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The Backbone Crisis: does Anyone Still Have Principles?

In today’s society, the idea of acting from principle sometimes gets lip service, but when it comes right down to it, we’re more than encouraged to sell out- we are often required to do so, especially in business.  On the other hand, we do have the benefit of a very extensive body of standards governing professional behavior, employer-employee relationships and so on, an inheritance that helps to curb abuses in the workplace.

This dichotomy shows our competition-driven, consumption-crazed society’s schizophrenic relationship with principle.  Principle in our society is largely a defensive concept- it exists to stop bad things from happening (a legitimate and necessary function), but seldom is perceived as a motivator for what we do.

 

Principle as Motivation

Earlier this week, I attended a very interesting presentation on branding.   The presenter, a longtime branding consultant, kept insisting that the most important first step in designing a brand was to be able to distil a business’s product or service down to one simple sentence.

But as the presentation went on, it was clear that the business statements she upheld as examples had very little to do with what the business physically does.  Instead, the brand statement always answered one or more of the following questions:

  1. What did I go into business to do?
  2. Why is my business compelling to me?
  3. What do I want to change/ contribute?

In other words, it is the core principle of your business, what you want to bring to the world.  If you can’t articulate that, you’re probably in the wrong business.  A handyman could probably get away with answering questions 1 and 2 with, “To putter around” and “Because I like to putter around”- customers would even like that, since a passion for building and fixing things is the essential qualification for being a handyman.  But if you haven’t got another answer to question 1 besides “To make money,” and lack an answer to question 2, chances are your business will never really excel, nor will it be personally satisfying to you.

Not that making money is bad, but why do you want the money?  To be successful, to hold your head high in the community, to provide for your family, to do the things you always wanted to do?  Let’s be honest- sure, you may want the nice car and the nice house and vacations in Minorca, but the bottom line is you want money because you want to feel fulfilled as a person and have the opportunity to reach your full potential.  Anything else either follows from that, or doesn’t matter.  Thus, we even have a principle behind earning money.

 

Wanting money is about being happy tomorrow.  But the truth is, tomorrow never comes, especially in business.  If you’re going to postpone personal fulfillment until retirement or wealth, whichever comes first, you will have spent the best years of your life doing things you don’t care about.  Why not find a business or a line of work that you’re passionate about in the meantime?  It starts with an idea and a passion.

This is what I mean by principle as motivation- you are passionate about creating something, giving something to the world, because you know it’s a good idea.  It’s the difference between managing a McDonald’s and managing the hottest organic restaurant in town.  The McDonald’s manager is there, strange as it sounds, to make money.  The organic restaurant manager has a vision.  Only one of them has a shot at real success.  Same elements, different result.

 

Finding Our Core Principles

We’ve talked about principle as “that which I want to contribute.”  There is another side to the coin.  Principle also means, that from which I will not retreat.  It is, in effect, a set of pre-made decisions, decisions that you make, whether you know it or not, before you ever have to make them.  This is what makes principle such a powerful gauge for what we care about, the directions that we might take with real power to change the world.

The bottom line with principle is when we understand what principles are worth our life.  There were two news stories in Canada a few years back that I use to illustrate this.  In one, a man travelling on an intercity bus brutally attacked another passenger with a knife and killed him.  The attack went on for some time, but no other passenger tried to intervene.  The other was the story of a man who opened the door to a would-be murderer.  His wife prevented the attack from succeeding, at the cost of her own life.

We as a society are not used to thinking about these choices (except as they apply to characters on TV), and we are disturbed by the very thought.  The truth is, neither the passengers nor the woman made a choice on the day- she had already made her choice, because she knew who she was and what she was about.  The passengers, lacking that knowledge, could only live in indecision.

The so-called pragmatists among us look at these stories and say, “See, act from principle and you get yourself killed.  Be a coward and live.”  Well, it’s true.  Principle doesn’t promise safety- rather the opposite.  But at the end of the day, it is the only way to know who we truly are, our fundamental worth as human beings, the real dignity of choice, and what we can give the world.

It is only once we start to understand our own deepest principles, and the sacrifices we are prepared to make for them, that we truly acquire a backbone, a moral centre.  All other questions of integrity, honesty, compassion, moral courage- they all become much clearer to us.  In fact, without this backbone of principle, all those other questions are completely irrelevant – they are at best empty words and at worst a smoke screen.  The truth is, unless I acquire this backbone of principle in my own life, I can NEVER become a truly resilient and happy human being, nor will I ever have anything meaningful to share with the world.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂


Using “Thick Face / Black Heart” to Get Clarity and Conviction

Welcome to our next installment on the warrior philosophy of “Thick Face, Black Heart” (TFBH) and what it can do for YOU. If you’ve just stumbled on this post, please go back to the two previous posts and READ THEM FIRST. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in a matter of seconds ;-)

Practicing TFBH clarifies everything in your life. TFBH means living in the world of the DEFINITE. Once you become very definite about your lifestyle – about your diet, your exercise, your responsibilities towards others at home, at work and in general, something miraculous happens…

GREAT CLARITY ENSUES:

One of the defining characteristics of most people in our culture is their glaring lack of definiteness and direction. We’re a deeply conflicted people who create deeply conflicted lives.

Once you DECIDE to adopt a definite manner of life – meaning you stick to your lifestyle even when others attack you or, more importantly, when you yourself “feel like” caving in – then the next step is this:

Decide who you really are and what you stand for. Ask yourself these questions (yes, really do it!  Get out a piece of paper or open a new document on your computer):

1. What are my highest values as a person?

2. What moral standards do I refuse to compromise on?

3. When have I been asked to go along passively with something unjust or to live with a lie?  Have I become “politically correct” (in other words, a pathological liar)?

4. When have I actually gone along with a lie?

5. If I could contribute just ONE good thing to the world in my lifetime, what would it be?  And what am I willing to do about it?

6. What infuriates me?  What will I absolutely not tolerate?

Yes, contrary to what you might think, righteous anger is not an evil. The ancient Christian tradition considers it a protective force implanted within you by your Creator. If you see evil and injustice done to others and that doesn’t infuriate you, then you’ve got a real problem. Not that you should lose control of yourself; simply that you should feel impelled to take action.

As many of you know, my jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church has suffered a debilitating financial scandal and a generalized leadership crisis over the past couple of years. At one point the lies became too much for me and I spoke out. And I took the criticism that comes from the spineless and unprincipled who fear nothing quite so much as rocking the boat. That’s an example of “thick face”. However, many who did speak out and continue to do so have suffered for it much more than I did, and they deserve great respect for doing so.

Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. are perfect examples of people who felt compelled to speak out. They saw injustice and got REALLY ANGRY about it. However, they were able to channel the force of their righteous anger into great moral principles and to achieve victories once thought completely impossible.  Their righteous anger became the very power of their inspiring vision of a better future for everyone.

REFUSING OTHER PEOPLE’S DEFINITIONS FOR YOUR LIFE

My family has a dear friend who’s over 90 years old right now. He was a best friend to my father for over half a century. Lately he’s become a bit obsessed with telling my children how off-track they are with respect to their educations and career choices. They need to become doctors, lawyers or dentists, he says, because those are the people who make the real money.

Well, that kind of career advice is understandable from a post-war immigrant, but it really lost its validity after the sixties.

Likewise, you’ll find all kinds of well-meaning people trying to define your life for you. Some of them may be success “gurus” telling you success is measured in dollars. Some may be family members who think you should go to university because the previous three generations of your family did.

One thing you can be sure of: if you are definite about your lifestyle – adopting a “thick face” in that department – and if you’re increasingly definite about who you are and what you stand for, you’ll become more and more CLEAR about what you want to contribute. And when that’s the case, you WILL find all kinds of people putting obstacles in your way.

The great thing about practicing TFBH is that once you become very clear and definite about the little things in life, you’ll get CRYSTAL CLARITY surprisingly fast on the larger issues, including your long term dreams and your most immediate goals.

Try it. Don’t believe me; see for yourself! “Thick Face” and “Black Heart” are the essence of the world’s ancient spiritual traditions and of the Warrior’s way of life worldwide.

This coming Thursday, I’ll finally explain to you what “Black Heart” means – it doesn’t mean what you’re probably thinking it means… ;-)

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


The Art of Deception: Why We Do It, and How to Stop

The liar’s punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.
-George Bernard Shaw

Recently a friend of mine was at a clothing store, admiring some shirts but not really in need of anything. A saleslady approached her and asked her if there was anything she was looking for. Instead of the truth, which was that she wasn’t looking for anything  in particular, my friend blurted out, “a dress!” She and the clerk spent a quarter of an hour looking at dresses before she made an excuse to leave, and she was left wondering why in the world she would have told such a needless lie.

For many of us, lying is second-nature. But why do we spend so long avoiding the truth? Despite our best intentions, lying is often simply a way to avoid confrontation or rejection. It often serves as a way to make ourselves look better.

According to Dr. Brad Blanton, a psychologist, and founder of the radical honesty movement, “Lying is saying or withholding information in order to manipulate someone’s opinion of you. It captures your attention by bringing your focus to the story you’re telling, the image you’re preserving, and the secret that you’re hiding. You’re no longer able to focus your attention wherever you want to focus it; you’re only able to focus your attention on the lies you’re telling and the secret you’re keeping. This captured attention creates stress.” This stress is completely avoidable – in many situations, you’ll find lying only brings on the uncomfortable situations you are trying to avoid.

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Virginia, found that,“both men and women lie in about one fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes; over the course of a week they deceive about 30 percent of those with whom they interact one-on-one.” Another study found that 96% of Canadians lie regularly. Why must we deceive each other so often?

Some would argue that it is an attempt to preserve our reputations, or even to avoid intimacy. Have you ever lied about the reason you were upset, so you didn’t have to explain it? We pretend to be blameless, happy individuals, always.

In many ways, our attempts to appear perfect are not necessary. If 96% of people are regularly lying, it would seem that most of us have flaws, things we would rather keep hidden. It can be really freeing to admit the truth, especially when you find that you’re not alone. The interesting thing about complete honesty is that it often prompts reciprocation. You may find yourself really connecting with people once you show your true self.

We may brush off the little lies we tell, thinking they don’t really matter. The truth is, lying deeply affects your mind. The liar becomes entrenched in a reality which does not exist, and begins to detach from the situation at hand. Also, cortisol levels give a slight spike. Depending on the severity of the lie, heart rates may rise. There are even physical changes in your brain; “lying leaves telltale traces on brain scans”, says Feroze Mohamed, PhD. Compulsive liars also have more white matter in their prefrontal cortex.

Lying affects your body. This can be demonstrated by the phenomenon of muscle testing, which seems to indicate that telling lies can actually undermine your musculature.  Many of you may be familiar with muscle testing, a practice which uses knowledge of ancient Chinese medicine to read the body’s messages. It is often used to interpret the body’s response to allergens, nutritional deficiencies or energy blockages, but may also be used to detect a liar. First, the subject raises their arm out straight beside them. Then you ask them questions, while pressing down gently on the arm. If they’re saying anything that is not true, their muscle structure weakens instantly and you’ll be able to push their arm down effortlessly. I myself can vouch for the effectiveness of this technique. It may be preformed on any large muscle group. This goes to show the profound effect lying has throughout the body.

We spend a lot of time explaining the importance of integrity and honesty to our kids, and yet we don’t practice it ourselves. It may be in part because society often rewards liars – at a very young age, you have have gotten out of trouble scot-free. You probably still remember it – there’s nothing like the glorious feeling of getting away with something. And whether it’s as a salesperson, politician, lawyer or office-worker, this tantalizing idea of lying as an escape continues on well into adult life. But the truth is, while books like Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot and Dreamworks film Catch Me If You Can may glamorize deceit, when you’re caught in a lie, nothing is more damaging to your reputation. It can be mortifying to yourself and hurtful to others, but too often we think of short-term gain rather than long-term pain.

In the coming week, why not make a concerted effort to tell the truth? You may feel a rush of exhilaration that comes with really saying what’s on your mind. You may forge connections you never thought you could. Perhaps it’s time to step up and take responsibility for your actions, instead of shirking, evading and pretending. Though feel free to lie and say you did 🙂

In any case, here are some helpful tips to start fending off fibs:

1) You don’t have to volunteer everything. Too often people lie to fill silences or because of their own discomfort, when it isn’t really necessary. Also, help out your fellow man and avoid pressing people when they seem reticent: no need to prompt a lie.

2) Your stories are good on their own! You’d be surprised how rounding out stories with extra details takes enthusiasm and conviction from the telling.  Suddenly you’re trying to keep all these balls in the air instead of concentrating on conveying a memory.

3) Don’t corner people. If you catch someone in a misdeed, it’s tempting to start asking revealing questions. “Remember how you said you were sick today? I thought maybe I could drop by with some soup …” But this does nothing but force people to further deceive. It’s far better to calmly explain what has transpired, and they can acknowledge the error without further embarrassment.

4) Use humor. Humor has the combined benefits of admitting the problem while coming across as winning and friendly. Had Mr. Leacock simply laughed and said, “I’m sorry. Could I be any worse at banking?” the following story may have turned out very differently: http://www.online-literature.com/stephen-leacock/literary-lapses/1/

5) When you feel a lie coming on: take a deep breath, and think about how the person you are speaking to would feel if they knew you had lied to them. Think about the possible consequences of getting caught in the lie, and be honest. Almost immediately, you’ll feel a sense of relief of having told the truth.

Now, let’s end with a profound and amusing counterpoint about when it is NOT appropriate to tell the truth…

Some interesting ideas!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Honor – the Heart of Resilience

Continuing with our series on the three key virtues of the Warrior, the three that make for an exceptionally resilient life, we arrive at honor.  

Anyone familiar with Star Trek’s Klingon Empire will have heard that word thrown around a lot.  Unfortunately, not all of Star Trek’s writers knew anything about Warrior cultures and how they function, so the ideas of honor they sometimes wrote into scripts for their Klingon characters were terribly misleading.  Fortunately, General Chang is one Klingon who hits the nail on the head:

As I said, the concept of honor has been perverted just as often as duty has, and not just in the Klingon Empire, but in real human cultures.  The Samurai fell into the trap of equating defeat with dishonor and with an unbearable shame on an entire family.  Some religious perversions talk about honor killing to avenge a perceived slight.  And, most common of all, the totally false notion that honor, like duty, involves blindly following orders – the infamous defense of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.  Of course, we’re not interested in those false ideas of honor. 


Establishing Your Honor


Before you can guard your honor, you have to establish it.  You can’t protect what you don’t have.  Establishing your honor comes through a determination to do the right thing, even under the most difficult circumstances That’s why Chang calls it, “the absolute, unselfish dedication to all virtues; to truth, to courage, to forthrightness.  It encompasses all these, and yet it is greater.”


So, if you want to have honor, then:


1. Speak the truth… and demand that the whole truth be told, boldly and bluntly


2. Do your duty to the utmost of your ability 


3. Do not allow yourself to be dragged into the disgraceful conduct of others


In our public life we’re now living in a time when honor seems to be vanishing.  Despite the many fine, unselfish people we have the good fortune of knowing in our personal lives, our public life is increasingly marked by lies, deceit and manipulation.  It’s a shadowy world of half-truths designed for the advantage of the unworthy and the unscrupulous.  Yet without a commitment to honor as individuals and as a civilization, we cannot survive… nor would we deserve to.  


So part of honor is to oppose the lies of public life, to speak the truth and demand that the whole truth be spoken.  Not an easy task, and one that’s sure to get you into trouble.  Do you have the guts for that?  Every Warrior must.  Kapla!


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger




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