compassion

Uncomfortable Comfort

Words mean a lot to me. Perhaps more as I age. I value the meaning of the words we choose and use. People who know me well understand that certain words set me off. My bans on "busy", "when I retire...", "stability" are well documented. 

I push myself, and others who will listen, to "play out of bounds" and to not compromise our dreams. Why are we not pursuing what is most important to us? What obstacles prevent us to live the life we want? Am I where I am supposed to be? Are our networks diverse or a bunch of people who are clones --eating, voting, entertaining, agreeing, liking, the same stuff? 

My goal is to disrupt the mindlessness of our lives. Where we accept and tolerate what we have and don't want. 

I was conducting a session with graduate students about career transitions and got this question: "How long should I be uncomfortable?" It was a great question. Because it was honest. It was a vulnerable question. It was a question about the searching and certainty. After all when you are grad school procrastinating your future :), you think a lot about the land of career clarity. If we are contemplating change in our lives, if we are paying attention to the world around us, we all are trying to get to this mystical land of clarity.

When we are open to what we don't know, when we are open to opportunities that we had not considered, when we become vulnerable to questions and conversations that change us----we get uncomfortable.

Get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-7

Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable. F. Peter Dunne

Perhaps my theme song! And definitely my favorite quote.

In other words, I am not where I want to be. I am not sure where I am going. I feel stuck or I crave more certainty about my path. I want more meaning, fulfillment and a greater sense of purpose. I need an answer to give me comfort.

So here's my answer:

You should never be comfortable. Never.

In terms of life and career development.

Yes, we should smell the roses, appreciate our milestones and yes let's have gratitude.

But before we get too caught up in our greatness, drunk with our achievements, and light headed with thankfulness--let's consider the infinite challenge of serving others. Let's pause and consider our ambitions for our families and ourselves. Let's truly understand that we are not satisfied with our inner or outer lives. So stability is a joke. Certainty is a unicorn.

How do you continuously pursue your own growth and that means your ability to help others?

You can join the growing NIMBY family or what I call the OIMBY tribe (Only In My Backyard)--where you take care of your immediate family and everyone else is on their own.

We have to be uncomfortable with our comfort.

We now face the danger, which in the past has been the most destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers. 

John Steinbeck 

The status quo sucks! Am I right? The world is not quite right. We are still filling out the breadth of our potential. Our families are a work in progress. Our communities are in great need. The world is at the brink of challenge and change.

When we stop and think about what we can do, what we have to advance our lives and the lives of others, and consider the obscene abundance in which we reside----We can get uncomfortable. :)

Once you accept that our work is infinite. That our role is to advance the work and give the next gen a chance to continue the work. That can give you a modicum of comfort. But then you realize, as I do everyday, life is short. We don't know when our ticket will be punched. So what will I do today?

Don't misunderstand me. Lack of comfort is not lack of peace. Inner peace comes with understanding one's role and opportunity. Inner peace comes with serving others. True peace is the product of an altruistic life of compassion. And compassion literally means to suffer with others. So we come full circle to an uncomfortable peace. 

Our truth stands in the doorways in front of us, doorways that excite, invite, and frighten us.

Have I afflicted you?

Here's to your uncomfortable peace. Thanks for reading. John

 

A poem I wrote inspired by these thoughts:

Comfortable Conversation
Comfortable?
Very
Too comfortable?
Perhaps
Why do you ask?
Comfort is nice
When
When is the right time to talk?
To talk
About what I want
Now
Is this the right time?
Time
Time is the enemy
Got plenty of that
What
What does this mean?
Life is defined
By indecision
I know
I know what I want
But
Do I want what I know?
How
How do I get there?
Where
Where I am going?
This never ends
With a decision
Do nothing
Why
Why am I here?
Need time to talk about this
Need
That's what I am doing
Again

Numb and Number

Probably my age and stage in life but I am getting more sensitive (that's very funny John). No seriously I cry at TV ads and even the mention of tear jerking stories. I am sure I am going through some type of hormonal change (no jokes please). But I know I am much more aware of the preciousness and speed of life and my awareness about the world around me has been heightened. I see, hear, feel, and understand more--at least I think so. 

Vulnerability is a word I encounter and use more often. It applies to so much of what I do and what I am thinking about. 

vul·ner·a·ble         ˈvəln(ə)rəb(ə)l/
adjective
susceptible to physical or emotional harm.

synonyms: helpless, defenseless, powerless, impotent, weak, susceptible

person(s) in need of special care, support, or protection because of age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect. Broken heart

We are all vulnerable. There are the truly vulnerable--those who have little or no support systems or safety nets. People who have extraordinary suffering daily. And there is the condition of connecting with the real feelings we have with the suffering around us.There are the vulnerable who need our help. And yet we all need to become more vulnerable--to be more susceptible to our feelings empathy and compassion. Vulnerable are people who are endangered and need help to advance their lives. Vulnerable is also a state of mind and heart that enable us to help the vulnerable.

Still with me? 

A lot of guilty people, including me, start sentences with "It breaks my heart that......." We need to break our hearts---break them open to the truth and realities of what we want, who we are, and what we are doing about it.

Our capacity for wholehearted living can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted.  Brene Brown

From Parker Palmer's book the Healing the Heart of Democracy:

“Heart” comes from the Latin cor and points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all of our ways of knowing converge—intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and bodily, among others. The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human. Cor is also the Latin root from which we get the word courage. When all that we understand of self and world comes together in the center place called the heart, we are more likely to find the courage to act humanely on what we know."
 
We are all numb and number. We suffer from an overdose of need. So we shut down our feelings to protect ourselves--or so we think. We use our devices, vices, and bad habits to distract us from reality. We objectify people in need and compartmentalize our feelings to keep moving on. As vulnerability grows around us, our ability to be vulnerable shrinks. We build thicker castle walls and deeper moats to protect us from these emotions. There is an internal war of trying to feel and trying not to feel too much. Numbness is winning.

My favorite quote:

Comfort the afflicted (the vulnerable) and afflict the comfortable (to make us vulnerable). --HL Mencken  I added the parenthetical comments to show this dichotomy of vulnerability.

You still with me? 

How do we help those in  need  and our own need to help? 

We all hesitate to say and do what we think--the things we know are right. We try to suppress our feelings, or hope that the moment will pass. We pretend that the moment and feelings do not matter. We regret those lost moments.

Brene Brown has done groundbreaking research on this latter vulnerability. Her Ted talk is one of the most viewed ever. She found that vulnerability is the source of great insights and development and ultimately a chance to be courageous and say and do things we want to do. 

Excerpt from Brene Brown: I cannot find a single example of courage, moral courage, spiritual courage, leadership courage, relational courage, I cannot find a single example of courage in my research that was not born completely of vulnerability. And so I think we buy into some mythology about vulnerability being weakness and being gullibility and being frailty because it gives us permission not to do it.

Please listen to this interview of Brene Brown conducted by the inimitable Krista Tippett. If you are slightly open to becoming more vulnerable this will open your mind and your heart.

We share everything but not what we really think and feel. We conform to the crowd not because we agree with them.

My boss calls it phony nice. But it is more than being honest with one another. It is being honest with oneself.

The present offers so many moments to engage our compassion, empathy, and energy for life. But we squander them.  I am trying to change before it is too late. 

Awareness is step one.

Force yourself to follow your heart to learn the realities of the vulnerable and become vulnerable. Push yourself into the worlds of suffering you care about. Surrender to the feelings and let them inform you and what you do. 

Not talking about serving soup at the midnight mission--although that would not hurt. I am talking about diving into the needs of your network and listen-- before you try to fix things!

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle--a battle you know little about. attributed to Philo

What are other people's battles? Seek them out to understand and help.

What are your battles? What are you numb about? What is your heart saying? Help yourself.

Until we understand our battles we can not connect or mentor. We can not help one another. 

Compassion literally means to suffer with others. We cannot have compassion.

Becoming more vulnerable enables us to help the vulnerable. Every person has a battle. Every person has dreams. Every person wants to have an open heart and the courage to act on their true goodness.

In my greyness I am coming to realize that Brene Brown and Parker Palmer are right. Pursue vulnerability by becoming more vulnerable. Struggle over real things and real feelings is a battle, a battle worth fighting, battles we must try to win over numbness.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Accidental Racism

I am a racist. You are a racist. We are all racists.

We all harbor covert thoughts about people, communities, religions, and disabilities.

  • So you are following a Hummer with a Scientology bumper sticker
  • Or a car full of dark complected youth who have a woofer which is vibrating your dental work
  • Men with turbans are boarding your plane
  • Or you see a gay couple publicly expressing their affections

Yeah, whatever pushes your buttons—you think bad thoughts—admit it!

You would never say anything, but “those people  should_________!” Apples and oranges

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner but the moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. Excerpts from MLK’s Birmingham Jail Letter

Please do not be one of those people who say they are colorblind. That all people are equal in your eyes. Even if that were true, your blindness would mean you do not care about difference. And difference is everything.

Our greatest vulnerability is that we do not see our fates tied to others. That we believe that our comfort, safety and success can be achieved independently from other people different from us and our families.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

The brutal truth is we have minimized our direct experiences with difference. Economic diversity in our lives is from the news. We have little tolerance for difference. The last time we had truly diverse friends was in college.

The consequences of these subtle, multiplied, and layered decisions are the increasing inability to relate to the world outside of our bubbles. Our networks are sanitized, pasteurized and free of “unwanted” elements. 

We struggle with relating to the I Can’t Breathe campaigns, Immigration Reform, Muslim hate crimes, Minimum wage protests…... 

We don't discriminate.

We are not prejudiced.

We care about all of our fellow human beings.

We have lost touch with reality.

We are accidental racists.

There are so many studies that show how prevalent our discriminatory inclinations are. 

Step one is to own our racism.

Now before you launch into your well-rehearsed denial speeches, listen to yourself and look around yourself. “Some of your best friends…..Really! Now why is it that your church, your kids’ schools, your place of employment, your golf club, your circle of friends do not reflect the communities we live in?

Admit it we have not done enough.

Our kids grow up in segregation and despite our best intentions they become accidental racists.

Susan Fiske’s extensive research at Princeton shows that as income rises we see poor people as objects and not as humans—mostly because they are a foreign and unknown population.

We watch as the world turns on Muslims again. -Treating a giant diverse population as a monolithic group. A group we do not know. Racism at its best.

Conjures up Nazi Germany or WWII with the internment of Japanese Americans…

This has been going on for a long time--too long.

In 1946 (Martin Luther King Jr. was about 17 and 18 years before Civil Rights), Albert Einstein was frustrated and angry and gave a speech at Lincoln University called, The Negro Question-- Here are some excerpts:

Many a sincere person will answer: "Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability."

The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.

Sadly, these words ring true today. And “Negroes” could be replaced with many communities which combat our racism today.

It is well established that diversity is not a nice to have but a necessity to compete, survive, and evolve. Mother Nature knows this well! Investment portfolios require it. The American Medical Association studies prove that life expectancy is extended as much as 9 years for those that cultivate diverse social networks. But to attain and then maintain diversity professionally and socially takes courage, work, and vigilance.

Evaluate your network. Not talking just about ethnicity, but religious, economic, ability, sexual preference diversity. How will you reach out and build a diverse network?

What example by word and deed are we setting, for our children?

If the tables you sit at just look like you, I do not care how smart, witty you are, it is limited table of opportunities. 

So what are you going to do honor the legacy of Dr. King? More important, what are you going to do to make sure your kids and all of our kids don’t end up to be racists like us?

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Einstein

 Thanks for reading. John

 


The Habit of Gratitude

As we gather with friends and family to give thanks for what we have and for those we are not with, I wanted to express my gratitude to you.

Sharing my thoughts here has made me a better person. I see things, read things, and most important--do things differently.

Thank you for energizing me, for inspiring me, for pushing me to be who I want to be. For helping me appreciate what I have and what I can do with what I have.

Let's all re-commit ourselves to feel and express our gratitude everyday--make it a habit.

And then filled with that gratitude we can help others who need us and have so much less than us.

Thank you for giving me the courage to pursue the habit of gratitude. 

Happy Giving of Thanks and for reading. John

I participated in a worldwide 21 day Gratitude Challenge and this video was produced by several of the volunteer participants. Enjoy!

Written and produced by Nimo Patel and Daniel Nahmod.

Video from KarmaTube


Applying Your Passion to College and to Life

I was with a donor at a Hollywood eaterie. We both ordered ice teas. The waitress asked if we wanted regular or passion. I said regular and my guest ordered passion. The teas came and neither of the teas were passion. We called over our beautiful wannabe actress to correct her inadvertent mistake. The donor said, "Hey I ordered the passion ice tea and got regular." She leaned in close to him without missing a beat and said, "Didn't I serve it with passion?!" He reflexively said, "You did!" Glasses-of-iced-tea

Is our tea of life supposed to have passion it? Do we have to order it or make it ourselves? Or do we merely have to serve it with passion? 

I am pretty obsessed with living life with passion and helping others find their passions. To be perfectly honest, I help myself by helping others. Other people's passions get me psyched to be more diligent about my own. I use other people's passions to add to my passion river. Kind of a passion junkie. I must confess, I am trying to inspire and motivate yours truly. I have  learned that successful networking, mentoring, and careers are based on this principle of engaging  others' passions and defining my own.

This was a big week for the topic of passion: 

  • I gave a short speech on passion for my colleagues at a national conference of community foundations to add a little kindling to their belly fires. 
  • I led a  session for a giving circle to re-energize their collective passion around community needs and their personal definitions of meaningful giving. 
  • Lastly, I appeared on a friend's local radio show to discuss how the true passions of the students applying for college admission make a difference.

You don't need to be applying for college to articulate your passions. We all have a constellation of passions within us that we nurture and ignore. That we pursue and neglect. True passion involves others and the needs of others. It starts with the pain of our lack of personal fulfillment, the suffering of others we care about, and the the unmet needs of people we may never know. It can come as easily from disappointment or from total engagement. It is the basis of your emotional connection to what you do and WHY you do it. 

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. Mark Twain 

You can discover it and have an aha moment. Or it can sneak up on you and scare you into understanding yourself.

Always taken by my mother's story of the moment she knew painting would define her life. She was 49 with 4 kids under the age of 10 she decided to take a sumi-e Japanese brush stroke painting lesson. She lifted the brush with fresh black ink on it and struck the canvas and she was transformed in that moment. She remembers it like it was yesterday, "I said to myself, "Where have you been?" She found herself and has been painting ever since. Her ability to express herself through oil paints changed her and everything around her. It centered her. Gave her energy and vitality. She had a purpose like no other. 

Sumi eWhen you share or when others share their passions it shines out of the eyes, the body language and the voice. We exude an extra energy when we connect with passion. It is when we present our best selves. You have to help others recognize this when they do it!

It is when work and play blur. When Mondays and Fridays are exactly the same.

I try to find and associate with very competent people who are also passionate about their lives. You have to have both! Because competence in the absence of passion is not only boring but is limited to mediocrity. And passion without competence is shrill and a waste of time. I look for both in every hire I make, every board I join, every job I take, and every one of my relationships.

A job is never just a job. A life is never just a life. We can't be waiting for something better. Or to do it all when we retire. How will we leave our imprint?

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.  Jack London

Help your son or daughter see their inner strengths and talents before you tell them what their career will be. Explore with your friends why they aren't doing more of the things they say are important to them. Assist people who are nearing retirement age to explore their passions now. Make the pursuit of passions

This is the hardest work we can do--to help others and ourselves find passion. For there is no other work. We need people's passions to engage our total selves in our work and our lives. We need passion to innovate, to solve problems, and to wring out the potential in our world. 

There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. Nelson Mandela

Move passion up on your to-do list. Serve and live with passion!

Thanks for reading. John

 


Suffering Indifference

Total humility comes from when you have nothing. When you are without your status, your stuff, and your pretentions, you are reduced to the real you. Not just being devoid of your material things. But when you have lost your self-confidence, your self-esteem, your hope for the future.  I know I protect myself with many trappings, devices, and artificial comforts. Some of you have been there and know the truth about this basic suffering. I can only imagine this scenario—which means I know really nothing about it. Most of us are fortunate to live far from this level of humility. Far from the bottom or middle of Maslow’s. We take for granted what we have need and want. As a result,  our ability to be compassionate---literally--with suffering—disappears. We are numb to what separates us from the real and genuine feelings of others—especially those in need.

Like me, I am sure you appreciate the opportunities you have been given and the good fortune that has smiled on us. We all know that a few fine twists in our storyline and things would be much different.

It is a brutal world filled with heartbreaking images and ideas. We have to cloak ourselves in emotional Teflon so that we can function, right?

Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. - J.K. Rowling

So we become very adept at faking our emotions. We are skilled at pretending to care. Our compassion banks only can dispense so much otherwise we will be bankrupt. We have to use our emotional outlays sparingly—reserve it for the people close to us. Isn’t that right?

Some people say, "I know what you are going through?" “I can only imagine how you are feeling?" “I know what you mean.”

Not sure most people do. We mean well but we are not well meaning. We say these things in the transaction oriented speed of life. We do not have time to care. Few of us have the capacity to engage ourselves emotionally in every tragedy, every hardship, so we get very adroit at feigning sympathy, empathy, and compassion.

Zen Buddhist monks in training have a ritual called takahatsu. These young monks must beg for food on the street to learn their role, to understand who they are, and to learn humility.

So we build our defenses and protect ourselves. We even get uncomfortable when we and/or others show their emotions. We find it hard to look at people who are suffering. We avert our eyes when we see nameless homeless people. As if our eye contact will hurt us. We know in our hearts, that indifference will hurt us more. Blessings

I was struck by this blog by Optimus Outcast, an anonymous film exec who sat on a freeway onramp for a day—his takahatsu. Here is an excerpt from his observations:

Why is it so hard to make eye contact with someone in less fortunate circumstances? Why is it so scary just to look? We lock ourselves away in our fortresses with the openings sealed tight. A you-can-sleep-peacefully-at-night guarantee that the outer edges will be kept safely at bay. We will never be required to be uncomfortable. Our cars, our houses, our offices all offer these qualities. But, then if you think about, so does a coffin.

Maybe the scary part isn’t just to look. The scary part is to look and then look away.  A reminder that, in all of our professed capabilities, sometimes we are still helpless to change things. If we look away, is this our own cardboard sign that reads, “I have given up.”?

I am a born sucker. I take some pride that I have not lost all, but I have lost a lot, of my trust in strangers.  I give time and money to almost anyone. I have incredible and disastrous stories of my unsuccessful attempts to help others. I was regaling some colleagues about how I have been duped by panhandlers.  This resulted in a spirited discussion with a colleague who said, "There is no doubt what happens when you give a panhandler money. No doubt." She won't give panhandlers money because she is convinced that ALL panhandlers are addicts of some type. The money goes straight to drugs or alcohol.

I understand this logic. And I know that it is mostly true. But this logic becomes part of the thickness of our Teflon coating. We begin to make generalizations about “those people”. But don’t we need as much pathos as we do logos? I also believe that we cannot dismiss an entire group because of a theory, even a “factual theory”.  Because we are wrong too many times. I have seen and continue to seek out the people who have beat the odds. They renew my faith in the great potential of all people. The hundreds of death row inmates who have been exonerated through the Innocence Project. The countless kids from the ghetto who have succeeded in school and life. The online teacher I met who typed with her toes because she has no hands.

But how much effort should we expend to save the few? Remember the old story about saving the starfish? It does make a difference to the one.  StarfishBoy

Sometimes it is easier for us to give up on each other than a product. How many times has a product or service not lived up to the hype or advertising? I know. Yet we still buy. Maybe a bit more warily and carefully. But we buy.

How much of our humanity dies when we come to these conclusions that ALL of somebody is not good or able to be helped or have ulterior motives? 

We lose a little of ourselves every time we think and act this way.

We must have the ability to understand the suffering of both sides.  Thich Nhat Hanh

In my professional world of philanthropy, we talk about those who need our help. We rarely talk to those we want to help. It's crazy. Our ideas become so sterilized from reality. So intellectual. So safe from the truth. 

How do we renew our sense of reality by visiting the suffering we are trying to address or lessen? How do we truly get into the shoes of our colleagues, neighbors, brothers and sisters? How do we help our network by allowing ourselves to suffer with them---to have compassion? To listen, to learn and to love. To have the vulnerability and humility to know.

I write this not to preach but to confess. I write this not to inflict guilt but to remind. I write this to help me suffer with you.

Thanks for reading. John