Being right

How often have you had a disagreement with somebody where you have felt sure you were right? Or how often have you been faced with a choice over what to do, and you’ve asked yourself what the right course of action should be? And how often have people told you what the right thing to do is?

This is worth thinking about. After all, humans have a long history of fighting over who is right. Apparently it was right, according to the British Prime Minister, to invade Iraq: “I am right”, he said. We are not so sure now.

I have often in the past found myself telling myself, in the heat of a conflict, that “I’m right”, and felt the full force of righteous indignation and blame towards another whom I perceived to be wrong. And all the time, it was not worth all the negative energy. It was more powerful, and served me better, to let go of the need to be “right” so as to open up a space where both needs could be met, or a different, healing solution could emerge. “Being right” hid that space from view. The still space between thoughts, where there is no anger, no thought, is the space of true creativity. Meditators know this. That is why they focus on the space between breaths. When we pause and let go, something else can take the place of conflict and “being right”.

In a previous life I worked for a headteacher whose favourite maxim was, “Get it right”. And that might have been said when someone, somewhere had definitely not got it right. When a team of professional people, say, are closely aligned, they probably have a very clear idea of what that might mean. We certainly did in that school. There were the very clearly articulated and agreed principles for action by which we made decisions about the good education of our students. So, in this respect, being right may be about living by an agreed set of ethical principles.

But what about when there’s disagreement? Who is right? It may be an issue of fact: “I’m right because the facts say this”. The trouble with facts is that there is no universal agreement even on facts. Scientists tend to prefer the word “probability” to “fact”. We all agree to call something a bus and we all agree that that is what it looks like. But as we learn more about the mind and how it works, the more it appears that what is really happening is that we are actually applying a joint perception that something is as it is. So, in that case who is right?

The trouble is, people treat “being right” as some universal rule, when in fact it is their opinion.

Then there is the whole world of the social consensus. What is deemed “right” is actually the rules of social consensus. We apply rules to our society and judge people’s behaviour accordingly. Yes, we might need it to be like that so that the society can function. Except that, as we evolve to become higher order beings, even those rules become less necessary as we become more autonomous, self-responsible, totally respecting beings no longer needing external rules to guide us. We have our own.

So, when we react to someone who says, “That’s not right”, it is worth appreciating how much we’ve become self-responsible beings who more and more wish to make our own decisions. Because we are more and more connected with one another, what we decide is also totally appropriate for the other as it is for us. Or we can listen to others and discuss it with them, and agree together what is needed. In this emerging paradigm, managers no longer instruct their direct reports. It doesn’t motivate them. Instead they find it works better to agree it with them after seeking their involvement in the decision.

“Being right” smacks of parentalism, someone older, better (who says?), wiser, more knowledgeable. In that paradigm, you are told what you “should” or “should not” do. Right away this slips into a right/wrong polarity of thinking, with judgement and blame not far behind. In the new paradigm, we seek to step above judgement. Here, each makes his or her own choices. As connected beings we are at once totally respecting of our need to make our own choices in life, and to respect the choices of others.

“Being right” can take us into the thinking of fundamentalism, where one belief system is deemed right and all others relegated to eternal damnation. It is fascinating for me how many of us today are having a problem with this world-view. This is probably one of the most powerful inheritances from our common past, embedded deep in our consciousness from past ages, where religious and social systems enforced principles of behaviour on a God-fearing population. According to Spiral Dynamics, we are evolving fast away from that thinking and are poised to move en-masse to a far more respectful and inclusive, world-centric way of seeing things.

So, it is always worth pausing when you come across the word “right”. It can be useful, as in human rights, but it can also be an inheritance from a paternalistic age which no longer serves us. And you may be outgrowing it yourself. What would be a more growthful way of seeing the situation? Right/wrong thinking may also no longer serve you as an individual. Consider asking yourself instead, “Is this what I am choosing right now?” “Is this what I want right now?” “Will this serve me right now?” “Is this what I am seeking to create right now?” Here you can step into a far more empowering way of perceiving.

And, when you react to a perceived transgression by someone else, you can instead of leaping to judgement become aware of your feelings, take responsibility for them, let them go and see what other more creative possibility may exist.

To be clear who you are, know your Shadow

Over the summer break, sitting in the garden of our home in South-West France, I was reading Ken Wilber’s recent book, “Integral Spirituality”. It is not easy reading, unless you are familiar with his ideas, but it offers a truly great new perspective of integrating Western scientific materialism with spirituality that gives hope for us all. In it, there is in my view an outstanding chapter on “The Shadow and the Disowned Self”.

The Shadow is a term derived from Carl Jung and it is the idea that there are parts of ourselves that we are not aware of, which we have disowned and usually projected on to other people. These parts may be negative or positive. For example, I might present myself to others as Mr Nice Guy, as in truth I once did. In reality I might not think I’m nice at all, but I don’t want to go there so I make a big effort to “be nice”, as instructed originally by my parents perhaps. However, out there are lots of nasty, angry people, whom I find myself repeatedly in conflict with. This causes me a lot of stress. Until eventually something big happens and I have a wake-up call, obliging me to take a good hard look at myself. The learning of this self-enquiry is that those angry people are projections of mine. What is then needed is an acknowledgement of the disowned part of me and an integration of that part into me, probably by being angry more, but not at others’ expense – or mine. I then do not meet so many angry people and feel more at peace. And I start liking myself, warts and all.

This is a simple way of presenting the shadow, but it is a major feature of our make-up. And if we don’t become aware of and acknowledge our shadow, it can play havoc in our lives, particularly in our relationships with other people. This has a point for those who follow eastern spiritual practices. Wilber says that however much meditation you do, you are not going to get to reach your Shadow. The discovery of the shadow was one of the most important contributions of Western psychology to human consciousness. It means that the process of self-enquiry is very important. “Know thyself” was the famous phrase over the entrance to the Oracle at ancient Delphi in Greece. It is still relevant.

Often my wife and I meet people in our work who have not done this enquiry. We meet it a lot I’m afraid to say in fellow professionals, who do close work with others and yet lack self-awareness. We meet it in business people who lead teams and work in high-profile situations. Around them are casualties and conflict. Others see it in them but they don’t get it. Often they get to positions of power and still don’t get it. Till some big event happens and they hit a crisis that forces them to look at themselves.

Enjoying your work

Why is it so important for me to choose work that I enjoy?

Recently I have been talking with someone about why I do what I do and why it is important to enjoy it. We had been talking about whether one could ever be genuinely altruistic or whether there is always an element of self-interest in what we do for others. For my colleague, he felt there were times when one can be selfless but was aware that he worked to help others because he enjoyed it.

This got me thinking about how important it was to get some satisfaction from what I do, even though I am also clear that I work ethically, as an act of service to others. As coaches, we often talk about putting the ego on one side in the service of others. That makes big sense to me. This links up with an approach to life that I hold dear. This is where I seek as far as is possible in any moment to not get caught up in my “sweaty ego”, my small self, where I do not serve myself well. This refers to getting caught up in my old patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving where I might get stuck. I was trained to be aware of and “bracket off” any ego stuff.

Yet there is still an element of personal involvement in helping others that I think is vitally important. And it goes like this:

I think it is very important to enjoy helping others. One, it is a great activity, which I find hugely rewarding in an intrinsic way, for its own sake. When as a result someone achieves something they really want in their life, I get a buzz. Second, the act of helping is a giving of oneself, done in my case because I care. I feel strongly about it. I’ve made a big commitment to it. This is not just something ethical, and that plays a big part. It is also an opening of the heart in the cause of one’s fellow humans.

My take on this is that service to another is also service to oneself, not the “sweaty little ego”, but the true Self of all. Here I am referring to something nobler within us, not just in me but also in that person I work with. This where potentially we are one. This is where helping others is done in the purest of motives.

This is a way of living, not just in helping others. Enjoying what I do is en-joying, connecting with my own inner joy, my essence, and being present with that as I go about my life. Some call it “being centred” or “in the zone”.

Many of us have got into work to earn a living, support a family, pay a mortgage, fund a standard of living, and finance a lifestyle. Then something happens to them, some change occurs, they loose their job, they suddenly – literally sometimes – get sick of their job or the stress and then they start to question why they are doing what they are doing and wonder how they can have something different. A great start is with the question: what would you love to do?

Do you do work that doesn’t interest you, or which you’ve grown tired of. Do you want to change it for something that holds an interest for you, which you could enjoy doing, which could enable you to be who you really are?

Where the mind goes, the energy flows

These last few days I’ve been delivering some workshops in London, which involved a short tube journey from my accommodation to the venue. The last morning I came downstairs for breakfast at the agreed time to find that the breakfast room was in darkness, with the shutters closed and nothing laid out. I waited some minutes and noticed my agitation rising. “This will delay me”, I thought. Eventually I went and called up the people in charge and got my breakfast.

Then, when I got to the tube station, the train was delayed. Again I noticed my state of mind and this time found I was thinking that the longer I waited the more the station would fill up, the more crowded the train would be and the later I would get to my destination. Eventually I got a train on another route and then found myself thinking the change I’d need to make would lead to more crowded trains and so on.

At some point in this internal dialogue I began to get a grip. “Stop”, I told myself. “My train will have plenty of room, there is plenty of time and I will get there in time. I am flowing calmly, easily and effortlessly through the mass of people”. And so it was, even to getting there 10 minutes earlier than before!

This process is one I am familiar with. I find that what I think comes about, provided my intention is clear, I sustain the intention and my on-going thoughts are supportive of that intention. And provided that I let go of being attached to it happening, eg. letting go of worrying that it won’t happen. If, by contrast I get embroiled in some negative self-talk, events follow in train with that internal conversation.

It’s not an easy process and requires will and effort to sustain. But training the mind has great benefits. What is crucial is to stop the negative flow. Almost literally to drop them. Learning to drop them takes practice, as does re-framing the thoughts so as to fufill the desired outcome.

We have that power. Studies of the brain have shown that changing thought patterns lead to the old neural pathways withering away, while new ones become established in their place. The power of the mind is hugely creative.

So what do you find happens to your mind if you let it “do its own thing”? How easy do you find it to shift your thinking into something preferable? How do you feel about changing your thinking and letting a positive energy flow through your life?

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