Category: Communication


We each create or confront deceptions of varying magnitudes almost everyday of our lives. Whether it’s an advertisement, a fantasy story, a padded bra, or even just hopeful thinking, things that can’t quite be classified as truth surround us. Which begs the question, is fiction necessarily malevolent? Can it possibly be harmless or even useful?

Personally, I feel a strong physical reaction when thinking about the concept of dishonesty. My body tells me it is unequivocally a bad thing. So it’s a challenge for my head to consider the idea openly and candidly. Never the less, it seems a worthy endeavor given the ubiquitous presence of this grey area.

This is where artists have a vital role to play. Creativity allows some freedom with accuracy. Exploring and interpreting things through art offers the creator a chance to face the truth and fiction of reality without the constraints most of us feel. This is the arena where fiction, which is inherently dishonest no matter how thoughtful or sincere, is clearly useful. It makes for entertainment, drama, excitement, passion, adventure and fantasy. It gives the imagination sovereignty and the freedom to roam. It is easy to love fiction in the art world.

How about the real world? Can we embrace dishonesty through our choices while abhorring it in our minds and hearts? What does this internal opposition translate to for our health and wellbeing? Should we simply embrace the minor dishonesties or is that a slippery slope toward pathology? Things become even more perplexing when you consider that wishful thinking, optimism, hopes and dreams are all concepts that live outside of the truth category.

They are somewhere between. Not exactly true yet, but not a lie. It’s the definition of grey. Are leaders being dishonest when they set high standards of achievement for themselves and their charges? Is charting new territory dishonest?

In asking all these questions, it may seem like I am setting you up for some answers. Alas, I have none. My opinion is that fiction can be a useful way of examining the truth and teasing it out of the deceptions that surround it. Almost any of these subtle dishonesties represent works of imagination. Visioning or dreaming is, in my view, an essential step to actualizing anything and so could never be a bad thing regardless of its relative “truth”.

Ian Leslie in the Economist:

There is a gushing river of verbal creativity in the normal human mind, from which both artistic invention and lying are drawn. We are born storytellers, spinning narrative out of our experience and imagination, straining against the leash that keeps us tethered to reality. This is a wonderful thing; it is what gives us our ability to conceive of alternative futures and different worlds.

Johnathan Franzen delivered the commencement address at Kenyon College this year. It was a profound meditation on our relationship to the technological world of our own invention. Almost a Dr. Frankenstein and his monster story, Franzen shines a light on our near-romantic levels of fixation on gadgets and internet alter-egos. The harshness of his condemnation is tempered considerably by the dispassionate accuracy of his assertions.

Somehow Franzen manages to blend spot on critique of the narcissistic nature of a lot of social media:

We click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery. And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.

With breathtakingly frank observations about fear, pain and love

When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived.

The speech is one of the most thought-provoking investigations into the ramifications of our techno-universe and beyond that I have personally encountered. Every word should be read, savored and possibly read again. As much as I’d like to insert the whole thing here, clinking a link hopefully won’t prove so great a hurdle that you’ll deprive yourself of his brilliance. Franzen adapted his speech into an essay published in the New york Times OpEd pages last month. Do yourself a favor and find a way to follow that link.

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are.

 

 

The Happy Planet Index is economics at its most basic: Input vs Output of a system. With one small difference. It’s focus is on efficiency or true economy. The New Economics Foundation, a “think-and-do-tank” that breathes some life into the musty theories of economics, has taken on the considerable task of demonstrating and then communicating that our lives can be rich and fulfilling without destroying the planet through their Happy Planet Index. It seems like they’ve succeeded in creating something imminently understandable yet profound.

The HPI reflects the average years of happy life produced by a given society, nation or group of nations, per unit of planetary resources consumed. Put another way, it represents the efficiency with which countries convert the earth’s finite resources into well-being experienced by their citizens.

Attempting to quantify and measure the happiness level of a group of people is a daunting and controversial task whose very feasibility has been debated since the beginning of time. With a clear understanding of the complexities at play, here’s what the HPI team has to say:

In recent years, the debate has moved from philosophy to the realm of science, with a growing body of research identifying what it means to be happy, what drives it and how to measure it. For us, being ‘happy’ is more than just having a smile on your face – we use the term subjective well-being to capture its complexity. Aside from feeling ‘good’, it also incorporates a sense of individual vitality, opportunities to undertake meaningful, engaging activities which confer feelings of competence and autonomy, and the possession of a stock of inner resources that helps one cope when things go wrong. Well-being is also about feelings of relatedness to other people – both in terms of close relationships with friends and family, and belonging to a wider community.

Understanding the ecological footprint of an individual or group is relatively straightforward by comparison, but their attempt to break it down is still worth a read.

From here it’s just a matter of plugging the data into their elegant equation and making sense of the results.

The HPI shows that around the world, high levels of resource consumption do not reliably produce high levels of well-being, and that it is possible to produce high well-being without excessive consumption of the Earth’s resources. It also reveals that there are different routes to achieving comparable levels of well-being. The model followed by the West can provide widespread longevity and variable life satisfaction, but it does so only at a vast and ultimately counter-productive cost in terms of resource consumption.

The complete results for over 140 countries can be found here. You probably won’t be surprised to see that the US falls into the “blood red” footprint category and shares the crown with most of Africa, Cambodia and Iraq.

And why is this measurement not only relevant but critically important? Once again the near religious worship of Growth as the means to any end is proving to be no more than an academic concept that becomes incredibly destructive when put into practice.

Biologists talk about physical growth as a process which has an optimum level beyond which further growth is not beneficial, and can indeed turn malignant. Economic growth can be subjected to the same analysis. Aside from the obvious environmental impacts which we have already discussed, there is gathering evidence that an obsession with growth may have led us to ignore other aspects of life critical to our well-being. This is where the HPI has a crucial role: pointing us towards a new vision of progress which does not depend on ever-increasing growth.

During an economic crisis, it may seem inopportune to question the centrality of economic growth. Now more than ever, governments around the world are desperate to restart growth by any means possible. And yet we should not lose sight of the fact that economic growth is just one strategy to achieve well-being and, in terms of natural resources, a demonstrably inefficient one. Rather than pursuing growth at all costs, even if detrimental to well-being or sustainability, leaders should be striving to foster well-being and pursue sustainability, even if detrimental to growth. The horse and the cart need to be returned to their rightful places.

 

Habits

This interesting article by Johnathan Rowson at the RSA caught my eye. Those of us who are awake in the world are often frustrated when we encounter people who aren’t and desperately search for ways to influence the behavior and choices of those who seem to be oblivious to their effect on the world. Understanding a little bit more about behavior in the macro sense, as well as perfecting our ability to master our own behavior are important first steps in the crusade to inspire better choices and behaviors in others.

Our actions define our character. Habits make up a large part of our actions. From the obvious physical ones we do all day (breathing) to the judgements, reactions, and other mental positions we rarely examine but are heavily invested in, our habits can be beneficial or destructive. Being vigilant about the habits you form and the ones you shake is a great way to become more mindful in your life. As Rowsen points out:

Habits are important because they define who we are, but also because they can be changed. You breathe automatically, you see automatically, but you think, decide and act habitually. Confucius captures the point nicely when he says:  ’Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.’ But habits are acquired and conditioned behaviours rather than strictly automatic. They are second nature rather than first, and therefore amenable to the influence of deliberation and reflection.

To bring changes to our behaviors, our perspectives, our lives and our world, sometimes the path is deceptively simple. Just start small. Shake up your routine in easy and non-threatening areas. Rituals can be comforting and even productive, but they can also discourage growth and evolution. Take a different path to work, drink out of a different cup, sit in a different chair, or go so far as to brush your teeth with the other hand.

These little blips on your comfort radar can help wake your senses and shake the auto-pilot coma we call living.

No matter how much knowledge, reflection, and deliberation you bring to bare, you need behavior to change behavior.  Thought alone will rarely change a habit, because willpower is scarce and depletable, and rarely sufficient to turn the thought into action on an ongoing basis.

Dwelling on breaking the bad habits can be a drag and put you off the whole exercise. In the Net Positive spirit, we need to focus as much (if not more) attention on creating the habits we’d like to have. Rowsen suggests that there is a threshold of 66 days to form a new habit. Which means a behavior that is automatic and no longer needs to be consciously chosen, in short it’s a part of your character. This article he sites from Psyblog is an expansion on the concept of time frames for behavior modification.

For laughs. And a reminder to be thankful it’s not the ’50’s!


An incredible analysis of the macro issues in human behavior and influences can be found in a new documentary called Zeitgeist: Moving Forward. It’s a far-reaching documentary that covers so many of the topics critical to a Net Positive awareness and deserves to be watched in its entirety (despite the epic length of 2h40). The first hour or so focuses exclusively on human behavior and presents a comprehensive analysis delivered by compelling experts. If you’re at all interested in why we are the way we are, view this as the foundation to your quest.

These days there seems to be quite a lot to protest about, and quite a lot of people actually acting on their frustrations and taking to the streets. From the burgeoning civil war in Libya and the dramatic revolutions under way in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and on and on and on, to the labor struggles in America and the riots over economic injustice in England, there are clearly many different ways to redress grievances. A few decades ago in America, as people struggled for an end to the various social injustices plaguing their country, a debate also raged about the most effective approach to protest.

It boils down to “non-violent” or “violent”. That’s a major simplification but it speaks to the basics of the protest. I can understand how people can feel so hopeless and powerless that they see no choice but to resort to more extreme measures. While this may sometimes seem like the only option, in my opinion, it is rarely the best one or the most effective. Which is why I was so heartened to hear about the peaceful demonstrations underway in India. A week-long fast in protest against corruption in that country resulted in an amazing gathering of people from all walks.

My most recent personal experience in the protest department was last October when I traveled to DC for the Rally to Restore Sanity. It’s a worthy goal to strive for in these frenzied times and I couldn’t wait to stand beside other sane people and show solidarity. I was so excited in fact, that my group and I tried to get as close as we could to the action, not really thinking through how difficult that would be in the confined space of the National Mall (who knew the mall could ever seem small!). The next thing we knew, we were completely surrounded, body to body with fellow rallyers. I can’t recall ever feeling more confined and helpless in a crowd as I did in that moment. We could see no clear space to walk toward. Everyone was trying to get somewhere or stay near someone. At any other rally it might have actually been a dangerous situation. The kind of thing where wild heads result in trampling, stampeding, and general mayhem with possible bodily harm. Fortunately this was the rally for sanity and it truly was the most respectful, mild-mannered mob you could ever hope to see. Everyone was sincerely polite, making every effort to accommodate each other, let groups stay in tact, keep voices at reasonable levels given the extreme proximity we were in. Initially I felt myself becoming slightly terrified as I noticed the crowd closing in around me, but the fear immediately gave way to wonder at the conduct I was witnessing around me.

Speaking out and standing up against tyranny wherever you find it is vital to a promising future for the human family. Don’t forget that the most important place to take a stand isn’t always somewhere distant, but right in your own home, in your own heart. Every decision, every day is a revolutionary act that creates the world you see around you. If you think something should be different, try changing yourself first. Then don’t be afraid to take it outside, stand up and be counted!

photo: human flower project

The beauty of the internet is its freedom. Everyone with something to say can be heard. If not by the world, then at least by a few more people than they might be able to reach with only their vocal chords (or even a pad and pen). This has helped to usher in the most momentous moment in human history.

Our ability to communicate freely together, without the intrusion of corporate interests trying simultaneously to sell us and censor our press, has played a significant role in speeding up the pace of change in the world. Finding a way for 7 billion people to communicate is no small task and it does present some challenges even as we overcome so many boundaries to become the most connected humans in history.

A favorite refrain of those threatened by the internet (usually at their pocketbooks), is that it is dangerous and unreliable, filled with unscrupulous people spreading lies and misinformation. On any network as immense as the internet, there will be some who negatively exploit the opportunity it provides. The vast majority, though, are people with the best of intentions seeking the truth and speaking from the heart.

Now comes the challenge. With so many well-meaning voices, opinions, stories and thoughts out there, how do we narrow our window onto the world enough to be able to take in the view? It’s very easy to get deafened by the cacophony, give up and reach for the old standbys in defeat. Suddenly you realize that the internet is just another outlet for the same perspectives brought to you by your television, and then what have you really gained?

Lately I’ve been taking advantage of the RSS feed option on many of my favorite info/ news blogs. The fact is, when your interests are diverse and there are a multiplicity of outlets feeding each of those interests, it can be hard to keep up. Having all the most interesting sites appear together on one page goes beyond convenient, it makes it much more likely that you’ll even take the time to check in and bone up on all the new developments in the world. Think of it as your own Huffington Post. On that site, Arianna and her team select the voices for you based on a clear set of ideals. It’s one stop shopping for politics, current events, gossip and more politics. Imagine how much better that could be if you were your own curator. Sounds like a task, but it’s surprisingly simple and the work is done only once for a lifetime of easy access to stuff you’re actually interested in. Google reader is my choice since it’s accessible from my email, but there are many more.

When it’s strictly news I’m after, Twitter has become my go to. Again, it’s like you’re the curator/ editor of your own newspaper. You choose your writers and columnists and then let them fill your screen with all manner of interesting current events. No filler, no advertising, not even too great of an effort to get it up and running. In fact, you don’t even need to bother tweeting yourself to follow along with others. One of my favorite tricks is checking the profiles of the people I’m most interested in to see who they follow and then linking up to the ones that look interesting. This has really opened me to up to all sorts of interesting ideas and idea makers I might never have been exposed to. Needless to say, Twitter works especially well for a short attention span. Just beware of the overly prolific tweeter. Before you know it you need a machete to make it through just one person/ groups posts and all the others get lost in the frustration of having to scroll forever just to find them.

Now if you want things even easier, I recommend the site that I check more than any other. Chris Martenson’s website is so chock full of critical information you could spend days or months there without a second wasted. I highly recommend taking in his vitally important Crash Course in its entirety. This is a presentation he put together over 5 years of extensive research and offers for free to all. A former Pfizer exec living the full American Dream, this man saw the writing on the wall and made some major changes. If his information wasn’t inspiring enough, his example certainly should be.

Beyond the extensive archives and resources, the site has something called the Daily Digest that should be essential reading. Martenson and his team have their finger on the pulse. See for yourself. You can have an email sent with the Digest or hook up to the RSS feed for it. Once you’ve seen a few, you’ll probably want to join Martenson’s very fortunate members and get even closer to the oracle himself. For a small fee your membership will give you access to Martenson’s personal posts and alerts. You’ll never feel more secure in your understanding of the global picture than with this guy whispering in your ear.

So there you have it. This is how I drown out the noise and zero in on the essentials in this vast internet universe. If you value the access and honesty brought to your life by this invaluable tool called the internet, maybe you should join the cause to make sure it stays open and free to everyone. For more on the issue of net neutrality, here’s a great article.

photo from Ad Majorem Blog

Be Wrong

This is an incredibly undervalued act in our culture. For many reasons, we’re all programmed to avoid being wrong at all costs. Fear and Ego are two of the biggest players, but there’s infinite subtlety to our avoidance maneuvers when it comes to admitting (even to ourselves) that we are even capable of being wrong.

And yet, it’s by being able to be wrong about something gracefully that we learn, grow and evolve by leaps and bounds. Not only is there nothing bad about being wrong, it’s actually kind of great when you think about it. Not only that but it’s completely unavoidable if you’re a human.

So when you really think about it, being wrong, admitting to it and embracing it without fear is absolutely one of the most courageous and daring things anyone can do. It truly is the opposite of how we’ve all too often come to view it.

And if all that weren’t reason enough to put a smile on your face every time you discover you were actually mistaken about something, it also has the capacity to elevate you closer to the level of master communicator faster than almost any other practice.  Being wrong is never the problem, being unable to admit/ accept it is far more damaging to constructive communication and your progress as an individual on the road of life.

Be proud of yourself anytime you realize you’ve been wrong. Do your best to remember not to fight it. Practice viewing your acceptance of being wrong as an act of bravery, a sign of the strength of your character and a unique learning opportunity that just brought you closer to the people you care about and the person you truly are.

Photo from www.dphoto.us