Positive Thinking

Upgrading "Role Model"

The term role model is lacking.  It fails to convey its own potency… it sounds passive, belying its real nature. It fails to convey its scope… as if there is a limited number of things one could role model. It comes with a sense of burden: if you are a role model today but not tomorrow, then you may get accused of being hypocritical. It feels stuffy… are you eager and excited to be a role model?
Our attitudes and behaviors are not unlike a virus… they are infectious– and not just the desirable behaviors. When people around you clam up, you tend to clam up. When people around you are gregarious, you tend to do the same. When someone is vulnerable with you, you feel safe to open up too. When someone is argumentative with you, it is tough to not be argumentative back.
With this truism in mind, we can turn it in to a game: we become the change we want to see in others, and watch it spread.
To continue on the virus analogy, our undesirable behaviors are a dis-ease… they keep us from our natural state and separate us from others. Imagine that dis-ease forming a membrane around us. The solvent for that membrane is found in its opposite. That is why we feel ‘disarmed’ by the friendliness of others.
If our behaviors are infectious then we are carriers; infecting those around us, who may behave in kind. Armed with this knowledge we can make a difference in a situation where we would like to see someone else change their posture.
Here are some examples to try out:
Is someone being defensive? be vulnerable with them.
Is someone avoiding you? engage them.
Is someone pussy footing? be direct.
I’m not saying these approaches are easy, but I am saying that they are things you can do in a situation you may feel you have no control over.
I haven’t figured out a replacement for the term role model, but making a game of “viral behaviors” has advantages. It recognizes the power of even our smallest gestures. It says we are always “modelling” behaviors, even the bad ones, so its our choice in any moment what we want to model. As a game, it is playful, not stuffy. It acknowledges that the game doesn’t stop… when we remember it is a game we can choose to be the carrier; when we forget, we are easily infected. It doesn’t label us as a hypocrite when we don’t take on the behaviors we want to see in others, rather it shows that we let ourselves be infected by someone else; once we recognize that we have the choice to recommit to the game or be defeated by it.

Positive Thinking

Quote Of the Day

Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill

Positive Thinking

Everything is a Message for You

An anthropology professor told me that in some cultures people like to play a game called “what if everything is a message for you”. It’s a great game because it promotes regular reflection and introspection, always a healthy thing to do. I also like it because when seen in this way, it is irrelevant whether divine forces really are trying to talk to us or not; it’s just a healthy habit to adopt.
Relevant here is the reticular activating system: the part of the brain whose job it is to distinguish relevant input from the mass of sensory data that we receive constantly. It’s the part of the brain that sees Volkswagen Jettas everywhere immediately after you purchase one, or wakes mom up from the slightest whimper of her infant two rooms over while otherwise sleeping soundly in an urban environment. The reticular activating system naturally likes to play this game and makes you excellent at it (though it’s not as good at sniffing out metaphors). Let me get you started with examples:

  • Toilet clogged? Where are you having trouble eliminating shit from your life?
  • Joint problems? Where are you inflexible?
  • Throat trouble? How are you at speaking up for yourself?
Whenever I play this game I always seem to find a pertinent message, and it always seems to be exactly what I’m dealing with that day… and I get a kick out of the spookiness out of it!
Positive Thinking

What Makes You Think This Is Not A Good Thing?

There is a Taoist tale from the Lieh-Tzu about a man who loses and gains different things.

Among the people who lived close to the border, there was a man who led a righteous life. Without reason, his horse escaped, and fled into barbarian territory. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said : “what makes you think this is not a good thing?”
Several months later, his horse returned, accompanied by a superb barbarian stallion. Everyone congratulated him. But the old man said: “what makes you think this is cannot be a bad thing?”
The family was richer from a good horse, his son enjoyed riding it. He fell and broke his hip. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said: “what makes you think this is not a good thing!”
One year later, a large party of barbarians entered the border. All the valid men drew their bows and went to battle. From the people living around the border, nine out of ten died. But just because he was lame, the old man and his son were both spared.

from The Book of Lieh-tzu: A Classic of Tao, translated by Angus C. Graham, New York: Columbia University Press (1960, revised 1990)

Positive Thinking

Are You Going to Catch That Ball?

You are at baseball practice. Coach is at the plate with the bat and ball and he’s pointing at you. “Pouliot! I’m going to hit this ball to you, are you going to catch it?” The sun is bright and high between you and coach. Horseflies are biting you. It’s a hot day and you can tell you’re not on your best game. What’s your answer?
Of course, the answer is always “Yes!”. You would never shout back, “I do not know what the future will bring Coach, I cannot commit to this!” Coach is not asking you to predict the future; he is looking to you for your commitment.
Life is the same. If you make an agreement with someone, their inquiry to see where you stand isn’t about asking you to predict future; if there is a real obstacle and you need to adjust your commitment, let them know. But don’t hem and haw about unknowns that may get in the way of your agreement. Yes, the future is uncertain, but don’t let that diminish your resolve— answer “yes”.