Absolutes. Non-Absolutes. Truth. Love.

Today I spent an hour with a trans person. I am not sure whether they were transitioning, or intersex. No matter.

They were learning a new job, and I was the “guinea pig”. So we sat together for a while, and I watched them work. They were tentative, as to be expected, but I caught a few subtle glances, and I realised I was being watched, not just by them but by their supervisor, who was coaching them as they learned on the job. I guess, thinking back, that the learning might have been more than the skills for the job – it may, perhaps, also have been about how an openly trans person would be received. They got things done, and off we both went to our next project.

On the bus into town, I was thinking about this brief encounter. It changed me. I live in a world that used to be black and white but is increasingly grey as previously hidden or suppressed voices are finding their courage and their place. There are pockets of black and white, right and wrong, but they are less pervasive. This, I think, is a good thing. Very few things are worthy of absolutes.

But, that said, some things are. So this was a moment for me, of reality confronting ideas. Let me explain – and this is not a post about trans people. it is a post about truth. And love. I am not a philosopher, not even close. Every time I am tempted to think I am a disciplined thinker along comes someone light years ahead of me to remind me that I am not.

Christians, especially our dear religious caricatures in the U.S.A., and the odd cult here in NZ, trade in absolutes. It’s right, or it’s wrong. More usually, I’M right and YOU are wrong. In a nutshell, this is why a faith built on love, kindness, and sacrifice, is so despised. Even some denominations, self-praising their magnanimity, will find, underneath their facade of tolerance, an intolerance of those unlike them. An intolerance of intolerance, if you will.

I am a Christian. Not just any Christian, either. I’m one of those “sola scripture” ones, you know, the ones that really, really believe the Bible even if it makes them unpopular. The ones that reject other influences on their faith as far as possible (no-one is perfect, neither me nor those other influences, so why muddy the waters?) – things like tradition, and the writings of others (especially where those writings are clearly not in line with scripture, no matter how well threaded together the arguments are)

No apology, that is just how it is for me.

What does this have to do with our chance meeting this morning? Well, quite a bit. I was thinking about our two worlds, and how they are “supposed” to clash. My “religious bigotry” vs their gender fluidity. My black and white, vs their grey. And yet there was no clash. No fear of what was different. No judging. No questions. No offense.

Except I am not a religious bigot, as far as I know. My faith is not founded on “I’m right, and you are wrong”. Not terrified of different. Not uncomfortable, even, in the presence of different. I want to offer you something if your experiences have taught you that that is how it is likely to be. To all my many non-Christian readers, I want to offer you this.

Believing the Bible, completely, and accepting it as the truth for all life and living, does not make a person unkind, or exclusive, or unloving. Or intolerant, or judgemental, or biased. Or a bigot, a racist or a chauvinist.

Really REALLY believing the Bible, guides us towards kindness, gentleness, inclusivity, and love. Towards, hope, and well-wishing, and interest, and curiosity. Not idle, gossipy curiosity, but humble, teachable curiosity. Not like a “magnanimous” person dispensing “niceness” from a self-proclaimed pedestal of righteousness, either, but like a servant, a friend, a student, a co-exister.

A fellow traveller on life’s sometimes very rocky road, with its valleys of evil and death, disappointment and hurt. And mountain tops of joy. Sometimes we can’t read the map either. And if our faith makes us anything but humble, selfless and kind co-travellers, we are doing it wrong.

Feel free to hold us all to account. And feel free to quote me. 🙂

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Me and American Politics.

This is pretty long. No apologies, read or do not read, as you wish. It’s a sort of a “mea culpa”, and also a challenge to myself and others. I’m OK with that apparent contradiction.

My interest in American politics has been quite a polarising thing amongst my friends (and family). Some of my opinions appear to be anti-Republican, which brings out the worst in my dear Republican friends, and their many friends, who do not know me but assume, usually incorrectly that I am anti-Republican and that I am judging them. Their very vociferous name-calling and abuse is centred on my apparent disagreement with their political position (and occasionally with my errors).

For the record, I lean towards neither Republican nor Democrat. It is unacceptable for me to be one or the other because I am not politically interested in either standpoint. Both are inadequate. I have no interest in winning any debates (true, but probably surprising. If that makes me a troll to some, so be it), I do not particularly care who is right or wrong, right or left. I am not “political”. I am reminded of Bertrand Russell’s sardonic but insightful comment that “War does not determine who is right, only who is left” In a slightly less “final” way, political disagreement will also never reveal who is right. It will simply reveal what motivates people and what their core values are. This is where my interest lies.

My hope is – always and only – to draw fellow believers to a closer examination of whether their political views, and comments and positions taken up publicly are aligned and synergistic with the Scripture we share and claim to be subject to.

Let me be clear, my interest in American politics has nothing to do with my position on any political spectrum. I simply do not have one. On any particular issue, it is possible to say I resemble a democrat, or a republican, but I think independently and here in New Zealand, I am neither national or labour, but my perspectives can at times and on specific issues resemble either. And both. And neither.

I have one compass, and one North Star that guides me. The Word of God. I am not perfect, and so my perspectives are an approximation of what I can see and understand of Scripture. And in this regard, I am simply it’s servant, not its self-appointed protector. Some may say “So what?” and they might be right. But others may say “It’s important that someone asks questions, and it’s OK that you do that.” They might also be right.

My conscience, and my position as a Christian, leaves me with no choice, in this sense only. If someone who calls themselves a Christian makes public choices or takes up a public moral – even an intellectual – position that does not resonate with Scripture (as I understand it), I want to debate this for a number of reasons, and if I do not agree with it after careful consideration, I WILL call it. As a Christian, I have a responsibility to be my best self, and (as accurately as I can), represent Christ and to call others to their best selves in their own walk:

– One, I am flawed and being exposed to other perspectives and being shown how and why they accord more with scripture than mine, is fundamental to my growth and spiritual maturity. Not only do I test preachers and teachers as per the Bible’s clear instruction, but I test myself regularly as well!
– Two, the other person is also flawed, and I expect the same rigour from them as they journey towards Christlike-ness. This is Biblical, as I understand it.
– Three, each of our perspectives has an impact on the world around us, as we touch those close to us with our thoughts and actions. With Facebook, Twitter and the like, our reach is exponential. It is unthinkable that the opinion of the average Joe could reach the POTUS, or the Dalai Lama, or the Pope, but since anyone can tag or hashtag them, it is possible. Our opinions may not carry much weight, but they certainly have reach. And to some they DO have weight. We must therefore be considered.
– Fourth, Most people are driven by a desire for comfort, and an appeal to base emotion, less so than intellect or even their moral compass. In that regard I treasure and respect the discipline of philosophers who deny themselves comfort and rest as they seek truth. I wish that more Christians denied themselves similarly and searched as hard for truth. It would add deeper integrity to their perspectives.

So I am drawn to the American political situation for the following reasons, and no-one has to agree with me or even respect it.

– It has exposed a deep divide in the interpretation of scripture. The same Scripture that I read.
– It has exposed a deep challenge in the link between, or the division between “Church” and “State”.
– It has exposed parts of the Christian faith in America as a political tool for votes.
– It has exposed the political ideal of America (democracy) as a malleable tool where the vote is subject to the power of money and influence, and it is thus more an oligarchy than a democracy. There are hidden, manipulative power bases in American politics, which no doubt exist in every democracy, but they are increasingly and more unrepentantly and blatantly on display in America. Manipulation is, in my opinion, very very evil. Sadly it seems part of the church has taken up a role in this evil.
– It has exposed what appears to be a deep hypocrisy in the American Church (if we read the same scriptures) in that the pursuit of social power seems to have become an end in itself and they appear to have sacrificed scriptural integrity to attain this power.
– It has exposed the danger that Americans do not vote for their future but for their past, (I think Trump correctly called this as a key element in his victory) and in America’s past, the plight of the oppressed, the weak, the widow and orphan and the foreigner amongst them, were not regarded highly, were not protected and they were discriminated against and exploited. (to be fair, this is a universal condition, but we (I) do expect more of a culture and society that regards itself as iconic). My understanding of Scripture prevents me from ignoring this, where ever I find it.
– There appears to be idol worship in the Republican expression of faith, and it centres around the worship of the constitution – a man-made, and provably flawed document. Amendments to it are also worshipped, but have been shown to be flawed too! Idolatry is generally agreed to be somewhat “un-Christian”.
– It has introduced a ”the end justifies the means” mentality into the American expression of faith, where neither the end nor the means can be found in Scripture.

I seek to explore these ideas with Christians in America who differ from me. I do this because I love Scripture, and I love Truth. And I love compassion, and kindness, and gentleness, and generosity, and I EXPECT the same from Christians everywhere. Not just towards ones who are like them but to everyone and especially to the different, the disempowered, the weak. I expect differently from non-Christians as they do not subscribe to the same authority Christians do. I expect non-Christians to be the best they can be in their world view, and absolutely Christians do not have a monopoly on these good values. We do however share a common REASON and rallying cry for our values, and that is the Word of God.

So there. To repeat: My hope is – always and only – to draw fellow believers to a closer examination of whether their political views, and comments and positions taken up publicly are aligned and synergistic with the Scripture we share and claim to be subject to.

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Confrontation

Confrontation.

It’s what happens!

If you are breathing, you are probably in some kind of confrontation with someone somewhere.  A manager, a colleague, a competitor, a sports person, family member etc. If not today; then probably tomorrow or next week. Confrontation happens. Its life.

I myself am not confrontation averse, if fact, given the right environment, I relish it. That may come across wrong so it’s probably important to explain what that “right environment” is.

I believe in the concept of confrontation as vital to human growth and development. I do not seek out confrontation unnecessarily, but I am always willing to embrace the positives of what confrontation can achieve, if it happens in a healthy, mutually respectful environment. It’s the mutual respect bit that is important. In the trial of Steven Biko, the State Prosecutor was pushing for an admission that confrontation equals violence and conflict. Mr Biko’s response in the courtroom setting was “We are in confrontation now, but I see no violence here”.

Powerful, mature words.

In my lifetime, I have been a soldier, a lawyer, and an active citizen of a really broken, really hurting society. I have been on the safe side of a gun, and I have been staring down the barrel, a trigger click away from death. I have been forced to watch as vehicles burn and precious people I know, get killed, as Trade Unions used mob violence to make a point. I have comforted rape and abuse victims and people who have lost their homes to senseless violence and animosity. I am no stranger to conflict, and violence.

As a lawyer and an advisor, though, I have also seen civilised and intellectually driven confrontation where sometimes violently opposing ideas (The same ones the Trade Unions killed for) have been tested, argued, compared and resolved by reasonable humble people with not a raised voice or fist.

Being in confrontation is not often a matter of choice, but our attitude in confrontation is ALWAYS a choice. I believe we should only engage in confrontation when we and the other party can maintain a strong focus on coming out the other side better, wiser, more aware, more connected and more informed. If neither party is willing to do that, or only one party is willing to do that but the other is not, then confrontation will likely lead to unnecessary conflict.

This is simplified, of course, but the more I think about it, the more I think there are only two real approaches to confrontation, broadly speaking. The one is “feral”; the other “cultivated”, or at the very least, civilised.

Feral confrontation is instinct driven, fear driven, insecurity driven, and it is about self. Self-protection, self-justification, self-preservation. It is survival driven, and reflects something of a “poverty mentality” – the belief that there is not enough to go around and that winning and coming out on top, is the only way to guarantee survival. It’s usually about control, about needing to be right at the expense of someone or something else. The word feral comes from “fer” the Latin word for “wild beast”.

So, for me to win/eat/survive, something must lose/be eaten/die. Generally, it’s a world of opposites. Live or die. Win or Lose. Succeed or Fail. Me or You. it is evidence of a world view where “I’m right, and you are wrong” or “for me to be right, you have to be wrong” is the default setting, and that sometimes means that its proponents are unaccustomed to or oblivious to the concept of mutuality.

Its what children do.

Cultivated, or civilised confrontation is the kind of confrontation where two people can use their differences to become more self-aware, more empathic, more connected and more constructive as a result. The word “cultivated” does not, in this case, refer to the deliberate creation of confrontation, but rather to the style, sophistication, discipline and habits of those who engage in confrontation. It refers to the civility and mutual respect of the protagonists, and their ability to choose a response, choose behaviour aimed at the eventual good of each other, as opposed to succumbing to the instinct for personal victory and a win/lose outcome.

It’s a world of synergy, of mutuality. Of “and”, not “or”

Win and win. Live and live. Succeed and grow. Share and share alike.

Basically, and bluntly, it’s about being an adult.

 

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A Random Glimpse of Excellence

Yesterday I witnessed something beautiful and worthy of putting out there.

Life takes many turns and we all go through some difficult stuff at times, and there are no exceptions. But occasionally the gods of providence allow us to overhear something that restores our faith in each other, and we can look at the world with less jaundiced eyes.

This is no great, world-changing blog post, and the conversation that inspired it is not particularly world-changing either. But I am a firm believer in the little things, like conversations over coffee, so if you like little things that can make a difference, this one is for you.

So I was sitting having coffee with a friend, who stepped out to take a call. As a result of that, with my phone off, I was looking around, watching and listening to the random events happening around me. I overheard this (summarised and anonymised, of course)

I heard two business people talking about a difficult situation. One, a client seeking advice, and the other, what turned out to be a prospective service provider.

The client says “I’m having some difficulties with my existing service provider in the area of ___, they cannot deliver what I am asking for with the flexibility I need. Can you help?

The prospective service provider says “I can help, but please tell me more about the situation”

The client then details to the prospective provider what has happened, and the provider listens and then says “Listen, I could easily help you. But I feel like that would be professionally inappropriate. I am not in the business of taking bread from the table from a colleague in the same industry as I am. We are all people of integrity here and we all deserve professional courtesy. What goes around comes around. Can I discuss with you what I think could be a better way?

You need to talk to X if you haven’t already, and make sure X knows how you feel and what could happen. You need to show X the gap between expectations and reality. You need to be open and transparent with X. What I would rather do is come in for a short time and provide support and mentoring to help X. Then I will move on, and we will all be better off. You will have the service you need, I will have some income, and X has a chance to continue the relationship with you at the level you expect. If it doesn’t work out, we can obviously talk again.

The client said “Thank you, that would be a fantastic outcome. I was really at a loss how to handle this without being a bastard but I feel that this way will be the best outcome for everyone”.

A handshake later, someone’s relationship with their manager, and therefore their career was safe, and probably back on track. Because of one person, and their mindset of integrity and grace.

The reason this conversation blew me away was because I recently had the misfortune to witness the actions of a person who exemplified the exact opposite of what I saw. The example of that sad individual has stuck with me, and seeing the opposite, completely positive example, I could not help but be inspired.

In this scenario we saw a person act not out of greed, or personal power, or to fulfil their need for affirmation and recognition. We see kindness, empathy, integrity and a strong sense of self-worth. We do not see backstabbing, self-interest, narcissism, manipulation, or any of those other things people do to each other to get ahead.

Now that manager was thankfully advised wisely and shown “a better way”. He reached out for good advice, and he got it. Good solid, wise advice. He is better for it. THAT is where us HR people hold great power. We are influencers, guides, motivators and directors of energy and values. In this conversation, we saw a consultant (not HR, by the way) lead his client to a higher path, even at personal cost to himself. He deferred personal gain to make a real difference in an organisation, and in some individuals life, when he clearly held the power, in that moment, to create an opportunity for himself, but on the flip side, hell for X and their family.

That manager has built the values of his organisation up. He has associated with a positive role model, and he has taken his advice and will now influence corporate behaviour towards creating a higher values base. Equally, in reverse, if the consultant had acted selfishly, the organisation taking his advice would have been led away from its values base.

We can read about a companies values anytime we like, we just have to Google “Volkswagen” to see an astonishingly good corporate values statement, for example. what we cannot Google as easily, except when it surfaces in the headlines, is what companies BEHAVE like internally. Lets face it, we all know that values statements do not create values. Intentions do not create values. BEHAVIOUR creates values, and values are REVEALED by behaviour. Accurately, all the time. Google Volkswagen again, but add in the words “emissions fraud” and see what pops up.

Someone once wrote “Show me your checkbook and your diary, and I will tell you what your priorities are”. Ouch. But those two things do not lie, and they DO reveal exactly what is important to each of us. In the corporate sense, it is very right to say “Show me the behaviour you permit and reward, and I will tell you your true corporate values”

I look around me, I read the headlines,  and I see a world poisoned by narcissism and hate, by people seeking opportunities out of a sense of poverty, of fear, to gather resources towards themselves at the expense of others. And then, yesterday, I looked around me and I saw professionalism, integrity, kindness, generosity, wisdom, grace and humility.

It was a good day. And it made up – more than made up – for the time when I saw the opposite.

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The “Murmuration” of Change

I have to admit, I’m always a little surprised at the degree of confidence with which companies enter into change or realignment programs. The statistics clearly show that a huge proportion of change programs fail, either completely or at the very least partially. Despite this, most companies embark on change programs of one sort or another with very little regard to what will make them succeed. In New Zealand, especially, change programmes and restructurings are ubiquitous. They are everywhere, and all the time, and the stats are no different!

I have spent a great deal of time in my advisory capacity during change processes trying to get leaders to reassess the timeframes which they expect change to take place. I remember one change process but I was asked to do, where I was given a deadline of three months, over Christmas to completely realign an entire business – in fact, to merge two completely separate businesses and find them new offices. And fit out the new offices. And implement new logistics systems. And find a warehouse. And implement new warehousing software. And get rid of 40 people. When I spoke to the CEO about timeframes, he felt that he had assessed things correctly and that three months should be more than enough.

I promise you, this is true. I couldn’t dream this up.

Needless to say, 12 months later, and long after I left, the change process was still underway.

That’s just one example amongst many where the hubris of the executive team has been an important factor in the success or failure of business-critical transformation. I honestly believe that the two biggest success factors in any transformation process are the humility and patience of the CEO.

And by humility I don’t mean self-deprecation, or a lack of confidence. That’s not what humility is. Humility is, simply, seeing one’s self correctly. Neither underestimating one’s worth, nor over estimating one’s worth. And on the flipside of that neither underestimating the worth of others in relation to onesself, or over estimating the worth of others in relation to onesself. But a CEO or an executive team which remains distant from the change process is abdicating their critical role in its success. It’s not enough to deliver a resounding motivational speech about why, or to post up an impressive PowerPoint presentation on the process. Anyone can do that. Getting down and dirty will enable much clearer vision, much closer understandings and much better sensitivity to the fluidity of the process.

If you want to change your company, you can’t do it from the corner office.

And by patience, I mean the ability to move as fast as your slowest member, without losing inertia. We see this in nature all the time, and it’s surprising to me that we do not identify this dynamic as incredibly powerful in change management. Coming as I do from Africa, I have spent a great deal of time in the African wilderness, walking or driving near huge herds of animals – buffalo, elephant, wildebeest etc. Without fail the progress of the herd is determined by the speed and endurance of the youngest and the weakest. As a result, the journeys are planned for the safe arrival of the entire herd, not just the strong ones.

With elephants, the matriarch leads, but the second animal is always the young one. It’s for protection, and it’s for pace setting.

elephant-herd-silhouette-pics-351207

That is not to say that if we let the “slowest and weakest” in our corporate herd determine the pace, we will be doing a good thing. No doubt it is important to set a pace that will get the job done in a reasonable timeframe; and letting oneself be directed in that regard by outliers (whether weak, or strong!) is unacceptable. I would say that it is reasonable that in the change process there might be some casualties; or put another way, a process of culling, where people who are unwilling to change are presented with the ultimate choice – “come on board, or don’t come on board. Both choices will have consequences”. That is very OK, as not everyone HAS to make it through.

A leadership team invested in successful change will understand that they are trying to shift the direction of a large body of individuals. In a team made up of 150 employees for example, the change process should consider not just “the team”, but each individual member of the team. That is not to say that there will need to be 150 different change processes from companies point of view but without a doubt, there will not be just one. To some extent it’s possible to rely upon the dynamics of birds in flight (anyone remember the “murmuration of starlings” phenomenon?), where birds were described as behaving like “magnets in flight” – each bird affecting the behaviour of the 7 around it, to create an amazingly unified pattern of flight amongst many hundreds of birds.

amazing-starling-murmuration-displays-the-beauty-of-unity_750x260

But it is not possible to rely on this entirely, without making it a deliberate strategy, and that is a major factor in failed change processes. So in such a change process, I would suggest that the leadership team should understand that there might be 10-20 individual change processes that need to be deliberately embarked on in addition to the overall change process. These individual change processes would be targeted at key individuals who have high influence, both positive and negative, within the organisation. When they influence their immediate circle, the “murmuration” begins.

Like ants, who are trying to carry things that weigh many hundreds of times their weight, they work together to achieve the goal. They distribute the load, share the load, and get it done. The danger with hubris, is that a leader might believe that by decreeing change, or conducting a surface deep exercise, that they have done enough to initiate successful transformation. But the personality of a CEO is not sufficient to create change. Maybe for a Richard Branson or an Elon Musk, but most CEO’s are not them…

So it’s about paying attention, about getting help, about deliberately creating change agents whose influence one has nurtured and established in a positive way, or whose negative influence one has diminished or neutralized. About deliberately creating a “murmuration” using key influencers. And about making sure that the individual journeys of employees are respected and that resources are allocated to partner and assist.

 

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Being All There

It was very sobering realising that my choices and routines did not just set the rhythm and stability of my world, but that they equally  affected the rhythm and stability of every life that was intimately connected with mine. Especially those that were powerless and utterly dependent on me. Children especially, are as corks on the water – they go with the momentum of the family dynamic and learn that that is “just how it is”. The experiences they have, become their sense of what is “normal”. And that normal childhood, becomes their normal parenting, so the cycle perpetuates.

The rhythms we create and inculcate are very influential. They way it happens for our children, becomes “right” to them. They have nothing to compare it to, so whatever it is, is right to them. Even if it is not right at all. And usually, the rhythm that suits a busy executive, affects the family in an inverse correlation. The more stable and to their liking the routines are, the less those routines consider and accommodate family. Shocking, but true. I wonder how many of us default to a world that is comfortable or manageable for ourselves, and do not realise (God forbid we don’t actually even care) the impact that we are having around us.

So our partners get 3-5 hours a day, but they are not exclusively theirs. Until the kids are in bed, those hours were dominated with bathing, bickering, toy-picking-up (usually locating the Lego by standing on it etc) and such. Then we get some time, but its including chores and such – like tidying, or washing, or cleaning, or whatever.

Our kids get a maximum of 2-3 hours a day, and those hours are generally spend chasing them OUT of bed in the mornings, and chasing them INTO bed in the evenings! My own kids are a beautiful chaos, all 4 of them. And they take a lot of wrangling. And in my work mode, I would quickly revert to the Sergeant-Major parenting style where lots of things have to get done in a  specific time frame, and I was going to get the result I wanted, come hell or high water. Frequently that meant chasing kids around, stopping fights, keeping dinner times on track, and, eventually, but usually, losing my cool or becoming stressed.

My wife, watching her man at home, saw nothing of the smooth calm professional who got his work done on time and solved problems left, right and centre; influencing outcomes, and designing systems and processes to get things done smoothly and simply. She saw a time poor, stressed and tired person who just wasn’t coping with a 16 hour nonstop day – from 07h00 to 23h00 every day, kids, work, kids, wife, sleep. And repeat.

Where was the “win” for my wife; for my kids? Looking back, I can’t see one. Sure there were beautiful moments, but what must it be like to be always the partner of a tired, stressed workaholic? And to be the child of a guy like that? It has taken me time and effort to look at the world I created for them, from THEIR perspective. Not just imagining it – that is too quick and too easy cheap a substitute for real understanding. It cheapens their needs, to pretend it can be understood through “imagining” or guesswork. To imagine something is not to know it, it is just to fake empathy and paint in broad brush strokes where a pinpoint accuracy is in fact needed. Empathy costs, and it hurts. It has to, or its not empathy.

We need to empathise. Actually to cease embracing the self-centric perspective on the world we live in (and force them to live in too), and KNOW their world. FEEL it; and connect with it through their eyes, and emotions. What does that mean? Perhaps an illustration from a book on marriage that I once read: When getting married, it is not enough to know what your partner needs. It is not enough, even, to UNDERSTAND what your partner needs. It is not even enough, apparently to make your partners needs “as important as your own”. (The competition for time and energy still exists, eventually forcing damaging choices between their priorities and ours).

Apparently, the key to forming a new team where both parties are completely on the same page, is to make your partners needs, your own. Her needs, ARE your needs. His needs, ARE your needs. Challenging stuff, and I do not speak as an expert!

So, coming back to family.

Our family’s needs, need to be our needs. For the time we are with them, it is my suggestion that what we need, is what THEY need. Nothing more, nothing less. Our partners need to connect. We need to connect. The real us needs to be seen, and appreciated. The real them, needs to be seen and appreciated. Not the bedraggled executive meeting the tired kid wrangler for an exhausted hello peck and a distracted conversation. Or whatever it is that each of us does when we arrive home. Real connection takes real effort, and the casting side of our own needs… unless, our needs ARE their needs, and their needs ARE our needs. Then there is no compromise, no sacrifice. WE need to connect, so we connect and in doing so are connected with. WE need to feel safe and loved, so we do and in doing so we offer sanctuary. We need to feel appreciated, so we appreciate and in so doing receive it back. It’s a beautiful, unselfish symmetry.

If they need to read Lightning McQueen®  stories for the hundredth time, then that is what WE need as well. I can tell you from personal experience, that reading for the hundredth time, and pumping all the expression into the story again so that the little ones feel the excitement and live and breath it when you read it – it becomes the most important thing we do. I am not lying there “enduring” a childish story and waiting to go downstairs and relax. Reading that story is EVERYTHING I want to do for those 10 minutes. And tucking them in slowly and gently, praising them for their good choices that day, putting them to sleep feeling safe and loved with a smile on their face, is what I need too. Their need IS my need. I get as much from being their loving sanctuary, as they get from being loved and safe.

Its a beautiful place, and I don’t want to leave it. Of course, work will come, and I will get into a routine again. Its inevitable. But having stepped outside my routine, and stepped into the world that my routines created for them, I realise that I do not want to go back to that mercenary place. Their world should not be at the mercy of my world. Their world IS my world. My world, when I am with them, IS their world. A world of rushing adults, and misunderstood motivations, and no time and things to be done, and no moments to savour, is not what a child needs. And if its not what our children need, its not what we need either.

We should never be willing to sacrifice what they need on the altar of our lack of empathy for the world we have created for them.

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Lives out of balance

I am currently unemployed, and I guess this has in many ways given me a completely different set of stimuli to deal with. I have nothing grandiose to say about my work, as much as I love it; I didn’t change the world. I changed my company, a bit, and some peoples’ worlds, for the better, and I was grateful for that privilege. Some things I built will last for a while, but in the nature of things, people and companies move on. Nothing I built will last “forever”.

I wrote emails, made phone calls, solved people’s problems when I had to, and mentored and guided them to solve their own when I could. I worked with organisational structure, trying to design and get buy in for what tomorrows needs might be and to influence how we could plan for them today. It had its stresses, and its rewards, and, living my life as the central figure of my story, I took those ups and downs happily and was relatively content.

Work was only one chapter in my daily story, and while we all have a work story that is probably relatively similar, there are at least two other stories, every day, all day, in all of our lives. The first other story, is of us as a spouse/partner. As a spouse/partner, I could use some work (I was going to write “…I guess”, but that doesn’t quite capture the truth. I really DO need some work). My long-suffering wife deals every day with my love of technology and being connected, and in times where we are looking for work, that is a reality that is a two edged sword for our relationships; a “necessary evil”. They are our partners, our friends and our confidants, our co-parents and our raison d’etre, but to be honest, I am sure that we are alI at times distracted souls and a preoccupation with work can mean that partners get the second best of us. As breadwinners and having been programmed by society to get our identity from our workplace achievements, our primary energies and passions go into doing our work well, because without that, we feel lost! We all read enough  to know that is a false identity, but still, we get it wrong.

When I was working, I would come home, and because of the different time zones I was working across, I believed I could not switch off until the last of my stakeholders also switched off. For many of us, that can happen because of projects, bosses without boundaries, or any of a number of other reasons. Sometimes that can mean midnight or later, when the last email text or Skype message had faded off our screens. In reality, though, that is just us having poor boundaries and discipline. Perhaps it makes us feel special; needed; valuable? There are only 24 hours in a  day, though, and the impact of that, is not enough marriage and family time. Looking back, the one thing I think we can all say for sure is that the loyalty we have given work, is never really repaid. When costs are an issue, when politics plays its part, there is no loyalty, and the investment we made in our employer is quickly disregarded. Only then do we realise that we gave away something precious because… because why? It was more important? No, it wasn’t. But it made us FEEL more important. When will we learn?

Our second other story is the story of us parenting our beautiful children. We get some time in the morning, but lets face it, it isn’t quality time. Rushing to get them ready for school, trying to turn lazy into energetic… making breakfasts and lunches and trying to get shoes on and teeth brushed as we rushed out the door every morning. Not great for connecting. In fact just a  little uncooperativeness, and we are instantly pressured by our own deadlines into forgetting “family” and we default again to achieving results at any cost.

In the evenings, we have dinner, get the bath done, and then it’s time for bed, all the while distracted and responding to those emails, texts and Skype messages. For a brief, all too brief, 10 or 20 minutes we might slow down and read stories, following the Fantastic Mr Fox®  down his hole or imagining Geronimo Stilton®  on his various quests for cheese and glory. I would lie across the beds with my kids piling on top of me and hanging off every word (if they had heard it before they would be correcting me as well).

On the weekends we all need to recharge, but there is always so much to do, and in my case with 3 energetic boys and a ballerina princess, we were always going to be busy. Shopping, house stuff, sports, church, etc and before you know it, its Monday.

Now, with work stripped away, and more time on my hands, I am realising stuff. I am looking back and seeing that same routine, those same days, weeks, months and years, but from the perspective of my wife and my children. For those of us on the hamster-wheel of careers and work, this is a good thing to take the time to do. It took a redundancy and unemployment for me to do this, but that is not ideal. That is not first prize. It’s a very poor second prize. If I could, I would go back in time and realise this a decade ago or more, before it could affect precious people.

I am realising just how out of kilter my family’s lives were, because of my choices. My fault, because all the choices I made were my own! But those choices built a real imbalance. They say if you create a radar graph of your life priorities (a “wheel of life”), and score your life out of 10 on five axes, you should aim for a fairly well rounded chart along the axes of work, social, spiritual, family, and health. I am not going to show you my results, but I am not sure my wheel of life could roll anywhere without jarring my teeth loose. But enough about me and my rattling teeth, how would your radar chart look?

More later…

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