Know Thyself

1335 Relax and Succeed - Where do our choices come from

I’ve noted before that one of the advantages of working with younger people is that they’ll often play video games, and there will be patterns to which games they are attracted to. This can tell me (or a parent) a massive amount about how that kid sees the world and their place in it.

Do they like cooperative games, or ones where it’s every person for themselves? Do they like to destroy enemies, or co-opt them? What kind of avatar do they use? After all, that is the face they chose to show the world. That is how they want the world to see them. That might be a facetious use of a character or wishful thinking, we have to listen more to know. But the things we’re interested in say a great deal about who we are.

This applies to fashion, hairstyles, what movies or series we watch, what books we’ll read, and what sort of jobs we’ll take, as well as what people or organizations we’ll invest energy in. Despite the fact that these are completely guided by how we see the world, it is amazing how few people even begin to look for patterns in the things they consume.

Why do we like some characters in stories and not others? Why do we like some kinds of stories and not others? What do our tastes tell us about our view of the world?

And what about those closest to us? Parents, siblings, spouses, children, business partners, coaches etc. What do they like and what can that tell us about them and how can that knowledge improve our relationships?

Some people (like me) prefer to spend time with people smarter than us, and different from us, who can challenge us with ways of thinking we haven’t encountered before. Others are more intimidated by new information or change and prefer to associate with only those that already agree with their current world view.

Do we like books about weak individuals? Are our favourite movies all about little people defeating big people? Do we dislike ambiguous endings and abstract art, or do we prefer it? Do we like games where we build things, or destroy things?

1335 Relax and Succeed - The things we're interested in

Do we like board or card games that require tricking others, or by negotiating in good faith? Do we avoid playfully spiteful board games or card games (Aggravation and Spite and Malice have those names for a reason), or do we prefer games with multiple ways to win?

Maybe we like shocking hairstyles or fashion that helps us gauge how open new people are. Or maybe we’re a teacher, and we prefer the quiet studious kids to those that are more kinetic and that might become ballet dancers or athletes. Knowing that can help us make decisions about our joy and our growth.

Since knowing ourselves can add value to our lives, let’s take the rest of the week and let’s look at our own lives. Let’s study our bookshelves, music collections, wardrobe and even our relationships etc. And then let us ask ourselves what these things say about how we see the world and our place in it.

While no way to be or set of interests is right or wrong, these things do influence which decisions we’ll make, and therefore which challenges we’ll face in life. They’ll also inform where we’ll feel comfortable, or where we’ll experience more stress. These represent our ‘crosses to bear.’

The aim here isn’t to improve ourselves or others, it’s merely to know ourselves and others better because that creates more empathy and better relations.  And that knowledge can help us enormously when it comes to making decisions about our future.

For those that engage in this seriously, if you’ve never thought of yourself in these terms before, prepare for some surprising self-discoveries along the way. We’ll all likely find patterns that we didn’t even know we subconsciously had chosen.

All this being the case, let’s all take the rest of the week and get to know ourselves. After all, we’re worth it.

peace. s

Unconscious Mannequin Egos (U.M.E’s)

1217 Relax and Succeed - Girl's LifeWelcome to today’s lesson in awareness and consciousness. Take a good look at the meme above. In creating it, an internet artist juxtaposed a normal reality with what is presented as a girl’s life in the media. It’s not difficult to see the point the artist was making. There’s a tense discrepancy between the one’s shallowness and the other’s depth. The piece feels like the sort of thing Banksy would have done if he was a young female artist.

That tension created by the discrepancy above is what today’s blog is designed to reduce. There are undoubtedly some beautiful works of art in fashion and I applaud people’s right and freedom to wear what they like. But that is a separate issue from discussing how adults come to feel tortured. And when we delve into why, it’s almost always due to their egos, which were themselves often created and fomented by marketers and advertisers who were understandably focused on sales, and not on human development or actualisation.

Ever since brands figured out that they could also sell the idea of being stylish, attractive, smart or even beautiful to men as well as women, the onslaught to change us all became genderless. Slowly, men are seeing their lives similarly invaded by notions of perfection until, maybe in some distant future, we’ll get anywhere near where women were in the 1920’s. Today women are literally bombarded all day long with appeals to their egos and the associated myriad of ways to fail. And of course there just happens to be a cream or top or shampoo that’ll help us bounce back. And that bouncing motion is what they’re counting on.

1217 Relax and Succeed - Boy's LifeCapitalism exists but its aspects don’t have to take control of your life. You can develop a healthy awareness that can insulate you. Next time you’re in a store waiting in line and you can see the magazines, just look at the headlines on the cover and decipher how they are tugging at your ego–how they are suggesting the importance of some ideal? What mechanisms are they using to convey that you or your life is lacking or wrong? Photoshop? A headline? A tip?

If you do this exercise for the rest of this month, you will easily notice that most modern popular magazines are quite literally about how to be a shallow person and base your happiness on your appearance and/or your reputation for being hip; they set impossible standards and create ridiculous expectations, and they encourage both narcissism and the formation of a goading ego. In fact an ego is essentially what they are selling. A Mannequin Ego, where a person gets reduced to being a walking advertisement; a hangar for products.

I love design and I love artful clothing. But you seeing something and feeling that it’s right for you is a much, much different thing than being shoehorned into something “fashionable;” which only means it’s been marketed to the point of being the tyrannical uniform of “cool.” Look around you. That’s why everyone’s dressed so uniformly. They’re literally worried about stepping out of line. No one wants to be that Gary Larson cartoon about the deer with the birthmark.

1217 Relax and Succeed - Gary Larson Deer Birthmark PartialGet conscious. Witness how our egos are products that companies sell to the real us. Start making a conscious connection between that fact and your dissatisfaction with your life. I’m not saying never go shopping. Go. Enjoy. But go consciously. Don’t be buying things because they’re in alignment with what your social media feed told you you’ll get “liked” for. But what you–the real you–feels natural in. That’s the path to more peace of mind.

Watch your newsfeeds. Watch your TV and Web series. Watch your magazines and listen to your radio ads. Get out of your busy thoughts by focusing instead on who originally put those dissatisfied voices in there in the first place.

Start today. Become more conscious and more spiritually connected by seeing through the ego utilized in advertising. Because on the other side of that is a kind of peace, satisfaction and contentment that far surprasses the feelings that any external thing could ever give you.

Now go use your powerful mind to go create a worthwhile day. And keep your eye out for manipulations to your thinking.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Parenting in the Digital Age

I do not envy the people struggling to pull off raising a child in the new millennium. There are challenges today that have never existed before, and many routes through life that most parents have never even considered as a part of their parenting options. But if we want healthy children then we must consciously give them an environment that promotes both their physical and mental health as well as the ongoing maintenance of both.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn creating this post I came to learn that it is best presented as a four-parter that includes last week’s Friday Dose (which includes a set of links to relevant documentaries etc.), and yesterday’s Other Perspectives. In this posting I will cover the culture of fear and the value of freedom, mistakes and the nature of growth. In the next I’ll cover advertising, ego, insecurity and inter-personal connection.

First off, let’s remember how different it is for kids now that just a short time ago, because these are the biggest changes that the human brain has had to face since the construct of abstract language. This is big. Really big.

Let’s talk about children’s media environment rather than just the internet. When I was a kid you were too focused on playing outside to really find TV all that inviting. Yeah you had your big shows you watched, but we only had three channels so even until the invention of video tape there was no way to even see a re-run. The three channels shut off at 1am and turned back on at 6am and that was it. That meant we used to be influenced primarily by our family’s values and the values of their friends and the immediate culture you lived in. Today you’re influenced by your friends and peers even at home—via social media—but more importantly you 607 Relax and Succeed - If you don't fit inare influenced by two additional groups, and those groups do not have the same agenda for your life that you have at all.

Politics and advertising create most of the current zeitgeist. Countries used to be much more unique, and while they still are to some degree, the spreading of media has homogenized the whole world. People are dressing more alike, listening to the same music, and eating the same foods. What’s important is that the homogenization was designed by people who had a motive. Your motive is to raise your kids to be happy, successful, good-quality citizens who can contribute to their culture in a meaningful way all while building a life they find to be largely secure, rewarding and enjoyable. Politicians want you and your kids to vote for them, and advertisers want you to to get you and your kid’s money. How this shapes your brain is no small issue.

A key political strategy almost everywhere is to create an us by creating a them. The them is generally another society you can compare yourself against—so when your own country is in political turmoil politicians create an enemy. Maybe that’s a war with another country, or maybe it’s stoking fears at home about who among us might be untrustworthy or dangerous. It’s very easy to ask people to support your politics if you want to stop crime or violence. Who doesn’t want to do that? But there’s tons of research: jails don’t stop crime and there’s no indication laws do either. The one thing that science has proven over and over is that the easiest, cheapest way to stop crime is to make a solid investment in early childhood development. Norway did that and ended up having to close a large number of their jails.

607 Relax and Succeed - My friends love is better than anger
At this writing there’s an upcoming Canadian election. This man was a politician but I’m not attempting to influence anyone politically. My use of it is strictly for the quote.

Now the fact is that, no matter where you are, there have never been fewer criminals and there’s never been less violent crime. Never. Anywhere. And yet in survey after survey people are worried about what might happen. The biggest fear I hear about is abduction, and yet this is remarkably unlikely. Yes, agencies that get their funding for children’s protection will give you statistics that don’t mention they include stats on every divorced spouse who was turned in for having their own kids back to their vengeful spouse one hour late. Think about how seldom you hear an Amber Alert. Hardly ever. And when you do, you almost always learn it’s one of the parents or a grandparent that has taken the kids away from a situation they (rightly or wrongly) feel is bad for the kid. That’s not the sort of abduction that they do fear-laden TV shows about.

Cases where it isn’t someone known to the kid are so rare they make international news. Remember the British girl who went missing in Spain? That was 2007. Or the little girl who was kidnapped and murdered in Toronto? That was 2009. Just try to think of them and you realize there’s hardly any and there’s billions of people who’s children can make the news. If you were in poorest parts of Asia or Africa or South America I can see being concerned about your kids being grabbed because there’s an easy profit motive there—mostly so they can sell them to rich white people. But for the average North American, European, or even most Asians, Africans or South Americans, there is no rational reason to worry about your kids every day.

The number one place by far for a child to die is in a car with their parents. So why are parents so casual about driving around, and yet people are getting complaints from schools and parents, or their kids are even being taken by police or child services because parents let them walk to school??? So we don’t worry at all about the still-very-unlikely but much much much more likely 607 Relax and Succeed - Miracles start to happenstuff? Instead we’re going to freak out our kids by worrying about things as likely as lightening strikes? If you’re doing this you need to realize that you’ve been living in a culture of fear and it is adversely affecting your children.

Children learn from experience but adults can get like insurance mathematicians who are busy calculating the extreme potential downsides to every single thing that the child even might do. A woman in an interview said that she wouldn’t let a 10 year old and a six year old walk home alone because if something happened she didn’t think the 10 year old would know what to do. When the reporter asked what sort of things might happen outside of the aformentioned highly unlikely worst case scenarios, the best the woman could come up with was that the six year old might fall. Fall? From the height of a six year old? Oh yeah, you need maturity and a medical degree to deal with that, don’t you?

Let’s not be ridiculous. Can something happen? Of course, the aforementioned girl in Toronto was walking with her brother but he regretfully left her to walk another kid home. But it’s important to place that in the appropriate context, which is that hundreds of millions of young people made it to school just fine that day and hundreds of other days entirely safely. So why would anyone presume to load their kid with the entirely unrealistic fear that they have to limit the child’s life in the hopes of lengthening it? To avoid something incredibly unlikely? Generations of kids walked to school. I never ever remember hearing of a kid falling on the way to school and getting hurt. And even if they did, we’re going to limit the hundreds of millions of kids lives to try to potentially save one all while we’re losing thousands in cars?! It doesn’t even make sense.

We are teaching children to be afraid. Youngish parents write to me as though it’s the generation behind them that’s afraid, but my generation can easily see that there was a change, and for those paying close attention, it showed up when TV and later the internet took off. Kids didn’t used to read the paper. But they could overhear the news. And as more stations were created there was more competition for advertisers and so the news got increasingly sensationalized in the fight to get people to advertise to. News stations then went to 24 hours, so they had to find and even create news. As I’m writing this Fox news was just noted world wide for having had to apologize four times in a single day for reporting fear-mongering things that they later admitted were based on absolutely nothing. So why did those alarming stories get reported if they were made up? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause they would attract viewers. That’s great for shareholders but very bad for your kid.

We’re also teaching children to be weaker. There are studies going on regarding why kids increasingly have no sense of direction. What they know so far is that modern brain scans show we all have neurons that keep track of where the sun is as you walk, and with experience it helps your brain understand where things are in relation to each other. So there’s no such thing as a bad sense of direction, there are just unpracticed and undeveloped senses of direction. But if a kid gets driven everywhere, how are those brain structures going to get built? They can’t. And so the kid becomes smaller than the parent when the idea is that the parent helps the kid be bigger than they themselves ever could have been.

You only have two jobs as a parent: to teach your kids what they need to know to live without you, and to love them. Of course they need to know they are loved, but they also need to know how the world actually works. Insulating them from that is literally constructing an incapable 607 Relax and Succeed - A child does not have to be motivatedkid and it’s why we’re increasingly seeing parents showing up to conduct their kids job interviews. My instructions to the companies I advise is to never hire these individuals because their parents are very obviously proving that they have built a child that is actually entirely unprepared for the workplace, or likely even society in general.

Sitting in a jungle four degrees off the equator and most of the way up a 4,200 meter (14,000 foot) mountain I asked an anthropologist what she had learned from the tribes she had studied for 23 years. She told me it was that she had unwittingly but grossly underestimated her children. We saw children as young as five walking across tree trunks to cross very high gorges and they would do so without an adult nearby. They were trusted and they responded to that trust by simply watching the people around them, all of whom walked confidently across the makeshift bridge. And then the kids did what every kid does—and they mimicked it.

So you can teach your child to mimic fear. Or you can teach them to act confidently. Because in 23 years that anthropologist never, ever heard of one of those kids falling. And even if one did, that wouldn’t change those parents. Because they’re not busy worrying. They’re not guided by fears about jaguars or snakes. They’re busy living a good life and in doing so they’re showing their kids how to do the very same thing. And every kid needs parenting like that. So who’s teaching your kids to avoid fear and enjoy life?

peace. s

Note: Tomorrow we’ll talk about how advertising and social media are changing how children’s brains are structured and what that means for them/you as adults.

Hans Rosling’s Good News

228 Relax and Succeed - Keep calm and get yourEven most internet news stories still begin in newspapers or on television because they can afford the resources necessary to gather them. And because those are commercial enterprises we can know that their motivation is to earn money through advertising. To sell advertising you need readers or listeners or viewers, and to have them you need stories. So the public sees the news as: what’s going on? Unfortunately the news itself sees it as: what will keep you watching until the commercial?

Because of the difference in perspective noted above, what we primarily see are stories that generate either fear, anger or titillation, with the total tipping very heavily towards the first two. That means most stories on the newsand therefore in society—are about the worst events and human behaviours. And then of course human nature will cause the stories to get embellished, and they won’t be made better.

No, gossip never improves an idea. It will always add even more. Meaning that over time this relentless tilt to our media eventually distorts our views so much that we actually believe the world is much, much worse than it really is. This causes us to act in more fearful, less friendly ways. And so by believing it is already so, people then contribute to it actually getting worse. Such is the Power of Attraction.

228 Relax and Succeed - One person has the powerSo I’m not asking you to put on rose coloured glasses and pretend the world is better than you currently believe. I’m saying your current beliefs were informed by commercially motivated media., and for you to change the thought-habits that media has built for you, you will have to consciously change your perspective.

You will have to start consciously choosing what to look at before you’ll see what’s really going on around you. You will have to re-awaken your ability to see and create beauty. You have to start seeing your awareness of things emerge. It’s something you must wisely employ. You don’t want to notice a bad day because the news told you to. You want to have the awareness necessary to create a good day because you’re in touch with your ability to influence your life through your choices.

Every day friendships are made. Medical breakthroughs take place. People’s standard of living rises. There is so much good news out there, it just isn’t profitable to tell it to you. Fear sells more pills and locks and alarms and weapons. Happiness sets you free. (The very funny book Happiness is about how a man ruins the world economy by making everyone happy.)

The world isn’t getting worse. The world is getting better. But none of that matters unless you’re actually paying attention to that fact. Because if you believe it’s what other people tell you, then you will be a slave to their beliefs. But if you set your sights on watching for what’s good and loving and beautiful within you and the world, it will absolutely be there to be found.

Don’t believe the product that is the news as it attempts to describe each day. Believe instead in your own ability to create your day. Because that ability is at the root of what makes any day truly great.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations around the world.

The Mad Dash

120-relax-and-succeed-imagine-if-we-obsessedYour natural attractions are your guidance system for being you. You are not being indulgent if you pursue them—you are just being yourself. You have confused thoughts about that because your culture told you to be someone else.

Through advertising they established some invented ideals to help them sell products. Ideals about how you should look, how you should smell, what you should weigh, or what clothes or music you should like. Now you feel uncomfortable because you’ve been taught you have shortcomings that you don’t really have.

Not everyone should look the same. Not everyone should dress the same. Not everyone should have the same interests. Everyone should just be who they naturally are. Everyone’s so unhappy because they’re trying to be people they’re not. They’re trying to be who they’re being told to be.

120 Relax and Succeed - I feel like I'm drowningCan you see the craziness of having a stranger tell us how we should look, smell, act, and be? That some guy on a TV or radio should not be telling you what to wear? How would he know what you like? Why is some kid buying booze or athletic shoes just because some rap singer was paid to put them in a song? Why does our culture spend such an insane about of money on convincing people that they should go get things they already have?! Because you know what happens even if you do get that stuff? You die.

One day, you either get hit by a bus, or some doctor tells you have six months. And then you look at all of your stuffall of your fashionable clothes, and your latest gadgets and the new hardwood floors you took that second job to pay for—and none of it makes any sense. You suddenly realise that you surrendered time with your dog (who loves you like crazy), or time at the gym, or time with your children, to go work an extra job to get a new coffee table.

This is a coffee table you’ll then worry about so much that you’ll yell at your beloved kids for putting a glass of water on it. Great. You feel crappy about yourself, your spouse has to take a second job and has more time away from the family, and the kids get yelled at for being thirsty; all because some ad convinced you to go get something you didn’t really want or need until they sold it to you via some form of media.

120 Relax and Succeed - If you end upYou have limited time on this planet. You think you understand that but you don’t. Because if you did, you would live with more freedom. You like to think you’re free but you’re not. If you live in western culture then you’re being impacted by advertising. You’re being told who to be. And you’re stressing if you’re anything shy of the ideal the strangers in advertising construct for you.

There are cars you should be driving/buying. There are clothes you should be wearing/buying. There is music you should be listening to/buying. There is food you should be eating/buying. There are movies you should be seeing/buying. And don’t forget, now you have to buy some insurance packages to protect you from some manufactured fears. And if you don’t buy any of that, you’re rebelling against them which means you’re still letting advertisers dictate what you do.

Be free. Take a job that jazzes you. There are tons of people making tons of money and they’re miserable. So go do what you enjoy. And do it until you don’t enjoy it any more and then do the next thing. Maybe what you do isn’t as important as who you do it with, or where you do it.

120 Relax and Succeed - Find that placeThere’s no right or wrong answers. There is only what you choose. And there are no wrong choices, because you can still continue to choose. Every moment contains the opportunity to enjoy life. Our only responsibility is to remember our role. We have tremendous power over our daily experience, but we must exercise that power before it can create a discernible effect in our lives.

Go be you. Stop thinking that it’s crazy. That’s what geniuses do. They ignore what other people think and they do what they feel is their thing to do. And, in doing so, they find things that are uniquely theirs. Whether they succeed with that thing or not is irrelevant. By simply pursuing it they have enacted themselves, and that is what success ultimately is. It’s not getting the right stuff. It’s not being popular or good looking or rich. It’s to enjoy your own life. It’s to have had fun being you. Because you are the only person in the universe who will get that chance. So go for it.

Your life is just a stage. It’s an opportunity. A chance. It’s a dash between the two little dates on your tombstone. It’s a blip in history. So don’t take it too seriously. Just enjoy it. Because there really is no way to do it wrong.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

Who Taught You To Be Afraid?

89 Relax and Succeed - You must not lose faithIf you actually watch the world closely you’ll see that it’s a much more cooperative place than it’s made out to be. The reason we think it’s worse than it is is because we process our world via various media. And all media are the same in that they need money to operate, so somewhere along they line they’re beholden to someone.

Those someone’s are almost always advertisers and advertising is an extremely clever business. They spend a lot of time and money on getting human beings to think the thoughts they want them to, so they’re worth paying attention to. And it’s not just the advertisers. It’s also the medium itself. Because, to a TV network, the show is the filler and the advertisement is the point. The show exists to get you to the ad. And that’s why the world looks so bad.

Human beings will give the most attention to things that makes them frightened, angry, sad, horny or happy. And advertisers and media folks know that. That’s why on the evening news, there will always be that one story near the end where they show you something either sweet or something sexual. But the rest of the show will be about fear and things that make you upset. That’s their product. Because that’s what gets you sitting through the filler to get to the point: where they sell you their customer’s soap.

89a Relax and Succeed - When I was a boySo despite what you’re told, the news is not the information you need to see and/or hear as a citizen. The news is a vehicle to advertise products and so it follows that you will see and/or hear whatever they believe will keep you focused until the ad comes on. And if they can they’ll make the show the ad itself–much like game shows, cooking shows, home decorating and even talk shows. All are excellent excuses for putting the advertising as content. That’s not to say there’s no value in the news or in cooking or decorating shows. There obviously is value there. But you shouldn’t lose sight of what their real intention is. Because it’s what shapes your world. Their motivation isn’t to make you a better cook. The motivation is to get you to buy more food and cooking utensils.

Likewise, the news tells you about every scary story it can in the hopes that you’ll help them sell ads for security companies and sleep aids. At every event they attend they will intentionally look for the most shocking people they can find—not because those people are representative of what’s really going on but–because those people will keep you watching until the shampoo ad comes on. The unfortunate byproduct of selling all of that shampoo is that you’ve gotten the idea that the world is an ugly place filled with scary people (with dirty hair) and that’s simply not accurate.

89 Relax and Succeed - I believe our true natureEvery day a huge number of friendships are made. For everyone hurt in a tragedy there are hundreds of people who respond with compassionate action. People work hard every day keeping others safe or healthy or fed or happy. Soldier’s go into danger to protect people they will never meet. People dedicate time to charities and to look after stray dogs and cats. People help out their neighbours and they hold their friends while they cry.

People are awesome. They’re beautiful and kind and wise. But they’re also scared. Scared to be in the world because of the news, and scared to be themselves because of the ads. We have to get back into the world and out of our fearful mindsets. Because the world is a beautiful place, and our participation in it will only serve to make it more beautiful.

So who is with me? Who’s prepared to get to know a co-worker you haven’t spoken to before? Who’s prepared to strike up a friendly, complimentary conversation at the grocery store? Who’s simply prepared to walk down the street and look people in the eye and smile?

The world is a great place. Yes rose bushes have thorns. But they have roses too. So focus on the flowers. If you do you won’t believe the size of the garden of wonderfulness that you will begin to live within.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations in Edmonton and around the world.

PS Check out these fine examples of goodness:

A Test Of Honesty

The Good News Network

The Great News Network