Doubt’s Uncomfortable, but Certainty’s Ridiculous

Screenshot 2020-06-16 at 09.52.59Do you find it easy to be certain? Or have you sometimes wished you were one of those people who is certain about their views and beliefs? What about now? Surely now?

I have craved certainty from time to time. For example, I was once a regular church goer. Then I wasn’t, but continued to envy those who were certain about their faith, who could enjoy the comfort of belonging to a community of people with like-minded beliefs.

Voltaire had thoughts on the subject:

Doubt isn’t a very comfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.

Sounds like the subject for a debate …

Certainty and Debate

To debate is to practise the art of certainty. You decide a ‘side’ – there’s your certainty – and then you marshal arguments both to support your case and to destroy the arguments of the other side. As far as I understand it, a barrister does much the same. As a prosecution or a defence lawyer – with your ‘side’ established a priori – you construct arguments to support your case and find flaws in the opposing side’s case. Success is measured by your ability to marshal arguments in defence of your cause sufficient to win support for it.

The art of debate is a subject that I understand is addressed more comprehensively in the hallowed halls of Eton or Westminster than in our state schools. So it would have been a natural process for Eton-educated Boris Johnson to compose convincing articles both for and against Brexit before choosing which side to back in 2016. It must have come easily to use his natural debater’s flair and vigour to support a case with unflagging certainty and, like others, he has shown chameleon skill in this art many times as a journalist over the years.

What does the debater do? – look at an opponent’s arguments maybe, but only in order to defeat them. It’s not a search for truth; the speaker is never influenced by opposing arguments; it’s always a battle, us against them.

This ‘debate’ method spills over into media interviews, as I describe in The Art of Communication: “Most conversations on TV and radio news are set up as interchanges between people with fixed opposing points of view, for example an argument for something and an argument against, with a facilitator intent on keeping the argument polarised.” The idea is that this makes for more lively television or radio. Often it does, but always at the expense of subtlety and intelligence. And deeper truth, I would say.

Social media and algorithms also hugely encourage the taking of sides, by driving us through our preferences into silos where we all think the same as each other. Our choice of news channels does the same. This contributes enormously to the building of tribes, where we naturally agree with everything our tribe stands for on a myriad of issues instead of thinking each issue out for ourselves. A supporter of a political party becomes like the football fan who proclaims, “The team’s the thing. I’m loyal to you through thick and thin, be you the best, be you the worst, tell me what to think, I’m your loyal base.” Loyalty becomes certainty.

But surely, if ever there were a time for certainty, this is it? You can’t shilly-shally in a pandemic; life and death decisions have to be made; people need clear instructions. Populations have always wanted strong leaders, and in times of danger and uncertainty, the desire for strong leadership increases. What is “strong”? Many would say it’s being certain and not changing your mind.

But wait, what about the science?

Science and Certainty

In this time of coronavirus, we are all talking about the (weird definite article) science. Science is admired by many because it deals with certainties.

But science isn’t certain, far from it. As theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli says,

“Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only is it not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it.” The New Republic, 11/7/14.

Or, to quote the example I give in my book:

Nobel Prize winner, physicist Richard Feynman, considered one of the best scientific minds since Albert Einstein, confided in a BBC Horizon interview that he was content to live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. He thought it was more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong, and that it was important for scientists ‘to leave the door to the unknown ajar’.

And, the chapter continued, “It’s not a recipe for paralysis, merely a willingness to continue without an insistence on certainty.”  The scientist doesn’t mind saying “I don’t know” when that is the truth. “I don’t know” is sometimes wisdom. Pretending to know everything is absurd.

Certainty and Politicians

Coming back to leaders, they may or may not “leave the door to the unknown ajar”; but making firm decisions is certainly an essential part of their business. Jacinta Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, manages the conundrum so well. It takes a subtle brain to make space for doubt. She doesn’t pretend that answers are easy. She shares doubt. And then she makes clear decisions. That is, she doesn’t adopt a position and then summon ‘facts’ to back it up, like someone in a debating chamber. She certainly doesn’t create additional ‘facts’ to support a position when it seems to be crumbling. (Nor indeed does she employ certainty as if talking to nursery school children.)  On the contrary, like a scientist (but a scientist with empathy, hurray!), she shares the facts, and then elegantly makes decisions.

There is all the difference in the world between these approaches. A leader has to make decisions of course. But that’s not the same thing as claiming certainty. Ardern’s way, “leaving the door to the unknown ajar”, allows for change when facts change; it acknowledges the complexity of issues. It enables truth, and therefore avoids the necessity of hiding behind obfuscation and bluster.

Lessons for me

One learning for me in all this is that putting an emphasis on ‘certainty’ is to look in the wrong place. Here’s another bit from The Art of Communication, from the chapter on Wholeheartedness:

An acceptance of uncertainty allows us to adopt more subtle positions, such as the paradox of holding both opposing perspectives to be true or recognising the possibility of synergy between differing arguments. In conversation either/or will give you one kind of exchange; both/and will give you other more interesting and surprising encounters. The synthesis of opposites is a powerful force. …

Control [needing to be certain] can only hold a view that excludes its opposite. It can lead me to talk with only my own interest at heart, and therefore deprive you of yours, or to assert that I’m right and therefore know that you’re wrong; or to speak with the aim of gain for me and loss for you; or to speak “for your own good” rather than work with you. Control in its lack of flexibility tends to create opposition. Holding different perspectives at the same time on the other hand allows something entirely new to emerge. As Hamlet said to Horatio, ‘There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Wholeheartedness is free from control. When I’m wholehearted I give myself permission to be spontaneous, natural, honest and free of forceful striving. … When I accept uncertainty, insecurity vanishes, and so I’m free.

My final thought is that we could do a lot worse than to learn from Jacinta Ardern.

My thoughts go out to you as we stay the course in our different ways.
Go well,

Judy

“Doubt everything. Find your own light.” Buddha

And…

The Art of Communication

I’ve quoted from my latest book above. It’s already a year old, yet I think it speaks to our times more than ever. It’s available as book, ebook or audio-book (though I wish I could have read my own book!) and the prices are good at the moment.

You can find all my books here on Good Reads. Maybe, buy here at Hive, which contributes to local book stores.

Coaching

Get in touch if you would like to consider a few sessions (or a single session!) of coaching by Skype, telephone, Whatsapp etc.  There are so many issues coming up for people at the moment. You may find the presence of a listening ear that helps you to think more clearly and handle your emotions more successfully is just what you need to move forward more positively and confidently. Coaching can be simple, powerful and amazingly effective. To contact me, try email first: judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk.

 

 

 

From Lies and Disasters to Small Vital Truths

The-Summer-Day-600x350Musings in Solitary

How are you? Some people get increasingly distressed about the state of the world, others find inner calm.

I’m a grasshopper, sometimes I hop to one, sometimes the other. (Can a grasshopper find inner calm, hmm?)

It seems amazing to me how the mind can leap in an instant from staring into the abyss of planetary disaster to personal micro moments of joy. (And back again.) But that’s how it is for me at the moment. Are you sometimes like that too?

For me, it’s like this:

The book

With time for reading and good intention, I decided to buy a hefty “something worth reading”, which turned up last week. It’s The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. Written in 1859, it invites a slower reading pace than modern novels, with room for discussion  and contemplation in its 900 pages. And so, quite early on, (okay, I’m only a bare one centimetre through an eight-centimetre pleasure, as the Very Hungry Caterpillar might put it) I came upon this passage, which made me go, “wow, that’s it” and set me off on a train of thought.

51oER7psoDL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_“The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill – he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.”

The lies

Quite apart from reminding me of a couple of public figures (you too?) and unsettling me with its last phrase, it strikes me as a devastatingly accurate description not only of individuals but of our post-truth (=lying) age.

That got me on to musing that I spot lies more easily in these days of coronavirus. I’m certainly examining my own contradictions more (“the man who lies to himself”); but it’s outside stuff too, like one big hairy lie underlying everything. Who knew that our nation’s normal was so corroded? Who knew till now that caring on your own at home for someone with advanced dementia or a severely disabled child was so impossibly hard? Who knew that migrant health workers have to pay hundreds to pounds per year to access the NHS!? Who knew that people who whistle-blew about dangerous working conditions would lose their jobs? Who knew really that so many children are starving … well we knew and we didn’t know … oh so many things in our beautiful country – the 5th richest country in the world, by the way. No, really, the FIFTH richest country in the world.  I thought to myself, I don’t want to remain in ignorance. I want to know properly, genuinely, how things are in this lovely country of mine.

The global catastrophes

By now, I was on a roll. Why stop at the UK? I know the planet is in a bad way, climate emergency, biodiversity crisis, water shortages, mass people movements, war, famine – how could I not? But now …? Now I have time.  I read and watch the physicist and social activist Vandana Shiva (various great videos on YouTube), who describes a cogent pattern of economic genocide and ecocide, where a couple of asset management funds grow by a trillion dollars each a year (the USA as a whole grows by less), and the 5 richest men earn more than the total amount earned by half the world’s population; and the world’s commons, all that was once healthy and free, from water and air to seeds and land is privatised, stolen, polluted or damaged, necessitating ever more poison, pharma, oil, war, which creates more climate and biodiversity destruction, necessitating in its turn more poison, pharma, oil, war …. and certain forces grown powerful through plunder find agents to deliver lying hate messages that manipulate us to attack the wrong targets, i.e. people – blacks, Muslims, immigrants, women – and thus to elect unsuitable leaders who continue the devastating cycle; this idiocy precluding any rescue from the global challenge of climate breakdown, which is set to make vast areas of India, Africa and Australia too hot for human life within little more than a decade and cause mass migration on a scale far in excess of what we’ve seen to date, with the grim realisation that attempts to solve migration issues haven’t gone too well so far… . (Is that a long enough sentence for you, Dostoevsky?!)

Coronavirus is like the next act in a cosmic joke isn’t it? Okay, says the Almighty: I’ve sent tornados, I’ve sent droughts and floods and fires and plagues of locusts. When are you going to understand that the only way you’re going to solve this one is through cooperation; all other ways boomerang back to hit you.  Coronavirus spreading through Africa and Asia amongst the poor and deprived threatens all of us. Mass migration due to heat and drought affects all of us. Pollution affects all of us.  The winners don’t win here.

The beatitudes

The grasshopper hops again to remind me that I am a winner, in my comparative comfort in this lovely place, in cleaner air, this beautiful spring with the new spirit of generosity that’s abroad. I do feel grateful. I look around me, and my whole existence depends on others – house, chair, laptop, water, plumbing, electrics, waste disposal, clothes, food, deliveries, medicines, dental treatment, let alone doctors, nurses, parenting, education, relationships, kindnesses from every direction – the list could go on and on. I do feel gratitude, I do, ever more so now.

But I don’t want to ignore this global narrative anymore. The planet is in the ICU and needs our attention at this critical moment, never more than now. How can we say: “Dear grandchildren, I just let it happen?” At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to find out what is happening, sift out the truth from different sources and angles. Our Daily Rag is not enough! We need to know properly what is happening. We need to tell each other what we discover. And now is the time, before normal slides insidiously back. There are more of us that want the good of all, we are the majority. We can do something.

The joy

And we all know it really.  Clarity emerges in this quiet.  Where do clarity and truth emerge from, if not peace and quiet? As I listen to birdsong outside this early evening, there’s something else. Apart from world upheaval and our human debt … apart from THAT! … I find nothing more real or truthful than this moment here and now. They talk about one’s heart being full – I know what they mean, don’t you? Micro moments of joy.

Joy isn’t thinking; it’s a fleeting feeling, breath, pulse, vibration, a transient surge of energy that happens before verbal cognition.

That moment of loving a piece of music before you tell yourself its name.

That breath of surrender to beautiful nature just before you realise that you are finding it beautiful.

The sudden memory triggered of a special moment with a loved one now absent, before you feel the sadness of their absence.

The moment of pleasure in something you have just done, before you think about what you’ve just done.

The moment before the moment you realise that you’re smiling to yourself.

Now, when life has become less varied and less peopled for most of us, is a good time to capture those fleeting moments. They occur every day. I wonder what nano-instances of joy come into your awareness today.

If this speaks to you, I am happy. If it doesn’t, you probably haven’t read this far! I recognise that we are all in different circumstances during this epidemic. Whatever your situation, I send you warmest good wishes and hope for better things to come.

This too shall pass.

Judy

The first springtime of my life

The Thrree Witches

The Thrree Witches

I turn left out of the house, up onto the green, and then through the woods and onto the narrow road that runs by a stream where I sometimes see a heron. No one around. Quiet, unusually quiet. And the air is clean and cold, a bright April day in this first springtime of my life.

 

We’ve all been blindsided by this bolt from the blue. Those who are on the front line are perhaps busier than ever before. And those who are self-isolating – me, us – we have all the time in the world. How is it for you? I have time to write words; except with all the time in the world, words don’t come. I’ve lost the way to words that seem helpful or worth saying. Nevertheless, I’m writing at last.

For the past 3 years, I’ve been infected by a kind of obsessive angry energy with Brexit as the underlying theme. Now those voices have gone quiet, and I realise that the country itself was in a similar state, unable to look beyond the single issue. Disaster planning must have been way down the list of issues that weren’t being dealt with. Which makes this an accident waiting to happen, you might say. It certainly feels as if we’ve all suddenly woken up.

Personally, I discovered that my current isolation didn’t immediately turn me towards the pursuit of all those desires I’d never had time for before. I’ve been gardening and cleaning the house and enjoying it, but for me currently they’re merely displacement activities – a substitute for my former busy-ness. I would have imagined that with time on my hands I might have turned to painting, creative writing or music, but I haven’t, at least not yet. It’s been a step to knowing myself, to recognise that, “If I had time, I would …” wasn’t true. I got time. And I didn’t. Makes you think, doesn’t it, “If this isn’t true of me, what else?”

If anything, I’ve turned to philosophy.

Lots of little revelations. “I like clothes, but I wear them for my own pleasure” was another lie – at home now, what I wear doesn’t matter to me at all.

I discovered that I’m not quite as nice as I want to think I am. First thoughts: have we got enough food supplies? Have we got our delivery slot? Or, as they used to say on flights, “Put on your own life jacket first” Yes, I’m in that camp.

At the same time, I realise now that relationship is the only thing that matters. At 25 I wanted to achieve life goals; I did need relationships then just as much now, but I didn’t know that I did. Now I know. At the same time, I’ve blown another myth, that I’m someone who needs to be out and about and doing, meeting people, sharing experiences. Not true, I’m actually fine at home.

I’m rediscovering my good fortune, oh am I that! Are you too? – the roof over my head, the good food I eat, my family, friends, the countryside, nature, my health and strength, the internet – that magical city of libraries-learning-theatres-films-information-resources-connection in one smart phone; humour, freedom to use my imagination, the goodness of people, especially that …

I’m seeing a bit more clearly the injustices of government and systems, and what’s rotten in our country and world. I’m realising that things I thought were essential structural elements of our society are proving to be anything but. I discover that huge change can and does happen, that money becomes available when needs must. This pandemic is powerful because it doesn’t discriminate; it affects us all, so all must take heed. It makes me think that decisions about services should never be made by people who are never going to use them and so don’t care about them. When we’re in it together (not the slogan version), when we’re actually all in it together, life becomes fairer.

Lastly, like you, I’m sure, I am overwhelmed by other people in this crisis – not the random assholes, but every single person who is being generous and brave and making life possible for the rest of us. It’s so good that we can feel a different emotion for a change – sheer love and thankfulness.

 

I’ve walked a gentle circle and I come back through the wood to a glade known locally as The Three Witches, after three giant sweet-chestnut trees with their spiralling bark. I think I may be tuning in to what endures. Like love and thankfulness, they’ve been here for ever. They’ll be here after we’ve all gone. I hope they will.

 

Wishing you so well,
Judy

 

Connection …

“Not touching, still connecting” says inspirational Five Rhythms teacher Peter Wilberforce at the beginning of each of the practices he’s recording currently on Facebook. Connection is today’s thread. My last book, The Art of Communication, grappled with that theme, as did my last year’s TEDx Talk. I think I’ll be coming back to it again in the next weeks and months too.

Connection Space

I’m currently in isolation but have phone, Skype, Zoom, Facetime and email. If anyone genuinely feels they need to talk to someone, maybe I can be a listening ear? I won’t call it coaching – not quite, and I won’t charge for it. Sometimes, even a short conversation with someone creates something new. So, whether you are a coach yourself, or a friend wanting to connect, or someone looking for some which way to turn, maybe this is a connection you want to make. Connect with me here first. And many thanks to all who can do the same for me.

 

Saving the world with a bit of intuition and quite a lot of grammar

Screenshot 2020-01-09 at 17.48.27

 

How do you know what you know?

Presumably, you’ve been in the world quite a few years:

how did you learn everything that you now know?

How do you learn now?

Knowledge

When I think about how I learn now, I’m aware of how much I pick up from reading, much of it on the internet; through newspapers too – and books, lots from books…. I pick up from listening – to radio, TV, to people in my life. It’s information learning. If I trust it, I take it on board and remember it. I think I’m discerning about it.

Rumi, born 800 years before the internet, has something to say about intelligence acquired from books and from what the teacher says:

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

Experience

All good, especially if you have your eyes on success. But there’s another kind of learning that doesn’t need to be agreed with or trusted, because we experience it. Take learning to walk. Balance is something you experience. It isn’t a matter of trusting information or not. When you’re out of balance, you fall down. No one tells you what to do or what to learn in infancy in order to be able to walk. The doing is the learning. You get to know what balance feels like, and you walk. What a miracle it is to learn to walk! How many muscles do you control at the same time when you succeed in walking – 200 or so? All at the same time! Imagine working your way through a written manual, “How to Walk”! People who have to relearn in adulthood have to do the equivalent of just that. And they are much more likely to fall down and mistrust it: “Walking’s not for me any more. I don’t trust it’s possible. Might as well give up now.”

These two ways of learning carry on through life. We tend more and more to use information learning as we grow up. Most people like learning to be neat and practical:

10 ways to become a better public speaker

5 tips to guarantee success in business

10 steps to the perfect golf swing

6 vital lessons to teach your kids

Every time I work with coaches, presenters or leaders the questions are the same, “Tell me what to do in order to …” “Yes, but what should I do?” “Give me the five steps!”

Yet, in these areas, as in many others, the most important intelligence is something you already have. As Rumi describes it:

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

Inside and Outside

You pick up knowledge from the outside and take it in. But this other learning arises within. What would we call this “freshness in the center of the chest” nowadays? Intuition? Instinct? It’s not book learning. I would call it feeling. It’s feeling that tells you that you are walking in balance. It’s feeling that alerts you to something amiss or an instinct to follow. Empathy is a feeling.

You can have feelings about someone.

You can have feelings for someone.

You can have feelings with someone.

You can have feelings as someone.

Ah, (to divert for a moment) these prepositions! Europeans who learn English think at first that it’s an easy language – no different genders for everything, easy plurals, easy declensions of verbs. But then they meet prepositions. They are suddenly faced with a jumble of completely different meanings all resting on the addition of a preposition to a simple verb. Consider the verb “take” followed by different prepositions:

Take off:     I took off my jeans – removed
He took off Benny Hill – imitated

Take to:      I really took to tennis – warmed to, enjoyed

Take out:    Take me out to dinner – invite me to
He took out the terrorist – killed him

Take on:     The company took him on – employed him
Don’t take on so – make such a fuss
I’ll take you on – compete with you

Take in:      I couldn’t take it in – understand it
I took him in and let him stay – gave accommodation to
I was taken in by his charm – deceived.

Take over:  He took over the world – conquered

Take after:  She takes after her mother – resembles

Take back:  I take back what I said – revoke

Take up:     I’m going to take up French – start to learn

Take off:     The plane took off – launched

Take down: Take down what I say – record
They took him down – destroyed him

Stop!! Okay, I’m getting carried away.

Back to feeling. Prepositions are at work here too.

I can feel for you, which means that I have warm feelings when I think about you. If you are distressed,

I can have feelings about your distress, which probably means that I have some intellectual understanding of what you are going through.

I can feel sympathy, which is to feel with: i.e. I feel pity with your suffering; as we read of disasters in the newspaper, our feeling is often one of sympathy.

And finally, I can feel empathy, which is to be inside your feeling, to feel what you are feeling, to feel the same distress that you feel.

Empathy

Now, to be inside someone’s feeling is something remarkable. It isn’t book learning; it’s not acquisition of knowledge, though knowledge can help. Empathy doesn’t have words, though I may decide to speak. It isn’t the same as pity, though pity may be present. It’s experiencing the same quality that you are feeling: experiencing your actual pain; experiencing your joy. It’s my heart beating with your beat; being in tune with your being; coming together with you in the place where you are now.

I can book-learn your distress. I can learn your body language, how you sound and the light in your eye when you are in a particular state, just as I can learn to speak in public by adopting particular body language, a particular tone of voice and a particular kind of eye contact. And that works, sort of.

But true empathy shortcuts all that. I just step inside you and feel what you feel and, feeling what you feel, I understand you. It’s only possible if I am thin-skinned, if I haven’t built up that armour of self-protection that most people wear. Thin skinned means vulnerable: I have to be vulnerable.

People who put intellect above feeling will say that it’s hardly helpful to feel distress at someone’s distress, as all you do is to fall into the emotional same hole as the other person. But the greatest resource of the coach, counsellor, doctor, teacher, leader or carer is to feel true empathy – to be entirely present with the other person – but without drowning in their distress: to feel their pain, and to know as you breathe and stay open that you are more than that pain and can be beside the other person holding them safe even as you feel their pain. To do that represents both an instant resource and requires a lifetime of learning.

It’s 2020, the world looks bad; now more than ever, empathy is our only possible answer. So yes, by all means, set your resolutions this year to learn the 5 important steps, maintain the 10 best ways, follow the 3 vital answers … But know too, as you know anything truly important, that you already have within you the ability to walk beside another and feel the reality of them, and that this, available to all of us now, is by far our most powerful asset going forward into 2020.

Happy New Year :-)

My TEDx Talk, “How Your Voice Touches Others: The true meaning of what you say”

This talk I gave a few months ago touches on similar themes. You can find it on TED.com. Please share it if you enjoy it.

The Art of Communication:
How to Be Authentic, Lead Others and Create Strong Connections

Have you dipped into my latest book? Maybe it would make a New Year present to yourself? Here’s a snippet from the final chapter on ways to be with another person.

And so it happens that one day you are talking with someone, and you become aware that you both are, in a place of betweenness. There’s no sense of doing; no one is leading; and you feel the powerful frisson of connection within that space. It’s like the relationship between a musician and her instrument. A musician never masters his instrument but joins with it. The music that results is neither musician nor instrument yet comes about because of both.

The field of awareness between you is the space where magic happens, where there is no you, no me, just the space we create together.

“The characters for “human being” in Japanese mean “person” and “between”. Thus, you as a human being exist only through your relations with others.”

My other books:

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.

Did you see my article on the Art of Good Communication
in Intercontinental Finance and Law magazine?

Follow the link; then it’s on pages 12-13.

Don’t Play the Blame Game

A date for your diaries – Sunday 29th March in London: A Spirit of Coaching event, open to all coaches and those interested in coaching. Further details shortly.

Simple short ecourses

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share these with friends. Okay, knowledge learning, but useful for all that!

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

Do You Have Agency?

download

What values do you subscribe to? Do you ever write them down? We talk about values quite often in coaching. Mostly, I admire every value, even ones that I don’t hold so close to my heart. But every time I do the exercise, I realise there are one or two values I just don’t personally believe in.

One is obedience.

I like humility. I acknowledge human frailty. I like “I don’t know” as a valid response; also “you choose”. I respect the need to comply with laws. But obedience?

Imagine! This from someone who started education at a Catholic school at a young enough age according to the maxim for the Jesuits to be able to claim me as one of their own. You know: “Give me the child for the first seven years …” Obedience was a big part of the teaching in the school. I learned very well not to question what I learned but just to learn it very well.

Responsibility

But the world taught me otherwise. How can it ever be a valid response for any adult when they have committed a serious mistake to say, “I was obeying orders” or “I was doing what I was told.” It certainly wasn’t taken as a valid defence at the Nuremburg Trials after the 2nd World War. Valid in a marriage maybe, though “obey” has now largely disappeared from the woman’s promises in the Anglican Church wedding service, including at royal weddings (the Queen promised to obey Prince Phillip at their wedding but you’d think the promise must have clashed occasionally after she became Queen).

The commonest defence of the wrongdoer is “I’ve done nothing wrong,” the short cut – in the rare cases where the person actually believes their own defence – for “I was obeying orders” or “I was doing nothing actually illegal”. So that’s okay then. After all, many acts that do untold harm to human beings and the planet are not actually illegal when done in an official capacity as part of a corporation or government.

It has always struck me forcibly that if we have the gift of intelligence it is to be used. And that must mean learning to take responsibility for ourselves on the rightness or otherwise of particular actions.

That of course is how a whistle blower thinks, but the history of whistleblowing is not a happy one. Okay then, children: they must learn to obey, surely? “Yes, but …” is my answer. Osho writes in his book Intelligence (I recommend it): If my child doesn’t have a clear and unwavering “no” in his vocabulary, how can he speak out against social injustice? How can he develop an equally compelling “yes,” and know that his choices are authentically his own, that his voice is internally driven? Insistence on unwavering obedience doesn’t serve even a child well. (And thinking of children, what a wonderful example of a child using her intelligence is Greta Thunberg!)

Agency and not

There’s another thing about obedience: a life of unquestioning obedience tends to dull the soul. When work consists of doing what you’re told to do, and relationships consist of going through the paces and social activities are empty formalities, something important is missing. It’s a world of ‘it’s not allowed’, and ‘can’t’ and ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘must’ and ‘ought’, and it defeats us.

Depression has many causes, but a contributory factor is often a lack of agency. When you feel that nothing you do makes a difference – your vote doesn’t count, your work achieves nothing, nothing you do changes your relationships – then you lose heart. Literally, you lose heart: your heart atrophies. Lack of agency takes the vitality from your movement and the spark from your eyes. Have a look around you. How many are walking automatons?

Alternatively, you might wake up today, and your life is the same, but you make something unexpected happen. You decide to get off your commuter train a stop early and you walk the rest of the way – it happens because you decided it – and the leaves are falling in droves from the trees and there’s a light wind whirling them into mini-storms, making them catch the light. You capture that small miracle because of something you decided, and your heartbeat quickens.

One of our most important tasks must be to reclaim that agency; there’s always something you can decide and then do. It might be tiny; it might seem the act of an idiot against the system, but you decide it and the act itself pleases you. Nelson Mandela decided to treat his prison guards with courtesy, even as they continued to maltreat him. His decision gave him agency and gave him energy and courage, even in the face of not making one jot of difference. In time, of course, it did make a difference.

It is true that sometimes there is little we can do to improve our lot, but there is always a basic question: “Do I actually want to be happy, energetic and well, or do I prefer to nurse unhappiness, resentment and illness?” There is a huge difference in spirit when you decide to have agency. Your eyes shine once more and you see the world as a different place. You cannot not affect your world when your spirit awakens.

I’ve quoted e e cummings many a time. His poem I thank You God for most this amazing includes the words:

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

and he concludes:

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e e cummings was talking of himself of course; as am I of myself. Awake, ears! Open, eyes! I hope it talks to you too :-)

Go well,

Judy

 

TEDx Talk – How Your Voice Touches Others: the true meaning of what you say

The sound of your voice conveys far more than the words alone, and not always what you might be hoping to convey. When you show up for real it’s a different story: your voice tunes into something genuine within the other person and they respond with connection and trust. If you want to solve problems today, that’s where to start.

Find the talk on TED or on YouTube, and please share it if you like it. I just loved doing it, and Norwich TEDx Ed is a fantastic event run by amazing people.

Capture the essence of successful communication.

If you enjoy the TEDx Talk, you’ll love my book The Art of Communication, which goes deeper into what allows us to connect in a profound way with each other. When we find ways to be real in our communication, unexpected possibilities arise and amazing things can and do happen. If ever there were a time …

See my other books here.

Mindfulness

Paul Meek was one of my co-black belts when I practised Aikido. Paul has practised mindfulness since a chance encounter in 1997 on a train in India with a nun who studied under the Dalia Lama. Meeting Paul, you’d be able to tell his connection with mindfulness by his quiet presence. He is author of the eBook series, The Silence Between the Noise, and shares his experience of how to establish mindfulness for greater wellbeing in his blog Establish Mindfulness.

Workshops

Get in touch for workshops on communication, leadership, voice and walking your talk, assertiveness and NLP.

Coaching

also for one-to-one coaching. I’m constantly surprised at how even one session can make such a difference to people’s confidence, decisiveness and – yes – their agency.

And, if you’re in London on Saturday, 2 November …

The Brandenburg Choral Festival is London’s biggest and broadest celebration of all things choral, bringing fantastic choirs into unique central London venues. If you’re near St. Stephen Walbrook near Bank on 2 November, come and enjoy the Harlequin Choir from Guildford in the evening (yes, my chamber choir!) You can get more information and discounted tickets on this special link.

Creeping Change

coolantarctica.om

coolantarctica.om

They say don’t trust experts.
DO trust experts

But we live in shifty times,

so it’s important to investigate,
to consult widely from different
sources of information,

And then to trust ourselves.

 

 

It was a rare treat to London, and my mother suddenly spotted a Kardomah Café across the street. “Come on,” she said. “We’re going to have Kunzle Cakes!” We settled in the café, and she ordered these famous little cakes she remembered from her childhood in the 1930s. We children enjoyed the chocolate shell with cake and light butter cream inside, but she was clearly puzzled and disappointed. They weren’t as delicious as she remembered them.

It’s easy to explain away such experiences, together with endless sunny summers, skating in winter and roaring open fires as rose-coloured childhood memories. We usually lack proof that things were as different as we imagine they were. But change for the worse does happen, as well as for the better, and all too often it happens quietly and secretly. That roast pork of my school Christmas dinner – did it really taste better than the supermarket pork of today? Well, yes it almost certainly did. Then, pigs were animals that lived outside and rooted and snuffled: now they are product subjected to growth hormones and antibiotics and often fed on same-animal waste and worse.

Or maybe I look at a newspaper that has always been highly respected, confident in the title, and ignore the fact that since the latest billionaire buy-out it is much less to be trusted. It looks the same, the subjects covered are similar, but there’s a fundamental attitude shift that’s well-disguised at first. It’s easy to miss.

In the shifting sands of our current time, it’s especially wise to be on the lookout for creeping change.

Climate and environmental change are the big ones of course. It’s 50 years since the Stanford Research Institute delivered a report warning of the devastating effects on the planet of burning fossil fuels. But who noticed? Change in those 50 years has happened one lost tree, one lost bird species, one fire, one flood, one cancer at a time. By the time we do notice, it’s too late to save everything.

They say a frog doesn’t notice it’s being boiled in a pot if you increase the temperature slowly enough. Maybe not true, but as a metaphor spot on.

Professor Diane Vaughan of Columbia University describes a process of “social normalization of deviance” where people within an organisation gradually become accustomed to increasingly deviant behaviour until it becomes the norm. Many different negative situations from institutionalised racism and inappropriate sexual attitudes to homeless people on the streets and abuse in care homes take hold through such creeping normalisation. The situation might strike someone new to the system as abhorrent, but to those inside the system it has become normal.

We are seeing a lot of “creeping change” these days. Look at how many ways we talk about it: change blindness, slippery slope, shifting baseline, moving the goalposts, salami tactics, tyranny of small decisions, …

There is one way this happens that’s particularly insidious, and that is through abstract language. Theresa May’s oft-repeated mantra, “Brexit means Brexit” is an excellent example. Abstract words have no clarity until you add descriptors. Remaining undefined, Brexit could mean whatever people wanted it to mean for the particular axe they wanted to grind, and this allowed creeping redefinition of the word. Lewis Carroll was prescient:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
from Alice Through the Looking Glass

All those Orwellian descriptors of our day! Crisis Pregnancy Centers strongly anti-abortion; The European Research Group vehemently against Britain’s membership of the EU; the American Global Climate Information Project representing the interests of producers of fossil fuels against the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions … you can easily find more examples.

The biggest and easiest trick in the book for those who engage in public debate is to argue with dexterity and flair without defining terms. It’s a skill well honed in the ancient education establishments of Britain. Freedom, fairness, economic success – here come the abstracts! Yes, yes! But freedom in what way and for whom? Economic success for whom? Fairness how and to whom? Ah, those are the questions, Humpty Dumpty. We need to get better at these questions.

Maybe one of the most useful things we can do, living in democracies yet often feeling powerless within them, is to stay awake (stay woke?) to creeping change wherever it happens. Many bold souls are doing that already and speaking up. I admire them. It’s much easier to keep your head down inside your clan, like an emperor penguin huddling in the middle of its tightly-packed group to shelter itself from the intense winds of the Antarctic.

I’m not the bold soul, not really. I do see that I’ve lived my life with a comparatively passive experience of education, hierarchy and democracy until now.  I want now to celebrate those who stand up to be counted, those who dare shine a light on injustice and silent cruelty, those who refuse to stay schtum.

It’s important too to realise that my own tightly packed group is not the universe (even if my group is not just any old penguins but Emperor penguins, you understand). It’s crucial to look beyond – stick my nose out into those intense winds of change and get the bigger picture from a wider range of information suppliers. It’s always a shock when you do: Whoa! Is this really happening? I didn’t see this coming!

“A fact is a fact because I say it is. This is a Kunzle cake.”

No it ain’t. Have a second look. Investigate further.
Let’s use our eyes and ears and, yes, our gut instinct.
Let’s trust ourselves.

Go well,

Judy

 

The Art of Communication and REQUEST

If you’ve ever worked with me or attended any of my events and got something out of it and even if you haven’t, I think you’ll really enjoy my latest book.Find more information about the book here. It’s certainly the book most close to my thoughts and beliefs. Someone emailed me yesterday and said, “I recently read your book ‘The Art of Communication’ and found it very difficult to put down once I’d started. Your book has been a total awakening for me”. Find it here where it’s priced under £8 at the moment, probably the lowest it’ll ever be.

If you have a copy, would you write a review of it on Amazon here? I and my publisher Capstone would be very grateful :-)  It could be very short! Just click on “Write a Review” below the title.

TEDx Talk

In my last newsletter, I promised to give you a link to my TEDx talk, “How Your Voice Touches Others”. I’ve been holding back this newsletter to be able to point you to it, but it’s taking longer than usual to appear on YouTube and TED.com because TED has been particularly busy with conferences this summer.  I’m told it should be up in the next week or 10 days – have a look on YouTube under TEDx Norwich 2019 or Judy Apps.

Want a few tips at home?

Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share this with friends.

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

Want some help moving forward?

Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential. Email me or call on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype/Zoom or phone.

And for voice coaching – it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self-consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

My other books

Maybe time to put the holiday novels aside and dip into something different? How about:

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! 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 – offering 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.

Who gave you permission to be you?

Screenshot 2019-07-21 at 09.27.05What situation do you hate most to find yourself in? Do you cringe at rejection? Do you loathe being ignored? Do you hate it if people look down on you?

I hate to feel stupid. I’m very happy to dance around, be bold, even to look an idiot in various ways … but not to feel stupid.

I’m sure it has a history. When I got a scholarship to a private school, I mixed with girls who came from wealthy families, and my parents used to joke (half-joke) at home that we might be poor but we were clever. I’ve since realised that our idea of cleverness of that time was fairly limited, but still the mantra helped me, back in the day. It became important to feel clever.

The trouble is, some of these feelings still bug me today. My family will tell you that no one gets more grumpy than me when I am filling in a tax form and don’t understand what they are getting at, or when I meet a problem with my laptop and can’t find a solution. I then feel stupid, and being stupid is just not okay.

 

Such gremlins hold us back. What might you not do if you were willing to look stupid? What might you accomplish if it was fine for people to reject your ideas? Or if other people’s disdain just made you more energised and positive?

I’m constantly amazed at how much negative stuff we carry around with us, convinced that it is a necessary part of who we are, though it does us no good at all. We have shed every last physical cell of the person we were twenty years ago so we’re a completely different person physically, yet we still carry an inflexible historical mental idea of who we are. I’m this sort of person, not that sort of person; I can do this but not that; I believe this to be possible and not that.

 

New York Times’ best-selling author Meg Wolitzer’s recent book, The Female Persuasion – as indeed her other books too – looks at the impact of small acts of kindness in people’s lives. She gives the example of a teacher in grade school who would write down the stories Meg told her, and who gave her the great gift of starting to take herself seriously. She writes a startling question in that book,

Who gives us all permission to be the person that we walk around the world as?

I think it’s much easier to answer the question, who in your life stopped you from being who you might have been? It’s much easier too, if we are lucky in life, and particularly if we socialise with people similar to ourselves, to acquire the habit of thinking that we arrived where we are solely through our own efforts. It feels good to think, “I did it myself” when we are successful; and to forget supportive parents, inherited money, prestigious school that led to prestigious university that led to perfect qualifications including accent, style etc. for prestigious job, advantageous relationships and so on (or any elements of the above).

But Wolitzer’s question, who gave you permission to be the person that you walk around the world as? That’s much more interesting. Who helped you in your sense of yourself?

If I were to start a list of people randomly now, there would be:

My Mum who introduced me to books with enthusiasm when I was very small.

My Dad who was resourceful in practical things and lent me resourcefulness too.

The girl with Down’s Syndrome who taught me in her singing that confidence is for everyone.

The colleague who in a simple sentence gave me the belief to move on.

As I start to write, I realise that I could continue this list for quite a while. What about you?

Permission is a central concept in my voice work with people. Many difficulties with expression are associated with tension, particularly around the neck, throat and shoulders, which prevents free spontaneous expression. Often it’s chronic tension associated with times when the person was diminished in some way in earlier life. In the present, this tension announces forcefully that expressing oneself is fraught with danger; and so it inhibits communication, and prevents a person from being who they can be. It disallows. Releasing the tension (a physical and mental process) allows the person to find their real voice again.

All the more important to seek out and appreciate people who allow, who give you permission.

Who are the people who, maybe in small acts of kindness, have given you permission to think well of yourself and prosper? It might make you gasp to realise how often other people have helped and still do help you on your way.

The corollary, of course, is that we too are enablers. How many times, in small forgotten acts or minor serendipities, have you given someone else permission? You can’t always know. Maybe you have done that again and again in your life. No one’s given you a gong for it, but you certainly deserve it.

 

By the way, I must tell you about my Meg Wolitzer serendipity. Checking her quote about permission yesterday in an online article, I idly looked further and discovered that my local library had an available copy of her latest novel. I walked into town to the library. Opposite the entrance as you enter there’s a display stand of books to catch the eye of the visitor in a hurry. There, at the dead centre of the front row of this prominent display, was the very Wolitzer novel I had come to look for. How many novels does the library hold? I love coincidences, don’t you?

Enjoy your summer. Go well,

Judy

PS

TEDx Norwich
I had an amazing time in Norwich for TEDx @tedxnorwich last week – “Butterflies and Sweaty Palms” definitely in general evidence before the event! Met some brilliant people. The Talks will be up on TED.com in about 4-5 weeks.

THE ART OF COMMUNICATION
If you’d like to dip into my latest book, you can read an excerpt here. You’ll find the 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 a pandemic, 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.

Think about those small acts of kindness in your life, those people were being real, weren’t they?

BRENE BROWN AND THE CALL TO COURAGE
Brene, famous for her TED Talk on Vulnerability, has given a longer talk for Netflix. Here’s the trailer.

COACHING AND TRAINING and TALKS
Contact me directly at judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk to enquire about possibilities.

BOOKS
Find my books listed here. All available at bookshops and usual online outlets in hardback, electronic and audio.

The Noble Art of Going Backwards

ay_110912281-e1369678833423Did you know that the first Ford car had no reverse gear?

I know of a 95 year old who gave up using reverse on his car, as he had little flexibility to see what was happening behind. Fortunately, the local church that was his Sunday morning destination had a very large turning circle in front and other churchgoers knew when to look scarce.

A fly trying to escape from a room has a single-choice plan – throw yourself forward at the light. As a strategy it sucks – glass windows have been around for over 500 years; but it’s hard to fault the logic: “Why choose reverse when your goal is ahead of you!

Reversibility

Reversibility is a feature of Moshe Feldenkrais’s Feldenkrais Method, one of several 20th Century movements that connect mind and body. His method of teaching self-awareness through movement attributed great importance to the concept of reversibility. It basically meant the capacity to stop a movement at any point and then go in the opposite direction with a minimum of hesitation, and this was a key criterion for determining whether a particular movement was done well. Try it for yourself: slowly lower yourself onto a low sofa and change your mind just as you touch the cushion! Most people just collapse for the last few centimetres!

Feldenkrais was also a practitioner of the martial arts, and I discovered in my own pursuit of Aikido the importance of being sufficiently balanced to reverse a movement in an eye-blink when required. It’s a great feeling, to have charge of your body in this way.

All very good, but most of us, I suspect, think far more about the route forward towards our goals than about possible routes backwards.

And yet, there are advantages to going backwards …

A strange thing happens in yoga connected with reversibility: when I have reached the limit of my stretch in a particular direction, if I imagine slackening off the effort in that direction and coming away from my edge, my body sometimes goes easily beyond that limit in that same direction, even way beyond, when the feeling has been one of giving myself permission to give up altogether! Pushing forwards isn’t always the best strategy for moving forwards.

The story goes that the scientist Marie Curie found the answer to a problem she’d been tussling with for 3 years the night after she let go of it for good. It’s not unusual.

The idea of flexibility, including the ability to reverse at will, has been part of my thinking for quite some time. I mention reversibility only briefly in my latest book, The Art of Communication, but the concept is there in almost every page. Conversation is an impromptu activity. However much you plan what you’re going to say in advance, you’ll be very lucky if it goes that way. Conversation just isn’t like that; you have to be light on your feet, ready to twist in a different direction at any point in the dance. In fact, any real response is always a flexible one.

We all need a reverse gear. And particularly now, when the world is more than ever hunkering down into different camps, each reading only its own material, believing its own half-truths and relating to other groups only in dichotomous terms of us good, you bad; us right, you wrong (“I’m smart; you’re dumb. I’m big; you’re little. I’m right; you’re wrong.” as Matilda’s Dad famously said with similarly suspect erudition).

Pushing rigidly forward is always to miss a trick. When you get into an argument, it’s always useful to change the pace by agreeing with something, however tangential. It’ll certainly change the other person’s rhythm and give you the opportunity to throw something different into the mix. And if you’re relentlessly pushing yourself toward a goal of your own, it’s always helpful to take a day or a week off and turn to something quite different – trekking, cycling, exploring – it clears your head and frees you up again.

My flexibility challenge

My weekly yoga class has come round again. My flexibility challenge for today is to stand on one leg for a minute without holding on. (Try it: good for your bones quite apart from the experiment.) Then ask yourself, “What makes for success in this particular endeavour?” On trying it myself, I think it’s this:

  • infinite micro-adjustments
  • lack of self-consciousness
  • the spirit of fun or at least experiment (i.e. not trying too hard)
  • confidence
  • … and keeping your eyes open!

Well, there’s a “Thought for Life” for today?!

 

WHAT ELSE?

I’m excited about this!

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I’ll be one of the speakers for this TEDx event on 13 July  in Norwich – “Europe’s only Full Day TEDxED event”, as the organisers remind me!

Tickets apparently vanish very quickly, so buy yours in the next couple of days if you want to come!

You can meet several of the speakers tonight on Facebook Live- #tedxnorwiched – from 7.30 pm. See you there?

 

Spirit of Coaching

It’s a while since we held one of these beautiful events in London. Just to remind you, there is no charge, but you need to register.

Screenshot 2019-05-15 at 10.03.41

https://globalcooperationhouse.org/whatson-full/singleeevent/58528

More details here

 

Want to read an excerpt from The Art of Communication?

Here’s a short excerpt published in the online magazine, Minutehack  –https://minutehack.com/opinions/more-than-words-the-art-of-communication

 

The days are getting long; the sun’s shining as I write this :-)
Go well,

Judy

Leave the Door to the Unknown Ajar

My book’s out!

Screenshot 2019-02-10 at 14.44.47I was very excited last week to receive the first copies of my new book, The Art of Communication. It explores ways not only to build the skills to converse well but how to reach each other at a level where trust blossoms and new possibilities arise between you. The possibility of more fruitful connection and cooperation has deep implications, not only for success in our everyday encounters, but also for our planet in this century of change.

I do encourage you to buy a copy, and if you enjoy it as I very much hope you will, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d write a review on Amazon.

(Incidentally, I notice that for a short time, my previous book, The Art of Conversation, is considerably reduced.)

 

And heres my blog, “Leaving the Door to the Unknown Ajar”

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 16.38.35A car journey yesterday morning, listening to the radio, and by the time I arrived at the swimming pool two programmes had caught my attention.

The first was Jim Al Khalili interviewing neuroscientist Irene Tracey for The Life Scientific on the subject of pain. In her research she discovered that major factors in the severity of pain are brain related. Fear, anxiety, depression and anticipation of pain all increase the severity; distraction diminishes it. In one experiment Tracey and her team monitored the experience of pain (caused by chilli paste, being one of few legal ways to administer pain!) suffered by subjects while they lay in a scanner. A continuous intravenous dose of an opioid, highly effective at killing pain, was administered to the subjects. The experimenters then pretended to the subjects that they stopped the opioid while in fact continuing to administer it. At this point, the subject’s experience of pain rose sharply, even though the opioid hadn’t been stopped. So expectation overrode even the best pain relief on the market. Our brain can literally turn pain up and down, irrespective of the actual cause of pain.

I then listened to an interview between Alan Rusbridger, ex-editor of the Guardian, and Jonathan Aitken. Aitken is currently a prison chaplain, but back in 1999 he was a highflying cabinet minister who was accused of perjury (it was Alan Rusbridger and the Guardian who called him to account) and convicted in a high profile libel trial. On the day of his trial, he went from being served coffee in bed by his long-standing butler in his beautiful accommodation a stone’s throw from Parliament to spending his first night in a solitary cell in Belmarsh prison to the accompaniment of prisoners chanting about the arrival of a Member of Parliament and what they might do to him the following day. When asked about the positives of prison for him, Aitken replied that he had enjoyed the company of his fellow prisoners “and this was a surprise to me.” “In prison I made one or two real and lasting friendships.” He goes on to describe how his increasing understanding of the lives of others came as a revelation to him.

So two programmes, and in my mood this morning, they said the same thing to me, “Don’t think you know.” I could be certain about an experience of pain and Irene Tracey would prove to me that I was ignorant. Jonathan Aitken, together with many colleagues in the Conservative Party, might think he knew exactly how to deal with policing and prisons, but coming up close he was brought to realise that the whole business of how people come to end up in jail was far more complex than he had thought.

We don’t know. We never know. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio …” Or as a prominent scientist says, quoted in The Art of Communication:

“Nobel Prize winner, physicist Richard Feynman, considered one of the best scientific minds since Albert Einstein, confided in a BBC Horizon interview that he was content to live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. He thought it was more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong, and that it was important for scientists ‘to leave the door to the unknown ajar.’

Why on earth write this at a time when decisions are desperately called for in the Brexit saga? Yes, politicians need to make decisions, but all these violently-strong opinions have been doing us no good. It seems more important in today’s craziness to realise that we don’t know than to know that we know. Like most of the UK, I’m raging about Brexit, absolutely sure that my opinions – the opinions of my particular herd – are the right ones. The more I read, in the carefully filtered posts adapted so assiduously to my views that my social media channels so calculatingly give me, the more my rage builds with a sense of my tribe’s rightness.

But it’s false rage, manufactured by the crowd effect, mischievously stirred by news outlets and social media. If I know only because my crowd knows, what sort of certainty is that? Not knowing is not feeble. Not knowing doesn’t preclude decision and action. We do the research like Irene Tracey, we discover our blind spots like Jonathan Aitken. Above all, we open our minds and pay exquisite attention. We work with that. But it isn’t the witless stance of those who are blithely sure they know. In positions of power these are dangerous fools. It’s up to the rest of us to call them accurately to account, while at the same time leaving the door to the unknown ajar. It leaves sanity in the room.

Just found a nice quote in Osho’s book, Intelligence:

Intelligence is just an openness of being – capacity to see without prejudice, capacity to listen without interference, capacity to be with things without any a priori ideas about them – that’s what intelligence is. Intelligence is an openness of being.

Keeping the door of the mind ajar … whatever our responsibilities. Does any of this apply to the current situation, business and families and relationships and you and me? Maybe it just does. J

Go well,
Judy

More news

The psychotherapist Juliet Grayson is a finalist in The People’s Prize for her book, Landscapes of the Heart: the Working World of a Sex and Relationship Therapist. Her work is always interesting and valuable. You can vote for her here.

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10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
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Understanding NLP
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And for voice coaching – it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Learning and Unlearning

Paintings

 

People have started asking me what my new book The Art of Communication is about, and I flounder: “Well, whatever my last book The Art of Conversation was about, this one’s about … not that.”

Great. That’s clear then. It’s about what your last book isn’t about. Have I got that right?

Uhh, yes. The last book was about how to become better at conversation. This one’s about the next stage after that. The only thing is that the next stage reverses almost everything you learned before, which can feel counter-intuitive at times. For instance:

At first, you learn how to be able to keep up a flow of conversation. Later, you learn that communication is often about keeping silent and just listening, even sometimes through an awkward pause.

At first, you learn how to focus on what’s being said. Later, you learn how to focus on what’s not being said.

At first you pick up new tools that are effective and satisfying. Later, techniques fall away and you just are, transparent you – which is a much more vulnerable place to be.

At first, you learn that body movement and tone of voice make a big difference. Later, you learn that the most important signs and sources of connection are invisible.

At first, you delight in building your confidence and knowing what you are doing. Later, you find out that communication is also about knowing nothing at all.

Counter-intuitive perhaps, but that’s the wonder of it. It shows you how to breathe life into your relationships and produce powerful new thinking. You may even find that new insights, ideas and creative thoughts emerge from your daily conversations.

From Do to Be (doo bee doo bee)

Moreover, this counter-intuitive reversal applies to more than communication. Let’s say you become very good at something – it might be mathematics, medicine, playing the violin, archery or motorcycle maintenance. Then, when you have mastered everything you can, if you are blessed you break through to the next lever, which is something new – an intuition, a “feel for” – where knowledge and ability are no longer primary.

At this point, it becomes difficult to give expression to what has changed. Ask a true expert in anything how they achieve what they achieve, and they’ll struggle to explain beyond the basics. “I don’t know, I just know…” (a nice phrase in itself). Or they explain in riddles: “I just become my instrument.” “The answer reveals itself.”

Often a child has a natural instinct for some activity, and seems to achieve what a master could work a lifetime to achieve. In art for instance, how confusing it is for adults when a child paints a picture that is mistaken for a great master by experts! But that is the journey. We start with a natural instinct; then we lose the instinct as we learn more, and spend the rest of our lives learning how to recapture “the first fine careless rapture” within the wisdom of experience.

Innocence and experience

I mention in my book how struck I was by a short film of the artist Henri Matisse in old age, too frail to paint, cutting shapes to make his famous collages – scissors in one hand, painted paper held precariously mid-air in the other. Regarding his collage work, he wrote that your instinct needs to be kept fresh like a child, but with all the wealth of your experience behind you.

Finally, after a lifetime of learning, we arrive back at the same place we were at as a child but – as described by T S Eliot – now we know what we are doing. The Master and the child both achieve “the first fine careless rapture”, but the Master knows how it is done.

It is true that the odd child’s painting has deceived art experts. But when a controlled experiment was set up pitting the work of established artists against that of preschool children (as well as elephants, chimps etc.), a majority of people could tell the difference between the art of the child and the art of the recognised artist. (One comparison is pictured above.) They might struggle to explain in detail why they rated the artist’s painting higher, but they found a greater sense of intention or purpose in it.

Is any of this relevant for leadership?

Here are three thoughts:

  1. Don’t assume the spontaneous ease of good leadership is easy (music, art, communication and relationship likewise). Flow and sure instinct emerge from much experience.
  2. Until you reach true mastery, the best decisions can sometimes feel counter-intuitive. Always look beyond your first assessment of a situation to the bigger picture with its multiple threads leading backwards and forwards. (Topical tip: if you want to be a leader of nations, at the very least learn to play chess or Go – i.e. study systems).
  3. Don’t be always “out there”. Allow space for silence and not knowing. Find frequent times to come back in stillness to yourself.

By the way, the phrase “first fine careless rapture” comes from Robert Browning’s Home Thoughts From Abroad, and his “wise thrush” knows how it’s done. 

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

A quote to herald the spring …

Go well,

Judy

The Art of Communication

is available for pre-order here. To be released in the next few days – can’t wait!

Coaching

In coaching you find a vital thinking space where you come back to yourself. A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Ease in Public Speaking

As a first step, download my E-course, 10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

The Surrey Earthquake

My colleague Neil Scotton wrote a powerful piece the night of our local earth tremor a couple of weeks ago. Find it here.