The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice

via On Being

I asked my caller how that response had made him feel. “I’m sure my friend meant well,” he said, “but his advice left me less at peace.”

The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is.

Many of us “helper” types are as much or more concerned with being seen as good helpers as we are with serving the soul-deep needs of the person who needs help. Witnessing and companioning take time and patience, which we often lack — especially when we’re in the presence of suffering so painful we can barely stand to be there, as if we were in danger of catching a contagious disease. We want to apply our “fix,” then cut and run, figuring we’ve done the best we can to “save” the other person.

Having been on both sides of the fence, this article truly resonated with me. Upon posting it on my Facebook wall, I was surprised to see it being shared by friends who rarely share nor comment on my posts.

(1) Don’t give advice, unless someone insists. Instead, be fully present, listen deeply, and ask the kind of questions that give the other a chance to express more of his or her own truth, whatever it may be.

(2) If you find yourself receiving unwanted advice from someone close to you, smile and ask politely if you can pay a little less this month.

Working hard at this. Since reading this article, I’ve mindfully (it requires constant reminders!) reduced giving un-asked advice. So hard, but so freeing. I used to try so hard to help people, but now it’s about striking a balance.

The article linked to a Wikipedia article on one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quotations: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Puzzled, I clicked through.

Surprised to discover that much of Emerson’s thinking aligns with mine and resolved to read up more about him.

A surprise thrill of the day, his quote is also in the Python (yes, the programming language) style guide. Thrill because I’m currently learning Python to enter the Analytics industry. Talk about pieces aligning.

How to Die

via The Atlantic

As a psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom has helped others grapple with their mortality. Now he is preparing for his own end.

Another of Yalom’s signature ideas, expressed in books such as Staring at the Sun and Creatures of a Day, is that we can lessen our fear of dying by living a regret-free life, meditating on our effect on subsequent generations, and confiding in loved ones about our death anxiety.

Obvious cultural distinctions aside, he says his foreign patients are not that different from the patients he treats in person. “If we live a life full of regret, full of things we haven’t done, if we’ve lived an unfulfilled life,” he says, “when death comes along, it’s a lot worse. I think it’s true for all of us.”

Also, to live a life of regret it we’ve done things to regret. Sometimes, I remind and ask myself if what I am or will be doing will cause regret as death approaches. It gives that space and time for reflection and possible changes in actions.

In his books, Yalom emphasizes that love can reduce death anxiety, both by providing a space for people to share their fears and by contributing to a well-lived life. Marilyn, an accomplished feminist literary scholar with whom he has a close intellectual partnership, inspires him to keep living every bit as much as she makes the idea of dying excruciating.

The other half and I occasionally discuss death. As a same-age couple, with females generally outliving males, the final years of my life will likely be without him. Keeping that at the back of my mind has definitely helped me to appreciate our relationship, chill out when petty issues arise and enjoy the time that we have together.

Why Trying New Things Is So Hard to Do

via New York Times

Habits are powerful. We persist with many of them because we tend to give undue emphasis to the present. Trying something new can be painful: I might not like what I get and must forgo something I already enjoy. That cost is immediate, while any benefits — even if they are large — will be enjoyed in a future that feels abstract and distant.

This is true not only in our personal lives. Executives and policymakers fail to experiment in their jobs, and these failures can be particularly costly. For example, in hiring, executives often apply their preconceived notions of which applicants will be a “good fit” as prospective employees. Yet those presumptions are nothing more than guesses and are rarely given the scrutiny of experimentation.

Hiring someone who doesn’t appear to be a good fit is surely risky, yet it might also prove the presumptions wrong, an outcome that is especially valuable when these presumptions amount to built-in advantages for men or whites or people from economically or culturally advantaged backgrounds.

Keep trying.

That being said, I can hear the other half going, “but what if it’s a good habit?”

Focus on changing the “not so good” ones. Goodness knows most of us have plenty!

Why you’re never really happy about the things you buy anymore

via Popular Science

It’s not the act of getting a bargain that’s so damaging, it’s the endless cycle of seeking them out. Instead of valuing the items they’ve purchased, people are thriving on the thrill of the deal. But that little burst of adrenaline you get from scoring a bargain fades pretty quickly, and soon you’re itching for your next fix. Yarrows calls it “the biggest psychological landmine for consumers right now.”

A bargain pulls on your heartstrings in a way that few, if any, sales tactics do anymore, and they’re being used in an orchestrated fashion that ends up undermining what’s valuable about shopping. Adding something truly useful and enjoyable to your life isn’t shallow consumerism. Purchasing an item that makes your day-to-day life more comfortable or beautiful can be a real joy, and we should embrace that side of the shopping equation. But as Yarrow puts it, bargains are “robbing people from truly picking products that they’ll love.”

So. True.

“Buy 3 get 1 free!” signs would tempt shoppers to buy 3 when all they needed was 1. Yours truly included. Then homes would be filled with more and more unwanted stuff.

It has been such a relief since I resolutely stopped shopping years ago. Sale signs do tug at me, but simply reminding myself why “No more shopping!” helped me to walk away. Initially it was a struggle, but with time and consistent practice (as with anything), it is much easier.

Buying only things that we need and giving away unwanted items has made the house easier to clean and keep organised!

Delivering More Groceries, and Fewer Boxes

via New York Times

“They didn’t object to boxes,” he said, “but when they received a box with one or two things in it, that felt wasteful. They said, ‘Why do you have to send a big box with a piece of cheese?’ ”

Next year, the company will stop using cardboard boxes altogether, Mr. Ackerman said. It will pack the orders in paper bags and pack the bags in reusable plastic boxes that will keep the bags from getting crushed on the trucks. At a customer’s apartment, he said, the driver will take the bag out of the plastic box and take the box back to FreshDirect to be cleaned and reused.

Switching from cardboard boxes to paper bags will cut the amount of pulp FreshDirect uses by half, Mr. Ackerman said. “This is being environmentally responsible,” he said.

Applaud FreshDirect, who has links to RedMart, for making the move to reduce packaging!

We get our groceries delivered via RedMart almost weekly. 99% of our orders consist of fresh produce. I could wax lyrical about RedMart, but next time la.

We’ve (or rather me) made a commitment to reduce the amount of plastic that we consume, hence we usually have a resuable canvas bag when we go out so any shopping can go inside. However, RedMart deliveries come with many plastic bags, sometimes one item per bag. Thankfully months ago, RedMart’s plastic bags have changed to biodegradable plastic. Though I wouldn’t mind if no plastic bags were given at all.

Why Retail Is Getting ‘Experience’ Wrong

via Business of Fashion

Other retailers assume that customer experience simply means better, friendlier or more personalised service. Thus they invest in recruiting and training and work harder to capture data about their clientele.

The disappointment sets in when all these sorts of investments produce little in the way of marked improvement, either in enhanced customer satisfaction, improved foot traffic or sales. This is because they haven’t really designed a new customer experience at all. They’ve just put fresh icing on the same stale cake.

Truly remarkable customer experiences are deliberately engineered to be:

1. Engaging
2. Unique
3. Personalised
4. Surprising
5. Repeatable

Definitely not just the aesthetics of the retail store.

How to Live Without Irony

via New York Times

Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.

Furthermore, the nostalgia cycles have become so short that we even try to inject the present moment with sentimentality, for example, by using certain digital filters to “pre-wash” photos with an aura of historicity. Nostalgia needs time. One cannot accelerate meaningful remembrance.

While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway.

Greatly appreciate directness and am trying to be more direct.

Your Strategy Won’t Work If You Don’t Identify the New Capabilities You Need

via Harvard Business Review

While strategic plans identify what your organization should do differently, very few provide a roadmap for how to build the skills, knowledge, and processes needed to carry out and sustain the critical changes. But without building these capabilities, it’s very difficult to achieve the results you want.

As these examples illustrate, combining capability development with strategy execution does not need to be a complex undertaking. The key is to make capability learning as overt and intentional as possible. This will allow you to build organization muscle at the same time that you are getting business results.

To get started with this approach, think about your company’s own strategy, and what capabilities are critical to achieving results. Then identify opportunities for teams to create or strengthen those capabilities while actually executing some aspect of the strategy. Doing this will ensure that capability development is a real and tangible part of your organization’s growth, instead of a hope or an afterthought.

The case studies show that building organisation muscle takes time, trial and errors and patience.

How Do Museums Pay for Themselves These Days? (circa 2012)

via Huffington Post

Over the past four years of recession and lagging economic recovery, one museum after another across the country has cut back on hours, staff, salaries (and staff benefits) and programming, raised admissions, looked to sell objects from their collections in order to pay for operations or just closed for good. Righting the financial ship has been the order of the day, and Schimmel may just be the latest casualty of this decidedly non-art-sounding trend.

…There is still a sense of denial in museums about change and about financial trouble. We have been in trouble so long, the instability is nearly structural…

Whilst trying to figure out the museum industry in British Columbia, Canada, I kept hearing that many museums were struggling with funding. After visiting a few, interning, talking to and listening to passing conversations of staff, I realised the struggle was real.

Having previously worked in the cultural sector in Singapore, the Singapore complaints of lacking funding seemed less “desperate” than those in British Columbia. Perhaps an unfounded comparison, but that was my perception.

I soon realised that a job in the cultural sector in British Columbia was a really tough challenge, what with mostly part-timers, volunteers and a barely any open full-time positions for locals, let alone a foreigner.

This whole experience really made me think long and hard about how museums function, their ethos and managing their bottom-lines.

Museum of Contemporary Art’s past and future (circa 2012)

via Los Angeles Times

Over the years, MOCA has mounted many great exhibitions. However, the museum has also curated a number of exhibitions that were costly and poorly attended, often exceeding $100 per visitor. In today’s economic environment, museums must be fiscally prudent and creative in presenting cost-effective, visually stimulating exhibitions that attract a broad audience.

There has been much confusion about Schimmel’s departure. For several years, he’s been contemplating a change and has been a candidate for a number of positions at other institutions. Schimmel is a brilliant curator, but the board members recognized the director’s right to put his own team together. When they accepted Schimmel’s resignation, they acknowledged that he has left an indelible mark on MOCA’s history during his 22-year tenure. They look forward to continuing to work with him — together with guest curators from around the world — to develop the world-class exhibitions that MOCA is known for. They also look forward to MOCA showing more of its permanent collection — 80% of which has not been seen in the last 10 years.

Amazed at the surprisingly blunt and honest (?) telling of what happened from a person then still within the establishment. Kudos.