Those Damned Assumptions

I have a reputation of making people feel awkward, or as some would describe it, infuriated (stop nodding so feverishly, you may lose your balance!). I take a particular pride in knowing that I am viewed this way, because it merely cements my views about the nature of the average Joe that I meet on a daily basis. This came to the fore a few weeks ago in a discussion that I had with a colleague which subsequently spilled online as well.

I often feel compelled to challenge incorrect assumptions, or to persist in a point that I believe is important until I am certain that I have reached a point of mutual understanding, or at the least, am able to walk away knowing that I tried. So I choose my battles, but I also choose more battles than most (I can see you nodding again!). On this one occasion, I spent a fair amount of time trying to get someone to understand why the point that they were making was actually contrary to what they were trying to achieve. And so I kept asking probing questions and prompting them to consider an alternate perspective so that they may realise what it is that they were doing.

Some in the room came to me afterwards and suggested that I really shouldn’t bother. Some assumed that I was being argumentative or just simply difficult (stop it already!). Meanwhile, the truth was far from both of those assumptions. While I speak for myself right now, I suspect that many others may be able to relate to what I am about to share.

When I engage with anyone on any subject, my default assumption is that they are capable of processing the concepts and themes that I feel passionately about. As the discussion progresses, if I see that they’re not grasping my point, I assume that I’m either not explaining myself well enough, or they’re distracted by a bias that is not directly relevant to what I am trying to share with them. My knee-jerk reaction to this is to try to clarify my point so that they may be able to share in the value of what I think is important. In short, I assume we’re at the same level of understanding, but are experiencing a communication gap.

Unfortunately, the most common assumption in such a situation, especially by those with a low self-esteem, is that my efforts to attain clarity is in fact an attempt to either make them look stupid, or expose how stupid they really are. At no point do they consider that perhaps I simply assumed that their level of understanding was the same as mine, rather than me assuming that they’re beneath me. Their perceptions of themselves informed their observations of me, and while they thought they were judging me, they were in fact judging themselves.

Of course, if  I were to point this out to them (as I do on occasion, often just for fun!) they would feel justified in their views about my supposed arrogance, or condescension. The turning point in my life regarding my self-worth was when I realised this troublesome truth about people. From that point on, I found it easier to rise above the unqualified criticisms leveled against me, and instead, continued to focus on the passion that I had about the value that I wanted to realise for me and for others. Often, this resulted in the offended party recognising the point I originally tried to make, but only after they had enough time to get over their own insecurities about the interaction. For this reason, I almost always do my best to allow for a graceful exit from such contentious discussions.

The times that I don’t allow for a graceful exit are the times when the offending moron is pretty much a confirmed bully who just won’t back down. That’s when my favourite philosophy kicks in. Treat an arrogant person with arrogance so that they may taste humility.

Back to the topic at hand. Assumptions are made all the time. Some are informed, most are not. Another poor assumption on my part when I originally started contemplating writing books on leadership and mentoring others at the office to take leadership roles in their areas of influence was that in doing so, I may work myself into a position of irrelevance. In other words, like the fickle-minded, I thought that I was working myself out of a job. You know, that scarcity mentality thing where we assume that the success of others will rob us of opportunities for our own success? Well, fortunately I snapped out of that mindset soon thereafter when I realised that leadership is so rare because conviction is lacking in most people.

In general, people want to be associated with greatness, not because they want to be great, but because they want to be with the crowd that is also associated with such greatness. One of the important lessons I learnt in the process is that despite giving someone the golden handbook of how to achieve greatness, and giving then the opportunity and environment in which to achieve it, their deeply ingrained insecurities will prevent them from embracing the opportunity. Everyone wants to be liked, or popular, or part of a group. Except for a few that see the futility in that, and decide to forge their own path in life. They don’t necessarily set out to be leaders. In fact, I would go as far as saying that leadership finds them, while everyone else tries to mimic the assumed journey of the new leader in the hope that they will achieve the same.

People that set out to become leaders usually lack authenticity. Authenticity is by far the most important leadership trait ever. In the absence of it, you simply have authority and resources at your disposal, but will fail to genuinely influence or inspire others, except for those that aspire to similar levels of materialism. Perhaps this is why we have the leadership void that we have in this world. Perhaps this is why the worst of us has truly become the leaders of us, because we celebrate the wrong attributes, and dismiss the detractors that challenge the status quo.

We make assumptions negatively about others when we assume that their flaws are the same as our own, while not being willing to acknowledge or own our own flaws. Criticism that has little to no constructive basis behind it simply feeds the ego. It does not encourage growth, nor does it forge new avenues of understanding. When someone takes the time to extend their engagement with you about a topic that they are passionate about, recognise their passion before assuming that they’re simply being arrogant. The biggest mistake most people make is that they fail to recognise the difference between passion and emotion, and are too ready to dismiss a passionate soul as an emotional being. That is the burden on society of a weak mind. It degrades sincerity in favour of popularity. And that is how society ends up being something that everyone wants to criticise, but no one wants to acknowledge being an integral part of it.

When Understanding Goes Too Far

I sometimes watch the wayward behaviour of some while observing the contempt of others that are watching it play out, and wonder who between the two are less aware of their actions or motivations to behave that way. The ones among us that are of a softer nature will look on and seek to understand why someone may be acting out, afraid that judging them for acting out may be too harsh. The world is harsh enough as it is, and only getting harsher each day, so I guess there is merit in such an approach.

At times, when we’ve had enough to deal with in our own lives, we look on with intolerance, demanding that the wayward behaviour be checked, because if no one is willing to accept such behaviour from us, why should we accept it from others? Right? But demanding change without offering a solution helps no one. It only exacerbates the already toxic state of the relationship or the environment around us. It provokes the wayward ones to escalate their protest against whatever it is that they refuse to accept, and it frustrates those that seek to understand.

Moderation in all things is always called for. Demand without understanding, and you lose credibility when the solution becomes obvious later on. Understand without demanding, and you lose credibility when the demands foster the change that was needed to break the cycle. Do either without the other, and you resign yourself to an end of insignificance. Unfortunately, doing both requires purposeful conviction. Not blind conviction. Not the kind of conviction that is driven by a self-belief of what we stand for but for which we are rarely capable of defending when challenged. That belief that we insist on being respected despite not knowing why, but only knowing that through receiving such respect for our beliefs, we feel significant and less threatened.

Purposeful conviction. You’d think it was easy given that it’s a simple matter of cause and effect, but of a different kind. You recognise the cause that you wish to champion, and you put your efforts into effecting the change needed to support that cause. Problem is, most don’t recognise the cause, they only recognise the affiliation. The need to be associated with something meaningful or relevant, rather than establishing meaning and relevance through their own actions and contributions.

It’s all well and good to understand. But the failing of many is that we stop at understanding. We spend much time and energy in achieving that state, but then avoid taking steps to remedy the causes that we now understand leads to that unacceptable behaviour. Being perceived as understanding in nature makes us popular with those that don’t want to change, those that prefer acting out, being rebellious, and refusing to accept accountability for their state because they find it much more convenient and less taxing to blame others, or circumstances.

The ones that act out, and are left to act out, become masters at presenting their tantrums as legitimate gripes or demands. They often end up being the bullies, the type A personalities, and the abusers. They become the oppressors that they grew up whining about. And those that sought only to understand but chose not to curtail such behaviour, or offer healthier forms of expression, they feed that cycle. They enable such outcomes, and they become the liberals. The ones that stand for nothing, understand everything, and fall for every whimper regardless of how incredulous the whimper is.

Understanding is only ever the first step, and never the last. There is no point in seeking to understand if you intend to do nothing more than reflect on that knowledge that you have gained. Understanding must inform our decisions to act. Not acting is a decision in itself, but it’s usually the easy way out. It’s often under the pretense that we don’t want to get involved because we have enough problems of our own, or it’s none of our business. And that’s how the cycles of violence, intolerance, and abuse in society spiral out of control. It’s because those that understand do nothing, while those that do not understand act without guidance.

Prompting someone towards having the courage to take control of their lives, regardless of what came before, is more selfless than it is selfish. Too often we’re distracted by the assumption that by demanding more, we’re behaving selfishly because we don’t understand how difficult it is for that person to be who they are if only we knew what they’ve been through. That is a horrid distortion of the truth. The truth is closer to the fact that leaving them to succumb to their past is in fact selfish, because prompting them to rise above it is often met with resistance and contempt, both of which erode your sense of significance or likeability in that relationship. So when you withhold advice or decide not to take action because you don’t want to be ‘the bad one’, you’re behaving selfishly. Standing up and being counted in a time when guidance and good advice is needed, not necessarily wanted, takes more courage and is much more selfless than shutting up and minding your own business.

We have far too many that shut up and mind their own business, except when they enjoy the anonymity of social media and similar platforms, because once again, there is limited (if any) risk of them becoming unpopular in the relationships that they covet. I suspect that the point of this post has been made somewhere between all the venting, but at the risk of being redundant. It’s simply this. Seeking to understand is a noble first step. But it’s only a first step. Don’t stop there. Take the knowledge that you gained through that process and apply it with conviction in a meaningful way. Don’t be a passive observer of life, or the lives of others. Have the courage to change it for the better.

This is why you can’t judge me

Ok, that title is deliberately dramatic because this is generally a dramatic topic. After sneering at the fandom around the Myers Briggs personality tests I finally decided to take it myself, if for no reason other than the fact that I was curious to know how I would be defined. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that out of three of the four dimensions, they could not define me. I’ve sat amused for a long time watching people trying to determine their personality types based on this test, but was not so amused when they started judging others based on the same info. So I had a quiet chuckle at the thought of their facial expressions when they discovered that they still had no credible basis against which to judge me.

Out of the sixteen possible personality types, I ended up with a result that says that I could be either of eight of them. Scrolling through the eight options I could easily relate to each of them, which I guess adds to the credibility of the test, but denies answers to those that would wish to have me defined in a way that makes interactions more predictable. However, self-indulgence aside, the most important realisation for me was the fact that in the one dimension where I was defined, I realised that by implication it is the one dimension in which I do not have sufficient balance.

The report indicated that my scores were ‘borderline’ in the three dimensions of extravert versus introvert, feeler versus thinker, and judger versus perceiver. I interpret these outcomes as suggesting that I am adaptable or balanced relative to the norm. The dimension where I’m not balanced is where they identify my strengths or preferences as being intuitive rather than sensing. This is true. I’m often focused on the patterns of behaviour, or the sequence of events that hint at possible future outcomes, and so end up being rather insensitive to the emotional investments that others have made. When patterns are the focus, the immediate emotional impact is easy to ignore. There is relevance in understanding emotional responses, but most often I resign it to a waste of time that doesn’t change the outcome of what we’re faced with. I guess that’s the proof that I lack balance in this dimension.

I wonder if others that have taken the test view their results in the same way? I wonder how many realise that it is merely an indication of preferences of behavior in their current state, and does not necessarily define who they are, or who they will be? Do they realise the difference between preference of behaviour versus subconscious predisposition and the important state of mindfulness that determines our awareness of the two? Too few appear to use it as a tool for reflection and growth, while most use it to determine their fit in relationships or groups; or worse they use it to measure the worth of others.

The problem with people that don’t fit the molds of society is that they don’t easily fit anywhere in society either. It also means that they are often misunderstood in intent, and would therefore be assumed to be something other than what they are or intend to be. (Cue violins and harps.) No, that’s not my attempt at being sensitive, it’s more an observation of a reality that many like me face, while most feel justified in their judgemental attitude towards people like me. In other words, anyone that doesn’t fit their preferred models are automatically shunned or avoided. Unfortunately, because the number of people that break the mold are the minority, the pervasive ignorance of the majority results in the devaluation of the contribution of those that are best positioned to contribute something unique. It’s that uniqueness of contribution that drives the world forward, while the collusion of the majority serve as nothing more than a preservation of the status quo, or often even results in a degradation of the current state that we find ourselves in.

For its entertainment value, here’s the summary of my test results:

  • May be an Extravert or an Introvert
  • Intuitive, not Sensing
  • May be a  Feeler or a Thinker
  • May be a Judger or a Perceiver

Due to the number of inconclusive responses above, I was listed to have 8 possible personality types. These include:

  • ENFJ – The Teacher
  • ENFP – The Champion
  • ENTJ – The Commander
  • ENTP – The Visionary
  • INFJ – The Counselor
  • INFP – The Healer
  • INTJ – The Mastermind
  • INTP – The Architect

Details of each of the above can be found on the Truist website that I linked to at the beginning of this article. I’m curious to know if any of you may have an opinion on whether or not any of the above is easily recognisable through my writing? Or perhaps even share your thoughts on your experiences with this personality test, and how it may have shaped your perspectives, or interactions with others?

Reinvention

Reinvention is probably the most daunting aspect of life. It’s that moment when I find myself in a space that I’ve outgrown without having a new space that I’ve grown into. It’s a scene I’m familiar with. Along with most cycles, and there have been many, comes the reality of having to discard expensive relationships and adopting new ones. The more cycles I go through, the more exhausting the reinvention process becomes. The exhaustion, which I believe is quite closely related to my tolerance levels, suggests that perhaps I have not fully discarded some of the remnants of those relationships that have proven to be toxic.

In discarding something, if traces remain, it must imply that it has not been fully discarded. I think the same is true for relationships. If I fully discard it, there won’t be any unexpected moments of yearning, or wistfulness. The ones I fully discard will leave my mind until something external reminds me of them. Even then, that reminder serves as nothing more than a recollection of events without any feelings of regret or subdued anticipation. They hold no link to the present life that I live. However, I’ve found that the ones that I didn’t fully discard are the ones I recall in moments of present betrayal. When I’m feeling weak or being deliberately self-loathing, I use those remnants to draw parallels between the betrayals in order to convince myself that it must be something about me that caused them to treat me that way. Those moments of self-loathing fades quickly to reveal that it’s not a sincere reflection. Instead, I’ve found that I do that in the hope of restraining myself from embracing such relationships again because the more we convince ourselves we’re not worthy, the less likely we’ll be to embrace new realities.

My passion to embrace life dictates that such restraint only lasts for as long as the pain of the betrayal lingers. It’s not long before life starts tugging at my heartstrings, nudging me back to reality while I hesitantly push ahead, occasionally looking over my shoulder as if to reassure myself that the decision I needed to make was made with good reason, and with good intent. Sometimes, just sometimes looking back hoping to discover that I was wrong to give up on those relationships just yet, but rarely finding such reason to back track.

I’ve learnt that holding on to relationships, most often not romantic ones, in the hope of still realising the potential and the beauty that I know is possible from that relationship taxes me more intensely than any cost it bears on them, People expect too little from themselves, while I always see more. Fighting for someone to rise above their decaying state often leaves me with the stench of such decay while they assimilate and thrive in surroundings that echo their weaknesses, which they interpret as strength, while they erode on the inside knowing that they’re hiding from the greatness they desire for themselves.

Reinvention is based on the innate need to thrive in the face of adversity. It’s a courageous statement made by those that will not be put down, nor kept down. Those that choose to reinvent themselves are the ones that don’t allow life to define them. They define life. It takes an obstinacy of spirit, and a disregard for the contempt of the meek, when we abandon the failures they wish to savour, because it is all that offers them significance, while the rest of us choose to be significant for more than just feigned attempts at living. Each time we rise to face a new challenge we know that there are thousands waiting patiently to see the outcome before they commit. They are the opportunists that associate with power and success and delude themselves into believing that they yield it.

Realising the futility of their superficial minds makes it easy to disregard their taunts when we fail, because even in failure we have tasted more success than those that live safely and insincerely.

P.S. There is an arrogance that has crept into my writing over the years. Sometimes I feel a need to retract and clarify, in the hope that I won’t be seen in ways that I despise in others. However, I believe that in a world where individuality has resulted in an isolation of spirit, it’s more important to be bold and face potential humiliation, than to be safe and amicable and leave no imprint on this world in the very short time we have here. Besides, humiliation is only so if I care about the opinions of the spineless. I don’t.

The Ebb and Flow of Mediocrity

I’ve often found myself considering restraint in sharing my knowledge with some, because of the ridiculous assumption that in doing so, I may render myself redundant. But then I started considering previous times when I did share such knowledge and noticed how few embraced it. It’s really simple, this whole leadership thing. Take accountability for who you are, and lead by example. If you have the conviction, it will hold you in good stead, if you don’t, you’ll be a victim. Based on the simplicity of it all, I assumed that it would be readily adopted by most, given how sincerely everyone chants about their desire to rise above their circumstances. I’ve since discovered that those chants are hollow. It’s the quiet conviction that is evident only in action that holds any truth these days.

The vast majority are so secure in celebrating their struggles, that they refuse to grasp a reality without it. They’ve chosen to be defined by their struggles. The rest of the meek look up to them as martyrs fighting the good fight, but refusing to see the self-deprecating behavior that keeps them firmly in that cycle because recognising such behaviour will inevitably lead to a self-realisation that will shake their world. I would never have believed that success was so daunting to so many if I didn’t witness it first hand. But it can’t be success, can it? I mean, everyone spends their lives trying to be successful in some way or another, so perhaps it’s their definition of success, the subconscious definition that needs to be questioned.

I think too many of us define a reality of success that is different to our dream of success. We create goals that are based on ideal outcomes, and then look around to see our less-than-ideal circumstances, and resign those goals to being mere ideals and therefore unattainable. Then we focus on what is realistically achievable based on our current circumstances, measure that against our past successes, and calibrate our expectations of success against that. Little do we realise that in so doing, we have just defined mediocrity, and lost sight of true success. So what is true success then?

I think true success is where our ideals meet with our convictions, so that we find ourselves creating the circumstances we need to achieve the idealistic goals that we desire. However, this demands a healthy ego, and an equally healthy passion driven by purpose. The one without the other is a recipe for humiliation. The ego is needed to establish the conviction that convinces us that we are capable, while the purpose driven passion is what keeps us focused on the outcome we set out to achieve. Again, sounds simple enough, yet so many still get it wrong. Why?

The answer to that question, I believe, is easier than most would like to accept. It’s not the fear of success that holds us back, but the fear of accountability. Letting go of a struggle that has come to define who we are inevitably leaves us wanting when that struggle no longer holds true. And in there lies the ebb and flow of mediocrity. Some go through a lifetime redefining that struggle in order to ensure that it always holds relevance, while just a few shrug off the stigma of their struggles and choose to reinvent themselves as many times as is needed to get closer to the ideals of their dreams.

The world is full of meekness clothed in aggression and pompous displays of trophies. When such is the prevailing reality, it stands to reason that those with purpose will be scorned as dreamers who will amount to nothing, until they do, followed by the masses swaying to celebrate the triumphs that they themselves scorned to begin with. Success by association is the food for the masses. It gives more people purpose than purpose itself.

Contemplating this leaves a distinctly bitter after taste about the state of this world I find myself in. The difficulty of not being one of the masses in a society that has polarized towards group thinking and collective accountability, is that finding your success can be an intensely lonely path, leaving any subsequent embrace in the face of success deprived of sincerity.

A Choice Outcome

On my way to work this morning I passed a student transport service that was broken down at a fairly quiet intersection. Young children aged 7 or 8 milled around on the pavement as the driver attended to the vehicle. As I slowed down I noticed one of the kids staring intently in my direction. Whether he was looking at me or the car is hard to say, but I wondered if that scene for him would prove to be inspirational in some way later on in life. Not inspirational in the typical sense of ‘I want to be like that when I grow up’, but rather in the sense that it represented certain goals for him.

If I think back to my time in school, I recall similarly poignant moments that defined my perspectives or my priorities. It wasn’t earth shattering moments of ‘Eureka’ but rather unexpected sights or experiences that left their mark. There was a time in school when we were preparing for the official opening of the new school premises that we recently occupied. I was in the 6th grade and normal classes had been disrupted for several weeks already as all the kids were involved in some or other project relating to the building of floats or other decorative items for the event. It was then that I learnt how to cut polystyrene, spray the index tab onto library books in bulk, classify books according to the Dewey Decimal system and so much more. At one point I looked up at my teacher and asked him why it was that we didn’t learn things like this more often instead of sitting in class and studying from books all the time?

I don’t recall his response, and his response was not defining either. What defined that experience for me was the practical knowledge and skills that I had acquired in such a short space of time as opposed to the endless boring sessions of indulging in theoretical and academic studies of subjects that would barely have any practical value in my life. I think it was then that my mindset shifted from the traditional methods of acquiring knowledge to one that is more experiential by nature. To this day I grow impatient and often abrasive if I find myself compelled to sit with textbooks or drawn out discussions about challenges that need to be resolved, and instead, I often aggressively prompt people in the direction of considering practical options or impacts around what we may be contending with. I think I’ve learnt to temper my impatience with some finesse more recently, although many would still disagree. Nonetheless, it has served me well, and if I had to try to pinpoint a time in my life when such an approach became tangibly attractive enough for me to adopt as my own, it would be that unexpected experience in school that was not shaped by the schooling system at all.

In a similar light I contemplated the thoughts that may have formed in that kid’s head this morning as he stood there in the cold watching me pass as he waited for the driver to repair the vehicle. With every scene or experience that we endure, we make choices. Some are conscious, but most are not. Most play out in our sub-conscious minds as we shape our characters and lives relative to the circumstances around us. That child could have been looking at me and thinking what a snob I am, while admiring the humility of the driver that made a living from ensuring that he got the kids to school and back safely, and hopefully on time. Whichever of those two perspectives appealed to him at that point, that is what he will find himself sub-consciously polarizing towards as he goes through life.

I think these choices that we make grounds us in our lives to the defining moments that informed our perspectives. The less mindful we are, the less likely it is that we’ll be able to identify these choices when we’re making them, and therefore the less informed our choices will be. While woefully simplistic as an analogy, it suggests some answers as to why some make destructive choices in life, while others choose more wisely. If anything, it prompts inclinations in us that we can choose to embrace or choose to question. Those that embrace without question are often victims to circumstance. They’re the ones that want to be seen as the brave ones that persevere in spite of their lot in life. They’re the martyrs among us. Always ready to assist even if such assistance enables dependence.

Then there are those that question before embracing. They’re the ones most often seen as cold and calculated. But it takes both types to make this world an interesting place. The ones most endearing would be those that have a healthy balance between these two extremes. That healthy balance would probably be reflected in those that embrace without question that which is confirmed (to them) to be wholesome, while being pragmatic and realistic before diving into a mess to help a victim. While the choices we can make are endless, I guess the point of this deliberation is that the choices that most often shape our lives the most are rarely the choices we made consciously. I think that’s an important realisation that, if we embrace it, will prompt us to be courageous enough to question why we are the way we are. This is needed if we ever hope to grow beyond just the cycle of evolution that our lives inherently dictate. If we don’t wish for such growth, then perhaps we’re the martyrs we spurn in others?