Byron's Babbles

“Today I am Wise So I Am Changing Myself”

Posted in Authentic, Authenticity, Educational Leadership, Empathy, Global Leadership, Leadership, Nothing More, Passion, Purpose by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 4, 2020

I love studying the work of the great philosophers. As I was studying the work of William James while writing Open Your Mind To The Past & All Of This May Mean Something I came across another great philosopher I hadn’t thought about in a while, Rumi. Actually, I guess really he is considered a poet and scholar. His words of wisdom from the 13th Century have continued to stand the test of time. I’m also impressed with the global impact of his work.

“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.” ~ Rumi

My favorite Rumi quote is, “Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.” When I think about who I was 10, 20, 30, 40, or, well you get the idea, years ago I am now a very changed person. Early on I was all about changing the world as fast as I could. Now, I’ve learned and gained the wisdom to realize I need to keep evolving and changing myself so I can be best suited to contribute to the world today.

One of my favorite rock bands is Nothing More. They have a song, “Do You Really Want It?” that I use as a throughline for a leadership development session. There is a line in the song that is very impactful; it says, “Everybody wants to change the world; But one thing’s clear; No one ever wants to change themselves.” Spot on! I had the chance to have a long philosophical conversation on the bands tour bus a couple of years ago.

“Everybody wants to change the world; But one thing’s clear; No one ever wants to change themselves.” ~ Nothing More

Here’s the deal: changing ourselves doesn’t mean becoming a different person. It means improving ourselves to become a better person. If we’re doing it right we become self-aware, aware of others, develop a growth mindset, find meaning and purpose in our lives.

“All because we hate the buzzkill.” ~ Nothing More

We must learn to understand ourselves better. We must also develop empathy for others, authentically love ourselves, become values driven, and be authentic in all we do. Another line in the Nothing More song says, “All because we hate the buzzkill.” When I was visiting with their lead singer, Jonny Hawkins about this line he said we always get frustrated with all the people who are not authentic and talk a big change for the better talk, but are in it for themselves. He also stated these folks are really “virtue signaling”; just trying to say they are better than us. I wrote about this in Leading Without Virtue Signaling.” So, we need to better ourselves to be in a position to contribute positive change to the world. Rumi had it right!

Seeking Opportunities To Observe & Update Our 🌎Worldview🌍

We create our own beliefs, they don’t happen to us. We choose what and how we believe. As we grow up, we see the world and ourselves in a particular way. This “way” is based on environmental influences, our parents/families, and our peers. Whether we like it or not, we are responsible for developing our own belief system.

“To argue with someone else’s experience is futile. To add their experience to your own is possibly useful.”

One of my favorite quotes by an unknown author is, “To argue with someone else’s experience is futile. To add their experience to your own is possibly useful.” To me this is what empathy is about – understanding how another person’s experiences have shaped them. If we take time to truly study the experiences of others, those experiences can help give us information free of confirmation bias.

One Machiavelli principle I prescribe to is that we should always “declare” what we believe. This does not, however, mean that those beliefs can’t evolve and change. Thus, why declaring is important. In fact, sometimes we must grapple with contradictory evidence. As our society becomes more and more global, we have more and more of our own experiences and the experiences of others to process. This contemplation of dealing with opposing views and possibly believing parts of both has always intrigued me. F. Scott Fitzgerald taught us, “The rest of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I see this as an ability of great empathy, openness, humility, and leadership.

“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.” ~ Mark Twain

This trait of openness was reinforced in an awesome book I’m reading right now, Creative Confidence: Unleashing The Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley. In the book we are taught that building on the ideas of others requires humility. We must first acknowledge to ourselves the we don’t have all the answers. The upside to this is that it takes the pressure off of us to know we don’t have to generate all the ideas on our own.

Mark Twain taught us that, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.” We need to be diligent to not be fooled by what we “know for sure” about ourselves, our customers, our students, those we serve, our communities, or the world. We must seek out opportunities to observe and update our worldview.

Leading Like A Superhero

 

Ever since we were kids we’ve dreamed of becoming superheroes. During our first fall gathering of 3D Leadership, I used a superhero throughline and had participants research superheroes and pick one that best represented themselves; or they could create an all new one. As always, they were super creative (a superhero power) and as they shared out I asked them a few questions:

  1. What is your superpower?
  2. How did you get your powers?
  3. What’s something that your arch nemesis has?
  4. Where would you live when your not saving the world?
  5. If you were on a team of superheroes, what would your role be?
  6. What would you fight the enemy with?
  7. In addition to your powers, what weapon would you want?

A couple of these superheroes really jumped out at me: Wonder Lori and Glinda. Wonder Lori was a new and made up superhero and Glinda was based on the good witch in the Wizard of Oz. The superpowers for these two were empathy and serving. Pretty good superpowers for leading like a superhero, right? Really being a superhero is about tapping one’s ability to do extraordinary things; and, being able to help others doing extraordinary things.

I was really struck by the superhero Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. The participant picked Glinda because of her power of always showing up at just the right time. This blew my mind because I had never thought about this in all the times I have watched the Wizard of Oz. But, what a great superpower, right. All of us as leaders would love the superpower of showing up at the right time. Glinda really did show up at just the right time, every time.

Additionally, the participant quoted Glinda at the end of the movie when she said, “You had the power all along, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” This is such a powerful statement. Glinda was a great teacher—and this compliment is not undeserved. The first lesson she teaches is one of delegation. She tells Dorothy the Wizard might be able to help her get home, but that the journey to Oz is a long and treacherous one. Dorothy needs, as always seems to be the case, more information and asks for it (she’s very good at asking questions). Glinda tells Dorothy to follow the Yellow Brick Road and never take the ruby slippers off her feet. Of course, the Munchkins help her get started and find her way on the yellow brick road. Dorothy has more questions, but Glinda is a master delegator: she waves her wand and disappears! Remind you of any great leaders you have worked with?

Even though we don’t see Glinda very much in the movie, she’s clearly behind the scenes keeping watch, removing barriers, and doing things to help without desiring any recognition. We learn this in the scene in which Glinda sends snow to counteract the effects of the sleep-inducing poppies. Glinda never rushes in dramatically on a white horse (even thought there are really cool horses in the movie that change colors) to fix everything herself and, in the process, undermine Dorothy’s self-confidence as a leader. Even when Glinda reappears at the end of the movie, it is only to make sure that Dorothy has learned the lessons of the ruby slippers for herself – “You had the power all along, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”

Codifier Of Compassion

I am reading the final pages of what is right now the fourth in the great series, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert Caro. Caro is working the fifth and final and I sure hope he finishes it. These books that are really about power – how power is obtained, how power is used, and how power is abused. The fourth book, The Passage of Power, begins right before President Kennedy’s assassination and takes us through the first few months of Johnson’s Presidency. This includes passing a civil rights bill, getting budget approval, and a tax cut bill passed.

Robert Caro is an incredibly talented writer and I was moved by a statement in the book about Johnson. Here it is:

“He was to become the lawmaker for the poor and the downtrodden and the oppressed. He was to be the bearer of at least a measure of social justice to those whom social justice had so long been denied. The restorer of at least a measure of dignity to those who so desperately needed to be given some dignity. The redeemer of the promises made by them to America. “It is time to write it in the books of law.” By the time Lyndon Johnson left office he had done a lot of writing in those books, had become, above all presidents save Lincoln, the codifier of compassion, the president who wrote mercy and justice in the statute books by which America was governed.” ~ Robert A. Caro in The Passage of Power

He was comparing Johnson to Lincoln as a “codifier of compassion.” To codify means to make something a part of an organized system. In other words it becomes more than talk.

Because of the childhood poverty, his relationship with his father, and his teaching position, was able to have all three types of empathy I teach about in leadership professional growth gatherings. He was first able to show Cognitive Empathy; the ability to understand another person’s perspective. Because Johnson grew up in poverty, he was able to feel what another person feels, or what is called Emotional Empathy.

Thirdly, because of his experience as a teacher at Welhausen School in Cotulla, Texas, a small town on the border of Texas and Mexico, he practiced Empathic Concern: the ability to sense what another person needs from you. Johnson’s classes were made up of the children of Mexican-American farmers. Johnson didn’t speak Spanish and many of his students didn’t speak English. Despite this limitation, Johnson quickly and enthusiastically began teaching and encouraging the children to speak English by holding speech and debate tournaments.

Johnson was very strict with his students and left a lasting impression on them. In addition, Johnson organized a literary society, an athletic club, and organized field trips to neighboring towns so his students could compete in sporting events, speech, and spelling contests. With his first paycheck, Johnson bought playground equipment. In a letter home to his mother, Johnson wrote about his work with the students and asked her for help in sending toothpaste for the children and borrowing materials for his debate team.

Clearly Johnson’s upbringing gave him tremendous ability for empathy, but notice he added action to this. Thus, becoming compassion. Empathy is just a profound feeling, but add to that merciful and helpful action and you get compassion and supportive companionship. Compassion is empathy put into action, or as is the point of this post, codified.

Johnson’s past experiences had set him up perfectly to be a “codifier of compassion.” He knew what had to be done and did it. So many leaders talk empathy very well, but that is all it is – talk. We must walk the talk and codify that empathy with the actions of compassion.