Who do you choose to be?

Tomorrow is November 11, Remembrance Day; it’s a time to remember the soldiers that gave their lives to counter the forces that were jeopardizing the freedoms we take for granted today. As I ponder their sacrifice, I can’t help but see a certain, though obviously not so dramatic, parallel between the challenges they braved and the future described by the author I was reading today. Those soldiers, and so many civilians, courageously chose to stand up and fight impending disaster to provide a better life for us today.

During a discussion at university on Friday about the challenges of resonant leadership in the face of opposing values or ideologies, my professor dropped the expression islands of sanity as he explained that a leader in this kind of situation needs to focus on what they can do to change things, rather than what they can’t, to create a refuge of hope in a sea of disorder and chaos. Just like those soldiers did during the First and Second World Wars, and our armed forces continue to do throughout the world where freedoms are threatened today.

The expression, islands of sanity, is used by Margaret J. Wheatley in her book entitled Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity (published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017).  I ordered the book online and was ecstatic to get it already today. I was mesmerized right from the first page. Here are a few challenging thoughts I came across while reading.

Warning: This is no feel-good book; rather, it is a call to arms in an era that is increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).

  1. Wise leaders are willing to give up the delusion that technology can save us, or that we can master the Universe. We must face the reality of decline and choose actions that support people, not technology. The choice couldn’t be more clear. Or consequential.  (p. 41)
  • A culture focused on individual freedom can only result in narcissism, polarization, conflict, estrangement, and loneliness. What is the meaning of life if it’s all about me? (p. 69)
  • We could have been anything we wanted, yet free-floating individualism has taken us far from community, contribution or connection, the very things that truly give life meaning and purpose. (p. 70)
  • Cultures focused on popularity have no depth or resilience. They are superficial and ephemeral: tastes change; fashions come and go; fads rise and fall. Always changing, such a culture increases our sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. We may be popular now, but beneath the surface our anxiety and stress keep growing. Will you still love me tomorrow? (p. 72)
  • More speed, new apps, artificial intelligence, more connectivity through technology is not the answer. Sane leadership is. (p. 74)

Certainly, we are not facing the same challenges as the generation that celebrated that first Armistice Day in 1918; however, we all have a choice to make in terms of who we desire to be and which values we desire to defend. Personally, I am thankful for the choices made by my own Grandfather Todd (WWI) and Uncle Tom (WWII), and feel challenged by the words penned by Wheatley to our own generation:

Who do you choose to be for this time? Are you willing to use whatever power and influence you have to create islands of sanity that evoke and rely on our best human qualities to create, produce and persevere? (p. 11)

How do these quotes resonate with you? Who are you thankful for this Remembrance Day? Share below.

– Claire :o)  

[Image: musicman/Shutterstock]

How are you today?

Any student of mine knows that my priority in class is their well-being, which is why classes usually begin with: How are you? How’s your day going? What’s new and exciting?

I’m sure that most teachers would agree that a happy student is a learning student (at least, more likely to be learning student!)

So coming across one of Martin Sellgman’s latest books, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Atria, NY, USA, 2011) was a fascinating find. In this book, Seligman describes the research and explains the principles behind his innovative theory of Positive Psychology.

Today I thought I’d share three takeaways from his exciting work.

  1. Optimism can be learned.

What does that mean? Let me give you an example, when dogs were exposed to electric shocks and were unable to control them, they learned that they had no control over their circumstances. However, if they were given the means to control the shocks, they would and therefore avoided potential shocks.  Similarly, we as humans learn at a very young age whether we have any control over our environment or not. Unfortunately, if we feel we have no impact no matter what we do, we will have a tendency to experience feelings of helplessness and depression.

However, the good news is: if we learned helplessness, then we can unlearn it, and take control of our reactions to our circumstances, thereby choosing optimism. Maybe you weren’t good at using verb tenses in English. You are not doomed to perish in a tenseless existence! You can learn. The question is not: Why do I have to learn these when I’m useless?, but rather: I have a bit of difficulty in this area, but I can do something about it. What tools, tricks or resources can I use to make a bit of progress? Optimism can be learned.

2. Positive Psychology focuses on mental health (not illness).

When Seligman began his research, it was hard for him to get funding. No-one wanted to invest in this strange new idea that perhaps it would be better to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. Once he got the ball rolling, however, the money came rolling in too. In fact, today Seligman’s work is being taught in educational, military, political and corporate settings around the world.

Why? The theory doesn’t focus solely on ridding people of their mental illnesses, but more on leveraging the five ingredients proven to enhance well-being: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement (thus the acronym, PERMA).

What do I mean? Let’s say you know you have a learning disability, maybe you’re dyslexic. You still remember the shame and embarrassment when a teacher told you you’d never be any good at learning English since you had no memory for grammar rules, never mind spelling irregular verbs or strange-sounding words in foreign languages.

Putting the dyslexia aside, perhaps it would be more helpful to think in terms of, I enjoy my English class with my colleagues. We have a good time. We laugh and learn together. Everyone makes jokes and it certainly makes for a terrific break from the humdrum of my regular work! That’s an example of positive emotion. Perhaps just that will help motivate you to continue taking classes when the going gets tough.

Or maybe the heady feeling of accomplishment, having overcome a difficulty and proven you can do it despite the odds, or for the sheer fun of it, will keep you motivated.

Whatever the means, focus on one of these elements of well-being either at work or in class, and see what difference it makes.

3. Gratitude +  Love of Learning = Well-being

Another researcher, Barry Kauffman, a peer of Martin Seligman, decided to run some tests and do the math to determine the two values that were most important to attain PERMA (link: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/which-character-strengths-are-most-predictive-of-well-being/). He found that they were gratitude and love of learning. I love that!

How can we develop gratitude? Seligman recommends people ask themselves on a regular basis this simple question: What went well? You simple cannot remain negative when you are focusing on the positive!

The love of learning value comes into play once the list of positive events is compiled. The follow-up questions are obvious: How can I make this happen more often? What do I need to do?

Coming out of class tomorrow, either as teacher or student, ask yourself the questions: What went well? Why did it go well? How can I get more of that? What do I need to do?  No matter the misunderstandings or seemingly unsurmountable challenges, an upward spiral of optimism and hope is sure to ensue.

So, how are you? What went well for you today? Let’s keep the gratitude energy flowing! Drop me a line in the Comments section.

  • Claire :o)

[Photo: Shutterstock/fizkes]