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Seek To Understand

open hands

The apex of my current preoccupation with understanding happened around Christmas when I struggled to understand. There were tweets in my timeline sending best wishes for the season, or that kind of thing, to everyone except people who’d voted to leave the EU, or everyone except Trump supporters. Those people should fuck off.

The people I follow on Twitter generally value empathy and place a high priority on kindness , so it jars when I observe something that feels incongruous with that. Of course we can’t be kind and empathetic ALL the time. There are things happening and behaviour which, rightly, make us angry. And yet there are clearly groups who, at least in the world of social media, are excluded from this consideration and people seem to think this is OK. Can we excuse that on the basis that fools and bigots deserve no better than they give?

Kindness often starts with understanding and seeking to understand doesn’t mean you support or sympathize. Occasionally we should listen without trying to change someone’s mind or telling them how they’re wrong. If we seek to understand the values which lie behind someone’s beliefs we may find something, however slight, in common. Even if there’s no common ground there is always value in being exposed to a different perspective.

Seeking to understand can seem like treachery. My light reading over the Christmas break was a book about the rise of National Populism. I was looking for something which might help me to question my own opinions and assumptions. To look beyond the echo chamber caused by a combination of algorithms and the way our brains are wired to pay attention to facts which support our existing opinions. It wasn’t until I’d nearly finished that I read this review and wondered whether, if I’d seen it before, I’d have bought the book. Bizarrely I felt slightly ashamed that I’d actually found it worth reading and not thrown it down in disgust.

Listening to and seeking to understand people you disagree with takes courage. This programme in which a vegan activist visits a dairy farmer gives an idea of how difficult it can be. Maybe one of the challenges – as well as confronting ideas which contradict our own – is that, if there’s an active role for us to play, it means that we are somehow accountable. Peter Block writes in his book “Community” that the “mind-set that the other is the problem means we have to wait for them to change before the change we want in the world can come to pass.” It’s much more comfortable for us to tut, complain and deride rather than see ourselves as part of the problem and, at the same time, the solution.

Shouting louder, insults and derision aren’t working. Doing more of the same isn’t working. Isn’t it worth trying something else?



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Curating from my own collection


The attic bedroom is generally used by my mother-in-law or by teenage friends of my daughters crashing after a party and, to be honest, doesn’t get a lot of attention. So before a friend came to stay recently it needed a good dusting, including the stuff on the shelf. This shelf has become home to a few things which have sentimental value but aren’t considered aesthetically acceptable to be placed elsewhere in the house. Not that anyone would call our home precious, nor me the queen of interior design.

Contemplating these momentos – photographs, stuffed toys, gifts made by the children when they were younger – made me conscious of how much my mind has been preoccupied with the present and with the future. Not a bad thing to be sure. But, being focussed on the building of a business and the dramas – large and small – of family life, I’ve largely forgotten what has brought me here. The achievements and the experiences. The joy of raising our children. Perhaps I’m even slightly ashamed that there’s quite so much past life to remember. Sometimes the world doesn’t seem to value our grey hairs. During that mundane household task my perspective alters. There is so much which is precious in those years, and which needs to be appreciated. To value myself, my opinions, and my craft I need to remember that.

BBC Radio 4. The panel on The Saturday Review is discussing an exhibition of Degas at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge: “..it had all the strengths & weaknesses of a show that’s built mainly from your own collection.” The comment grabbed my attention. What are those strengths and weaknesses? In this case loaned works of art seem like padding. I think about how awkward I can be sometimes when working with ideas which are unfamiliar to me. The importance of being aware of what I know and can do, and of recognising where and how it can be of value. The need to be continuously adding to my “collection” of skills, knowledge and experience. Doing it with care and consideration so that it fits with what’s already there but so the whole remains relevant and up to date.

There’s the tendency to admire and be a bit envious of what other people have. Which is fine and natural. But there’s a great show to be curated from my own collection.


Write like there’s no one reading


A while ago I read a comment on LinkedIn by someone who was concerned about how easy it had become to post articles on the site. I didn’t share his opinion and, in most respects, still don’t.

I’ve read blogs of great insight and beauty. Writing that’s sincere, well argued, imaginative, and thought provoking. Writing that’s opened new ways of thinking for me. I’m intensely grateful to the people who wrote and shared them.

The ability to share blogs and articles via the internet has democratised the creation of knowledge. There’s the opportunity to hear so many more voices which hadn’t necessarily been heard before. There are such different tastes to be catered for that almost anything will speak to at least one person.  We may not share those opinions but that’s particularly to be welcomed lest we live in a thought bubble (which, sadly, is all too easy). Reading about views which are different to our own should encourage us to reflect. Why do I disagree? Can I understand the perspective and experience of the other?

What bothers me is that it’s so easy to share stuff online that it’s becoming expected. It seems as though sharing our reflections in writing is evidence that we are thinking. In the same way as sharing experiences via Facebook and Instagram provides proof that we’re doing things.

Could exposure to blogs be affecting the way we think? It used to be that PowerPoint overkill was the culprit. Everything had to be explainable in groups of 5 bullet points. In some circles it probably still does. Now it’s the blog format which may be constraining us.  Occasionally I’ve caught myself editing my thinking even as it’s happening as if creating a – never to be written – blog post and wonder whether I’m alone in this.

Sometimes it’s helpful to write something knowing that it’s going to be shared. It can be useful to use that discipline, to back up our arguments, to exercise that particular writing muscle. Or we have a different goal. Sharing something of ourselves and our experience that we think could be of value to others. Sometimes we feel so strongly or are just so damn excited about something that we just have to let others know it.

But I hope that we can still write for our own pleasure and purpose. To help us work out what we think and feel. To help us remember things that we’ve learned, to appreciate and be grateful for positive experiences. To gain perspective or just vent our emotions during more difficult times.

No need to be ashamed at having a bunch of half written blog posts. It’s likely that the writing served it’s purpose at the time. At some point we may return to them and feel the need to add, to edit and to complete. One day they may be shared – or not.

It’s up to you (and me).

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A Change of Heart

Heart on the sandChange shows up in unexpected ways.

In the last month both my teenage daughters have both acquired their first boyfriend (one each, I hasten to add). At their ages it was to be anticipated but it’s still something new. We have these hulking boys in our house, either in person or via Skype, in their rooms late in the evening. This is different from the male friends who’ve been hanging out here before.

It’s another stage in growing up, becoming independent and, one day, moving on.

After a few jittery hours I calmed down. The girls are sensible. But I know it’s going to be difficult sooner or later. Either my daughters will be hurt or the boys will and this will just be the first time.

My husband is less relaxed. I can feel him almost growling like a guard dog when the boys are around. There’s one of them that he’s not keen on and we all sense it.

My advice has been – be welcoming. Get to know him. Because I don’t want them to feel they have to sneak around or be together somewhere else.

It gets me thinking about when this works for some other changes too. Embrace it, love it, play with it. Do the opposite of what you want to do, which is run away and stick your head under the duvet. Or kick it out of your house.

Maybe it’s not as bad as you think. And we all know that what is resisted persists.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised


The revolution will have comfortable chairs, colourful pens, coffee and cake.

The revolution will be about people who know, and do, and care, setting the agenda.

The revolution will apply the law of two feet.

The revolution will be about asking difficult questions (like why do we exist?) and realising that this is a strength and not a weakness.

The revolution will invite people to reflect.

The revolution will be spread via social media.

The revolution will use digital technology to build real connections between people.

The revolution will reignite the sparks of motivation and hope.

The revolution will share knowledge, sources, contacts and experience in a spirit of generosity.

The revolution will create safe spaces for people to step outside their comfort zone.

The revolution will not be led by people with commercial or hierarchical power.

The revolution will be led by people who combine power with love.

With thanks to @SimonHeath1 for his artwork and Gil Scott-Heron for the title and inspiration.


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It’s Complicated

Human beings. In some ways incredibly complex and, at the same time, so very simple. We like to know whether something, or someone, is good or bad. We like to know whether we should do something or we shouldn’t.

This is, of course, at its most visible in the media – whether traditional or social. Witness the endless debates about the dangers or health-giving powers of different foods and drinks, supplemented by articles complaining that it’s all to difficult to understand and asking why scientists can’t just make up their minds. The shocked reactions when someone who’s considered a modern day saint is revealed to have perfectly human flaws or an unpopular opinion. Or the way we seek to rationalise the kind gesture of a bad guy so that it fits in with our existing view.

And it happens in the workplace. We’ve realised that there are other ways for people to learn than sitting in a classroom and have witnessed formal training methods being used, perhaps badly designed too, where something else could have been more effective. So classroom training becomes the villain.

We’ve realised that failing or making mistakes is normal and we can learn from the experience. That doesn’t mean that making mistakes is always good.

Another development is to value authenticity and bringing our whole selves to work. Don’t get me wrong. I think this is a hugely important step towards better morale and better work as well as reducing the risk of mental health problems. But the devil is in the detail. With the exception of this excellent post by Simon Heath, I’ve not seen the discussion about whether there are any dangers in fully embracing this.  Simon asks the important questions about whether people can choose not to share and also whether it’s only “acceptable” hidden sides of ourselves that are OK to bring to work.

It’s not easy to draw a line where consideration for others becomes an unhealthy suppression of one’s true self. Sometimes suppressing our true selves may be the only way to keep our jobs because otherwise we would be breaking perfectly reasonable rules protecting our colleagues from bullying or sexual harassment. We all regulate our behaviour and hold something of ourselves back every day in small ways which contribute to the smooth functioning of society, our own personal lives and the achievement of our goals. Is this wrong or is this so obvious that it’s not worth mentioning in the articles which advocate being ourselves?

The next thing is that people will be penalised by managers who allege that they aren’t being authentic and whole enough at work. Then we really will have come full circle.


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That Ship Has Sailed

One of the many joys which I’ve discovered by becoming a dog owner is getting out and about for walks everyday. Even though I get out and about as a regular runner, my awareness of the place where we’ve lived for the last 13 years has changed yet again as we seek out local woods and fields where we can walk Iggy off the leash. Nobody could say that we live in an area of outstanding natural beauty but there are small areas of semi-wilderness with wild flowers, trees and water even though it might be on the edge of an industrial estate or alongside the motorway.

It’s a time during the day where I make a conscious effort to “be in the present”, as the lingo has it. To focus on what Iggy’s doing, the way he walks and how he experiences the space around him. To look at my surroundings and notice the weather. I’m going to indulge in a mini rant about people who are on their ‘phones when they are walking their dog(s). Can’t they just spend that short time just enjoying being with their dear little shaggy friend? I’ve decided to be very suspicious of this behaviour and now assume that they’ve used the excuse of walking the dog to get out of the house and call their illicit lover.

The other day I was on a little beach alongside the Hollandsch Diep – a stretch of water which is generally considered to mark the border between the cultural north and south of the Netherlands. As Iggy sniffed around dead fish and litter and rolled around in the sand I watched one of the many container barges pass by and noticed the relative stillness of the water.


A few moments, maybe minutes, later, once the barge was out of sight, the water had become more agitated.

Post Ship

It occurred to me that this phenomenon happens in life too, including in my work. Sometimes the consequences of what we do only become visible once we’ve moved on. It’s said that everything is an intervention. A coaching session, an observation or experience in a workshop, a conversation at the coffee machine. There may be an immediate, obvious outcome but sometimes the deep, long lasting impact is experienced a while later. Maybe triggered by a confluence of thoughts while in the bath, doing some ironing or changing the cat litter.

With that new way of thinking, however small, someone changes and the world is different. And it’s not necessary to be a transformation guru to do this. Let us use this superpower with care.