the silent

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


The darkside of reciprocity

When I first got into the networking game and tried to define what I was doing and why--I was drawn to the research on reciprocity. That reciprocity and mutual obligation are the most powerful sources of influence in the world. I was very influenced by Robert Cialdini's body of work, his lectures and my conversations with him.

The idea that networking and later mentoring revolved around creating mutual obligation. In fact I used to tell a long and very popular story about how we do favors for others--favors we don't want to do, but we don't know how to say "no".  When you are thanked for a favor you did not want to do, I counseled people to say, "I know you would do the same for me." And like you did the favor against your better instincts, the person who received your generosity will unwittingly say how they "owe" you. This gimmick "proved" our inner desire to help one another. That's what I thought and that's what I taught.

Expectations are the ruination of the individual.  Tomi D. Kobara

Iou

What I have learned since is that auto-reciprocity syndrome (I made this up), the robotic, sub-conscious process of responding to one another and owing one another is not a reflection of our true selves. 

The idea of expecting a return for our generosity is the darkside of reciprocity. That giving that is conditional, is really not giving. Once you plant the seed of obligation, the main growth comes through your selfishness. 

This conclusion generates all sorts of questions:

  • Giving for the tax deduction?
  • Giving for recognition?
  • Giving for personal gain?
  • Giving to create obligation?

Not saying that these forms of gifts are not good or needed. I think we would all admit that unconditional giving is different. Is any giving unconditional?

Yes! I have seen it. People who give freely and quickly. You have witnessed it too. Now do these people give to feel good and to feel good about themselves--isn't that a selfish need?

I am not counting this as reciprocity.

I love Steven Levine's distinctions about three types of giving. 

  • Beggarly Giving:  When we give with only one hand, still holding onto what we give.  In this kind of giving we give the least of what we have and afterward wonder whether we should have given at all.
  • Friendly Giving:  When we give openhandedly.  We take what we have and share it, because it seems appropriate.  It's a clear giving.
  • Kingly Giving: That's when we give the best of what we have, even if none remains for ourself.  We give the best we have instinctively with graciousness.  We think of ourselves only as temporary caretakers of whatever has been provided, as owning nothing.  

Are you a beggarly, friendly or kingly networker?

I mentally and intellectually made this shift from reciprocity in my giving awhile ago. I truly try to give unconditionally especially in my networking and mentoring. I have found it is so much less complicated when you don't keep score. Give first, give often, give without expectation. That is my goal.

Like everything in life the more often you do it the easier it becomes. 

Some people say give first and then get. I am going much further here. Just Give. Give because it reflects who we are and what we want to be. Give because it makes us feel good. Give anonymously. Give because we care. 

So in networking and mentoring, you give time, connections, and knowledge unconditionally. Generosity

I know I am not the only one who is thinking this way. I know that each of you is giving a lot of yourselves. And I truly appreciate how generous you are with your time and your resources. I am writing this as a confession about what I have learned about networking and mentoring over these decades. I am writing to remind me and anyone else that the greatest ROI is to the preservation of your authentic self. Becoming a "kingly" giver and networker is our goal.

People who view life as a zero sum game, they believe that every gift must be replaced. That every commitment generates a commitment. This is pure reciprocity.

Generosity is unlimited. You always have something to give. You have more to give.

I have had the great pleasure to hear Muhammad Yunus speak and he reminds me of this goal. He speaks in absolutes and I think purely about what we need to do as fellow human beings. His mission in life is "When poverty is in the museum". I love the vision of visiting a museum in the future with a comprehensive display on poverty! But he also talks about social business. Business that has no profit and gives its returns to the community and the customers. He was asked why a business that limits its profits would not qualify as a social business. He said, "When you get 1% in profits, it is human nature to try and make it 2%. Not having profits you focus 100% on the business of helping people." 

Likewise, when you think about what you get first or what you are owed, you put yourself before the gift. It compromises your generosity, your networking and your mentoring. 

How can we all give more freely because we are merely temporary custodians of possessions, connections and knowledge?

Life is not about trades and transactions. Not about IOUs. I have traded reciprocity for generosity.

Life is about being the best you can be and helping others be the same.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Standing for the silent

If we don't stand for something we will fall for anything. anonymous

It's interesting to consider for whom and for what we stand! I meet people who can't answer this question. But we ALL stand for others whether we like or know it. Our ancestors, our families, our heritage, our organizations. Our brands, our trajectories, our futures and our destinies are grounded in the histories and values of the past. All of us have silent partners, silent beneficiaries, silent supporters, and silent investors. But do we remember and represent them?

I was reminded of new and different silent groups who we benignly ignore or forget. People who we know about but don't understand. In our defense, there are just too many "less fortunate" and "victims", and "people in need." It overloads our capacity for emotions and empathy. And frankly, exceeds our guilt bandwidth.

I met the silent this week. People who literally can not speak and or advocate for themselves. People who need help or their memory triggers our human desire to help.

I visited an extraordinary special education school called College View Elementary. It is a comprehensive treatment program for 4 to 22 year olds who cope with and live through serious physical and mental challenges. When we think of special education, we might think about a student with learning disabilities, possibly autism, or a physical impairment who are being mainstreamed. The vast majority of these students can not communicate verbally and most will never be mainstreamed. They were and are silent, and very much alive. Young people trapped in a bodies and minds that restricts their ability to express themselves. The parents of these students, the staff of the school, and their community of friends have to stand for the silent everyday.

Then I met a couple of orphans from the Japanese tsunami. 2000 children and young people lost at least one parent on 3.11.11. One of the young people described his new commitment to become a search and rescue team member to help find people in the sea that took his dad. He will be standing for the silent.

Lastly, I went to an inner city elementary school and saw a presentation made by Kyle Smalley. It was one of the most powerful presentations I have ever seen. It began with 7 students standing behind enlarged photos of 7 smiling youth. Each student read a brief story of bullying where the young person in the photo was driven to suicide. Kyle then mesmerized and engaged the several hundred 8-12 year-olds in the audience with his authenticity and his folksy style. He told the heart breaking story about his 11 year old son Ty, who was bullied for two years. Ty could not take it anymore and retaliated and was suspended from school. His mother Laura took Ty home that day and Ty tragically took his life that afternoon.

With the help of friends they formed Stand for the Silent. Kyle and Laura have devoted their lives to Stand for the Silent in memory of their son Ty and to make sure that "no other babies suffer Ty's fate." Stand for the Silent aims to help us respect one another, to love one another, and to stand up and make a difference for those that have been silenced.

A new documentary film which comes out later this month, Bully, features the Smalleys and their work. SFTS PledgeSee it! It will move you to act and to act differently.

All of us stand for the silent, either wittingly or unwittingly. The "silent" are the vulnerable  without voices to advocate for themselves. The silent are those we have lost who inspire our work and our dreams. The silent are those we represent on a daily basis in the values we embrace and the good we attempt to do. If we don't stand for them, who does?

All that is needed for the forces of evil to succeed is for enough good people to remain silent. (inspired by Edmund Burke)

Standing for the silent also means we can not remain silent. We tolerate too much bigotry, prejudice, hazing, hatred, bullying and mean-spiritedness. Not talking about political correctness. Nobody means to hurt another, except the socio-pathic. But we each see, hear and witness things that need to be stopped--where a teaching moment can possibly save a life. We can not remain silent if we are going to live our values. Easy to say, but necessary to assert.

What silence will we break to advocate for another?

Which silent will we stand for?

Let's all take the pledge to help one another. To keep the silent populations who need us in our hearts, our minds and in our daily work. To stand and speak for the silent.

Thanks for reading. John