Posts Tagged 'harmony'

Conservation of Energy

conservationofenerty

In physics, the law of energy conservation states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant. It can’t be created or destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. Our understanding of the universe relies on this principle.

It often (not always) applies to people and relationships, too.

If you escalate (cut off in traffic, angry at the gate agent, frustrated at your boss), you’ve just added (negative) energy to a conversation.

If you escalate (enthusiasm, a hug, encouraging words), you’ve just added (positive) energy to a conversation.

Once the energy is added, it has to go somewhere. Often, the person you’re engaging with throws it right back, or even increases it. The problem with taking offense is that it’s really hard to figure out what to do with it after you’re done using it. Better to just leave it on the table and walk away. Umbrage untaken quietly disappears. A talented, mature person might take your negative energy and de-escalate it, or even swallow it and permit the conversation to calm down or end. But don’t count on it.

You can ‘win’ a conversation by overwhelming your opponent with energy they can’t handle. But of course, they’re not your opponent and you don’t really win. Being aware of the energy you add or take from interactions is a sophisticated technique that radically changes the outcomes of the conversations that fill your day. Add the good stuff, absorb the bad stuff and focus on the outcomes, not the bravado. Winning isn’t the point.

Infinite Game

infiniteseries

Short term thinking sometimes causes us to betray ourselves in the long run. It could be from making a bad, if convenient or safe decision. Often it’s from making no decision. How long is the long run? It’s hard to know, and seems to depend a lot on context. Some people tend to measure the world in flashes, and they’re happy to do something they call generous for a few seconds, as long as they get a payback before a few minutes up. More common and more celebrated are people who play a longer game. They build an asset, earn trust, give before getting, and then, after paying their dues, win.

There’s something else available, though, something called an infinite game.

In finite games (short and long) there are players, there are rules and there are winners. The game is based on an outcome and is designed to end. In the infinite game something completely different is going on. The point is to keep playing, not to win. In the infinite game, the journey is all there is. And so, players in an infinite game never stop giving so they can take. Players in this game throw a slower pitch so the batter can hit it, because a no-hitter shutout has no real upside.

A good mom, of course, always plays the infinite game. But it’s possible to build an organization or even a society that does this as well. Build hospitals and schools instead of forts and barricades…

You probably know people who play this game. You may well have been touched by them, inspired by them and taught by them. The wrong question to ask is, “but how do they win?” The right way to understand it is, “is it worth playing?”

Crystal Palace

crystalpalace

It’s beautiful. Looks fantastic. A great ideal to hold on to.

Thanks to technology, (relative) peace and historic levels of prosperity, we’ve turned our lives into a type of crystal palace, a gleaming edifice that needs to be perfected and polished more than it is appreciated.

We waste energy whining over slight imperfections, while we’re simultaneously losing our ability to engage with situations that might not have outcomes shiny enough or risk-free enough to belong in the palace. By insulating ourselves from perceived risk we spend our days in a prison we’ve built for ourself.

Shiny, but hardly nurturing. And still fragile.

Growth is messy and seems dangerous. Life is messy and inherently somewhat dangerous. When we insist on a guarantee, an ever-increasing standard in everything we measure, and a Hollywood ending, we get none of those.

 

Organization’s Effects

artguy

If you take a group of people, a subgroup of the larger population, and expose them to focused messages again and again, you will start to change their point of view. If you augment those messages with exposure to other members of the group, the messages will begin to have ever more impact.

We generally tend to align ourselves with those we’re around. We don’t fully understand why. There is a lot of psychology we know, and then other stuff we can’t explain. Yawning, for instance, can be statistically shown to be contagious. It has been studied for years, yet we don’t know why it happens.

Once a group starts to become aligned, and starts acting like a tribe, the messages of the tribe will become self-reinforcing. When someone is born into that tribe, there is a very high probability she will never know the difference. It is simply her common sense about the way the world works.

Programmed.

Celebrate!

celebrate

Just a quick reminder to celebrate what’s great. It may not be ideal, but take the win and celebrate. That’s where the joy comes from and goes to in life. Two-way street. Give it. Receive it. Bask in it. It’s worth it.

Happiness, Part xx8, Other People

happinessothersrainumbrella

We’ve already explored happiness topics ranging from drugs to business. Perhaps the most vital, if obvious, piece has only been touched on up to now.

The Portuguese island of Madeira, known most for its excellent wine, is part of a volcanic archipelago that sits in the Atlantic Ocean far off the southwest coast of Portugal. It’s actually closer to northwest Africa, and loosely associated with the Canary Islands as a stopping point for transatlantic journeys.

One small island in the group has such steep cliffs jutting out of the ocean that it actually looks a bit like a cylinder. At the top is a several-acre plateau on which are grown the most prized grapes that go into Madeira wine. On this plateau lives only one large animal: an ox whose job is to plow the field. The only way to the top is a winding and narrow path. There is no way an ox could navigate the path, so when the ox dies, how is it replaced? A baby ox is carried on the back of a worker up the mountain, where it spends the next forty years plowing the field alone. If you are moved by this story, ask yourself why. One ox, alone, in a field on the plateau of a small rock island in the middle of the ocean.

Very little that is positive is solitary. When was the last time you laughed uproariously? The last time you felt indescribable joy? The last time you sensed profound meaning and purpose? The last time you felt enormously proud of an accomplishment? Even without knowing the particulars of these high points of your life, there is one thing I’ll bet they had in common: all of them took place around other people. Simply put, other people is the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.

Recent research on human evolution points to the importance of positive relationships. Studies of the big social brain, hive emotions, and group selection persuade me that positive relationships are a basic element of well-being.

It’s really pretty simple, except the catch is that nasty tendency we sometimes have to not want to be around people when things aren’t going well. It’s a downward spiral.

The other tricky aspect, is being around the right people. If you spend time with someone who brings you down or causes you stress, even if through no particular fault of his own, then at minimum you need others in your life who provide the type of companionship that makes the rest work. It turns out we’re pretty complicated socially, yet we produce anxiety and ultimately unhappiness because we don’t always set our lives up in a way that takes care of this truth, or honor and act on behalf of the changes we undergo throughout life. When someone connects and makes you feel good, pay attention, as it’s you trying to tell yourself something. Recognizing the importance of that is essential to not just happiness, but to fundamentally taking care of yourself.

 

Impressions are (nearly) Permenant

“But what will I tell my people?”

Once someone makes a decision about something subjective, it’s almost impossible to persuade them that they were wrong. Not just because it’s difficult to really be ‘wrong’ about subjective things, or sometimes to even quantify them, but because you’re no longer asking them to remake the first decision, you’re asking them to admit an error, which is a whole other thing.

Compounding this, we often make it awkward for someone who is trying to come around to be embraced, largely because they are hurt that they were rejected in the first place.

The opportunity is to encourage them to look at new information and make a new decision. Give them the story they need to rationalize the change. “Well, I know I said X, but that was before she/he/they listened to me and changed…”

Step two is to celebrate the newcomer, not to dredge up their past positions and wave them in their face.

Cloudy

cloudyballandchain

Our moods cloud thinking and judgement. It’s usually somewhat nuanced, but without a doubt we know that certain decisions and reactions are impacted by emotions, which are partially triggered by moods, which are impacted in a variety of ways.

Cloudy days…just don’t feel the same as the bright, sunny days. Our bodies, and ultimately our psyches react to these conditions in ways we don’t fully understand or have control over. Further, moods affect our perception of the relative cloudiness.

It’s possible the tipping point of perception driving an important decision would differ depending on whether it’s cloudy or sunny outside. It has implications into the element of chaos or seeming randomness in everything that happens.

Fascinating how we are cognitively (emotionally…spiritually?) connected to the earth and environment in these ways, and in how much dissonance we produce by ignoring or resisting it.

Fine Lines

naxidinner-the-power-of-community

A Nazi Christmas dinner in Germany, circa 1940. Looks pretty familiar and comfortable to us, except for the pesky implications of those arm bands. Thus it’s not just a dinner, or a Christmas dinner; it’s a Nazi Christmas dinner.

If you’re standing in line with a stranger, what happens if he’s a few inches taller than you? Probably nothing. There’s nothing to distract, or to cause discomfort. You may make small talk. What if he’s a little shorter than you? Or wearing a sport coat?

What if he’s from another state? Probably nothing to consider…

What if he has really long, gray hair? Or an eye patch?

At some point, most people reach a degree of discomfort. What if he’s over 7 feet tall? Will you mention it? Or if he’s under four feet? What if he’s from a different country? Or a different race or speaking with a significant accent (or, more accurately, an accent that’s different from yours)?

For as long as we’ve been mobile enough to encounter others outside of our tribe, humans have been on alert for the differences that divide us. Then we fixate on those differences, amplifying them, ascribing all sorts of irrelevant behaviors to them. Until, the next thing you know, we start referring to, “those people.” We start boiling them down to generalizations, and even building a narrative for ourselves about them.

It seems as though it’s a lot more productive to look for things in common. Attitudes and expectations. Beliefs in the common good and forward motion. A desire to make something that matters…

Because there’s always more in common than different. We need to start acting as smart as we are.

An Unselfish To Do List

dancerssilBy their nature, most to-do lists are self-focused. This is a different kind of list; here are four things you could do today for other people:

1. Make another person feel they belong. 

The superficial greetings that make the greeter feel good can diminish into the reality of a lack of connection for a person who is new or in an unfamiliar (uncomfortable) environment.

Maybe it’s the guy in accounting who always eats lunch alone. Maybe it’s the guy from shipping who always stands at the edge of a group. It’s easy to spot people who feel hesitant and out of place. Pick one. Say hi. Say something nice. Say, or do, something that makes them feel a slightly bigger connection – to your company, to a group, or just to you.

They may not show it, but they’ll definitely appreciate the gesture.

2. Make a person feel good about what they do.

Rarely does a restaurant delivery guy hope to make his career delivering food. Rarely does a sales clerk or entry-level manual laborer hope to stay in that job forever. High-level workers tend to attract high-level attention. Lower level workers often feel invisible; an unseen, unnoticed, unappreciated cog in the machine. Such a shame since everyone really is important and deserves to be treated with respect.

Pick someone in your company, or elsewhere. Doesn’t matter. Don’t just offer a throwaway, “Thanks.” Say thanks and mean it. Or give a sincere compliment. Or ask a question that shows respect for what that person does. For that moment, make sure the other person knows you see and appreciate them as a person, not just as an employee.

3. Offer a person hope. 

Have you ever met a person who didn’t dream of something better? We all have dreams and hopes, but sometimes it’s really hard to hold on to them. Sometimes all we need is for another person to fan our flickering flames of hope. To somehow show us that there is a way to get from here to there.

Buy a piece of art from an artist. Assign a small project to an employee you know hopes to be promoted; give her a chance, however small, to show her stuff. Ask a small supplier to provide a quote; give them a chance to earn your business. Really listen to someone with the intent to understand and get to know them. Engage them in a meaningful conversation, or include them (see above) in an important activity.

The best way to offer someone hope is to show you believe in them, even when – especially when – they don’t quite believe in themselves.

4. Give to a person in need. 

Years ago, the first time I went to Europe, a well-meaning person told me not to make eye contact with beggars. “Once you make eye contact, they’re all over you.”

A while later I was with a friend in NYC, and when riding the subway I noticed she gave a little money to a man who walked through the car with his hat in hand. She also gave money to people sitting against buildings holding torn, faded cardboard signs declaring their need. When I asked about it, she said, “If a man is desperate enough to say, ‘Can you help me?’ how could I ever say no? He’s asking me for help.” She paused. “Plus, hopefully for a few moments they’ll feel a little less alone. Hopefully they’ll feel like a few people really do care about them.” Humbling.

I’d normally be the first one to say we do these things to make ourselves feel better. It’s true, but on this day I was reminded by a person with a bigger heart than me that there is still a real person on the other end of that transaction who benefits.

Try it. Give directly. Give to a person who asks. Give a dollar here, or five dollars there.

To you and me it may be little, but to a person in need it could be a lot. To a person in need our small gestures could make all the difference.

The thing about all of these benevolent acts is they will each make you feel better. Even if you do them for your own selfish reasons the good you do is still positive energy in the world. We’re all in this together.


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