Dealing with bullies.

Last week when we were in Greece two young "lads" from Manchester started paying attention to my daughter Hannah. The form this attention took was learing at her and making lewd comments. When she ignored them, though I wasn't aware of this at the time, they started calling her "a slag" and becoming more aggressive.

That evening, my daughters and I, along with some friends they had met on holiday, were sitting around a table having a chat. A stone suddenly landed on the table. We glanced around and there were the two lads sitting several yards away staring at us. When I looked back, trying to work out if it was them who had thrown the stone, they started posturing aggressively and asking what I was looking at!

At this point my inner 6'3" Scot kicked in and I went over and had a few words. The more aggressive boy's response was to suggest we go outside and sort it out. I said something to the effect of "you must be fucking kidding" and went back to the girls. I then had the challenge of ignoring him as he did his best to look menacing each time he saw me for the remainder of the holiday.

My initial response could easily have escalated things and I could have ended up facing charges. Should I have ignored them? Should I have been a snitch and complained to their mum and dad? Should I have invoked authority in the form of the hotel staff? I never got the opportunity to try it out but I decided that my next step would be to walk over to them and suggest that rather than throwing stones and making faces, they come and chat over coffee. Who knows where that might have led.

Why tell this story? It got me thinking hard about my options and about bullies in general. It is easy to imagine how in other circumstances they could have been carrying a knife, or even a gun. They could have been thugs representing a fascist movement, they could even have been in positions of authority.

Sadly bullies seem to be proliferating around the world. Sadly more of us will have to work out what we do about them.

How the other half live

So there we were, on our noisy tourist boat moored next to a beach on Paxos, as hoards of said tourists dived in and swam towards the beach.

Along side us was a massive private motor yacht. As we watched, the back of the yacht opened up to reveal a bay housing a smaller powerboat and to then form a platform for swimming from. Crew members hosed down the platform and carefully placed a director's chair on it.

Moments later we noticed an elderly man sitting in the chair as the crew put flippers on his feet and a snorkel and mask on his head. He then descended the steps into the sea followed by one of the crew who also got in the water. The old man then swam (well I say swam but it was more like controlled drowning) towards the beach. The crew member swam alongside him - towing a life belt - just in case.

We were left feeling more stunned than jealous.

Don't just do something stand there

So many of the world's problems stem from our inclination to seek happiness outside ourselves. Damaging the planet in our drive to manufacture and buy more stuff to try to make ourselves happy. Violence and wars driven by the idea that "If we just sort them out, or remove them, we will be happy". Marriages that become battlegrounds because if we could just force our partner to be more like us we'd be so much happier...

There is also a macho about taking action, about "doing something" about our problems, organising things, fixing things, being busy.

Even fixing ourselves is doing something. The self help industry is driven by the feeling that "If I just buy that next book all my problems will be fixed", "If I buy the latest app and meditate enough the pain will stop".

It's so much easier to do this than to face the real unhappiness which, deep down, we all know starts inside ourselves and won't go away no matter how busy we get.

To quote Blaise Pascal yet again "All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room”.

We need to get better at facing that deep unhappiness, not running away from it or blaming it on other people.

We need to be more willing to work out what makes us a grumpy wee shit in the first place before we start sorting the rest of the world out...

The weight of the world

It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed by the world's problems. To feel powerless in the face of so much that we have been taught to trust falling apart.

But how were our institutions built in the first place? Where did our idea of civilisation, that we have perhaps taken for granted, come from? Where did the powerful people, who we may fundamentally disagree with and hold responsible for the destruction of all we hold dear, get their power from?

One thought at a time, one idea at a time, one conversation at a time, and increasingly, dare I say it, one Tweet at a time.

We can all manage that can't we?

It's never to late to try.

Them and us

It starts with a feeling of being more like some people than others.
The comfort of being with people like you.

Then "them and us" become more clearly defined, more comforting in times of trouble.
Then "they" become the problem, they become other, they become less.
Then "we" feel the need to protect ourselves from "them", justified in demonising and dehumanising.
Our language starts to change, to reinforce, to exclude.
Laws are made - "We need to draw the line somewhere."
Crossing the line becomes life threatening.

Auschwitz is still there.
It looks like its last, sorry, occupants walked out yesterday...

I am currently reading Eli Wiesel's book "Night." If you haven't read it already, do so. And remember it every time you meet "other people" in the coming days and weeks.

"Just a way of looking at things"

Each time I read a new book on eastern philosophy, or non-duality, or even just how to be happy, and get excited about new perspectives on life I hear a voice, usually my Dad's, saying "Oh that's just a way of looking at things" in a dismissive tone.

But it's ALL just a way of looking at things. We interpret the world around us all the time, filtering and adjusting, making up stories, mostly unconsciously, often on the basis of environmental and cultural influences.

Why not become more conscious about our choices? Why not pick "a way of looking at things" that is gentler and kinder, both to ourselves and those around us?

The truth

In a recent article Emily Bell wrote:

"Tweaking an algorithm to favour “family and friends” is the engineering equivalent of “people have had enough of experts”, in that it acknowledges that how people feel is a better driver of activity than what people think."

Bollocks.

The only reason I read anything Emily writes is because my network links to her. Yes some of that network are my friends but they link to her because they have seen value in her "expertise". They have thought about what they are linking to and why.

She writes for a newspaper whose output is so politically slanted that I have learned not to trust it, along with all the others, and TV news has become light entertainment info-porn. I trust my network of friends more.

Three points:

  1. This only works if I am careful who my friends are and avoid ending up in a self reinforcing echo chamber.

  2. I totally concede the increasing influence of the ideology of algorithms on our lives and Facebook should be no more blindly trusted than the owners and editorial boards of newspapers.

  3. If more of us become skilled at using our volume control on mob rule we might arrive at something closer to the truth that Emily clearly cares about than we do currently.

She arrives at a similar conclusion:

"If we tolerate a political system which abandons facts and a media ecosystem which does not filter for truth, then this places a heavy burden on “users” to actively gather and interrogate information from all sides - to understand how they might be affected by the consequences of actions, and to know the origin of information and the integrity of the channels through which it reaches them. For this we are definitely better together."

Things is, can we be bothered and can we handle the truth?

Playing God

Dave Snowden and I have had many exchanges over the years about the need to balance individual responsibility with collective change. How does any group change happen without individuals behaving differently? How much structure is optimal? When does a focus on individual change tip into what he calls New Age Fluffy Bunnydom? When does tweaking the system towards predetermined outcomes tip into playing god? A spectrum from Anarchy at one end to Facism at the other?

His recent blog post attacking the sacred cows of OD raises all of these issues for me. He is spot on about the inadequacy of our current approaches to change, and as ever I agree with what he us saying more than I disagree.

But...

As usual I am still left feeling uneasy about who gets to play God and what their qualifications are. If they get good at manipulating the system towards predicted outcomes, but those outcomes turn out to be wrong, destructive rather than productive, is getting to the wrong place more effectively a good thing? Is our current inefficient and often ineffective way of approaching change less damaging than some mad scientist pressing all the buttons? Does replacing that mad scientist with a committee make things better or worse? Does all this apply to nation states and our current governance shambles?

Hmm...

Fighting reality

We like certainty. We want to know what is happening next. We think that if we do enough thinking we can control our futures. But this is an illusion. Surely this week in British politics has proved that any certainty about what is going to happen next is folly?

We also like to think that we can control the actions of others. If we are persuasive enough, if we rant enough, if we do enough Facebook posts, if we bully enough, we can make them bend to our will.

All of this is resisting what is, and that is a battle we will never win. We waste enormous amounts of energy fighting what is and wishing it was otherwise. Our wishing projects into a future we can't control. It distorts our relations with those around us, and with ourselves.

Does giving up this resistance to what is leave us adrift, apathetic, and buffeted by fate?

Or does it allow us to be more aware of our current realities? More able conserve our energy and to respond authentically one thought at a time, one conversation at a time, one small action at a time?

A great unraveling.

Our house was built in 1935. I lie in bed this morning thinking of its first, proud, owner, watching clouds gathering over Europe and wondering what it meant for his family's future.

It may be that we are seeing the beginnings of a great unraveling. In many ways it is overdue. There is much needs sorting out at a fundamental level in society and how we as individuals take our place in the world.

I hope we are up to the task and meet our challenges by peaceful means.

One thought, one conversation, one tiny miracle at a time

I keep wanting to do something. To react. To hit back at those who "have done this to us". My father's very different perspective on the Brexit vote is bringing out the child in me. I want to cry, or scream, or throw my toys out of the pram.

But of all the articles I have read over the past couple of days the one by Umair Haque that I shared yesterday comes closest to my own feelings. The problems we have to fix aren't "out there". They never have been. Fixing "them" is never the solution. It's a displacement activity. It keeps us busy and shields us from the truth. Our truth.

"This is big karma. We have stepped on each other for too long, and now we ask: who broke us?

We did. We broke our very own hearts, spirits, minds. And now we are broken people, who cannot even see the most obvious thing of all.

You don’t have to do anything. There’s nothing to do. Just see it. Really be aware for the first time of all this. And then you will be able to live in a truer way.

You feel powerless to change anything. I see an age so blind it can’t see the simplest truth of all. Just change yourself. Then the world will change one tiny miracle at a time."

Which side of the bed?

One of the pleasures of my job is getting to work with different people all the time, people from a range of backgrounds and with varying priorities. Some are highly paid, some are not. Some are successful, some are not. Some are happy some are not.

What strikes me often is how their happiness is independent of their circumstances. I once met someone who was incredibly wealthy but utterly miserable. I often meet people who suffer significant financial challenges but nonetheless have a sunny disposition.

I am more and more convinced that we get to choose. We get to decide which side of the bed we get out of. Shame we don't often remember that.

We all have a volume control on mob rule

This is the title of a chapter in my book. It seems sadly relevant in these turbulent times. We each have a responsibility online to decide what we share and what we ignore, which views we reinforce and what we push back against. Which flames we fan and which we attempt to put out.

To quote Wayne Dyer "When given the choice of being right or being kind - be kind."

Tolerating intolerance

Robert Scoble made a comment today about dreaming "Of a tomorrow where political correctness is seen as a nicer way to live than spouting off any damn thing that comes to your mind (especially if those things include hate or intolerance)."

The thing I am most intolerant of is intolerance. I recoil from right wing conservatives' inclination to project their own dysfunctional nastiness onto others. However when it comes down to micro decisions about who we friend, or more challengingly unfriend, on Facebook this gets hard.

I don't want to end up in an echo chamber of people who agree with me. Having my views challenged and changed is part of why I love social media.

But nor do I want to be associated with people who I see as spreading attitudes that I think are hurtful to individuals or damaging to the fabric of society.

Where, and how, do we draw the line?

Roads not travelled

With recent trips to Sweden and Norway, and upcoming ones to Dublin, Brussels and Berlin in the next few weeks, I found myself yet again thinking how lucky I am to get to travel the world and work with such interesting people and organisations.

I also got to thinking about the ones I didn't get to work with. The ones who enthused about world changing projects who then didn't get the funding. The ones who talked about long term relationships who stopped responding to emails after a month. The ones who thought about getting in touch and then didn't.

If any of you have seen the film Sliding Doors you will know how tantalising it is to think of the parallel lives we might have had. But it is so pointless. We are where we are and we've done what we've done.

"Whenever you come to a fork in the path take it" - Yogi Berra

Shadow IT

Today, yet again, I tried to send a copy of my presentation to a client in advance of my keynote on Wednesday only to have the file rejected by their email system due to a file size limit. So guess what I did? I stuck it on Dropbox and sent them the link.

I have also set up a Slack team this morning to work with another client, and most clients resort to using their own phones or tablets to carry out Skype calls when we need to coordinate. This sort of "Shadow IT" is becoming the norm.

In their efforts to maintain control IT are losing it. Isn't it time for an attitude of enabling pragmatism?

Lipstick on pigs

I am lucky enough to see, hear about, and get involved in many brave and well intentioned attempts to change the workplace. Few of them succeed.

The theory is right, the communications plan impeccable, the deckchairs have been rearranged, but deep down things remain the same.

We hold on tightly to some very deep seated and long held assumptions about authority and our relationship with it. You can change a manager's job title, you can make him dress down more often than just Fridays, you can even get him to work virtually. But if he still sees himself as in charge of an unruly bunch of miscreants who, if it weren't for his valiant efforts and ever so carefully designed systems, would run amok, then nothing has changed.

More time and effort has to be spent exploring and questioning our assumptions about the world of work. It needs to be an ongoing process. It's what I aspire to do with my blog posts. More of us need to do it.