Death and rebirth : know thyself

Remembering this guy and reflecting upon what we each rebuild

A family guy

I never grow tired of bringing one of these old photos out.

Peter Griffin doppelgänger

2010. All bought and paid for. Even the suit.

At 100kg, clients could be assured the full weight of the London market was in their corner

Good Friday

Acknowledging the significance of the day, I make serious commentary within the light-hearted tone offered here. Without the Christian faith I once had, this day of reflection upon sacrifice sits no less heavily for me.

This blog presents a brief revisit of where my journey was ten years ago, and upon the folly of some ideas I was generating back then. I hope these messages resonate with a few.

As I approach 50 years of age, my reflective mood is starting to take account of past milestones again. Much has changed since I was taking stock in the build up to my 40th birthday. That man, now ten years my junior, was undergoing redress of a different kind. One much more directed toward an imagined future, but steeped in fear of regret. This time around, reflecting again as 50 years approach, I feel reconnected to that last cycle of resetting a baseline, and also toward those resets yet to come. I am perhaps more psychologically informed this time around.

By the April of 2012 I had made decent progress toward a new goal. A snoring husband was a selfish husband. Whilst my wife was still teaching, her medical condition was our growing focus. Sleep for her was an increasingly premium commodity for health. My snoring therefore had to be stopped. I had been losing weight at a rate of about 1 kilogram per week since the turn of the year. By April 2012 that was really starting to show. New clothes to account for a waist that had diminished from 44 inches to 36. An interim wardrobe replaced the fat-boy clothes. They too were later replaced as more stored energy was being burnt away. By the end of May 2012, I had lost 25 kilograms ~ 4 stone ~ 55lb. Motivation is a curious thing.

That weight fell off via a daily routine of diet and an obsessional interest in rowing. Dropping to 75kg enabled me to classify into the lightweight category of a newly discovered indoor rowing scene. I had found a new talent. My old one was being able to drink more, sleep less, and still get more done than most. My new one was not so much a talent for competitive rowing, I am too short to really excel at that, but I could lose weight as easily as I could pile it on. Rowing also encouraged me to return to lifting reasonably heavy weights. I wanted to see how far I could go. Another boundary edge to find, another type of learning to occupy my mind. A new era had arrived for me – Warren: home of the gym bunny.

Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILs)

Losing weight vs finding self : confessions of a (c)aged MAMIL

Soon I was convincingly wearing rugby shirts again – much as I had in my twenties – and with much the same old belonging to a sport I never really played. My father’s sportier resolve secretly lives within me. A few genes that surface for a while but never for long. This time however, they sat central for much of the decade. I was soon aiming at goal after goal in ever more outlandish charitable endurance challenge. Outlandish because I think I needed to keep doing things others thought unpleasant or out of reach. For example, a marathon on a concept2-ergo is 42,195 meters, and my 3 hours 30 minute time was about average for my age. But how many would ever want to know if they could be that average? I rewarded my lightweight self with a mountain bike (MTB), a sport I did once know a thing or two about.

I was delighted to discover you can cycle from London to Brighton, “off-road”, over 75 glorious miles of riverside trails, forestry tracks, lung-busting South Downs hill climbs; and concluding with a suspension justifying long and dusty descent to sea level and the Brighton sea shore.

London to Eastbourne is more a cyclocross route than MTB, but I was pleased with finishing 3rd🥉 – a satisfying last minute decision to enter an event starting near to where I live.

I also jokingly claim to hold the record for the fastest Prudential London 100 on a “single gear and single pedal” bike. My one and only experience of this event was undertaken on the single speed commuter bike I bought and rode 40 miles daily, the year Southern Rail seemed permanently to be on strike.

One pedal one gear keep moving

The one gear was my choice, the single pedal however, was not my decision. It sheered off 20 miles into the Pru100 ride. The pedal cage was gracious enough to leave behind the spindle though. And I had remembered to pack my raw bloody-mindedness, so British Lung Foundation got to keep a few grand in generous sponsorship raised.

6 km for this photo plus the 100 km we were promised

As endurance events go however, the most brutal award goes to walking London to Brighton (60 miles or 100 km) – which took four cheery friends 27 blister-filled hours.

That was a blistering pace

MAMIL – Middle-aged man in limbo

Plenty of fond memories there. And plenty of achievement. There is much to be said for the self-confidence to do more and be more. The 100kg me needed to be tamed, and I do wonder what health issues I dodged thanks to my wife’s need of me to be healthier, plus the hubris I found new ways to feed. But, as I now know – there is no health, without mental health.

Hiding in plain sight

That story I do not need to revisit – you can find it here. But there is a bigger point I wish to make. Being in physical shape certainly offered me a new sense of Self, at least for a while. However, Carl Jung would perhaps agree that this is appeasement to persona, not Self. Given my mental health decline through this decade – despite this rebirth of a more physical, less hedonistic, but no less erudite interest – I look back on those many events as delusional, or at best a misplaced escape.

That is probably too harsh, and my pride is none diminished at what I achieved in this domain. There are no doubt many a MAMIL who will present compelling case of the boost to health that exercise offers us all. But my challenge back to you is to consider the manner of the escape. And what it is one is escaping from.

I have no doubt I will sit in a saddle again too. But for me these last ten years represent a gruelling part of a different type of endurance journey, one that more than physical belligerence alone could have ultimately pulled me through. The lesson learnt here is give time to all manner of health, not just that part to which you are seen to be well.

Truth and sacrifice

I recall an insightful discussion late into 2019. Maybe it was November, but even that late it was still before the Sars-Covid19 era was a thing. I was sharing weight loss tales with a dear acquaintance of old. He too had lost weight as his thirties became his forties. He too had still lost heart in what it was he was supposed to do. We both concluded the same thing – no one else really gives a damn how you look – not from the vantage point of being in a stable marriage, and living through middle age. Any interest in look or physical health is really just comparison, favourable or not.

As we both reflected upon his ultimate need to change his life by moving to the country; plus my candid and openly discussed latter-day attempts to not have to face life at all; we concluded that weight loss was worthwhile for personal health, persona or ego, but less relevant than finding your soul. We both smiled knowingly as our discussion landed upon that truth. Two atheists reflecting upon what is still core.

I smile again now recalling that discussion. A tiny bit wiser towards my truth. A little closer to my whole. A little more connected to my sense of purpose. Acknowledging ongoing need to strip away habits, beliefs, wants, and needs. Each of which no doubt served a purpose, but one by one they each just become the obstacle, or the location of the next hole.

Needing less, but being more. That’s the owned meaning of sacrifice. At least to me.

If I had my time again I’d {insert here}

Finding your project

Finding my project

visibility | behaviour | trust

It took me quite some mental rebuilding before I was able to look this question in the eye. Not a day goes by now that I am not reminded of my answer. My answer from asking the right version of myself. It has become my means of innate motivation, intention, direction, and goal. It is how I have defined my project.

For me this is the visibility I needed. To what I direct my behaviours. What gives me a regained trust in myself. From which I have built critical controls to both enable and protect my project goal. From which I now proceed, mindful of external influence, and internal need.

What does this question mean to you?

Projects | within projects

Qualification vs Experience PART 1

To own or apply knowledge

This is a LinkedIn favourite. Click-bait, guaranteed to provoke reaction. It is an ever-valid discussion to return to. In my consulting discussions the debate of demonstrating qualified staff or experience in role is equally divisive. But I have no doubt, experience counts.

PART 2 of this blog will perhaps revisit some past threads of discussion. For now however, I simply want to demonstrate what I think is really being asked. For me this is simply the difference between having and being.

I have blogged about having vs being before. Links will appear at the bottom of this post. Nothing here is new. Dave Snowden regularly speaks of people relying on form when it is process that counts. John Vervaeke runs regular YouTube dialogue presenting these differences as contributors to the meaning crisis.

From a knowledge perspective we can consider this as the difference between acquired and applied learning. In those terms it perhaps becomes self-evident what the difference between qualification and experience reflects. But I will elaborate for clarity.

This can be explained across the categories of visibility | behaviour | trust (v|b|t).

Qualifications v | b | t

visibility | b | t

High visibility. But only visibility of potential. Measurable as standardised evidence to demonstrate that a core knowledge has been achieved. Employers can advertise expectations in standardised language for all potential candidates to self-select against. It also presents benchmarks to aim toward. At the heart of the visibility is the question “is this particular example of human form able to contribute to our process?” In this regard the qualification presents an attribute – a speculative possibility.

v | behaviour | t

Them and us behaviour. This is having mode. Ownership. To have a degree certificate is to own a qualification. To be Associate or Fellow qualified in a professional capacity is to have achieved a demonstration of learning in your craft. This is to have. This is form. It is a material representation of attaining a learning from an institution. It is something that has been acquired. By the application of personal resources of time and money towards gaining something others have offered you as an exchange. The conclusion of which is a necessary demonstration that this acquisition has been successful. A confirmation is awarded based on a manner of pre-determined examination of your account or recall.

v | b | trust

Them and us, as credibility. Trust is inherently placed in the hands of a third-party. These are institutions of learning, academically or otherwise accredited. It thereby increases distance between candidate and employer; prospective service provider and customer. At scale this is organisational accreditation or licence to operate. But such certifications are also an enabler of the defensive decision-maker. Lowering the necessary skill-base of the assessor; reducing decision parameters; optimising short-lists. This trust is assumed. It is therefore fragile, rigid to the framework it reflects, standardised, and potentially subject to abuse.

Experience v | b | t

visibility | b | t

High visibility. Measurable in years, or reputation, or demonstrable by tangible success. Success measurable by metrics of application not acquisition.

v | behaviour | t

Applied know-how is able to be demonstrated. Learning whilst doing and understanding of contextual application in action and deeds. Contextually relevant is therefore more detailed in explanation and demonstration. It can command more respect simply because it is the being part of the process, not simply representing the potential to be.

v | b | trust

A closer approximation of fit to role is possible. It requires a greater ability to share a trust. A trust can be built based upon shared understanding of process. Abstraction by both parties (e.g. employer and employee) who can better empathise with the other, having better modelling in mind of what the process they share as intentions, requires of the other.

A practical example of having or owning knowledge vs applying it

I conclude with a further example of the limited visibility that owned knowledge represents. This is day 643 of lockdown in Casa Beardall. Undoubtedly now my most intense era of knowledge acquisition. One MSc completed, and another underway. Owned knowledge by qualification. But my owned knowledge is accumulating by another metric – by the volume of literature I have acquired. This last 12 months, the calendar year of 2021, I have spent over £1,000 on books. I have accounted for them all. They are listed in the table below. I can claim to have read them all. I do claim to have read most. But all you can seek as validation is visibility e.g., evidence that I physically own them.

Some of these books have been heavy reading. Some almost impenetrable (Kant or more recently Heidegger). Some of the books are just a guide to others. The point is who is to know if I have read them, let alone understood them. But even if I sit an exam to demonstrate an understanding of them, it has no reflection on whether I can apply them to anything meaningful to you or anything worldly at all.

A book seems to me the perfect metaphor as a simplification of this debate. Anyone can own a book. Have this knowledge to hand. It is a literal form of knowledge. But to apply knowledge is to not have it to hand. It is to have it abstractly available in mind. And thereby find means to apply it to something new.

In the zoom age these displays are everywhere. Bookshelves strategically located behind camera shots. Mine included. The academic class more guilty than most. Other than perhaps politicians.

We can display all, but in the end it is application that counts. And experience is the easiest representation of that.

I will conclude the crassness with the following table. Hubris on show.

Having or Being | Form or Process | Acquired or Applied?

A list of books purchased in 2021. A gratuitous display. That demonstrates more of my commitment to charities vs publishers, than it does to how the content may be applied.

£803.70Subtotal from Oxfam 
£36.84The goalamazon
£29.99Historical Sociology and World Historyo51****
£27.07What is ancient philosophy?amazon
£24.99Language and Social Relationso50****
£21.95Fool’s Goldamazon
£21.38Becoming humanamazon
£20.00Jungian psychoanalysis: Working in the Spirit of Carl Jungo38****
£20.00Conjectures and Refutations by Karl Poppero51****
£20.00William James and the transatlantic conversationo44****
£19.99Social Psychology — 8th Editiono65****
£19.99Psychology and Alchemyo38****
£19.99History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russello51****
£19.99what causes human behaviour – stars, selves or contingencies?o61****
£19.33Essays of Francis Baconamazon
£16.48Karl Jaspers : The origin and goal of historyamazon
£15.99Kants Critique of Practical Reasono46****
£15.00Representing and Interveningo51****
£15.00Short History Of The Communist Party Of The Soviet Uniono44****
£15.00ETHIC of Benedict de Spinoza: Demonstrated in Geometrical Ordero44****
£14.99Principles of Brain Dynamics Global State Interactionso38****
£14.99Summa Theologica – Volume 17: Psychology of Human Actso33****
£14.99Existentialism and Humanismo33****
£14.99Leibniz: Nature and Freedomo51****
£14.99The Psychology of Politicso61****
£14.99The human use of human beingso61****
£14.99The Philosophy of David Humeo45****
£14.99The Freud Jung Letterso50****
£14.99Kant’s Critique of pure reason; translated by Norman Kemp Smitho45****
£14.99Will Hutton – Them and Us – Signed First Editiono44****
£14.99Newman on the Psychology of Faith in the Individual [1928]o44****
£14.99An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Second Editiono44****
£14.99Joseph Campell’s selected letters 1927-1987amazon
£14.50Josepeh Campbell’s hero with a thousand facesamazon
£14.02Joseph Campbell’s pathways to blissamazon
£13.99Being and timeo44****
£13.66Your Leadership Legacy : becoming the leader you were meant to beamazon
£13.62Tales from two sides of the brainamazon
£12.99Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambitiono46****
£12.991177 BCE : the year civisation collapsedamazon
£12.95Explaining the Braino44****
£12.15Bandit Capitalism : Carillionamazon
£12.00Complex/Archetype/Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jungo33****
£11.99Imitatio Christio46****
£11.98The goal of philosophyamazon
£11.63The conciousness instinctamazon
£10.99Freedom and beliefo38****
£10.99The Essential James Hillman: A blue fireo44****
£10.00The Problems of Philosophyo33****
£10.00The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionismo51****
£10.00Statistics for psychologyo44****
£10.00Vygotsky’s Psychologyo44****
£9.99Analyzing Social Science Datao65****
£9.99Ego & Archetypeo38****
£9.99Coleridge’s Works – Aids to Reflection – published in 1890o51****
£8.99Buddhismwithout belief : a contemporary guide to awakeningamazon
£8.96Applying AI to Project Managementamazon
£8.75How the Project Management Office can use AI to imporve the bottom lineamazon
£8.44Gods in Everyman : a new psychology of man’s lives and lovesamazon
£8.15Risk Savvyamazon
£8.00The structure of scientific revolutionso46****
£8.00Routledge philosophy guidebook to Kant and the Critique of pure reasono44****
£7.99The Story of Civilization. Rousseau and Revolution 10. The Protestant Northo46****
£7.99Chomsky’s Reflection on Languageo46****
£7.99The Conscious Mind In Search of a Fundamental Theoryo38****
£7.99The Poetical Works of Shelleyo45****
£7.99The desert fathers :sayings of the early christian monksamazon
£7.78Who’s in Charge?amazon
£7.50Mind and cosmoso51****
£7.49The Vision of Judgment and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos III & IVo51****
£7.49Existential Analysis 11.2,12.1 & 13.1o50****
£7.19The Human Side of Managing Technological Innovationo46****
£7.00Time – Rhythm and Reposeo38****
£7.00The House at Pooh Cornero33****
£7.00Radical prioritieso44****
£7.00Mapping The Mindo44****
£6.99Foundations of Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometryo46****
£6.99The Neurotic Personality of Our Timeo46****
£6.99An Essay concerning Human Understandingo45****
£6.99Early Christian writing : the apostellic fathersamazon
£6.71Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophyamazon
£5.99The Shakespeare Classics: The Taming Of A Shrewo33****
£5.99Critique of the Power of Judgment (2008)o51****
£5.97Critical chainamazon
£5.00Mapping the Mindo51****
£4.99Social Psychology: A Study of Human Interaction (1965)o65****
£4.99Two treatises of governmento46****
£4.99Rousseau’s Political Writingso45****
£4.99An enquiry concerning human understandingo45****
£4.99Freedom Evolves, Daniel C. Dennett, Penguin Paperbacko44****
£4.99Workplace counsellingo44****
£4.84Plato : The Republicamazon
£3.99Understanding the Self-Ego Relationship in Clinical Practiceo51****
£3.99Mind Watching: Why We Behave the Way We Doo61****
£3.99The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and the Mindo45****
£3.99The village effecto44****
£3.00Oscar Wildeo45****
£2.99Real Confidenceo44****
£2.99The emerald tablet of Hermesamazon
£2.49The Science of Passionate Interests: … Tarde’s Economic Anthropologyo51****
£2.49The measure of all thingso51****

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

A servant to debt

Being less to be more

This article was sitting in my drafts. It was an attempt to make a second tentative move to introduce being vs having from Erich Fromm into a wider frame of reference of projects. It was less insightful than I had hoped…


The project finance world I served – through my construction insurance days until 2018 – my more recent mid-career MSc in Project Management, Finance, and Risk – my consulting that is primarily focused on internal control environments – each presents me with a reasonable understanding of how important the relationships of debt is to projects of social and economic infrastructure. Like the great majority of contributors to a capitalist culture, I have also lived much of my life in financial debt.

Perspectival confusion

This article was prompted by my own decision to put debt back into my life project. To help oil my academic wheels as I embark on MSc number two. It remained a draft blog because I knew it had taken a wrong turn. At the time I could not see why.

When being is less than having

Applying Erich Fromm’s having vs being to my decision to move back into being in debt had me stumped. The principles of having are held as less than being, because being (or becoming) is future action orientated which can enable betterment. To be loving, is to contribute to something bigger. To have love, is a possessive state. To be authoritative is to present the characteristics necessary to direct a task. To have authority is to own a position of influence. Only being offers contribution.

My struggle when I first wrote this piece was to find a way to make that work when the state of being is negative, or at least sub-optimal. How could being indebted be better than having debt? And aren’t they just the same thing? Here’s what I think might be going on.

Being indebted

We all owe something to someone

I wonder how often we sit back, and acknowledge our debts? We all inherit benefits or burdens from other ventures. In projects | within project parlance I am calling all of these ventures projects. We all commit to projects today that require us to deny projects of tomorrow. We all wish we had not started some projects yesteryear that now deny us opportunity of projects today. Debt may have a place here.

The process of moving into debt as a state of being was not sitting well with the Fromm notion of being as the better mode than having. We do not want to be in debt. To be in debt, or to have debt to pay, both require us to be a servant to whomever we have borrowed from. The being state we have adopted, in the present, is denying us a freedom to be in the future. We become less free.

If we are agency to change – as agents with intent – taking on debt is intending change that seems a negative. To understand the rationality, and keep to the Fromm notion of being, I needed to see the other projects in play beyond the handicap of debt. Projects | within Projects.

Being | having | being more

Odd that that had me stumped a while – with no real reason beyond my own modal confusion. Quite the admission given my background, and my recent educational revisit to much that outlines how this assessment and decision-making is best done. Investment theory, portfolio management, economics of opportunity cost, all just functional supports to the assessment project. One project decision, that constrains the next. But a decision that enables projects that themselves enable more.

There is a message here, however. I think as a society we take on debt too easily. Have too little regard for the burden we bestow to our future projects. Our future selves. Think upon that in the context of future generations living in the environment we leave them. Perhaps there in sits a reason debt had me stumped a while. It cannot be considered in isolation. Its future impact and immediate return. The projects it enables today, are they worth what we ask others to repay? Perhaps more needs a little rethinking. Interest of a different kind.

Finding this draft post I had clearly parked two months ago tonight prompted a rethink – and a sheepish redraft. A problem solved simply by the repositioning of perspective. Maybe the first of a few…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

CoP26 – cometh the hour

A quandary of Leadership

If you are democratically elected to serve a community, how can you not? Yet if that service is set in the now, and the future need is not what is on the minds of the electorate you serve, what to do?

This is the quandary of every government official at all levels of leadership or management at the CoP26. My own view is we need diplomats not warriors to unravels problems that we attempt to share and solve in times of peace. We have tough discussions ahead but also need of time spent listening, learning, empathising, and understanding. Bringing our best expectations of representation and respect, and expecting the same in return. But with that comes a need to be strong in action, not words. To take the strain and persuade those that you serve, that they should take the strain too.

v | b | t

visibility | b | t

That starts with clarity of goal, vision, or simply visibility of the whole – by the quality of our enquiry not just the easy factoid to bend into truth. This clarity comes from the ground up, and from the top down. It comes from being seen to be acting as one would want the other to you.

v | behaviour | t

As leaders we then have behaviours in mind, and the manner of control. As directed by motivations. Addressing attitudes that are not fit for the purpose at hand. Addressing the goals of others so that goals are then shared rather than required by coercion or force. We take on the hard, because we know we should.

v | b | trust

That is where we build trust. By our actions and set against the better path. This starts with each of us, as self-control. By what ends we seek to choose, and with the other party’s needs not just our own. Knowing the path ahead may have unknowns. Leaders making decisions from being present to the task, and not simply to keeping decision-blame at another’s home.

This is why I become ever more determined to find better ways to bring projects into one space. To bring more collaborative effort and cooperative ideals to the more difficult challenges ahead. I found my self somewhat bemused at several LinkedIn exchanges this week. From leaders who seem intent on being anything but. I will return to all in due course, but the below reflects well enough why we need leaders who can find hope, and not simply share their own impotent despair.

Below: A written response (not addressed to me) from an MP who seems to have decided there is no point in being present to the challenges we all face.

Philip Davies MP

Screen shot from a third-party LinkedIn post

The above letter has been a news item and general social media fodder for a week. This MP has allegedly responded with encouragement to circulate it further on the grounds it represents the attitude of many of his constituents. It has legitimacy as a perspective – all Members of Parliament are voted for as the representative voice of those they serve.

My quote opposite was made on LinkedIn. The position expressed by this MP one I found to reflect all who seem to have taken to despair. But equally, I reflect upon this sentiment being a very human response, that I think many will hold true. We are after-all programmed to act in defence of our own communities first. But what is democracy to do when the popular and easy comes face to face with the harder position to take? On the basis of looking after your own first leadership, this attitude can become the default and convenient position for all.

One observational riposte

It’s refreshing to at least see a defeatist elitist open up. “It’s too hard. It’s their fault not ours. Why should we if they don’t?”
Bonkers to think this counts as leadership or even representation.
We [UK] are the 5th biggest economy in the world. We have historic connections to more of the planet than most. We hold the guilt of past endeavour to hold and overcome. But we also have means and a presence on the world stage. We are the persuaders, and the influence. The diplomats. And when needed the front foot accountability demanding bureaucrats.
I don’t see much Churchill, Nietzsche, or Ayn Rand here. “We will fight them on the beaches; or spite them with our meekness”
“The will of power (naps)”.
Maybe he reflects the real darkest hour…the hour we chose not to choose. Reneged on service as leaders of more than one flock. Instead counting cash in a vault and doubling the locks.
Be present, and be leaders. Or give way.

LinkedIn feed

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The golden rule

One rule to unite us all

There is a single rule we can each apply in life. A single sentiment that, according to an accomplished historian of origins of beliefs and moral teachings, sits at the heart of all. The golden rule.

This blog offers a little compassion in response to today’s news headlines, all of which – to me at least – share nothing but despair. I introduce an author who has written extensively of this shared message from our past. She has traced it back to a time period of our shared history from which numerous great people found commonality of paths for humanity, in their own way, and from many corners of our shared world.

Origins of the Golden Rule

In 2006, Karen Armstrong, in her book, “The Great Transformation – the world in the time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and Jeremiah“, presents a shared history. Or at least histories running parallel and toward a common truth. It is a book written with all the academic prowess and worldly grace one would expect of a historian of all religion. A historian whose own path was moved from vows of order to more direct intent upon spreading a compassionate message to us all.

The axial age (800-300 BCE)

This book remains focused upon the Axial Age. A remarkably pointed part of our shared history. When we, as a globally dispersed peoples, turned ourselves toward belief systems in ways we still hold as true today. This is a time span of five-hundred years from 800 to 300 BCE. A period that, in timeframe at least, connects faiths, fables, philosophies, and enlightened thought from around the world.

There is philosopher, mystic, and theologian, all represented as influencer, translator, or narrator toward this message. Socrates, the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Jeremiah. All laying foundational stones as platforms of hope, wisdom, and compassion, whether in our science, our logic, or how we choose to believe, strive to know, or to pray. These wise people of old, the theologians, the philosophers but also in their teachings, fables, and their doctrines. All being shown to have this same sentiment at their core.

treat others as you would have others treat you

the golden rule

This one Golden Rule, she argues with some persuasion, presents a connection to all. Enabling a circle of disparate but shared history, happenstance, or necessary change, finding way to be reunited by this one rule that binds it all.

Our faltering project in the news today

I read this book again last night. I reflected upon it anew this morning. My reading of the news confirming we perhaps all awoke a little more suspicious of our neighbour. In Leigh-on-Sea, a servant of the people murdered whilst at his duty within his community (cf. BBC). In Kandahar, Islamic State claiming culpability for 47 Shia worshippers killed within the sanctity of their place of worship (cf. Sky News). A 16-year-old boy charged with murdering a boy of 18, on a playing field in south-west London (cf. BBC). In the US, a man expected to plead guilty next week to shooting dead seventeen school children and staff in a Florida school in 2018 – an action he forewarned and then committed when he was aged 19 (cf. Sky News). In other inquiry, an obstructive witness to the bombings in Manchester declining an invitation to aid inquiry, and now to be forced to take the stand next week (cf. BBC). The inquiry into the suicide of the former head of the Royal Marines in October 2020, confirms a firearm removed from his possession days before he was found to have hanged himself at his home (cf. BBC). The deadly game of cat and mouse between border patrols and people smugglers across the sea from Calais to Dover, reportedly seeing 1,835 people reaching UK in 2019, increasing to 18,720 so far in 2021 (cf. BBC citing Home Office statistics).

None of these headlines directly connected to each other. But all seemingly connect in other ways. Desperation, ill-will, them and us, all interfaces and division. All representing boundaries. Gaps between the lives of people. Divisions. Distance. Distant until by one will, such distance is shortened again. With the reality of one life foisted upon another. Thrust desperately, angrily, violently, with malice. Each an intended change to deny life itself.

It seems easy to have a lessened grip on our compassion at moments likes this.

Hope is alive in the Golden Rule

By whatever means or belief we each hold, Karen Armstrong’s message is clear. All of these paths of origin of belief contain the same message. From 800 BCE to today. All such circumstance leading to origins of axial revolution, she reflects upon as intending to lead us the same way.

In her book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” she captures the essence of this sentiment into modernity. In this contemporary examination of the Golden Rule, she writes:

“One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect; yet religion, which should be making a major contribution, is seen as part of the problem. All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule, “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you,” or in its positive form, “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.” Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody — even your enemies.”

Karen Armstrong “Twelve Steps to a compassionate life”

A rule for every moral compass?

I consider my own moral compass to be well set, with or without a badge to label its form. My obedience to its wisdom perhaps not always honoured as closely as it might, but the sentiment of all teaching I have taken to be true seems suddenly connected to this singular truth. Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you. That seems to me a worthy Golden Rule to hold us all. A Golden Rule to apply to all our intended change.

Perhaps the biggest of my own many faults is hubris. Or perhaps hypocrisy. Or therein both. I have neither the learning nor good sense to preside more carefully around these most emotive and divisive subjects. Karen Armstrong has many supporters but there are plenty learned people who would disagree. Secularists who deem her too apologetic. Academics who express despair at sentiment too far forgiving of intolerances the other way. Reference to well known polymath thinkers who openly hold views in opposition to her own.

I park myself well shy of the depths of intellect necessary to follow all thread of each alternative and no doubt valid perspective. What is clear to me however, is that some of the essence of this Golden Rule sits well within my own working hypothesis of visibility | behaviour | trust.

v | b | t

Visibility | b | t

We can seek to clarify our own intentions by this rule. See if those intentions would be welcome in reverse. We can look at the bigger projects we feed into and ask the same. Demand to see the visions of those that lead us, and see if the Golden Rule therein applies too.

v | behaviour | t

As with all behaviour there is need to have control. And this one rule sits as a centre-piece to them all. This is fairness. This is compassion. This is respect. These are the behaviours or at least intentions, attitudes, beliefs, that are informing our actions. Actions and motivations of ourselves and as a whole. This is to consider all our projects actors. All other projects to which we connect. And the world as its ultimate passive actor and its frame.

v | b | trust

Herein also is trust. Trust that ancestors in their suffering and sacrifice have held a future promise true. Trust that in all of us this rule can emerge. That from the past versions of us all to the here now, we are derived from those who walked this same path to that same destination. Whatever that destination is, it is one we arrive at together, or individually fall apart. Trust starts with this Golden Rule. It gives a purpose. It gives the justification for us each to be better. A Golden Rule that demands better of us all. By comparison, right now we have no trust. That is true in construction. I think it true at all scale of cooperation. We trust only that we cannot trust. We trust only that we are each selfish. Perhaps in time, we can trust each other to ensure that selfish is what we are not.

A single rule to connect all our projects

As we all scramble around a little today – and every new day that we are trying to find a thread of hope amidst so many headlines to divide us all – perhaps in this one rule we have a single golden thread that connects all humanity, all projects | within projects, that we can each remind ourselves applies always. And a check of ourselves, and all others. How we can each individually better hold to this self regulating control upon our behaviour. Ultimately, our one shared project’s Golden Rule.

treat others as you would have others treat you

So says the compassion in us all

To find out more about Karen Armstrong and her charter for compassion (click here)

To find out more about how I am attempting to connect this Golden Rule to our projects – and find better ways to connect our projects of mind to our projects of management – feel free to subscribe to my daily blog, as linked here.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The accountability police

A cautionary note

I suppose we can all be forgiven for being human. It is less easy to be so forgiving of those who seem less.

Who can honestly say they wish a police officer well as he finds himself sentenced to life for having used his position of authority to commit crimes against the people he is trained to protect. Women living a little more in fear, men living a little more in shame.

Right now however I sit here appalled by the same shifting of blame we see every time the latest example makes for a momentary headline in the news. I will start with my own. Not an admission of a crime but certainly a contribution to the status quo. I am a part of the society that is emerging too slowly from the misogyny of our past. We are better than that now, apparently. I certainly like to think so. I am not sure the average WhatsApp account would concur.

My own blame probably sits here alive and well somewhere. But it is my shifting of blame that I found myself doing this evening. The very thing I am blogging about and observing in others. Demanding more action orientated being mode, less blame. I bit down hard on a senior representative of an institution I deem worthy of blame tonight. His venting of anger becoming my venting back. His post, ill-advised perhaps or even a little in poor taste, but I think there are plenty in senior places who wear these same shoes. I do not think this one man deserved quite the barricade of abuse I gladly became a part.

Here’s the post, and my reply:

“I have not commented during the judicial process but now Couzens has been sentenced I can. This predator is an absolute disgrace to the police service, and I am totally ashamed that he was ever a police officer.
I am proud to carry a warrant card, but this vile individual’s abuse of that authority has cast a shadow on all those who work within policing. He has brought disgrace to our uniform.
The way he took advantage of Sarah’s trust makes me feel sick to the stomach.
No sentence will ever ease the pain for the family and friends of Sarah or undo the terrible damage this disgusting man has done. He doesn’t deserve to have another single day of freedom and I hope every day he spends in prison is a long one.
My thoughts, and those of all my colleagues, remain entirely with Sarah’s family and friends.

John Apter, National Chairman of the Police Federation, LinkedIn 30th September 2021

I must admit even a few hours later I read John Apter’s words here and cringe. Each paragraph another example of having authority not being it. Having delegated someone a position of authority that was betrayed. Having a warrant card. Having disgust, anger, pain of breached trust. All seems a little too self-orientated by half. Lacking the action orientated, calm, vision of a plan, sentiments that would give confidence that things will now get better. However, this is not his burden alone, and I am not sure my reply will motivate the actions I think necessary beyond this single leader’s brief. Not that it is even his brief.

My reply

I think the family deserve more than your anger, or the wish to be distanced from the stain on a badge.
Like any workforce, it is to be assumed all psychological conditions in the community will to some extent sit within, or develop whilst within, any institutional subset of it. As the National Chairman of the Police Federation I’d be more interested in how closely you have revisited the manner of critical controls, both local and National, and by what metrics give you a confidence or trust to think it unlikely to happen on your watch again.
Is the right framework of control able to identify “predators” within the service. Curb such behaviour by the systems, skills, training, and independent assurance across line-management, inter-company overviews, performance metrics, incident management, early warning, and lessons learned across an adapting set of processes. Processes you are at the forefront of necessary interest and leadership in its updates, efficacy, and change.
Where’s the accountability here that compels you to post what is changing? What lessons are being actively engaged. Not the scale of shame, and the offload of the blame.

My response. Hardly the diplomat I normally try to be

Did one senior representative deserve all of this? I think probably not. Worse, it does nothing positive to encourage more senior people to step up. In any walk of life how many boardroom executives do we see posting content and thought leadership. Clarity of their vision. Being visible. Showing themselves capable to lead, and behave in ways that demonstrate the positive actions of change. Restoring a little of the trust. Why should I single out one of the few who at least volunteers to step up and speak out.

What then of the institution a little closer to these action orientated responses? What of the Metropolitan Police? What was their more stage-managed press-office prepared to say today? The most action orientated statement they made is here.

Here are the actions they listed as most pressing:

publish a new strategy for tackling violence against women and girls. This will outline how we will prioritise action against sexual and violent predatory offenders.   

A new established specialist Predatory Offender Units and since last November they have arrested more than 2,000 suspects for domestic abuse, sex offences and for child abuse.   

deploying 650 new officers into busy public places, including those where women and girls often lack confidence that they are safe.   

stepping up reassurance patrols and providing an increased police presence where it is most needed by identifying key “hotspot” locations for offences of violence and harassment. We are allocating officers solely for patrol in those areas.   

Understanding the concerns of women in London is really important to us and we are undertaking a range of activity so we can better listen and respond.

Metropolitan Police: our response to issues raised…(access here).

This is followed by an observation:

We expect the best of our officers and when they fall below our standards they undermine the public’s trust in us

ibid (access here).

Nothing in these actions is directed toward the revisiting of the internal control environment that intervenes when the individual fails. Am I alone in wondering what permits this simply to be a question of rebuilding trust at the front line? When clearly the trust in need of restoration is in the management and the how – not the who.

No, I think John Apter was deserving a little more latitude than I offered. The tragedy and grieving family left to be. But perhaps the visibility | behaviour | trust issues I found myself raising, and the charges I presented of lacking accountability in leadership, are probable cause for more direct questions to the wider institutions of law and order, still very much at large.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The road ahead

Let’s hope for driverless cars, if these are our choices

A critique of Keir Starmer’s vision of where Labour is headed under his leadership.

I love a good essay. Once the most eloquent way to present an account. A reasoned version of a truth. Some of the most captivating narratives of the English speaking world took the form of the essay.

Today however, I am going to join the evening traffic report. Reflecting upon the road works and pot holed carriageways holding the narratives of the day. Boris Johnson offered us an essay of sorts a while back on his vision of Brexit. I was surprised and disappointed at its flippant account of what had been, and a flaccid and uncommitted account of what was hoped to come. For a man of words, with journalistic training, this was very much not worth the 18 month gestation it took him to write. I was therefore curious to see how Keir Starmer would fair, with his legal training, and similar time to prepare. His own essay offering, was this week made accessible ahead of conference season. I spent a few hours of Thursday evening in similar despair. It prompted a change of direction of my own, by way of this evening blog.

Congestion warning

I will confess to being somewhat torn between these two essays by two head boys. Star pupils that are Boris and Keir. Not by the politics, although neither camp convinces me enough. I am torn between the lasting impression I suspect I will now hold long of both political figureheads. Torn as to which one presented the least convincing case. The least accomplished representation of the essay form, each has claimed to write.

These were two opportunities to present a version of truth. A perspective of intended change. In my project language, each reflects a project of political means to direct us all with clarity of purpose and outcomes of intended change. As projects I will therefore attempt to use my metrics of visibility | behaviour | trust to consider the truth this latest outline of a project represents. This essay entitled “The Road Ahead”, by Keir Starmer MP. Originally accessed via BBC website.

Regardless of political leanings therefore, lets take a look at 11,500 words of missed chances to present a plan of time-bound intended change. Using v | b | t to guide another critique.

I conclude a draw. This offering to be on par, and to be as accomplished a vacuum packed political vernacular of fluff, as Boris could have ever have hoped to hide behind.

Visibility | b | t

This was an opportunity to present a vision of what could be. In the being mode of reflecting upon what is here now, and what is intended to be changed at project end. The being and the becoming. The clarity of how all project actors involved are to be accounted for, and the priorities of stakeholder interests, and metrics of success. A positive to start with therefore, it is quite clear which actors are most of interest. I am just not sure which families are to be categorised as not being the hard-working ones addressed here.

As a project, my question is what is intended by this proposed change?  If we press deeper into the questions of why. Beyond the first why of the politics, the second of why and where the balance of distribution of wealth for future engagement of the labour force should sit. Thereafter I struggled to find any answers of note. This essay offers no vision of what we can as a country become.  Our place and our role in the global village. It is an outline of the ambitions of process, of the priority of what we have (as potential, opportunity, and what is owned), and a vague inference of readdressing the owned by whom.

It is not until page 21 that the future focus is introduced. The Future.  The visibility of what we can become.  “A future in which we ensure everyone who wants to contribute can fulfil their potential” Starmer argues is only feasible if Labour have ownership of the reins.

A new deal for business and working people.  A government backing both business and the working conditions of all.  Long-term planning to the benefit of both (page 22), setting high standards and favouring British firms for contracts with public sector (page 23); increasing the minimum wage, sick pay, parental leave and flexible working and removing fire and rehire practices; replacing universal credit; making low paid better off with better work-life balance.  Investing heavily in green recovery, with more homegrown electric car production, wind turbine, clean steel for schools, hospitals, and railways (page 23 and 24).

It then outlines how more resource is to be moved towards physical and mental health (page 25); better starts to life for all with better access to modern schools, soft-skill development, and with it a greater sense of self-worth.  Safer streets with more Police and stricter laws against antisocial behaviour (page 28-29). All admirable sentiments, but toward what end? What national self-worth?

The road ahead from page 30, begins with Tory, Liberal Democrats and SNP failings of the past.  Starmer stands us at the cross-roads again, presenting the better path by further pointing to the vulnerability and failings of others who have sat in the driving seat.  The better path of government is outlined as a focus on security of, and opportunity for, the people.  A government able to face up to tough decisions, prioritising the hard-working family, we are told.  The final page then presents the ten principles of a contributing society, finally outlined as a coherent whole (page 31). My best attempt at a more pithy summary is this:-

  1. Hard working families first
  2. Fair reward for the fair minded
  3. Contribution based society
  4. Equal opportunity
  5. Community before individual
  6. Interventionist economics
  7. Partnering with private enterprise
  8. Responsible spending
  9. Return to honesty, decency, transparency
  10. Patriotism without nationalism

In terms of visibility therefore, I found nothing but disappointment at the sheer lack of detail. There are some significant socio-political concepts summarised here, but what does our country look like on this path?

I was left with a reasonable idea of what it would be like if Keir Starmer were our King-Pin. This is how I would rule you. This is how I would waft my wand. This is what power would be to me. But little real vision of what that would all be for. Accordingly, let me now consider what behaviour this leadership message reflects, at least to me.

v | behaviour | t

“People in this country are crying out for change” says Starmer in the front facing part of his Foreword.  This is an encouraging sentence given my project theory is suggesting that all we are is vehicles of intended change. But the paragraph then evades what destination is in mind.  Offering instead the change of principles and redistribution of power and decisions to localised autonomy and the labour force.  We are thereafter presented a detail of sorts to this vision, but framed as the how he would have power assigned. This is the behaviour of the having mode. How power would be held in leadership. Little to offer in terms of what this would all transform us into being. How we would be served.

The psychological tone of the whole essay is one of focus upon what is being owned. Mostly, it is allocation of blame. Pointing out others failings, as a reflection of their selfish overtones. I estimate this is 75% of the entire account. Imagine putting a tender together or applying for a job, and filling all the spaces availed to allow you to shine, and just presenting the case for how bad the other candidates may be. Who is not able to make these judgements themselves? I understand the sentiment but to me this takes up far too much of the word count, and denies the opportunity to show a better behaviour, one capable and willing to mend broken bridges with the electorate. A surprisingly shallow argument is presented as a result.

One example that stood out for me was after the most extended volley of assaults was concluded. Page 21, even having acknowledged past criticism for Labour spending too long looking in the rear view mirror, almost the next sentence is revisiting the inspirational days of 1945. Then countered by “but forward focused on new settlement between government, business, and working people” (page 21).  This then returns another attack on where we are, but little of what we change to, other than pithy sentiment of “a contribution society” (page 22).

Past reflections, starting at page 8, are unfettered in their focus on political team colours.  The good deeds of Labour, the self-serving nature of Conservatives.  Lessons held up as his team’s mistakes of old in being retrospectively focused, but still reflecting upon the good of these retrospective days.  Presenting the ideology of the right as having failed in recent past, and addressed in three periods as follows (all page 10). I outline these for selfish reasons. They happen to list as a v | b | t in their own categorisations:

  1. The era of the Global Financial Crisis, depicted as a period of poor visibility “a smokescreen for rolling back the state”;
  2. The era of patriotic nationalism, depicted as complacent behaviour “a lazy, complacent veer from patriotism to nationalism” which covered a period from Brexit to the current Afghanistan.
  3. A trend towards emboldening a division of interests.  This I read as intended divided trust, “import of American-style divisions on social, cultural, and sometimes national lines”

With no intended irony, Starmer then proceeds to present the divide across this same social landscape (pages10-13), citing David Cameron’s “We’re all in this together”, to then highlight subsequent regional disparity of wealth and health, age related stereotypes, and a country held back by a lack of ambition.  Nearly five pages of these sentiments that are taken deep into page 15.

As a considered position on behaviour therefore, this seemed unnecessarily focused on the other. Just as I despaired at Boris Johnson’s lack of clear ability to stand tall, stand accountable, and stand for us all. So I find this focus by Keir Starmer as reflecting a blame ready tool box of excuses in waiting, and a weakness to commit to anything at all. I was hoping for a little more spirited and applied daring-do. There seems little to choose between Boris Johnson’s demonstrating a lack of service, and Keir Starmer offering much of what is wrong but little of how to put it right.

What then, is this offering as a better form of trust?

v | b | trust

Starmer’s reflections are empathetic.  Perhaps intended to demonstrate being in touch with the reality of difficult times.  The working class divide, and the hardship and unfairness.  There is a reflection upon humble beginnings.  Prior experience of Public Service, Director of Public Prosecutions in 2008, represented as leadership acknowledged with knighthood in 2014 (page 7). From my earlier blogs on leadership, this equates to the titles held, and the medals won. Like any CV, this would read much better as a means to reflect upon how these experiences can deliver what is intended to be. How to serve us better.

What of trust in finding a way forward? It is not going to come from demonstrating who has caused what in the here and now. The significant detail of past discretions in this essay is not reflected in the same detail of what is to come. There is a lack of meaningful data in all future examples offered. Leadership is not about spreadsheets, but the quality of case study here seemed rather lacking in the authority of equivalent board level understanding. By example, page 16 offers a glimpse of private sector collaboration.  A single case study of a manufacturing opportunity for wind-turbines in Glasgow.  A case study that quickly becomes a swipe at the lack of strategic planning by the other side.   Page 17 “Fixing the fundamentals” presents insecurity and inequality central to a fix.  A hypothetical case-study of two students and the vastly different opportunities presented due to societal difference.  Security and lack of housing and employment opportunity reflected through page 18, introducing a link to liberal democracy, reintroduction of society over individualism, and landing back onto the safe labour platform of card-carrying membership before returning to what Conservatives have failed to do. This makes room for extending the criticisms towards the SNP under the shared Nationalistic intentions, albeit separate flags in mind (page 19-20). I struggle to find much encouragement or clarity towards a better way with the lack of depth here.

The detail of priorities is similarly vague. A new deal for business and working people.  A government backing both business and the working conditions of all.  Long term planning to the benefit of both (page 22), setting high standards and favouring British firms for contracts with public sector (page 23); increasing the minimum wage, sick pay, parental leave and flexible working and removing fire and rehire practices; replacing universal credit; making low paid better off with better work-life balance.  Investing heavily in green recovery, with more homegrown electric car production, wind turbine, clean steel for schools, hospitals, and railways (page 23 and 24).  The essay then moves back to pre-existing inequality and the need for more localised decision autonomy, and more transparency on freedom of government spending by department.  It then outlines how more resource is to be moved towards physical and mental health (page 25); better starts to life for all with better access to modern schools, soft-skill development, and with greater sense of self-worth.  Safer streets with more Police and stricter laws against antisocial behaviour (page 28-29). Notwithstanding the headline nature of each aim here, how can all these promises be priority number one? This comes back to my project analogy. What is to be prioritised, what is sacrificial, what is ambition number one? What is supporting the target of all these mandates? And why?

What truth do we learn, here?

It is perhaps self-evident that I struggled to contain my irritations here. The essay form I truly wish to become more adept at writing, is in my opinion not reflected here. In masterful hands it is a form of elegance and clarity, that can hold truth for all time. One that in days past, and I believe days to come, can and will hold timeless visions of a way to be. The great and the good of history can still be engaged by their past words. In contemporary context perhaps that is as much truth as we need. A vision, a set of behaviours, and reflection of what change could be, is almost never offered by those who wish to serve us all. What confidence, what trust, should we feel obliged to therefore afford?

I found the v | b | t and project language I am developing of some use in framing this critique. Even if it was simply to conclude that I find myself no closer to a holder of better truth.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The enquiring mind

Yesterday, I reflected upon a leader, Lieutenant Colonel Oakland McCulloch (US Army, retired). A man who applies much to what it means to be. How to actively apply one’s learning, and be dutiful to the shared influence and better outcomes that result. It required me to rethink a post from the day before. In the end I saw both perspectives, and found them each to be reflecting upon the same needs in delivering change.

To adequately address my own narrowed perspective I used a practice from another mode of my learning to help me reconcile and reframe my understanding. I found a middle way.

Consider these five factors, as attitudes or modes of any enquiry.

1. Vigilance – awareness, exploration, new insight. Not better understanding of what you know, but new understanding of what you do not. Changed perspective, wider perspectives, and in their differences comes understanding that is new.

2. Sensitivity – to what is being witnessed a dynamic perspective of actions or changing state, not a static unmoving object to covet or reject.

3. Acuity – meaning to separate, differentiate, and observe the moving parts, the layers, the processes of change they represent.

4. Noticing – your own physical reaction, emotion, desire or need. Perhaps also that of the other(s) you are modelling in your mind.

5. Reminding – staying present to the enquiry, remaining vigilant. With a humility that expects to find new meaning from what may otherwise be thought of as known. Acknowledging but not becoming engaged with the distractions – re minding back to the present enquiry.

This is the best way to outline the phenomena of the active engagement of an open mind,. Not that I am finished looking. These are learnings from contemplation, when looking outward. These are learnings from meditation when looking inward. They are skills to learn and to develop. They need not be linked to religious belief from East or West, but they have long traditions in both and can be embraced within whatever suits best.

I now do this everyday. From an increasingly diverse range of accounts of how to apply this meditative practice. And like everything I learn I attempt to apply it. In my daily life, my research, and my work. I am enquiring as to its merit at scale. It is why I have presented it as a means to make enquiry here. I think it becomes a tonic to modal confusion. A means to tease out deeper rooted problems. By applying vigilance to what is assumed to be known, to prospect and see anew.

Cognitive science and psychology both sit happily here. Scientists like John Vervaeke produce contemporary, helpful insights that connect mindfulness to the study of the mind. The above perspective was first glimpsed from one of his Dharma days. Where he was introducing Metta, or the outward looking contemplative practice – but as had already been informing the Vipassana, or inward looking meditative focus, it sits alongside. There is so much of his material and influence to share, but I’m reading his many references to wider work before I do. Importantly, he says, is to understand what this mindfulness is not. It is not a practice of finding contentment. This is not escape. This is embracing change. Cognitive Science is indicating it is this observational modality that offers the benefits with mindfulness.

This is being mode. This is addressing modal confusion. This is the interconnectivity of layers of time bound intended change. Projects | within projects. From mind to management. Starting with yourself.

Reshuffling our thinking

Ignore the cards, let’s revisit the games we play

Reshuffling the deck

How influential should a leader wish to be?  And how influential should we want them to be?  In positions of administration and mandated service, how much latitude should they even expect to have?

For those of us reliant upon the BBC for our daily news feed, we are being treated to a moment to consider this again.  Boris Johnson moving a few chairs around at the top table of government.  The media offering us plenty of opinion on character, and on motivations.  A little less light on intended change to direction of travel, and how this impacts the affairs of state.

Link here to the BBC report I read as I write this.  Opening line reads

“this is a mad way to run the country”

quotes Laura Kuenssberg of an unnamed member of government.

I am unclear whether this is directed at this reshuffle, this government, or our political system per se.  Hats to fit all heads, I think.

We all deal these cards

Not that these hats are worn any differently beyond our political leaders.  This reflects the reality of daily life for us all.  There is truth revealed here as to each of us in our basic having mode of possession, not the being mode of active participation.  Being present in authority would be to have only the service of those you lead in mind – rather than to covet the trappings of power as to reflect a more personal criteria of having gained a symbol of success. 

No one suit makes a deck

My despair at the political class has no ideology attached.  I’ll happily call foul on either side when the rhetoric is louder than the dialogue. I have been unconvinced of the absolute truth of the individual vs the collective, or the size and role of state, or if meritocracy, utilitarianism, capitalism, or socialism divides our ownerships best.  All reflect boundaries, winners and losers, belief not fact, incomplete judgement, false promises, and a necessary subterfuge of one flavour of human project of ownership against another.  I turned to philosophy only to find it presenting bigger words for the same opinions.   My despair is at the predictability of it all.  The lessons we simply have no way to learn.  That the politics of nation simply reflect the culture of the people, or that the people have simply become immune to the politics that have long since forgotten who they are meant to serve.

But we should be slower to tut and roll our eyes.  Or nail our colours to a mast.  I see nothing here beyond what we each do; in every decision we make.  This is self-interest doing what it does best, taking care of the first conscious being that counts.

We are all Jokers and Knaves

Laura Kuennssberg may delight in that opening quote from the nameless source.  Personally, I think it could be reframed to any company, any family, any industry, political movement, sports team, charity, or international agency you would wish to frame.  We serve ourselves.  Then we see what we can do for the rest.  It is no way to run anything, but it is a way to personally survive.

Aces high and low

Here is the project connection.  We make much of the necessary leadership to ensure a project is organised into the right framework of delivery.  Why is it only ever the leadership that is our focus, and not the infrastructure of the project as a whole?  What is it about our projects that demands so much of the leader and so little of ourselves?  Or more correctly, why is it that I hear so often of the disconnect between the two?  Secretly, we all know why.  But no one dares say it out loud.  We all know how low we can go. That we are fallible. That we are capable of great harm in our selfish moments of greatest charm.  Being seen to do the right thing.  Being focused upon the very exacting standards of behaviour society demands, or our authority have sought fit to define.  We all tick that box when it’s a question of blame.

Avoiding the 52 card pick-up

Let me cut to the solution, rather than add to the rolled eyes. The solution begins at home. Each of us can revert to this notion of being mode, not simply having. We can then look around and ask if others are doing the same. From daily life, this becomes more informed. It provides a little more influence. Generates societal reframing and better questions to ask. It also directs those who ask questions on our behalf. The likes of Laura Kuenssberg to ask the questions of others that she is asking of herself, that we are all asking of ourselves. The better questions become more enlightening because we are more enlightened to our own fallibility. It prompts more fundamental questions. What is motivating this change? Is this action enabling a bigger change to become real or is it enacting something we simply wish to have, or that we wish to keep.

This becomes a way to ask these more fundamental questions at all scales. It is addressing different levels of decision-making against the same basic metrics of motivation. It includes the leaders we have chosen to be our servants. Or selecting from those volunteering themselves to take up such an unenviable role. We get to see if they are simply seeking to have. Or is this selfless service of us all, and the shared intended change toward what we all wish to become. This is a line of questioning that can be put to any scale of authority. But it is necessarily uncomfortable. Which is why it is the line of questioning that must start with your authority over yourself. Are you becoming more, and adding value? Or just seeking to have more, own more, and add value only to yourself?

Cards on the table

I am not offering opinion on the politics. But I will present an observation of the motivations I see. This reshuffle seems clearly motivated by a desire to have something self-serving. A more amenable cabinet. A distraction of attention towards less difficult media questions. But deeper than that is an equally cynical having mode to flag. That could be said of any reshuffle. What is it about any reshuffle that leaves each head on a block so “nauseous and clammy” as the BBC report here? Why was each and every position under threat, each so unclear of their own safety, to be denied opportunity to be more tomorrow than they were yesterday? Why is this discomfort even news?

The nausea begins with a lack of transparency by the decision-making.  The clammy hands coming from the lack of clear method of selection criteria and impetus for each change.  The hand holding the axe could have been asked directly, what is intended by the change?  What is this intended to facilitate, to become?  Asking that why more than once cuts a little closer to deeper truth.

Of those with the clammy hands, looking up fearfully upon the axe, the same can then be asked of them. What intended change did you have in mind that is now denied? What does your fear reveal of underlying having or being modes?

Watch the dealer, be aware the potential slight of hand, based upon the trust

In both cases, is this just raw and naked ambition to progress?  Not because of desire or interest in a specific area of government, or leading a cabinet of the best able to perform the roles – but just having a senior role at all or having a cabinet that is less of a threat to the power that is had.  Or, in my v | b | t language.  Little is visible, behaviour is necessarily self-serving, and trust is a flavouring to be applied sparingly by all.

Anyone know a project like that…? We all do it, or at least see it and do nothing to intervene.

Control the game, not the cards

Accordingly, the critical control framework is where I look to first.  To support such a precarious environment, we need a robustness.  A 21st Century robustness that befits the holding of such precious a cargo as the affairs of state should demand.  Who in government ever knows how central government or local government frameworks of control work before their appointed role?  How long does that take to learn each time we have a major change?  How overwhelmed must each willing volunteer be when that first red box is opened upon a new desk?  How isolated from the daily lives of all those public servants they oversee must that necessarily reflect?

But why is it always such a surprise?  Why is this infrastructure of administration not known by people before they know they need to know?  Or have any clarity on the control framework that is also suppose to support them to do a most difficult task. What support do they have that offers them a means to make the right decisions, not just the safe ones. As they begin their temporary time at the wheel, how do they know when to stick or twist? 

Learning the game, before playing the game

How much has any of this really changed in the modern era of government?  Beyond the axes of austerity aimed at Excel spreadsheets in secret darkened rooms.  Where is the control framework that these leaders become accountable for whilst in position, but also dependent upon and able to be assessed against as the process of intended changes they and their government are overseeing. The framework to hold the processes, that become action towards the promises made.  Their five years of intended change.

Playing the cards you are dealt

There is much to be critical of here.  But if we are to move past defensive decision-making behaviours by those at the top, we need to afford them the same protections to do their job, as the protection we demand they give to us.  It is not charisma and charm but ability in clearly defined parameters of administration we should want to see.  My view therefore is let’s not just replace one career politician with another and hope for a different result.  Let’s revisit the framework of the departments each leader temporarily sits and determine if they are protecting the processes they are designed to house.  Present a clarity of assurance of decision-making that this framework then supports.  Consider the capability of the people against the same framework of control, with a clarity of role and responsibility.  Claim back the clarity of accountability of these leadership roles.  Hold them responsible to this performance and give them the power to make necessary changes to the frameworks that better make this so.  And let’s require all politicians to have demonstrable knowledge of how these processes apply.  So that we can be the first to vote in those already trained in the most rudimentary tasks that are the being mode of the titles they all covet and wish to have.

Card games to play at home

These are no different a set of parameters I am presenting in projects of any scale.  Understanding the intended change.  Operating this change by the best framework it requires.  Assessed across visibility | behaviour | trust.  Starting with the projects of mind.  Equally applicable to projects of state.

I therefore repeat the first challenge.  This is firstly to be aimed at ourselves.  Psychological safety cuts both ways.  As does the assessment of visibility | behaviour | trust we demand.  Start with these questions of ourselves, and those we and our press then choose to ask.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: