ego

Spoke Too Soon

Well I thought 2016 couldn’t get any weirder then Lance Armstrong slips into NZ. Poor Lance, he probably had no idea that Kiwis pride themselves on having an opinion on everything – but especially anything to do with the USA. I’d hedge a bet that people here know the American constitution better than the Treaty Of Waitangi.

I’ve followed cycling and triathlon since my teens and Lances career fell in step with my own timeline, although that is about as far as the connection goes. One exception, we have both ridden with Cameron Brown, legend in NZ sport and probably one of the most respected athletes in his field of Ironman. In truth I was a sucker for Lance, read the books, had the wrist band…and I vehemently defended him when people said he couldn’t have won without drugs. But I suspect I’m like many people who had to wake up and smell the EPO.

So…here’s the thing. Lance is here to do business. He is going to be in a commercial for Lion Breweries. He’s probably going to be paid a shitload of money. He’s going to ride his bike with a select group of elite riders and do a jaunt around the water front with others. Good for him, there is nothing about his trip that is remotely about putting things right with people he screwed over as a professional cheat. There are good, hard working, ethical people out there, like Stephen Swart who’s careers were absolutely destroyed by this guy.

I get that people think he has paid his dues, and we should all move on. I get that people respect his charity work. I get that Cam Brown wanted to ride with Lance and for his son to meet him, Lance should have been equally as impressed but somehow I doubt the papers in the US will devote any attention to his jaunt down under. But Cameron…dude…lets get real. Lance is a megalomaniac who sacrificed other’s lives to get where he got to, people are probably going to feel strongly about you hanging out with the guy. Putting it out there on social media and not expecting a shit storm of opinion is naive at best. No, I am not a ‘hater’ – I understand my discomfort with sociopathic behaviour. No Rick Wells – he is not an ‘axe murderer’ but he certainly slashed and burned his way to the top, no one physically died but there has been plenty of other kinds of carnage left in his slip stream. It’s not about who has a right to comment – cyclists or not – this guy stands for something more than sport now, and that is why ‘associating’ or being with Lance is never going to be outside of the past. And there are other more respected commentators who share a similar perspective.

You see, I respectfully disagree with people who say he has been punished and we should all ‘forgive’…if not forget. Natural justice is just that – there are consequences beyond sanctions imposed. To have broken trust so intentionally and without genuine remorse for such a long time and in such a grandiose and public way means Lance will have to do more than pedal a few kms, pose for photo ops and turn up when it suits him. Coz that’s the point – this is still a narcissist masquerading as the knight in shining armor, every decision he makes is what is good for him. When in reality it’s tarnished and the polished act is started to mirror only what people choose to see. Again, if people only want to see his ‘good side’ his redemption – fine, but that does not mean the damage has been repaired, and that is what I think a lot of people are calling for – but could perhaps articulate that with a little less vitriol.

The US only has room for one megalomaniac and he is sitting in the big chair. Who knows maybe there is a spot at the round table for Sir Lance Lies-a-lot in Trumps fantasy of world domination. He’s a good spinner, knows how to win at all costs. Perhaps politics is his natural calling. Although if he had to true his own political wheels, I suspect the delicate turn of nuts might not be his thing and the wobbles might give way to the odd lose spoke.

Wonder if Steve Swart got his phone call…I feel a Bieber song is appropriate here.

Splain splaining

How do you know you are getting to that precarious edge of too old to be using phrases like ‘splaining’ and too young not to know what it means? Maybe it’s that feeling of intrigued annoyance, like you know its out there, but you just can’t bring yourself to get on the band wagon. Many people have heard of ‘mansplaining’ but aside from the patronising or condescending aspect of splaining that is about a sense of entitlement or authority to speak ‘the truth’ as others are clearly unable to comprehend things (such as women in the case of mansplaining) I wonder if there is more to it?

What got me wondering was looking at the comments related to the Pulse nightclub attack, and the recent shootings of African American Men, and a side dish of other splains related to rape, racial assimilation and body shaming. I do take breaks to watch cat videos and things without comments – yay for Netflix. But do splainers realise they are splaining? I was thinking about my own privilege, particularly my whiteness (purple-ness in winter) and this very move of awareness and acceptance is different to splainers, I recognise and acknowledge I have white privilege – and a whole bunch of other privileges at any one moment in time…although that youth one might have passed me by now. Power and entitlement to speak on behalf of others is a form of narcissim and that is like an ego shield.

But going to another perhaps more simple idea is that splaining is an example of fear of being wrong. And maybe with that an unwillingness to feel pain, vulnerability, grief and shame – the kind of emotions that enable seeing someone as yourself, regardless of time and space. like  Ego shield neutralisers.

Splainers are adept at avoiding vulnerability and feeling wrong. I like what Kathryn Schultz has to say about being wong, ‘it’s not being wrong that feels bad, it is realising you are wrong that feels bad’. We are also used to the idea of there being one objective reality that  is ‘The Truth’ and splaining is an attempt (I think) to manage uncertainty, to fiercely defend a reality that maintains being right, by ensuring any alternative is shut down before it is uttered – silencing the potential validity of that perspective, thought, idea or truth. I’ve been on the receiving end of a few good splainings and  I’ve got a bit of a recipe for splain repellant-retardent. I hope some of them are useful or at least adaptable to suit the needs of different situations.

So here are some of things that have worked for me:

Usually I try and listen, and ask genuine questions from a ‘not knowing’ stance. I fish for as much detail as I can. Staying curious and aloof, but not directly challenging. If I am thinking about challenging a splainer I try and find a way of enabling them to stay ‘right’ – I know it sounds counter intuitive, but holding open their perspective and keeping uncertainty in play can break down the ego shield enough for thinking to take place.  I also like to apply a good dose of exaggeration or taking things into another context – I’ve resorted to alien invasions as metaphors or taken the most basic of fears and reactions and kept them going to their limits. Exposing the rediculousness is a bit risky might not always work. One of my favourites at the moment is to call things ‘a conspiracy’ – respect, non-violence, consent, housing, income gap.

But I am all up for someone explaining Pokémon Go to me, any time coz I just don’t get it – no splain no gain.

 

 

Twit Bit

There is a quiet take over happening. Wrists are no longer places where a simple watch rests. No the wrist is now a monitoring device, communicator and even connects your forearm to your hand! The Fitbit is a hit with a wide array of people interested in tracking their physical activity.

For many it’s a great way to stay motivated to exercise, create comradery and feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction. In the wrong hands (wrists?) it can invite a perpetual monitoring of the body with feedback triggering worry, fear and anxiety. Those already with a tendency to intensify a focus on measuring up or perfectionism might see devices like the Fitbit as a way of ensuring they maintain the perfect body.

It was interesting to see the New Zealand Herald run a piece on concerns about Fitbits in schools. I’m not sure about the intention of the author but I wonder about the technique of seeking two polar opinions interspersed with quotes (or facebook posts) as a reasonable representation of a phenomena. But what irked me most was one Principals response alluding to counsellors making issues out of nothing.

I imagined being a counsellor at that school (if they have any given the clear disdain expressed) and thought what I might have hoped for from a school leader speaking to the media. It occurred to me that it was the perfect opportunity for someone to have seized the chance to demonstrate the high levels of professional integrity and respect for the ‘on the ground’ awareness of issues that counsellors in schools become aware of and linking in with Health and PE curriculum leaders, working collaboratively, taking a critical approach and drawing attention to very real and current concerns.

But no. Moment lost. However I have an alternative to the Fit Bit – care of the inspiration of this article. It is called the Twit Bit. You stick it in that jeans pocket that no-one really knows what it’s for (but now thanks again to the journalism of the NZ Herald we are enlightened) and it cues off micro changes in arrogance and ego – much like a lie detector. Then sends you a potential alternative statement or thought.

The idea is not to get to 10 000 a day. Can think of a few people who could benefit from a Twit Bit, including myself.

Moment Of Impact

Last night those dearest to me were in an accident. I was home making toast and cups of tea awaiting their arrival. When they didn’t arrive, I wondered if I should eat the toast. Then a call to say ‘we’ve been in an accident’ the next few moments seemed to last forever as I heard the words ‘we are ok’. Relief instantly overwhelmed me followed by anger and frustration.

Why are humans still in control of vehicles? I think once transport is fully automated then human ego’s will no longer kill others with wheels of mass destruction. Problem is we are attached to the idea that we – with our limited reaction times, varying degrees of visual acuity and general sense of entitlement and selfishness – should not give up our right to injure and kill others trying to move themselves around.

That’s what road deaths are – death by transportation is utterly ridiculous. To spend more money and resources to improve ways to do this is even more insane. I wonder if in 200 years we will look back on this era of obsession with cars like we might on the era of medicine where bloodletting and trepanning were acceptable.

Well, come to think of it many politicians do seem to talk like they have a hole in their head. Maybe trepanning is making a come-back after all. Or they have found a way to recycle crash test dummies.

Glory or gory days

A little red flag popped up on my facebook page last night terribly exciting for this digital introvert. I was in the middle of writing my previous post and I had momentary smirk as the strange synergy of the universe seemed to be toying with my sense of irony. Someone was inviting me to play a game of football tomorrow. Back to kicking balls, something I spent many hours doing in my youth and was pretty good at it. Of course this is all in the past, in fact my last real club game was last century. As I was pondering my response – which could only be a yes or a no, I wanted to understand the simultaneous excitement, dread, and curiosity. It’s a division 3 game and apparently won’t be that serious…yeah right. Problem is my default setting has always been extremely competitive at least when it comes to football/soccer. The other is my aging body that while reasonably fit has done nothing of the explosive kind in so long I am worried about my fragile scar tissued hamstrings blowing. I’m also not sure how I will feel playing for fun but I figure it will be a good litmus test of identity. The beautiful game brought out a bit of an ugly side of me long ago so perhaps I will allow myself to be reborn tomorrow. It’s a 10am kick off which in the old days would be like 6am, but will feel more like 3pm now, so at least I will be awake. I’ve dug out my boots, I did upgrade about 10 years ago for coaching so at least they are from this century!

Maybe I just need to remember why I started playing in the first place and why I fell in love with the game. It’s a team sport, it requires multiple skills and ways to use your body. It’s simple and you cannot hide behind your gear or equipment, if you make a mistake, you do everything you can to fix it yourself. The ball doesn’t pick sides, both teams are using the same ball.

If there is one other memory I hope stays the same then I hope it will be that the bar will be open after and asparagus rolls at the after match function. Stay tuned for the over exaggerated post match blog full of colourful hyperbole.

Plane and not so simple

I proclaim that the word ‘plane’ is actually a secret acronym standing for People-Loaded-and-Nefariously-Egoised. You see I wasn’t sure what to make of the pilot that grounded a flight after a 15 year old autistic girls behaviour was deemed at threat to the comfort and safety of passengers. I think when you buy a plane ticket, you sign away any entitlement to guaranteed comfort. Maybe 30 or 40 years ago it might have been a reasonable expectation but maintaining profit means cramming as many bodies as you can into a metal container with limited bathroom facilities and charging the crew with managing the inevitable eruption of agitation.

Boarding a flight is like walking down the aisle, with the vows being something like ‘doing my best within my capacity to tolerate others and do what is reasonable within my power to respect the personal space of others’ till touch down do you part. But the threshold for accommodating emotional distress seems to getting lower and narrower. Children and others who make noise as part of their usual functioning are not afforded understanding or respect. To be clear, I don’t think other forms of intentional disrespect or violations of personal space should be tolerated. But if someone has tourette’s or experiences vocal impulses beyond there conscious control that is who they are, and travelling together requires an awareness and understanding that diversity exists – and is expressed even on a plane. If people cannot accept this when they buy a ticket then perhaps consider alternative transportation, ground themselves rather than forcing people to adhere to some policing of normal functioning that extends beyond common expressions and representations.

If you want to be safe and comfortable, do not get on a plane. It’s not exactly a marketable slogan but ‘fly the unfriendly, cramped, smelly, noisy, sky’ might be more accurate and realistic. Put your ego in the overhead locker or even better, check it in and pick it up at the other end and save some space for duty free.

Flying is not plain sailing.

Book Ends

I go through book binges. This summer I managed to get through The Luminaries…on which one does not ‘binge’ rather pick away carefully and take time between courses, but I am already losing the plot. I also read two books in successive weekends that were…well…illuminating.

Waitangi weekend, celebrating the signing of a historical document destined to both unite and divide our identity as a nation, I read Russell Brand’s book Revolution. If someone asked me to describe it I would say it’s a – rant – rehab coach – militant – radical peace – best and worst of conspiracy – consciousness – political commentary – autobiography. Or, a bit like a Billy T James skit colliding with bikram yoga.

The follow weekend was Valentines day, celebrating the cultural signs of commercial coupledom destined to both unite and divide our identity, I read A Short History of Stupid, equally digestible with beer and chips, but a bit of a shift from Russell. It was like listening to philosophy grad students talking at the pub after a shandy showing of their ability to both think and drink and solve the worlds problems.

Both managed to capture an individual and global perspective, albeit with differing emphasis. Much like the concept of yin and yang, complementing interconnected forces with aspects running through each other. It was also an excellent example of polarity and diversity. From simple to complex, personal to global, theory and experience all giving rise to intersections of ideas that evoke some challenges to status quo commentaries. I think the authors of both would liven up a dinner party conversation with some charades or twister, but maybe not trivial pursuit. The common use of humour was strong, particularly the ability to locate the ‘self’ as both an individual and in relation to systemic political, historical, geographical….(you probably get the idea) structures. Occasionally both overly self indulgent but read back to back the interlocking of patterns and meaning was intriguing. In the days in between I read How To Train Your Dragon where a sense of irony curled itself into the ouroboros of meaning. The ongoing reproduction, recycling and reinvention of stories past, present and future are all lived now.

Where do the dragons fit? They are mythical to some and real to others with varying degrees of evidence and belief adding weight to the truth. But in the book they are mischievous and generally difficult to bring under human control. Think I might have some dragon in me, well, I do like to breathe fire from time to time…lots of heat and plenty of light…illuminating.

Just mind the kerosene burps after – hydrocarbons not so palatable.

A Con-vexed question

This morning I sat staring at a bauble looking at the distorted image of my face stretch across the surface I felt a stirring of a smirk. The Cheshire Cat effect only added to a surreal sense of hysteria as I played with my reflection. I had been pondering my previous posts about Christmas, and trying to pinpoint my disquiet which seems to keep shifting like the light bouncing back at me. The shimmering mirage reminded me of the book/movie Sphere. As a quick plot summary then, a giant gold orb (like a Christmas bauble for a tree the size of very tall building) is found on a UFO found at the bottom of the ocean. It just happens to have come from earth…in the future, but it’s been there over 300 years or so (thanks to biology and the growth rate of coral). In the movie it (the UFO not the coral) has ‘trash cans’ and a skeleton on board that looks like it was borrowed from set of Indiana Jones. I’ll leave the ‘book vrs movie’ debate up to the IMDB message board.

Turns out the orb has one function, to enable the instant manifestation of thought to occur. Trouble is in the presence of humans it did that all too well – playing on the fears of the crew sent to investigate it, so that they do not realise they have created their own nightmares playing out underwater…it’s very claustrophobic. When they eventually figure out what is happening they decide that humanity is not ready for such power and use the one thing that might send the golden globe back and get a refund on collective paranoia ride. They use the power to forget.

I sometimes wonder if all the mini baubles on Christmas trees have that power. That in spite of our best efforts to focus our intentions on those values we hope are reflected there is an ugly and terrifying truth of consumerism is hard to ignore that polishes off the last resistance to the glittering prize of the ‘bargain’. The hypnotic seduction of advertising has done its amnesiac work as Kiwis spent record amounts of money – well done – slow clap – now look in the mirror.

To quote Sphere:
“This is the gift of your species and this is the danger, because you do not choose to control your imaginings. You imagine wonderful things and you imagine terrible things, and you take no responsibility for the choice. You say you have inside you both the power of good and the power of evil, the angel and the devil, but in truth you have just one thing inside you – the ability to imagine.”
Michael Crichton, Sphere

As the tinsel lights and trees come down and shiny baubles are packed away it really is time to reflect – without distortion. I for one am not about to con-cave in.

Tipping The Balance

I am surrounded by amazing creative educators and interesting people talking about ‘modern learning environments’ and what this looks like. I suppose that is where I want to push and provoke some conversations, because we seem to be stuck with ‘look like’ a lot. The focus and emphasis keeps being drawn into changing the shapes of furniture, open learning and staff spaces and increasing use of technology. We rarely get to ‘sound like’ and ‘feel like’ possibly ‘smell like’ which happen to be important relational aspects of learning. One special interest area for me is the realm of discipline. So as usual I have taken to the metaphorical to share some observations, and yes bikes are involved.

If anyone has learned to ride a bike, or swim you might recall the sensations and emotions that come with vulnerability. There is a delicate relationship between being control and feeling the pang of fear. It’s excitement wrapped in caution. As adults we occasionally are asked to learn new things that push us beyond our comfort zone but it is usually by choice and rarely does it mean learning something that puts our professional identities on the line.

But watching the process of restorative practices enter schools has all hallmarks of skinned knees, struggling for breath and feeling ‘out of our depth’ as a profession. Teaching and schools have been moving along just nicely with traditional practices of discipline and punishment for over a century. It’s a machine that everyone recognises and we generally get the mechanics of how it all works.

Learning to Ride a bike is familiar to many people – bit wobbly at the start, usually held by someone to get going, but the freedom gained was well worth it. Once you’ve ridden one you can pretty much jump on any sort of bike, same principles, laws of physics, maybe the shift in gears could be unfamiliar and mountain and road bikes do operate differently. It can feel awkward but you can adjust pretty quickly. I liken this to schools and discipline policies in general, you can move between institutions which claim a ‘unique’ culture but once you are ‘on and pedaling – it rolls pretty much the same. If rules are broken punishment is dished out – we’ve been riding this punitive machine for a while.

Then along comes the restorative contraption. It is more like a unicycle. We don’t generally see unicycles around, they are for clowns and performers, no serious-rational-real person would consider them just as adequate as bikes. They might even say ‘we need unicycles like a fish needs a bike’. Nevertheless teachers are asked to give up their comfortable seat of power, drive chain of consequences and handle bars of truth for what? A one wheeled contraption with no training wheels? And here is the real spanner in the spokes, no amount of experience on a bike will help ride this thing. It is a starting again, a stripping back to a raw relationship with gravity and balance, shame and vulnerability matched with accountability. No amount of watching, reading, analysing will help you ride one. Just getting on requires patience and perseverance, falling off is required, it is the only way to make progress – yet it feels unnatural and letting go of the stability of the wall requires courage and an understanding that without losing balance you cannot move forward. Then finally you let go and try one pedal and it feels like a mile. You start to get a feel for how the unicycle moves with you and go with it, zig zagging all over. Every subtle turn and shift changes the direction, you can even pedal backwards. So it is about giving in to uncertainty with adrenaline surging and mixing this with cautious anticipation for the next attempt.

To those on the outside, it appears unsafe, reckless, even dangerous. They might wonder where is the control? The direction? How do they steer? It looks awkward and clunky and many will turn away and say ‘I’ll stick to the bike thanks – at least I know how that works.’ A small group will persevere and take the risk of leaving the safety and comfort of the wall of familiarity. A few pedal strokes is exhilarating enough to feel like you are getting it. But the next time in might be face in the floor time, it doesn’t mean going backwards, learning is non-linear and with every painful fall there is a sense of progress, the body senses more and more how to move with this strange new (e)motion. Encouragement, support, laughter and shared experience allow those who continue to maintain their momentum. The wobbles will lesson and the flow will come, falling gets easier and less painful, in fact, direction comes through careful adjustments, a growing awareness of what works for you.

There is no skipping a stage, there is no way to short cut…just get back on… hundreds and hundreds of times. Eventually getting going will be less of a struggle and momentum will come naturally. The effortlessness is illusory, it masks the commitment and dedication, change in physiology with a new and unique proprioceptive relationship to rolling friction. But those who have tried to ride will recognise and appreciate the visual confirmation that ‘it can be done’.

Because the usual mechanics of power and privilege that comes with Authoritarian discipline have been stripped back, the time to get going restoratively does mean many will need gentle introductions whilst others will be ready to throw themselves into it. Both are fine, but recognising the kinds of support people need is something schools need to pay particular attention to when introducing restorative processes. Developing effective restorative practices takes time to develop and they only get easier by doing them. If there ever was a place for repetition in learning it would be here and particularly the skill of asking questions. However it is helpful to find creative ways to ask the same thing otherwise you run the risk of wearing your ‘mental tire’ out on starting in the same place all the time. You can get around this by rotating the tire every few weeks on a unicycle, or to get some alternative starting points to conversations.

One of the things I remember from learning to unicycle was how tired I felt, how exposed and vulnerable I felt. Bruised in places I never thought I could be (or should be) including my ego, frustrated, exasperated at times but also quietly satisfied with each tentative meter gained. Even scrapes and bumps are celebrated and cherished.
I am by no means an expert on a unicycle but having watched and taught over one hundred people to ride one I understand it is a process that has as many demands mentally and emotionally as it does physically. Fear is one of the main reasons people ‘get off’ and return to what is safe. This will always be the case. The irony is – the very ‘gravity’ of the situation is what enables these kinds of conversations to take place.

Finally, surround yourself with others wanting to share the same experience, laugh a lot, console, apply ice packs, laugh more. Expect to fall off then just get back on…again and again and again…

Going To Great Depths

Dark, silent, alone, de-pressed, it might sound like the start of a story about depression but William Trubridge is man who took himself intentionally into a deep dark hole, on a single breath of air. Not just any hole, a yawning orifice in the Bahamas over 200m deep. Looking down through the crystal clear blue waters I had the impression of him entering the pupil of a giant eye. Watching him pack air into his lungs, like some poor fish gasping for air before he attempted the world record immediately sent shivers down my spine, this was a huge physical and mental challenge. We are mammals and our physiology is definitely not adequately designed to cope with the immense hydrostatic pressure water packs on the body, whilst starving your brain of oxygen.

He was attempting a world record, most of us in NZ will have seen the Steinlager Pure advertisements over the last month or so, giving us a sense of what he would be putting himself through. Somehow, I don’t think he would be reaching for a Steiny after holding his breath for nearly four minutes, more like ‘pass me that regulator’ and sucking on some sweet air. He was oh so close to making it. I watched live this morning and seemed to hold my breath…well…at least for 5 seconds at a time just mesmerised by the slow, graceful descent into darkness. I admired his beautiful technique and for a moment it seemed like maybe he was an aquatic mammal. At 102m he had made it, but like those who climb mountains (only in reverse) the ascent was yet to be completed. With 20m to go, he made the call to his support crew – a simple shake of the head, the grabbed him and assisted him to the surface, the record missed.

It was the perfect miss. I was quietly celebrating this courageous surrender. Here was a man who did not ‘macho’ it through to unconsciousness. When thinking about the relationship between masculinity, and sport this could be seen as refreshing alternative, a new relationship with physicality, risk and a strength that comes from respecting limits, and leaving ego at the surface to get to the deeper qualities of being that invite patient, gentle wisdom, and confidence to let go.

As for Steinlager being the sponsor for William, I don’t think the need to worry about their product image being diminished, if anything they got a pure result – and it isn’t always perfect. I hope William doesn’t suck on any of their product unless it’s the pure version, not unless he wants some dry land practice at having his head crushed in a vice. Anyone else experienced the ‘Steingrenade’ effect? Hangover doesn’t even begin to describe the pain and suffering…

You might want to climb into a dark hole after a night on those.