Those Who Can’t?

As the saying goes, “those who can, do; those who can’t teach.” The intention of this remark is to disparage those who teach. But, in reality, how many of us do actually do? There are three sides to this debate. The first is that doers and teachers are one in the same. Every choice we make (what we do) holds a teachable moment. This follows the “I do, We do, You do” model of teaching. The second is that the world is mostly occupied by those who can’t. There are far fewer that “do” if “success” is really the subliminal message. In this case, 1% of the world’s population are “doers” leaving the remaining 99% of us to be average, living our lives in some form of servitude to those that supposedly “can do”. The third is that there is an incredibly small percentage of people who, through their brilliance and innovation, actually do help to shape the world. The best and brightest so to speak. What the two latter positions share is that a small minority are responsible for how what the vast majority live. The second position seems to speak to the origin of what’s implied in the adage “those who can, do; those who can’t teach.” However, the third position is most intriguing. This idea about the best and brightest. Often, when we look at the minds of the best and brightest, whether it’s in regards to science, technology, music, art, chess, athletics, there’s typically a disconnect between what this population can do versus how well they are able to accurately communicate what makes them great. They are often misfits in this world. They can connect billions of people through their social media platforms, but struggle with personal connection. They can excel physically and believe that everyone else around them is weak and not working to their potential. They can see color, shape and form so beautifully, and be disappointed by the inability of others to comprehend what they see. They can hear and play music so intricate yet fail at being able to find musicians capable enough to execute it for or with them. They can have tremendous insights about the how universe we live in works and yet fail to have others grasp the enormity of their intellect.

Teaching implies learning is happening as part of the mutual reciprocity that coexists by nature of the process. Teachers are those that bridge gaps between the misfits that see and interpret the information of the world around them so uniquely and help relay it to the masses so it’s easily digestible. Teachers help the world make sense and do so by knowing how to communicate complexity to a diverse audience of learners. Teachers are everywhere. Teachers do what the doers can’t.


Wolves and Sheep Dress Alike

There’s an amazing video entitled How Wolves Change Rivers (found here) that demonstrates how the reintroduction of wolves at Yellowstone National Park not only changed animal behavior, but the behavior of the landscape. It’s truly remarkable, and in just four-and-a-half minutes, you learn everything you need to know about what it looks like to be a leader and what true leadership means. You might have the initial reaction that since the focus of the story is the behavior of wolves, and wolves are often synonymous with fear, that their tactics mirror what we think of when we envision bullying archetypes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Communication in the form of language is a burden we humans bear, and as a result, we feel the need to use our words to express our expectations. That’s how we tend to lead: telling, asking, demanding, suggesting, advising, coaching, etc. We lead through language – Wolves lead through presence.

Without ever uttering a word, they changed the entire environment around them. Even if they could speak, they would only be able to speak wolf. Assume even the brightest of wolves may know a few other animal languages; they may be fluent in deer, bear, elk and know some colloquial squirrel and a few phrases of beaver. Even so, they would be unable to communicate with any species of birds, fish, plants, flowers or trees. In reality, they are outnumbered and unable to communicate through anything other than what they know; how to behave as a wolf.

Just by showing up, their presence over time improved the well-being of an entire national park. Wolves being wolves, helped deer be better deer, bears be better bears, beavers be better beavers, etc. And this, in turn, helped bring in new forms of life and allowed for older forms of life to thrive again. And this, in turn, helped the vegetation be better at providing nourishment for all this new life, and the river itself changed to be a better wellspring.

By now, the pessimists are thinking about all the death that naturally accompanies such bountiful life. In all life there are both predators and prey. The difference is that in nature, animals are acting on instinct. Animals are not murders; there is no evil intent. Life feeds on life.

Leadership is showing up and being what you are. If what you are holds value where you happen to be, then positive changes will happen simply as a result of you being there. How you choose to live will always tell the truth. Be careful with what you choose to say, however, because that will always reveal the lies you tell yourself and others about how you think you live. Your words will never be more powerful than your actions. Your silent actions have the capacity to bring about tremendous change. The only problem for humans here is that when you succeed, you’ll never be aware that you were the root cause. You’ll never get credit for it. Humans struggle with this idea, because our worth is often so tied up in what we own or accomplishments we can add to a résumé. Wolves don’t know or care about that. Wolves, just being wolves, put humans to shame, and are better leaders than we will ever be, but you’ll never hear them bragging about it.

Sudden Depth

We’re all guilty of using the logic that once we either obtain or attain something, then our lives we be better. When I get that promotion, I’ll start being able to show everyone how great a leader I am! When I get that raise, I’ll start saving money! Come New Years Day, I’ll start my new exercise regimen! When I get some time off, I’ll start reading more! When I get some peace in my life, I’ll start meditating! When we get Eddie Van Halen in the band, we’ll finally be able to make a triumphant video! When we make a triumphant video, we’ll finally be able to get Eddie Van Halen in the band! The list goes on.

We all know this logic is flawed and, for lack of a better word, is bullshit. Back in college, a friend of mine once jokingly said in passing, “If bullshit were liquid, we’d all be drowning!” It’s certainly funny, and I’m certain he didn’t mean it to be profound. However, that saying has stuck with me all these years, and what’s truly funny is how something so unintentional and seemingly meaningless, has become something I still ponder quite regularly some twenty years later. Why? Because it challenges our perspectives, and because of its inherent truth beneath the facade of humor. Perspective is one of those things that can we can never “attain,” but we can obtain from time to time. Having perspective is something that’s not universally applied. You may have profound insight and perspective on one or more matters, but be completely blind to your own blindness in a multitude of other areas.

Perspective holds great power. Just one moment can completely shift someone’s way of living and/or thinking. Sometimes just for a while, but in some instances, forever. A 180-degree turnabout is possible for anyone, anywhere, at any time. And, can be done so without needing to attain anything new, but by simply introducing a new way to look at something as a means of receiving profound enlightenment. The truth is that the only thing that needs to change in that moment isn’t even you, but rather how you look at something. In return, you change completely. Take for example 3D Hidden Art. Those posters that were all the rage at mall kiosks back in the 90s, where you stare at a sea of color and confusion, and eventually some image magically emerges from within. For some, the image comes into focus rather quickly. For others, the struggle is real. The point is that everything you need to see the image, you already possess. You don’t need to be any taller, smarter, older, wiser, etc. You just have to look at it differently. More importantly, you have to allow yourself to be open to seeing things differently. We may think we see something at first, and instead of accepting that what we see isn’t right, we dig our heels in and try to protect our viewpoint – to protect our ignorance. The image itself is what it is and cannot change, just as truth cannot change. Truth is not subjective. Once you are open to seeing beyond your stubbornness, because your stubbornness is a comfort to you, it’s almost impossible not to see what you strained so long to see in the first place. That’s perspective! It’s sudden depth.

Handedness: The Sharknado Identity Crisis

One of the most existential crises we experience in life is trying to figure out: Who am I? The philosophical approach asks a string of questions that only lead to more questions, never coming to a truth. The scientific method leans closer to the truth; we can test hypotheses about ourselves, form theories and these theories can evolve and get close to becoming scientific law, but that’s pretty rare. As the saying goes, “the only constant in life is change.”

Handedness is defined as “the tendency to use either the right or the left hand more naturally than the other.” When we’re young, our handedness reveals itself. Only 10% of people are left-handed. In a world with something like 7.6 billion people, that equates to roughly 760 million lefties. My wife, my daughter and I are all left-handed, so our house proudly boasts a 100% left-handed population. That said, speaking from experience, lefties often compensate for living in a right-handed world, and adapt to things that are not made for us. Other times, we unknowingly learn things before really discovering our handedness. For example, my father plays drums and guitar and as a result there were drums and guitars in my house growing up. I started playing drums when I was three and aped how he played, which was playing as a conventional right-handed drummer using a matched grip. At three, I didn’t know that drums could be set up or played any other way. There are debates in the drumming world to this day about the supposed conventional method of playing and the modern-day use of traditional grip, but that’s not where this is headed. Same goes for guitar. At 3 years old, I didn’t know you could play the guitar any other way let alone know they actually made lefty guitars. My grandfather, a lover of baseball, also started showing me how to bat at an early age, and he batted righty, so I too batted righty. However, when it came time to throw, my left-handedness became apparent. Handedness is one of the few things we believe about ourselves to be true. But, then philosophy rears its ugly head once more: the Sharkado Identity Crisis.

Watch out! A sharknado is tearing through your town. You can’t hide. Alas, just when you thought it was safe, a shark storms through your makeshift shelter and attacks, biting off your dominant hand. It takes years, but over time, you learn to adapt to this new way of living and your non-dominant hand becomes, by necessity, your dominant hand. One day, you’re on a conference call for work. There’s a big project in the works, and the sharpest minds are assembled from office locations all over the world. All hands on deck as the casual expression goes. Whilst waiting for all the callers to get on the line, people are making small talk. The talk somehow turns to handedness. Perhaps someone that’s lefty mentioned scissors, and references those weird green-handled scissors lefties were given in grade school, and asks the group: “Is anyone else left-handed?” It is a common superficial question. These are colleagues that know you in name only, so there was no malicious intent when this question was posed. They don’t know about the trauma you experienced in the sharknado. They don’t know anything about all the painful years of learning how to adapt. So, how do you answer their inquiry? To use myself as an example. Do I say: I am left-handed – I am right-handed, or I used to be left-handed but there was an accident so now I use my right hand? How would you answer?

The reality is that this situation is a reality for some (obviously not as a result of a sharknado). This existential crisis is very real and is also simultaneously metaphorical. For others still, perhaps born without hands or arms, how do they answer? Or if an accident claims both limbs, how would they answer? The casual superficiality of asking something so seemingly innocuous as “Are you righty or lefty?” suddenly has tremendous depth.


You Can’t Spell Integrity without “grit”

Grit is literally embedded in integrity. Grit is a personal growth buzzword. Wellness too is a buzzword, along with mindfulness, accountability, ownership, etc. All the things this blog is essentially about. When words become buzzwords, their meanings get watered down and are more easily dismissed as being an attempt at altruism, because they often become more about someone trying to prove their selflessness. This approach can veil the arrogance or the insecurity of the author and the intention. Creating content for the sake of monitoring clicks and followers. I acknowledge the irony as I will shortly post this on social media. With this acknowledgment, I will no longer request others to share and follow. I will notify of its release, and let it live. My intention was to make this blog to create accountability in my life. It wasn’t about gaining an audience so much as it was about making a promise to myself to write more, because when I commit to making something public, I am more likely to follow through. I also know that when I follow my morning routine, I have more productive days, which helps me be a better version of myself. That said, I still statistically fail more than I succeed each and every day. I can be a better father, a better husband, a better son, a better co-worker, a better neighbor, a better musician, etc. The first is most important to me. I have a tween daughter, and I’m not handling this stage of her development well. I realize that I am in some mourning cycle over losing my little companion. My mini-me is blossoming into an independent young woman and I’m not processing that reality to the best of my ability.

I’ve also already broken my cardinal rule in today’s blog as I also wanted to refrain from speaking in the first person. The only reason I am doing so today is because I noticed the beginning of my ego coming into the fold. I was checking Instagram far too often to see if anyone had liked or followed what I had posted. After only six posts, I was already more focused on the possibility of external reward more than internal purpose. I had to check myself.

Back to the topic of grit and the watering down of words. What if we stripped them all away? Took all the words, subtracted them from our experiences. How would we know how to describe who or what we are? Without language, where would we turn to find ways to express how we feel? We we would turn to nature and wildlife. Though undefined, we would still be able to connect to emotion through our senses. We sense emotion. These things don’t need to be intellectualized. We don’t need poetry, iambic pentameter, fancy vocabulary or grammar; we just need to experience life and feel what we get from it. Grit comes into play because it’s essentially how we choose to react to our experiences, and that choice is to move forward…always! At an early age, you can choose to be afraid of life and never leave your home. You may “live” to be 100 years old by doing so, but it can be argued that you merely existed for 100 years, but never lived. Every experience would be vicarious, either through TV, movies, books, or looking out the window. Grit has synonyms and can be defined, but grit, along with other personal growth buzzwords, transcends definition. Grit is the constant state of getting there. Grit doesn’t care about being right or being true. Grit doesn’t mean not quitting; it means knowing the difference between how long to hold on and when to let go. Grit is surviving for survival’s sake, because it’s always about what happens next! Grit has no destination and no endpoint.

Addictions & Subtractions

Dr. Gabor Maté’s work in Compassionate Inquiry posits that addictions begin as solutions, not problems. The fleeting euphoria initially assuages pain via drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, sex, attention, technology, etc. Before long, the chase is on. We all know addiction. We’ve all flirted with addictive behavior. When behavior is driven by unmet needs, the driver is ego. That insatiable ingrate, the archetype of entitlement. Anyone born in the latter part of the 1900’s will likely remember the anti-drug commercial where an egg is displayed and then cracked over a sizzling frying pan accompanied by the tagline, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” Curious though where ego fits into the equation. “This is your brain. This is your brain on ego.” Perhaps there’s some truth in this statement as well. Eckhart Tolle considers the following idea: “If you’ve ever thought: ‘I cannot live with myself any longer.’ Who are you in that sentence? The ‘I’ or ‘Myself’?”

Brain and ego together make for a frightening duo. To quote the comedian, Emo Philips, “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” For all that’s been written about the ego, all the dust-covered spines that line the shelves of any Psychology section in any Barnes and Noble, that joke alone could be a best seller! That profoundly hysterical and/or hysterically profound statement sums up the ego’s grip on the brain, and demonstrates the degree to which our behaviors are shaped by our thoughts.

We live through our hearts! Or, at least we’re built to. This internal pulse beats with purpose and intention. The ego cannot control the heart: only the mind. The ego craves attention and starving the ego creates the space needed to gain awareness of yourself (your self). Starvation is subtraction: Removal for solution. The ego cannot discern between euphoria and gluttony. It only recognizes recognition. Positive change occurs when the ego is not fed, so that the decision-making process has clarity. Clear purpose! Non-ego moments, when we are not tethered to the desire to validate something that cannot be satiated, are the moments where we begin to see who we are at our core. At our core, we need very little. No matter how big a bucket we can buy, if it has even the smallest of holes, it will never be able to stay filled for long. We all have buckets, and they all have holes. Do we remain aware of them and do nothing? Do we remain aware and try to solve the imbalance of spillage by adding more holes? Or, do we patch the holes, knowing that fulfillment is an imperfect process, and not let ourselves get defeated by the fact that we’ll never be free from the hole-poker that is daily life? Subtraction is the key to fulfillment. Removal of the unwanted rewards organically through positive natural consequences. We often try to remove harm through addition. For example, sugar is bad for you.  We know this, but sweetness is also delicious, so we crafted artificial sweeteners. Chemically artificial sweeteners, along with all the other ingredients we cannot pronounce, are these additions proving to be solutions or are they creating bigger problems? The solution is to eat less sugar. To subtract the things that cause us harm and simplify our needs begets fulfillment.

No New Clichés

Why are there no new clichés? For some reason it seems that clichés haven’t caught up with the vernacular of modern-day. We’re still “putting carts before horses,” and “putting our ducks in a row.” However, when it comes to inspiration, we’re continually finding new ways to express ideas initially expressed 2,000 or more years ago. Thus, the progress of wisdom is horizontal. The progress of science, on the other hand, is linear. Scientific progress shapes and pivots via proving and disproving, and the evolution of that has been remarkable to watch from the periphery whilst enjoying its byproducts on a daily basis. It’s an ever-evolving, forward-moving timeline. To draw an analogy, some bands have linear discographies while others have horizontal discographies. The Beatles, for example, were linear. Their timeline began on one end as bubble gum pop and continually evolved as they explored new sonic territory that echoed their lives at a given moment in time. Other bands are horizontal. They create a sound on their first record or first few records that connects with an audience, and then spend the rest of their careers trying to either perfect that sound or recapture its magic on subsequent albums. Every effort is stacked upon the prior; regardless of whether it’s better or worse (that’s subjective after all), it never branches out. Neither approach alone is correct nor does it a good band make. It’s all about how it resonates over time. If you’re lucky, the appreciation of your craft and creative contributions occurs while you’re in that flow. The point is that anything can only be original once. After that, it’s some form of reinterpretation. In the world of music, that reinterpretation is called influence on one end of the spectrum and sampling on the other. Plagiarism lives here too! When it comes to inspiration, the reality is that humans understood human nature from the beginning. There’s nothing new to report. We can shapeshift words to our heart’s content and package it as something new, but the meaning has already been expressed elsewhere. We’re horizontal, stacking onto a pile of wisdom. If we’re lucky, we may sometimes stumble upon a combination of words that creates a “new” phrase that resonates. Maybe this makes us suddenly important. Maybe we can make a new career simply from expressing how we see the world. But, that’s only a perhaps. What’s more true is that wisdom is the most plagiarized commodity, and ultimately, it’s only words. Any positive result of wisdom has been through the actions of the person that took the words to heart and decided to live – to act – differently as a result.