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September 2013

Very Good or Perfect?

God, it says in Genesis, created the world, the cosmos, the universe, and the interesting question is: what is the first thing He (speaking anthropomorphically here of course) does after the creation? Well, quite naturally, he does what I did on the birth of my son: I wanted immediately to look at him and then touch him. So it says that God saw – beholds – what he has done and comments on it: the creation is ‘very good’.

That’s great news because if you read the papers for long enough, or watch the news on TV for any length of time, you’d reach a diametrically opposite conclusion: that the world was very bad! And we need to remind ourselves periodically that the media exists, like most journalists and most politicians, in order to preserve the status quo by instilling fear in people. Indeed, they do this easily because most of them are congenital liars and they refuse to witness to the goodness of the world. What we see, for example, in the human face divine, or in the beauty of nature, or in the love or fellowship we have with others – all this good surrounds us, and yet all we hear is bad news and people seeking to put even worse ‘spins’ on badness.

Putting that aside, however, and returning to the words of God: they are interesting also for what God did not say, but could have. Why, for crying out loud, did God not say as he observed creation in its first moment of existence that it was ‘perfect’ – not just ‘very good’, but perfect? Would it have been that difficult for God to have made a perfect world first time round? After all, nothing is too difficult for God, according to the scriptures.

I work as a consultant and coach and have dealt with hundreds of people. Often I find myself sharing a favourite mantra with them when I find they are stuck in a certain way. For example, I have lost count of the number of women and men in their forties, still unmarried, still trying to suggest that this is a good thing (no flies on them, free and easy), but who at root are still waiting for the perfect mate. Yes, the perfect mate: they live in fear of making a mistake. And let’s be frank – mistakes are costly. But then never having had that partner by the time you reach your end is surely going to seem like a mistake too?

And then there are those stuck in dead-end jobs, waiting it out for the pension or the redundancy package. They won’t step out to do what they have always wanted to do – at least they won’t until the circumstances are ideal – perfect in fact – meaning, there is no risk at all. And then there are those who won’t ride a bike because they can’t be Bradley Wiggins or won’t start playing a piano because they’ll never surpass Glenn Gould. So it goes on. See what I mean?

The mantra I teach is simply this: "Perfection is the enemy of progress". If we wait until everything is right before we act, then we will never act and we will always fall short of what we could have been, or could have done, or could have enjoyed.

Thus it is that God made the world ‘very good’ and for a very good reason: so that we can make it better. And we also have a responsibility to make our own self better. This is the challenge of this world. If it were perfect, what would there be to do? How would we come to stretch ourselves and know more fully our potential? In a very real sense God does to us what we do to our own children – if we really love them. Namely, enable them to develop and be autonomous creators of their own worlds.

Atheists are always pointing out the imperfections of this world and blaming God – if  God really were there, they like to say, He could – being all-powerful – have done a better job – made a perfect world. Yea, right – no, it’s better this way: ‘very good’ and we all on course to improve it further and as we do so to feel the growth within ourselves.




Quiet Gardens and our Life

I have long thought that it would be a good idea to teach young and old people through metaphors, then at least they might understand something and be in a position to act on that understanding. Instead of which we barrage people with facts and figures and often useless data masquerading as educational material. Also, when we try to discern what is our life and what should we do about it, we are inevitably confused by the barrage of materialism around us, and the lack of any model that stand for much.

The other day attended a quiet garden near the centre of Bournemouth. The whole point of the day was to experience the garden and silence, but before that kicked off a facilitator gave us some questions to contemplate – if we wanted to. Questions like ‘Imagine your life as a garden … How would you describe it?’ So simple, isn’t it? But so profound.

It was James Allen in As a Man Thinketh who observed that our mind is like a garden. Then he went on to profoundly comment that we needed to cultivate flowers in it. A primary school child could understand that – how are you going to cultivate flowers in your life? And what else are you going to grow? The thing is, as Allen noted, that if we don’t cultivate flowers the weeds grow anyway! Yes, as all religions seem to have realized, there’s always a fly in the honey or always poop in paradise. The weeds grow anyway. Again, any primary school child can understand that: what are the weeds in your life that need removing or pruning?

Of course it is the essence of the spiritual life to remove weeds; or better, the essence to transform the garden. Removing the weeds is an endless and thankless task, and by works no-one is justified. Rather, the spiritual life requires that we embrace the weeds because we understand with deepest insight that they are healing herbs. That, for example, dandelions promote and protect the liver; and that all that God created without beauty, God may have imbued with power, health and healing.

What is your garden like? Like a desert, someone cries. And the beauty of the desert is that somewhere hidden in it lies a well. There is water in the most desolate places. Like a dark, impenetrable forest, another shouts. Lost? May be, but to the spiritual vision the forest knows where you are, for all things are connected. As the Bhuddist sage Nagarjuna puts it: "Things derive their being and nature by mutual dependence and are nothing in themselves".

This, surely, is what education should be about – the connectedness of everything, and it is that which makes metaphor possible: the imagination sees how two dissimilar things, notions, concepts are in reality linked by an inner logic or meaning.

Let’s start with our own garden: what does yours look like? What do you want it to look like?



Motivational Maps and Axioms

It was the great GK Chesterton who observed: "In so far as religion is gone, reason is going.  For they are both of the same primary and authoritative kind. They are both methods of proof which cannot themselves be proved."  What this powerfully reminds us of in the modern period is that it is not only ‘faith’ that lacks proof – reason itself lacks proof in that we cannot prove reason by reasoning alone because if we do we have a circular argument. In a way this is similar to the ideal requirement in a court of law: one person can testify that they are speaking the truth and witnessed a certain event, but this is only convincing when other witnesses, particularly independent witnesses, corroborate that testimony. What could demonstrate that reason was reason-able? It would be like proving that a circle is round or curved; it is a tautology.

The only thing we can say about why we want to use reason is that it is self-evident, self-evidently right, or that by using it we obtain good empirical results: in other words the outcomes justify our confidence in the process. This is not, of course, ‘proof’ that reason is right, but merely that it works, a subtly different proposition. Ultimately, with reason as with faith we have to believe that they are right – it’s an emotional commitment, bizarrely, to what is a logical process. Naturally, many highly logical people utterly repudiate that statement, because for them they cannot accept the emotional or belief side of believing in reason or logic.

What has this got to do with Motivational Maps – the world’s number motivational diagnostic? Quite a lot. Everybody in the market place wants proof, wants certainty, wants validation, and this is good, but oftentimes it over-reaches itself and becomes a request for something that is inappropriate.

One technical question about the Maps that came to me recently asked what was the evidence – the proof! -  that fast and slow decision making is correlated with the 9 motivators of the Maps? And I could only answer this in two ways.

First, by referring to the fact that some 20,000+ maps have already been done and when people and teams are fed back their profiles and this issue is covered then everyone recognizes the relevance or the truth in the description. In other words, this is the outcome justification.

And the second reason is the self-evident reason, which, to give it a posher title, is that it is axiomatic! Why is this? Because it is not something that can be proved, it is something that arises from the descriptors themselves.

To take an example, if we define the motivator Defender as being the motivator of security, safety, and predictability, then it follows that anyone who has this motivator at their core will be risk-averse, change-averse, and - in order to be secure - slower in making decisions in order to make the right one. Thus, as night follows day, it is inevitable that in taking that extra time to make a decision - to be secure - they will be 'slower': compared with a motivator higher up the chain.

At the other end of the 9 motivator chain and the Maslow Hierarchy with which it is correlated, we have the Searcher who seeks making a difference, mission and purpose. Thus in the very structure of being a Searcher we have somebody who seeks to change the status quo – make a difference – and who will, therefore, take a risk to do so. They will be risk-friendly, change-friendly and that orientation means they will tend to make quick or fast decisions, since they will not be preoccupied by getting things wrong – or ensuring they are right.

This, then, does not require ‘proof’ – it is axiomatic – it is built into what it means to have these definitions in place in the first place! One brilliant aspect of Motivational Maps is that they can tell us – can tell you – not just what motivates but how relatively quickly or slowly you will make decisions, and also how risk and change averse or friendly you or your team or whole organization is! Simples? Axiomatic, Watson.