The simple answer might be ‘Geoff Roberts’, but that is just a name. There are plenty of other Geoff Roberts’ in the world and even plenty of Geoffrey Malcolm Roberts’ – there you go, did you know my middle name or even that I had one? Yes, the name is somehow part of who I am, and I will happily answer to Big G, Big Geoff or in my early schooldays Kangaroo Kid (I could put together a mean long or high jump in primary school).
‘Who am I?’ prompts a somewhat deeper search for identity. A cook, a son, a husband, a stepfather, and brother, a facilitator, a writer and many more to greater or lesser levels of accomplishment. These too are part of who I am, yet really they are things that I do. Yes, the fact that I choose to do (most of) then gives insight but ultimately I may choose not to do any of them and yet I still exist. They are no more me than that name.
Being somewhat antipathetic to religions of any sort I cannot fall back on “A child of God” or whatever label followers adopt. Nor does atheism, especially the radical Richard Dawkins variety, offer much hope; indeed the question itself might be ruled out of order in favour of a more prosaic ‘What am I?’ – a collection of chemicals that somehow randomly came together in the past and found a way to propagate themselves into the future.
So, if not my actions or my beliefs, then am I my thoughts? I hope not. Who can deny at least occasionally having the odd inappropriate thought pop into consciousness, only to be promptly quashed by that internal editor who functions inside our heads? Maybe I am that editor? The usually invisible and occasionally conscious process that guides which thoughts persist into action, which generate ongoing thoughts and which are stopped in their very emergence. This is a guide who steers me towards what has previously been found to be effective, safe etc., which sometimes enables my mind and my body to experiment and which occasionally just says STOP!
This is a moral filter at work – ‘Thou shalt not kill, paedophilia is wrong, respect other people’s property…’ And it is also a practical, life serving one – don’t jump off things without a rope or a parachute, don’t slit your wrists just to experience the feeling of oxygen deprivation…
Of course all of this is learned – babies are fearless, we learn our moral code from our role models and those role models can just as easily be bad as good. What matters to us changes with life experiences.
So, who am I? Surely I am more than a collection of neurons.
I have faced a couple of situations in the last week or so that led me to take decisions that were almost entirely in my own self interest. This left me wondering about the concept of selfishness, the extent to which those decisions were selfish and indeed how that concept plays out in our daily lives.
I understand that there are psychologists who argue that every decision we make is ultimately selfish in that it meets with some inner need. So for example, someone who spends their days ‘selflessly’ helping others would actually be doing so because that is how they find their inner satisfaction.
I also wonder if I’m getting more selfish as I get older and I start to understand what I really need. Both of the situations I mentioned above related to what, in my view, were distinctly unsubtle application of organisational politics. Now I like to think that I am as good as any, and perhaps even better than most, at organisational politics yet on both of these occasions I explicitly chose not to play the game. Both of these were volunteer roles and yet there are other volunteer roles in which I continue to willingly play some fairly delicate political games. So what is the difference?
Certainly in one case I was becoming increasingly disillusioned as a very small cog on the periphery of a very large organisation and maybe that is not a role that I like to play. I am happy to admit to myself that the follower roles that I prefer is one where I still have significant influence and I will happily play a number two, or even three or four, role when I am at least listened to and at best taken seriously. Indeed as I write, I start to realise that was possibly behind my order opting-out. Specifically, that my advice and expertise was being ignored and overruled and the explicit delegations made to me were being unilaterally removed for no apparent reason.
So is it about control? I don’t think I’m too ashamed to say that to some extent it probably is. After a life of bending and twisting, as well as helping others to bend and twist, to help deliver the greater good there is a part of me that keeps saying that “it is about time I got what I need and stuff the rest of them”.
So yes I guess this is selfish and no I am not guilty about it. I will argue that in our lives there needs to be space for ‘me time’ as well as ‘us time’ and perhaps I have just created some of the former.
What about you? To what extent do you think you act selfishly?
I have just been reflecting on the various organisations in which I have a voluntary interest, typically as a trustee or school governor. Every single one of them either has had, or currently has, significant leadership issues – perhaps that says something about the type of organisation in which I get involved but I really wanted both myself and you to reflect on our behaviour when faced with serious challenges.
Throughout most of my working life I was paid, and sometimes handsomely, to face and deal with the challenges of organisational stress and change. I mention this because I have come to recognise that facing similar challenges as a volunteer is fundamentally different. In the first instance a security driver always kicked in, after all my employer paid my mortgage and set up a pension which now allows me to volunteer my time. The situation with volunteering is fundamentally different, I can walk away at any time and can even arrange such a departure that most other people involved would recognise that I was neither implicitly not explicitly knocking the organisation for which I had volunteered. Indeed I did that three or four years ago when I temporarily gave up all of my involvement in school governance because it was taking over and I realised that I needed to pay more attention to my business and personal life. Well, that is what I said at the time.
Reflecting on that, and taking account of my current circumstances, I wonder whether I had just had enough. I guess that I volunteer in the belief that those receiving my services will value them and be prepared to listen to what I have to say. Better still, act on it. When this does not happen, the change manager in me says something along the lines of “Well, the system is stuck and I am part of the system. What can I do differently that might provoke a different response?”
As a professional, one tries and tries and tries alternative tactics and strategies in an effort to unlock the system. Equally, as a professional I have come to realise that there is a time to walk away. I have probably mentioned before that, in something like 30 years of change leadership, one of the key lessons I have learned is “Do what you can, where you can, when you can”. The implications of that statement are that on occasions one ought to walk away from a challenge, partly because walking away is itself an intervention that might shift the system and partly because a change agent’s time is usually best spent on situations where they can make a difference rather than tiring themselves out in trying to move the immovable object.
So my proposition is that the statement “I have had enough of this” might well be my subconscious telling me to walk away. What do you think? Especially for those of you who volunteer your time, what keeps you there when the going gets tough?
A few days ago I posted on our Facebook page what was described as a Buddhist prayer of forgiveness
If I have harmed anyone in any way either knowingly or unknowingly or through my own confusions I ask their forgiveness.
If anyone has harmed me in anyway either knowingly or unknowingly or through their own confusions I forgive them.
And if there is a situation I am not yet ready to forgive I forgive myself for that.
For all the ways that I harm myself, negate, doubt, belittle myself, judge or be unkind to myself through my own confusions I forgive myself.
This came to mind when I met a very old friend of mine a couple of days ago and we started talking about our joint experiences in the industry that we both served for over 30 years. What that conversation brought to my mind was an incident towards the end of my career when I believed, and continue to believe, that I was treated very poorly. The details are irrelevant, what is relevant in this context is my becoming aware just how passionately I spoke about this particular incident and how strong was my ongoing dislike of the perpetrators. Even talking about this 12 year old incident triggered feelings of anger that quite surprised me.
Interestingly, the outcome of the incident was satisfactory because somebody who has, in my view, a significantly stronger appreciation of the impact of the decision, not only on me but on the several thousand people who hear, about it stepped in and reversed the decisions that had so infuriated me. So in practice, the bad behaviour (and even 12 years later I still consider it to be extremely bad behaviour) had no long term objective impact. Yet here I am writing a blog about how that emotionally charged event can and does still leads to negative emotions even 12 years on. For some reason I have been unable to forget the perpetrators. And I wonder why.
Those of a religious persuasions tend to be advised to either turn the other cheek or pluck an eye for an eye – I do not fall into this camp and anyway I cannot agree with an eye for an eye and really don’t see the point of letting someone abuse me twice. Over recent years we have heard a lot about the importance of the psychological contract between employer and employee and it is clear in retrospect that not only was the legal contract broken but the psychological contract didn’t appear to have even been considered. I had trusted that my employer would honour the terms of the written contract we agreed and would continue to act honourably. Well neither of those things happened and it is now clear that that fundamental breach of trust, and in my eyes it was a very fundamental breach, lies behind my unwillingness to forgive.
Yet the paradox is that I really do believe that the individuals involved were doing the best they could in the circumstances. That it failed to meet my needs was perhaps a function of both me being unable to express those needs and them being unable or unwilling to hear and act on that request.
I have not met either of these individuals in the last 12 years, nor do I intend to, and yet the episode has been there in the back of my mind gnawing away and occasionally surfacing to sap my energy. That stops here and now. I forgive you ‘R’, I forgive you ‘K’.
So, my query to you dear reader is what events in your past are still there in the back of your mind, occasionally gnawing at your energy? Who do you need to forgive for what, and how are you going to do that? And as you are forgiving, remember that your own ‘un-forgiving’ has served some purpose so perhaps the degree level question that follows your forgiveness is to explore what that secondary gain has been and how you replace it with something more constructive and life affirming.
I came across this quotation (apparently from a movie – do you know which one, becasue I don’t?) recently…
“Wars are won one battle at a time. Battles are won one bullet at a time.”
We all need to keep our eye on the big picture, but when this gets in the way of the detail then there is a risk that the war will be lost one battle at a time.
A friend of mine, Julie Kay, recently wrote in her blog about ‘caring’ and it struck me that there is a resonance here – if I really care about what I am doing then I will do it to the best of my ability, getting it right first time and avoiding re-work and wasted effort.
Often getting the detail right can make or break getting the job right. If this is the case and someone says “I don’t do detail”, are they in the right job?
How about you commit to excellence to day? Do every job as if it really really mattered.
Richard Bach has been at it again, this time he has stimulated my thoughts around change. Ask anybody who deals with change on a professional basis and they will typically tell you that either it takes a very long time or it can happen instantly, the latter usually when there is some sort of crisis to be dealt with. This requires a response outside our normal repertoire.
Richard Bach, brilliant writer that he is, put it this way:
It doesn’t take time to change once you understand the problem” he said, his face lit with excitement.” Somebody hands you a rattlesnake, it doesn’t take long to drop it does it?
Sometimes I was unaware that rattlesnakes were even around, sometimes I knew about the rattlesnakes but ignored them, sometimes the rattlesnakes transformed into a poisonous spider, but every now and again one of those rattlesnakes ends up in my hand. This is a bit like how some people deal with stress.
We wake up in the morning and someone has left the bathroom lights on all night (it’s not worth the hassle of finding out who and reminding them to turn it off in future), we go downstairs and the first thing we notice is the waste bin overflowing (who is it that is so lazy that they cannot be bothered to empty it and so just it just piles up. It falls on the floor), only try to fill the kettle up but we can’t because the sink is full of dirty dishes, then we find our favourite cereal has been used up, then there’s no milk, and the kids are late which risks me being late for the appointment that I have to meet after I’d taken them to school, then there’s an accident on the way there and I am delayed yet again, then the client I’ve been speaking to 4 weeks decides he wants a fundamental change in the proposal we have been working on, then I get home and my printer has run out of ink again, then the telephone rings and rings and rings but I am trying to concentrate on something else, then… (add in your own stressors will).
Then my wife comes in and asks what’s the dinner tonight?-And she gets it all dumped on her. I’LL TELL YOU WHAT’S FOR DINNER TONIGHT. WHAT’S FOR DINNER TONIGHT IS WHAT YOU COOK WHEN YOU WANT TO COOK IT….
Poor woman, a simple enquiry yet the stacked up stresses of the day just collapsed on her very ordinary question. And I spend the next week apologising and making it up – somehow.
If only I had dealt with those little things as they were happening…
If only I had dealt with the rattlesnake before it ended up in my hand…