A friend of mine, recently reminded me…
Silence isn’t empty;
If it were, we wouldn’t hear it so loudly
A friend of mine, recently reminded me…
Silence isn’t empty;
If it were, we wouldn’t hear it so loudly
“How are you today?” seems to be the standard opening gambit here in the USA. Whether it be the local shopkeeper, Alvin at Starbucks, or the unnamed lady in magenta trying to sell me tour tickets.
I have already learned the expected response. It is, “I’m good thank you, how are you?” The ‘good’ in “I’m good…” is presumably a veiled message to Father Christmas, should he be hiding in the bushes? An overly keen attempt to get on to the right list; the list that provides a full stocking, not a sparsely filled alternative in just a few months time?
I, of course, have much to learn colloquially. I have made the apparent mistake of responding, “Cheers!” when given my purchases. I did it to the lady who served me cinnamon scone for breakfast and she looked a little bewildered. I’m told that “cheers” isn’t used in that way here.
Some words have raised importance. Some reduced. I hadn’t expected, for example, my ‘Peachy Pistachio Greek Yogurt’ to contain chocolate chips. But it does. More chocolate chips in fact than peachiness. Sure enough though, a browse of the ingredient list confirms their right to be. Odd not to mention them?
Thankfully, I am yet to be offered a “have a nice day…” as a departing command. Surely, after all, it’s my choice if I wish my day to be nice or not?
I don’t wish to knock America. Merely to point out how language use is very local. The patterns and rituals of language are different. The same words mean different things. Some words are common, some important, some tossed away like chocolate chips at a yogurt factory.
This isn’t just about geography though. Each of us has our own dialect. Favourite words or phrases for us. Words and phrases which cause a shudder, or recoil, when used freely by someone else. Or, words which draw us in, because they resonate with our own sense making and thereby connect us.
Language has personality. It takes on the persona of unique individuals. The persona of family histories. The persona of local dialects. The persona of nation states. The persona of tribes, of cultures, of religions.
We speak who we are.
I’ve just been overtaken.
Overtaken on a blind bend.
The car in question then overtook the car in front, also with insufficient visibility for the manoeuvre.
The area and time of day tell me that half a mile ahead there will be a substantial queue at a roundabout. I know this because I am familiar with the area.
The driver in question had earlier been waiting in a side turning and they had slotted in behind me as I had passed them. The side turning I also know would suggest they live or work in the area, so would be familiar too with the upcoming queue.
What motivates us to get ahead? To take risks to get in front?
Is it time? Lateness or a need to get somewhere quickly?
Competitiveness? A desire to win?
Peacock syndrome? A need to show personal power; to showcase capability or self? Look at me, look at my car, look at our potential?
Or maybe it’s a hanging emotion? Maybe work or life had recently delivered an emotional experience leaving the driver with frustration or anger or some other feeling? Maybe the thrill of speed, the rush of risk is a venting of a hanging emotion?
Whatever the reason, I hope they live long enough to enjoy what was a nice car.
I watched Jesus Christ Superstar at Regents Park Open Air Theatre last night. We were lucky to be in the front row, where the lead actor sang solos right in front of us. His face maybe six feet from my face.
Pain, anger, terror all etched on a blood stained face. Every emotion every torment, every hope of his character leaking from his teary eyes. Every anguish, every struggle, every fear trembling in his voice. His sinewy body straining in desperation, twisted in unrequited love, taut with vulnerability.
It left me wondering “Are those who perform in musical theatre the most human of us all?”
Both pulled in from opposite directions, both at forty five degrees, both nose to nose. One sounded the car horn in a pained expression of perceived right. Ironically one car white, the other black, like monochrome representations of right and wrong, good and evil.
They sat, drivers in cars, both with their metallic stake in the ground. Two full minutes passed before the driver of black got out and approached the other vehicle. “I was waiting.” he proclaimed. Inaudible exchanges took place, peppered with finger pointing and fist waving. He returned to his car and urged forward his chariot a full foot so that its nostrils were breathing into the bonnet of his white opponent.
Three full minutes of stand off passed. Then the driver of white emerged. His rant built around his claim that the first driver had in fact been waiting further down. More pointing, raised voices and threatening gestures. In both cars the female passengers looked away. As if eye contact might condone or inflame the behaviour of their chariot champions. Passers by could be heard to wager on the outcome, or to chastise the antics of these proud, if somewhat childish, warriors. Some tutted, some raised eyes skyward in a knowing nod to each other.
The second driver returned to his trusty white steed.
Three or four more minutes passed. The driver of white reversed out and pulled alongside the black. More words exchanged. Then black pulled into the space and a little beyond. White jerked forward then quickly into reverse. Surely a back to back conflict wasn’t about to begin?
But no. Black ceded the space. White triumphed like a checkmate move on the chess board. Black King was taken.
A sense of right and wrong?
Who knows? Human behaviour is always purposeful, but often the driver behind it is invisible to us. Just like today’s car joust, the actions attract attention, but the motivations remain hidden.
How is it that the sun makes us feel good?
I’m ignorant here but I’m sure there are physiological reasons; warmth, light, vitamin creation etc., but also psychological and emotional reasons.
I’ve just been looking out the window at a sun drenched plaza. People are sitting on steps, eating, drinking, standing, chatting, walking purposefully. The trees are showing their first signs of bud. The colours on the brick built cathedral stunning. The shadows evocative. The light glorious. The mood inviting.
I’m inside. I can’t feel the warmth; the sunlight isn’t landing on me directly and the sun isn’t being overly energetic with any chemical in my body… and yet just gazing at the scene makes me feel good. Bring me sunshine…
Eric and Ernie were right.
The other day I crossed the road, joining the opposite footpath at an elbow. A ninety degree corner in the road.
Coming towards me was a man.
He made a beeline for the apex of the corner.
That was my trajectory too.
We were on a collision course.
I looked at him, trying to read what his decision might be.
We can work this out, together, I urged.
No obvious signals.
No eye contact.
He stared steadfastly at the corner.
I looked straight at him.
Engage me, I said with my eyes.
Let’s work this through.
A second had passed.
He stared at the corner.
No eye contact.
Collision seemed imminent.
I broke my stride.
Created a gap in our flight paths.
He pushed on through.
I passed safely a pace behind him at the apex.
Still no eye contact.
No recognition of my existence.
Strange how eye contact allows the other person in. Denying it seems somehow to keep us safe. Protected. No need to feel any responsibility. Any connection. Any trust. Any shame. Any emotion at all.
The man got the corner.
I got more.
I can feel the steering wheel in my hands. The gloves on my fingers. My skin when I scratch an itch. I can feel my hair through my fingers. My feet on the ground. Sand between my toes. Rain on my face. Sunshine. I can feel my thighs on the chair seat. My arms when they’re folded. I can feel the bag on my shoulder. My knee when it aches. I can even describe the feeling when my toes are so cold I can’t feel them. I can hold something in my hands, blindfold, and probably tell what it is. Its size, shape, texture, hardness, weight…
We are used to feeling. On the outside.
But feelings on the inside are harder. We have less language. Less awareness. Less dexterity in our explanation.
We say things like I’m nervous or I feel good, I feel sick in my stomach or I’m just not feeling too well. I’m happy or I’m anxious or upset. Describing where in our bodies we feel that, and precisely what the sensation is; how the feeling is moving, its temperature, its intensity. This seems harder.
Strange that what our own bodies tell us is more elusive to us than our contact with the external world?
image by: Andreas Roseneder
Many organisations pay attention to cognitive culture rather than emotional culture.
They attend to the known things such as values, goals, objectives, rules and policies. They measure employee achievement in terms of these and they pay attention to employee behaviour in this context; are you doing what is required and are you doing it the right way?
What and how. It’s what many appraisal systems focus on too.
Does your workplace measure the emotional culture though? Do they check in with you on how you’re feeling about work, today, this week, this month? Are people having fun, enjoying their work? Are you happy, sad, demotivated, excited, anxious, enthralled? Does your boss know?
In reality your emotional state is likely to have more impact on your behaviour that a set of cognitive ‘these are the behaviours we expect’. It is also likely to impact your productivity, your performance, your levels of engagement with your work, your sense of wellbeing – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual – and therefore minimise your days off sick.
How we feel about our work feeds our sense of belonging and our sense of purpose. If we enjoy our work, we get a degree of excitement from doing it, a sense of improvement, achievement and personal growth.
How happy were you at work today?
I had the pleasure of attending The Lab recently, where in the midst of some great experiments into being human, we explored working with masks.
If you have seen the excellent ventriloquist comedian Nina Conti you will know part of her act involves applying a partial mask to an audience member. Nina then controls the mouth parts with a remote, so that the individual seems to be agreeing to do something outrageous, or says something inappropriate, even though their body language suggests horror, or disagreement, at the prospect.
It is a clever representation of the power of a mask. The act demonstrates a freedom and what can be possible if we don’t feel seen, whilst juxtaposing the obvious visibility of the individual’s body squirming at what they are saying, through Nina. Simultaneously, the act allows Nina, as the ventriloquist, to say and do things she might never do herself.
In our Lab experiment we saw people assuming the whole character, mannerisms, language, opinions of their ‘character behind the mask’.
A mask, in a sense, gives us permission to be someone else. To reveal a part of ourselves we may normally keep subdued or hidden. It also gives us permission to conceal ourselves behind the mask. Be it gender, ethnicity, geographic origin. We sometimes use non-visual masks too. Hiding behind our organisational or societal status or role.
I wonder what we are capable of if we could wear a mask at will?
What truth would we be able to speak?
What feeling could we emote?
How much more ourselves we might be?
How much might we conceal?