which three fifths do you choose?


Having visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the second new learning which stayed with me was this…

In 1787, after independence, the three fifths clause of the United States Constitution was enacted. “Three-fifths of the number of slaves in any particular state would be added to the total number of free white persons, including bond servants, but not Indians, to the estimated number of congressmen each state would send to the House of Representatives.”

Effectively each black man or woman was worth three fifths of a white man or woman, when it came to ‘democratic’ representation. It seems shocking; indeed a few people audibly gasped when the video at the museum shared this.

How do you fraction a human being? Why three fifths? And which three fifths?

And I wonder on reflection, do we still do this today? Unconsciously? Do we value certain people more, or less? Is it just that we no longer write it down, make it law?

And do we hide parts of ourselves too? Only present to the world the part(s) we feel comfortable with? Do we show up, not as our whole self, but as the fraction we believe is acceptable to those around us, in our context, in our environment, now at this time?

If you could offer a fraction of yourself and discount the remainder, which fraction would you choose?

just lie down here and the pain will go away


Why do we push ourselves even when we want to give up?

There appears to be an inner battle at play. That part feeling the pain, wanting to concede and that part that doesn’t want to be beaten, wanting to succeed.

I rode a bike yesterday, for the first time in fifteen years. Around Montreal. I guess if you’re going to start again after fifteen years there are worse places to begin. The ride took us along the Lanchine canal, followed the north bank of the St Lawrence river for six kilometres, then cut across in land, via a cute little cafe with Italian Ciabatta to die for. Once replete, we headed back along the remainder of the canal before heading to the island of Parc Jean-Drapeau where we rode our bikes around the Gilles Villeneuve F1 track before returning to our starting point. Around 50 kilometres or 30 miles.

From the moment we began the ride out to the Parc and F1 track, I knew my body had had enough. My thighs screamed stop. The sun burned down on my face and neck as we crossed the Pont de la Concorde. I was done. But the lure of saying I’d ridden around a Formula 1 race circuit kept me going.

The return journey though was another matter. My prize had been won and that part of me feeling the pain was now winning too. I dawdled back across the bridge. The slight incline up really proving hard, as my legs screamed out with every turn of the pedals. My hands were now numb too, from over gripping the handle bars as my legs struggled – somehow holding on for dear life appeased my lower limbs. The final kilometre saw me stop several times and push the bike. Even walking proved hard as my legs were like jelly and walking in a straight line seemed beyond me. My arm had developed an uncontrollable twitch and my thumb, without my say so, wriggled about like a worm in the sunshine, seeking the solace of damp and dark. But I had to return the hire bike, so the part driving me on kept going. I was also with my daughter and couldn’t let her down, so I kept going.

The battle between these parts of me was a fight to the end. “Just lie down on the grass and the pain will ease.” versus “You can’t give up now you’ve come this far. Think how good you will feel having cycled 50 kilometres on your first bike ride for fifteen years.”

And I did.

Feel good.

But tomorrow is another day… Ouch.

seen and unseen, illusion and reality


Our shadow is always with us. Always connected.

Often we cannot see it. Occasionally so faded, so feint, it cannot be detected by our human eye. Sometimes fragmented, in parts; distorted by multiple light sources.

In the right light though our shadow is clearly us. It responds to our movement, to our very being. It is an extension of us. A monochrome, two dimensional form, that adopts the contours of our surroundings.

A shadow part of our complex humanity perhaps? Intrinsically us; yet sometimes hidden, sometimes not. Impacted by our environment. By conditions. Sometimes we can see this part of ourselves, sometimes others see it when we do not, sometimes it is invisible to all. Our shadow responds to our other parts, our thoughts, actions, behaviours. Our movements and motion. Always responding.

Light and shade.  Effect and cause. Seen and unseen. Illusion and reality.


contrary to contradiction…


The well bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.

Oscar Wilde

I don’t claim to be wise, but it amuses me when I contradict myself.

For example, I sometimes catch myself behaving in a way which flies in the face of what I’ve just said. Or saying something that contradicts what I’m doing.

For example, the other day, to allow a group of people to explore learning, we folded our arms, then unfolded them, to fold them again the other way. We were exploring the process of learning and I asked them to reflect and then share their process of learning. I explained there was no judgement. I then asked them to repeat the folding but said, ‘Now fold your arms the wrong way.’ I noticed my use of ‘wrong’ and smiled inside.

We are funny aren’t we?

We are multiple. More than one. Made up of parts. Light and shade. Simple complexity. Surface depth.

the archaeology of you

archaeology of self
What do you think of when I say archaeologist or archaeology?

My first thought is about old things, history, origins.

When I think about the archaeologist I imagine someone, dusty and dirty, on their knees, gently sweeping away at a half buried treasure, using a small hand brush and miniature tools. Occasionally they lean down to gently blow the sand or soil away; the sand or soil that has safely encased and protected the artifact for many many years, centuries even. I also imagine someone piecing together the exposed parts, rebuilding tiny fragments into a more complete whole, something that tells a story.

The art is one of care, of delicate, tender, loving practice. History is treated with the utmost respect.  The finds not treasures of intrinsic monetary worth necessarily, but often priceless in the story they reveal of humanity and community and living long since passed.

It strikes me how this applies to us and our very human being.

Our story, our reality, our truth, our purpose comprised of many small parts formed long ago in our personal history, often buried, safely locked away beneath the surface. If we embark on a journey of self exploration, either for ourselves, or as a coach say in support of another’s quest, the need for that same delicate care, that same respect for what is, that same patience to gently reveal the treasures, would seem paramount.

Just as with the dig and the unearthed pot, often revealing the parts of our human self and then assembling them can reveal something most precious – our layers of significance, our identity, our reason for being, our purpose.

If you seek to explore the archaeology of you, go slowly, blow gently.


Our monochrome contradictions

Foreign policy is a balancing act. Lines are never clear. Neatly drawn. It’s a grey world rather than a monochrome extreme one.

Reading recently about the struggles in the Middle East highlights this clearly. Alliances between unlikely bedfellows; either battling against IS, resisting Iran’s regional dominance, seeking to create new states, or to destroy existing ones. Lines drawn between old enemies, new enemies, enemies for a reason, enemies for a season, enemies for a lifetime. Nation states trying to balance their contradictions. Not able to totally support one cause, because of complex overlapping interests in other causes.

It reminds me of our own human struggles. Our internal contradictions of self. That sense that a part of us wants something whilst another part wants something else, something contrary. That experience of being a certain way at times, then being a very different way, in a different place or time.

We have contradictions.

We are muted monochrome shade, rarely black, rarely white.

In my coaching work I sometimes encourage clients to explore their contradictions. The edges of themselves. I, for example, would describe myself as an “extrovert loner”. Sometimes gregarious, social, with a view to express. Sometimes seeking to be alone, silent. I need both parts. My ‘foreign policy’ needs to play both hands.

Naming these seemingly opposite, contrary, elements of self allows us to honour them, respect them, work with them all. I encourage an “I am… ” construct. I often find the choice of sequence my clients make is revealing. Usually the first part of the contradiction describes how they are, the second, who they are. Here are some examples…

I am an open secret
I am a tidy mess
I am hopelessly hopeful
I am an enthusiastic couch potato
I am an away from futurist
I am a responsible rebel
I am a leading follower
I am an unplanned achiever
I am an independent team player
I am deliberately informal
I am a selfish altruist

Foreign policy is laced with politics and self interest. But perhaps so are our parts?  Just like the politicians we are trying to balance multiple interests. Just like the politicians we don’t reveal our full hand, even to ourselves. Just like the politicians, that ‘mishonesty’ can bite us.

The question is, do we need to go to war? Does that serve us?

Be curious about your contradictions. Explore what each part seeks and offers you. Recognise their intent for you. Embrace them all.