It’s all right

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

“Those who think they know it all have no way of finding out they don’t.” – Leo Buscaglia

The insatiable thirst for knowledge may very well be one of the most notable attributes setting the human species apart from any other in the animal kingdom. Although it may be difficult to prove in non-humans, it is perpetually evident by the copious amounts of ways to gain knowledge. Whether it is in a classroom, from a book, online browsing, or basic curiosity, we are constantly drinking from the fountain of knowledge which seemingly has no end.

Scholarships are offered to those exceeding in this endeavor and the ones with a propensity to retain and recall information quickly are marveled and held in high esteem. Many take pride in their ability to recollect facts and recount remarkably trivial information.

The one characteristic which is unfortunately not a side effect from increasing knowledge is the ability to be discrete. It doesn’t take much effort to spot those who are unencumbered to “share” their knowledge with you and even let you know when your understanding is erroneous; eagerly anticipating the first opportunity to remedy your misconception.

If only these know-it-alls were aware that this behavior is more often interpreted as obnoxious rather than helpful. These actions are rarely done to benefit anyone other than to promote the brilliance of the perceived omnipotent.

Truthfully, this is a concern running through my mind each time I compose these articles. It’s the classic conundrum of wanting to sound authoritative without being conceited or condescending. Am I encroaching on the arena of arrogance even as I fight to expose its cruel consequences? How much do I struggle for what I believe in without becoming a victim of my own teachings? The subjects are highly subjective; my hope is the writing is highly objective.

Knowledge obtained in virtuous ways is intended to be shared for the benefit of humankind; not to be traded on the exchange of corruption, greed, or indignity. Researching thoughts from educated people typically leaves one understanding that the more one knows, the more one realizes there is so much more to learn.

The opening quote points to this very idea. I’ve often made a similar claim which states: The problem with always needing to be right is that you won’t know when you’re wrong. Knowledge frequently sheds light on what’s mistaken about our beliefs and opinions. It can expose fundamentally incorrect values or viewpoints. Initially, this awareness may feel embarrassing, but changing and accepting this new knowledge should now become a moment of growth. Rather than be humiliated, we ought to embrace this new knowledge.

As with countless other philosophical topics, being “right” is always a complex issue. Certain facts will always be a given, such as 2 + 2 will indisputably equal 4. However, there are certain subjects which at their slightest suggestion, bring complete strangers to fisticuffs at a moment’s notice.

In regard to these heated and controversial subjects, what is the conclusive factor on who is right? And, it’s not like this question hasn’t been asked before so what makes my view any more credible than the next one?

The approach I’ve learned is to ask questions and frame them in a way which demonstrates an eagerness to get to the truth. For instance, beginning the question with, “which of you ignorant people out there believe….(fill in your controversial subject)” This is no endeavor for truth but rather a brazen attempt at making someone feel poorly about what or how they believe.

This style of questioning is frequently used by those in a position of power; many who are unfortunately highly practiced in this art of duplicity. Employing this kind of rhetoric is both a sham and shameful. Undoubtedly deceit was the key to their rise and sharpening this devious skill is what aided their ascent to treachery.

Shame is a profoundly ominous tool and those who’ve been its worst victim learn to manipulate it so they won’t have to look inside themselves and become aware of how awful they actually feel about themselves. Their denial to reflect upon their own lack of virtue is outweighed by the shame in their own lives; leading them to believe they are owed much more than others. They will not believe for one moment they are wrong nor entertain any idea of being remotely incorrect.

Being in this state of delusion is what I call “Benevolent Ignorance.” When the notion that what you believe is without debate and indisputable. Anyone who would consider anything otherwise is also worth less than the air they breathe. Those are the kinds of people whom I will never hesitate to vex.

Here’s a little test which may help you reveal if you have any benevolent ignorant tendencies. If your only answer to why a question is correct is “because,” you may want to reconsider your belief. Additionally, if you refuse to listen to an alternative view to your “because,” this is even a greater cause for concern.

Beliefs don’t always require an answer since sometimes it takes faith to move forward. However, it borders on arrogance when you’ll only accept “because” for an answer and refuse to listen to other points of view.

Benevolent ignorance is often exploited by those in positions of power. Its use is shrouded with threats and horrific consequences. It is shame at its highest level. Nothing wields more power than:

A. Making others feel terrible about how they believe.

B. Usurping the ability of others to think for themselves.

What gives these despots even more power is when it’s coupled in groupthink. Thankfully, there is a defense; which is not to concede to demands. However, even if you have been guilty of this concession, I believe most still have the power to recapture their own reasoning.

This week try to become aware of any unseen need to be right or benevolent ignorance. Awareness is the first step toward setting it straight. Next week, we’ll talk about some of the remedies and replacing it with self-confidence.

My thanks to Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

The Leader of the Pact

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘we did it ourselves.’ “

— Lao Tzu

I never thought that embarking on a discussion about what comprises a leader would be such a troublesome and diverse subject. Perhaps for some, its definition is too vague. There are many kinds of leaders as well as countless ways to lead. However, tackling this in the present day is not something which should be reflected upon lightly.

I’ll admit that when approaching this subject, I jump right to the front and discuss those leaders whose responsibilities are greatest. For example, the ones mainly found in political and military arenas – where one decision can affect the lives of thousands of people. This kind of leadership comes with the most solemn and earnest responsibilities.

Even at this level, there are different styles of leadership. Some are quiet and deliberate; speaking only when required. Others may take a more vocal and demonstrative approach. It is a fine balance of understanding yourself and knowing how to inspire others to do more than they ever believed they could.

In the opening quote, Lao Tzu wisely writes when the best leader’s work is done, those being led say they did it themselves. This is precisely the way I’d love to see every description of leadership be depicted. While it may not be possible in every situation, it surely is an outcome all great leaders would be thrilled to have purported about them.

I hadn’t known much about this Ancient Chinese Philosopher but while researching this quote, there were several others which he characterized leaders as being in the background and focusing more on the people being led. Another of his well-known quotes states: “To lead people, walk behind them.”

When the attention is being focused on the flock rather than the leader, it shows those very same supporters they are important. Their efforts are going to the betterment of so much more than only to the one in charge. When leaders walk behind, it allows them to see progress and more importantly, foresee any grave concerns which may lie on the trail ahead. It may not always be possible to lead from behind but when it is, it’s a definite sign you truly are hoping to earn the trust of those in your care.

Is it possible that many of us are assessing leadership from the wrong perspective? Certainly it’s up to each one of us to decide what a leader can do for us, but is this really the best way to determine who the next person in charge ought to be? If this were the case, wouldn’t it place far too many arbitrary demands on the person vying for this position?

A leader is not defined on what that person can do for us, yet so many take the position that leaders are more of a savior or rescuer when that is not their objective. We should not anticipate or expect one person to snap his or her fingers and everything is changed. Life will be better and all the hurdles on our journey will be no more difficult than stepping over a pebble. This is possibly the worst illusion anyone could formulate.

Of all the leaders who have ever snapped their fingers and created such a dynamic change it was probably due to the fact they were monarchs or authoritarians. People only have this power when we give it to them, or it is unduly taken away from us.

Distinct leaders throughout human history are remembered for various reasons but first and foremost, it was for interceding for those who were oppressed. The vulnerable people who were deceived by others claiming to be leaders while taking away those very freedoms they lied to protect. Regrettably, leadership is also a position where with only a small, concerted effort, it can be used as a force for tyranny just as easily as a tool of fairness and justice.

Every person wants those in authority to be fair and impartial to their best abilities; providing equal opportunities as much as possible for the entire group. By choosing someone who is partial to you, how much responsibility and work are you hoping to alleviate for yourself? The purpose of a leader is not to make your life better while at the same time more effortless and advantageous for you. Imagine for a moment if the proverbial shoe were on the other foot, how badly duped you would feel.

Any aspiring leader should not tell you they alone can only do the job. Most who step into a leadership position hesitate and are nervous because they grasp the enormity of the position. One unintended mistake could negatively impact or even cost a life, and no one wants to have this scenario weighing heavily on their minds.

What may be a better way of looking at leadership is to be or live that kind of life you would expect from anyone leading you. Walk in those same steps and command from yourself the same ideals you’d expect from leaders. It’s an effective way to begin to understand the kinds of demands a leader must surmount. If you believe a leader ought to be held accountable for his or her actions, then live to that same standard yourself. If integrity, honesty, and fairness are what you demand from a leader, then command those very same traits from yourself.

Each of us has opportunities during the day to lead by example. From the smallest acts of kindness to large acts of charity, being a living example is the best reminder to yourself of the kind of leader you hope to see.

This week make a pact that you’ll exude and emanate the qualities you want to see in a leader. Search for those experiences when you can lead by walking behind others. It’s possible that others may see you as the potential leader you can become.

My thanks to Dev Asangbam on Unsplash for the wonderful photo and I look forward to your comments.

In the lead

“If you had any knowledge of the noble things of life, you would refrain from coveting others’ possessions” -Leonidas’ response to the Persian King Xerxes.

In 2018, there were over 1200 books published with the word “Leadership” in the title. No one needs convincing of the importance of a good leader and the prodigious results which having one accomplishes.

However, in today’s headlines, it appears its concept is being conflated with a host of attributes which refute the true meaning and purpose of this word.

In all fairness, I hesitate to comment on such a powerfully significant topic when the extent of my leadership experience has so far peaked at leading a high school band. But this subject is an issue which touches each one of us. Whether it is at home, work, or in the world at large, leadership influences many outcomes every day of our lives.

In order to define the values of leadership, one ought to first examine the various levels of significance its role plays compared to each circumstance. Some leaders who stand in esteemed regard are nothing more than high forms of entertainment; while others, with one decision, can decide the fate of millions of souls. This leaves little debate that the latter holds a greater need to faithfully execute and exude the qualities of true leadership.

What is the ultimate goal of a leader? This is not a one-word answer and demands a clear understanding by the one looking to fill those shoes. I do not believe that winning alone should always be the final objective for any leadership role. As important and substantiating as it may be for some, it can be a major distraction for others.

There have been many whose ability to lead has been prodigiously displayed in different arenas. Some of those battlefields have been in athletics while others on the battlegrounds of war. Each producing and setting precedent for defining future attributes of leadership.

Undeniably, there have been world-class athletes who’ve demonstrated leadership skills which surmounted unbelievable odds and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Those moments have and continue to inspire potential leaders. Success is most often identified with winning in this realm but what really does victory mean and to what end does it matter?

I do not wish to downplay the efforts, talent, or countless hours of hard work which athletes must produce to reach this level of leadership. Ultimately, however, what does it produce? Someone who can throw, kick, shoot, or bounce a ball with utter precision and stifling the opponent?

What defines leadership at this level is doing something beyond their athletic prowess. It is taking those same talents which inspired teammates to perform at their highest levels, and putting them to use in their own communities; motivating those who once cheered for them, to reach their full potential in the game we call life.

Winning, at the level of sport, is the ultimate goal. But outside the gridiron, ballfield or stadium, winning can distract leaders from their purpose. Competition, by its own nature, requires knowing your opponent, maneuvering strategically and attacking those weaknesses while stretching the boundaries set by the rules of the game.

If this strategy is deployed by a community leader, competition amongst the constituents, perpetuates favoritism, promotes discrimination, and frequently turns its back on integrity. If the one in charge only helps those who are likeminded, it limits equal opportunity for the entire community. It also establishes what I frequently describe as “Benevolent Ignorance” which is the idea that your way of thinking is the rule of law and any thought or consideration of an opposing view is worthless and a waste of time.

Even on the battlefields of war, some of the most heroic efforts upheld honor more than the objective to win. The opening quote was attributed to Leonidas, the leader of the legendary 300 Spartans who fought bravely against the Xerxes and his 70,000 soldiers. According to the Greek philosopher Plutarch, Xerxes offered Leonidas to be the “sole ruler of Greece” in return for his surrender at Thermopylae.

Being a Leader meant more to this fierce warrior than simply winning. It was about honor and the individual decency of every Greek citizen. Not only did Leonidas stand up for the dignity of the people of Greece, he also told Xerxes, “but for me to die for Greece is better than to be the sole ruler over the people of my race.”

He knew full well the likelihood of victory was slim. With all odds against him, he inspired and led his army to repel the onslaught for days. It was only by the deception of a fellow Greek – whose honor Leonidas also pledged to protect – which turned the tide and ultimately terminated one of the most lopsided standoffs in the history of wars.

The pendulum of Leadership in today’s world appears to be leaning toward winning, especially in the political arenas of the world. No doubt candidates must win the election before having an opportunity to promote their agenda, but the emphasis on winning fuels all kinds of dubious actions which abandon important qualities such as integrity, honor, and fairness and after all, aren’t these the authentic values we seek in a leader?

Besides the afore mentioned traits, we may have our own thoughts on what makes a great leader. But are these tainted by our own voracious need to win? This is the question I constantly ask myself. Are any of the characteristics I promote giving me an unfair advantage? Am I a victim of my own blind ambitions?

True leaders display humility and don’t describe themselves as “flawless” nor their actions as “perfect.” There is always room for improvement and at times, may feel disappointment if they were not able to do more. Winning is only part of the strategy if it first benefits those who are being led.

An author and friend, Kees Van Der Ent, frequently ruminates on the subject of leadership, and once wrote, “Real Leaders make common people feel special.” What I love about this quote is that it’s not immensely poetic, but it strikes at the core of what we aspire from any person in authority. Leadership is making the ones being led to feel better about themselves.

The next time you think about the kinds of behaviors you want to see in those whose care you will be found, remember to ask yourself if you strive to reach those same qualities. Endeavoring to reach those same goals may give you a glimpse of what it’s like to be a true leader.

My thanks to Larry Clarkin on Unsplash for the fitting picture and I look forward to your comments.

Baggage Claim

No one is going to applaud you for carrying your own baggage.

After searching for a fitting quotation to open this article, most only referenced that carrying baggage was not a good idea. None I found offered any genuinely practical or applicable steps toward achieving this goal. The passage I ended up selecting was borrowed from last week’s article which focused on the idea that letting go of our baggage isn’t as simple as dropping it on the floor.

No one needs convincing that emotional baggage is an awful predicament. The challenge ahead is how does one let go of the proverbial baggage which prevents anyone from living a fuller and happier life.

Figurative baggage is a metaphor for everything holding us back, weighing us down, or even halting any progress. Its literal meaning is profoundly contrary to its counterpart. Baggage for travel is basic essentials, things which we need or even require. If extra room is available, we put more stuff in it.

For our everyday lives, baggage is the complete opposite. It’s filled with hurtful and painful memories. No one wants to hold onto what it signifies and certainly isn’t hoping to add anything extra.

Unloading our emotional baggage is quite different from handing a suitcase to an attendant or skycap. This is why telling someone to “just let it go” is never a practical solution. Anyone knowingly carrying psychological baggage is not thrilled about the idea of constantly lugging around this unneeded and undesirable burden.

Another dilemma is understanding how or why we ended up with all this baggage in the first place. This is perhaps the most difficult step and why so many are not able to unload it very easily. The reasons can be as vast as the individuals bearing it; however, many of them center around the false perceptions we have of ourselves.

These perceptions begin at an early age while our minds are quite impressionable. When those whom we trust say hurtful or damaging things to us, unwittingly or not, we tend to believe them. As we grow older and encounter this more frequently, we feel obligated to carry these bags as if somehow, something we did deserved punishment and now we’ve given ourselves permission not to “let it go.”

In many cases, psychological baggage is associated with difficult, abusive, or tragic events. Often, these situations leave victims with overwhelming anxiety; spawning a need to ask countless questions such as “why me” or other demands in which solutions are impossible to find. Sometimes this need is so great it causes us to conjure up reasons not even close to the truth and highly damaging to our own self-esteem.

The antidote for unloading emotional baggage is as varied as the individuals who seek it. Thankfully, most of it can be centered around one action – that is self-forgiveness.

Self-forgiveness is a frequent remedy for emotional healing but also requires some deeper understanding. The most common response I receive from my clients after hearing this remedy, is along the lines of, “Self-Forgiveness? I didn’t cause this pain on myself so why should I have to forgive me”?

Truthfully, this is exactly how I hope they respond because it means they’re listening and searching for a solution.

“You are absolutely correct,” is my reply. “You didn’t do this to yourself.”

“But,” I continue, “did you ever one time believe that in any way you deserved or earned it”?

Frankly, I don’t ever recall hearing any other answer than yes. This admission is a huge step. Next, I ask them to imagine they were talking with someone else in this exact situation. After hearing their story would they really tell that person they deserved it? Seeing themselves from another’s perspective allows them to finally recognize the error in their thinking, and forgiving themselves for actually believing that lie becomes attainable.

Self-forgiveness is not forgiving the act nor the abuser; it’s about acknowledging you did nothing to deserve the original pain nor its aftermath. After all those years of believing you did, now you can absolve yourself of that burden. Pardoning yourself is a good way of figuratively letting go of the handle on your baggage. It creates a sense of emotional relief, and some have even experienced a physical respite along with it.

There is an important caveat to keep in mind during this process. When we undergo these breakthrough moments, they’ll create a huge sense of accomplishment. However, sometimes we can fall back into a dark place which causes us to question whether or not the baggage was really ever let go. This is a common occurrence during the “letting it go” process for many – present company included. The remedy for this is akin to the original one. Simply realize you fell into that trap and once again forgive yourself for believing nothing ever happened.

When first embarking on the task of letting go of your baggage, the key is not to blame yourself for circumstances you didn’t create. Don’t demand unwarranted or unjust punishment on yourself by believing all that baggage you claimed was merited.

My thanks to Franz Spitaler on Unsplash for the wonderful picture. If you are having difficulties letting your baggage go, please feel free to contact me. I’m now available to help. Thank you and I look forward to your comments.