Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Busyness and the Dead Heart

It is quite easy to let ourselves get caught up in a whirlwind of activity, especially in the workplace, and feed off the adrenalin that accompanies a looming deadline or unexpected change that -- individually or as a team -- must be dealt with.  Priorities, and perhaps even passions, get put onto back burners while tensions mount. Eventually, all this eases with a sense of accomplishment and there may even be a certain buzz that comes from a task completed.  Despite the valiant efforts that might earn a quiet pride upon reflection, there is still the very real sense of feeling absolutely spent at the end of the day.  

The problem during such distracting or even addictive stretches of busyness, especially if it is one introduced out of (perceived) panic, is that they are highly unlikely to align with one's priorities or passions.  The adrenalin rush takes over and the calm, focus and intent of peak performance morph into something that neither stokes the appropriate brain chemistry of flow nor aligns with your goals and values.  While being busy might sate the curiosity about whether or not one or one's work is valued or important, in other instances there might be a reason to exercise caution or concern about being busy. In Japanese, for instance, the character for busy is comprised of the radicals representing "heart" and "death." While this combination does not hinder the use of the term, it does embed a caution light in the dialogue about busyness that gets overlooked in English.

The interpretation of busyness as meaning or implying a "death of the heart" is not a challenging logical progression. Busyness, whether it is imposed or -- more dangerously -- sought, essentially reduces, pummels and/or imprisons the solitary time that we require to acknowledge and give shape to our goals and passions.  Busyness also evicts the possibility of peak performance in favour of the less mindful frenzy of multitasking and arbitrary deadlines because during those busy times we are likely not as mindful of what inspires us most deeply. 

It is worth adding that in Japanese, when the radicals for "heart" and "death" are written one above the other, instead of side-by-side, the character means forget - again, not a huge leap of logic or concept. We indeed forget when we are busy, we excuse forgetfulness when busy, and whether it is a short term sacrifice to achieve an objective or a motivated numbing busyness to isolate ourselves from challenges and difficulties that we would rather not face.

The possibility of busyness being allowed to overwhelm us at work is just one, and in some ways it may be the safer scenario.  Excessive demands in the workplace are more likely to prompt a detached or even resistant posture - just the attitude to make one keep score and keep promises to even the ledger when there is time to relax and reflect on the work.  In that setting you can be detached enough to recognize that the demands are unwelcome and make a promise to reward oneself with the downtime or the revitalization that would counter the negative effects of excessive busyness.

The bigger danger is when busyness is pursued for the comfort of staying occupied with something, anything, for the sake of muting the uncertainties that speak loudest in stillness and silence.  In that pursuit busyness is a toxin that keeps us from embracing the chaos that comes with our unique potential and evading the core of who we are and what we are most capable of being.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Incremental Descent: Can The Right Build On Trump?

From https://www.tagthebird.com/us/tweet/7190168
The pessimist in me still ponders whether or not the right-wing mindset Donald Trump has embodied over the last year could see a revival in the future.

That remote possibility is hard to separate from the gravity of Trump's ego and his limitations as a leader or campaigner, but despite himself he still managed to secure the Republican Presidential nomination and galvanize a core of about 40% of the US electorate. While these are not exactly the most comforting parting gifts for the bridesmaid in this year's most popular reality program, Trump has still come frighteningly close to the car, plane, house and nuclear football that comprise the grand prize.

It remains hard to fathom that a candidate for US President could garner the support for the dangerous set of values - the sexism, the racism, the self-aggrandizement and the exclusion - that Trump has openly professed and voiced throughout his campaign.  Apart from the shell game that would amount to his version of trickle-down economics on steroids -- that is, if he actually has an economic plan, Trump has been completely unvarnished and crassly open about his positions and his values. Given the limitations Trump imposes on himself with his lack of restraint or a deep-seated desire to merely make the 2016 presidential campaign a complete farce, a campaigner with similar values might have an easy time whitewashing his or her positions on social policy and instead of being so offensive, campaign with enough veiled suggestions and hints about policy and values to stir the blood of the 40% core that Trump seems to have and cobble together enough interest to gain the Presidency and introduce a mandate similar to what Trump has to embodied and incited throughout his campaign.

Regardless of the assessment of the man or his campaign, Trump has captured the interest and the passion of a segment of the American population that feels threatened and fearful for the uncertainties of the times. Economic and social change have stirred fear in significant segments of the population and Trump's campaign has provided the first draft of the playbook to retain that core constituency in future elections and given a budding right-wing start a solid checklist of "don't's" to guide the pursuit of the votes required to capture the required portion of the Electoral College.  Just mop up a few of Trump's biggest mistakes or indulgences and polling numbers will turn upward and give the next far-right candidate the mandate required to set the United States back.

The economic anxieties will ebb and flow, but the progress toward a more open and tolerant society will not, unfortunately, proceed unopposed. There will always be people who will feel threatened by diversity and equality. There will always be people who will want the certitude of clear rules and exclusivity and there will be politicians time and again that will capture that. The next Trump wannabes are only waiting for the spotlight to beckon them.  It may only be a matter of time.

However, one thing that has held Trump in check throughout the campaign has been the absence images that would compel the electorate to recognize and rally to his cause. The post-mortem on the Trump campaign is to be seen, but one significant gap has been the absence of compelling language or imagery to rally people to Trump's side.  He went through the campaign cycle without a rallying cry any stronger than his instantly meme-able "Make America Great Again" and that tacky Made in China trucker hat, both of which pale and whither in comparison to the positive language and imagery that were such a compelling and appealing part of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.

The lasting image of Trump will be of him at a podium, distant, mugging and mocking. Such images -- whether on a dais with his opponents or with a backdrop of supporters -- merely project the flaws the man believes are his strengths and he seems to be campaigning against rather than for. He has, like a man of his generation, relied on words, which he has demonstrated only the most limited command of. At a time, when so little is read or even attended to when spoken, the sight of him railing from his distant podium all but ensures his failure.

Could a more literate, more telegenic, less narcissistic figure get further than Trump? Definitely.  The one variable that would put such a figure over the top and into a position may ultimately be the power of a catch phrase or an image that would stick in the public's imagination contagiously enough to gain power. The conditions would have to be ripe for this; fear would have to overpower hope and confidence in neighbours and best intentions or the common humanity that we share. The challenge, even in a fearful environment, would be to communicate the values that Trump and his followers profess with images that inspire more than they offend. (That might be one reason why time and again right-wing politicians and parties tend to grasp at stock images that are proven false or inaccurate.) Apart from Trump's time at his distant podium, away from the cries of children, the other images that dominate coverage of his rallies and speeches display hatreds that the majority of us would be prompted to halt before we would ever regard them as acceptable collateral damage or consequence of improving our own wellbeing.

Could we be protected from this threat merely by our preoccupation with image? No, but it'll help.