Friday, November 19, 2010

Self-management, Being Present and Assurance

Impatience sometimes leads us to make hasty decisions and to take actions that we later regret. The Seven Dimensions of Wisdom are sets of skills or competencies necessary for achieving life goals. These are represented by the acronym SOPPHIA, which means wisdom in Greek. S is for Self; O for Others; P is for Purpose; the second P is for Present; H is for Health; I is for Innovation; and A is for Assurance or faith. Three of these (self-management, being present, and assurance) are particularly connected to patience and interact with each other.

Self skills have two main components; self awareness and self-management. Self-Management is the ability to process one’s emotions effectively and to experience them without being driven to act impulsively. Often it is the feelings generated within us by our situations and other people that make it difficult to interact effectively with those situations and people. Feelings can create an internal pressure and become intolerable and we feel forced to act. Action taken under this duress is often not likely to produce the most desirable outcomes.

Being present is the opposite of that feeling of being unable to tolerate the feelings we experience in relation to particular situations or people. There is a sense of comfort and enjoyment in the very act of being; regardless of what is occurring. This is sometimes described as flow, or being in the zone by athletes and performers. The senses and the ability to take coordinated action are heightened, and concern about time seems to disappear. There is plenty of time to do what is necessary and desirable; but there is no extra time for boredom.

The third dimension of wisdom that is particularly relevant to these experiences is Assurance or faith. It is the ability to tap resources seemingly beyond oneself and others, to maintain resilience, endurance and courage; when all the senses and reason tell us that the situation is hopeless. This faith may be connected to religion, to a more diffuse spirituality, or to something even less clearly defined. It is the place we turn to when all other avenues are blocked.

Thus we can see how the skills of self-management, being present, and being assured in the face of challenges can work together to create patience; and lead to better decisions and actions, and more peace and enjoyment of being alive; despite the inevitable challenges and obstacles that we each inevitably face.

Dr. Bernard Brookes

Friday, September 10, 2010

Life 2.0: Rebooting After Age 45

Having experienced loss, we can no longer be innocent. We can now either be glum and cynical, or joyful and wise. Daniel Levinson published studies of long term career and life changes in his books Seasons of a Man’s Life and Seasons of a Woman’s Life. One of the consistent things he found was the disillusionment experienced after midlife, even by those who had achieved success by societal standards. Regardless of the degree of social success we all experience loss by that age: loss of the vision or dream amid the striving for attainment, loss of loved ones, marriages, hair, and youth among other things. A new perspective on what constitutes success and happiness is therefore required. This is even more strikingly apparent for those who did not achieve some important goals. In either case, rebooting is required in order to access Life 2.0.

To access Life 2.0, say goodbye to youthful innocence and hello to wisdom. But wisdom is not as much about ruminating as it is about finding joy in being present. I consider the ability to be fully present to be one of the seven dimensions of wisdom. This means letting go of the regret and pain about the things we have lost and embracing new possibilities. We still have the ability to dream and to realize our vision. On Labor Day this year, I had an adventure in Life 2.0.

Having a desire to hear music in an outdoor setting, I heading for the Herndon Virginia Jazz Festival. It was actually more folk-rock, blues and rock than jazz, but it served the purpose. Not a Woodstock exactly; just a Labor Day concert on the Herndon town mall: A man in a khaki kilt walks by and nobody notices. Everyone’s engaged in their own conversation and happening. During the break between sets, the CD player belts out nostalgia: Van Morrison’s My Little Brown-eyed Girl, and You Make Me So Very Happy by Blood, Sweat and Tears.

In this venue, the baby boomers still rule with their elephantine demographic. Let’s throw in some Gary Puckett for the relatively more traditional: Woman, Have You Got Cheating On Your Mind? The new set starts and the young long-haired singer songwriter plays the guitar and kazoo. His trio with keyboards and drums has a bluesy feel, with a Paul Simon-ish vocal style.

Two small boys about three or four years old are alternately dancing in front of the stage and standing looking at the performers in rapt attention. The technicians have finally turned up the guitar and drums and got the mix right. A dragonfly hovers over the head of a blond woman in a bright pink blouse; perhaps mistaking her for a flower. A beautiful young black couple is talking excitedly nearby. Now even adults are dancing on the lawn or at least bouncing around; as am I.

But more interesting than all of this was my unexpectedly finding like-minded companions for the day. I went to Herndon alone, but did not remain so. To get some shade from the sun, I sat on the side of the grass mall, near the trees, on a cement embankment that held up the fence, and began writing my observations as I listened to the music.

Nearby, other cement embankments around each large tree created more improvised benches. I noticed two attractive middle-aged women on one of these tree benches talking animatedly and sharing a bottle of wine with a man; this was actually a wine tasting, as well as a music festival. These three bench neighbors left after a while and I moved to take their place, since the shade was better under their tree. I noticed that they left a plastic shopping bag and an empty bottle, so I wasn’t clear on whether or not they would return. When they did return, the more extroverted of the two women noticed me writing and asked me if I were writing them a note.

I then became part of their conversation, and when the Bruce Springsteen tribute band came on, we all danced for most of the next two hours. What I later learned was that none of the three knew each other before today. I understood how this all worked when Joy, the extrovert, pulled another man into our orbit as we were dancing. By the time the concert ended, the five of us had bonded through that experience and agreed to all have dinner at Jack’s house. After some adventures with our GPS we finally got to Jack’s and had dinner and some wonderful conversations, while listening to his fabulous mix of songs, and watching the beautiful slides of nature and people on his large wall flat screen TV.

Our conversations focused on Life 2.0. Four of us are divorced after long marriages and have adult, or near adult children that we love. There was a strong sense that we are starting over; rebooting. Our challenge is to feel the dream, the possibilities, and the gain, rather than the loss. As one of us said “This is not the life I planned or expected.” And it seems that we all struggle with that at times. But for a while we let go, became present, embraced that day; and were therefore able to embrace each other as brothers and sisters of Life 2.0

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Too Much Necessity Kills Invention

It is said that necessity is the mother of inventions; but too much necessity can also kill innovation. It is not just that the struggle for survival can limit the time and energy available for creativity; beyond that which can produce immediate material benefit. It is also who we become emotionally and spiritually when our survival is threatened over an extended period of time; for example, what happens to people who become long term unemployed during economic recession. That experience can induce a chronic state of fear and inhibition that kills hope and higher aspirations.

The psychic damage can probably be seen best after a person regains a foothold out of a desperate and chronic economic need, and finds a job. It is then tempting to create a religion out of economic security and to kill any surviving remnants of a dream. But it is important that we recognize the danger and fight for spiritual integrity and wholeness as a human being; to not be dominated by fear, anger and cynicism, but to remain open-hearted and hopeful, despite the pain that we have experienced.

The Biblical statement that we do not live by bread alone is not just religious dogma. We require hope and dreams, as well as material sustenance, in order to live as full human beings, rather than merely as creatures driven by necessity. If we allow ourselves to become the latter, a part of us will fester and die.

In my framework, innovation is one of the seven dimensions of wisdom; seven sets of skills or competencies necessary for a fulfilling life. It is the process through which our dreams and creativity are converted into activities and things that produces value for other people. In other words, our internal creative life is connected to social and material life of communities of which we are part. It is the need and right of every human being, not just the preserve of a privileged few. It includes both freedom and connection with others. The opposite is wage slavery, where we subordinate our humanity in order to eat and survive. We may have to do that, but we should never accept it as our destiny. We have the right to be free and to be part of community.

The struggle for freedom begins in the Self, the first dimension of freedom. Being self-aware, and therefore recognizing our need for freedom, creative expression, as well as for connection, encourages us to resist the temptation to give up the dream, regardless of our material circumstances. It is better to live with the heartache of awareness of a dream deferred, than to live in anesthetized or cynical surrender.

The dream is Purpose, another dimension of wisdom. Purpose does not deny material necessity, but ever seeks to subsume it under a greater vision; a vision that is both personal and communal, and even transcendent. This is not self-inflation, but the experienced truth of who we are as human beings. We are stardust as well as earth.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Managing Trust, Risk and Chance

How do we know when to trust someone? Trust is based on character and competence. We trust someone to act in our best interest because of our assessment of their character, their motivation to do the right thing; and their competence, their ability to effectively take the correct action. Steven MR Covey’s book Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything takes this approach to conceptualizing trust; and it is consistent with previous research on the subject.

What is risk? Risk is the probability that events will occur that cause us harm or are otherwise not in our perceived best interest. To the extent that our assessment of trust in someone is accurate, we reduce the risk associated with that person. But even if we could trust ourselves and others around us to act with character and competence one hundred percent of the time, we would still have the risk from events occurring by chance.

Are any of us perfect either in character or competence? No. That is why an important part of creating a culture of trust is to have systems of accountability. In society at large, we have laws and justice systems to enforce them. In organizations, we have policies and procedures and ways to monitor and enforce compliance. Systems of accountability help us to more consistently exhibit organizational and personal values and principles, by providing procedures and consequences (rewards and punishments) to guide behavior. More effective, however, than just procedures and consequences, is when an organization develops a culture of accountability at all levels of the hierarchy. Frequently, leaders at various levels of an organization are not consistent in holding themselves or their team members accountability. This arbitrariness erodes the sense of trust.

Is there risk from events that are outside of our control? Surely, there is. The most readily recognizable risk from chance events are natural disasters. Every year, we hear news of hurricanes, earthquakes and flooding and other natural disasters. Most of these do not seem to be the result of human action or inaction. However, there are also random or chance events that may have a remote relationship to some human action, even our own past actions. For example, building dams or making other structural changes in the land can affect flooding, for better or worse. But because we are often incapable of predicting the remote effects of particular human actions, many of these events for all intents and purposes must be considered random.

Is there anything we can do to reduce risk? Yes, there is a lot we can do in organizational life as well as in our personal lives, to reduce risk by developing trust. We can improve our own character and competence through reflection and practice, and we can build our social networks and organizational culture that promotes these values and behaviors. This includes putting in place systems of accountability to monitor and encourage compliance with positive values.

What do we do when trust fails or disaster strikes? For the risk that comes from failure of trust, when people do the wrong things through deficiencies of character or competence; or the risk from chance occurrences, we can use insurance to help us to recover from the damage, as much as that is possible. We can restore financial and physical assets, and sometimes health, but we cannot restore life. In all cases there are costs to failure of trust as well; and there are costs to managing risk from chance, including the cost of insurance itself.

It makes sense to do everything we can to manage trust as well as possible, since this is the risk over which we have the most direct control. We can also do as good a job as possible of developing effective methods of scanning our environment to get early warning of harmful chance occurrences. It may seem contradictory, but we should think positively and pursue happiness, while at the same time keeping an eye open for the potential impeding disaster.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can reach me at

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Faith is both spiritual and physical

Faith is the final challenge on the path of wisdom. When logic and physical and social supports fail us in a critical time, we are forced to call upon an internal reserve that we were previously unsure existed. Walking in that valley of shadow we must find a direction and motivation beyond reason. In that valley of dry bones, logic says that we are dead, but yet we find something that nourishes us. This essay is a meditation on faith as both a spiritual and physiological experience.

Yes, even here, in what may seem like exceptionally bad circumstances, we must stand. No excuses! Wisdom is the ability to be present in our lives, regardless of the circumstances. As we do so, we gain some distance from the pain, and begin to experience it as separate from us; or at least just a small part of us. We begin to access energies that are primal and pure. From here, we can get to a place of positive emotions, where we can benefit from the unlimited natural resource of the creative imagination. This is a critical moment. That is why Assurance (faith) is important. Through faith, we are able to access knowledge and power that are not accessible in our ordinary cognitive and emotional state. It is both spiritual and physiological.

SOPPHIA, which means wisdom in Greek, is not just an intellectual model or concept. It must bear fruit and show results in life. The last letter in the acronym stands for Assurance or faith. In the Biblical book of Hebrews 11:1 “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In Protestant doctrine, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives the disciple the assurance of salvation. That process of finding inner assurance and comfort in the middle of a chaotic and frightening world is a process of transformation that is both spiritual and physiological. It is the same power that came upon the original disciples at Pentecost, when their fear disappeared and they became bold and able to act on their faith. It is the same power that artists and performers can access at peak moments. It is a process that is not confined or defined by any one religion. Rather it is a fundamental part of being human.

The challenge is to not accept the fear but to overcome it. We overcome it by seeing what is hidden behind it. The fear hides the awesome power that we first perceive as separate from ourselves. That is the holy awe that overcomes us in a transcendental or God-appearing moment. But if we face the fear, we experience the comforting presence; the assurance.

So, what is wrong with fear and its cousin anger? Aren’t they the natural physiological responses to threat to our safety and security? What is healthy fear and anger, as opposed to the unhealthy kinds? As Jimi Hendrix sang in Axis Bold As Love, the boldness comes though love, not from anger or fear. And it is in the boldness of love that we meet the source of being, our axis. Fear and anger signal a potentially urgent problem, to which we need to respond. But frequently in our complex social world, as opposed to our original African Savanna environment, fear and anger are based on distorted perceptions and interpretations.

Going past the anger and fear, we find in addition to love, humility. Humility allows us to accept help without humiliation. Compassion enables us to give help without pity. In those personally difficult times, we need to stay positive and keep working at it. Keep an open and creative mind, and try other things until something works. Even though it feels hopeless at times, eventually opportunities for fulfillment will be there, if we have the vision to see them and the ability to bring them to fruition.

To get past our dead-ends, each of us can ask ourselves, “What am I not seeing?” The barrier is within each of us. Something is getting in the way of reaching deeply enough into our inner resources to create a breakthrough. What is it? Perhaps it’s an unresolved relationship from the past; a parent or child, spouse or friend. Perhaps the lack of forgiveness and acceptance of the reality of who they were, and what that means for each of us as a person, and as a man or woman, is blocking our vision and energy. It could be anything in our lives.

To the extent that our light is shining, it means that we are connected to our internal energy source. This makes others attracted to us; because they are seeking that light that is also within them; though hidden. It must be possible to connect to that power source, regardless of the dismal external circumstances. That is also the meaning of faith or assurance. It is both a spiritual and a physiological state. It may also be that at least for some people, the only way to tap into that internal source is to be in such dire external circumstances that there is no alternative but to look within.

In Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross writes something to the effect that being close to the divine light can deepen one’s sense of being in darkness. An intruding image, a metallic dragon puppet sitting at the table, evokes fear. “What if I get sick?” This is real. This is it. Staying positive is not just a nice thing to do. It changes what we are able to perceive and therefore changes events. Another image appears, a ring of light; and then a building made of light. Be bold as love. We are on a quest. All of this is not accidental, though chance and probability have their roles.

Time may seem short, but we underestimate what can happen in a moment. Now there’s an image of pastel pink and blue swirls. There is someplace we are trying to get to that we could not get to without desperate measures. Learn from but do not regret the past.

Truth is as important as survival. Now we get to a place of peace and rest. There’s no need to do anything more.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can reach me at

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Freedom In Work

In the world of work, many people are searching for freedom; not so much freedom from work as freedom in work: the ability to work in a manner that has meaning and purpose as well as that meets our financial needs. The answer is not in sentimentality, but in truth. Knowing our true purpose, we must make hard choices about how to spend our time and energy; what compromises to accept, and which to avoid. Inevitably, there will be a need for personal adjustments; changes in activities and changes in our emotional reactions to those activities. In other words, some pain and discomfort is both unavoidable, and necessary for our growth and development into the persons we envision ourselves to be.

Learning to be comfortable and content doing the things that are actually good for us; that work to build the kind of life that we aspire to have; sometimes requires a kind of rewiring of neural circuits. It requires an approach similar to the one used for reducing anxiety. One technique is physical relaxation; slowing the breath; and tensing and relaxing muscles. The other is cognitive, catching the negative thinking that accompanies the anxiety, and countering it with positive emotions.

It is not just a matter of gritting our teeth and just getting the work done. It requires examining the anxious and negative emotions that we experience during the work activity and to transform those into positive emotions, or to reach a decision that we really should be doing something else. This is a gradual process, using the relaxation and cognitive restructuring techniques previously discussed.

A good example of emotional challenges in a job is in sales. Is it fear of the unknown; fear of being rejected, of being spoken to harshly; that makes for emotional difficulty? That fear can become the only guidance a salesperson has as to what needs to change in order to improve performance in talking with prospective clients. Fear impedes the subliminal communication that in ten seconds establishes a connection with another person. Solving this practical interpersonal riddle is the gateway to success.

It can help to have as a driver, the need to make a living and pay bills. This forces us to choose among the available means of making money. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages in terms of compensation/time efficiency, schedule flexibility, natural emotional appeal of the work activity, availability etc. All force us to make emotional adjustments of one kind or another. It is best to make a decision about which type of work fits best with the life purpose and life style to which we are committed.

We expect more from work that just financial compensation. Even if we do not articulate it, we tend to seek greater fulfillment in work, as in our other life activities, than just the basics of survival. That is why we have art, sports, religion and the other seemingly impractical activities that nourish the human spirit. In work, we are in some way attempting to bring something of our spirit and imagination into the pedestrian activity of making a living. When we become more present, we can discern the internal pains and discomfort that are our only guides in this unknown world, where what has only existed in imagination must be brought into reality. That is where the matter of truth comes in. Although a vision is emotional, it is not sentimental. Its power comes from truth. It is born from and embedded in the elemental soil of who we are, individually and collectively. The passion of the vision, whether expressed in love, faith, ideology, esthetics or mathematics, is both necessary for powerful commitment and frightening; because in giving up self-control there is the potential to release both creative and destructive energies; to lose ourselves in the outpouring.

But we must trust enough to let go. We must trust that something in ourselves that we do not fully know, that we cannot control, and that has lead is into error at least some of the time in the past. We are therefore talking about a kind of faith or trust. This trust is in part based on competence or skills; in the sense of a performance artist or athlete, who has practiced certain movements so often that they become ingrained in the memory of the body; the arms legs, hands and fingers. However, since they must be performed in a situation that is live and ever changing, there is a sense of risk and the unknown. This creates excitement, but also can involve some anxiety.

If we stay true to our visions and dreams, then opportunities will arise to join with others to create a new world of work; where the gifts of partners and team mates complement each other, and the load is easy to carry, because it is shared, and because it is a labor of love.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can reach me at

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Selling: The Last Stage of Innovation

In business, you sell an idea, a product or service, but in a friendship or romantic relationship you are offering yourself. Either way, you are selling, and there is nothing wrong with that. The important thing is to be a truth seeker in selling; that is, to aim to uncover the truth about the transaction and the relationship; whether or not the person can benefit from what you have to offer and vice versa; in other words whether there can be a fair exchange.

Every successful creative idea begin in imagination and ends in a sale, where someone else buys into or pays for the product or service generated from the idea, because it has value for them. This is the process of Innovation, one of the Seven Dimensions of Wisdom in my SOPPHIA system. SOPPHIA is the Greek word for wisdom, and each letter in the acronym represents a set of skills necessary for success. The I is for Innovation, the process of generating ideas, and developing them to the point where they create social and economic value. Therefore, selling is the end point of innovation.

Sales skills are made necessary in part by the human tendency to avoid doing certain things that we need to do or that are in our own best interest. We tend to avoid taking certain necessary or desirable actions such as getting life insurance, making a will, and making investments for the long term as opposed to focusing on short term costs. The goal in ethical selling should not be to convince people to buy things that they don’t want or need; but rather to find the people who can truly benefit from what you are offering. Because we are all bombarded with offers to purchase products and services, it requires sales skills to even get people to listen closely enough to determine whether or not they can benefit from your offering. You must overcome defensiveness and mistrust in order for the offer to be evaluated accurately.

In selling, fear of rejection is just the symptom; the real challenge is to overcome the focus on your own needs and to experience genuine empathy for the other person’s. Effective sales persons recognize that many of the people they approach won’t need or want the service or product; so it’s important to learn to not take their unwillingness as a personal insult.

You establish this self-confidence by examining your fears and motivations, and the value of what you are offering to others. This doesn’t mean puffing yourself up and denying your real concerns and feelings. Rather it means making an honest appraisal of your purpose, and how the activities you are engaged in relate to that purpose; to something that you are truly passionate about and that is of benefit to others as well as to yourself.

The truthful seller must be convinced that what he or she has to offer is valuable, in relation to the specific needs of the buyer. Prior reflection is helpful in revealing your true beliefs about the value of your offering, and the circumstances under which it can and cannot be helpful to someone. You then enter the interaction with the potential buyer with this clear understanding; and you don’t hesitate to ask questions that reveal the buyer’s need for your offering. Similarly, you know when your offering is not likely to be helpful to the buyer, and you can avoid crossing that ethical boundary.

As in any interaction, the best first step is usually to meet people where they are. Initially, self-protectiveness is one of the natural responses to being approached by someone we don’t know well, and therefore don’t trust. Having and showing sincere interest in the other person, their welfare, and their point of view, is the best way to begin establishing trust. If you don’t experience that interest in the other person naturally, then you need to work on yourself, and release the internal locks that are blocking your connection with others.

People’s defensiveness in reacting to salespeople is similar to what happens in psychotherapy. All of us want in some way to be healthy and to do the things needed to sustain our health. But we will throw up all manner of defenses to avoid facing certain truths about ourselves and changing behaviors that are necessary to achieve that goal. While not confronting our defenses directly, the therapist also does not accept our initial presentation as accurately representing our true needs and desires. Similarly, the skilled salesperson asks questions that overcome our initial objections and should help us to make a decision to buy something that we really need or want.

Of course, this process can be abused and become a means of manipulating people into buying things just to put money in the salesperson’s pocket. This unethical practice may be more characteristic of salespeople than say doctors or lawyers, but it is certainly not limited to the former. Whenever one is providing a service or product for sale, there is always the possibility and temptation to cheat the customer.

A buyer who feels pressured or manipulated into a purchase, as opposed to convincing themselves with the seller’s help, will experience resentment, and is likely to retaliate by later canceling the order or returning the product. An addition fallout is that the seller in such situations may feel guilt; or at least is not likely to experience the satisfaction that comes from helping another person to meet their needs. The fulfillment that comes from helping other people is what contributes to happiness, a sense of achievement and satisfaction with one’s work. Ultimately this is necessary for long term success.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can me via by web site at