Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fallacy (For the Sake of Arugment II)

Yesterday, in For the Sake of Argument, I introduced the basics of formal argument. In quick summary:
  1. The process of arguing is one by which two or more parties move towards agreement by building agreement one step at a time, brick by brick
  2. The process starts with a set of proposed facts or premises (the foundational building blocks upon which the argument rests). Each proposed premise or proposition is either accepted or rejected. To be accepted as a premise, all parties must agree. However, any one party can reject a proposition.
  3. If a proposition is rejected, it makes absolutely no sense to proceed until you have:
    • come to agreement on that proposition, or
    • determined a replacement proposition, or
    • discarded the proposition as not required by the argument
  4. As propositions are accepted as premises, new propositions can be inferred from the accepted ones. These inferences are accepted or not. If accepted, the inference becomes a premise and is added to the foundation. If not, then repeat step 3.
  5. The argument is constructed in the above manner until a final inference is asserted and accepted. This final inference is referred to as the conclusion.
If after reading yesterday's blog, you ran and found your partner shouting, "Hey, let's have a big argument!", and you followed the above outline reasonably well, then you might have discovered that it's not always clear whether or why a proposition is a valid or invalid premise. The reason for this is that most of us use and accept invalid premises pretty much all the time.

In formal argument, invalid premises are referred to as fallacies. Fortunately, the use of fallacy goes back thousands of years and the most common types are well documented. With a bit of education, you can learn to not only spot fallacy, but to quickly identify the type of fallacy.

Below, I've provided some of the more common fallacies that we routinely accept as valid propositions. Becoming familiar with these can help you to create constructive arguments that are well grounded and sound. As you develop your skills, it's not so important that you become expert in identifying specifically which type of fallacy has been asserted, but simply that you identify whether a proposition is valid or not.

Also note that the beauty of structured argument is that you needn't prove that a proposition is flawed in order to reject it. Propositions must be accepted multilaterally (by all parties), but they may be declined unilaterally (by just one listener).
If you are being presented a proposition, yours is to simply say "accepted" or "rejected"; you have no burden of proof.

False Analogy
False analogy involves the comparison of two items that do not have strong enough similarities to predict that what happens in one will happen in the other.
Why should I study hard and finish high school? Look at Tom Cruise. He's rich and famous and he never finished high school.

Berkshire Community College should not require a freshman algebra course. MIT doesn't even offer a freshman algebra course and their students are some of the brightest mathematicians in the world.

It worked for Apple and Steve Jobs, why wouldn't it work for us?
Although a great form of illustration, generally speaking, analogy is a terrible form of argument. So, rather than wasting time deciding whether or not an analogy is false, it might be more useful to simply exclude analogy as you cut your teeth on arguing.

False Premise
To introduce a false premise, you provide a logical statement in which you include (assume) a premise that has not yet been accepted in the argument.
Everyone wants a college degree. Good high school grades are necessary to getting into college. Everyone should work on good high school grades.

All musicians want to be rich and famous. Strong work ethic is required to become rich and famous. It's important that all musicians develop a strong work ethic.
In the above arguments, not one, but two premises are provided. For the argument to stand, both must have been accepted before one can process the inference.

Argumentum ad Baculum (Appeal to Force)
An appeal to force is committed when the arguer resorts to force or the threat of force in order to gain the acceptance of an assertion. The threat may be direct or indirect.
If you don't want to simply take my word on this, then we clearly have no relationship and I'm leaving.

If you don't make the right decision regarding your joining that FaceBook group, then you'll be fired.
Argumentum ad Populum (Appeal to the People)
Argumentum ad Populum attempts to win acceptance of an assertion by appealing to a large group of people. This form of argument is typically characterize by emotional and inflammatory language.
Everyone knows that PCs are for seriously minded business people and Macs are for artsy-fartsy flakes.

If learning to argue well is so important, then why doesn't everyone know how to do it?

By show of hands, who in the audience actually believes that Jonathan knows what he's talking about? Hmmm... not many hands there.
Argumentum ad Verecundiam (Appeal to Authority)
Appeal to authority is used quite frequently among academics and in television commercials. It is a logical shortcut by which logical steps (building blocks) are skipped and a premise is added to the foundation based on a reference to an expert's or famous person's opinion. (Imagine a brick floating in the air just above the foundation.)

There are cases where this form of argument can be valid, e.g., if the authority is in fact an expert on the topic being argued. However, even then, appeal to authority is tenuous as expertise has limits and experts often disagree with one another. Of course, there are cases where the expertise or fame of the person referenced has nothing to do with the premise being asserted.
Omega's are terrific watches. Tiger Woods wears and Omega.

The national teachers association recommends that all children complete at least four years of college.

God must exist. Einstein believed in God!
Argumentum ad misericordiam (Appeal to Pity)
Appeal to pity is a technique by which an arguer tugs on the heartstrings of the listener rather than presenting data to support his argument.
How can you convict him of killing his parents, when he's an orphan and has suffered enough.
Argumentum ad Ignorantiam (Appeal to Ignorance)
Appeal to Ignorance shifts the burden of proof from the arguer to the listener by asserting that a proposition is valid simply because it has not been shown to be invalid.
Of course God created the universe. Nobody can prove otherwise.

Of course alcoholism cannot be cured. No one has been able to show that it's curable.
Either/Or Fallacy
Using the either/or fallacy, the arguer implies that only two choices exists (both of which can be invalid).
Either we spend another trillion dollars on the financial industry or our entire monetary system will collapse.

We either make the health care system public or we keep it private.

You're either with me or against me.
Concurrence Fallacy
To use the concurrence fallacy, one implies a causal relationship between two coincidental premises that are unrelated or only loosely related.

Whenever I drink more than three mixed drinks, I meet the most beautiful women. Drinking must make me more attractive.

Circular Reasoning or "Tautological Reasoning."
Circular reasoning involves a proposition that depends upon itself to be true. The circular reasoning may be found within the proposition itself (easy to spot) or may involve a series of propositions that wrap back around to a starting proposition.
Ralph is an impressive speaker because he always touches his listeners deeply.
In the above example, the very meaning of "impressive" includes the idea of touching someone deeply, intellectually, or emotionally. In an argument this is ineffective and absurd, just as "he is handsome because he is good looking" would be.

Equivocation occurs when a key word is used with two or more different meanings in the same argument.
Supporters of the Alpha Institute properly employ the institute's trademarks in all written works referencing the institute. People who do not properly employ the institute's trademarks are not supportive of the institute.
The original premise is true only of ideal supporters. While ideally everyone would properly display the appropriate trademarks, not doing so does not make them unsupportive.

Slippery Slope
The slippery slope argument simply implies that one instance of something will inevitably lead to others.
If we let one student get away with not having done his homework, before you know it, no one will be doing homework.

No, you carnivores cannot order bacon with your steamed greens! Otherwise, everyone would start to request custom orders.
True But Irrelevant
A trait shared by several fallacies is that of being true but completely irrelevant to the argument.

Distraction or "Red Herring"
Distraction involves the introduction of a premise that is valid but irrelevant.
Joe Smith is clearly an honest man, when you talk to him, he looks you straight in the eye.

Taco Kitchen is a great restaurant, their utensils are all brand new, clean and shiny.

If you loved me, then you'd buy me that new car.
You didn't buy that car, therefore you must not love me.
Argumentum Ad Hominem (Against the Person)
Ad hominem involves negative statements regarding the person that are unrelated to the discussion, a Red Herring attached to the person.
George is a terrible lawyer, his hair is always unkempt and he always looks tired.

Fred will never become a great math teacher; he can't even parallel park.
Name-Calling (Genetic Fallacy)
Genetic fallacy is similar to (but different from) ad hominem. Rather than being based on a current observation (ad hominem), genetic fallacy is based on a person's past or their origin.
Ellen Fitzpatrick was a long time radical vegan. Her ideas must be held suspect.

Mark Kaufman has a history of falling asleep in class, therefore his report on what happened today cannot be trusted.

Teflon's father is grew up in Finland which has a high rate of alcoholism. It might be better not to hire Teflon as a website manager.
So What?
One of the great things about formal argument is that it's a partnership by which two or more parties move towards agreement by together building a solid foundation of mutually accepted propositions.

As each premise or inference is proposed, it is the job of the proposer to convince the listener that the proposition is valid. The listener can unilaterally reject the proposition. However, in truly constructive argument, the listener can also offer alternative propositions that she would find acceptable. Multilateral acceptance and unilateral rejection.

By applying what we discussed yesterday and today to everyday disagreements, you'll find that the solutions tend to be much more satisfying for everyone involved and they tend not to fall apart over time.

So, it's Sunday morning. A great exercise today might be sitting down with someone and debating something important. As you do so, pay attention to the method of engagement (i.e., proposing and accepting or rejecting premises), but don't worry so much about whether or not the propositions are faulty or how they're faulty. Then, once you're done, play back the recording and analyze each proposition to determine whether or not it is a fallacy and, if so, why it's a fallacy.

Or better yet, bring a recorder to your next business meeting where you anticipate heated debate! Can you imagine how much you'll have?

Happy arguing!


Saturday, February 27, 2010

For the Sake of Argument

I'm always fascinated by the misappropriation and subsequent dilution of words. One of the words I love is 'argument'. I (and a lot of ancient Greeks) believe that argument is one of the best forms of instruction available to us. To practice argument forces us to clarify our thoughts and to determine whether or not what we believe is valid. By becoming good at argument, we become people who can engage, evaluate and absorb diverse ideas and concepts; we become reasonable.

Unfortunately, when most people talk about argument, they don't refer to a great way to learn or a framework that facilitates shared understanding; instead, they refer to techniques of verbal assault or to heated exchanges in which the common thread is simply the outlandish expression of pent of emotion or the desire to 'win'.

Further, when it comes to logical argument, to say that most people are pretty terribly skilled is an insult to the terribly skilled. The combination of commonly held attitudes towards argument (i.e., it's a bad thing) and the lack of skill on the part of most of us causes us to avoid argument, thus missing out on any type of learning that requires rapid evolution of what we already know. However, if we embrace argument and learn to do it well, we can hone and sharpen one another.
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17
Interestingly and humorously, the two verses prior to Proverbs 27:17 state:
A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.
Proverbs 27:15-16
So to be clear, we're talking about argument (think Plato and Socrates), not quarreling (think constant dripping).

Key Skills for Peer Review
As we embark upon the initiatives I outlined on Wednesday (thank you for all the encouraging emails and phone calls), I'd like to start with a grounding in formal argument. I want to ensure that everything we come up with has structural integrity (everything jibes with everything else) and does not fall prey to common fallacies in logic. So, let's start with some basic concepts regarding logical argument.

Simple Logic
Logical argument by its nature is simple. A basic form of logical argument involves three components: premise, inference, conclusion. Although you'll see these presented in various sequences in real-world arguments, let's look at these in the order outlined above.

Step 1: Premise
Within an argument, a premise is an agreed upon fact within the context of the argument. The premise need not be "true", just agreed upon.

If we were to start an argument with premises, you might hear phrases such as: "For the sake of argument, would you agree that... humans are mammals? ...dogs have ears? ...smelly feet are less appealing than non-smelly feet?"

Oftentimes a premise will follow other statements in the argument, in which case you might here it prefaced by words such as 'because' or 'since', e.g, Since all major league baseballs are made from cowhide... or Because fish can't breathe air...

Step 2: Inference
Once one or more premises have been established, additional premises may be proposed. These propositions are called inferences as they are inferred from the agreed upon premises. Inferences are usually preceded by words like 'infers' and 'therefore', e.g., All major league balls being made from cowhide infers that cowhide is required to make major league baseballs or Fish cannot breathe air, therefore, in order to breathe, fish must require some other substance.

As inferences are agreed to, they essentially become premises.

Step 3: Conclusion
Conclusion is the final stage of the argument. It represents the summary proposition inferred by the initial premises and any intermediate inferences. I borrowed the following example of premises and inferences leading to a conclusion from Virtual School.
  • Every event has a cause (premise)
  • The universe has a beginning (premise)
  • All beginnings involve an event (premise)
  • This implies that the beginning of the universe involved an event (inference)
  • Therefore the universe has a cause (inference and conclusion)
Brick by Brick
There are gazillions of ways in which arguments go awry; however, the most common is simply abandonment of the basic form. In building an argument, we are essentially moving towards agreement one step at a time. Imagine that we're laying a foundation for a building brick by brick. Before each brick is cemented into the foundation, we examine it to see whether or not it is flawed in any way. If so, we discard it and look for another brick that is not flawed. In the end, we trust the foundation because we know it has no flawed bricks.

Similarly, in building an argument, each potential building block of the argument (each proposition) is examined and either accepted (becoming a premise) or discarded. Without examination and acceptance of all the propositions, the argument is fundamentally flawed. Therefor, if we don't agree on a proposition, it makes no sense to proceed until we have either agreed to a replacement proposition or that we have determined that the proposition isn't necessary to the argument.

I can't tell you how many times people have become frustrated with me and accused me of "not listening" when, while presenting their case, I stopped them to say, "Wait, I don't agree with that proposition. It doesn't make any sense to continue with your presentation until we either agree or decide that what you said wasn't actually material to the case you're making."

Learning to Argue Constructively
Anyone can learn to construct and conduct logical and constructive arguments simply by remembering the following:
  1. The process of arguing is based on moving towards agreement
  2. If ever there is a disagreement on a proposition, it makes absolutely no sense to proceed until you have:
    - come to agreement on that proposition, or
    - determined a replacement proposition, or
    - discarded the proposition as not required by the argument
  3. Begin each argument by stating and gaining acceptance of your premises (your basic building blocks)
  4. Based upon your premises, assert propositions or inferences mutually accepting or discarding each. Step 2 applies to each inference.
  5. Based on a foundation in which all the building blocks have been agreed to by both (or all) parties as valid and flawless, assert your conclusion.
Pretty simple, huh? Attitudinally, we're always working towards agreement. Operationally, we're never sneaking in any flawed bricks and we never begin the next layer until the first layer is solid.

Flawed Bricks
Once you've got the above sequence down, the next step is to learn to identify flawed propositions or fallacies. There are many, many ways in which flawed propositions survive inspection. However, if you become aware of common fallacies, you'll learn to identify them easily. The following are some sites that provide information on argument and commonly employed fallacies.

- Constructing a Logical Argument (
- Fallacies (
- Fallacie (
There are many, many more.

Next Steps

If you find yourself frequently engaged in "arguments" that seem to lead nowhere or you are frustrated in talking with people who "always seem to win", then you may want to invest a bit of time in educating yourself on the basics of logical argument. Just google the words "logical argument fallacy" and you'll find hundreds of pages that are useful.

Step one is to read various explanations of argument and fallacy and then to explain the concepts and structure to someone else. Repeat the process until you feel that you have a good understanding of the basics.

Step two is to try it out. You might start with something that has been a longstanding disagreement between you and your partner. Begin with the attitude of moving towards agreement. Layout each of your premises and obtain agreement on them or throw them out. Build your foundation brick by brick never inserting any bogus or flawed bricks. With each brick, obtain agreement before moving to the next.

If you follow the process I've outlined, I imagine that you'll experience amazingly different results (even if you do nothing other than adopt an attitude of always be moving towards agreement.)

Happy Saturday!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Marathon (Week 7)

Every Friday until November 7, 2010 you will find entries from a series written by Iris about her training to run the New York marathon in 2010. It is something she never aspired to do; she has never run a distance of more than 2 kilometers in her life. In this series she describes her adventures and how she works on her beliefs to transform her challenges and successes into one great experience.

After my article last week, a couple of readers and friends offered to do dialogue exchanges with me to help me work through my frustrations. These dialogues have not yet happened. My traveling and having a husband with flue around changed my priorities a bit this week. And the funny thing is that this didn't really mater, because writing last week's article had already brought me into a very different mental space. I had chosen to be more accepting and loving towards myself. I had decided that the main thing to focus on was being able to run without pain and that I will and can do what is needed to get me there.

What Did I Do?
What did I do? I consistently implemented the strengthening exercises and when any pain showed up, I stopped early. I did more non-impact training and I took way more rest. I also implemented different kinds of stretching exercises.

On Monday, I did a two and a half-mile run and I had to stop and walk a lot. My breathing was very heavy and I didn't run very well. But with a sick husband coughing and hacking around me, I had a good idea where that came from and instead of judging myself and complaining about my performance, I was proud that I was taking good care of myself. The whole week, I consistently took one day at a time, enjoying what I did without judgment, knowing that my performance that day didn't say anything about the next day.

On Tuesday, I skipped my run. Wednesday was my first complete three-mile run in two weeks and it went fantastically well. It was easy, it was fun, I had no pain, I felt GREAT!

I'm finally starting to understand why people want to run. It really can feel good! You have no idea how proud I was!

I am back on track towards my marathon training and I feel wonderful about my progress. Let me share some conclusions I made from my week:
  1. There are always answers to be found at any time.
  2. Answers do not have to be derived by thinking, but can also be reached by doing
  3. The present time doesn’t say anything about the future; it’s up to me to make up and create the future.
  4. If I believe something will work out, I will get to the solution quicker (much quicker).
  5. Persistence over time creates amazing results
What are you working towards? Have you made progress? Did you experience setbacks? What did you learn this week?

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Late again???

This morning, we were 45 minutes late for a doctor's appointment.  This post may sound like I'm rambling, but I'm just thinking in writing about the issue of my lateness.  It seems to be connected to so many other things and I want to start being a good student of myself in this area.  Plus, I would love you early and on-time people to tell me how you handle the various things you encounter that could contribute to your lateness but somehow it doesn't!  

Several things happened that felt like they were not within my control this morning : The babysitter did not show up on time, Jaedon wouldn't have his juice, Zachary's choice of clothing didn't fit, neither did Simonne's, I had to reschedule the training session I would have had later that afternoon with a new volunteer, Jaedon decided to throw his juice down the stairs (by some miracle it landed upright on one of the steps, with half its contents still in the cup, the other half all over the wall and in the carpet), Jaedon's shoes were discovered to have dog poop on the bottom (most likely from stepping in the offensive stuff during our outing yesterday)....  Fortunately, I had made 2 appointments (2 kids ) and though I was late for one, I was early for the other.

This is but one in countless examples of me being late.  Pre-children, getting somewhere on time was challenging for me.  I recall numerous detentions for lateness from Sr. James Vincent, as I was dropped to school by my father.  Maybe he had problems with lateness.  I only got to school on time when I travelled with Desiree, the girl up the hill from me who also went to my school.  Her father insisted that she got to school by 7:20am.  They often met me huffing and puffing as I ran up the hill to their house.

I had probably just gotten it all sorted out during early adulthood.  I got to work on time while teaching.  I think this was primarily because I made sure my classes started at a reasonable time: 10:00 am.  Routines, structure, predictability and knowing my own inner rhythms help me to get where I'm going punctually.

Then came kids!  What inner rhythms?  What routines?  I noticed that with each child, I have to add 30 minutes to what I would consider 'normal' preparation time.  So, if I am to pay attention to that bit of information, I should have started kid preparation at 9:30 for the 11:00 appointment this morning.  That means other prep would need to have happened before 9:30.  I feel nauseous thinking about that.  I'm definitely not a morning person, so early morning prep as the sole adult can be a daunting task.

I think it comes back to my planning strategies.  I need more of them.  I have noticed that I do 2 things that increase the likelihood of my being late:
  1. I overestimate what can be done in 5 minutes.  There is always this huge list of things I think I need to do.  So I'm leaving the house and I notice that I can't find my notebook.  I check behind the couch, the new spot for lost things (a.k.a. things swiped by Jaedon for hoarding) and indeed, there it is!  I also notice that several items of silverware, some bowls, open markers, lipstick and other odds and ends are also stashed.  Aware that I wasn't late, I call for a broom and set to clearing out behind the couch.... 10 minutes later, I'm frantic.  Another scenario is my noticing that I'm 5 minutes ahead and decide that I should have my smoothie, instead of the nothing I was planning to eat before I left.  After all, isn't this better for my body?  Then, since there is no point making just mine, I make for everyone, then call them, distribute the smoothies, change my sweater because of the spilled smoothie on it, clean smoothie off the floor,....  You get the idea.
  2. I don't plan for the things I can't control.  This is a big one for me.  Why not say something like 'Smoothie prep - 30 mins'?  My time slots are always done based on best case scenarios.  It's like I think best case is 'normal' and unplanned happenings are anomolies.  Yet I experience many unplanned happenings daily.  Perhaps is would be easier to plan for them if I even acknowledged that they were possible.  As I stood in traffic on the I-87 because of an accident, I thought "Traffic on the 87 is quite normal.  How come I don't expect it?"
I'm going to think about this some more...
  • Not allotting enough prep time seems to be an efficiency issue for me.  If I give too much time, I will get less done.  If I'm not hurrying, I could have gotten more done.  I can't just say to myself 'Smoothie Prep - 30 mins' because there is another part of me that's saying 'that's ridiculous! You know it doesn't take you that long to make a smoothie'.  So I'm going to continue thinking about my beliefs around what is efficient and what isn't.  
  • I would like to reframe my thoughts on normal vs anomalous happenings. I plan for normal.   I usually have enough information to decide that something is normal.  Jaedon has been throwing stuff downstairs for a few days, Zachary's sense of appropriate clothing choices isn't fully developed yet, there is usually traffic on the 87.  Like the child with autism, I can be inflexible.  I resist adjusting my mental pictures to integrate my 'don't wants'.  So, I continue to be startled.
Out of the Closet
My strategy for dealing with lateness is very different from my typical strategy for personal growth.  Usually, I talk about anything I'm thinking about.  I read about it, I write about it, and share what I'm learning with others and get their thoughts.  Lateness has such a bad rap in this part of the world (it's seen differently in Jamaica, where typically weddings start 2 hours after the stated time) that I hide from it and prefer to pretend that I'm late just this once.  That has to do with what I think people may think about me.   They are probably thinking it anyway, and my thinking about it in secret hasn't been helping me, so I'm outing myself.  I tend to be late and I'd like to spend the next couple of weeks allowing myself to really be curious about this.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  How do you figure this out?

Next week:  I do actually get to some places on time.  I wonder what I'm thinking about and believing in those situations?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just a Thought

Over the past months I've had some rather enthusiastic and energetic discussions with many of you regarding the idea of an independent body of independent people who might serve as a peer review group regarding the philosophy of happiness and the dialog. In this article, I'd like to propose the creation of such a peer group.

Peer Review
Peer review is a process by which the creative work and/or performance of an individual may be evaluated by other people in the same field in order to maintain or enhance the quality of the work or performance. The basic ideas is that a larger and more diverse group of people will usually find more weaknesses and errors in a work or performance and will be able to make a more impartial evaluation of it than will just the person or group responsible for creating the work or performance.

To obtain an unbiased evaluation, the peer review process depends on the independence of the reviewers to discourage potential favoritism shown to relatives, colleagues and friends. Typically, the reviewers are not selected from among the close colleagues, relatives or friends of the creator or performer of the work, and potential reviewers are required to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. Peer review helps maintain and enhance quality by identifying potential flaws in work and recommending alternatives that might correct those flaws.

I'm not familiar with the process by which folks who have carried on the wonderful work of Bruce Di Marsico determine what is included in the canon of his philosophy nor am I aware of how or whether or not they have process by which people are certified to conduct dialog sessions. I'm somewhat more familiar with the approach taken by others who've commercialized his philosophy.

In particular, the approach to review and certification is essentially the opposite of peer review; certification and review are conducted by a single group who assert exclusive ownership of the process and it at least appears to favor family members and friends. Further, certification of the quality of performance and/or creative work is lumped together with control of where and how one might practice the skills for which one has been certified. Several certificate holders have told me that they were told by staff at the Institute that that they would not be re-certified or not invited to participate in certain parts of the process simply because their activities were not viewed as "supportive" of the Institute.

Of course, the others can do whatever they want with their certification; after all, it's their certification. However, the philosophy, the methods and the dialogue are not. Therefore, I'd like to establish an independent process that is owned by no one in particular and focuses exclusively on the quality of the work or performance.

Getting Started
At first blush it seems that there are two or three basic tasks that are required to get all this underway. These tasks involve the creation of original work that would not be beholding to anyone or any group.

The Philosophical Canon
The first thing I'd like to create and have reviewed by peers is a canonical representation of the core philosophy of happiness. Over the past couple of weeks, I've started to take a cut at various pieces of this and have been thrilled with all the feedback I've received, some reinforcing what I'd written and other challenging it.

I'd like to take the process beyond my musings on various aspects of what is and what isn't the philosophy of happiness and collectively create a more formal thesis on what is. I'd be happy to work with others in any number of ways to do this. From taking a first cut myself and then asking for feedback from others, to creating an outline of the entire work and then dividing the work up among us, to simply coordinating the work of others.

My goal would be to have a clear, concise and immensely useful guide to the philosophy of happiness that would be owned by no one in particular and available to anyone free of charge (electronically) or for minimal charge (to cover costs) were we to create a physical book. A peer review process would be employed to ensure the quality of the work. Not everyone would have to agree on every item; however, wherever there were significant disagreements, we would always present the minority view along with the majority view.

Application via the Dialogue
The second order of business would be a similar document regarding the application of the philosophy in the form of talk-therapy referred to by many as the 'dialogue'. I would love to come up with a basic 'How to' guide for the applying the philosophy in the form of talk therapy, a sort of "Dialoguing for Dummies" kind of book (though I'd love to replace dialoguing with an actual verb).

Much has been written about the dialogue and there are many bits and pieces floating about that identify types of questions, types of experience (e.g., thoughts versus feelings versus beliefs), or techniques to be applied under various sets of circumstances. However, I am unaware of any clear and systematic presentation of the techniques that would survive formal scrutiny of peer review process.

I would love to create something that is clear, concise and simple, while also being comprehensive and systematic. As with the canon on the philosophy, I would like this to be done in a collaborative manner in which the results would be owned by no one in particular and available to anyone free of charge or at minimal cost where costs have been incurred.

Certification Process
The third task would be to establish a set of criteria and process by which practitioners might be certified in teaching the philosophy and/or providing talk therapy. Documentation of the criteria would be based upon the two documents I've outlined above. The review process would be conducted by a subset of peers selected at random so as to preclude cronyism.

The trickiest part would of course be getting started or bootstrapping as we call it in the software business (pulling yourself up by your bootstraps). My thought is to create a volunteer group of anyone who has been previously certified by Bruce's or the other organizations to conduct dialogues, and then as a group to determine the criteria and the process.

It could be that initially the intersection of the sets of ideas and beliefs is much smaller than the union; however, I also believe that through open exchange and in the absence of motivation to promote any specific brand of philosophy, we could arrive at a common set of criteria that we all agree upon.

Our goal would be to move toward consensus, identifying criteria upon which we agree and criteria upon which we don't. I believe that the result would be something that no one has yet fully conceived and that the result would far exceed the sum of the parts.

Once the criteria were established, the first task of the group would be to certify one another. Once a body of certified individuals were established, we could establish a process by which others might be certified.

In the case of certification, I would make all the criteria and documentation free of charge. However, I would want to at least minimally compensate individuals who spend their time reviewing the work of others as part of the certification process.

Open Source
In software, their is a concept called "open source". It's a process by which writers of software can make their work available to anyone for free and simultaneously protect the work from being picked up by others and marketed and sold as their own work, or even more importantly claimed as their own. I believe that many of the principles of open source apply to what I'm proposing here. There are standard licensing agreements that cover this type of work. I'll do a bit of research to ensure that whatever it is we come up with will remain in the public domain and cannot be copyrighted or trademarked by anyone else.

I believe that the philosophy of happiness and its application in the form of talk therapy and thought process can have a profound effect on our world. However, based upon the number of people familiar with the philosophy and its application, I believe we have not been good stewards of what we been given. I'd like to change that.

If you would like to join me in taking this to the next level, please leave a comment, but more importantly, please email me at as blogger isn't always great at ensuring that comments actually show up. Even if you're not interested in what I propose per se, I'd love to hear alternatives to what I've outlined above.

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One Year Of Empowerment

Exactly one year ago, I started the Belief Makers blog. I was insecure about how to present the teachings I had learned and how to explain the ways in which I personally had changed my life by using these tools. I was starting my own little business, and realized soon that I was not able to explain properly the concepts of my coaching to the people that contacted me. I was trained well in my coaching, but had no idea about how to present my skills in a way that empowered others.

When I started writing I learned very quickly how powerful writing was for me. I had to verbalize what I had learned. I had to develop myself into a teacher that could convey ideas and concepts in a useful way to others. Now I recognize that I held myself back by constantly activating childhood beliefs that said that I was not good at language and expressing myself.

As a kid language was challenging. I wrote right to left, wrote inverted, reversed and confused letters. I could not copy sentences without mistakes for quite some time. I also had problems bringing my words into in thoughts, and was regularly misunderstood when I tried to convey my thoughts. For a long time I felt that my thoughts and feelings were dismissed as unimportant, to which I responded with upset and frustration. Have you ever seen a five-year-old turning red and screaming from the top of her lungs or crying non-stop because she felt frustrated that she could not explain what was going on in her mind? That was me!

So, by creating and writing for this blog I finally started to get a grip on my beliefs in this area. What an empowering result. I started to believe that I do have things to say that are useful for you as a reader. I also started to believe that I could teach others to create empowerment in their lives, one step at the time, just like I am doing every day. And I felt empowered enough to tell other people how empowering it is to write and ask them to join as authors on this blog.

I am immensely grateful and excited for the authors who decided to participate with me in this blog. They all put free time aside to express concepts and ideas that might help you, the reader, understand how powerful you are. Their writings express their deep-rooted belief that you are able to make your life happier, healthier and more empowered, and that you might even offer suggestions or examples of how others might do the same.

One year ago, I could not imagine that the Belief Makers blog would grow to an established blog with lots of different authors, that we would have self-published first book and that we would have created a consistently growing readership of people interested in empowerment. What a year it has been! So much we have learned and shared, and still at the beginning of this amazing journey!

Over the last thirty days, the article most read on our site, was Joy's article called Loyalty. (Read it here if you have not yet done so).

I personally do not believe in loyalty. In my experience, when talking about loyalty, most people mean blind commitment to someone or some community community. Oftentimes loyalty blinds people and creates stupidity. Loyal people buy beliefs and take actions because they want to be part of something without thoroughly researching the consequences and taking full ownership for their thoughts and behaviors. It reminds me of the expression: "They run around like a chicken with its head cut off".

I suggest that instead of being loyal, you support the things you believe in, and you question the things that makes no sense to you. I grew up with the results of the Second World War and have learned early that we cannot afford to follow orders blindly. Let me give you an example...

As a Dutch citizen I support the Dutch Kingdom. I support Queen Beatrix. When our Queen retires, I plan to support our future king, Prince Willem Alexander and his wife Maxima. But if our Queen or our future king were to decide that Argentinians were the only acceptable immigrants to the Netherlands and to exclude all others, I would not support them in that effort.

Some people are uncomfortable with others not using loyalty. For them, not being loyal seems to mean, 'unpredictable' or 'loose canons!' or 'treacherous'. They fear that friends today, will become enemies tomorrow! They conceive of being stabbed in the back.

It's funny: the paragraph above is filled with fear of what could happen. As I think about it, demands for loyalty are simply fear speaking. Their fears support taking action to protect themselves from bad things happening, and with this they create in the world the very things they say they don't want. I think about the Second World War where loyalty to the government was used to kill millions of people. I think about all the places in the world where prisoners are held because they are not loyal to their governments, governments that may in fact be committing atrocities. I see all family disputes that arise after the death of the loved ones, because some believe their loyalty should be rewarded more than the others. I also think about a conversation I had at my front door someday in the Netherlands with a Jehovah's Witness. She explained to me that heaven is only for the Jehovah's Witnesses, the people "loyal to god". I told her that my heaven is open to everyone including god.

Jump into Empowerment
This blog was not created with the idea of establishing a loyal readership. My biggest hope has been that you become so empowered that you start to show us what you think and who you are. You agree with something you read? Great. Let us know. You don't agree with something you read? Wonderful, share your insights. You can actively create the world around you, by showing who you are and what you think. By taking ownership and support the things you want to see in the world, you help create that.

I am so excited that we have become a community of people striving to deeply understand empowerment, happiness, and all philosophies empowering for you and me. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we are not writing to tell you what to do and how to do it. But we do give suggestions about what you can do, we share with you how we do it, and how we believe that creating your own answers is empowering and will change your life and the life of others around you into an happier place.

We are jumping into the second year of empowerment, and I wish for you to embrace your beautiful unique self and support us by sharing some of your "Adventures in Happiness".

Monday, February 22, 2010


For someone who thinks as much as I do, I am quite gullible. It seems my nature (if such a thing exists) to start all relationships with trust, not to require that trust be earned. I always start with the attitude that the other person knows what they're talking about and that they're honest about what they're saying.

Being gullible has served me quite well. It's allowed me to discard and change beliefs that I grew up with as truths. It's allowed me to learn skills that might otherwise have been inaccessible to me. It's allowed me to see past superficial signals and queues that might otherwise have caused me to dismiss the ideas and perspectives of various people from whom I've ended up learning much.

In some instances, being gullible has been a bit expensive. For example, the other day Iris and I decided to actually get me prescription glasses rather than the $8.99 reading glasses that occupy various nooks and crannies scattered about the house and the car. We walked into the Wal-Mart, got our eyes examined and then, with our prescriptions in hand, ventured into the display of frames to pick the ones that would work for each of us.

My prescription called for either bifocals or progressive lenses. As I talked with the salesman about which frames to pick and whether to go with bifocals or progressive lenses, I explained that I spend about 10 hours per day working on the computer. I wanted to make sure that whatever I selected would work for me.

The man assured me that both would work, but that I would have to spend at least a week getting used to the progressive lenses as they often throw people off initially. He explained how great the progressive lenses were and how they would be the most helpful to me given the diversity of my visual experience. I said, "Sounds great! Let's go with the progressive lenses."

He then continued to explain how the progressive lenses, being much more sophisticated, were significantly more expensive than plain lenses or bifocals.

Anyway, $450 later, we walked out of the store with our orders placed in eager anticipation of the arrival of our new glasses.

The Big Day
Nine days later, we walked back into the Wal-Mart to pick up our new glasses. Iris' straight lenses were great. Her frames looked great. She was all set.

I tried on my progressive lenses and was greeted with an experience that was a bit otherworldly. The progressive lenses essentially change from bottom to top. As you peer through the bottoms of the lenses at things closer, the lenses behave more like reading glasses (magnifying what you see). As you move your gaze upward towards the middle, the lenses provide less magnification to the point of providing no correction whatsoever; this allows you to look up from something close (say the menu at a restaurant) to something farther away (say the person with whom you're dining) and see both clearly.

As you move focus even higher, the lenses start providing correction for distance bring things far away into focus. So, if you stand still with say a menu in front of you, a person across the table and a sign of specials on the back wall of the restaurant, by moving your gaze from bottom to top, you can see all quite clearly. That is, if you're sitting still and not moving your head along with your eyes.

If on the other hand, you're a rather animated ADD type who moves his head quite frequently and whose driving style can be calibrated in lane-changes-per-second, the initial experience of progressive lenses can be a bit daunting, perhaps even nauseating.

The man who sold me the lenses told me, "Not to worry, you'll get used them. Before you know it, the lenses will seem normal. The important thing is that you wear them for a week non-stop to allow yourself to adjust."

So, being who I am, my immediate response (despite everything inside me screaming WTF) was to say, "OK!" and we walked out of the store with my glasses not to be removed until I went to bed.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Iris and I proceed to the local mall to procure lunch at the food court. As we sat at the table munching on hot dogs with chili and onions (for me) and fish & chips (for Iris), I started practicing using my sophisticated progressive lenses. Indeed, as I held my head relatively still (no mere feet), I noticed that I could see everything clearly (the labels on the side of the paper containers that held our food), Iris' face (which had mysteriously increased in the number of laugh-lines around her eyes) and the small text the various items listed on menu boards across the food court.

As I nodded my head to make slight adjustments and learned to turn my head so as to avoid using my peripheral vision, I was able to bring everything into focus. How cool!

So, I began practicing looking from this to that and then changing everything up and starting again. Slowly, it all started to come together. It seemed that the guy was right. I was confident that within a couple of days, let alone a week, I would have this progressive lens thing down.

The Moment of Truth
Confident now that this progressive lens thing worked, we marched over to the Starbucks for the moment of truth: using the glasses with my laptop. I pulled my Mac out of my messenger back, sat down with a latte and opened Firefox to get on line. All this before looking at the screen.

And then, the moment of truth. As I looked at the screen, I decided to take the same approach with my Mac that I had taken in food court: I would let my eyes do the navigating as I held my head relatively still.

I glanced up and down without nodding my head and let my head move back and forth to see from side to side, and voila!, of the 2,304,000 pixels on my 17 inch LCD only about 96,000 were in focus. I tried adjusting the position of my head, I tried adjusting the position of my glasses, I tried moving my Mac back and forth, but the only way I could actually bring any arbitrary section of the screen into focus was to move my head around and/or to move the Mac.

Hmmmm.... I must be doing something wrong.

Undaunted, I determined that I would continue until I figured it all out.

Two Days Later
Now I may be gullible, but I'm also extraordinarily confident (some might say over-confident) in my capacity to learn and acquire new skills. After two days full-time use of my progressive lenses, I had everything down, except for my Mac. Walking around the house, driving the car, sitting at a restaurant, watching a movie all went great without any problems whatsoever. Not so with my Mac which continued to refuse to conform to demands of my progressive lenses.

So, I opened myself to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, progressive lenses weren't going to work with my Mac. As soon as I did, the answer came tumbling down like thunder from heaven with the pristine clarity of post-thunderstorm, nitrogen-rich air, "Of course progressive lenses won't work with a computer screen!"

Applying a little Pythagorean Theorem we see clearly (so to speak) that the top of the computer screen is in fact always going to be as close if not closer than the bottom of the screen. If I place my Mac in front of me so that the top of the screen is about level with my eyes and about 20 inches away, then based on Pythagoras, the bottom of the screen (which is 10.5 inches high) will be 22.588714 inches away, i.e., the square root of 10.5 squared plus 20 squared.)

For progressive lenses to work under this scenario, they would have to be inverted magnifying more on top than on bottom. As soon as I dropped my gullibility, the answer was intuitive and easy to see, a definite "well, duh!" experience.

Of course, simply by tipping the screen back a bit, I can create an environment in which every portion of the screen is equidistant from my eyes, which makes the Mac's screen a great target for, well, plain old reading glasses. Hmmm...

To be Gullible or not to be Gullible...

A dictionary definition of gullible is, "marked by or showing unaffected simplicity and lack of guile or worldly experience."

There's a lot to be said for approaching the world this way, you see things you wouldn't see were you to be affected or jaded, a lot of experiences are more enjoyable, and you open yourself to learning that might otherwise remain inaccessible to you.

On the other hand, you end up being, well, gullible which is also defined as "easily tricked because of being too trusting."

The tricky part is that it's hard to be both, as soon as you're not gullible or you start to question whether or not it's OK to be gullible, well, you've already thrown into place so many filters that it's really hard to turn on your gullibility. On the other hand, well, you might end up buying glasses that don't do what you want.

In my case, I'm thankful for the new progressive lenses because, even though I can't use them effectively for working with my Mac, I can see that Iris must smile and laugh a lot. Further, because I was so gullible and trusting, I was able to adapt to my progressive lenses in just a day or two. I can still use my $8.99 reading glasses with my Mac and my $450 progressive lens glasses for everything else. So, I see the whole experience as net positive.

What about you? Are you more naive and gullible or more worldly and jaded? Whichever you are, how does it serve you? How might being the other be useful?

Happy Monday!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Creating my future

Do our beliefs create our future?

This world is a fantastic place and I always wanted to figure it out completely. I remember being sixteen and having these long conversations with my high school friends about how life works. I used to search and search for answers and finally I started feeling that I found my path when I started my autism training in the Berkshires.

Later on I got into spirituality, learnt other perspectives and realized the basics are all the same. What I read in spiritual books I find in other books. Some of the thoughts might be written a bit differently, but seem to have the same meaning. I guess we all head towards the same understandings, but we get there walking different paths.

As we are all different, we all have preferences to different philosophies and religions. A very popular topic right now seems to be to manifest, and attract things into our lives. Lots of spiritual teachers sell the belief that holding positive thoughts about a future event will draw that situation into our lives. When I first explored this process, I made myself scared by thinking "Oh I am attracting all these negative things because I have fearful thoughts regularly".

When I started working through my fears, I opened myself up to a more positive view. I started reading again about manifesting and realized it is an amazing concept. After I discovered the beliefs that did not result in positive thoughts and feelings, and changed them into beliefs that made me feel great, I actually I got myself to a place where I could start attract positive things into my life.

I started to realize that by spending time on discovering and changing my beliefs to become more positive, I create a solid space from which I can live positively naturally and which results in more creativity in my live.

Seeing this, let me have a look at some of my beliefs and how they help attract things into my life.

I am lovable
When I believe that I am lovable, I will have a great feeling about myself and send thoughts into the universe that say "Hey, this person is lovable". People will then be drawn to me because they share this believe with us. This is a cool thought. If this "law of attraction" thing really works and I believe it does, we actually attract people who share the same beliefs we do. This will result in them helping us make our beliefs stronger by providing us with evidence that we can easily buy.

Our friends are our mirrors
So when we look at our friends as mirrors and see what they believe when they act, speak and see, we learn a lot about our beliefs. When I believe I am clumsy I will send out thoughts that will attract the people who believe the same thing about me or who will support this belief. If I believe I can get rich I will attract opportunities and people who will help me get there. On the other hand if I believe I can’t get rich I will get all the evidence of the world to show myself I just can’t do it. If I believe the world is a fearful and unfair place, I will have a lot of friends who will help me support this belief.

Powerful stuff!
By changing our beliefs we can change what we attract into our lives and we can live the life we want to. How cool that is! My life is in my hand and I can make the most of it. By looking around me I learn more about myself, and what I stand for. By looking at my beliefs, I can make changes where wanted and recreate myself in a more positive person, and attract more positive opportunities in my life.

What do you attract in your life today?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Marathon (week 6)

Every Friday until November 7, 2010 you will find entries from a series written by Iris about her training to run the New York marathon in 2010. It is something she never aspired to do; she has never run a distance of more than 2 kilometers in her life. In this series she describes her adventures and how she works on her beliefs to transform her challenges and successes into one great experience.

Sometimes things seem easy, other times things seem hard. This week’s marathon training was very, very challenging. And I did quite some unhappiness during the week. Let me tell you...

Last week, after running the 5K in the cold and snow, I ended up with some painful tendons around my knees. I decided to take some rest, and do some replacement non-impact exercising for a couple of days. My theory behind it: by giving the injury time to heal it would disappear.

But it didn’t. Instead it got worse: an irritation that only shows when I run, not when I cycle or use the elliptical machine. And with the persistent irritation, I became persistently more irritated, frustrated and grumpy...

Dragging Up the Past
You have to know that this pain reminds me of something that happened when I was in my teens.

At fifteen, I began to experience similar pain during the summer holidays and it did not go away until I was in my twenties. My dad bought me a moped for my sixteenth birthday, which helped me to go with my friends to the beach, and easily go to school. Everyone on the bike, while I followed by moped.

I remember an outing with my boyfriend’s family where my boyfriend drove me around in a wheelchair. I remember months of not being able to walk from one side of the living room to the other side, and I remember lots of pain when moving from one classroom to the next.

Gone but Not Forgotten
When the pain disappeared, the whole experience disappeared from my mind. Over the last years, I never ever revisited this time of my life. That injury was past, I got over it and I filed the memories under "case closed".

When the pain showed up over the weekend, it pulled open this world of emotions, pain and beliefs from the past that I had never thought to revisit. A fresh new area of beliefs I have not challenged, not explored, and not worked with. What a great playground for a mentor.

Keep It Closed!
Hmmm... My first response was to close that door again quickly. When being in "mentor mode" exploring beliefs is the most incredible thing to do, but there are clearly moments in which I would rather try alternative paths. Instead of looking at my beliefs related to my teenage years and seeing how they influence my response to this current challenge, I focused this week on how to take care of my physical body properly. I googled the injury, started with strengthening exercises, changed my training schedule, etc. I learned a lot this week about how to better take care of my body, but the learning didn't improve my mental outlook. I have now a good structure in place to get my body back on the rails without physical pain, but my head is holding on to "grrrrrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhh"

What an Opportunity!
So, while writing this blog I started to realize that it is time to start cleaning my closet and to clear the dust bins scatter through my head. I believe that this week's physical challenge is independent from what happened in my teenage years, but my response of frustration and irritation is so much bigger that this situation alone merits. Even though I used shortcut belief changes this week instead of the Dialogue, they have not been sufficient to overcome my unhappiness and frustration.

Time for a Dialogue
Sometimes the things that really bother us are not the things that are most obvious. Once I heard on a teacher say: in the end it all comes down to "Why am I afraid to die?"

So this week I will dig and dialogue and work, and then afterward, I'll share with you what is on my mind. Anyone interested in exchanging some dialogues with this mentor over the phone over the next days? Send me an email if you are interested in mutual exchanges.

Next weeks blog will follow up with details about my cleaning process!

Have a great week!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Doctor's Visit!

Jaedon  went to the doctor today!  I was (mostly) happy and comfortable for the entire visit!!  Let me give you some background so you can know how huge this is.

Jay is hypersentive to light and sound.  He has NEVER tolerated doctor's intruments being used anywhere near his body, especially the ones with lights.   This phenomenon did not mysteriously start with his autism diagnosis at 30 months.  This started at birth.  So, at 5 months old when he somehow scraped his eye ball with a finger nail, The pediatrician didn't have the privilege of actually seeing the scrape because he would not allow anyone to hold his eye lids apart to look inside his eye.  Honestly, 2 adults working together couldn't get a 5 month old baby's eye lids to co-operate.  The power of the human spirit with a strong intention!

So it continued though many doctor's visits.  I became good at explaining to the doc up front "No doctor's instruments please.  His ears and eyes are fine."  The doc got a quick look in his throat while he was yelling IF he had no instruments in hand.  As Jaedon grew, it became more dramatic.  Could there be a doctor's office with no instruments on the wall?  He would walk to the door, see the instruments and bolt back outside!  Over the years, I have created a fair amount of anxiety associated with these visits, and do them only when threatened.  I worried about the doctors, the nurses, the patients in the lobby seeing me chase him around, hearing him yelling, the children being traumatized by his yells ("Mommy, what are they doing to that boy?")  I was a wreck!

A threat from the social worker got me to the doctor today.  I did 3 really smart things for myself and I'm so excited that I did them!  First, I changed the pediatrician.  The last one didn't help my stress level at all  ("Mom, we can't not look in his eye just because he doesn't like it", meanwhile, 2 burly guys are restraining my son and he is starting to look black and blue from the fight...).  I found someone who has a child with autism, who also lives in our neighborhood.  Secondly, I decided that no matter what, I would remain comfortable.  I took my instant be present = gratitude = happiness pill and voila!  I was there.  I decided that no matter what Jay did, I would act in Jay's best interest, not worrying about the people around.  I would talk to him and respond to him as if they weren't watching from the corner of their eyes and wondering about us.  Thirdly, I decided to take the other 2 children to the doctor next week.

Jaedon had his fair amount of suspicions....I ran around the office a bit after him, I spent several minutes cajoling him to actually walk into the medical room, quieting my anxiety with trust as I waited on him to decide, I fixed spilled brochures, took his temperature and pulse myself.  I had a great time!  The highlight of the visit was 2-fold:
  • Jaedon spent about 10 minutes examining the doctor's instruments!  He looked at the light, turned it every which way, flicked it rapidly from side to side, put it in his ear, I pretended to look in the ear and congratulated him for letting me.
  • The doctor let him do all this!!!  She didn't even blink when he whisked the gadget down and began his thorough examination.  I have to admit that in that moment, I was tempted with discomfort (How much do these things cost?).  Her calm helped remind me how useful it is to stay calm, though watchful, in moments like these.  I love this woman!
My learnings:
  1. Examine a situation for unnecessary stressors and change them
  2. The power of a clear intention is ... powerful
  3. Unpleasant doctor's visits today don't mean unpleasant doctor's visits tomorrow.  I can throw out the belief that all doctors visits will be horrible.  Not only am I growing and changing, but so is Jay!
Are you dreading something this week?  Change what you can, set a clear intention to be comfortable and believe in the possibilities.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


So much of our lives is spent waiting, sometimes actively, sometimes passively, sometimes with great resistance... and yet, wait we do.

Sometimes our waiting wears a disguise and we call it indecision. But it's not really indecision, it's just a decision to wait... to wait and see... to wait for someone else to decide for us... to wait for another opportunity.

Sometimes frustration and fear masquerade as waiting... when we're stuck in traffic... when our children are late getting home from dates... when we want to know the results of the diagnostic test... when we want to hear the words "I forgive you"... But these are not really waiting. Fear, frustration, anxiety all come from being physically trapped in time while our minds race ahead of our bodies. Our minds are doing anything but waiting.

Then there are times when waiting comes quite easily: where we anticipate, but don't race ahead. We know what is coming and yet we're fully present in the moment... just waiting.

Waiting can be renewing and refreshing. It can be calming and freeing.

Paraphrasing a bit, C.S. Lewis once said that the present is the intersection of time and eternity.

For me, to wait, is to be eternal, even if only for a moment.

I waited this morning... I felt the air fill my lungs. I felt the blood coursing through my veins. I felt the cold wind doing its best to invigorate me. I heard the clock ticking... and the waves rolling... and the heating system blowing. And I waited...

I wanted to share my waiting with you.


Monday, February 15, 2010

What Defines You?

Watching the Olympics provides a great opportunity to see the effect of attitude on performance. Last night, Iris and I watched the Paired Figure Skating Short Program competition. Although, we were watching world class skaters, the expressions of attitude varied dramatically. Some couples seemed to be completely at ease both with their performances and with each other. Others seemed to be quite tense and even fearful.

Interestingly, the couples who seemed most at ease also seemed to fare best in the competition. As the broadcast switched from sport to sport, this combination of being more relaxed and performing better seemed to go hand-in-hand.

Learning to Perform
I went to music school in Boston at a place called Berklee College of Music. In many ways, Berklee can be a tough place to learn music; it's highly competitive with really good competitors. The expectations and demands are high.

I remember the first day of my ear-training class where the teacher dropped the needle in the middle of a Coltrane solo and said, "Write this down." And some of my classmates did. So you learned to do it, or you didn't. When I was there, almost half the freshman class didn't come back the next year.

The cool thing about Berklee was this: if you really, really wanted to learn music and to work in music, Berklee was the place to go. They had more graduates working in music than any other school.

Attitude is Everything
Much of what I learned from my teachers at Berklee wasn't so much about the technical aspects of music as it was from how they approached music and the attitudes they brought to their approach. My composition and arranging teacher had been a really great guitar player whose carpel-tunnel had made it impossible for him to play without great pain. And yet, he seemed completely undaunted. While actively pursuing various measures to correct the challenges of carpel-tunnel, he began playing keyboards with his good hand.

One day, while talking about these nifty electrodes attached to his his wrist and elbow (it was the late 70's), he explained that prior to becoming a musician, he'd been a painter. He loved art and wanted to make a career of it. However, somewhere in the process, he discovered that he was completely colorblind.

His teachers told him that there was no way for a colorblind artist to make it as a professional. "No worries", he replied. He would simply work exclusively in monochrome (work in just a single color with varying degrees of light or brightness). He spent weeks working on various pieces that were just blues or just reds or just oranges, etc. He then brought some in for review proudly displaying what he'd done.

One of his instructors commented, "I thought you were going to work only in monochrome?" to which he replied, "Yeah, I did... didn't I?"

So, he decided to become a musician instead. No matter what, he always moved forward. His attitude was always optimistic and upbeat. He was a real inspiration.

Just a Little Extra Walking Around Money
My theory teacher was a gruff and curmudgeonly guy who totally knew his stuff: not just from a memorization or by the book perspective, but from a complete, working understanding that allowed him to visualize and hear every concept he taught. Everyone was pretty much afraid of him. In addition to teaching a Berklee, he was also one of the top local sax players in Boston. When national tours would come to town, he would often get picked up to fill in the local shows.

One day, after a performance the night before, he commented on attitude and playing sax. He said that, whenever he gets picked up to play with a touring act, he's much more likely to make a mistake than the guys doing it all the time. And yet, when he does make a mistake it's gone. On the other hand, when a touring guy does make a mistake, it's a guarantee that he'll make at least two to four more.

He went on to say that, for the touring guys, the tour is the gig. For him, it's just a little extra walking around money. He didn't get all wound up about making mistakes; they were just mistakes. For the touring guys, mistakes were much more.

The Drunks, Druggies and Sex Fiends
Of course, not everyone at Berklee shared the outlook of the guys I mentioned above. There were people there for whom their music was who they were. They made themselves as people indistinguishable from themselves as musicians. The result was manic: when they were performing well, life was wonderful, and when they weren't...

I think that one of the reasons that you see so much abuse of drugs, alcohol and sex in music is that musicians so often lose their identity independent of their music.

Two Boat Anchors
Of course, the phenomenon of identifying yourself based on external factors is not limited to musicians and artists. When Iris and I were looking around for someone to marry us, we stumbled upon this really sweet Buddhist justice of the peace in Arlington, MA.

As we met with him to review our concept of the wedding and what we would do, he produced a couple of samples of wedding vows. As Iris and I read them, I could feel her head shaking in sync with mine. The vows were full of language regarding soul-mates and other halves and finding and completing one another. In unison, we said, "These will never do."

Yet, I imagine that, these being standard vows and all, many people actually use them. In essence they deliberately enter a relationship where neither partner stands alone, where they become mutually dependent. Do people really believe that they complete each other? (That's actually not rhetorical on my part.)

In business, we'll often describe the proposed merger of two struggling companies as tying together two boat anchors hoping that they'll float. I think this analogy is aptly applied to the "you complete me" phenomenon. Whenever "need" and "self-definition" enter the mix of reasons to be together, they have a way of forcing out all the others. Unless you have two strongly independent people who come together because of synergy (e.g., 1+1=3), then you're kind of doomed. Not doomed to failure or death or whatever, just doomed to the mania that comes with mutually dependent self-definition.

What Defines You
Each of us is defined in some degree by our activities, our passions, our families, our jobs and the circumstances of our lives. Yet, the degree to which we do so varies significantly. Further, I would wager that the volatility in one's happiness is directly proportional to the degree to which one defines himself externally. If you're highly defined by your work, your kids, your partner, your art, your weight, then you probably experience lots of ups and downs. If you're mostly just who you are independent of all the above, then you're probably pretty consistent.

Even your mode of self-definition can vary from time to time. I have friends who, when they're feeling physically strong and healthy, are the most confident and independent people you'll ever meet. Yet, when they feel less than strong or can't work out due to injury, they not only lose their confidence regarding their physical capacity, they lose their confidence in other areas as well: at work, in relationships, with money.

So, how volatile are you emotionally? Do you have highs and lows, ups and downs? Or, are you consistent day to day? Do experience dramatic change coincident with changes in circumstance? Or, are you an emotional rock that doesn't vary or fluctuate with changes in the weather?

If you do experience emotional volatility, what are the external factors that you're using to define yourself? Why are you using them? How would you define yourself without them?

Have a great week!