Hidden meaning…

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I have been reflecting on the nature of a question.

Consider this.

You’re in a conversation with another human being. They are telling you something about their experience; you respond with a question.  It’s what we do in conversations.

The question forms, it gets uttered. It’s out there shaping the conversation.

But where does that question come from?  What prompts the thought?  What forms the thinking?  What shapes the words? And what is the question’s true intent?

We might think our questions are for the recipient; the person we throw them at.  Convinced we are adding value, we toss the question in front of their thinking stream, interrupting whatever is processing inside their head or body.  The question itself instantly demands attention.  Diverting the thinker to attend to it like a noisy impatient child.  The recipient ponders, then responds. In that moment, we, the questioner, feel good.  Our question has proved useful.  The recipient has shown their gratitude by affording our question due attention.  Clearly they have benefited.  Our question has undoubtedly furthered their thinking, developed their awareness, offered them an alternative or made it clear what the way forward is.  The question has elicited an answer and we all want answers … don’t we?

We have helped. We feel good.

But is that true?  True that we have helped?
We, the questioner, now know more, that is true.  But does the responder?

Maybe our question’s true intent was simply that? To help us to understand? To help us make meaning from the stream of consciousness our fellow human being was imparting. Maybe that is where it came from?  Its purpose to fill in our knowledge gaps so that we might better comprehend this complex, story-ridden, alien world of another human being? A veiled attempt to make sense of their situation. An unconsciously selfish intent?

And if our question’s intent is indeed to further our understanding, does that shape and inform further questions? Are we ultimately steering the conversation towards our greater understanding of the other person’s world?  Does each question take the other person further from their own path and move them on to our thinking path? Are we building a reality for them? Is our question and those that follow merely wresting control?  Shaping the collective thinking to serve our meaning making needs? Is that the intent hiding in our question?

But is that true? Is it really just about us? A selfish need to understand and relate this person’s story to our world of meaning and sense making?

Well, every question does have a presupposition embedded within it. Every question.

Our question may have suggested we were listening.  Maybe that was its intent?  Maybe the question attempts to impart a sense of caring, an ability to attend to our fellow human being’s world, their toils and struggles.  Maybe the question is grown from a desire to connect? A desire to help?  A desire to rescue even?

But is that true? Are we really that selfless?

Our question may outwardly seem to expand the speaker’s awareness, or offer them a new perspective or a fresh choice?  But where does that come from? Is it really something we are asking ourselves, inside? A question that has meaning for us in the same situation, so given its significance for us and our thinking, we offer it up.  Because if it’s of use to us, it must surely be of use to them…?

But is that true? Maybe, or maybe that too is in service of our own needs? Maybe its true purpose was to help us compare – compare ourselves to the other person? To judge. To compare how we might respond in that situation, or compare our ability to think about it with their ability?  Maybe its intent is to make a judgement, good or bad?  A judgement of ourselves, or of them?

Maybe the unwittingly selfish foundation goes deeper? Maybe this question dressed as concerned listening and helping is really about affirming our own value?  Our value in this relationship, our value in society, maybe also our very value as a human being?

Is our question masquerading as a help to our responder when in truth it is about affirmation of who we are, of our very existence? In some way the question might seem to be saying “here I am”, “I am listening”, “I hear you”, “I can help”…

But is that true?  Or could it be that our question really means “notice me”, “I am of value”, “validate me by answering my question”, “honour me as a human being.”

Meanwhile, whatever our hidden intention, our speaker’s train of thought is interrupted.

So, what lies in the foundations of our questions?  What building blocks form their true shape?

Our own need to know?
Our own need to be OK?
Our inner need to compare and judge ourselves?
Our own need for validation?
Our own need for acceptance?

What if we just kept them? They are after all ‘our questions’.
What if we kept them to ourselves?

Or… what if we stopped searching for them at all?
What if we just listened?  Without intent?

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does every question..?

questions

Does every question have a presupposition?

Well it seems that one does. It’s worded to suggest they do. It presupposes all questions, without exception. It presupposes you know what a question is, or a presupposition indeed.

Some coach colleagues and I were discussing this. Playing a game if you like. Who can come up with a question that is presupposition free? We couldn’t.

Even the simplest questions do.  For example, ‘When?’  The question presupposes you have a language for date and time. It presupposes you know what I’m talking about in relation to ‘when?’. It presupposes that I want to know, that you know, and that you want to tell me.

So if every question has a presupposition (and I welcome suggestions of ones which don’t), does that mean that we, the questioner, have a view, a plan, a judgement, a perspective even before we phrase the question? Maybe conscious, maybe outside our awareness?

Does it mean that the question is really in service of us?

The questioner’s need. Could it be that it’s about confirming our prejudice, our view as the questioner? Or could it be about filling in our gaps in knowledge, or about extending our knowing? Or about confirming our map of the world; fitting your world in, for congruence? Or about our belonging or our sense making?

We think of questions as ways in which we expand the perspective of those we throw them at, but maybe they are instead a means to reaffirm our already held perspectives?

 

the wisdom of the goats

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In our modern world there is much complexity. With that comes contradiction. An either or, pros and cons, do and don’t do.  We face everyday life with a heavy burden of choice. A weight of expectation, of responsibility. How to spend our time, our money, our energy? Lots of ‘what if?’ Lots of ‘if only?’.

I heard a story the other day which resonated with this world truth of contradiction and complexity.

The story teller, a young African boy at the time of the story. Living in a village in remote Nigeria.

The villagers kept goats. The goats served many purposes. They provided work, endeavour, a sense of purpose. They provided food. They provided milk. They were a currency of prosperity.

But the goats also ate things. Anything. Everything. They destroyed much of the fabric of the village.

The elders of the village met to discuss this complexity, this contradiction. In order to decide.

The young boy observed the elders meeting.  Their long discussion about the goats.

The elders sat and debated this contradiction. For days.

After a while, the young boy asked his father why they continued to discuss the goats. Why they were not deciding.

His father said, there is a wisdom in not deciding. A wisdom in living with the contradiction. And so there emerges another truth in the complexity.

Wise words.

17:9 vision

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I have reading glasses. I have reached a certain age and my body’s ability to contract the muscles in my eyes sufficiently that I can focus close up, has all but gone.

I used to have what is referred to as 20:20 vision. I don’t know what that means really. My long sight is still superb, but gone are the days I can read the ingredients on a jar without help.

I’m typing this on my phone, so find myself peering down my nose through my reading glasses, looking up and over them when I need to, to see what’s around me or to pause to think.

Two seats away, a man is in reverse. He has glasses too, but is clearly short sighted and is peering over his spectacles at a phone held three inches from his nose. He pushes his glasses up to see me.

Across the train gangway, two men are watching programmes on their tablets. One, a subtitled film. His device is on his knees and he is watching through spectacles. The other, watching Top Gear, has no visual aids but is holding his tablet less than six inches from his nose,

My point is, how we see clearly is different. As it is in our everyday lives.

Some struggle to see what’s under their nose. Some see the bigger picture, but the close up details are blurry. Some like to examine closely. Some only see what they want to.

In life, we don’t have 20:20 vision. We can see some things clearly. Others we are blind to. Even in ourselves. In the mirror, if you will. We are just as blind to others too.  To their value, their outlook, their thinking, their struggles, their joy, their feeling, their intent, their magnificence.

We all need glasses… we just don’t know it.

speaking guttish


When we think, we can tangibly understand and relate to our thoughts. They have a language. Our language. It’s like a conversation. We can hear or see our thoughts. We can reason with them. Disagree with them.

When we think, we can tangibly produce outputs. Pros and cons. Information and data. Benefits and implications. Decisions. Choices.

But when our gut feel is in use, it can be harder to understand and relate to. Often we don’t know what the feeling means. There is no language. In fact we often struggle to find a language for the feeling, let alone interpret its intent for us.

So what does that mean for a decision based largely or completely on gut feel?

The flipism normative decision theory suggests making a decision based on a coin toss. Not a decision based on the toss itself, but on the feeling associated with the outcome. The theory being, if your gut really wanted the ‘heads’ outcome, you will feel positive if that’s the result and disappointed if the toss comes down ‘tails’.

But how do we know a positive feeling from a disappointed one? And what if our feeling on the outcome isn’t ‘disappointed’, but is ‘sad’, or ‘let down’ or ‘futility’ or ‘shame’… How do we interpret a sensation in our body and know precisely what it means? If the outcome our gut seeks is ‘satisfied’, do we know if the feeling is that? What if it’s ‘kind’ or ‘justified’ or ‘rewarded’ or ‘acknowledged’…?

Yet we make gut feel decisions daily. Often these are among our best decisions. The ones we accept readily without a desire to revisit, unlike some of our thinking decisions.

It seems building our language in this area might be useful? Building a way to communicate with our own bodies, helpful?

cheers to small steps

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I’m off to a celebration. Drinks.

Drinks to celebrate leaving – a friend has been made redundant and is leaving his job role shortly.

We do that don’t we? Celebrate leaving. Celebrate endings. Sometimes just before the ending, sometimes just after. Like a wake.

I have never been invited to a celebration to mark someone starting. You know, a week into their new role, let’s organise drinks to celebrate. Maybe I just don’t get invited to those?

But, perhaps more of note, we don’t celebrate the awareness, the personal learning and growth along life’s journey.

We don’t go out to celebrate discovering our purpose or that we’ve finally pinned down a core value that has driven our decision making and sense of fulfilment for years. We don’t high five people in the street because we realise structure and control are important to us.

Sure, endings mark new beginnings. But the point of transition itself seems to be our focus for note worthiness, for recognition, for celebration.

The steps, the learning, the awareness… all seem important steps to movement, to change, to choice, to growth. Yet we focus on endings and ignore the enabling awareness and learning.

Maybe we should raise a glass to steps? Small steps which can amount to something bigger?

I became aware of this today.

Cheers everyone.

life’s guest house

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This being human is a guest house.  Every morning is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor…

Welcome and entertain them all.  Treat each guest honorably.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Rumi

Each thought, each feeling that arrives in your awareness, greet it, thank it for its wisdom, its desire to speak to you. Each is a messenger. Each a mentor.

Do not turn them away or shun them. Do not hasten to compost them. Be curious about their story. Enquire of their intent; how they seek to serve you. Each has a purpose, each a meaning. We’re usually just too busy to notice. Too dismissive of this errant thought, this unwelcome sensation in the body, this repeating voice.

They seek to help us grow.