Core Values

Over the past few months, I have been thinking about some of my core beliefs in life, and whether they remain valid. Its good, in my mind, to never assume something to be always valid in the form that it was once held. Everything should be checked and recalibrated periodically. Preventative maintenance, if you will. There has been a massive surge in identity politics lately and at the core of that is the concept of relative truth. I don’t like relative truth very much, so I have been thinking a lot about whether there is real validity there, and if not, why not. And what does all that mean when people are so passionate about it and completely defining themselves in terms of it. Do I need to reconsider?

I guess that that is the first belief I have been testing. Given the relentless pressure in the world nowadays for truth to be relative – “What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me” – I have taken some stances that have not always been popular because I DO believe that truth is independent of the observer.

In my own view, truth stands independently of ANY observer of it; and does not change because the viewer changes. That does not mean that what I know is the perfect truth or that what I believe is the perfect truth either. The things that I “know”, and the things that I “believe”, are my best efforts at understanding that truth, and using that understanding to place myself objectively in the world; of surrounding myself with a framework that gives context, and gives perspective. The framework, to be really useful and meaningful, has to have the power to form me and not to be formed by me as my views change. I believe, quite simply, that I am too small to know something absolutely; that the very nature of fully knowing something is beyond me. (This means, inevitably, that doubt is not something to be ashamed of or disapproving of – doubt is the flip side of the same coin; the other is faith) But, as I navigate this world, there are certain things I must accept to be true; (to the best of my meagre ability to discern that truth), and even – especially – if I don’t particularly find those truths very comfortable, in order to make sense of it all. These are the things I believe to be independently absolutely true.

And then, because I accept them to be true, I must make them mean something. I hang my view of life and the world, on those “truths”. I allow them to be the ruler, the gauge, the metric, and the navigational chart of my journey. They set the stage for the meaning, for the purpose, for the relevance of my life. They become my North Star, that I can steer sometimes trackless oceans by. Does this mean I believe in relative truth? No, I don’t believe it does. I believe those truths are absolute, which is why I am prepared to spend my whole life in pursuit of whatever those truths form me into, or lead me to.

The best analogy of this thinking is the blacksmiths forge. There is a lot of simple beauty and insight in the old images. Perhaps not a familiar image in this day and age, so let me lay it out.

The forge

There is a stock of raw iron to one side. A very very hot fire in the centre, capable of softening that iron so that it can be worked. That same fire burns off impurities to leave a purer raw metal behind for forging.

There is an anvil nearby on which softened metal can be beaten; and the hammer, wielded to work that soft iron into a useful form. Iron takes time to heat and effort to form.

There is planning; intent and purpose.


Days of heating, beating, reheating and re-beating. Eventually a useful shape emerges and is then worked into its final form.

Then there is cooling, and tempering, and if it is to be an edged weapon, then a blade to be sharpened and polished.

This is life, for all of us. But this process is uncomfortable and hard, and often we complain or rebel, seeking to be formed by a different process. Often we feel aggrieved; “Why is it so hard?” We feel we have the right and power and authority to decide the shape of the anvil, the weight of the hammer, and to set the comfort level of the heat of the fire. Do we? Really? I feel we do not. I believe that these things are set in place intrinsically. The impurities we have, the heat of the fire, these things are not determined by us but by life itself; circumstance and events we do not control; and we are the metal that is being worked, not the blacksmith wielding the hammer.

In someone else’s life, there might be a time when as our lives cross paths, I might be their hammer or their anvil, and they might be the same in mine; but it would be wrong and is no small amount of arrogance for us to decide that that is to be our role in another’s life.

There are a number of these things against which I am shaped, and by which I am shaped. But here is the thing. I am shaped by things that challenge me, that “offend” me. By things I disagree with, not by the familiar things that I know well. Bu they can only change me if I am malleable; softened, and workable. If I am unprepared for it – still cold and hard – they may dent me, but they won’t re-form me.

The things I agree with have lost the power to change me, because when I come up against them I do so with synergy, a pre-defined and working partnership. So it is the things I disagree with, the differences, the challenges, the dissonances, that have the power to change me and form me into a new thing. Different opinions have the power to change me.

I like being on the anvil. It’s a meaningful place. It has purpose. I do not enjoy the hammer, but I appreciate its results. I do not enjoy the fire of testing, but the intense heat and the time it takes to achieve its work, makes me workable, humble, malleable and less polluted. Testing produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope. And hope is a powerful engine. It is directed, and specific. It is purpose.

Jordan B. Peterson speaks much of the “horror of being” and of the fundamental fact that it can be endured when we have meaning and purpose, and not otherwise. It’s perhaps a little hyperbolic, but at the same time it gets the point across very well. The escape of the “horror of being” lies not in hedonism, or in rebellion and bitterness, or in asserting our rights, or in escapism, but in finding meaning and purpose. In picking up the heaviest thing you can find to carry, that has some usefulness to it, and then carrying it as far as you can.” Testing, endurance, character, hope.

We improve because we are tested, because we compete and discover ways to be better. I remember many amazing scenes from the movie “The Gladiator” but one of the most interesting ones was the scene where Maximus walked past Commodus, who had arrived at the front in glorious gilded armour after the battle had already been won. Commodus erroneously believed that “there are many kinds of courage” and thus had already disappointed his stoic father Marcus Aurelius. Commodus, who had decided for himself that he would choose his own fires, his own anvil and his own hammer, and achieve only to his own level of satisfaction, was rehearsing a set pattern of swordsmanship against a number of swordsmen. The pattern was athletic, and demanding, so it would strengthen him, maybe, but it was definitely and clearly not designed to increase his skill. In fact, it would limit it, as we see in one of the penultimate scenes where, as they are about to enter the Coliseum, Maximus asks Commodus with disbelief “You, would fight ME? Maximus’ skills were forged in the urgency and heat of battle not in the luxury of practised rehearsal. His lack of respect for the rehearsed sword drills was palpable.

In this increasingly comfortable world, we must become responsible for testing ourselves in order to improve. The nature of our lives is that it is largely very civilised, and circumstances that bring real testing are rare, and often when they do arrive avoided because of the discomfort it requires. This, for me is at least part of the purpose of suffering. Its a refining fire, a blacksmiths hammer. And while it may not be pleasant, it can be good for me.

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Thoughts on NZ Employment Laws and COVID-19

Employers changing their employees working conditions and pay during this COVID-19 lockdown are currently facing the greatest challenge to society and to business survival we have ever seen. Employees too, are standing on the brink of massive personal and financial challenges and are depending on their employers, and on the Government to help them through a time when they literally have no options outside of those two. Australia has the stand down provisions in their Fair Work Act, which provide clarity and strong guidance to employers and predictability to employees. New Zealand does not have this legislation.

Can employers regard themselves as not needing to comply with employment law because of the impact of COVID-19 Alert level 4 (the total lockdown of NZ).

This is an important question. Alert level 4 instructions and NZ employment laws are completely separate things, and the COVID-19 alert level 4 restrictions do NOT cancel out employer’s obligations to comply with employment law. The law still stands. Any change to this would take specific Government intervention, and also with ours being a Labour led Government, this is not very likely.

Practically, what does this mean, though? Well, it means different things for different employers, because some employers can continue to trade, and require their employees to continue working in order to do so. For these employers, life continues pretty much as normal in the legal sense. Others cannot trade, and they are trying to cope with a rapid change to their business world. For these employers, is there a different standard?

There are three main changes that employers are considering or have implemented during the initial phases of Alert Level 4, because of the complete trading halt. These changes are hopefully temporary but there may come a time when they might have a more permanent impact on employment.

1. Forced leave of various types because of an inability to work.
2. Changes to employees pay because of inability to afford wages
3. Redundancies because of an inability to afford wages, or a business structure that cannot resume business in the same way, in future.

But first:

A Herd of Elephants in the Room

Let’s address the three massive tuskers in the room head on:

Elephant One
Cashflow. If SOMETHING significant weren’t to happen, an unchanged wage bill will crush an employer out of business very fast if they are unable to trade. Most employers do not have savings accounts with 4-12 weeks’ worth of payroll (and other costs) just sitting there. Most employers do not have access to loans or capital that could tide them over a 4-12 week trading shutdown either.

What would the impact be of being unable to make fast, temporary changes to employment conditions, including pay? Well, in a very short while, perhaps even 2-3 weeks, the business would have no money, and likely, huge debt. But no-one (except governments!) can spend money (or credit) that they don’t have, so logically there will come a time when all access to funds runs out and a business is quite simply, frozen in place. Larger businesses may not experience this to the same extent, but smaller businesses – the bulk of the New Zealand economy and its major employer – certainly will.

A reasonable person would ask: “Is THAT the time to take steps to save a business?” Obviously, a business in that position is at risk of being now almost beyond saving. It may be able to physically re-open its doors at some point in the future, but will it have employees? Raw materials? Fuel? Customers? Will it have ANY funds at all to start up operations? And will it have sufficient turnover thereafter to service its now crippling debt?

Of course, other plans might be made with banks, creditors and suppliers to lubricate the restart, but no-one knows at this point. No one knows.

So, practically, it can be argued that we are looking at the employment laws in an environment that they were not made for. To say they apply exactly as they would in a normal business environment would be a very interesting and possibly tone-deaf statement. But it is also not clear how they can be implemented differently and more suitably, to the circumstances.

Elephant Two
The pace of change. New Zealand went from Alert Level 2 (business as normal, with caution) to Alert level 4 (complete lockdown), in just two days. In two days, I think it is safe to say that there is barely a single employment law principle and process that could actually have been complied with well.

An employer can barely give fair notice of a simple disciplinary enquiry in just under two days. Let alone conduct a full restructuring exercise, or a full and proper consultation with employees about business change and the way forward. In the normal course of events, we all know good faith consultation takes significant amounts of time. Time for preparation of proposals, advance notice of meetings, time to consider, seek advice and respond, more meetings, and a decision. And then of course, writing letters and more notice before actual implementation.

This time, quite simply, did not exist when Alert level 4 was implemented.

Elephant Three
Communication. People were suddenly not at work. There was no-one to “meet” with! The instant challenge was in HOW to talk to people, HOW to consult. Phone calls are individual, and availability is not guaranteed. Conference facilities and software may exist; but are not always available or possible. What facilities do New Zealanders have at home, to participate in such meetings? For some, they have none. Part of consultation is seeking advice. Practically speaking, from whom would an isolated employee get that advice?

Guiding principle

It is my thinking that strict processes that have been established by court decision after court decision, and are an enduring gold standard for our employment environment, but it is possible to argue that they can simply not reasonably be complied with in these circumstances.

Can the principle of good faith, the founding principle of our employment law, stand on its own, as a yardstick by which employers can be required to operate?

In a world where time frames have gone out the window, where life and health are increasingly at risk, and rapid responses are required, employer intentions, employer efforts and the reason for making a decision can be argued to be more important than strict process compliance. Process compliance is a way of ensuring the protection of employee rights. It has become a requirement, and justifiably so. Statistics from the Labour Inspectorate and from the ERA clearly show that there are many employers who would take significant liberties without strong procedural boundaries.

The principle of good faith can serve as a strong and clear guiding principle to assist employers to make the best decision possible in impossible times.

“Good faith means dealing with each other honestly, openly, and without misleading each other. It requires parties to be active and constructive in establishing and maintaining a productive relationship in which they are responsive and communicative.”

Everyone knows the outcomes in this time will be hard for employees. And for employers. It is hard to know who will benefit from any of this.
In the light of these thoughts, we come back to the three common employer strategies:

Forced leave
Forced leave is a temporary solution as all it does is stop work from happening for a while; and calls on financial resources that are already set aside for the employee. In New Zealand law, forced leave is very rare. Most leave is initiated by the employee, and the employer can request different dates in certain circumstances. Forcing an employee to take leave ordinarily requires the agreement of the employee. Most forced leave in New Zealand is the annual shutdown which everyone accepts. This is very different, obviously. Forced leave in the COVID-19 environment literally has no guaranteed end date in sight; and will therefore at some point – necessarily – turn into unpaid leave. Of course this is stressful for any employee to contemplate. The idea here is that employment relationships will remain, and people will hopefully have an employer to return to once this is over.

Changes to Pay
Reducing employees pay was clearly envisaged by the Government in introducing the Wage Subsidy, in their stipulation that employers make their “best efforts” to pay 80% of an employee’s normal pay. This has subsequently been revised even further to indicate that at the very least, employers must pass on the wage subsidy. The reason for the revision was that instantly, the effects of the costs of a payroll that was only partly subsidised, was felt – employers started “bleeding out”. Slower than without the subsidy, of course; but measurably and seriously, and the government realised this.

Ordinarily this is a hugely contentious situation – employees do not take too kindly to being asked to work for less pay, even less kindly to being TOLD to work for less pay. Speaking as an employee here, it is not like we can resign and go elsewhere, is it? It is safe to say very few employers are hiring. And it’s not like we don’t understand why it is happening, is it? If we were to consider lodging a grievance or a dispute about this, could we? Should we? How does the fact that this affects the ENTIRE economy change things? How would a mediator or the ERA view such a dispute? And, exactly what we are considering here – what laws would be applied? Strict process, good faith, or something else?

Payroll is not the only ongoing cost, and no matter the subsidy, there may come a point where those other costs become a mortal wound to a business. Potentially though, a slower loss of “blood” might mean the business can survive in some form or another. Which is better? A business that survives to employ people again, or one that doesn’t because it was forced to spend itself out of existence?

Would a future employment court suddenly order all NZ employers, in say a few months’ time, to backpay all lost wages, for all employees, with penalties, if they didn’t follow an exact process? I don’t know, I guess. It would be interesting to see how that could practically happen.

Redundancies occur when a restructuring of a business leads to loss of positions and there are not alternative positions or deployments available for the employees who were employed in those positions. Restructuring can be initiated because of a desire or need for increased efficiency, new/changed technology or processes; or it can occur when a business simply has to reduce in size for economic reasons – the loss of a major customer, for example. We are in that latter environment, but it’s not just one company losing one major customer, it’s MOST companies losing ALL customers. For an unknown length of time, but at least 4 weeks, more likely 8-12 weeks. And even after that the recovery will be painful, slow and uncertain. For some, the loss of income is already permanently damaging.

So, in the light of the above, do normal processes apply? Normal time frames? Normal consultation requirements? Do they? We don’t know. Should they? Maybe not.

What is the “new Normal”?

Employers are caught between a rock and a very very hard place. If they comply with the letter of the law, in terms of process and procedure, change will probably come too slowly to ensure business survival. The law has not been suspended by the Alert level 4, and so, in reality, it can be argued that full compliance is what should happen.

On the other hand, the example set by government clearly indicates that there is now a situation of overriding emergency, and time is clearly of the essence. Getting into survival mode is the most important thing. In New Zealand, how we do that is very important and while I think it is clear that normal employment law processes cannot always apply, the founding employment law principle of Good Faith can and certainly does apply.

So, employers, please:

1. Be open and honest. Play open cards
2. Communicate as much and as often as you can. The unknown is a terrible place. As much as you are feeling it as a business owner, your employees are feeling it worse. Help your employees feel empowered with as much information as you can give them. It is not a time for information games.
3. Do everything in your power to lessen the financial impact on your business and especially on your employees. Get the subsidy. Negotiate payment holidays and zero/low interest facilities.
4. Treat everyone consistently and as far as possible, exactly the same.
5. Be kind, and empathetic. Bring humanity to the situation.
6. Follow the processes wherever you can, of course. You may have to shorten time frames, but the principles of the processes are the same principles that define good faith. try to get it right, and if you can’t, explain why and document it for future reference.
7. Document what you have done, in great detail. (Literally, as an example, down to the level of screenshots of phone call attempts). Assume that you will be asked to justify your actions and your decisions.

The Way Forward from here

With urgent time frames past, and a measure of predictability available, the excuse of urgency and a lack of time to respond and prepare, may be less plausible.

Now that you are through the initial urgent phase of reflex action and hunkering down into survival mode, if more changes are coming, you DO now have sufficient time to follow processes more completely. Therefore, do so.

The principle of good faith means you try your best to follow the normal processes and if you can, then you do.

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What a year.

Usually, looking back on a year is something I leave to the bloggers and the self-absorbed. This time feels different. So, at the risk of being a self-absorbed blogger, let me just say that 2018 sucked in so many freaking ways. Completely.

In December 2017 my 84-year-old father was put on a new chemotherapy treatment, which did not work. He had lymphoma with a life expectancy of 3-5 years. The chemotherapy paralysed him with muscle weakness, disoriented him, destroyed his appetite, and in a final insult, literally stripped the skin off his body. By January he was in ICU and on 10th February he passed away. I got the call at 5am NZ time from my sister at his bedside in South Africa.

I had known the end was near and had been applying for a passport and visa, as it would be my first trip outside of NZ as a naturalised NZ citizen. The passport was delivered to me in 1 hour, and the visa took 2 days. Both of these are miracles in their own right, but tragically the visa process was started on a Friday and competed on a Monday, and my precious father passed away on the Saturday in between.

The loss of a father is a bitter thing. Trying to be there for final goodbyes, and missing it by 3 days, is hard. 10 months later it is still a difficult thing to process for me. Part of the pain was its unnecessariness. The chemo regime was “new”; a bit of an experiment. My dad was in the unlucky tiny percentage for whom that experimental regime was toxic. He had a good life, and we were all grateful, but it was cut short in such a horribly painful and hurtful way. I don’t at all blame the oncologist – he was and is amazing; and was doing the best he could. Doctors like him strive to bring life to impossible situations; he is a hero, regardless of this tragedy.

This was compounded by a difficult work place situation. My boss was encouraging me to go back to South Africa (I wasn’t sure I could go, as financially we were at our limits and I had already travelled back two years earlier to say goodbye). He knew my situation, and told me that no matter what the finances that would be required, he felt there might be huge regrets if I didn’t go. He kept pushing for this, and at the time I felt he was being very caring, so we found the money by maxing out our overdraft and credit card, and I went.

When I got back after 3 weeks (I think it was the very first day back) he wandered over to my desk and handed me my notice of redundancy, owing to an impending merger and restructure of the executive team. “I had this in my desk before you left, but I thought you had enough on your plate” he said. Fair enough, but with all our finances maxed out and knee deep in debt, redundancy was a very, very hard situation to find ourselves in.

Finding the grace to be ok with the sense of betrayal in the midst of my grieving was a very hard ask; I am not sure I always got it right in the early days. I was never unprofessional, but I was hurting so badly…

So, by April, I had lost my father and my job, and had taken a complete and devastating hit financially. In all of this, I was 14,000 kms away from my mother and sister, who were of course struggling with their own grief (my mother’s grief was unimaginably immense after 55 years of marriage) and we were unable to care for each other meaningfully.

The following months of unemployment were devastating for me. The NZ HR market was tight, and living in Wellington, a government services dominated city, the opportunities for private HR work was very limited. Living on benefits is humbling. Truly humbling. Beneficiaries are all in the same boat together financially, on the bones of our butts and just trying to feed our families, keep a roof over our heads and prevent credit ratings going south. Sitting in seminars with every possible down and out sector of society, from recent ex-cons to drug-wasted middle aged ladies and homeless people, inspired me to appreciate that even in time of great need, I was still blessed in so many ways. But it was hard, and hard to be gracious in that time.

I found work in July, but a week after starting a young friend I had met through each of us owning a husky, unexpectedly committed suicide. I had been at his house the night before; we had chatted long into the evening about everything and nothing, until he got a call from some friends in need and went to help them restart their car somewhere.

The next morning, before 10, I got a call that he had hanged himself in his garage. I was devastated, and so lost. How had I spent 4 hours with him the night before and not seen a thing, felt a thing, anything at all? I still don’t have an answer to that. We care for his husky now, and the old boy is a constant reminder of that young life gone.

At the same time, I needed new glasses in July but by August the prescription was wrong again. I went back twice and was diagnosed with aggressive cataracts in both eyes, causing huge vision difficulties for me. With such a rapidly changing prescription, new lenses were decided to be a waste of money and I am still awaiting possible surgery to have my lenses replaced. My vision is now the worst it has been in 20 years and is getting worse every week. This will be a further, and huge financial cost on us. I have difficulty working and struggle to drive at night.

Marriage and parenting have been hard this year too. Most days have been an emotional drain on both of us. The financial strain has not helped, and at times we have been hard on each other too. It’s tough to find grace for the ups and downs of parenting, when balancing job stress, financial stress, grieving, vision difficulties. I have not always had the reserves I needed for these stresses. My wife has not had the best of me, not by a long shot. There has been very little to give, and that must change.

It’s good to build up reserves for tough times by looking after ourselves in advance, and having some steadying disciplines that keep us grounded. I will do this.

I guess through all of this, I have been running on empty for a while.

Like I said, 2018 sucked. But it didn’t take me down. Not even close.

So, 2019, bring it. I don’t have any resolutions. I just don’t. But I have some realisations; some ideas of making each day count more than the one before. I will try to love better, care deeper, and to guard my heart. I have kept myself from bitterness and anger, I will continue to do so. I will work hard, I will rest better and get back to nature. I will connect with people, and find the beauty in small everyday things. I will find time, space and grace to replenish.

I will love the Lord. He is worthy. With every breath that He gives me, I will praise Him.

Posted in Family, Marriage, Personal Growth, Spiritual, Work | 2 Comments

Healing from our Hurt

A well known story:

“A teacher was teaching her class … and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper. Then she told them to crumple it up, stomp on it, and really mess it up but to be careful not to rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it was.

She then told them to tell it they’re sorry; and try hard to make it completely smooth again. Many children smoothed it out, then turned it over and tried again and again to return it to its original state. She pointed out all the scars that remained after all their efforts. She asked them, “Can this paper ever be smooth again?” The children shook their heads.

A person may say they’re sorry, but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.”


This story helps to make a point, and it’s a good point, but it obscures a deeper, more meaningful truth. More on that later. Much of this story is good, and accurate – the wilful behaviour that hurts, scars and crushes; the lingering damage that is done, and the failure of “Sorry” as a healing act.

“What?” you say. “The failure of sorry?”

“Sorry” cannot heal anything. “Sorry” is “I apologise”. It connotes a recognition that our behaviour has hurt someone, and that we are repentant, or sad, or maybe even embarrassed at what we have done. But it is NOT healing, not by a long shot. And let’s face it, on its own, it’s just a word. Pretty meaningless. We all know what words are worth.

I am pretty good (opinions are divided on this) at saying sorry. I am not the best (opinions are not divided on this) at DOING sorry. DOING sorry is so much better than saying sorry. What does “doing sorry” mean? Doing sorry is the art of being sorry through our actions. Of seeking healing for the one we have hurt, by choosing to do things that restore their trust and their ability to believe in us.

In delivering hurt; in crumpling up another person’s soul, for whatever reason may have possessed us at the time, our actions (or our words) have revealed that we were, for a time, uncaring about someone else’s heart. Someone else’s happiness. For a time, it was more important to us, like an immature child, to deliver pain and hurt to another; to inflict harm. Maybe as a childish way of avoiding our own failings, or reacting to our own embarrassment, whatever. We chose inflicting THEIR hurt over feeling our OWN hurt.

There are three parts to restitution. Doing sorry is the first. This is the choice of the hurter.
Time, is the second. By the grace of God, this is inevitable. But “time” is not neutral. Its inexorable, yes, but it does what it does by the choice of the victim.

Do we want healing? Real healing? Or are we so broken that the desire for vengeance, retribution and grudges are nurtured and developed? If we are, then time, instead of bringing healing, brings the cancer of vendettas, stored up pain, an arsenal of hurts we throw in each other’s face the next time we are in pain? Maybe, though, we could be simply incapable of the vulnerability needed. I have met some people like this; simply unable to lay down their weapons long enough for peace to come; to allow others to approach safely. Too afraid of losing control, being dependent on someone else. This is a deep tragedy that can be so damaging to everyone – the hurter cannot do enough to say or do sorry, and even if they could, the victim cannot receive it.

If we want real healing, if we want restitution and reconciliation, not retribution, THEN time can be a healer. Our resilience and our hope restores us back to health. But to want this, we must want relationship more than vindication. Vindication is “I’m sorry I hurt you, but I am right anyway”. Reconciliation says “WE are more important than ME. I will give up ME, for US”

And the ability to heal – resilience – is the third. This also belongs to the victim. All the hurter can do is sorry. The rest is out of their hands. If the victim wants healing, then time will help. If the victim wants healing, then they will have resilience – they will be able to choose to return to health, to trust and to hopefulness. Resilience is the ability to return to your own shape.

The other day I was building a fence. I spend a great deal of time hammering in nails, and on more than a few occasions, the hammer missed the nail, or on the last blow there was a bit too much force, and the result was a semi-circular dent in the wood. There were quite a few of those. I looked at the fence, and it was good. But I looked at the wood, and it was not so good. I was definitely going to get a nail gun next time round.

A week later, after some sun, and rain, and warmth and cold, I went out again and saw that the dents were gone. The natural resilience of the wood, helped by some moisture, and expansion during the day and contraction during the night, had healed the wood.

The Irish have a lovely saying “The shape of you” as in “I like the shape of you” It’s a colloquialism that speaks to the way we present ourselves. I love it because it talks of our “shape” perhaps our physical form, but also our attitude, our passion, our preparation, and our self image. We all have a “shape”. And we choose whether we keep our shape, or whether we give it away to things around us.

I am reminded of another saying, that “We judge ourselves by our intentions, others by their actions”. If we mess something up, but we meant well, we give ourselves credit for what we were TRYING to do. But if someone else messes up, we generally ignore their intentions and evaluate them by the chaos they have created.

For real healing, we need to judge others by their intentions too. And make room for the very human reality that everybody fails, sometime.

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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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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.


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.


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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