Author Archives: christy

Dum Spiro, Spero

No, I’ve not (completely) lost my mind; that’s Latin and not gibberish.

Dum spiro, spero … So long as I breathe, I hope.

It’s a saying most often attributed to Cicero, a great thinker and orator of ancient Rome. And it is, in my opinion, one of the best approaches to life that I can think of.

If one actively engages hope with each and every breath, one is also engaging life with that same breath. And actively engaging life in all its messy glory is really what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Quirks of Language

I love that the Latin words for “breath” and “hope” are so very close to one another. Although I’m relatively sure that it’s just a quirk of language rather than a causal relationship, I still really like it.

Every once in awhile, when I explain this phrase to people (it’s written on the white board in my office at the 5th Circle, and people ask … they think I’m weird, but they do still ask) they see the  interesting synergy between the works spiro and spero too. When that happens, they usually go up in my estimation.

In my mind, linking those two words opens up a lot of new possibilities.

If breath – which has long been linked to the idea of spirit and life itself – is linked to hope, then hope becomes coincidentally linked to spirit and life as well. And if hope is some part of that which is at the heart of life itself, then hope is set up as something more than our culture would have us believe it to be.

Hope.

I don’t really know why, but hope has received a bad rap. Somehow, it has come to be confused with fanciful wishing (which I personally think is also critical to a full life, but what do I know?).

Like anything, it can be maltreated. For example, I might hope that the sky turns purple. Now I wouldn’t actually hope for that, because who really wants a purple sky, but still you understand my point. Hope seems, to me, to be something much bigger than we’ve come to think it is.

Hope is about possibility. It’s about that which can be. Hope can be that which incites us to actions which may cause our hope to come into reality as a tangible outcome.

And if hope is the first step toward creating change … toward becoming the change we want to see, then isn’t hope a critical element to life itself?

Considered in that light, hope isn’t such a fanciful thing, now is it? And my tying it to the idea of breath and life isn’t so silly either.

The Point.

We have so many things in this world pulling us down a dark hole of despair and regret.  The news. Our own versions of the 5th Circle (“day job” for those who are confused by that). Bad relationships. Envy of those whom we perceive to have it “better” than we have it (whatever the heck that means!).

Why not set that aside intentionally and purposefully and choose to hope instead? Why not use our breathing as a means of remembering that hope? Breath as a physical mnemonic to help us remember.

So long as I breathe, I hope.

Ridiculously simple. Infinitely complex.

Just like all of the best ideas.

A New Approach to Change

“The best way out is always through.”

– Robert Frost

Why is it that Western culture seems to teach us that we can bring about a change we desire in ourselves or our situation through avoiding the things that make us want to experience the change to start with?

No really, if anyone knows why, please share. I really do want to know, because it’s making me crazy.

Something somewhere at some point in time convinced us (and by “us” I mean Western culture in general) that avoidance is a great way to bring about change.

What?!

The Wisdom of Robert Frost

I love the little quote at the start of this post. It’s the most concise way of expressing this very big idea.

Why is it a big idea to go through a situation to get out of it? Because we are implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) told that we can get around our problems through avoidance or some other tactic.

The trouble is, when we do that – when we avoid, run away, or otherwise do our level best to pretend our difficulty isn’t there, we don’t actually ever come out on the other side of it. More often than not, we end up sticking our fingers in our ears yelling LALALALALALALALALA, thinking that this will make the difficulty not be there any longer.

But doing this makes it hard to get on with life. And getting on with life is the point behind dealing with any problem facing us.

Yes, I know it’s hard.

But that’s not a reason to not do it. Plus there’s that whole thing of it coming around behind you to bite you on the bum when you’re looking the other way. That’s the best way I know to really screw up your life. Trust me, I speak from experience.

It’s really hard to look our problems straight in the eye … often because we are ourselves the creator of the problem … and stare it down. It’s harder still to walk into the maelstrom of the problem with intention and purpose, much less the hope of coming out alive on the other side.

The honest to goodness truth, however, is that you WILL come out on the other side, and you’ll realize that the maelstrom was more of a tempest in a teapot when you’re on the other side of it.

I’m not minimizing the size of some of the challenges faced by each and every one of us. I’ve just learned over the years that nearly all of the time (unless you’re Jack Bauer or something) you will come out on the other side, and you will see that your imagination made a much bigger deal of it all than it ever actually was.

Taking a Different Tack.

Don’t believe me? Well, I dare you to give it a try and see for yourself. Really.

Heck, I TRIPLE DOG DARE YOU! (Just ask Emma about how serious my dares are.)

Pick one of your problems (and if you’re one of those who is facing only one challenge in life, please don’t tell me … it might cause my head to explode).

Imagine that problem to be caught up in a bubble. Allow the bubble to be as big as you feel it needs to be to fully encompass the whole of the challenge.

Now this isn’t just any old bubble. It is a strong but very flexible bubble.

Take the bubble (or what little part of it you can grasp if it’s THAT big) in your arms. Trust me, you don’t look as dorky as you think … besides we’re doing this within the private confines of our own imagination, right? (NOTE: if an actual bubble has appeared on your tangible plane of existence … um … well … not sure what to tell you. I’ve heard they make pills for such conditions.)

Start to squeeze the bubble. It will take some effort depending upon how big and tough and strong the problem is, but keep at it. Squeeze and squeeze and don’t give up.

The bubble will give without bursting. I promise.

Just keep squeezing until you get it down to a size that is manageable. A size you can turn around and view from all angles. Something you can hold in your hands.

Now look at it. Really look at it.

Squeezed a bit down to size it’s not nearly so overwhelming, is it? I’m not saying it’s magically become simple and easy, but at least it’s not so huge you don’t even know where to start.

Once you’ve gotten your mind wrapped around it just a bit (and if you need a friend to help you in this, that’s fine. If they are your friend, they won’t think you’ve gone round the bend, promise), put your hands on either side of the bubble and pull it out again.

Just a bit.

Just enough so that it’s big enough for you to step into it.

Put the bubble on the ground and walk through the bubble’s membrane, directly into the problem. Remember what you saw and learned about it when it was no bigger than a volleyball. Don’t forget that.

Now just plow through it. It might be hard going, but just keep moving forward until you see the membrane of the bubble on the far side. Do what you need to do to get to that membrane, and push through it, out into the open on the other side of the bubble.

You’re through.

You made it.

And you’re alive.

Remember, all of this was in your imagination. Now take what you learned and find a way to apply it in the real world. You can do it. Now that you’ve done it once, you can do it again.

And once you have, and you’re really and truly on the other side, you can move on with life knowing it won’t bite you on the bum unexpectedly at some future date.

The Point

We’ve all got our “stuff” and sometimes that stuff makes it really hard to get anything done that we actually care about. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of my stuff preventing me from fulfilling my dreams/purpose/desire/pick-your-term. Sick and tired.

Since the world isn’t going to change to make all of my problems magically disappear, I will need to do it the old fashioned way.

Besides, by going through the problems, I learn stuff. Valuable stuff. And I can use that good stuff to make me more than the sum of my inadequacies.

Gobbledygook and Other Important Ideas from Corporate America

A friend passed along to me a lecture by Australian writer Don Watson, given at the Australian National University. You can Google him  to find out more, but he’s done a lot of things – including working as a speech writer for an Aussie politician – and he has not yet lost his sense of humor.

Anyway, the gist of this lecture, given in support of his latest book, Bendable Learnings, is that Corporate America are destroying our ability to communicate via language. (Truthfully, he skewers all corporate speak; he just has so many excellent examples coming out of the American flavor that it’s a bit weighted that way.) BTW, it’s not available yet in the United States.

You can watch the lecture for yourself here.

Give yourself some time to listen. It’s worth the effort.

He lambastes PowerPoint – one of my least favorite software packages. Yes, Keynote and the Open Office equivalent also go in this pile. Although there’s a kind of underground movement afoot to change the way presentations using these softwares is done, mainstream corporate folks still depend on meaningless clauses (if they even deserve any sort of speech-part definition) bullet pointed into inanity.

Because one of my many jobs within the 5th Circle is being the public voice of the whole organization, I understand all too well the insanity Mr Watson highlights. It doesn’t seem to matter how very hard I try; the meaningless insertion of “outcomes” or “metrics” or “value proposition” creeps in.

It’s true, I sneak through actual thought content on a semi-regular basis, but  not nearly often enough for it to have genuine value. I know this. It’s one of the reasons I hang out here.

Who else out there is subjected to this non-speak on a daily basis? What do you do to keep it from making you stupid? Let’s learn from one another.

Compassion

What is compassion really? We talk about it a lot.

Compassion for those caught up in the Haiti earthquake.

Compassion for the homeless.

Compassion for the abused and disenfranchised.

Compassion for the suffering of others.

But what do we really mean by it? Is it a synonym for sympathy? For empathy? For something else entirely?

I can’t help myself. I need my OED.

Interestingly, the most extensive English-language dictionary has relatively little to say on this word. (For the OED, this means less than a full column’s worth of meanings.)

The first two definitions are particularly interesting to me.

1. Suffering together with another, participation in suffering; fellow-feeling.

2. The feeling or emotion, when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another, and by the desire to relieve it; pity that inclines one to spare or to succor.

Interestingly, there’s a note accompanying definition #2.

(The compassion of sense 1 was between equals or fellow-sufferers; this is shown toward a person in distress by one who is free from it, who is, in this respect, his superior.)

Why I’m confused.

This word compassion comes from Latin (which of course has some Greek roots, but I’m trying hard not to get carried away by my geeky love of words). Depending upon your source, it means com (together with) + pati (to suffer) or passus (which is directly related to the English word “patient”  (one who suffers).

The inherent meaning of the structure of the word implies a condition in which the one who has compassion is participating in the suffering in some way, shape or form. Deeper than empathy, compassion isn’t just a feeling; it’s related to a shared suffering that results in action of one sort or another.

Why has the meaning morphed to include the outsider’s view of the OED’s definition #2? This isn’t a recent thing; the oldest source the OED cites for definition #2 comes from the 14th century, so this isn’t some modern growth of the word.

I Need Different Sources.

So I look to the sources from which many of our concepts of compassion come: faith traditions.

Whether you know it or not, compassion is one of the few things that all of the world’s major religions seems to agree on.

Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and many others cite compassion as a root of faith.

Muslims, for example, are supposed to start their day – as well as all significant actions that take place each day – by invoking God the Merciful and Compassionate (Bism-i-llah a-Rahman-i-Rahim). And part of the point of Ramadan (a month-long observance in which the devout fast from sunup to sundown each day) is to suffer with those who go without on a regular basis, building tangible compassion for them.

For those of the Hindu tradition, compassion is one of the three central virtues.

For Christians, the most common example is likely the parable of the Good Samaritan. I find it interesting that the dominant example of compassion in the Christian tradition essentially involves definition #2.

Of course – and not surprisingly – Martin Luther King Jr. took the Good Samaritan and make it more.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

The Jews and the Buddhists.

Both the Jewish tradition and the Buddhist tradition embrace the idea of compassion from the perspective of the word’s etymological meaning.

A suffering with that leads one to action.

I am told that at the beginning of instruction in Buddhism, many new followers are overflowing with the desire to show compassion to the world. That burning desire to love the world into a different state of being. And yet, they are taught, the most difficult first lesson of compassion is learning to have it for yourself. For, if you do not have compassion for yourself, you cannot have it for another.

In the mystical Kabbalah tradition of Judiasm, a similar theme is stated:

Kindness gives to another. Compassion knows no other.

And that’s the root of it. At least for me it is.

Compassion and love and all of the other virtues we chase in our over-stimulated world of chaos, begin with the person in the mirror.

You.

The Point.

The trigger for this little exploration of compassion (and I know, I’ve not even scratched the surface) was hearing the word bandied about so much by those moved by the earthquake in Haiti. It typically felt to me as if those calling for a compassionate response were more often actually asking for sympathy accompanied by a donation.

Don’t misunderstand, the people of Haiti need our help. They need every penny than can be poured into their country. But they need that on all of the other days of the year in which there was no earthquake.

So I’m trying to sort through just what it means to be compassionate. And in all my reading it kept coming back to the way in which I approach myself. If I cannot and do not show compassion to myself, I can’t be terribly effective in showing it to others. It seems like it would be like trying to show someone how to tie their shoes when you don’t know how to tie your own.

I know that I’ve ended up in this post with more questions than answers. But I think that’s okay. As Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas is reputed to have said, “I would rather have compassion than know the meaning of it.”

That’s where I’m coming out right now.

But I’d really like to hear from all of you. What is compassion from where you sit in the universe? What isn’t it? How does one embrace compassion in real and tangible ways?

The comment box is below. Please make use of it.

Defiant Honesty

When was the last time you were faced with a situation in which being honest – and following your own conscience about something – was at odds with your external security?

And when I say “security” I mean anything from the really dramatic (your actual life or the life of someone you care about) all the way down to something like your job.

What did you do?

A Story

Someone – let’s call her Mimi – worked for a company run by someone whose primary focus in life was earning at any cost. The sanity of employees was of no concern. Ethical behavior toward other companies was out of the question. Anything resembling the word “integrity” was laughable.

Mimi was the manager of a product line offered by this company. It was a small product line with a lot of potential. One day, the owner of an external company came to Mimi seeking to do a deal that would allow him to white label one of Mimi’s products into his own.

Unbeknownst to this guy, Mimi had already begun development on a product that would directly compete with this guy’s product. She wasn’t concerned, however, because the market was big enough to sustain the presence of both products, with plenty left over for growth. And the white labeling of the existing product to this guy’s company wasn’t a problem, because he needed the information delivered by the product, and it’s better that Mimi get paid for providing it, rather than someone else.

So Mimi is pleased by the deal she cuts and goes to tell her Boss about the new competitor, as well as the white labeling. Mimi also tells him that she’s formulating a way of telling the guy about the product she’s developing, since it doesn’t feel right to her to not say anything and let him find out when the product releases.

Boss doesn’t get it. He tells Mimi that she is absolutely NOT to tell the guy about the competing product. Further, he instructs her to gather as much information as possible on the guy’s product to ensure that Mimi’s new product will be as good as or better than the one the guy is launching. Even further, he expresses a dubiousness about “helping” the guy access the information created by the product Mimi has just white labeled to the guy.

Mimi is frustrated and unsure.

She really doesn’t know what to do. Her heart and her conscience tell her to absolutely tell the guy about the new product, but Boss has more or less indicated that her job is on the line if she does.

For awhile, Mimi stays silent. She has multiple conversations with the guy, setting up the implementation of the white label agreement, but never mentions the new product.

And this does not feel good to her.

She struggles with the ethics of it all.

Yes, she knows her boss is a dunderhead. And dishonest. And probably some other d-words.

Mimi’s Choice

After some few days of mulling things over, Mimi decided to tell the guy about the competing product she is developing. She knew that if Boss found out, at the very least she’ll get berated. At worst, she’ll be fired.

It seemed worth the risk to keep some semblance of her integrity intact.

The Guy’s Response

The guy heard Mimi out, heard Mimi reassure him that so long as she’s in charge, he would be able to white label the data she’s providing him.

She could hear the smile.

“The market’s big enough for both of us,” he said. “And maybe where our products are different, we can help one another out, while also helping our respective customers get what they actually need to do business better.”

She was relieved. He had a similar ethical structure to her own. They talked about Karma and the value of treating people the way you want others to treat you.

While she still fears Boss finding out what she did – telling the competition about an emerging product – she feels she did the right thing … by her own conscience, by the business relationship she’s built with the guy, and even for the fledgling product she’s building.

The Point

It’s easy to talk about things like integrity and ethics in the abstract. It’s a much different matter when it’s the real world and your job (and in extreme cases, your life) depend upon your decisions.

Don’t think I’m being all Pollyanna about Mimi’s story. She could still lose her job, and she’s the only money-earner in her household. The prospect of losing her job is a big, huge deal. But I’m aware that Mimi stands by her decision all the same.

In the same situation, would I? Would you?