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Comparisons are Odious, Except When They’re Not …

Comparisons are Odious, Except When They’re Not

Have you ever been in a room of people whose accomplishments were so amazing that you were in awe of them? It is challenging not to compare, to listen to how they are changing the world and ask yourself “what am I doing?” Comparisons, at this point, might seem odious (according to Cervantes, Donne and others).
Recently I attended the Fifth World Congress on Positive Psychology in Montreal Canada. It is an amazing conference where scientists and practitioners share and learn about the ways that positive psychology is helping to change the world for good. And the attendees themselves are also part of the learning. I spoke with those who are changing schools to help students be aware of the fullness of their possibilities and get better grades. There was the young man who is helping “at risk” kids in Camden, NJ turn their lives around and another who is changing how corporations work in Mexico City. It was an incredible array of people who are doing fantastic work in many ways.
Okay, back to comparisons. I have long believed the line from the Desiderata by Max Ehrmann “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” So, I have tried never to compare. Until now.
What I found happening at the World Congress was a growing sense of what others had done and what I could do. The comparison did not lessen me, rather in emboldened me, gave me strength and hope in the possibility of the contribution that I could possibly add to society.
So, compare yourself to others, not to become vain or bitter, but to see what the possibilities are. There are amazing people in this world doing amazing things. When we compare, and perhaps think we can do more, they are there as a guide, a role model, and even perhaps as a mentor. Comparisons, when they lessen us or others, are odious. But when comparisons spur us on to the possibilities and probabilities of development and change, they become a wonderful tool.
Take the chance. Admire someone and then allow that comparison to lift you up. You might be surprised what you can do for yourself and for the world.

Greatness Project 2017

Greatness Project 2017: Are We Really Curious?

The fake commercial by the Saturday Night Live cast about Amazon Silver, “the echo built for seniors,” is very funny and very true. And one part of the commercial is very close to reality. One of the characters keeps asking Alexa how Satchel Page batted today. Alexa responds that Satchel Page is dead. The character mumbles “I don’t think so.” And that is where the commercial is like many of us. We KNOW the truth don’t we? Even in the face of evidence we hold on to our beliefs. And that is what gets in the way of openness, acceptance, empathy, and innovation. We are so certain that we have all the answers.
In my consulting practice with individuals and organizations we continue to offer a mantra when they come to a session, “be curious, not certain.” Yet even as I have experienced, this is tougher to say than it is to live out. Why? Because most of lean toward a confirmation bias. We believe we already have the right answer, so we look for the information that will lead us back to what we know or what we want to believe. It is not easy to keep an open mind.
Right now, what divides so much of our world, is this lack of curiosity. No matter where we live we believe we have the answers, the correct beliefs, the way it should be. And we dig our heels in and refuse to even hear what others might think. So, it affects us on a world-wide level, but it also affects us personally.
When we can’t hear our lover’s insight on something we might personally change, when we can’t have a dialogue at dinner unless everyone agrees, when we are “unfriending” people just because they hold a different view, we aren’t curious. That lack of curiosity leads to a narrowness that breeds a sense of superiority and eventually anger.
Yet, when we enter a space, a dialogue, a learning environment, even listen to a show we don’t normally listen to, and we let go of our pre-conceived notions, then we will really hear the other. When we are willing to ask more questions than state our opinion, we can learn. And when we place ourselves in the situation of another individual and see it from their point of view we will know real empathy.
Curiosity is not the characteristic of someone lacking knowledge. Curiosity is the skill of someone who courts wisdom, who embraces change and loves diversity. It starts by putting aside our ego and believing that we can learn from everyone, everything, and every situation. Curiosity can change our lives and it can change the world. Be curious, not certain.

Greatness Project 2017

Greatness Project 2017: We, Not Me

“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.” Jean Vanier
It happened serendipitously last summer on a mountain in Switzerland. A few of us had chosen to hike the Haute Route from Chamonix, France to Zermat, Switzerland. Over the course of the 15 days we met individuals from across the globe with different beliefs, different politics, different mindset, and we all helped and cared for each other. Some were hiking solo, others in twos or threes, but none of us cared about the differences, we celebrated what we had in common.
What we experienced on that hike was so different than what most of us experience in life. We live in a world that focuses on the individual. What’s in it for me? And what we hear and what we learn is to make sure that our rights are respected, that our views are pervasive and that we get what we want. This is prevalent in communities, households and organizations. But what about others? What about the community?
The challenges that face us in this world will not be solved by us as individuals, but by us as a collective. We cannot and should not think that one person will save mankind. It will have to be the effort of all of us looking toward the greater good rather than into the vanity of our own mirror.
One day on the Haute Route we lunched with the largest group of hikers we met. We were from many different pasts brought into one present moment. And we agreed that we all needed to look after each other in the world. Now is not the time for continued self-focus, for me first. It is the time to find the best way to uplift us all, to forge ways to heal divisions, and to utilize the greatest power we have in this world…all of us, together.

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Greatness Project 2017

Greatness Project 2017: Is There Hope?
Since the beginning of the year I have heard many of my friends and acquaintances say that they anxious or depressed. They are over-eating, over-drinking or just trying any way they can to calm themselves as they look at the national and international news. Many of them can’t keep away from checking the news constantly because they say it is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. And this only deepens their anxiety. Add to this the power of a 24/7/365 news cycle that knows bad news is much more likely to attract people than good news and you have a downward spiral of negativity.
What is playing out on the world stage right now looks like we are headed for a global disaster. From the threat of North Korea, to the swagger of China, to the duplicity of Russia we ricochet from threat to threat without a minute to breathe. When we look at the reality of rising oceans, opioid epidemics, and a failing infrastructure to protect the vulnerable, it can look like the end of the world as we know it.
This is where we need to dream again. Martin Seligman wrote in a recent New York Times article that what separates us from the animals is that we can dream of and plan for the future. He opined that everything we do is focused on something that will happen in the near or far future. So, let’s get to work.
It is easy, when we are in a reactionary mode, to plan our future as a series of defensive measures meant to safeguard our livelihood and the people we love. Yet, reactionary planning only goes so far because the threats are constantly changing. What we need to do on a personal and on a national and international scale is dream of the future we can have. If we are to be “homo prospectus” as Seligman calls it, then let’s have something positive to “prospectus” about.
We have the capability through technology and industry of eliminating poverty worldwide. We have the knowledge and the medicine to end most of the illnesses that plague the vulnerable. There is enough food to feed everyone in the world. These are not just big dreams, they are the reality we aren’t living yet. Individually, on a daily basis, I can help someone in need through a donation, a helping hand, or just by giving my time and being by their side. The more time I spend helping others the less time I will spend checking my phone to see what other threats there are. And I will actually make a difference.
Yes, there is hope. But it will not come as I continue to check my phone for news. It will happen when I put my hand out for someone else, when I speak to them of what they can accomplish, when I dream of and move toward a better world. That is the future that we can and must build.

Greatness Project 2017

Greatness Project 2017: My brother Brian used to have a bumper sticker on the back of his car that read “He who dies with the most toys wins.” At the time I thought it was clever and cute. Yet as I get older I find myself thinking about life, how we live it and the legacy we leave. Too often I encounter people who have never thought about life and passively allowed life to choose their lives for them. Yet there are the magical wonderful people I’ve met who live full lives by their own choosing and make sure that how they live is how they want to live.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to a room full of people about choosing life. We spoke about the power of deciding who you could and would be and how you would and would not act. Many of them initially were skeptical about believing they were in control. But consider the alternative. If we are just passive responders to what happens to us in life, we become a rudderless boat at the mercy of the wind and waves of some universal whim. Yet that is a belief that many people have.
Yes, there is the reality that sh*t happens, and there are times when events occur over which we have no control. Yet, much of our life; who we choose to be and how we choose to act, is in our control. And to give up those decisions about life because sometimes there are unexpected bumps in the road is throwing away our most valuable ability.
Owning our ability to choose our life takes courage. It is easier to blame other people or outside forces for the reasons we can’t accomplish what we want or be who we want to be. But it is the coward’s way out. There I said it! Giving over the power of choice when we have the ability to build our lives is the easy way. Yet when we make the choices we want to live the life we want we own our lives. That is the greatest gift of all.
Start small. Make choices about how you will react to events in your day, how you choose to live a day and then how you will live this week. It is energizing, invigorating and scary at the same time. Yet you will never regret taking control of your life. I don’t believe that “he who dies with the most toys wins.” Because when they die their family and friends have to find ways to dispose of all their toys. I would rewrite the bumper sticker to read “He/she who dies with the most choices wins.” That is a life well lived.