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?

an actor in our own story

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In a fractured age, when cynicism is God, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them.

One way or another we are living the stories planted in us early or along the way, we are also living the stories we planted – knowingly or unknowingly – in ourselves. We live the stories that either give our lives meaning, or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.

Ben Okri

the mystery of trust

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Recent media frenzy about well known people and their financial affairs seems to carry with it a cloak of significance way beyond a few thousand pounds of tax liability.  This isn’t really about David Cameron’s tax return or Gianni Infantino’s true knowledge, this is about a deeper, more intangible thing.  A thing which carries great weight, even though we can’t see it, hear it or touch it … trust.

Trust in our institutions has been declining.  The Edelman Trust Barometer evidences this. Trust in government, organisations, leaders has in some cases recovered recently after years of decline.  Buy, as the Dutch say…

Trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback

Hard to win, easy to lose.

Yet in much of our lives we show huge trust. We happily buy on the internet from organisations we know little about, who often have no physical presence. Sometimes we make those choices based on ratings from other consumers, who we’ve never met, will never know, without awareness for their context… yet we trust their reviews. We book rooms on AirBNB. Rooms in people’s houses. Happy to stay with a complete stranger often on the basis of a few positive comments from previous guests. All on the face of it, significant leaps of faith and dripping in this thing called trust.

In some contexts it’s so important. We like to be trusted and to show trust. Sometimes trust is so easy to gain, yet often easy to lose, and hard to re-gain.

We seek it like an elixir.
We value and covet it like gold.
It unlocks so much, like a magic key.
And we can feel so incensed, so emotive, when we feel trust has been betrayed or lost.

Strange that something so hard to define, so intangible, is so real?

shower or bath today?

  

How do we choose?

Mostly, we are one or the other. Bath or shower. At some past point we chose. Selected a preference. Now we are loyal, typically. We are in the bath camp or the shower camp. A few of us may be ambidextrous, fickle, users or abusers. Employing both for different needs. Both is itself a choice.

But why?

Is our choice down to practicalities or pampering? Speed or relaxation? Morning or evening? Felt sensations or logical economies? Time to be, or time to do? Purpose or pleasure? Logistics or preference? Conscious or unconscious? Habit or variety? Selfish or selfless?

Can we learn about our other choices from something so basic, so routine?

Maybe it’s time to clean up our choice making?

 

what if I’d had a latte?

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I have had to make a decision today.

We make them all the time of course, many at a relatively mundane level – what coffee shall I have? Should I walk or take the lift? What vegetables go with this meal?

Sometimes we make more important decisions.  Is it safe to cross the road now? Can I afford that holiday? Is it right for me to apply for that promotion?

Sometimes we make major life decisions. Shall we start a family? Should I opt for that major surgery? Should I move in with my partner?

My decision today was significant. I didn’t know I had to make it until yesterday and I had to make it by tomorrow.  I don’t know all the facts; there are many future options, unknowns and uncertainties. My decision though could have implications for the rest of my life. Curiously, I’m strangely relaxed about it.

Interesting how we respond to decision making.  Sometimes they are almost unconscious, often fleeting with little pause for true reflection. Sometimes we pore over the decision for a long time, considering possible outcomes, pros and cons; very conscious, measured decisions. Sometimes we make significant decisions on a whim. This decision making process doesn’t always line up to importance – I’ve spent ages choosing my main course in a restaurant before, yet picked an expensive holiday in a moment.

Sometimes, after the event, we dwell on the implications, the outcomes, the ‘what ifs’ of decisions we have made, sometimes not.

Personally, I’ve never wondered ‘what if I’d had a latte?’

And now, I’m not wondering ‘what if I’d chosen differently today?’

they’re your rules, believe it or not

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We all have beliefs.

I’m not referring here to spiritual, religious beliefs. I refer instead to the invisible beliefs we hold about the world, about who we are and about what we are capable of.

I’m referring to the truths we hold, sometimes consciously, but mostly out of consciousness, such as “I can’t sing”, or “I’m not beautiful”, or “People are amazing” or “If I set my mind to it, I can achieve anything”, or “I’m stupid”, or “Working hard brings rewards”.

Such beliefs are typically generalisations, typically unconscious patterns, meta to our experience. They can be enabling, or they can be limiting. They act as a post-hypnotic suggestion and they direct future behaviour to confirm them.  They provide context, meaning, causation, structure and as such are irrefutable.  We will deny their inaccuracy, even in the face of cognitive evidence. They are in effect our own personal rules of the world.

Take “Working hard brings rewards”. A generalisation, in that it assumes always. A generalisation in that it doesn’t define work, or how hard, or what rewards? But, someone believing this, will work hard, they will, in all likelihood, value the rewards that work brings and justify or explain those as being earned by the hard work. The ‘truth’ of the belief, or personal world rule, is both acted out now and assumed to be required in future – after all, its truth is without doubt, its cause and effect undeniable, its outcome inevitable – such is the nature of a belief.

Meanwhile, work that doesn’t bring rewards, or rewards unconnected with working hard, may be dismissed as of little note, or simply go unnoticed. The belief could be enabling, in that it provides motivation, the believer will doubtless work hard, will attain and will get rewards. It could also be limiting, in that the believer will probably give up leisure time, family time, time for self and may be pressured with a weight of reward earning responsibility, or may burn out over time.

So what do you believe?  Do you know?

How do your beliefs enable you and how do they limit you?

 

unconsciously patterned

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How often do you change what you do?

I don’t mean change job or your career.  I mean change behaviour.

How much of your daily, weekly, monthly routine is just that, routine?

Do you get up at the same time? Wash, dress and eat in the same order? Do you always have a cup of tea? Eat the same things, drink the same juice? Do you go to work the same way, leave at the same time, make the same checks before leaving?  Do you have the same routines on arrival at work? Get a coffee, hang up your coat, switch on your computer, go to your locker…? Do you have lunch at the same time, eat the same choices, go with the same people? Do you leave at the same time, get the same bus or train, have the same routine when you walk through the door at home?

Do you shop the same day of the week? Wash the car or cut the grass Saturday or Sunday? Do you do the washing or ironing on a set day? Do the kids have after school club every Tuesday? Do you go skiing every year, or have a week in the sun?

How often do you deliberately change things?
Do you change more than you don’t?
Do you maintain more than you alter?
What might happen if you changed more?

It’s not that change is intrinsically good or bad, it’s simply that so much of what we do becomes an unconscious pattern, a sloppy given, an unthinking routine. It’s a missed opportunity to experiment, to learn, to improve.