her own creativity and ownership of choices and consequences.

Having said that there are universal laws that can apply in any situation

Three Traps to Avoid:

Collusions: Initially it may feel good to have someone on your side but it’s a short distance before the “us vs them” wall gets built and you need even more food (evidence of wrongdoing) to justify why the guests need to keep attending the pity party. This is a most disempowering party on earth where the light of hope and win / win solutions are very hard to discover. Do you really want to be that kind of friend? Remember you’re at the party as well.

Totalizing: The fastest way to put a person in a tidy box with language like, “They always…” or, “They never…” or “everytime…” or labels like they are an abuser or a liar. The truth is everyone makes choices and are never all this or all that. Everyone is both nasty and kind, we are all happy and sad, etc., somewhere in our life. Labeling people may justify their actions but it really only puts both people in a box. I worked with a client whose father was “an alcoholic.” After questioning it turned out that he actually got roaring drunk on Saturday nights playing pool at the legion and missed church the next day which was very important to the client. The father kept a job and food on the table but the alcoholic label trumped the provider label and the client grew up hating their dad until they made peace on his deathbed after believing the whole person called Father had done his best.

Blaming: Seeing the world upside down is the most disempowering viewpoint of all. If life experiences can be seen as 10% what happens and 90% how we think and act about it imagine how much more empowering that would be than the other way around. (90% has been done to us and only 10% is within our control)

Three Things That Can Help:

1. Gratitude: If you live in a box give thanks for the walls and benefits of containment rules, order etc. Instead of pushing back against the walls with resentment survey the greater good with gladness and when you step back you might see a window of opportunity. Like the fly banging against the screen only to miss the open window above. I’ll never forget the guy who manifested severe allergies to everything with reactions so bad he was isolated in his apartment. It wasn’t until he was desperate and nothing else worked and couldn’t leave the bedroom that he started his long journey back by thanking every object in his room. He continued to thank and confront his worthiness to be seen and eventually, rather than wearing a mask, he walks freely down a busy street. What you cannot be grateful for will run you.

2. Nothing’s Missing: You can’t destroy a drop of water you can only change its form from liquid to solid to vapor and back, that is nature’s law. Our attachment to form is a great source of suffering. Appreciate the form in which you’ve got it. Re: not taken seriously. Who or when in her life is she taken seriously? Rather bemoaning the illusion that energy is absent, in this case with a parent, find out where it does exist in life. I once coached lady whose mother “never supported her.” (note the totalizing) We did some quick work and rediscovered all the places and experiences where she felt 100% supported by others in all 7 areas of her life to lift the burden of expectation off her mom. She came back a week later and exclaimed that her mother had changed! Do I need to say the obvious.

3. Love Unconditionally: Expectations can be another name for conditional love and the quickest sabotage of intimacy between two people. It goes like this, “I will love you when you are nice.” Or “I will feel loved when you take me seriously.” Most people with a nose on their face can sniff out that kind controlling prospect and sensibly back away. Others attempt to please and jump through the ever changing hoops eventually turning resentment inwards and/or outwards and ironically feeding a cycle of faster hoop hopping. Unconditional love accepts that relationships are full of both challenge and support and loves the person with compassion for doing their best. Like it or not other people should not change to relieve your discomfort with challenge. In fact, it would actually be a very boring relationship if they did.

But hey, that’s just my advice.

Cut Me Down

September 15, 2008

An individual consulting client I was working with had a harsh run in with a difficult person who she said “cut her down at the knees and hit her emotionally like a dagger in the chest.”

The question must be asked “Can anyone beat up or put you down more than you, conversely can anyone can lift you up higher than you lift yourself or believe you are worth the lift?”

Everybody beats up self and puts self down that’s how we learn what we need to love. The true edge of growth and healing is to come to love what we judge and condemn as bad in ourselves. (we find it clearly when we see it in others by projection)

Bottom line. If an experience with someone whether spouse, child, coworker or stranger in the check out line at the grocery store, charges up an emotion within us then a simple rule applies: What we repress others will express.

Every time this happens we then have two choices:

1. Blame them and it’s tricky not to blame the expressor but be very sure because it is a certain path that gives your power away.

2. Own it. This means take back the projections that someone has done it to me because I have already been doing it to myself anyway, in some form, and for some time.

as to where it all comes from? ….and this is freeing

All stories come from a lopsided perception of our past

What if…
no one hurt us more than they held us
no one rejected us more than they supported us
no one can cut us down more than they helped build up our character

But when we tell a lopsided story from our judgments, and every time we tell it we get more stuck in the rightness of the story, we will manifest what we judge and either a. become it in our selves, b. attract it in relationship or c. bred it in our children.

All this is natures way or putting it in our face until we learn to love it and see the balance in truth. Love is the synthesis of all emotion (lopsided perceptions) At the moment of balance, the heart pops with unconditional love.

It is how nature operates and would wish us to live and so for the brief moments in a life that we are tuned into our true nature it is very beautiful indeed.

Act Like a Man Meme

September 15, 2008

I wrote this in 1995 when I was Teaching Public School

It’s a scene found on most school playgrounds. A boy, undersize for his age, gets shoved to the ground as he jostles for a loose basketball. I intervene in the name of fairness and one of my male Grade 6 students comments, “It’s like the woods, Mr. D., the strongest survive”, as he dribbles away eager to continue the game.

In that 11 year old’s summation of an abusive incident lies an accurate analysis of how boys are socialized from a very young age to be tough, in control and aggressive. These sex role expectations are even found in boy’s comic books. The following is an ad for video games appeared on the back cover of a Superman comic I “borrowed” from a student that was supposed to be doing Math.

“Pick A Fight After School”, “After a hard day at school, have you ever just wanted to go home and break a few heads, destroy a couple of cities? Or just blow up the entire universe? Of course you have. And now you can without getting grounded. Just plug in any of these four smash arcade hits….. and get ready for the fight of your life.”

What influences the minds of children today is overwhelming.  My students will watch, on average, 22 hours of television per week, including 8,000 violent deaths and 100,000 acts of violence by the time they leave grade 6. Based on time alone (not to mention stimulation effect) the entertainment industry has become the first curriculum in young peoples lives. It’s a fantasy world where the powerful survive and the heroes are The Terminator and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

As we look at these and other dominate influences it should come as no surprise that four students in the last two years have brought guns to schools in metro Halifax. It should also come as no surprise that they were all male.

This fact disturbs me. As a teacher and a member of Men For Change, a Halifax based men’s group that formed after the Montréal Massacre, I have begun to look at what I, as man, can do to end violence. This exploration led me to work with other members of Men For Change to develop Healthy Relationships: A Violence-Prevention Curriculum.

Healthy Relationships is being eagerly received across Canada by teachers and school boards that are looking beyond punitive measures like the Young Offenders Act to prevent violence. The program is designed as a teacher’s resource and the activities help students explore the nature of aggression and to question how sexist stereotypes are learned.  When we understand the roots of violence we can teach a lifetime of skills and attitudes to our students.

If sexism is learned and violence is one manifestation then our schools are one of the best places to help children learn healthy attitudes. One immediate challenge for me as a classroom teacher is to look at my own attitudes towards gender. Do I really answer boys hands more than girls, as the research suggests? Do I refer to a room full of boys and girls with the popular but exclusive term, “guys?”

The potential of any school to help children learn healthy attitudes towards gender can be inhibited me, or any other teacher, unknowingly passing on sexist and stereotype loaded expectations to boys and girls.

The following examples are gathered from my experiences in other schools. They are hopefully exceptions to the rule, but each bear witness to how teachers unknowingly legitimize male stereotypes and it’s violent practise.

One morning I was in a Junior High School making photocopies prior to a workshop when a Grade 9 student came into the building to seek refuge from others who had just punched him in the chest and kicked him. The duty teacher responded, ” You’re a big guy, why don’t you stand up for yourself?”

The student stated simply, “I don’t fight”. The teacher then sent him back out to tell the perpetrators to come in. As my own students would say, Duh!! Not only was that young man’s need for safety ignored but I had a strong sense that nothing would be resolved even if his assaults got suspended for a few days. My sense that the problem was not truly resolved was confirmed. I met the victimized student half an hour later in the washroom cleaning up the blood from a punch in the nose he had just received.

Sometimes the messages to live up to the tough male image come out through subtle comments. I was in another school where a grade 9 class teacher was welcoming students for the afternoon. A student asked the teacher for a bandaid for a cut on his hand. The teacher obliged and commented, “I guess you lost that on huh! What’s the matter couldn’t you stand up to him?”

One of Men For Change’s first school workshop experiences several years ago was with a class of Grade 8 boys. We had a good dialogue about being macho, stereotypes and date rape. The discussion wrapped up10 minutes before the bell so the teacher hit play on the VCR with a Hockey’s Hardest Hitters Vol.1 tape.

These anecdotes from the front lines may not be very pleasant to read at a time when teachers seem to be undervalued and stressed out but lets not forget the teachable moment here for all of us. As in all social change movements, from the successful Teens Against Drunk Driving programs to anti-Racism objectives, the first step begins with an awareness of the breadth of the problem. In a society where violence is rampant, profitable and embodied as the very essence of what it means to act like a man this means revealing some deep roots and traditions, and perhaps even our own attitudes, before we can begin to see everlasting solutions.

We need to all work together and challenge the deeply ingrained illusion that can lock us into the gender trap of stereotypes––tough and aggressive for boys, passive and beauty bound, for girls. Then and only then will we be helping teach our students, and ourselves, not the law of the jungle where only the strongest survive, but rather the choices needed to build healthy relationships based on cooperation and trust where everyone is thrives.

Visit the Healthy Relationships Curriculum Website

Separate From Nature Meme

September 15, 2008

Common memes that can hinder fulfillment and contentment:

The meme that we are separate from nature


It’s understandable that we feel above and superior to the natural order. Afterall we harness the wind, tide and atom to do our bidding. We scrape oil off the land where the tar sands ooze and we dump toxins into the air and water as if it won’t come back to plague us, figuratively and literally.

But what price do we pay on a personal level from believing in the meme that we are separate from the natural order that connects all things. That we are somehow outside of the interconnected web of life.

One of nature’s laws that we could better pay attention to is that in the Law of Abundance: Nothing is ever missing, it just changes in form.

The leaves in Nova Scotia are a splendid reminder of this cycle interconnected web of life. If I offered you a million dollars to destroy a drop of water you wouldn’t succeed. You can heat it, freeze it and combine it but not eliminate the drop. The best you could do is change its form.

So how does this relate to life and work? How does bringing the rules of nature back to our daily living to help us? How does exposing the meme that we are above or separate than nature help us naturally thrive.

True story. I was working with an executive team in a powerful learning organization. They were engaging the 5 laws of nature and folding them into their duties and responsibilities as leaders. When we discussed the Law of Abundance: Nothing is missing, it just changes in form, they wanted an example. I invited someone to share an example of something that was missing from their life that could impact their work.

One of the team volunteered that she was single and was missing a partner. She was getting on in years and was troubled by her singleness and her anxiety was, if she were honest, taking a lot of emotional energy away from what was important like her work. I thought that this team must be very close and trusting for her to share personally but with her permission to explore as a group we proceeded together.

I inquired, “What’s missing for you? What are the qualities that you miss most in a partner?”

She replied, “I miss a sense of closeness, compassionate touch, feeling excited inside and being at one with another.”

I responded, “When we are aligned with natural Law of Abundance then nothing is missing so where do you have these qualities in your life right now?”

She thought for a moment then told the group a story about going for a long hike along the seashore the previous weekend. She recounted how she felt so fulfilled with the beauty around her and breathed deeply of the fresh air. She spoke of how she likes to get out on a regular basis because of the very peaceful and serene feeling she gets. At the end of the long hike she came to a clearing at the edge of the water and stood on the edge of the cliff catching her breath and wiping the sweat off her brow. She went on in detail how she stood facing the setting sun and described how the sun warmed and seemed to caress her face and as the wind blew her hair back she felt excited to be alive.

There was a long pause after she finished sharing until one of her colleagues quipped, “I need a cigarette!”

After we all chuckled I pointed out what was already obvious. She had found her lover in it’s current form.

We all have two choices. 1. You can feel sad, unfulfilled, worried and stressed for what you don’t have in the form you think it should be or 2. Give thanks for the form it’s in now. Get grateful because if you’re not thankful for the way you got it then you are not going to get it the way you want it.

Despite the fact we live in cities and surround ourselves with electricity, plastic, and technology it’s useful to remember that inside all of us we are still part of nature’s gift. The next time you catch yourself thinking outside the natural order of the universe with memes that reinforce separation just ask yourself what’s missing and what form is it actually in.

PS. Our executive wrote a very long thank you letter to herself and I heard that several weeks later she met a single fellow who joined the hiking club. I wish them happy trails in whatever form that takes.

Jam Thumb Change Meme

September 15, 2008

Whether you act as a change agent in your organization or in your personal life, to be effective, memes will need to be confronted and replaced. The very nature of change is a shift from the way it is to the way it could be. All internal and external culture change requires a certain turn of mind, a new way of seeing and thinking about what you see. A meme replaced with a new thought pattern. Sometimes bigger, more inclusive, than the last in thought sometimes the meme is flipped on its ear to see the tender bottom. It is about attitude. It is contagious. Here are a few ideas to make yours worth catching.

Common memes that can hinder fulfillment and contentment:

2.1 The meme that getting your thumb slammed in a car door is just a bad deal.

2.2 The meme that we are separate from nature

2.3 The meme that support means love and challenges are not worthy of love

2.4 The meme that someone is happier than you.

Lets pick up on the first one as an example – The meme that getting your thumb slammed in a car door is just a bad deal.

Meme Buster Prespective

I dropped off some of my leadership program clients. We had just finished a 5 day wilderness canoe trip. While Matt was getting out of the car door slammed shut on his right hand thumb. He yelled for his colleague to open the door for what must have seemed like an agonizingly long 5 seconds.

The edge of the door caught him just across the white part of his thumbnail just missing the potential crush of bone. It’s sore and bruised and he will likely loose the thumbnail in the weeks ahead. Just a bad deal. Not much fun, agreed? What could be the benefit of this?

But is there such a thing as something being all bad with absolutely no silver lining? Is there any experience that doesn’t have at least two sides? What if there is a benefit when bad things happen to good people?

Matt is a chain smoker. He hates it and feels ashamed of himself and has tried lots of times to quit. A few days ago I checked in with him to see how he was doing and he related an amazing breakthrough. It seems that he is really right handed. He does everything with his right hand including flick a lighter. As it turns out it is such a painful nuisance to light up that he is down to 2 smokes a day. He is feeling confident that his digital agony has shocked his system into a new and sustainable and healthier habit. When his door closing colleague dropped into his office to again apologize, Matt told him the story and actually relayed that he was grateful for the mishap because of how it helped him on the quit path.

The new meme is that there is no thing, event or experience that is all good or all bad. Rather, these things are good and bad in equal measure. Sometimes it takes something startling to shake us up to see the benefit. Sometimes it takes time to distance from the trauma to be able to answer the question, “What’s good?”

I am not suggesting its easy. I only know it exists in each and every experience. When we can see the balance we SAVE OUR ENERGY and react less and change is easier to embrace.

Terrorist Meme’s Grip

September 15, 2008

Meme rhymes with gene. Like a gene is to biology so is a meme to psychology. Memes are thought patterns embedded in our collective unconscious. However, unlike biology they are not fixed in our DNA but rather taught, socially prescribed in media and peer reinforced. They can differ from culture to culture. Memes can be and are, passed on from one generation to the next. They can be loosely based on a sliver of truth but are more typically sweeping generalizations or gross exaggerations of reality. For a simple example of both a subject and how it’s reinforced— insert a lawyer joke here.

Memes can be chunked down into specific stereotypes of, for example; women, teens, persons of varying ethnicity. The meme is fog in which thrive bigger picture conditioning we know as sexism, ageism and racism. A locked in way of seeing others that creates an us vs them separation.

This first part will explore a personal example of meme’s grip.

I had a strange thing happen to me on a “red-eye” overnight plane trip back from Calgary recently. I got a meme grip in my head. It’s kind of like thrombosis in your leg muscle from sitting too long but it effects the mind, particularly the unconscious.

As people settled into their seats, four men were sitting around me in the middle of the plane by the exit windows. From my travels, I recognized that they were speaking Arabic. They frequently looked over the head rests and chatted.

Early in the morning just an hour before we landed in Toronto for 5:30am I went to the rear of the plane to stretch and brush my teeth using the mini tube of toothpaste I had earlier snuck past the hyper-vigilant security staff and their fancy xray machine.

One of the Arabic speaking fellows came to the back and stood beside me, presumably waiting for a free washroom. He bent down and loosened the laces on his shoes and as he stood up he fixed his attention on what looked like a fat cell phone in his hand. I could see the screen and it seemed to be counting down rapidly by hundredths.

I like to think I am a very tolerant person so I am embarrassed to share that my mind started to piece together several disparate bits of news stories. I recalled the news story of the box of 100’s of cell phones captured as potential detonator devices from would be terrorists. That lead to recounting the incident of the man who attempting to board a plane at London’s Heathrow airport with explosives in his shoe. The more I imagined, the more the tighter the meme’s grip. I was starting to feel very uncomfortable.

My thoughts locked into a social meme that has been reinforced and embedded by western media for at least the last 5 years, since 9/11. It’s a thought pattern that fuels mistrust, feeds suspicion and separation and fixates on a fear of humanity from a certain cultural background.

So there I was, an expert in stress and communication, allowing my internal dialogue to feed the slivers of truth and engorge a meme into a worse case scenario. I could feel the stress hormone, cortisol, course through my veins tensing my body for the primal fight or flight response.

I had a couple of choices. Let myself get really upset and report suspicious activity to a stewardess or an air marshall or calm down and bridge the divide.

I started a conversation. I said to him, “No phone reception?” He replied in broken English, “No phone . . . GPS, Fun.” I asked him what he was doing in Calgary and he got across the message that he was visiting a cousin. He was with four friends, all construction buddies from Windsor, Ontario. He said work in Windsor was okay but they hoped for better work and better pay out West. With every word I felt less suspicious, less distant. It turns out he was just a guy looking for a better life and a raise in pay.

This story is a reminder about worry and the negative thinking that fuels it. Maybe it’s a reminder that sometime it takes a bit of courage to reach across that which separates us. How many times have we kept a distance from someone we disagree with and instead of speaking to understand we speak to judge and keep a distance. Maybe we let lunch room gossip memes get a grip and we form a false impression or judgment of another.

Memes of fear take away a little piece of everyone’s humanity. Our invitation is to see people as human beings who put their pants on one leg at a time just like us. There is hope. Up until the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in 1989 there was another meme underpinning the cold war and nuclear arms race. Same as today, about who to trust and not to trust. Fortunately some people had the courage to rethink the old memes. I remember a line from a popular song from that era, “I hope the Russians love their children too.” Thankfully that meme prevailed.