Exploring the origins, ethics and future of changemaking

Archive for the ‘Personal Reflections’ Category

Electromagnetic ethical thinking

In Environment, Personal Reflections on November 12, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Over the past ten years, I have become increasingly aware of and sensitive to Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR). I notice a strong contrast between how I feel and behave in cities as compared to rural areas. I recently returned to Sydney after two months of mostly being in largely rural and non-built up areas, and the contrast was astounding. For me, electromagnetic fields can cause poor sleep, agitation, scattered thinking, impulsiveness and anxiety. I first notice it physiologically as tension and vibration of my cells, and later as impacts on my overall state.

Electromagnetic radiation is not commonly talked about, despite its prevalence in our lives. For anyone who lives or works in cities, this is especially something to pay attention to. The impacts I noted above are not just mine, and others report headaches, sleeplessness, depression and more.

In my last job, I found that at least once per week I needed to work from home. This was about more than just having some quiet and non-distraction time. Some days I found the electromagnetic energy of the office so overwhelming, that it was impairing my thinking and judgement. I would respond impulsively to situations in ways that I wouldn’t in a more neutral or healthy environment. In hindsight, working from home was about needing to escape the unrelenting energy that exists in offices that are filled with computers, mobile phones Read the rest of this entry »

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Walking the middle path – the limits of vulnerability

In Personal Reflections on August 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Vulnerability has been trending of late; a meme that has captured the minds and hearts of many people I know. Moreover, it seems to have changed their behaviour. I experience myself and others being more vulnerable with each other, deepening connection and building community. While vulnerability can create greater connection, empathy and understanding, I have also experienced and witnessed it have painful consequences for people.

Brene Brown’s wonderful TED talks titled “The power of vulnerability” and “Listening to shame” have done a lot to fuel this meme. TED talks and social media offer us bite sized bits of inspiration and information. It is tempting to read 140 characters or hear an 18 minute speech and consequently conclude we are experts or accomplished in the content matter. Brene researched this field for over a decade, engaging in deep inquiry and personal exploration to understand these principles.

Whether we are acting as facilitators, educators, social workers or systems diplomats, we owe it to ourselves and the people we serve to understand these topics more fully. Vulnerability can be powerful in our work, but it can also have negative impacts.

Vulnerability is different for everyone

My experience of vulnerability started when I was young. At the time my parents and others just referred to me as a sensative child. While this was true and in more recent years has become a more endearing and useful quality, for a good period of time it caused me a great deal of angst. My natural sensitivity and willingness to be vulnerable left me open to being taken advantage of by others.

More recently I had a series of professional experiences where my being vulnerable in a Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond ‘disadvantage’: rethinking how we talk

In Language, Personal Reflections on August 4, 2012 at 6:56 pm

I have long been conscious of words, labels and how language can shape our reality. Initially my experience of labels was a personal one. Not just because of my sexuality, but indeed loads of experiences throughout my life have taught me the power and limitation of words.

After some harrowing times, at fifteen I embarked on a quest to reconstruct my world by being careful of how I spoke of myself and what I was prepared to accept from others. I had previously heard teachers and peers at school describe me in ways that I simply accepted and adopted as truth. More insidious were the words I used internally; flowing without filter or question. I was creating my world and reality in every thought.

Later in my twenties I became a teacher and heard this language from the other side. I heard teachers refer to students as bad students, good students, ADHD students, no-hopers, distracted students and more. These words were used so unconsciously and I doubt the users had awareness of their power in shaping the young people they were supposed to be serving.

This understanding of the power of language is not revelatory. The positive psychology Read the rest of this entry »

Why your dreams matter

In Dreams, Personal Reflections on July 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I recently wrote a post titled “A dream school for changemakers”, which retold and interpreted a dream I had. This dream gave me some interesting and important insights into the work that I do. I have been working consciously with my dreams for the past twelve years. On most mornings when I wake up, I record my dreams in a dream journal. After twelve years I have filled literally dozens of exercise books and journals, and have found a way to work with my dreams that has really helped me in my life and work.

There are a number of different theories about dreams and what they signify. Some people see dreams as simply projections of their innermost thoughts or desires. Others see dreams as a way of processing what happened for them in their day. These can both be accurate ways of looking at dreams; yet dreams can be something much more than this as well.

For me the dreamworlds are as real as the world out here. I see myself as Soul who exists in this body. I don’t see myself as a body that has a Soul, but rather as Soul who has a body. At night when I sleep I am able to leave my body to have experiences in other worlds. Just as this earthly or physical world is full of experiences that teach me lessons, so to are the dreamworlds. What I find extra important about the dreamworlds is that I don’t have the same filters of the mind which block me from seeing and Read the rest of this entry »

The Pygmalion Effect: who are you living up to?

In Personal Reflections on July 19, 2012 at 7:58 pm

A number of years ago I learned a powerful lesson about human behaviour. At the time I worked for Outward Bound and led groups of young people through the wilderness on personal development expeditions. On this one particular expedition, I experienced the dramatic and yet surprisingly effortless transformation of a young man who had previously been maligned as the school bully.

This particular expedition involved a group of about eighteen young people in tenth grade at school. They were about fifteen to sixteen years old, and about half of them were guys and the other half girls. The first person I met was the teacher who was along for the journey. She pulled me aside and told me that the school had been having particular trouble with a gang in this year level, and that I was ‘unlucky’ to be ‘dumped’ with the gang leader. I was told that he was trouble and a bully, and that if he stepped one foot wrong he would be expelled.

I had the good grace fortunately to not take on what this teacher had told me. Like all Outward Bound groups, my mission was to extend unconditional positive regard and take them as they came. I simply went into the experience with the expectation that they were capable of compassion, integrity and leadership.

For the purpose of this story, I will call this young guy “Carlo”. Carlo stood at least six feet tall, far above most of his classmates Read the rest of this entry »

Change by sword or hug…or both?

In Metaphor, Personal Reflections on June 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Last week I had the great privilege of hanging out with uncompromise (aka Cameron Burgess). We did some work together with the School for Social Entrepreneurs around organisational architecture, or how to design your organisation to achieve maximum impact.

I love Cameron’s passion and drive in the world – his energy is really contagious. We were talking about our different approaches to change-work and he shared an analogy of ‘change by sword’ versus ‘change by hug’. This is grossly simplifying what was actually a beautiful wisdom story of a monk, which I can’t seem to recall right now.

We talked about how Cameron often takes the role of the sword, and uses his intellect and sharp tongue to cut right through issues and get straight to the heart of what is happening for people. His experience with hypnotism has taught him that sometimes it is critical to be sharp like this to break through people’s resistances. In our chats this seemed to contrast with my more soft (or feminine perhaps) style of operating. I loved the conversation because the way he spoke really triggered some things in me and showed me aspects of myself which I was challenged by.

When we got around to running our workshop on the Tuesday however, things seemed to flip. Read the rest of this entry »

Limits of the mind and how to work with others

In Collective Impact, Personal Reflections on June 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm

“One day you’ll find out that you but play with words, and though you think you simplify the world, you but shroud truth in small complexities” – Joan Grant

I have been having a dilemma lately with one of the projects I am pursuing. The project has been a major collaboration between a number of parties over the last couple of years. We have been progressing quite well, and despite the divergent views and interests of those involved, we have been able to put our differences aside to focus on what collectively unites us.

Then entered a new partner, who rather than focuses on what is working well within the collaboration, he seems to focus on what is not working. His intellect is extraordinary and his ability to question almost anything is very strong. On the upside, his divergent views could help us to move into a better understanding of where we need to go. Questioning is incredibly valuable and it is important for us to continually seek out greater insight to our motivations and what we want to achieve. Questioning, doubt and negativity though totally rubs me up the wrong way.

I have worked with this individual before, and it is the same story every time. From my experience, seeking to understand truth by dissecting knowledge and information does not get you closer to truth. Seeking to make oneself right by making others wrong also does not lead one closer to a higher viewpoint. Not only does it constrain thinking, it is not effective in building relationships with others. And dominating conversation by shutting others down also gets under my skin.

While others have perhaps not been triggered to the same level as I have, Read the rest of this entry »

It is that really going to work? The ups and downs of cynicism

In Personal Reflections on June 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Over the weekend I was sent a business plan for a new initiative being set up in remote Australia to address significant and complex issues including health, school retention and employment for Aboriginal Australians. The business plan was well researched, incredibly detailed and I’m sure very compelling to most readers and investors. The catch was that I was immediately struck with this overwhelming cynicism around whether it would work.

This automatic reaction surprised me. Who have I become? I recall a number of years ago I was working on a project where a collaborator accused me of being blindly optimistic (as if optimism is a bad thing). He couldn’t believe that I had such an unwavering belief that what we were working on would work. Meanwhile, his default position was what I described as ‘willful pessimism’. It was willful as we were responding to the same inputs, but with very different reactions. For me the situation was not pessimistic, it was his willful response that was.

Pessimism and cynicism are different of course. Read the rest of this entry »

Reflecting on writing about ethics

In Personal Reflections on June 6, 2012 at 11:04 am

When I started this blog about six weeks ago, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought it would simply be a matter of putting some thoughts to paper. I thought I would let the purpose of the blog unfold and just see where it takes me.

As it is essentially about ideas, I thought that this should be fairly easy. I guess there would be a rational aspect to writing about ethics, in that I could research or present diverse viewpoints and arguments. And then there was the creative aspect in how to present those ideas.

Part of writing about ethics means what a colleague would say as ‘taking sides’. It is putting a line in the sand and acting as provocateur. I haven’t really taken that approach, and tried to take a balanced and questioning approach to how I have written. That said, I have deliberately presented issues that are contentious or challenging for people. This has invariably evoked emotion and deeply held views by both readers and myself.

Writing about ethics is tougher than I imagined and I have found myself vulnerable in this. In writing about a topic and surfacing old memories for people and some deep hurt, how much am I responsible for that experience of pain? In approaching this writing as a form of service, what are the lines of  responsibility that I need to be conscious of?

When is the right time to present an idea?

What is the most sensitive, balanced and respectful way to do that?

Through this I am learning about Read the rest of this entry »

Ethics without anger or taking sides

In Ethics, Personal Reflections on May 25, 2012 at 11:38 am

Two questions: can you discuss ethics without taking sides? and can you explore ethics without anger?

So far I have received some good feedback on this blog, but one question keeps coming up: when are you going to take sides? When I look around the ethics community, I see how we think this way. It seems that to be ethical one has to take a firm position on what is right and what is wrong.

I’m not sure if it is because I am reluctant to commit to a position, or because I sense another way of looking at ethics; it just doesn’t seem to be the kind of ethical debate I am looking for.

I have been following the #ethics stream on twitter and have been struck by the anger that seems to drive the discussion and contribution there. Aside from the occasional inspirational quote, it seems like the majority of ‘ethical’ thought in the twitter stream is driven by anger, judgement and condemnation. I have witnessed this offline also. In the mainstream media and social world, it is commonplace to judge the ethics of corporations and governments with loathing and vitriol. One may say that the actions of corporations and government can at times make these responses warranted. I am not going to dispute that.

My wondering is whether anger is a useful space from which to explore ethics. I know for myself that when I am angry my brain seems to contract into a withering and ineffective tool. I somehow close myself off from alternate perspectives, and the anger fuels an outcome that it wants but Read the rest of this entry »