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Do you view adversity as a failure and not as a learning?

People can experience setbacks and adversity as failure and then compare themselves negatively with “successful people”. They can therefore miss the learnings and the benefits to them of the setbacks and hardships they encounter. It is often said that the successful entrepreneur is viewed from the perspective of their success story, not the reversals and financial disasters along the way. Someone whose has had a serious accident or illness and had to give on their dream in consequence may look back with regret, but not necessarily see what they’ve gained from their life so far. Yet there are those too who recover from the setback and build something new, maybe more satisfying to them than the old.

This is where we can get attached to a particular view of life that for it to be working out OK everything has to go according to plan and we must be achieving our goals. Then when those goals get frustrated or they don’t work out as we thought they would, somehow we’re disillusioned, disappointed or frustrated. The danger then can be to slide into a state of negativity, view life henceforth pessimistically and expect poor outcomes.

This is about the perspective we take and the assumptions we make. What can get missed is that those very setbacks, as we see them, actually might contain important lessons. Maybe we were too attached to the goal. Maybe we were going about it in ways that were harmful. Maybe they weren’t actually the goals that would best serve our higher purpose. Maybe we needed adversity to teach us something about ourselves and about life. Maybe we needed more humility. Maybe we’d become too arrogant or selfish or inconsiderate of others. Maybe we were just too driven and needed to slow down. Maybe now we need to see the finer things in life, that might come for example in what happens every moment, and the ultimately really important things like how we love, the company we keep, our family, or whatever it actually is that we need for our fulfillment in life.

It might be that adversity teaches you or me surrender, letting go and acceptance of what is. As John Lennon famously wrote,  “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. We can miss what’s right in front of our eyes and in the moment. There’s an old saying that it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. How you show up, moment by moment.

Adversity can strengthen us and help us gain greater understanding of ourselves and others. It can get us to reassess our values and bring us closer to what really matters for us.

It’s when we need to pause, breathe, let go and be in the moment. Is this what your life is really about?

I coach people on their direction and their goals. Click here

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Being in integrity means facing our own demons

How often has something not worked out for you in relation to another because of an issue with being in integrity? For example, how much do you find you aren’t fully trusting of another and where they are coming from, or for that matter they with you? Do you find you aren’t always fully consistent yourself and maybe don’t always show up quite as you think you ought. A useful test can be how you feel, like a certain discomfort, guilt or even shame.

In transactions with another, often key to a successful outcome is the level of trust that exists. A key part of trust is often the integrity of each. We can get ourselves into all sorts of knots over this. There’s the matter of being true to our values. Then there’s the whole thing about honesty, and whether we quite mean what we say. Sometimes, to get ourselves out of a tricky situation or to get what we want we might make compromises. Then we run the risk of being exposed at some point, or simply having to face up to our own breach of our code. That is of course, if you have one!

It’s a  big issue in public life of course right now, with levels of trust in for example politicians, bankers, journalists and estate agents being particularly bad. In the UK it’s currently really bad for politicians right now, and probably elsewhere too, where apparently a half of Britons think they put their own interests first. However, this also applies to attitudes to different elements of our communities, since there’s also marked distrust of for example immigrants and welfare dependents. Such distrust can also mirror life for ourselves, where in difficult times our trust in others shrinks.

It can be useful however to look to ourselves too. How much does my distrust of others mirror a lack of integrity in myself? In terms of the concept of the Shadow, distrust of others can be a projection. It challenges us to look within and see just how much we are who we say we are. Is there a grain of truth here?

Integrity has three main meanings, according to the OED. It can mean being of  sound moral principles, such as honesty. It can also mean being whole or complete. Thirdly it can mean sound and uncorrupted. Werner Erhard used to articulate a fascinating application, effectively, are you true to your word, are you who you say you are? His call to people was to clean up their act and be authentic.

This really takes us inside to look at where we don’t always show up, where we compromise our values, and create murky situations and leave devastation in our wake. How often do you get into being principled for example, and then cut someone up while driving? It’s easy to preach about others, and not so easy to see it in ourselves. As Christ said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, and also first cast out the beam from your own eye before removing the speck from another (he was a carpenter).

It’s very human. We can at one moment feel very pure and whole, and then the next get challenged by something that compromises our values. The universe test us: make a stand for something, and you’ll get tested. Thus it’s so often an ongoing journey and along the way learning more of humility and acknowledging our own tendencies to not always get it as we’d like.

However, in the process we become more authentic and more open to ourselves and to knowing all of ourselves, warts and all. Not for nothing do many spiritual teachers from many traditions teach of purification, of gradually weeding out these tendencies we have to contradict our thoughts, words and deeds.

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Fear of being selfish can limit what’s possible for us

Recently someone told me that she was brought up not to be assertive about what she wanted because that would be selfish. She was taught that “others came first”. In the “me first” society of today that might sound strange and anachronistic. Yet in other cultures, and in parts of Western culture too, it is not uncommon, particularly in older age-groups. Parental and societal rules or injunctions can be introjected by a child and absorbed as their own belief unquestioningly, such that when they are older they hesitate to take a course of action for fear of how they think others might react, or their own sense of guilt at possibly breaking such an injunction to observe what others think is good behaviour. The belief then limits their choices and their ability to advance their own needs effectively and they suffer as a result.

To be selfish is to place one’s own needs well above those of others, or to act in such a way that it negates those other needs. Like many such ethical choices, there are different interpretations of what is selfish. What would be OK with one person might be deemed selfish by another. There may be a collective view of what it means, and then there may be personal ones. The difficulty for some  individuals is that they may limit themselves through an interpretation of selfishness that most others wouldn’t be bothered by. Thus it won’t necessarily serve them.

Unfortunately others can then take advantage of this. It can leave one open to manipulation. Thus if one felt guilty about doing something or was worried about what others might think then those less scrupulous others may then assert their needs at one’s expense. This is often the danger for those who are less assertive or confident, for example.

This is is a good example of where a shift towards personal responsibility and accountability and towards developing self-belief pays dividends. When we identify and shake ourselves loose of limiting beliefs we adopted when very young, we become more able to choose our own beliefs rather than live purely by those of others, and live by values that express who we are. Then we can still act in ways that respect others and their needs but also respect our own too and make choices that can be a win-win, rather than the “they win-I lose” of non-assertiveness. We can be aware of when we feel guilty, recognise where that came from and choose to let it go. Guilt is a messy set of emotions often involving these introjects or out-moded rules and judgements that we took on board and which don’t serve us.

Rather than the word selfishness we can instead hold to the value of respect, where we both value ourselves and others as equally special beings, all God’s creatures and all wonderful. Thus when we approach a decision that affects others a more liberating perspective might be to think of what serves both you and me and all of us, where we all deserve value and respect. Thus we value ourselves and others too.

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Are you really who you say you are?

We have a saying in personal development that when we make a stand on something we’ll get challenged on it. One area this can particularly seem to be so is in our values. “Are you really who you say you are?” might be the question others have in their minds. Thus it’s noticeable how much we can get invested in challenging people’s integrity, exposing the hypocrisy of their expressed beliefs when compared with their actions, or questioning the acceptability of their actions against some perceived higher standard.

There’s a TV programme running at the moment, presented by Stephen Fry, in which various acted scenarios  are presented to unwitting participants to challenge their ethics on particular issues. One was where a racist waiter challenged in subtle and then less subtle ways a multi-ethnic couple having dinner. The other diners gradually get wind of what is going on and, in some places protest or in others vote with their feet. It makes good TV, and yet we can also ask ourselves the same sorts of questions that this programme does, how do we show up when our values get challenged? Do we stand by them, or do we compromise in some way and “pass by on the other side” as certain people did in the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan that Christ told (Luke, 10:32), until the Samaritan had compassion on the injured man?

It’s when the going gets tough that this is particularly relevant, how you show up, are you who you say you are? This is when our courage gets tested, when we put ourselves on the line, and stand by what we believe. This isn’t so easy and other facets of us can come out. One way of looking at this is to regard the self as having different parts to it, like sub-personalities or ego styles. Jung talks of the persona and shadow. The shadow part of us might be seen as that which we disown but project on to others. So it’s others who have these unacceptable characteristics that challenge our values, not us. Yet, when the chips are down, these other characteristics can come out. I’ve always been struck at how nice and loving people can be with one another until our material or financial interests get involved. It can be scary. Look at how families fall out over wills of a deceased parent, and fight like demons. When we bought a French property once, we went as one does to the notaire to finalise things and witnessed a one sibling violently and passionately accuse another of being a voleur. It can be very sad too.

There’s something in all this of course about coming to accept and forgive these different parts of ourselves. Yet there’s also the matter of knowing who we are, the value of being self aware, and how we can be in certain situations. Then we can conduct self enquiry and explore our motives and our values, challenge that within us that doesn’t serve us, deal with the less savoury parts of ourselves, and achieve greater consistency between our beliefs and our actions. Thus we can have more integrity, and thus authenticity, and be who we really are.

That way lies inner peace.

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At what cost do you violate your personal integrity?

What price one’s personal integrity? On the day that a UK MP and his wife are up for sentencing for lying (pun not intended: price…Pryce?!), it’s another of those times to reflect on what we mean by integrity and how important it is to us.

The immediate case in mind is that an MP and his wife lied about a driving offence, the MP, a former government minister, claiming it was his wife who was driving, only to be shopped later when his estranged wife, who subsequently claimed marital coercion, told the press it was a lie. It seems a terrible thing when one’s dishonesty and lack of integrity is so publicly exposed and one’s reputation so utterly ruined.

We might all experience some level of sharing in the shame experienced, such can be the reminder for ourselves. How much have each of us met times when we’ve been in a compromising or potentially compromising situation, where our beliefs clash with a choice for action that might contradict those beliefs? There’s the temptation: we could go for what we want, but then our conscience kicks in, that vital element of self-control, and we pause and then choose not to act. We’d be being dishonest with ourselves if we don’t acknowledge to ourselves that we experience these times. And some of us, perhaps many, go further and take the compromising action.

Maybe we some of us or many of us aren’t so constrained by moral scruple. There are of course those who are so pure, as traditional teaching would have it, that they are always guided by ethical principle. Whole belief systems and religions have been built round such thinking. Not for nothing do we have concepts like sin, judgement and punishment. Many of us can be so influenced by a sense of guilt, that we beat ourselves up even when we haven’t done anything!

If you look up “integrity” in the dictionary, it talks about both uprightness, sincerity and honesty but also consistency of belief and practice. So there’s the reminder there in the term of practicing what you preach. And as many a spiritual seeker has done, there is the “soul-searching”, where we examine our own motives and actions and see whether we match up by our actions to who we say we are.

It’s an incredibly important area. There’s the aspect of how we manage our own conduct, and the choices we make. Than there’s also the views others take of us. In the first, how truthful are we, and how consistent are we? In the second, do others find dishonesty and lack of consistency, and judge accordingly. So powerful is the concept of integrity, that we can find huge adverse publicity attending on our failure to lives up to not only our own but also social standards of integrity.

So, we will see how Messrs Huhne and Pryce fare under public scrutiny for their lapse of integrity. And we could all use this time to reflect on the degrees to which we measure up to our own integrity.

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In questioning our values we are calling time on what’s not working

Interesting that Stephen Hestor has spoken today of the “selfish and self-serving” culture in banking that needs to be eradicated not just from his bank, RBS who have just been fined £390m for manipulating the LIBOR rate, but also right across the industry. This time right now is one of those defining moments when we as a society take a hard look at what has been going on within it over the last few decades, not just to the time just before the crash of 2008, but over an era stretching back arguably to the political and economic philosophy represented by the Thatcher and Regan era. Such an outlook that made legitimate the behind-the-scenes dishonest fixing of the LIBOR rate begs questions about our values as a society, indeed about the whole moral outlook of a generation.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “selfish” as “concerned chiefly with one’s own advantage or welfare to the exclusion of regard for others, deficient in consideration for others; actuated by or appealing to self-interest”. Presumably in the case of banking culture, certain individuals and groups behaved in ways that showed insufficient regard for say the reputation and integrity of the bank they worked for, the wider customers whose money at some level they were responsible for, and the society in which they lived. Balancing having regard for self compared with consideration for the needs of others is often a balance we all have to manage as social beings. “Selfishness” as a term of course begs a question since it implies a moral judgement, and it is such a judgement we apply to manage our actions. Some might for example put a higher premium on their own interest compared with others and others might or might not have a view about that.

What is so serious here is that such a striking of a balance came at the enormous cost of the destruction of the trust and integrity of a whole banking system on which so many people’s livelihoods are directly and indirectly linked.

I wrote that this is one of those defining moments in history, since it has obvious that writers, journalists and speakers of many hues are now calling time on the philosophy of the untrammelled free market that emerged in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Often with these big changes in social thinking is that it can take time to become really apparent and for new ideas to emerge, and the ongoing crisis of the current recession provides one of those “cooking pot” situations in which the pressure of crisis forces new ideas out of the confusion: “before clarity we have confusion”. Interesting therefore that one party in the UK, the Conservatives, are in the process of tearing themselves apart as these contradictions strike home. If a predominant philosophy is no longer “OK”, then what are we for?

As was recently pointed out in this blog, students of values have been pointing out a “dysfunction” between commonly held values in the UK and those of its leaders. At large people place a stronger emphasis on caring, integrity, compassion and other values that emphasise thought for others. Yet this is not how we are being led. Even just now a former Cabinet minister is on trial for perverting the course of justice, basically by lying. It’s like the glues of trust in civic life are being dangerously weakened, and yet even now out of confusion can come clarity and just perhaps there is emerging a new paradigm whereby the values of the Whole, the One, can be more vigorously asserted. Thus this is a very important time to be looking anew for example at what we mean by “selfish-ness” and “selfless-ness”.


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Are our values at odds with those around us?

It can often seem as though our own values are out of step with those around us. This could include a feeling that in the place where we work the senior managers don’t seem to think the same way, or the culture there isn’t what we ourselves might value. Then the community in which we live might not live quite according to our own ways. Or that the overall culture in which we live is somehow out of step with our own. I read in the news today for example of how a Muslim family felt compelled to move out of what seemed like a “nice” village due to racist attacks, and that the government are forcing through benefit changes that are going to bring about local tax increases for the poorest people of around 10%.

Is this what our society is becoming? However not is all as it seems.

I was fascinated to read recently that the UK has a “values dysfunction” that is higher than other countries in a study made of certain countries’ values. Very many people value things like meaningful relationships and integrity, holding values like “caring, family, honesty, humour and fun, friendship, fairness and compassion, as well as independence, respect and trust”. Yet they do not see their leaders as embodying those values, and national values are seen as being bureaucratic, corrupt, blame-oriented, conflict-prone, etc. It seems that the political elite is out of step with the population it seeks to govern, and that there’s a gap in accountability. Not new, you might think. And I wondered how much readers in other countries might actually think similar things of their own leadership today!

Richard Barrett, who is the driving force behind the study referred to above, says: “Our leaders need to show us the way. They need to become role models of values-driven leadership and they need to show us that they exercise care and compassion for the needs of the elderly and disadvantaged.”

So, when there appears to be a growing gap between different people in society as this recession continues, all is not as it seems. Rather, it might be argued, these values endure and that what we have at present is a crisis of fear. This is what can drive people apart and make knee-jerk responses that can be harmful for others and yet not actually reflect their underlying values. It is that mismatch that can be worth reflecting on, how much do we let our values be sidelined under pressure and allow out our inner demons instead.


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To mean what you say and say what you mean

Honesty, sincerity and integrity are things many of us say we espouse, but how much do we do it in practice? It’s a useful test: do you mean what you say and say what you mean? So, you might ask yourself, “Do I show up? Am I who I say I am? Do I do what I say I will do?” No doubt many of us can think of people and situations where statements aren’t matched by actions.

Most often people immediately mention politicians or bosses past and present, and can readily itemise various betrayals. Think of the rousing meetings where your leaders and managers have told of all sorts of exciting things that are going to happen and how we will live according to inspiring values, and then the next day what you’re doing is closed down and you are wheeled in to be made redundant.These things leave a sour taste in the mouth. Then you think back to the boy or girlfriend with whom you were much in love and how you had that really romantic weekend togther, and then they announce they are seeing someone else and you’re dumped. Or when your wonderful father (or mother) walked out on the family and shattered a childhood illusion.

It’s not so comfortable when it gets closer to home and we think of our own inconsistencies. When do I find myself not standing by what I believe? Many of us have probably found ourselves backing down when faced by the realities or when compromising. Where it gets less easy is when we behave in ways that impact others adversely and that contradict what we said before. You might think for example of where a friend was having some trouble and you didn’t speak up for them or come to their aid or be a support. Or where someone has asked you for help and you’ve remained silent, not answered calls or emails and just been invisible. Or when you’ve been indirect and not spoken up and been truthful and said how things really are. Soaps’ plot lines are full of this. It’s worth thinking of all those people who aren’t open and honest and are devious. We know what it’s like to be on the receiving end, but it’s not so easy when it’s us who need to act, but don’t or who are indirect.

The difficulty with moralising like this is that as humans we find it difficult to match principle with practice, and the actualities of life somehow push aside what we have previously asserted so enthusiastically. We might of course just get cynical and say that as humans we’re flawed anyway, more of this “orgininal sin” stuff perhaps in another form, except that somehow that doesn’t do it either because we’re not really happy with that inside either. Somehow we want these positive principles to work and we, many of us find ourselves once again trying to realise it, maybe at least tempered by experience and more cautious about what we insist upon.

Yet one big principle of personal development in all this is the really basic question of whether our behaviour is really serving us. In the end, do we feel at one with ourself and the world and at peace? Because where we aren’t honest and truthful and true with others, we’re probably also not being true with ourselves. There’s a moral contradiction within us. Thus people who choose to work on this then decide to “clean up their act” and go and own to their inconsistencies, apologise to those they’ve wronged, admit to where they don’t show up, and choose in the future to live according to the values they honestly believe in. Then integrity really means what it says, and we feel complete and truthful in ourselves and  more really aligned with Who we really Are.

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Where our values don’t translate into action

As this recession (really a depression) in the UK grinds on, the tolerances that were initially retained post-2008 seem to be breaking down and I wonder if we’re moving to a period where we need, where we really need, to take a good look at our values and what we want as a society.

I’ve been noticing how people have been struggling individually in the face of what for the vast majority of us is an unprecedented contraction in the economy. I say contracting, although on the face of it we seem to be “flat-lining”, in other words bumping along with no real growth, and every now and again a “dip down” followed by a “flip up”. Yet, we’ve not recovered back to pre-Lehman’s levels of production and so are technically in depression. Furthermore, businesses are struggling, as we can see with low consumer spending and retail bankruptcies. People are experiencing repeated redundancy and job insecurity. Their living standards continue to contract, as real wages fall.

At the micro level, there is that depression mentality seen in the 1930’s, hang on to your job, cut back, stick it out. There’s a grim endurance, rather typical of the British spirit under pressure. Yet this ties in also with “don’t worry too much about your neighbour”. For them, it might be for example foreclosures (eg. repossession) and the threat of homelessness. Food banks are apparently struggling under the huge pressure of demand. The state meanwhile seems persuaded that people on hard times are really scroungers and they should, in Tebbit’s infamous early ’80’s words, “get on your bike” and get work. So the support being given is being pulled back. Talk to people in the voluntary sector and they’ll tell you that a massive crisis is about to hit a whole chunk of the population, both working and out of work, as benefits are pulled back.

At the macro level, politicians want to pull out of the EU, and others want to pull out of the UK union. They seek to curb immigration, and thus hinder the import of specialised skills on which hard pressed manufacturing depends since we don’t have it here. The prevalent phrase is “austerity”, a reminder of the balanced budget obsession of Chancellor Snowden in the 1930’s. Where, one might ask, is the inspiring vision that might take us out of this?

It feels like the free-market philosophy on which a whole political dispensation was created in the 1980’s is coming home to roost. The “me-first” outlook of Thatcher’s Children, in political generation terms as characterised by our current leaders, is being confronted by the realities of power that stir up forces that don’t fit the now-expiring vision. Socialism as an alternative seemingly died with the fall of the Berlin Wall. A new one needs to be formed, and will no doubt form itself as a result of the experiences of these times.

I hope that as it does, we move on from the “me first” outlook and start to become more compassionate and caring towards those less fortunate than ourselves. Alex Salmond, forever cleverly upstaging Westminster politicians, has promised a constitutional right to a home, for example, in his Brave New independent Scotland. In much of the UK we have a housing crisis, and he’s hit the nail on the head. In this age, knowing what we know, it should not be that people have no support if they find themselves homeless. There’s been a lot of focus in recent years on things like human rights and respect, to take two examples one from politics and the other from many a business values statement, and yet this does not translate into compassion and support for our fellow humans. Running alongside such statements is a prevailing selfishness in our society, where individualism clashes with social need, epitomised for so many people by the behaviour of investment bankers leading up to the Lehmans crash of 2008.

So, it is worth checking out for yourself. How do you respond when you next walk past a beggar in the street? And just think what lies behind that situation and the history and life issues that has perhaps brought that person to that point, and reflect on your own values and beliefs and what part they play too. Because at one level we are all One, and that person begging is me too.

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When our values can put us on the spot

Do you recognise occasions where you are asked to make a choice and you find yourself hesitating about what is the right course of action? It can even seem like you are “put on the spot”, seemingly being asked to choose to do or say something that doesn’t sit right with you, or by contrast something where there’s a stirring within you that this course of action you are contemplating is totally who you are and what you are about. These are occasions when we are contronted with our values, with an ethical choice, one that can even strike at the core of our values.

By “right” I mean of course my values, although these might also coincide with societal, religious or other collective values for some people. I have written about the issues that can be involved with “being right” before in this blog, although not so much from the personal values angle.

Just recently I have been sharing with a group I belong to an ethical dilemma I had come across and, without going into the detail, what I was struck by, as so often can be the case, was how multi-layered questions of ethics can be. Most of the group came back with a “I don’t see a problem here” response, which, as can so often be the case in groups when I work humanistically, left me asking what this might be about for me. Now in case you’re curious, the point I’d like to make about these kinds of choices is that it can be useful in self awareness terms to explore the layers of the matter.

There might for example be a point of principle at stake. Do I take a course of action to serve a need I have, or do I hold back because the action would, let’s say, lead to a clash with a strongly held value? We’re being presented with these choices all over the place. Do I agree with planting GM crops because the world has a upcoming food crisis and I need bread or do I refuse my consent because of certain perceived disadvantages of these crops? Do I agree with the state regulation of psychotherapy because it will better protect clients or do I oppose it because what is being proposed is excessive state regulation of very personal matters?

Then there might be a matter that goes closer to the bone. Let’s say I’m asked to stand up in public and talk about what I do, but since what I do can be quite close and personal, might I refuse to be so self-disclosing? I might feel it puts me in a vulnerable position, yet I might present my response both to others and, importantly, to myself, as a matter of values around inappropriate disclosure of confidential work. On the face of it, I might feel justified, and yet in all honesty there might be more to it than that.

In the last example, it is worth exploring whether there’s a personal, let’s say ego-related way, that values overlap with our stuff. Here, I might actually be using my values to mask, even to myself, the real reason for my objection, that I’m feeling vulnerable. And in this case, vulnerability can be a useful awareness in that it flags up to me where I’m not safe  in a situation, and then also it might not actually serve me because the motivation might be let’s say lack of self belief, a sense of unworthiness, etc. This could be a fear boundary where I might instead experiment with pushing through and letting go of resistance.

However, the values choice might also be one that is so strongly adhered to that, even setting aside the layers that might be ego-led, I might still strongly feel worth keeping to. And then I might also question whether this value is really serving me in this situation, or whether I’m actually preventing myself from some new possibility, some new set of experiences, ones that might open up a whole new world. We can be prisoners of our values too, and they may be outmoded in some way.

In a way, such choices can call us again to look anew at who we really are, and who we say we really are.