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Posts Tagged “loving wisdom”

Smarter? or Wiser?

I’ve been involved in many situations where leaders were smarter than most of the people they were trying to influence, but were oblivious to the fact they were no wiser. That doesn’t  work out very well. Being “the smartest person in the room” creates an opportunity for the leader to find the humility that enters hand-in-hand with wisdom.

First of all, wisdom is the great equalizer.  All human beings have access to wisdom; no one person is innately wiser than another. It’s always possible to sort people out by “smartness”, but when it comes to wisdom, it can arise in an insight, at any moment, from anyone. When groups are working optimally, there’s huge respect for that, and a true willingness to listen for it and appreciate it, no matter the source.

Catching on to the difference between smartness and wisdom is a hallmark of the “Aha!” moments that strike people coming to understand how our understanding of life arises from the inside-out. It isn’t “learned,” it is realized from deep within our own capacity. People who used to be voluble —  quick to answer and first to speak — become quiet and reflective as they look within for deeper answers. They are much less excited by the content of their analytical thinking. They are much more patient to await insights and simple common sense. They appreciate silence, the rich quiet that precedes fresh ideas, and enjoy it — rather than disrupting it with hasty reactions to questions or issues.

Let me give you a few  examples. I once worked for a company that was always looking for small ways to improve the flow of work and save money. They had “experts” walking around to “figure out” what instructions they could give here and there across the company. Someone new in leadership came up with the notion that the people who actually DO things every day probably have better ideas than anyone else how to do them better, quicker or more easily. So they put little boxes with pads of “tipsheets” around hallways, elevators, meeting areas labelled TIPS (Thrifty Ideas Produce Savings) and offered small incentives for the TIPS of the month. Just as anticipated, the boxes started filling up with small, helpful ideas that would really make a difference. They had found the source of wisdom about the work.

Here’s another example. 

DominateA consulting firm that was once a client of mine was operated by extremely smart, highly educated people who constantly competed to offer the “best” answers. When they tried to work together to strategize about their own company, it was a nightmare. Everyone wanted to be “right” and “smart” and everyone tried to dominate the meetings. No one listened, at all, to anyone else. To attend their discussions was like listening to a symphony where every section of the orchestra was playing from a totally different score and there was no conductor. One of them said to me early on, with disdain: “Screw wisdom! Wisdom is for hippies and sissies. We’re playing in the big leagues. With the smart people.” Well, that was before they started losing money. Then wisdom began to look a little more appealing. When they finally agreed to a retreat and reluctantly calmed down, they started to realize that their arrogance was coming directly from their own insecurity. (Insecurity drives ego and urgency to prove oneself right.) Things changed quickly. Within a year, everything turned around: They were learning from each other’s experiences, learning from their own work, enjoying their company’s meetings and the shared challenges of looking to the future. One person couldn’t abide the quiet and good will and left the group, but the others found themselves happier and more successful, quietly confident that they were operating from strength, not raw power. 

Does all this mean there’s no reason to be smart or get educated? Of course not. My colleague Bill Pettit often quotes Albert Einstein in this regard, saying, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift; the rational mind its faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Wisdom points to the knowledge we need, guiding us to use our intellect in less personal, more constructive ways. We think in service to the task at hand, not in service to our own self-importance. We paint the big picture, not a self-portrait, when we act and speak. We listen to others from the stance of “not knowing,” rather than thinking our way through others’ talking to come up with something to shoot them down or sound smarter. We are tuned into other’s (and our own) feelings, and nurture warm feelings and security, while overlooking bad feelings and insecurity that will pass if we don’t feed them.

It’s a huge relief to not know, and feel no pressure to have to know. The irony is that as soon as we quiet our minds enough to enter the unknown, all the answers flow into that space, gracefully.












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How I met Leon

I don’t tell this story often because, for people who aren’t used to trusting the power of a calm state of mind, it is at best weird and at worst frightening. But it’s true, and it happened to me in New York City in the early ’90’s, when my daughter was a student at New York University, living in a tiny apartment not large enough for me to stay with her. When I visited, I stayed at the Washington Square Park Hotel, several blocks from her.

One night, while I was walking back to the hotel from her apartment, I had the prickly dsc_0020-1feeling there was someone a few steps behind me. My first thought was to run or scream, but that didn’t make sense. I was walking past closed academic buildings. I did not know who was behind me or why; I wondered how to find out. I came to a crosswalk and stopped, and the person behind me remained behind me. He or she was hesitating; it occurred to me that the person was tentative about what to do next, too. They must be insecure about what they’re thinking of doing. Then the thought came to me that no one who is taking so much time to act can remain intent on doing harm to someone who is friendly and cares about them. So I turned around, extended my hand to what turned out to be a young man in a navy blue hooded sweat shirt. I said, “Hi, my name is Judy; what is yours?”

He was startled. He stood stiffly and stared at me. I kept talking.

“You know,” I said, “I was visiting someone back a few blocks that way. I am on my way to where I’m staying. I’m a little nervous walking alone. I didn’t realize it would be so quiet out here. Would you walk with me? I’d feel better if I had someone to walk with. What is your name?”

There was a pause, and then he relaxed, shook my hand, and said, “My name is Leon. And, yeah, I’ll walk with you.”

I asked him where he was from. “The park,” he answered. “I used to live in an apartment, but my mother got sent to jail and my little sister got sent to foster care. I am too old for that. So they just put me out. I live in the park now. In boxes, or whatever I can find to sleep in. I don’t sleep much. I’m scared most of the time.”

“Are you in school?” I asked. He looked downcast. “I was. I can’t go to school any more. I don’t have an address. I have no place to get cleaned up. I dropped out.” He told me he was nearing the end of 11th grade when he dropped out. He said he had had a B average and he used to think he would be able to go on to a public college, but now he had no hope of finishing his education.

I asked him if he had ever heard of the GED. He had, but he didn’t think he could take it. He didn’t have an address or a phone number, or parents at home. How could he fill out an application form? I told him, “Leon, come on, be a New Yorker. You can do it. Just put a number from any pizza box you find in the park on the form, use your old address and your mother’s real name. No one is going to call you; forms just need to be filled out. No one checks the information. Just pay close attention and make sure you know where the test is given and what time, and show up. You can go pick up your scores; they don’t have to mail them to you.”

“Do you think I could pass?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but if you were doing well in school and just about finished 11th grade, you probably will pass. And if you don’t,  just take it again. Once you know what you missed, you can always go to the public library and study on your own. You have nothing to do anyway; you’ll be a lot safer in the library and you can read there all day long if you want to. Don’t give up on learning just because you’re not in school right now.”

As we walked along, he told me how worried he was about his little sister, and how frightened he was living on his own in the park. He never knew day to day what was going to happen, or how he would eat. He looked for a job at first, but there wasn’t anything that didn’t require a high school degree and now he was embarrassed because he looked so dirty and unkempt when he went to apply. “They look right through me like I’m nobody,” he said.

“You’re somebody,” I said. “You’re Leon. You can decide what Leon will become. Don’t give up your choices.”

We came near to my hotel, and I stopped and said, “Well, we’re just about where I was going. I want you to promise me that you will follow up on that GED. I know you can do it. You’re young; you were on a good path; you can get back on it.”

“Thank you,” he said, and then shook my hand again and started to walk away.

I called him back. I took out my wallet and went to hand him most of the cash I had.

“Oh, no, you’ve been so nice. I couldn’t take it,” he said.

“You were going to take it before we met, weren’t you?” I said.

“Well, yeah, but that was before I knew you. You’ve been really nice.”

“Now,” I said, “you can take it because I am freely giving it. Remember this: More people than you think will help you in life if you ask. Don’t do stupid stuff when you’re desperate. Calm down and look for someone friendly to help you along the way.”

He took the cash and waited on the sidewalk as I walked up the steps to the door of the hotel. When I turned to wave, he said, “I’m going to do what we talked about. I am. I promise. Thank you.”

I never saw him again, and I have no idea what he did with the money or whether he ever went to take his GED. But I know he did not hurt me, and maybe I helped him that night.

And I am sure that trusting myself to know what to do if I kept from jumping ahead of the moment and didn’t get reactive saved us both from harm that night.

Wisdom gives us the answer to every situation. The answer is always love.

“Love and understanding harmonize the mind of humanity to its true inner nature. What you give in life is what you receive. To give love is to receive love. A mind full of love and good feelings can never go wrong.”

Sydney Banks, The Missing Link, p. 117.

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Peace and passion, powerful together

Here’s a great question one of my students asked me. “Is it really possible to have passion for life, passion for your ideals, passion for a cause, and still have peace of mind? Wouldn’t peace of mind make you dispassionate and uninvolved?”

The person who leaped to mind for me immediately is the Dalai Lama. I don’t think there is anyone on the public stage today with a consistently quieter mind than the Dalai Lama. Yet he is a  relentless crusader for peace and good will. He has a profound passion for improving the human condition. He does it from inner stillness, from his own certainty about his cause. People listen to him because they can “hear” the loving wisdom in him, even if they don’t agree with the philosophical foundations from which he speaks. He radiates kindness and authority simultaneously; he is not threatening, but touching. He speaks in measured, simple terms, and he is never off-message, yet he is at ease with people who are struggling with his message.

Contrast to him some of the political pundits who surface during election season, with wild-eyed rage for their ideals (on any side of  issues). Yes, they are passionate true believers. But only those who already agree with them can stand to listen to them. Their passion is to be right and inspire contempt for those who don’t think they are. They are agitated, aggressive and jumpy. They speak from the head, not the heart; from impassioned insecurity, not from a place of peace. They create argument and discomfort.

The essential quality of a peaceful state of mind is security. Security is a clear-headed feeling of being at ease in one’s own skin, nothing to prove, nothing to fear. In that state of mind, all of us have access to wisdom and an intuition for what to do in the moment, for the right word, the right action, to be our best at whatever we are doing. In that state of mind, we operate from insight and inspiration.

When I consider this, I recall some years ago when I was asked to speak to an environmental group well-known at the time for dramatic descriptions at their meetings of the perils to the next generations of dirty air, depleted water, shrinking resources. They presented horrifying images to support their tirades, believing that they could scare people into caring about the planet and changing their habits. They had big crowds at their events, but nothing much seemed to be changing. People would get all worked up during the presentations and leave exhausted — but then they would quiet down and not remember what it was they had committed to do in the heat of the moment.

When they invited me to speak, I tried to decline. I told them I did not match their style and did entirely different work with people. But a good friend of mine was part of the group and she kept insisting that they go with a new approach and she kept persisting with me. So finally, with some trepidation, I went to talk to a two-hour meeting about caring for the planet. At first, people were confused. I was speaking of how we change our minds, about anything, about the quiet state that opens the door to the unknown and makes the unknown and untried seem possible. I was pointing towards the natural state of security and love from which people make moral choices far different from the expedient choices we make out of fear and insecurity. I asked the group to break into small groups and address the question of when they made choices in life about which they feel really good, and the state of mind they were in when they made them. The reports out from the small groups produced some touching stories — for example, a brother who at first resented his sister who needed a kidney and got angry when his parents suggested he might be a match, but then, when sitting quietly in the hospital with his very ill sister, suddenly had the insight that he loved her so much it would be an honor, not a sacrifice, to donate a kidney to her. He called that “a moment of happy clarity from which I never turned back.” His sister was in the audience, beaming.

We talked some more about how we create very different ideas from the same neutral information in higher states of mind, and how those states of mind happen. Then I had the group break up again, this time to talk specifically about ideas that came to them when they reflected about small changes that could make a big difference to the environment.

Again, the reports from the small groups were touching and inspiring. They had a lot of creative ideas, and all of them seemed plausible and achievable to those who thought of them. They left laughing and chatting together about how maybe it wasn’t crazy to think one person at a time could make a difference. They even talked about getting together in a month or so to compare stories.

What is more powerful than passion expressed through a peaceful state of mind?

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