Posts Tagged ‘values’

New Leaves, Same Roots

Core Values Venn DiagramWhat do you promise not to change this year?

No, I’m not trying to talk you out of your courageous commitment to new behaviors. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to help you. I want to see you eat better, exercise more, improve your listening skills, find time for reflection, stop driving like you’re the only important person on the road, etc. I totally support your intention to change!

And that’s why I’m asking you what you want to conserve.

Behavioral change can only stick if it’s intrinsically motivated—when we say, “I want to,” or “this matters to me,” rather than, “I should.”

Naming what matters to you will help you illuminate what you want to conserve—those core values that sustain your resolve to change. My intention to savor my food honors my values of gratitude and beauty. My determination to read more and watch less TV is grounded in values of language and intimacy.

When I work with clients to clarify their core values, we uncover gold mines of intrinsic motivators. Not all values inventories are as visually delightful as the one you see here, which so cheerfully embodies the client’s values of creativity and design (he told me I could share it with you). But however you format it, this is the kind of list that provides a solid foundation for choosing the life you want.

Victor Hugo advised: “Change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” What would happen if you started your year with a galvanizing look at your values? Please get in touch if you want some help with that.

Happy New Year!


Bleeding Hearts

bleeding heartsWhen someone names “Nature” among their core values, we tend to picture Nature in its most endearing manifestations: Tranquil pools, sunny meadows, enduring mountains—environments that lend themselves to reflection or adventure.

Less likely to leap to mind are ferocious tsunamis, tornadoes, and floods of the sort that have caused so much destruction and loss across the globe over the past few months. Those storms, though, are no less Nature than the flowers and breezes we associate with its more docile expressions.

Similarly, we—being of Nature, and not something apart from it—are as capable of tempestuousness as we are of tenderness. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if we can, as Aristotle counseled, “…be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way….”

But, too often, we resort to storminess when gentler behavior might be the better course. At those times, aren’t we are lucky to have Nature’s most exquisite handiwork to turn to for instruction? How can I look at the bleeding hearts that I planted in memory of my father a few years ago and not be called to honor my better angels?

When do you choose to persuade by violence, and when by love?

Honor the Brick

Ancient brick arch in Petra, JordanIs it permissible to treat people poorly in the name of artistic vision? Most of us would offer a resounding “No,” because we hold human relationship as our preeminent value. For the late architect Louis I. Kahn, as for many artists, musicians, and performers, the question was more complicated.

In the graceful and provocative 2003 documentary, My Architect, produced by Kahn’s son, Nathaniel Kahn, we discover an aesthetic innovator destined to live with the human collateral damage that results when the vision comes first.

Historians call Kahn one of the most influential architects of the mid-20th century, noting that he inspired successive generations of designers with his “uncompromising pursuit of formal perfection and emotional expression.” In the film, we get a taste of that singular focus: “To express is a drive. When you want to give something presence, you have to consult nature. And that is where design comes in. If you think of Brick, for instance, and you say to Brick, ‘What do you want, Brick?’ And Brick says, ‘I like an arch.’ And you say to Brick, ‘Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over you; what do you think of that, Brick?’ Brick says, ‘I like an arch.’ It’s important that you honor the material you use. You don’t say…‘We have a lot of material around; we can do it one way, we can do it another.’ That’s not true. You can only do it if you honor the brick and glorify the brick instead of just shortchanging it.”

Honoring the brick of his own nature could be seen as the central theme of Kahn’s life. Small and physically awkward with an odd voice and extensive facial burn scars sustained as a toddler, Kahn was as true to surface imperfection as he was to purity of form.

And though his enduring masterworks reflect an evolved artistic—or even spiritual—consciousness, his behavioral imperfections also left their mark. He fathered children with three women while maintaining relationships with all of them, he drove employees to the brink of collapse with his excessive demands, and he alienated potential clients with his rigidity.

Yet, some of those lovers, employees, and clients still weep with affection and admiration as they recall their time with Kahn. Shamsul Wares, who worked with the architect on his signature Bangladeshi capital building, suggests that far from being a misanthrope, Kahn’s aesthetic was deeply humanist. “He loved everybody,” says Wares. “To love everybody he sometimes did not see the very closest ones. And that is inevitable for men of his stature.”

I’m not sure I agree with that as a general rule. But I do see the wisdom of reserving judgment and giving each individual the space to know and live his or her own purpose. The most touching thing about this film is the courage with which Nathaniel Kahn approaches his father’s life story. Neither grinding an ax as victim, nor polishing his credentials as celebrity son, he creates an unflinching portrait that comes from a place of genuine curiosity about this architect of his. In the process, he teaches us something about being human and about the importance of recognizing the values that drive our choices.

Mid-Life Crocus

March 25, 2011 3 comments

CrocusesIs there any vision more hopeful than a crocus triumphantly pushing forth from the icy soil of a New England garden in March?

This year, as I witness the magic of new life advancing out of the retreat of winter, I am thinking of the many people in my life who are surprising themselves with their capacity for fresh starts and new learning—regardless of how many birthdays they’ve clocked.

In her book The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot shares the uplifting stories of forty men and women between the ages of 50 and 75 who, far from regarding this phase of their lives as a time of deceleration, have discovered new channels for learning and growth (see her talking about it with Bill Moyers).

Noting the hushed and “confessional tone” that her interviewees often adopt when talking about their blossoming passions, Lawrence-Lightfoot wonders whether “somehow, we feel that people our age should be consolidating our experiences, integrating all that we’ve learned and accomplished, and resting on our laurels—not engaging in risk-taking projects, embarking on unmapped adventures, and enduring the awkwardness and vulnerabilities of new mastery. Maybe we even feel it is somehow undignified to be so childish in our enthusiasms and eagerness to explore new domains of knowledge, recover ancient passions, and try on new roles and costumes.”

There is something of the crocus in these Third Chapter adventurers as they start new careers, adopt new personal development processes and uncover the writer or potter or chef or storyteller that has lain dormant within them all this time.

With delicate yet assertive gestures, they are finding ways to give expression to the surging life force still constantly renewing itself in their hearts.

What’s blooming in you?

Just Enough

“If I wphoto by Mike Schuberton the lottery all my problems would be solved!” Right?

Well, not necessarily; not according to Lynne Twist the anti-hunger activist who in her brilliant book, The Soul of Money, took me through a bracing re-examination of my relationship with money.

As a successful fundraiser, Twist has worked intimately with people at every level of financial advantage and disadvantage. From her first-hand observation that excessive wealth could be as damaging to the soul as poverty, she developed a philosophy of sufficiency grounded in the notion that “what you appreciate appreciates.”

Twist reminds us that money is our own invention with a 3,500-year history of facilitating the exchange of goods and services. But, she points out, “somewhere along the way, the power we gave money outstripped its original utilitarian role.” To refocus on the value we are creating in relationship with one another is to disarm three toxic myths of scarcity that Twist contends now dominate our cultural assumptions about money and influence our behavior:

  • Myth #1: “There’s Not Enough…generates a fear that drives us to make sure that we’re not the person, or our loved ones aren’t the people, who get crushed, marginalized, or left out.”
  • Myth #2: “More is Better…drives a competitive culture of accumulation, acquisition, and greed that only heightens fears and quickens the pace of the race.”
  • Myth #3: “That’s Just the Way it is…makes us feel hopeless, helpless, and cynical” about addressing the inequities that we’ve learned to tolerate and perpetuate.

In the years since The Soul of Money was published, Twist has done much to move the world from this “economy of fear, consumption, and scarcity, to an economy of sufficiency, sustainability, and generosity.” She founded the Soul of Money Institute and more recently helped establish the Global Sufficiency Network, both organizations that promote a radical shift in our definition of prosperity.

So, do I feel like a dope for wanting to buy a lottery ticket? Not necessarily; it’s a transaction that prompts me to stop and think seriously about my relationship with money—this commodity that has so much power to create anxiety in my life—and ask myself the question: When would I know that I had enough?

Time Lapse Photography

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Then and nowA friend of mine sent me a link to Young Me/Now Me, an entertaining web project that invites you to upload “then and now” photos illustrating how you and the people around you have changed (or seem not to have changed) over the years.

When I visited the site, I was both amused and touched by the images people had selected to share. There’s a spirit of exuberance in the exercise, and at the same time, something poignant about celebrating the durability of self.

Even as time has changed our bodies and our relationships, even as we inhabit a different world now than we did then (witness the revolution in the medium of photography), we retain something precious and essential at our core that guides our continual becoming.

Will you try it? Find a snapshot of yourself from years ago and place it side by side with a current image. Ask yourself, “What was gloriously, inextinguishably true for Young Me that is still true for Now Me?”

Knowing that, who will I be a few years from now when photographic images are rendered in three or four dimensions? In other words, what’s possible for Next Me?

Categories: Wake Up Tags: , , ,

Hey, No Fair!

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

No picking pleaseNot everybody was happy when the web-based registration system for the 2011 Boston Marathon took just eight hours to fill all 20,000 slots deemed by race organizers to be the maximum number the course could hold. With applications outpacing capacity, thousands of qualified runners failed to get a number for the race.

In a recent article for the Boston Globe, columnist Doug Most offered a gentle admonition to those runners who cried foul about being left out in the cold.

“To all those runners bemoaning how it wasn’t fair that they didn’t get in: Would it have been more fair if you had gotten in and another runner had not instead?”

It doesn’t take much to trigger our fairness meter. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has posited compellingly that fairness is one of five foundations of morality that all human beings share. It is certainly a value that many of us would name as important.

We watch for fairness in the media, where we hope to see equal weight afforded to opposing sides of a story. We watch for it in the development of public policy, where we expect to have conflicts of interest made visible. We watch for it in sports, where we slap fines, jail time, or at the very least a record book asterisk on players who have taken unfair steps to outperform the competition.

Fairness lies at the heart of that golden rule of behavior that tells us to treat others as we would have them treat us.

But there’s a difference between luck and fairness, isn’t there? Fairness implies intention. Our best chance for receiving fair treatment is to follow the golden rule as often as we’re able.

But, when a random or capricious circumstance thwarts our wishes, we can fuss about it, or we can make another choice. We can chalk it up to luck, or—as I prefer—to the invisible hand of fate steering us closer to our purpose.

The next time you get boxed out of the Boston Marathon, what other race will you choose to run?