Authenticity. Again.

I want to be real, but what is the real me, and how do I find it?

b4c312e2df9d7babb99319dc5570dbd2I found myself talking to myself this morning, slightly exasperated if I’m honest. I asked myself: What is it with this eternal search for finding your true authentic self?

I don’t know. We all want to discover what’s true and genuine, surely?

Well, yes, I’m with you. The trouble is, you get a bit self-obsessed looking for your true self.  You try so hard; you want it so badly. And haven’t you noticed? – People who are all caught up looking for their true selves don’t have much energy left for other people. In your obsession, you miss what’s going on around you.

Anyway, it’s a horrendously difficult quest, for your authentic self never appears at the time you’re  looking for it. The search guarantees that it’s absent while you’re looking for it.

How can that be?

The truth is that you are most yourself when YOU aren’t there because you’re entirely absorbed within whatever is happening – your physical self, your thoughts and your emotions all at the service of that moment. At such a time, you’re never thinking about your true self, you just are it. Okay, afterwards, you could perhaps watch a video of yourself and observe, wow, I was really myself then, but at the time you weren’t thinking that, you were just inside the dance. If you’re looking for it, you haven’t got it.

You’re talking in paradoxes.

Well, take this morning for instance: I got out of bed when the light in the garden was still bluey-green. Everything was green, mono-colour, just before the sun came up. And suddenly the first bird sang and for a moment I caught the beauty of it. Wow. Breathtaking. A brief instant later, I thought, “I want to take a photo of this,” and wondered if my mobile was still downstairs.

That’s how it goes. And I can think, “That self, that was completely in the moment at one with beauty and stillness, that’s the real me.” But as soon as I’m thinking that, I’m not in that moment anymore, so I’ve lost that real me.

Okay, granted with special moments, but let’s face it, everything’s the real me anyway – inspired me, angry me, envious me, tired me?

True enough. But if that’s true, what am I looking for? If it’s all here at every moment, the messy changing me, there’s nothing to look for.

And yet there is. There’s something, I know there is.

Yes, I agree. There is a ‘real’ me, because I know that I’m often acting (not  real me) – when I’m trying to impress, or trying to fit in, or even making an effort to be a certain way in order to be more helpful to others.

So the real me is when I’m not acting?

That’s right, but it all depends …

Ah, could have guessed, here we go…

Right! It all depends what we mean by acting. We all act. However, the actor who is aware of self at the moment they are acting isn’t the best actor – they may be highly competent, but they are always ‘actorly’ – self-conscious. The same is true if they have an agenda, such as to look good or get rich.

The best actors on the other hand ‘take something on’ and then they are that. They are natural. They are not ‘actorly’. Think about actors you have watched in films: some are utterly believable in the role – the actor disappears, only the character remains; others are visibly acting the part. If I am like the best actors, able to act what I want, I can take on anything. If I decide to be bright, bold and beautiful, then I will be. I can take something on, and it becomes my true self.

Yes but, yes but, yes but …

Yes but, nothing. If you have a secret and you decide it is not to be known, you will act as if it doesn’t exist – you will become a person who doesn’t have that secret. There’s little doubt that you will do this successfully, even if it takes its toll elsewhere. If you have ever been in that situation, you will recognise this.  If, for example, there is something you are deeply ashamed of, you will maintain your secret – you won’t ever forget to do it.

So it can work in other situations as well. If you have always hated someone and you decide that instead you care for them, that is possible too. It is a deciding.

Well …

Deciding comes from the gut. It probably starts in the heart, with the help of the head, but the impulse that makes it happen is found in the gut.

Let’s imagine, for example, that the heart says, I long to be a convincing speaker. Head thinks about what will be present when I am a convincing speaker and how I will be different. Gut says, okay, let it be so.

Oh, come on, it’s not as easy as that. What about technique, practice, experience?

You are right of course. But that’s only 10% of it. The rest is: “It shall be so.” Just as God said, “Let there be light. And there was light.”  And it was so.

I knew a young woman who sang a beautiful solo at her grandfather’s funeral. She was in pieces before with sadness: she couldn’t even speak. But this was the one and only last chance to do this beautiful thing for her grandfather; she knew she had to sing beautifully for him – she knew that it had to be so. And the ‘had to’ in that sentence wasn’t the internal feeling of necessity from her conditioning that keeps people stuck in habit. Quite the contrary: it was an expression of an internal congruent necessity, not the same thing at all, and a wonderful example of being true to yourself.

The many tales of quests that have come down to us tell this same story. The hero leaves home on a difficult quest, meets many dangers and adventures, and eventually comes home to find that the answer was there all the time; it took different eyes to see it. To return to the place we started from and know it for the first time, as T S Eliot says. I looked up the quote and the whole passage is magnificent:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

—T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets

More recently, Oprah Winfrey said that the greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change their future by merely changing their attitude. They have different eyes to see. That’s the brave bit – to change the way you look at something even when it scares you witless to do so. That’s why, when you look up ‘change’ on Google, it is always associated with ‘hard’, ‘difficult’ etc. It’s not ‘hard’. It’s easy. But scary? Ah, maybe. But success is guaranteed when the result is more important than failing, more important than looking a fool, and more important than anything else – in other words when you have nothing to lose.

What might we all do if we knew we had nothing to lose? What truths might I speak loudly, if I knew I had nothing to lose? What might you do, that you’ve always wanted to achieve, IF YOU HAD NOTHING TO LOSE?

Wow.

I know. Energising isn’t it?! And nothing whatsoever to do with “finding the real me”.

Go well.

Judy

 

THIS AND THAT

The Art of Communication

I write about ‘disappearing’ in Part iii, chapter 5 of my book The Art of Communication – explaining how in the best conversations we do exactly that – we disappear.

Here’s an excerpt:

When you allow intuition to emerge without stress or forcing, answers pop up
spontaneously, ready made and complete from your deep well of holistic intelligence
within – creative, generative, and wholly appropriate. You, your ego, disappears and
pure consciousness remains.

LEAVE YOUR EGO OUTSIDE AND ‘DISAPPEAR’
Creative conversation comes from being conscious. You are not
witnessing yourself in action – you are just there in the action.
It’s not the same as taking a dissociated view of the situation
like an outside observer. When you acquire presence it’s just
that, being inside looking out, as opposed to self-consciousness,
which is an uneasy awareness of people on the outside looking
at you.
If I hear a piece of glorious music, I have the beauty of that sound
in my consciousness, filling me with joy and awe. But I don’t say
‘beauty’ to myself. If I instantly switch to making conscious meaning,
by thinking about how aroused I feel by the sound or by
cataloguing the piece or the composer, I’ve moved to something
else. I’ve put myself at the centre of the experience and it’s now
about me and what I know. Paradoxically, when you feel as if the
universe is revolving around you at its centre, you are living from
the ego and are off-centre.
Consciousness has no ego. Conversation doesn’t exist for us
to polish each other’s personalities. Your fixed personality,
the ‘I am . . . ’ – I am an executive coach, a religious counsellor,
a caring parent, an effective manager, a powerful leader
etc. – disappears. You are left with pure consciousness. Nothing
is fixed. You don’t consult a particular ideology or set of beliefs.
You are alive, responding moment by moment out of your
consciousness. When you hear the music, you’re caught by it, and
you’re gone, for in that moment nothing exists but the sound of
the music. If you are anywhere, you’re inside that sound.

In Conversation with the Poet Jacky Power

I was in conversation about the art of communication with the poet Jacky Power recently for her podcast series, the Therapeutic Poet. It was a great pleasure for us both. You can find it here.   She writes in her introduction:

It felt like such a treat talking to Judy.

As Judy shares in this podcast, in good communication several things are present: a sense of humility, of equal humanity amongst those conversing.

Vulnerability, which can be shared when empathy and trust are present and we can be open to that through the way we dance in our conversation, how we mirror the other person in their energy.

And not taking ourselves too seriously; when we add a playfulness we add creativity and sparkle to, not just the conversation, but our lives.

I loved listening to Judy, I think she has a great voice, and as she suggested, at the end of this podcast I have recited my poem ‘Low Low’.

Permission to Shift Podcast

I mentioned the Permission to Shift conference in my last newsletter. Here’s a link to my virtual session with Anna Lang and participants about the importance of conversation in making the shifts you want in your life.  The whole series supports the idea that fundamental shifts can be made simply with a change of heart. Here’s a summary of the videos in the series.

My Other Books

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication
My most popular book currently. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies
contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence
This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You.
Now published in 9 foreign language editions!
Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.

You can get my books from all the usual channels. The links I’ve provided are to bookshop.org, an ethical source of books that supports local bookshops.

Stories within Stories

point-of-view

Sounds like the stuff of nightmare tales, but it is possible to get stuck in your story, unable to find a way out. Are you in a Matrix? Problems are solved only from outside the story, where you get a different perspective.

Gilgamesh, the oldest work of literature in the whole world, written over three thousand years ago, tells of the discovery of hidden tablets that in their turn tell a story – a story within a story. The oldest work written in English, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, consists of stories within a story too – the tale of a group of pilgrims travelling towards the holy shrine at Canterbury, in which each traveller tells a story as they travel.

More recently, the well-known film, The Truman Show, tells the story of Truman, who has lived on Seahaven Island from babyhood. But the story embracing that story is that he is living inside a huge dome, constructed for the transmission of an interminable TV soap opera, where everyone on that island apart from him is an actor in the show, and he is the only one not in the know – for him this is his life.

The concept of a story within a story makes good entertainment – The Matrix is another powerful example. And it is capable of giving us an uneasy feeling: “So what’s real? Am I living the real thing? Or am I living in a story too?”

All good fun to speculate, but it is certainly true that we do indeed live in stories of others’ making, probably much more than we’re aware of. Most often, like Truman, we’re born into them; sometimes we pick them up along the way. Cultures, including religious cultures, offer stories that differ widely from each other. But when we are born into a culture, its story isn’t a story for us, it’s just life, normality (however odd it may seem to others!). A fish doesn’t know it’s in water.

Well, we all have our varied experiences, our world view, our different opinions. But the stories we believe drive our actions. The trouble with living inside a story without knowing it’s a story is that it prevents us stepping outside the storybox, which is often the only place to solve our problems. I watched Wild Wild Country recently, the story of a large religious group that moved from India to remote Oregon in the US and built a city there. Members of the group were clearly hugely inspired by their leader Bhagwan, later known as Osho. Encountering opposition from locals and later by federal forces, they did everything to protect their leader, and as the situation escalated, they armed themselves and finally executed violent acts against those who opposed them. Each worse act was motivated by a strong positive intention (as we would call it in NLP). Perpetrators would have said, “I’m doing this to protect Bhagwan, that is all that matters.” The story doesn’t end well, as you might imagine.

Get out of the Matrix

How often do we try to solve our problems “within the matrix, the story”? For example, “This person is difficult, I’ve got to deal with him/her.” The story in this case is “This person is difficult” and the proposed solution derives directly from the story, “I’ve got to deal with him/her.” “Dealing with” frequently involves some sort of violence. With some politicians, the story is, “My party has got to win this battle,” and the rationale within the story is, “Therefore I’ve got to tell whatever story will win this battle.” This is where truth gets sacrificed. Working within the story often involves a belief that the end justifies the means.

But that’s only one way of viewing a problem, and it’s unlikely to be solved satisfactorily by continuing to look at it from the one perspective. There’s a different way, which is to recognise the matrix and step beyond it. There are various ways to do this.

  1. Step into a bigger picture. Sit back and open up your view. See yourself and the “difficult” person from a distance in your mind’s eye, and watch the “dance” of movement and sounds between you as if you are watching a film of two people you don’t know. Discover how different aspects of the problem become apparent when you put a bit of distance between you and it. It often happens that you notice that the movements of the two are surprisingly similar, or are polar opposites. If the relationship carries a lot of emotional baggage, you can increase clarity significantly by imagining that you are looking at it from as far away as the moon!
  2. Turn the statement upside down. Change the statement, “This person is difficult” to “I am difficult” for instance. How might you be difficult for the other person? You might have resistance to thinking this way, but if you change your mindset to a different viewpoint, something will change in your understanding and new approaches will emerge.
  3. Shift from “This person is difficult” to different levels: consider the person in the context of wider relationships; reflect on what really matters in the relationship, understand which values are important. How might you find harmony, for instance, with this person? What might be a route to further lightness? A sense of humour even? Or trust? Such questions will release possibilities that would never emerge from previous formulations of the problem.

Gym training

How do you get fit for such mind games? You learn as 3-year-olds do: you play at it. You experiment and don’t insist on success, whatever that is. You find more variety in your life, especially important to many of us who have spent months with diminished horizons during the pandemic. You introduce something different into your day – a new activity, or walk or food or something you wouldn’t usually read, a TV programme that you wouldn’t usually watch. And you step into the shoes of what it is like to be someone who enjoys such activities. The more experience we have of difference, the quicker we become on our feet to respond to what life throws at us, and the easier we find it to adapt to what is needed in each circumstance. And even as we dance with new approaches, ideas and attitudes, we feel more grounded, more solid in who we are. Another of life’s joyful paradoxes!

I want to add, without any trace of lightness at all, don’t think you are doing anything small when you expand your possibilities in this way. Our world is at a critical moment and has huge need of warm hearts and flexible minds. (I’m talking for myself here!) Don’t you agree?

Dance in the moment! Go well,

Judy

NEWS

*** THIS SUNDAY, 13 June – “From Inner Critic to Inner Coach”

A Spirit of Coaching Event on Zoom, from 2 to 3.30, with John McConnel and yours truly.

InnerCriticInnerCoach

It has been said that our mind can be our best friend or worst enemy. There is often a war going on inside between these two aspects of ourselves that can be draining and demoralizing. We explore how to train the mind to enable us to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

The event is free, you just need to register your attendance in advance to get the link. tinyurl.com/InnerCriticInnerCoach. All welcome.

Podcast

Last month I was interviewed by Brett McKay for the American online magazine, Manliness. The title of the conversation is: The Art of Conversation — A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure, and Brett and I grapple with the question, “How do you have a meaningful conversation with another person?” We had a great time and covered some interesting issues – I hope you enjoy it too. There’s a transcription on the link as well as the audio.

There are more podcasts to come – I’ll give you details next month.

Permission to Shift Summit JUDY APPSRoss, Judy

25 – 27 June

Fireside chats on how to create meaningful relationships. I am speaking on 27th. More information at www.permissiontoshift.com, and details of how to book coming very soon.

 

 

 

 

Understanding NLP

Part 5 of my free E-course, Understanding NLP, offers ideas on how to view things from different perspectives – a hugely valuable skill. Register for the whole course here.

By the way, thanks to everyone who downloaded my free e-course, How to Raise Your Profile

last month – it was a popular one!

A book recommendation, Juliet Grayson’s Landscapes of the Heart

Probably the first book by a psychologist that I just couldn’t put down. Juliet Grayson takes us into the hidden world of a psychotherapy session.  She shakes our assumptions about how relationships work, and what to expect from our intimate partners, showing us different routes to more satisfying and loving intimacy, and giving us a grounded understanding of what makes relationships successful. It’s brilliant.

Finally, the usual links to my books

The Art of CommunicationHow to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections
Relationships can be the hardest thing in life and also the most rewarding and fulfilling. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others. Such an important topic for today.

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication
My most popular book currently. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies
contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence
This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You.
Now published in 9 foreign language editions!
Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.

Frog in the Pot – How to Deal with Creeping Change

Green Frog“As long as nothing changes and I hang on, I’m fine.”

I have that story about the frog in a pot on my brain – already disproved by the way. It says that if you put a frog into boiling water, it leaps out right away, whereas, if you put a frog in cool water and gradually heat it to boiling, the frog doesn’t become aware of the threat until it is too late. Okay, not true apparently. But it’s too good a fable to give up, because we recognise the metaphor.

I recognise it, anyway. I’m feeling a bit like the fabled frog currently. During lockdown, like you maybe, I read a lot of books, including one on World War II. It made me wonder what it would have been like to vote for Adolph Hitler’s Nazi party in Germany in 1932, honestly believing it would rescue my nation from ever-worsening economic depression and the humiliation of the settlement after World War 1; only to find the political temperature rising steadily to the boil with the rise of the SS and the first concentration camp, arrest and harsh treatment of political opponents and undesirables, then gypsies and Jews; secret police, paid informers, absolute control of the military, justice system and media; children educated in the dogma, and finally the phase of studied ignorance, fear of arrest making people less likely to speak out against atrocities; everyone maintaining a fantasy of normality in a nightmare world. … I certainly wouldn’t have been voting for genocide in 1932; but the ground shifted, the water heated up, and it got too late to jump out.

It’s easy to miss gradual change. I’ve just watched the recent Skoda Attention Test advert and my attention to detail was amazingly feeble. Is you haven’t yet, try it for yourself – it’s quite entertaining. Awareness of piece-by-piece change is important in all parts of our lives, and we need to learn to join the dots if we’re to avoid unhappy surprises. I’m not suggesting we are living a repeat of the 1930s; life doesn’t repeat, quite. But I do wonder about creeping change and what we can do about it.

Lockdown in its sudden contrast shone a light on change. I live in leafy Surrey, and I can’t say I’d really noticed that I was being quietly suffocated and damaged by dirty air, even with more cars and aircraft always overhead. Then lockdown last year produced changes writ large. How clean the air! How clear the atmosphere! How loud the sound of birdsong too without the noise of traffic!

Another gradual change interrupted by the pandemic was work patterns. We had gradually become habituated to working lives that never switched off, with mobile phone domination, lengthy and increasingly busy commutes, zero-privacy open-plan offices, work-and-family juggling – little of it known to our grandparents. The pandemic showed that the lifestyle wasn’t inevitable.  Many could work efficiently from home. In pyjamas if they wanted. The rhythms of pub, gym, shopping, eating out, entertainment, sport, travel – all stopped, and we survived. Some of us even preferred it.

The pandemic’s statistics were equally stark. Okay, I knew about austerity, food banks and children going hungry. But then the pandemic revealed extraordinary regional differences in health and wellbeing. The Office for National statistics reported a difference in longevity between Westminster and Glasgow City of 11.3 years. What differences in nutrition, physical and mental health and life chances are hidden in such an extreme figure? It was hard to fathom. A UN report on extreme poverty in the UK corroborated “a harsh and uncaring ethos”. Amnesty International’s 2020-21 global report criticised the UK’s ‘headlong rush into abandoning human rights’. Who knew? Well, we sort of did, but as changes happened bit by bit, we didn’t look hard enough.

Meanwhile, the pandemic took our attention away from other apparently isolated changes that added up. We discovered that our centuries-old institutions were also not set in stone. Who knew that American and British democracies were vulnerable? Who realised how many of the pillars supporting a democracy were there by honour and convention and could be knocked down if people were sufficiently audacious.

And the most serious incremental change of all? Changes to our planet caused by humans: logging, mining, invasive agriculture, over-fishing, destruction of habitats, shrinking bio-diversity, pollution, climate change and – well there’s a surprise! – invasive species and disease.Frog in pot

Okay, so that’s why I feel we’re frogs in the pot. It’s hotting up. It’s complicated. Our froggy heads are already getting woozy. What on earth can we do? Wiser heads than mine are seeking solutions.

I have just one lateral idea, very close to home:

To explore a little, away from our tribe

By tribe I mean our profession, club, team, educational and financial set, political party, media affiliations, religion, race and gender. It’s great to have a community. But when we chat only within our ‘tribe’, we get to believe that our view of the world is the only valid one; and blind loyalty is not a good idea when the ground is shifting under your feet. Maybe you were a Republican Senator yesterday and still say you are today, but are you sure that ‘Republican’ hasn’t completely shifted its meaning while you’ve been looking the other way? Are we still confident to rubber stamp every proposal of our party, without checking with our inner intelligence first? Maybe we have always trusted the same respectable newspaper but, while it still looks familiar, are we sure that over time a new owner hasn’t quietly changed it in all but name? The name isn’t the thing. The organisation Right to Life upholds the death penalty; our own European Research Group doesn’t want anything whatsoever to do with Europe.

Think and feel for ourselves

Values aren’t like a football teams where you stick with your side whatever happens. At work, it’s not enough to ‘go along with’ policies if they destroy trust, hurt people or devastate the planet, even if evidence is the other side of the world, or the harm far in the future. This may create conflicted loyalties, but once your eyes are opened don’t shut them again; do whatever feels possible to remain true to yourself.

In close relationships, ‘going along with’ things that are wrong, through fear, low self-esteem or misplaced loyalty is like the frog ignoring the temperature of the water, and the day will come when the water boils. Much better to seek ways to talk now.

Find out about things that matter to you. Explore various sources of information. And then trust your intuition. If something feels cruel, it probably is cruel. Your inner voice speaks the truth.

Well, this is an article I have written with myself in mind as the needy recipient! If it speaks to you too, I’m happy.

Go well,

Judy

PLUS

A POEM

If the uncertainties of our times are getting to you, maybe you’ll like this poem by Wendell Berry:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

TED

Self trust is a theme in my TEDx Talk which you can find on TED.com.

BOOKS

I’m reading Bonnie Badenoch’s The Heart of Trauma currently. It’s good!

My The Art of Communication explores modestly one or two of the same themes – for example, successful communication is more about how you are than what you say or do.

Here are links to my other books. I’ll be very happy if you find one or all of them useful, and tell me what you think.

The Art of Conversation – how to have truly two-way satisfying exchanges.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies – all about creating the voice you want

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – how to beat performance anxiety in every sphere

Voice of Influence – how to speak so that people want to listen to you

I’ve given you links to bookshop.org that support local bookshops, but you can buy the books everywhere, including e-versions and audio.

COACHING

Springtime – new beginnings. Maybe time to have thinking space with a coach? Get in touch if you want to talk it through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You’ve Passed Through All the Lies

Banksy Reading Prison

 

If you’re lucky enough to live long enough, you get to an age when you realise you are going to die. When you’re younger, you think you know that, of course you do, but you don’t, not really. With this realisation, living long enough, you get to understand that the great prize is being alive. Just that, how you manifest being alive. It never was about being the best singer in the world, of conquering the highest mountain, having the most money or power, or saving ten thousand souls. It wasn’t even about leaving things behind for people to enjoy, though that’s a nice thing to do. With reluctance you realise it wasn’t even about learning, though that is a good way to live.

Some people are alive and share their aliveness to energise and inspire; some are Death Eaters and drain and destroy. Both types are to be found anywhere and everywhere.

Casually watching Grayson Perry’s Art Club the other evening, I chanced upon aliveness. Grayson has it in spades, life without artifice; which is the weirdest thing to say of an artist who is perhaps best known for dressing up as a little girl. But aliveness is happy with paradox: creating a character and hiding behind a disguise aren’t the same thing, he’s very open about that. If you’re hiding behind a disguise, you’re not fully living because you’re not free. And then you can’t plough your own furrow, which means fully to live. He’s a pretty good example of someone who has found the courage to be himself, I think.

One section of his programme showed a film of a graffiti artist creating a stencil on a wall, and then we see that the stencil is a Banksy artwork, which appeared on the wall of Reading Prison – where Oscar Wylde was imprisoned – very recently. It depicts a prisoner escaping down a rope made of twisted paper, weighted by an old-fashioned typewriter. It suggests – amongst other things maybe – that however locked-up or locked-down you are, there’s always space and freedom to create in your own imagination. Banksy – there’s another creative, full of the life force, ploughing his own furrow…

Talking of furrows, the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins was another who brought gold to his own furrow:

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
from The Windhover

Finding shine and fire in the ‘plod’ of every day…

But back to Grayson: next he selects a bold and brightly coloured picture of nature created by a viewer. He phones the artist and it turns out to be a lively young disabled woman (cerebral palsy? – it’s not the point), who creates computer generated paintings using her eyes only. What shines through is genuine talent together with boundless delight and enthusiasm; she is so clearly who she is, full of life, also ploughing her own unique furrow. One more for life. Grayson is humbled, and I am too.

Finally, I think of Clive James, who died at the end of 2019. I’ve been half in love with Clive James since I read his Unreliable Memoirs half a lifetime ago. A polymath and huge wit, he lived an exciting varied life in the public gaze. His daughter Claerwyn spent time with him through his cancer and wrote that it was an immense privilege to be with him in his last months and weeks. She said that after all the fame, success and pride in his own brilliance, in his final illness he returned to what he really was: “He was sort of incandescent, really. It felt like he had passed through something. At the end, you’ve passed through all the lies you tell yourself about what life is about, and what you might accomplish. You know what’s coming. He just appreciated everything in this astonishing way … His world had shrunk to this room and yet, every aspect of his life was filled with meaning… Everything was extraordinary.”

I like her comment, “You’ve passed through all the lies you tell yourself. … he returned to what he really was.” I think that’s my theme. We all have a self-image that’s “improved”, like a Zoom image after you’ve used the “Touch Up My Appearance” feature (yes, it exists!). We all tell our stories with inconvenient facts edited out, and it takes an invisible toll. But some come through, and succeed in finding the freedom to be themselves, to be fully alive, in whatever circumstances they find themselves. I never quite realised before what courage it takes to be like that, especially in this world where trolls are happy to destroy people – especially those who plough their own furrow – through misinformation, division and hate, with the tools to do it.

I want to seek out those with the creative life force: their energy affects us as nothing else can.  There is much life and free spirit in the world – my list is getting longer by the day. If you choose people with inner life, their life-giving energy rubs off on you.  Who would you choose? Let me know. Let’s celebrate together!

David Whyte often has wise words on this subject. Here’s an excerpt from his poem Sweet Darkness (link to whole poem):

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

Which leaves me with a question for you and me to ponder. It’s this:

“When you have passed through all the lies you tell yourself, what is the you that you really are?

When do you feel most yourself? For sure it’s the best of you. Cherish it: it’s pure gold-vermilion.

Go well,

Judy

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO BE INTERESTED IN …

“Voice of Influence” – Voice and Public Speaking Coaching

Did you know that you can gain similar benefits to my popular Voice of Influence Training (which I’m not running currently) through online one-to-one coaching – and at no extra cost, with the time spent entirely on what will benefit you most. Contact me if you want to know more. I have various packages that might suit you, a typical one being 3 separate sessions of coaching over a period of about a month, with space between sessions for you to practise in real life what you are learning.

My books, of course

I’m so happy if you have a look; even happier if you buy! Happiest of all if something I wrote means something to you.

The Art of Communication
How to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections. Relationships can be the hardest thing in life and also the most rewarding and fulfilling. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others.

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication
My most popular book currently. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies
contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence.
This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You.
Now published in 9 foreign language editions!
Acquire the voice you would love to have and transform your impact.

Coaching

A few sessions of one-to-one work with a coach might be the answer to your situation during this difficult time. Whether it’s about relationships, or feeling stuck, or wanting to give yourself a better chance of advancement, or wanting to find who you really are, coaching gives you a unique space to deal with issues in your life. Online or telephone coaching works brilliantly. Contact me if you want to have an informal chat about it – by email in the first instance.

Aikido and Communication Webinar
– in which I explore the subject of communication with master of Aikido Quentin Cooke, Aikido 7th Dan, in a webinar attended by martial arts practitioners and others interested in the somatics of communication. Sounds specialised? I assure you it’s full of nuggets for all of us.

Another not-going-anywhere day …

IMG_1558

 

Another chill, dull, not-going-anywhere Sunday.

Stuck and boring, nothing being achieved, nothing worth achieving.

And then, by mid-afternoon, snow. Silent, drifting, changing the landscape utterly, its brightness lifting the spirits. A miracle of snow.  I didn’t make it come. It just came. I  watched it though, and it made me smile.

Sometimes, the present is a time of doing, sometimes of feeling, or dreaming, or waiting. Sometimes it’s none of those things, it just is. Or maybe it’s letting go of those things.

Once, I went to California for three weeks, and on my return, people were more loving, nicer. It happened in my absence. That’s how it seemed.

Last summer, the little track outside our back fence was full of flowers, more than ever before. I didn’t seed them, they just arrived.

I don’t know that much about chess, but when I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit recently, I noticed that the crucial chess move is sometimes a step backwards. Kind of counter-intuitive that.

We all know that the summer fly banging against the windowpane could turn around and fly free out of the open door, if it could just let go of its obsession: “Gotta keep right on going there! Forwards, onwards, come on! try harder!, progress, success, victory, Up school! Up school! Oggy, Oggy, Oggy! Oi, oi, oi!”

Letting go. A friend of mine started to practise mindfulness and wrote a song. There was no plan to write a song.

There’s a moment in yoga when you let go of everything, jaw, mouth, brow and eyes – the expression on your face melts away and you lose every characteristic of yourself so that nothing is left. Except of course that nothing isn’t nothing at all, but a whisper of the vastness of space, freedom, peace, harmony, eternal connection …

What am I saying? I’m saying that letting go is not merely a physical or mental health strategy; sometimes it IS the complete answer.

Whatever we bang on about, whatever we bash our heads against, whatever we despair about, whatever conclusions we force into being, there’s also the miracle of stuff that just happens: that unexpected gift from left field that lightens the spirit and kindles a precious spark within, causing everything to change. Like a miracle of snow.

What else?

Aikido and Communication

The Japanese martial art of Aikido (meaning: the way of harmonising energy) has much to say about communication, including the art of letting go. I have spent many hours on the mat, and I’m greatly looking forward to talking on communication with Quentin Cooke’s Aikido group on Zoom this Thursday. Quentin is an Aikido 7th Dan (proof of exceptional mastery), and in normal times runs a thriving Aikido Group in Cambridge.

Reading

There’s quite a lot about letting go in my latest book, The Art of Communication, as in all my books. Here’s one relevant short section from page 77:

Let Go

We access high energy only when our minds and bodies are free and relaxed. Having energy is very different from expending effort. Deep in many of us there lurks a private conviction that nothing worthwhile is achieved without hard work. The conviction leads us to extraordinary contradictions. We work hard for peace; we beat ourselves up to relax more; we worry about our serenity of mind; and we thrash ourselves in the gym to acquire ease in our bodies. None of these efforts is energizing when approached as hard work.

The more we wrestle with ideas in our minds and the more we exert effort, the more physical tension we have in our bodies. I was interested to discover that most people move more rigidly on their dominant, ‘try hard’ side. When we frown, clench our teeth, or tighten our jaw we create resistance against ourselves that makes everything harder. It’s like pushing and pulling at the same time. We find ourselves unable to think clearly or make headway in whatever we are doing. Paradoxically, this triggers more effort to think, which causes the rational part of our brain to make ever greater conscious effort.

Communicating with others is certainly less productive if you try too hard. The only solution is to let go. But how can you do that when communication and relationships with others matter and you want things to go well? To most of us, the idea of letting go is associated with giving up and we fear that it would be a disaster. We have lots of baggage around keeping going, maintaining standards, fighting the good fight, continuing the struggle, and refusing to surrender. It takes a special type of courage to let go of your usual anchors and props.

And then there’s

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication
My most popular book currently. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies
contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence.
This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You.
Now published in 9 foreign language editions! Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.

Voice of Influence

Did you know that you can gain similar benefits to my popular Voice of Influence Training (which I’m not running currently) through online one-to-one coaching – and at no extra cost, with the time spent entirely on what will benefit you most. Contact me if you want to know more. I have various packages that might suit you, a typical one being 3 separate sessions of coaching over a period of about a month, with space between sessions for you to practise in real life what you are learning.

Coaching

A few sessions of one-to-one work with a coach might be the answer to your situation during the pandemic. Whether it’s about relationships, or feeling stuck, or wanting to give yourself a better chance of advancement, or wanting to find who you really are, coaching gives you a unique space to deal with issues in your life. Online or telephone coaching works brilliantly. Contact me if you want to have an informal chat about it – by email in the first instance: judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

A Poem for Tricky Times

In Denise Levertov’s collection of poems, “Sands of the Well”, published posthumously, there’s a poem entitled For Those Whom the Gods Love Less, which speaks to those who struggle creatively (all of us in one way or another, I guess). Here are the final lines:

Each life in art
goes forth to meet dragons that rise from their bloody scales
in cyclic rhythm: Know and forget, know and forget.
It’s not only
the passion for getting it right (thought it’s that, too)
it’s the way
radiant epiphanies recur, recur,
consuming, pristine, unrecognized-
until remembrance dismays you. And then, look,
some inflection of light, some wing of shadow
is other, unvoiced. You can, you must
proceed.

You can find the whole poem here, and Denise Levertov herself reads it here (find this poem 7 mins exactly into the YouTube video).

Here’s to happy serendipities this month,

Go well, friends,
Judy :-) xxx

 

Only connect

Yes, even during a pandemic …0_Mother-and-son-walking-through-a-park-in-winter

Perhaps because I saw fewer people last year, I thought about friends and family and valued interactions more than usual – both face to face and via the internet. It made me ask myself what made certain relationships stand out.

Has it been the same for you? And have you found certain relationships meant more than others? What were your best interactions like? Energising? Fun? Natural and easy? You felt understood? Sensed a real connection?

Special encounters can happen with the person you love the most, but also with complete strangers. In the summer when I wrote The Art of Communication, I recorded the following in my diary: *

“The little cabin we booked to rent in Shropshire was next door to an old house containing a restaurant that was shut at present. The owner, Elizabeth, came out to meet us and briefly explained that her husband wasn’t available to open the restaurant during our stay as he was currently ill. She showed us around our cabin, invited us to contact her if we needed anything, and then withdrew. Later, as we strolled out to explore, we paused by display shelves in the front garden containing a variety of interesting jams and pickles and unusual garden plants for sale, set up by our host.

“We didn’t see Elizabeth again until the morning of our departure a few days later, when she emerged from the house to wish us goodbye. As we said our thanks and farewells, we quietly asked her about her husband, and she explained that after a few years of ups and downs with cancer, his condition was now terminal and the time remaining probably short. As we listened, she told us about his work as a restaurant chef, their life in other cities, and some of the challenges of running things on her own now. We admired her garden produce and plants and commented on the variety of birds that were attracted by the food she put out in feeders. Encouraged by our interest, she told us about her excitement a couple of days before, when in the early dawn she had witnessed five nuthatch fledglings leave the nest. Time was suspended for a few moments and I felt physically the frisson of our connection.

“What was it? A short inconclusive conversation with a stranger. Yet I took much more from our conversation than some sad facts and some happier ones. It felt as if we had shared for a moment a larger theme of life. Such words are perhaps too abstract and fail to recognise how real the exchange felt – to each of us, I think. The truth lay in some in-between-ness; and it touched us.”

* This became the prologue of The Art of Communication.

What made such a casual short encounter exceptional? The first word to spring to my mind is empathy. And that was true of other memorable interactions too. I’ve been pondering on that and thinking that it matters – hugely – to all of us.

Empathy is personal

The first thing that strikes me is that empathy is personal. (It’s like the word sorry, in that you can’t actually practise it in any genuine sense on someone else’s behalf – though people try it all the time with sorry, perhaps with empathy too). Some people possess an impersonal kind of friendliness. They may be amiable, genial, convivial, gregarious, extrovert, outgoing, easy-going, good-natured, agreeable – there are loads of ways to describe it – but their friendliness is non-specific. For many such sociable people, friendliness is not their number one priority, but more a way of oiling the wheels on their way towards whatever is their first concern. (If you’re interested in MBTI (Meyers Briggs Type Indicator), ENTP might be an example, with an extrovert expression of friendliness that’s not the number one priority). You will certainly know people like that, at work maybe, or in the public arena.

Empathy is not a public attitude. It’s one-to-one, personal; and it’s a response rather than an attitude. When you are empathetic, you tune in to micro-signals and catch the vibrations of someone’s feelings and thoughts, whether joyful or painful, and you join them in that same place. It’s Rumi’s, “There is a field, I’ll meet you there.”

Empathy perpetually changes according to what it finds, so it has to be light and flexible, and open to the unexpected. Sometimes it’s silent and listens, sometimes it moves to specific words and action. It’s not generalised. If you have ever been in a bad situation and had someone dealing out sympathy in a general way, you’ll know the difference. There’s nothing so annoying as sympathy taken off the shelf, a fix-all attitude to adversity that’s all about the other person – “I know exactly what you’re feeling.” Empathy doesn’t know; it isn’t knowledgeable. On the other hand, it is intelligent – it sees (hears, feels, tastes, smells, intuits) clearly what is.

Intelligence: Intelligence is just openness of being.
Being open we respond with fresh insight.
– Osho

Empathy is connection with your equal

Secondly, empathy is a connection that takes place only between equals (or as equals). You have to breathe the same air. This is acutely important. If I think I’m better than someone else, I don’t reach them. And how many ways there are to feel better than other people! Maybe I received a better education than you; I’m more knowledgeable. Or I went to a school where we were taught that we were exceptional; or grew up in a religion of chosen people. Or my parents had more money and we belonged to a “better class of people”, or I’m “cultured” and have a superior accent. Or, I’m the teacher, expert, voice of experience.

And, of course, it works the other way too. Maybe I think I’m worse than other people, less well educated, more ordinary, ignorant, poor, stupid, uncultivated, badly spoken, with not much going for me at all. Maybe I think I’ll never make anything of myself, always be an outsider. Maybe I make constant comparisons and come out of it badly. Whether we feel superior or whether we feel inferior, we struggle to connect. Connection happens in the absence (however temporary) of better and worse.

By the way, we need to remind ourselves that someone being better at something doesn’t mean they’re intrinsically better than us, and someone being worse at something doesn’t mean that we’re better than them. (And isn’t it funny how the most talented people are often the most modest and how the reverse is also often true?)

How connection happens

Think back again to times when you have really connected with someone. What was true of those times? I would guess it wasn’t that you were the same, but equally there was no superiority or inferiority; you met side by side on the same ground of understanding and feeling understood. It put you on the same wavelength. Literally, your vibrations were in synch with each other. When this happens, something new – an idea, a solution or a breakthrough – often emerges.

It’s Either Or

So here we are at 2021. And we have a choice, both individually and on a global level.

Either, we play better and worse, and compete and fight on the premise that there’s not enough to go around – it’s my oil, my land, my vaccine, my water, my food, my job. I can turn everything in life into a fight: I win and you lose, or I lose and you win. I can fight disease, fight depression, fight the system, fight everything and everyone that’s other. I’m better than.

Or, we can connect and seek common cause. The world is telling us in increasingly urgent terms that the planet is interconnected and we won’t survive in silos whether we like it or not: our good health depends on global good health (viruses aren’t good at respecting borders); climate catastrophe will create shortage, uninhabitability and people movements on a scale we haven’t yet dreamed of. We’ve got to think more joined up even to save ourselves. Where’s the latest place they’ve found plastic – within a foetus in the womb? No gain in bleating that it’s not my plastic! Everything is connected. We’re too informed today to pretend otherwise.

So my intention this year is:

  1. To practise intelligence – learn to see more clearly, learn to be more joined-up in my thinking.
  2. Work on feeling equal to other people. Feel nervous of talking to that person? They are not better than you, even if they’re highly exalted in your company and paid 472 times as much as you. Feel superior to that person? Get very, very curious about them. Could I survive with my whole family in one room during months of lockdown? Could I work understaffed in an ICU unit, and face death constantly for a whole year? What is it truly like to be them? You’ll never feel superior if you do this exercise with diligence.

    Guy Standing puts it well:

    “A vital sentiment of a good society, empathy is the ability to put oneself imaginatively in the shoes of ‘the other’, whether or not one agrees with their predicament or actions” (my bold).
    (From The Plunder of the Commonsnow there’s a great read.)

  1. Spend some of the time I’ve spent ranting about politicians this year in seeking out people to admire and finding out more about them. I’ve already started my list – it’s a feel-good exercise! Albert Einstein, even had he not been exceptional in other ways would make it onto the list for this quote alone:

    A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Einstein

  1. One last wish. I hope that on 31 December 2021, you and I can look back and say with truth, “I’m pleased about my life in 2021. That was a good year!”

My warmest good wishes to you,

Judy

 

BOOKS

If you’re interested in this article, you’ll enjoy The Art of Communication – How to be Authentic, Lead Others, and Create Strong Connections. Relationships can be the hardest thing in life, and also the most rewarding and fulfilling when you know how. This book explores ways to deepen your connection with others.

The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication is a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence. This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information has been tried and tested, and is highly practical.

Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You. Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.

COACHING

A few sessions of one-to-one work with a coach might be the answer to to your current situation. Whether it’s about relationships, or feeling stuck, or wanting to give yourself a better chance of advancement, or wanting to find who you really are, coaching gives you a unique space to deal with issues in your life. Online or telephone coaching works brilliantly. Contact me if you want to have an informal chat about it – by email in the first instance: judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

TIME FOR A POEM

Read the whole poem and enjoy it. Or if your brain is jangling today, just read the last four lines as we embark on the new year.

I have News for You by Tony Hoagland

There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood
and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.
There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable
and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians.
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings
do not send their sinuous feeder roots
deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives
as if they were greedy six-year-olds
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;
and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.
Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,
who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later
have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.
Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.
I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room
and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.

 

What if …?

Come to the Edge 2020-12-04 at 21.09.05

What if …

okay, back to fundamentals, let’s just consider this for a moment –

what if you were completely okay?

Cut the subjunctive:

what if you are completely okay?

I mean absolutely, completely okay, just as you are?

There is just a chance that you already are. You may be in love, and the person you most esteem in the whole wide world is assuring you in every possible way that you are absolutely perfect, just as you are. If you are someone who has ever been in love, you might remember a time when someone else was your whole world, your universe, and their love for you made the universe and you in the universe amazingly okay.

It doesn’t last.

Okay, okay, okay, it does last; love does last; but does that very particular feeling of being okay last? Not for most people. You decide to have a ceremony to celebrate your love, and within the blink of an eye, you are deciding to go on a diet so that you will look especially great on that day, because currently, you’re a bit

See what I mean?

So, to come back to my question,

What if you are entirely, fundamentally okay just as you are?

Oh, I know that’s hard to take! Surely, if you thought you were okay just as you are, firstly you’d be self-deluded, and secondly, there’d be no motivation to improve yourself?  But we’re not talking perfect, we’re talking okay as opposed to not-okay.

What would be different?

I ask myself that question this morning, a day of dark skies and continuous rain, plenty of time to think about it. Oh my gosh, sobering thought, here goes …

  1. Well, for example, I’ve just done half an hour of home yoga – so what would be different with that? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t need to push myself towards a result to feel justified in the practice. Without trying to get somewhere, I’d just enjoy the feelings of movement and stillness, of stretch and strength. I think it might be joyful. In fact, without the straining to do something right, I’d try out some free movement just as the mood took me and enjoy the combination of breath and rhythm and movement, lively and slow. No right and wrong. My body might even become my friend, a means of expression, creative. I like that.
  2. Generally, I wouldn’t have so much need to worry, and I do worry a lot. I call it getting excited ahead of events or being prepared – but it’s worry really. Have I done enough? Will people be happy with it? Will I achieve success? Ah, there’s a word that has other people’s branding all over it. But if I’m okay, I don’t worry about success in the eyes of other people, I don’t have to squeeze and bully myself to fit expectations. I put my own mark on it, and it gives me the glorious freedom to act as I want to act. I feel an energy rush even as I write those words.So – who knew it? – being okay energises. Well, of course it does; we all know that angst and tension are exhausting. Knowing I’m okay before an event – that is, I’m okay whatever happens – allows me the joy of imagining new ways of being with people, and fresh approaches to take. Creativity soars. If I’m okay, pressure lifts. I breathe afresh.

My face gets warm, tears feel close. Forgiveness seems in order. I’m sorry, self. I’ve been a bully. And for what? It’s just cut me off. Whipping myself into hard work – and competitive hard work at that – isn’t necessary at all.  “Yes, but,” I tell myself, “but I’m the kind of person who needs incentives, and structure and goals. If I don’t force myself, I’m afraid that …” Woah! you’ve slipped back into not okay, and you’ve hit on the cause – being afraid. Come back to the practice: what if you are completely okay?

  1. If I’m truly okay, I trust myself. This is true even if you find yourself at rock bottom and the choice ahead is between very, very bad and pretty damn awful but not quite as bad. That’s still a choice, and if you trust yourself, you’ll make a good choice; and then another; and another. And good choices lead to a good life.In any case, If I’m okay, mistakes are okay too, and sometimes a gift. The thing is, a mistake doesn’t make you not okay. The world is not four-square: it’s full of anomalies, oddities, rarities, irregularities, quirks, variations, eccentricities; and hurray for that. If you’re okay, you learn from mistakes and stay okay; if you’re not okay, a mistake merely confirms that you’re not okay – nothing learned.
  2. If I’m okay, you’re probably more okay too. All through this strange and taxing year, haven’t you found solace from friends who in spite of everything they’re going through are fundamentally okay? Me too. And If you’re okay, there’s more to laugh about. You jettison that dreary ball and chain of guilt. Hallelujah!
  3. If I’m okay, I love more. Such a lot of not being okay comes from “I’ll love you if ….” (if you don’t cry, if you become the person I want you to be etc. etc.) which is what some adults implied to us as children and what – if we don’t learn in time – we pass on in our turn. When you’re okay love isn’t conditional. And you don’t look out and see a world that is reflecting your non-okay image back at yourself. No, you look out and see all the amazing things there are to see. Doing so, you lose yourself; and in losing yourself you are able to relate to the other with love and compassion, no longer alone.

Soft stuff? If you like. Relevant to business and to leadership? It surely is. You must be aware of bosses who are not okay and create havoc, and world leaders who after growing up on the receiving end of “I’ll love you if …”  emerged as narcissistic, fundamentally irresponsible adults. They threaten the very planet. Whereas when you are okay, you form generative relationships and make sound decisions. You love and live, in other words.

SO. The all-important question: can you decide to be okay?

You can.

“You’re joking. I’ve never been okay. Ever.”

No matter. That’s entirely it. You decide – in your core rather than in your head. Your core is untouchable, and wonderfully, beautifully, achingly, gloriously okay.

And that’s the truth, you are okay, you are an okay person. Your life might or might not be, but you,

You. Are. Okay.

Writing this, a song I haven’t sung for quite a long time came to mind Here below are the words, and here is Shana Noll singing it (plus lyrics).

How could anyone ever tell you
you were anything less than beautiful?

How could anyone ever tell you
you were less than whole?

How could anyone fail to notice
that your loving is a miracle?

How deeply you’re connected to my soul.                                                               
© Libby Roderick Music 1988   All rights reserved.

Let’s allow good stuff in this month. Let’s just let it in.

Go well,

Judy

Plus

My good colleague Sarah Smith, Director at Indigo Coaching and Leadership Development, interviewed me about communication and influence in the autumn. Here’s a snippet of our conversation (with many thanks to Sarah.)

Coaching

Did you ever want to get good at something, and then one day you took the plunge and had some lessons, and suddenly your performances was transformed, and you declared you should have done it ages ago? Coaching is like that: you acquire new abilities that greatly enhance what you are able to do. If you wish, you go deeper and discover your true motivations and purpose deep within. Then your life is transformed. Why would anyone not have a coach?! Contact me if you want a chat about it.

Books

What a wonderful Christmas present, and so easy to buy. If you want to encourage our bookshops rather than feed the online shopping behemoth, you can order online from Waterstones or go to www.hive.co.uk or uk.bookshop.org.

So how about a book on communication from yours truly? (That’ll make my Christmas!)

The Art of Communication: How to be authentic, lead others and create strong connections.
 We live in times where “living the image” has become endemic, and it chokes off genuine problem solving. This is as true for our relations with those close to us as for solving the world’s ills.

The Art of Conversation: Change your life with confident communication
Conversational skill isn’t just about being articulate and having lots to talk about It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-fire ways to perform with confidence
This is a book about performance anxiety – it offers 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence: How to get people to love to listen to you
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

Recharging

2nd LawAnd so it goes on.

Clocks go back.

I fell down a rabbit hole again today.

You know – when you read something on the internet which links to something else, and when you follow the link, that reveals something else, which, when you follow that link …? So, I was surfing – burrowing rather – when the first law of thermodynamics popped up and I realised that I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. (Not something you admit in public of course, I mean who doesn’t know the first law of thermodynamics?)

So I looked it up:

Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.

Wikipedia takes over 9,000 words interspersed with dozens of formulae to say that, but that’s the basic premise.

Flat

I couldn’t be bothered to read the 8,950+ surplus Wiki-words: I was feeling flat. Flat is a word I’ve heard a lot this year. Many of us don’t like to say we’re feeling dejected, or pessimistic, miserable, depressed, disconsolate, dispirited, desolate or broken regarding our current human and planetary lot, so we say to people we’re feeling a bit flat. How often, particularly during this Covid period, do you wake up and feel low on energy? It’s very common. Most of us have the experience of ebbs and flows of energy, if not more extreme threats to our mental health.

So there was I feeling “flat” – low energy – and the first law of thermodynamics prompted a question, “Where had the energy gone if energy is never destroyed, only converted from one form to another? Also, how did I lose it? If my energy is low, the first law of thermodynamics suggests I’m using or dissipating it elsewhere. And, of course, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Sometimes, we don’t know what’s draining our energy. A friend who seemed to me to have coped brilliantly during this pandemic year, living in a gardenless second-storey flat with a young family , told me that she didn’t fully realise the tension of living in a crowded city until she went on holiday to an isolated location for a week, and felt a huge weight lift.

Sometimes, however, we do know, don’t we? I had a meeting with someone the other day and felt wrung out like a towel after they had gone, but I knew how it had happened. They were demanding my attention for too long without a mutual understanding, pushing me too far in their requests, and I allowed them to do this, from politeness or a wanting for things to be pleasant, against my better judgement. So I was basically fighting against myself. Exhausting.

What’s depleting your energy?

I think it’s always worth investigating what’s draining your energy. The depletion is often due to fighting yourself, as in the last example. Putting on any sort of act is always tiring if it confronts your values.

Fighting “what is” also drains our battery drastically. This often happens when life wants to move on, and you refuse to let it. You say to yourself: I am this sort of person in this sort of life and that’s how it is. And you get stuck.  Huge energy is dissipated in forcing things to stay the same, when change is the natural order of things…

Hey, wait a minute, you say, the whole problem with this year is that we are stuck, stuck at home, stuck in the same daily grind, stuck in the middle of a wretched pandemic which isn’t going to end soon. No wonder the winter ahead looks like a pit of trouble, danger and discord. We are stuck.

And the battery runs down.

Move a little

We feel stuck. Yet, there’s energy for recharging everywhere if I look.

There’s always movement. There’s always breathing. We’ve been created like that. You are always moving physically, even if it’s the slightest change of air moving your body in deep sleep. Movement is often the answer to flatness or any other drained energy. Of course, the gremlins will still whisper in your ear, “Don’t move, you’re too tired”, but that is also usually untrue.

Have you ever tried moving just a little bit when you feel sluggish, and a minute hand movement gradually gains more movement and turns into an arm movement which turns into a slight stretch of the waist or shoulders, and a yawn, and soon your whole body is flowing, and will flow further if you let it. Then when you stop, you realise that the movement was energising, and has created endorphins – energy!

The dynamism of the change of the seasons, every moment different. A week or so ago, I awoke to a bright red sky in the early morning. I rushed downstairs in my nightdress to get my iPhone, but by the time I got back upstairs to take the photo the sky had paled to ordinary. Nature changes every moment. In trying to anchor the miracle of that sky in a photo, I almost missed the moment itself.

It’s all about movement. Ben Zander demonstrates this idea of movement most beautifully – and comedically – in his earliest TED Talk, where he plays Mozart and Chopin on the piano – have a look!

Perhaps the most damaging element of stuckness is stories. We are so practised in making sense of our lives through the negative stories we tell ourselves over and over again. We fix our past to make our story publically consumable – even at the expense of our wellbeing. I failed at this because of that. I can’t run because I have weak ankles. Why not instead, I have weak ankles because I don’t run? Is that any less true?

Equilibrium

I read an interesting interview with John Gray this morning, celebrating the publication of his latest book, Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life. Cats, says Gray, “naturally revert to equilibrium whenever they’re not hungry or threatened.” They don’t live in an imagined future.

If you know cats, you’ll recognise their “is-ness”. When a cat is paused ready to pounce, it’s supremely in that moment. When it stretches luxuriantly in the sun, it’s in that moment. Nowhere else. There.

(See my Cat Repose Practice below)

What is fear, what is anxiety, if not living in an imagined future? So I’d say, let’s find examples of now, right now, today, now. For example, as I wrote “now” – just now – the sun broke through – absolutely true – and there it was. Wow. Which suddenly switches on a poem in my brain. Not the first time I’ve quoted R S Thomas, but here it is again:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Everyday miracles are all around, so let’s keep our eyes and ears open, and pop them in our pocket like pennies in the bank, as we keep moving.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Judy

Also:

Breathe Like a Cat in Repose

This practice comes from my newest book, The Art of Communication

Picture a cat resting in a warm sunny spot, looking
comfortable and relaxed with its body stretched
out. See how its whole body rises and falls with the breath.
For this exercise, lie stretched out in a comfortable warm
place. Feel open and relaxed. Imagine you are that cat in the
sunshine, enjoying the beautiful relaxation of your whole
body and the gentle rise and fall of your breath – nothing
to do, nowhere to go, just the pleasure of this luxurious
moment and the feeling of effortless flowing movement.
The breath comes into your body like a caress. It might even
make you smile. It’s amazing how little you need to do to
breathe fully.

My TEDx Talk 

How Your Voice Touches Others: The true meaning of what you say

How can you engage with people if you aren’t expressing in your voice what you want to convey? Talking at each other is NOT communication! When you and your voice are one, ah, then you connect powerfully.

Coaching in 2020

Most coaches are used to telephone and video coaching and know how well it works. Without leaving your own home you can engage a coach and grow into a more confident and capable person for your career and relationships. You don’t need to be at a particular level professionally or even have a job to seek out a coach. Coaching takes you where you are at and gives you more self-assurance and sense of being the person you were meant to be.  Don’t hang back because you’re not sure if it’s for you. I can’t think of anyone it doesn’t benefit. If you want an informal chat to find out more, get in touch with me initially at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Simple short ecourses

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone).

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation
How to Raise Your Profile

Talks

Let me know if you’d like me to give a talk to your organisation – on communication, conversation, confidence, voice, connection, interactive leadership, or a subject to decide between us. Contact me in the first instance at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

My Books

The Art of Communication
You’ll find my latest book especially helpful if you want to find ways to be more real in your connection with others. We live in times where “living the image” has become endemic, and it chokes off genuine problem solving. This is true for our relations with people close to us just as much as for solving the world’s ills.

The Art of Conversation
Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – it offers 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

A Different Kind of Unmasking

Well, there’s more than one kind of mask

The Grand High Witch from “The Witches” by Roald Dahl. Image by Quentin Blake

The Grand High Witch from “The Witches” by Roald Dahl. Image by Quentin Blake

During the recent uprising against Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, following rigged elections, the police and other military and KGB officers attacked protesters with extreme violence, hiding their identities behind masks or balaclavas. But protesters discovered whenever they swarmed around an officer and pulled off his mask, he raised his hands to hide his face and backed off or ran away, suddenly vulnerable. A surprisingly successful strategy.

One of the advantages of a mask is definitely anonymity. But I’m not talking here about balaclavas, nor the variety of mask that hooks easily around the ears and which continues to be such a divisive subject in the current pandemic. I mean the kind of mask that people wear when they try to convince people that they’re something they’re not. It protects their vulnerability and hides their villainy just as surely as a balaclava – which reminds me that the most scary moment of any children’s film for me is the moment in Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” when the Grand High Witch takes her hands to her face and peels off her actual beautiful lady face to reveal a dreadful witch underneath. Horror! And what an useful early lesson – people aren’t always what they seem …  The jolly japer maybe isn’t joking inside …

The masks we wear

We all wear a mask sometimes, it’s almost part of the social contract. Your bright good morning as you appear in the conference call in the morning masking that groggy feeling after a bad night … Your happy phone chat with a friend, skating along the surface of your lives, carefully avoiding any mention of either Covit or Brexid – subjects (or is it now a single subject?) of deep disagreement… Only a dreary flatness after the call reminds you that you were indeed wearing a mask.

I’d like to unmask people sometimes, and I’m sure you would too. You know – the colleague being so especially friendly, keeping you engaged long enough for you to feel relief that she has no ulterior agenda, until suddenly she has, asking a favour of you that she knows you won’t wish to grant – which you do then grant, how could you not, she was being so nice? But now you feel used and want to peel off her pleasant mask to reveal the calculating face underneath.

Or, the Zoom call: you look around the grid at those faces. The speaker drones pitilessly and pointlessly on, and you’re all in a goldfish bowl, frontal-view-visible, so no one looks bored exactly; most mouths are stretched slightly outwards to give a bland pleasant stare like so many Barbie dolls – and Kens. See there that slight mew of a mouth masking a yawn. Rip the masks off and you’d discover boredom and irritation.

Don’t mention TV, radio, media news! Masks, everywhere masks, sometimes impressively so. How does that politician make that statement with a straight face when we have only to tap the internet for 20 seconds to have visible auditory proof that he (yes, ok, she too) said precisely the opposite last week with equal emphasis? Wow, that’s quite something! How does he prevent himself breaking out into a guffaw – “Ha! Only kidding!”?

We all hate to be unmasked. But, equally, we all hide bits of ourselves – in particular situations or even all the time. If we inhabit our mask more and more, it gradually becomes who we are. Many people in public life have worn a particular mask for most of their lives. No wonder it’s so easy to create “spitting images” of such people – they are already caricatures of themselves in daylight hours. But beware; in the dark of the night, waking at 3 AM, they, like us, are unmasked and naked for a while, and look life in the face. Oh, those uncomfortable scary hours of darkness!

Unmasking

Evolving as a human being is always about unmasking, about getting to know the truth of yourself, so that you cease to be divided against the self (no more 3 AM terrors) and become an integrated being, at ease in your own skin. It would be good if it were a case of peeling off the mask and voilà, there’s the beautiful you. It’s usually a little more involved than that. You often have to peel off several layers, before you find the beauty that lies underneath. That person who has the simpering smile and sugary voice of someone eager to please – the layer below shows itself to be jealousy and resentment. (Oh, tempting to ask for the sugary personality back!) But you peel again and find huge sadness. The sadness, once acknowledged, reveals calm, and within the calm rests the seed of possibility, which now with light shed upon it begins joyfully to grow and brighten …

Once you reveal that seed, the world can’t scare you in the same way as before. The truth of every human is this centre, this pearl of great price within.

Look around you, and you’ll begin to wonder what’s behind the masks. But you’re probably not going to go around trying to unpeel layers off your boss, clients, children and public monsters at every turn. However, that instinct to look behind and beneath is a good one. It’s certainly a good remedy for anger in these angry times. For example, once you see through the nauseating swagger of a person who wields power unscrupulously to the small child within seeking attention, your anger becomes redundant, and so no longer gets in the way of your taking whatever effective action you can to counter the harm they are causing. Anger is great at throwing up a problem, but not wanted in your move to action.

Seeing beyond the masks you begin to see more in people’s eyes, to hear more in their voice, and to intuit beyond what they present. Yes, people reveal inadequacies to you; but more often they offer you a mask to convince you that they’re more amazing than they actually believe they are, and you have to peer through their obfuscation and the “I’m amazing” image to glimpse the seed of possibility beneath– which is definitely, not merely possibly, there.

Important? Yes, hugely. There was never a time with more manipulation and dishonesty than ours; we owe it to ourselves and to the planet not to believe the stories a mask tells. Idealistic? I don’t think so. Treat people as if they are more than their presenting mask, and they begin to show us more. That’s a plain truth. And (speaking to myself for one), much more interesting and effective than getting angry. :-)

 

What else?

My TEDx Talk has a complementary theme

Judy Apps: How Your Voice Touches Others: The true meaning of what you say

A book for our times

Have a look for John McConnell’s new book, Breaking Through The Darkness: How to defeat depression, anxiety or stress – a spiritual perspective. Perfectly timed for this period when so many people are feeling darkness. It’s clear, helpful and hope shines out of it – a lifeline for our times.

Coaching

Coaching is like going for anything you want to be good at – golf, painting, playing the piano, creative writing, football, getting fit, dressing well – leadership, parenting, relationships. There are ways to make your progress faster and more rewarding, there are ways to overcome whatever blocks you, whatever that is. In the relationship of coaching, you discover what those are for you. It’s an accessible flexible process, by telephone or video call in your own home, and if you’re not familiar with it, you will be amazed the possibilities that open up even in a single hour. If you’ve ever considered coaching, but haven’t yet dipped your toe in the water, go for it! Now is the time.

My books

9780857088079

THe Art of Communication
The Art of Communication is for anyone who senses that they could be communicating on a deeper level. Perhaps you are a confident communicator but suspect there may be more to the art of conversation that you have not yet been able to access. Or perhaps you feel that your conversations lack depth and meaning and that you’d like to enrich your relationships with others, if only you knew how. This book will address your concerns and show you how to engage wholeheartedly with others.

 

The Art of Conversation41JBLVRdFwL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_
Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

 

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms512Xx6X0bkL
This is a book about performance anxiety – it offers 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

 

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies51odzkFJnLL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

 

 

Voice of Influence411GybmszrL._SY346_
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

 

A poem for nights when you are awake at 3 AM
and other dark times

When Despair for the World Grows in Me

by Wendell Berry, living American writer
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Sending you all love and hope.

Judy

Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

Question+everything_c61372_4372075This fine summer continues. And I’m feeling out of control. With coronavirus here to stay and immunity probably short-lived… With climate creeping towards the cataclysm… With the state of the country – What can I do? Vote? My constituency’s been the same since 1950… With all the lies… a few minutes checking proves them to be lies. Why aren’t we all calling them out? Why do they get away with it?

I’m asking myself this last question as I listen to the podcast of Greta Thunberg (Summer with Greta) describing the tumultuous past year of her life. And then she says, in her perfectly enunciated English,

“If I’ve learned anything in my travels around the world, it’s that the level of knowledge is almost non-existent.”

I think to myself, “That’s it. We don’t question things anymore. Or perhaps our education doesn’t teach us to question things anymore?”

When I lived in Rome, someone told me that Italian security devices were always trialled in Naples first, as that city was so full of rogues that if anyone anywhere could break a lock, a Neapolitan could. If a device passed that hardest of tests, it was considered secure.

Good story, and I like the strategy. When I look at school teaching through this prism, I find that the whole notion of teaching children facts lacks rigor. Who tests the facts? Shouldn’t we be teaching children, Naples-style, how to test the veracity of what they are taught? (I know – against all the odds, good teachers still manage to do that). Moreover, outside school, all over the world, isn’t that what we all need now? – desperately? If ever there were a time …

Recipe for trouble? Clearly; but even so … I propose a curriculum subject called: Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism

(First, what a delightful word, scepticism: one hard c and one soft c, both followed by e or i: bang goes a spelling rule straightaway, how satisfying.)  First lesson can be about the limitations of facts and rules – they all have limitations.

My own education was full of rules and facts. My Oxbridge-educated history teacher taught us to make notes, precise and numbered just the way she spoke it. E.g. “There were 4 reasons for the outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession: first …  second …”, all cut and dried. It was a bit like the 1930s book, 1066 and All That by W C Sellar, (brilliantly ironic but that’s another story), which classifies events as “a Good Thing” or “a Bad Thing” – just so as you know.

This describes fairly accurately Michael Gove’s approach as Education Secretary in 2011. Gove said he wanted more “facts” in England’s national curriculum – by which he meant an unironic 1066 version of monarchs, generals, wars and empire (benevolent, British). He also wanted to pin down language with factual labels such as modal verbs and fronted adverbials. (Not sure of the precise denotation of the latter, dear reader?  It’s “a word or phrase used, like an adverb, in the front of the verb or clause” as for instance, Unfortunately…,  or, Yesterday…. Glad we cleared that up – it’s still in the Primary school curriculum).

So, back to my new school course on Truth Seeking, Detective Work and Scepticism. Here are 5 simple principles to start us off:

  1. Quietly question all rules. Be sceptical about ALL facts!

Before later revisions of the curriculum, children were actually encouraged for a few years to undertake detective work in history learning and examine source materials. What a brilliant innovation to teach children to ask, “Who says so?”! Better still to follow up with “And what axe had they to grind?” but one step at a time.

History: from 1066 and All That:

“Henry VII was very good at answering the Irish Question, and made a Law called Poyning’s Law by which the Irish could have a Parliament of their own, but the English were to pass all the Acts in it. This was obviously a very Good Thing.”

“Miss, who says so.”

“Oh, er, well, the English I suppose.”

“The Roman Conquest was, however, a Good Thing, since the Britons were only natives at that time.”

“Who says so, Miss? Am I only a native, Miss?”

“The Romans said so. That’s it. No more questions.”

English:

“So, children, yesterday, – which is an example of a fronted adverbial …”

Interruption: “Miss, who says so?”

“Oh, er… well, I believe it might have been Mr Gove … or maybe Mr Rees Mogg …
oh I don’t know!  Right, that’s it. Back to the old curriculum …”

The “Who says so?” approach might then develop into learning about bias – in grown-up terms “prejudiced opinion,” “one-sided point of view,” and “specific inclination.” Later in the curriculum this would lead to discussion of unconscious bias, justice, equal opportunities, diversity and inclusion – wouldn’t that be something?

  1. Realise that huge numbers of people can be wrong all at the same time.

Flat earthers; wearers of Elizabethan (Elizabeth I) cosmetics (white lead is sooo good – who knew it killed you?!); voters for Hitler and other conscienceless demigods since; the millions of followers of all religions that aren’t your own true religion if you have one; climate emergency deniers; people who think coronavirus is over (Bournemouth Beach was sooo good – who knew it killed you?!); people who sit down with calorific beverages and watch people running about with a ball instead of running about with a ball themselves (sorry, delete the last) …

Realise that weight of numbers of itself never makes something right or wise.

  1. Understand that facts depend on your perspective

Example of male perspective:

The sleeping tablet Ambien is one of the most commonly used insomnia and jet lag treatments in the world. Yet a decade or so after its approval, reports emerged in 2013 that women taking the recommended dose were behaving bizarrely or having accidents. They discovered that the recommended dosage was based on men and was double what it should be and actually dangerous for women. This situation is still mirrored in numerous pharmeceuticals today. Who knew?

Examples of wealth perspective:

“Lockdown: just stay in your house, walk in your garden and enjoy life at home with some exercise in your local park or countryside.”
Hmm, excuse me – two bedroomed 24th floor flat in city suburb, no garden, gig economy sporadically employed partner, 3 children of different ages to home school, no computers, precious little money coming in, eviction imminent, food cupboard bare? … who knew?

Find out exactly who is stating the fact, and what their interest might be in the matter.

  1. Realise that a fact always omits more than it tells you.

Do you remember the positive comments phase in primary schools a while ago, when teachers were strongly encouraged to write only positive statements in children’s reports? Facts maybe, but not very enlightening. Parents who wanted to pick up anything useful had to learn the art of reading between the lines. After a while, it became perfectly clear to everyone that, “Johnnie sometimes cooperates with other children on tasks” meant “Johnnie is a pain in the neck, and catastrophically disrupts lessons 99% of the time.”

With similar reasoning we might state confidently that, “Edward Colston (of the famous statue) beneficently endowed schools, alms-houses and hospitals in Bristol. This was a good thing.” And a fact, as far as that goes. But, as we now know too well, it is far from the whole story of that buyer and seller of slaves, so far-from, you would say, as to constitute an outrageous lie about who he really was.

Many “facts” are extremely slippery. A fact never tells the whole story.

  1. Get one step ahead of other people’s dishonest tricks

In The Art of Always Being Right, or 38 Ways to Win an Argument written 125 years ago, Arthur Schopenhauer collected dishonest tricks debaters use and explained how they worked. It’s partly the art of logic, but also understanding how to deal with obfuscation, diversion, full frontal attack and shamelessness. It’s a gold mine if you want to win arguments AND if you want ways to counter people who use dirty tricks in debate.

For example, trick 2: “Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his or her argument.”

One of many subterfuges used by the Leave campaign in the EU Referendum was always to refer to an invented word “Brexit”, instead of talking about the act of leaving the EU. Once you have an abstract term it can mean what you want it to mean, and you can change the meaning mid-sentence in an argument. “Brexit” has worn thousands of different hats in the past 4 years! Thus, the hidden joke of “Brexit [what you think it means] means Brexit [what I think it means!]”. You can even use sleight of hand to “get Brexit done”.

Here’s the whole list of Schopenhauer’s stratagems if you’re interested. Such tricks are employed by politicians and business people all over the world – it’s a great list to study if you wish to survive the next decade! You could of course, heaven forfend, study it to become the next populist leader; but I hope you will see it as a powerful tool for countering attacks on the public good.

My hope

Imagine a future where young people grow up with greater understanding of how things work, where it is much harder to hypnotise them with parseltongue. Where they can’t be manipulated with hate campaigns, false bogeymen such as immigrants or false gods such as fool’s gold or populist ‘saviours’. Where they appreciate the subtle hinterland of “facts”. Where they understand humour, irony and speaking between the lines. Where they are able to hear falsehood in a tone of voice and feel truths that are unsayable. Essential for the highest leadership too. Now there’s an education! There’s some hope for humanity!

My facts? Your facts? Pouf! Nonsense!  To quote Einstein (as always),

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.

I’m sure the remarkable Greta Thunberg would agree.

Warm good wishes to all,

Judy

 

Plus

Time to blow my own trumpet – was in lockdown for too long!

Just heard, my book The Voice of Influence is being translated into Arabic – to be published after Christmas. So that’s 11 languages now.

Recent email to me from someone who read The Art of Conversation in lockdown:

“Your book ‘The Art of Conversation’ is really great – warm, accepting, celebrating the possibilities of conversation, realistic about challenges, but also giving easy and fun exercises, pointing the way towards practice and skill.  So many thanks. I have never written to an author to thank them for their book before – you are the first!”

I’m on a roll! A colleague in Canada sent me this on my TEDx talk:

“I watched the video of your TED talk with enormous admiration. It was superb as to both content and delivery. I believe in your message about the benefits of speaking in your real voice but it’s a risky thing to do. It takes courage because you become vulnerable and that’s too scary for many people. I think it’s well worth the risk because that’s the only way one can really reach people, – along with listening with empathy to what they have to say in response.”

Finally, Tim Salau’s My Weekend Read:

The Art Of Communication [my most recent book]. Here’s some of the things you’ll appreciate about this book: ~ Whole-Mind listening: Listening with both your left and right-hemispheres of the brain to capture emotional depth, tone of voice, and other specifics. ~ How to guide a conversation: Even unexpected conversations can lead to powerful realizations. ~ The power of vulnerability in conversation. It’s a strength and a sign of trust. Dear product manager, add this to your COVID-19 reading list!👍🏾 Thank you, Judy Apps♥️

Okay, I don’t do this very often. Just now and then!

Coaching

This year of uncertainty is a great time for coaching. Coaching is for those who are so full of promise that they deserve help to fly high. It’s also for those who are struggling. It’s for leaders who are senior enough to be isolated, and for those who are just stepping into new roles. It’s for business success; it’s for personal relationships. So don’t hang back because you think you’re not quite the kind of person who has coaching. It’s more than likely that you’re exactly  the kind of person who will benefit. If you want to talk to me about it, get in touch at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

Talks

Let me know if you’d like me to give a talk to your organisation – on communication, conversation, confidence, voice, connection, interactive leadership, or a subject to decide between us. Contact me in the first instance at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.