Tag: assumptions

Being Human in The Age of Extremes: Pausing to see the other side

Front foot, Improvement, Reflect No Comments

What makes us human?

  1. The ability to tell stories that make sense of our lives?
  2. The (potential to have a) conscience?
  3. The way we organise to do ‘projects’ from farming to hobbies to start-ups?
  4. But also ‘othering’ – that is the way we pretty naturally like to put all we see and meet into groups and make those good or bad, helpful or harmful, right or wrong, hero or villain. ‘The other’ is frequently given less positive characteristics, though sometimes (for example in the case of celebrities, especially national treasures), they have a sort of saintly halo.


This final characteristic or seeing putting something in a neat box and labelling it positive or negative extends to the black and white thinking we see in the anxious debates of our age, including:
• Refugees and migration
• Junior doctors strikes
• Nationalism in Europe and the US
• Trident
• The Union
• The various issues and groups who Donald Trump targets
• Trophy hunting
• Sugar tax
In all of these a circle tends to be put around those with a different view and then there is a judgement that makes them and their ideas wrong.  We see it from our Facebook pages to Front pages.

The news media and social media coverage of all these stories polarises views. Advocates of a particular viewpoint tend to sound as if the argument is very clearcut; they know the answer – and it is in their direction.

So if being human means we have a tendency to seek tribal certainties, what makes us civil is, I believe, stepping back from quick scapegoating…seeing the other side, disagreeing well, looking at what is fact from the story and considering the alternative stories.

However, I agree that in a way I risk ‘circling’ those who are certain and making them wrong! Yet, this desire to see the other side is more of a habit I practice than a belief; a discipline more than a personal value. I find it as easy to label and judge as anyone else, but reckon that learning to challenge those tendencies (as I look for information to challenge my assumptions and confirmation bias) is pretty important in my life and work.

And the more I think about the stuff that occupies the pages, screens and chat in my life the more nuanced the ideas seem. I realise ‘IDK’: I don’t know.

As I explore the gospel of doubt in the age of anxiety I discover I need to continually practice ‘holding my beliefs lightly’. Yet, I regularly need to form a view and make a judgement. I need to vote. I need to advise a client; to call time in a meeting. I need to act.

So what makes us human? Pausing. The potential of a momentary pause to consider; what else might be.


Further reading:
Meaning of Life is a project
National treasures
• Projection, scapegoating, splitting
WITOS and perspective managment assessment
• From other peoples skin (shoes, eyes)
Holding our beliefs lightly
• The Gospel of Doubt and questioning the ‘bricks’ on which our beliefs are based
The Age of Anxiety


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No, smoking allowed – no salads outside

Reflect No Comments

Entering a swanky building in the West End today, I saw this happen:

Someone was sitting on the wall eating a salad, with smokers each side.  The security guard asked the woman eating the salad to move on.  He said the space was reserved for smokers and the office owners didn’t want anyone eating by the door.


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Being surprised

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We love being surprised – whether by the surf dude head teacher or the meditating, ascetic banker (both of whom we have met recently). 

Here a sign from reserved seating in Bangkok: priority for older people, pregnant women, those with children, disabled people…and monks!

Monk seat

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Not what you might expect

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Saturday – Sheringham

By the steam railway station. On a bench amongst pretty flowers.

An older guy. Very dapper. White trousers. Immaculate shoes. Blue stipey blazer. White shirt. Red cravat. White hat.

Drinking cider straight from a 2-litre bottle of Blackthorn cider.


Sunday – Cambridge (market)

At the organic veg stall.

There is a huge selection. The season is overflowing with local produce.

Yet…there is more plastic used in packaging the items than in the adjacent M&S.

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How to be your own management consultant

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Consultants are much in the news at the moment – and it’s not a good press they are receiving.

We define a consultant as someone who provides guidance and advice, often at a strategic level – in contrast to trainers, researchers, lawyers, facilitators, accountants.

A few have mentioned this early article of ours from 2006.  In it, we share some lessons for a DIY approach to consulting. 


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Weed it out or let it blossom?

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It’s that gardening time of year.  Depending on your level of expertise, it can be hard to distinguish a plant you want to keep from a weed you want to get rid of.

And depending on the garden design, cultural norms and personal preferences, it is possible to categorise a plant one way or the other.  The Rhododendron or Russian Vine can be loved or loathed in different parts of the world and different gardens.

Is this a prickly weed where it shouldn’t be? Or a prized species that will flower to delight all who see it?


Before cutting something down or pulling it out, being clear on what is of value is important.

What creative ideas could you hold onto before casting them aside?  It took a while for the ineffectual glue that became essential for the Post-It Note to be appreciated.

PS it’s Berkheya purpurea, native of southern africa and growing happily in Cambridgeshire.

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What’s your map of the world?

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The Ebstorf map has been recreated and is on display:

We know that maps of the globe are always incomplete visions of reality.  The different projections of the world owe as much to psychology as geography.

This difference has been picked up playfully time and time again over recent years, often at the expense of the powerful.  

How we see the features in our immediate world is often about projections of our hopes and fears onto other possessions, places and people.  Schumacher encourages us to question how we make our ‘philosophical maps’.

In what ways could you redraw your assumptions and reveal some blind spots today?

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The new leper’s bell

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The iconic image of people from the Far East wearing face masks at this time of colds and flu is made noticeable by the media and stands out on streets in the UK. 

But what is it about?  Having studied this in crowds in Hong Kong, it is clear that most are worn by people who are coughing and spluttering (as in this photo on Star Ferry). 

face mask

A bit like a modern leper’s bell.  Like a special badge to say “I will not shake your hand (or air kiss) – I have a cold!”

The lesson?  Beware of projecting assumptions from our neurosis onto others.  And take responsibility for our issues.

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