Unexpected opportunities

Unexpected opportunities

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form] I met a friend recently who was feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders as a result of the unrelenting stream of bad news – war, pestilence, corruption and violent disasters at every turn of the page and click of the button.

It brought up an interesting question. Do we feel gloomy because the world out there is so miserable, or does the world look so miserable because we’re feeling gloomy?

Whichever way you look at it, the fact of the matter is that we can’t wave a wand and change the whole world, but we can do something about our own misery. Many moons ago, someone gave me a little story entitled ‘Autobiography in Four Chapters’. It went like this:

Chapter One

I went out for a walk one day. I was walking down a road I thought I knew well, when suddenly I fell into a big, black hole. What a shock! Where had it come from? I had never seen it before. I didn’t know where it came from, and worse still, I didn’t know how to get out! I tried to climb out, but I just kept sliding back again. I was stuck. I shouted and screamed for help. I cried and I prayed. I jumped up and down and flapped my arms. Nothing happened, for what seemed like a long, long time. Eventually, I got out of the hole, and went on my way.

Chapter Two

I went out for a walk one day. I was walking down the same road as before, lost in thought. Suddenly, I tripped and fell into the black hole again! How could I have forgotten about it? I picked myself up. For some time, I tried all the same things I had tried before. To no avail. Then I sat down where I was and contemplated my situation. And it came back to me: there was a way out. I took some time to explore and feel around a bit, and a little faster than before, I got out of the hole and went on my way.

Chapter Three

I went out for a walk one day. Again, I found myself walking down that same road as before. As I looked around me, I recognized where I was. And then I saw it, right in front of me: that big black hole! This time, I walked around it, and continued on my way.

Chapter Four

I went out for a walk one day. I took a different road.

When I passed this story on to my friend who was in the doldrums, she said, yes, but how do you get out of the hole? The trouble is, when we’re in a hole, it’s not easy to even acknowledge it. It seems like the whole world has put us there, or even that the whole world is the black hole. That there’s no escape. Indeed, the more we try to get out, the deeper we seem to slide in. On reflection, we know we’ve been there before. And we know it changed. So why does it keep happening?

Usually, we don’t recognize what leads up to the ‘hole’ – whether it’s a feeling of despondency, or feeling stuck, or helpless, or whatever. Because we were distracted, or lost in thought, miles away from what was happening in the moment. Others can’t get you out of a hole; they can only help you be with it, so that you can get to know it. So that you can start to see it as an opportunity, instead of an obstacle.

And don’t worry  –  there will be other opportunities! There are always plenty of unexplored areas to be explored in our experience.

Courage!

Courage!

I always used to think courage was something you needed at times of great danger, or in order to carry out very difficult acts. Like being ready to dive into wild, murky waters to save someone, or to confront a gangster with a gun, or going off to disease-ridden tropical areas to do something useful. Big things.

But it also takes courage to try squid ‘in su tinta’ (eating black food is challenging), or belly dancing, or public speaking, or reading controversial books on the bus. Even though the difficulty in these situations probably arises more from a fear of humiliation than physical danger. The images we have of ourselves that we have accumulated over time tend to get in the way of allowing ourselves to be seen for who we really are.

So what exactly is courage? I no longer believe that it means having to do things I neither want to do, nor have the skills for. Is it about expressing my ideas and doing things that may turn out to be mistaken, or incomplete, or just different, without taking that to mean that there’s something wrong with me? And if so, what does that all mean for me on an everyday, ordinary basis?

I think many of us grew up in a system that claimed ‘excellence’ as a fixed standard of perfection, attainable only by the few. But ‘zero defects’ is not only an unattainable goal in any context, it is based on an idea that deviations from the norm are undesirable. Which, when you think about it, is contradictory, because they could actually mean radical innovation. They are potentially unique, and could be excitingly creative. So when we’re afraid of making ‘mistakes’, or working very hard to avoid them, we could be shooting ourselves in the foot, i.e., getting in the way of realizing our own heart’s desire. To quote a friend of mine: “Accidents offer the opportunity to kick-start your own evolution.” [http://www.juxtaposition.nl/newsletter/]

Of course there may be historical reasons for hesitating to reveal what matters most to us – teasing and even bullying are ubiquitous hazards of childhood. And while comparative judgement can be useful in assessing the relative usefulness or feasibility of expressing our passion, or going for our heart’s desire, it can be experienced as an attack – which takes courage to refute. It takes courage to be openly passionate about something. Because that means allowing for longing for what may seem – or may turn out to be – out of reach. It means admitting the possibility of being mistaken – and doing it anyway. It’s not the passion – or love, or interest – that’s the problem, it’s allowing it to be seen and heard. It takes courage, I find, to take my heart in my hand, and let it be seen.

Folon 'Heart in Hand'

Photo: Stained-glass window by Folon, St Paul de Vence, France

Jean-Paul Folon was a versatile artist; born in Belgium and resident of France for many years. He left behind a treasure-trove of paintings and murals, sculptures and drawings, even stained-glass windows (illustration on left). An altar, mural, and birdbath are in the same chapel-gallery dedicated to his work in the medieval town of St. Paul de Vence, in the French Provence, close to the French Riviera and not too far from Monaco, where Folon lived out the last years of his life.

 

Forget mindfulness!

Forget mindfulness!

‘Being in the now’ often seems to strike people as a little impractical, to say the least; perhaps even frightening. The idea that thoughts and memories should be ignored, or that they might automatically disappear with the practice of mindfulness, is indeed daunting. Will you forget your personal history? Lose all the useful knowledge you have acquired over the years? Perhaps we need to forget ‘mindfulness’ and just let ourselves be!

The fact of the matter is that the information and skills we have accumulated, and our inherent capacities, don’t just disappear when we’re not thinking about them. Indeed, you could say that our capacity, depth of experience, and creativity actually have the chance to increase when we’re not busy worrying about things or trying to hold onto what we already know – a fact well known to artists of all kinds.

As a great fan of MOOCs*, I’ve been following an interesting course called The Mind is Flat, produced by Professor Nick Chater at the Warwick Business School in England, which discusses how memory is integrated into present perception and experience. This is an idea I first became familiar with in a completely different context – I love it when science meets philosophy! Because it becomes clear in the context of mindfulness, together with enquiry,that we can really know something, from the inside out, by staying with our present experience. In other words, memories can arise when needed. The relevant past experience is implicit in the present moment. Nothing is lost.

In my own experience, relaxation and concentration meditations are immensely helpful and supportive in dealing with all the excitements and stresses and tensions and worries we have to contend with in daily life. And with the addition of focussing and enquiry tools, practice becomes mindfulness, i.e., the ability to stay with what is happening in the present moment and allow understanding to happen.

There are so many factors that contribute to distraction and tension. And of course, not everyone is interested in exploring the psychological explanations for the construction of the personality, and the life stories we live out. Happily, it does seem to be a natural human tendency to grow and mature, without having to explore every possible explanation, scientific or otherwise, for where we find ourselves. The point is, we can only find ourselves if we see where we are in the moment. And let’s face it, for most of us, that usually takes practice!

* Massive Open Online Courses = Free education offered by many leading universities, from Harvard and Oxford to lesser-known schools such as the University of Warwick, UK. See e.g. http://www.futurelearn.com/courses/categories

Exploring your potential

Exploring your potential

What happens when you enquire? What happens when you explore the thoughts and emotions that arise, relive memories and examine your experience in the moment? What’s it all about? What is it for?

Well, at some stage it becomes a pleasure in itself, because it’s a natural way of making sense of experience and allowing your capacity and understanding to expand. The truth of the matter is that thinking patterns are often unclear and repetitive. And when you look closely, it’s possible to see that emotions can feel painful or overwhelming because of old ideas and experiences, rather than because of what is actually there, in the present. Perspectives are clouded. There’s a lot of old material obscuring the reality of the moment: preferences and inhibitions, borrowed habits and false expectations. Or quite simply, lack of knowledge. Enquiry helps clear away the obscuration.

Natural feelings

Enquiry can reveal a totally different experience of the natural energies that underlie anger and rage, fear and anxiety, stress and depression, hatred and rejection. Because without the distortions that our accumulated ideas and previous experience give rise to, those feelings can transform. Energy in itself is not negative; it’s the thoughts that surround them that make them difficult. The good news is, our instinctual human drives for safety, comfort, and companionship have evolved – and can continue to evolve! It seems to be our nature to evolve, probably in more ways than we can even imagine. With the willingness to explore, and love for the truth, enquiry reveals truer ways we can express our love of life. Naturally.

Ordinarily, many people learn that it is good to repress difficult emotions such as anger and sorrow, and we end up trying to force ourselves to feel – and think – differently to the way we really do. And what happens when we repress emotions and thoughts is that they go underground; they’re no longer uppermost in our experience. But they haven’t gone. And they continue to drive our reactions. When those ideas are seen for what they are – simply ideas or memories – there is a possibility of letting them go. Using enquiry to let your energy be there, fully, without acting out the emotional surface, gives you access to a fuller experience. Purified experience, freed from clutter and misunderstandings.

The joy of enquiry

A different experience may underlie various emotions at different times, and the fascination of enquiry for each person lies in discovering for themselves what is there. You may discover the gentleness of real strength, or the flexibility of true will. You could find gentleness and kindness hidden under layers of frustration and feelings of weakness. Who knows? That’s the joy of enquiry.

 

Digging for Gold (1)

Digging for Gold (1)

Most of us, at various moments and at different times of our life, are faced with problems or situations that we don’t like and want to change. Or that we don’t understand, and want to know more about. Or we’re just plain curious! In all of these circumstances, enquiry can work wonders.

Change happens

One of the first principles of enquiry is the recognition that it isn’t actually necessary to struggle to change things. In fact, it can even be counterproductive.

Change happens, whether we like it or not. What is needed is the capacity to stay with whatever is there, because when you explore and observe your experience, it unfolds. Life is a flow of experience. And if the same thing seems to keep happening, over and over again, it’s because our perspective is caught in an unchanging pattern. By taking a broader perspective, the flow becomes more apparent. It’s like watching a stream. If you see boulders in the stream only as obstructions, you may not notice the intricate swirls and eddies of the water, the fascinating changes of light and colours, shifting sand and pebbles, plant life and underwater creatures, or even glorious visiting kingfishers and magnificent leaping salmon. Even boulders look different when you see them from a different viewpoint!

If it’s not one thing…

It’s a mother, as a comedian once ruefully ad-libbed – after a long period of therapy, I suspect. It’s true, when you study psychology for any length of time, you start to think that everything (especially the bad bits!) that has ever happened to you is your mother’s fault. What’s important to realize is that in fact, most of us tend to view the whole world as our mother. We expect the outside world to give us what we want. And we get annoyed, frustrated, and outraged when this doesn’t happen. Which is strange, when you think about it, because we’re part and parcel of the world ourselves. It’s like blaming your thumb for hurting, when you hit it with a hammer.

What’s real?

Especially in our day and age, when so much more is explained and developed with the help of continually expanding scientific knowledge about the human mind and body, the process of enquiry is greatly supported by information about the workings of the mind and our physical and emotional states. Personally, I find the study of the human psyche both vastly interesting and extremely useful, however it’s not a prerequisite for the practice of enquiry. Obviously, it is possible to come to very deep understanding of ourselves without training in psychology or neurology or biology or all the other –ologies that have evolved in (relatively) recent time. Enquiry works because it is based on our own experience, in the moment. You start with a question, a problem, a situation, or simply openness to what is there in the moment. By focusing on your inner experience, you can get a felt sense of it. Staying with this felt sense, getting closer to it, reveals more about it. And ultimately, allows it to transform, to unfurl, to flow.

There’s much more to find out through enquiry. Visit The Enquiring Spirit. www.chayes.nl

Life & Work

Life & Work

When I started my working life, I was sent out into the world with the words “Remember, there’s no sentiment in business.” I suspect a lot of people live according to that motto. Only recently I heard of a manager who replied to complaints from an employee with: ‘Get over it. This is not your family. It’s just business.” Genuine objectivity and adult behaviour is one thing. But surely we don’t want our working life to degenerate into the disregard of our own and others’ vulnerability?

What is it that triggers this attitude? Why is it that warmth, kindness, and tolerance are considered to have no place in the office, or on the shop floor? Are people less vulnerable at work than they are at home? Profit-before-people goals often motivate positive-sounding strategies, such as increased customer satisfaction, cost-saving drives and sustainability programmes, but they can’t be allowed to generate stress and anxiety – which seem to be increasingly frequent side-effects. When ‘higher performance’ is pursued at the cost of people’s health and happiness, whom is it ultimately serving?

Burn-out and beyond

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions[i] states: “The main risk factors for work-related stress include heavy

workloads, long working hours, lack of control and autonomy at work, poor relationships with colleagues, poor support at work and the impact of organisational change.” In a 2005 survey, the Foundation found that 22% of European workers suffered from stress, lower back ache, muscular pain and fatigue, and that about a quarter of those employed in Europe were exposed to job strain (between 13% in Sweden and 43% in Greece). The figures have risen since then, and a much wider range of illnesses is now linked to job stress.

This cannot be termed efficiency, by any stretch of the imagination. Quite apart from the harrowing effect on individuals, it costs companies and countries millions in lost working hours and health care.

What’s happening?

Where does all this leave genuine efforts to achieve personal ambitions and reach company-defined targets? Of course companies have to be profitable, in order to stay afloat. Of course there is nothing wrong with encouraging employees to improve their efficiency, stretch their capacities, and reach for goals. But does this truly necessitate shorter and shorter business plan cycles? Do margins have to be quite so high, to maintain sustainability? Are shareholders in multinational corporations – many of whom are perhaps not aware of – or interested in – how their investments return profits – really the best group to be allowed to drive company policy and business strategies? Is modern business degenerating into a new version of the bad old days of slavery and bribery?

Backward reasoning

Of course ‘big business’ is not always, and not only, the Big Bad Wolf. But it is perhaps wiser to be aware that the outcome of false objectivity – aka ‘just business’ – within companies is disappointment, distrust, and distress. In the long term, ‘no sentiment’ – which is so often translated into no emotion, no feeling, no consideration for others – is not even in the interests of companies’ leaders and shareholders. The problem is, even in the shady world of thieves and robbers, people tend to believe they’re acting in a justifiable, perhaps even reasonable way. In many cases, they don’t stop to consider the morality or justifiability of their actions.They wouldn’t do what they do otherwise. It’s a case of backward reasoning. We all believe that the fruits of our labours should make us happy. And if they don’t, we either have to try harder, or it’s the other person’s fault!

Nowhere to turn

At the heart of every problem there is usually a conflict. A dilemma. On the face of it, the dilemma is easily solved. You simply repress all awareness of it, and keep trying harder to get what you want in the same way as always. Your image is at stake. Your job is at stake. Your happiness is at stake. Or the problem is that someone else is making things difficult, and needs to be punished, or changed. So you run faster (and end up stressed and exhausted), or get others to run faster (so that they end up stressed and exhausted). It doesn’t work.

Breathe!

Understanding how we create stress for ourselves provides the antidote to more stress and anxiety. In the words of the song, we need to take a moment and just be still. [ii]

Mindfulness can become a kind of active meditation, with heightened awareness of our thoughts and emotions fuelling enquiry into how they govern our behaviour. We all accumulate layers of forgotten – though active! – beliefs and assumptions about life and work in general. The first step towards change is finding out exactly what they are and how they’re affecting us now, in the moment.

In spite of my parents’ advice on the work environment, I’ve found that the places where I was most productive and efficient where those where I most enjoyed my work and the contact and cooperation with my colleagues. The myth that work and friends need to be kept separate often only leads to loneliness and isolation; at least half of my longest-lasting friendships were formed at work. I’ve also observed and experienced the results of working where the policy of excluding ‘sentiment’ from business prevailed: considerable difficulty and stress, and very little job satisfaction.

We don’t need to act on harmful maxims. Or continue to believe all we were told as children – it may never have been true! That’s what I like about enquiry. You can find out what’s true for you now, and break free from old habits and beliefs. It’s life changing.

 

[i]© European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2010

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viL8z0uoR3c

Black & White

Black & White

My main motivation throughout life was always a search for meaning; wanting to know the meaning of my experience. It’s what made me an avid reader, an ‘ex-pat’, and a life-long student. And of course I wanted to acquire specific skills and qualifications, but I’ve realized it is the process of getting them that counts, not the certificates and references that go with them. Which is why I am interested in mindfulness, and want to share my interest with others.

Now

What I’ve discovered is that meaning arises in the present moment, from moment to moment. There is no ‘Meaning’ sitting out there, waiting to be attained. Meaning happens in the moment, and is appropriate to the moment – but of course you have to be here! That’s why the sages and enlightened ones talk about being in the Now. Because if the mind is busy all the time reliving the past, or trying to control the future, we miss the present – and the present is where it all happens. If we’re not here in the moment, everything we’re looking for is actually overlooked. We’re living in a dream, which has no solidity, no reality.

Cockroach enlightenment

Being in the moment doesn’t mean having to forget the past. In fact, the more presence there is, the more the past can inform our understanding, as I recently noticed. Enquiring with a friend, a memory was triggered of a spontaneous experience about 20 years ago, at a workshop. I had felt like a blob, unstructured and almost formless, all I could do was observe what was happening. My teacher at the time later sent me a copy of a cartoon. It showed two cockroaches, standing beside the nozzle of a garden hose with a drop of water falling from it. One cockroach was describing its experience to the other. “There I was in the darkness, when suddenly there was a great whoosh! and a burst of light. And then I found myself here.” The title of the cartoon was ‘Cockroach enlightenment’. At the time, I thought it was a very funny cartoon – but it wasn’t until my recent enquiry that I fully realized the meaning of it!

Objectivity

Meaning is not fixed and rigid, because the true nature of things is a constant unfolding, moment to moment. It’s not black and white, and it is not at all chaotic, because everything is part of a unified whole –that butterfly in Timbuktu really is connected to a volcanic eruption in Iceland! And we get to watch it all unfolding from our own individual vantage point, moment by moment. Miraculous, really.

Mindfulness

What has this got to do with mindfulness, you ask? Firstly, for those moments when we succeed in actually being in the moment, we’re aligning ourselves with reality. It’s not that it is always fun or enjoyable, but the fact that it is real is inherently fulfilling. It’s because it’s our life that it has meaning.

This is of course not to say that planning and preparing, or reviewing and analysing, are not useful. These are necessary and essential parts of life too. My experience is that these activities too benefit from being in the moment. More focused attention becomes possible when you become aware of the internal pushing and pulling that often starts when anxiety or doubt raises its head. It takes some time for the inner critic – as I’ve explored in my previous couple of blogs – to get the message that he (or she) is out of a job. That’s what can happen when you take the time to look more closely at your experience, and enquire into how your life got to be the way it is. And how it can change.

Explore mindfulness. Info@chayes.nl

Kind hearts

Kind hearts

The discussion of the inner critic – see my blogs on Critiquing Criticism – often seems to have a reverse effect. Instead of relief at last, freedom from the difficult and often hurtful impact of criticism – or ‘faint praise’, which can be a cousin of criticism in disguise – it may appear to have become a constant companion. This is what I call the ‘purple BMW with pink spots’ syndrome: once you see one, you start seeing them everywhere! In other words, when you become more aware of some of the ways the superego is sabotaging your experience, it can seem that its attacks have increased, rather than simply been uncovered.

Love it to death

One of the best suggestions I’ve ever heard for how to beat the inner critic at its own game is to love it to death. After all, it meant well. It was a part of you that thought it was looking out for your wellbeing. It seemed like a good friend, trying to protect you – and others – from harm, or making mistakes. So if the holiday you sent it on seems very short, and it still doesn’t leave you in peace, turn around and look at it. Listen. See if there’s something to learn from it, perhaps an insight into false assumptions or beliefs you hadn’t realized you were holding on to. Love it for its good intentions. And then let it go. It’s the kindest thing you can do.

It’s difficult to talk of kindness or compassion, faced as we all are at the moment by continual anguishing news bulletins about disaster, hatred, war and thuggery. But if we have to start somewhere, then plain, everyday kindness to yourself seems like a good place. Kindness leaves no room for the inner critic, which in turn makes it so much easier to be more objective.

Hot & Cold

Objectivity is often seen as being cold, uncaring or uninterested. There is indeed coolness to it, which I think is more disinterested than uncaring. Objectivity requires being in the present moment, because old beliefs and fixed ideas tend to block freedom – freedom to be yourself, freedom of thinking, freedom of expression. Because the expression of truth allows freedom of choice.

With a little ordinary human kindness, there is always warmth. And where there is kindness, there may be objective analysis and recognition of mistakes, but there’s no harsh inner critic. Enquiry and meditation are great ways to explore the differences.

Try it!

See www.chayes.nl or write for more information to chayes.nl

 

 

Critiquing criticism, Part 2: Creative blocks

Critiquing criticism, Part 2: Creative blocks

When you think about it, it’s amazing that any of us ever survive childhood. There’s so much we have to learn! Exploring the world and acquiring skills are not the problem. Learning to read, write and ride a bike is the fun stuff. What is much more complex – whether we realize it or not – is the process itself of becoming socialized. Learning what earns us approval, and what doesn’t. What brings punishment and pain, and what works to defend against that. What attracts friends, and protects against foes. How to get what we want, and how to deal with disappointment.

Regardless of how supportive and encouraging the environment we’re born into may be, or how many difficulties have to be surmounted, most of us generally develop the ability to make our way in the world. In the process, the inherent wonderful qualities available to human beings tend to become adapted to living in the world we know. Along with maturity, we develop a conscience – and this too is subject to adaptation, according to circumstances. Objective conscience becomes overlaid by the inner judge, the inner critic; what Freud called the superego.

Hooked

Whether someone else is expressing their inner critic in their criticism – or indeed approval – of you or something you have done or said, or whether they are expressing an honest opinion, doesn’t really matter. If your inner critic is active, you will hear it as a negative comparison, or rejection. When criticism – whether from outside or inside – hooks right into the inner critic, the result can be hesitation, uncertainty, confusion, and painful self-doubt. Most painfully of all, we may even take it for granted! The impact can be devastating – limiting, repressive, and depressing. The worst kind of creative block.

The inner critic has an impact on our thinking, our feelings, our emotions, our attitudes – and even our instincts. It may seem to know what is best for us, but it relies on memories, conscious and subconscious, of the rules and regulations that governed our upbringing, right from the beginning. As children, of course, we did what seemed necessary to us at the time; we fit in with society’s rules and regulations. We did this by internalizing what was said – or implied – by our role models: parents and grandparents, older siblings, teachers, heroes and heroines, or society at large. Sadly, this meant cutting ourselves off from the awareness of our true qualities, our full vibrancy and aliveness. This is why criticism from ‘outside’ is so tricky – as discussed in my previous post.

Know thyself

The ancient Greeks, as so often, had an aphorism for it: ‘Know thyself’ is inscribed in the temple of Apollo at Delphi. And to know your self, it’s important to be able to differentiate between a healthy critical ability and the inner critic.

Identifying the inner critic is not always easy. It’s typically comparative: you are not as good as others, you could have done better. Put into words, it often uses phrases like ‘you should’ or ‘you shouldn’t’, ‘you have to’, ‘you mustn’t’ or ‘you can’t do/say that’. It tends to be alive and thriving in the work environment, in terms of qualifications, status, power, and salary – we take it with us everywhere, of course! People battle to survive in competitive environments, from home to school to college to the workplace. It shows up around appearance and possessions, too. What brands do you wear, drive, carry around with you? How big is your house?

Take a holiday!

Dealing with the inner critic calls for effective measures, and different tactics work best for different people, and in response to different attacks. Enquiry helps to discriminate and find out what the content of an inner attack is, so that you can find an effective way to defend against it. It’s good to experiment. I find one of the most effective ways to send the inner critic packing is to use humour. Now that it’s the summer, a good suggestion might be to tell it to take a holiday. Permanently.

Try it!

Info@chayes.nl

 

Critiquing criticism (Part 1)

Critiquing criticism (Part 1)

Isn’t it interesting how criticism is both highly valued, and greatly detested?

As many a wise person has pointed out, many of our problems stem from the duality inherent in our language, and in our thinking. Situations, emotions and thoughts tend to be judged as either good or bad, right or wrong, pleasing or horrible, moral or immoral, helping or limiting. From a Freudian point of view, we choose or reject according to the pleasure principle: if it gives pleasure, it’s good; if it causes pain, it’s bad.

In some circumstances, however, we learn to accept pain as a kind of necessary medicine. People often say: ‘Don’t hold back. Give it to me straight. Tell me what I’m doing wrong. Don’t be too gentle.’ Why do so many people believe that if the feedback is negative, it must be honest? Or discount positive feedback as someone ‘just trying to be nice’ or being afraid of hurting our feelings?

In most companies and organizations of all kinds, periodical role and activity reviews are directly linked to salary levels, opportunities for promotion, or access to sought-after positions. Critical reviews can be necessary and useful, of course, when feedback focuses on identifying what strategies have been successful, investigating the possible causes for not meeting goals, and defining the possible need for new skills. When a review is the source of great anxiety and fear of dismissal, however, it’s time to question its usefulness. Because when criticism only serves to block or limit someone, it could be a signal of the need for more discrimination.

Beyond black & white

With discrimination, any kind of judgement or assessment becomes more useful. Objective comparisons reveal more options. Asking questions brings more information to light. And information is helpful when it leads to greater understanding. Painters and poets are good at discrimination. They know that what looks black is not always black, it may be very dark blue, or purple, or green, or a melange of several different hues. And white is rarely pure white. It can be ivory, cream or magnolia. Pearly white, or a translucent lightness that reflects whatever is nearest. Hints of the palest pink, blue, yellow, or grey.

Critics – both inner and outer – very often mean well, which can make it difficult to ignore them. (I’ll be talking about the inner critic in my next post). It can be helpful to remember that criticism is usually based on someone’s personal opinion – and that opinion may be out of date, or simply out of touch with reality! The difference between judgemental criticism and useful feedback is that criticism tends to assume there is only one right way to do things. Reality is much more creative than that. That’s something that enquiry can bring to light. Want to try it? Contact: Info@chayes.nl