helpful me

20 helping is a journey

‘Helping is a complex phenomenon.  There’s helpful help and unhelpful help.*

When helping is all-pervasive, making possible all that happens or does not happen in the world, it makes sense to do it better.

When we help angrily, or resentfully, or leveragingly, it probably won’t even be perceived as help.  When I get on the bus this morning, and the driver smiles or responds in some way to my Good Morning, I’ll feel they are offering me pleasant help to get where I need to be.  But not if they ignore me.  Help becomes invisible or visible depending on the way we offer it.

In helping, I’m not only developing my capacity to help, but am given everyday opportunities to develop my character, to help more gently, more kindly, more patiently, even more joyfully and lovingly.

‘What kind of person do you want to become?’**

How do you want to uniquely help others.  My joy is to help people to become more who they are, towards them making their unique contribution.  All the time, I want to become better at helping them.

(*From Edgar Schein’s Helping.)
(*From Steve Chalke’s Being Human.)

how can i help you?

19 when help feels like judgement

You can’t.

(It could be a short post today.)



Helping is something we take for granted, we hardly think about how it happens, but Edgar Schein (Helping) and Michael Bungay Stanier (The Coaching Habit) have got me seeing just how complex it is.

‘Too much of your day is spent doing things you think people want you to do.’*

Helping is a basic relationship that move things forward.’**

When we stop to think about it, we all know how complex helping is.

We do something we think is helpful to surprise someone, but that wasn’t what they wanted us to do at all.

We don’t do something because we think it’s better to be asked, but now we’re in trouble because the other person thought that it was obvious and expected us to get on and do it.

We can buy help.

We can manipulate help from someone.

Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler remark on how ‘Billions and billions in goods and services … are now changing hands sans cost.’^

Here’s a basic kind of help.  Something is put out there for people to pick up and use if they want to.  No pressure, no-one’s watching.  This is the basic kind of help.  Perhaps a powerful example is Elon Musk’s decision to make Tesla’s patents available to those who want to use them.

A higher form of help isn’t a one-way street, though: it’s a relationship of trust.

When it comes to ongoing relationships – be they family, work, and other – things gets more complicated.  Stanier writes about the dramatic triangle we can play out as persecutor, victim, and helper.  We can demand help – persecutor; we feel put upon – victim; we come up with the helpful solution and save the day (ta-dah) – rescuer.

Schein warns: ‘We begin with the proposition that all human relationships are about status positioning and what sociologists call “situational proprieties.”‘*

Which probably means, we don’t even see we’re taking on a certain position when we offer help. Our help, then, can feel like judgement on another: You don’t think I can do this myself?

How can I help you?

Is not to presume.  Is open to being told, You can’t.  And that’s okay.  And maybe there’s more to this.

Help is how we move forward as a species, so as I begin to read Schein’s book, I’m fascinated by what I’ll discover as I begin an exploration of the taking for granted but fascinating world of help – especially what I’ll see in myself, but didn’t know.

(*From Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(**From Edgar Schein’s Helping.)
(^From Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold.)


finite and infinite listening

18 there is a world within

“The minute we begin to think we have all the answers, we forget the questions.”**

I’ve heard enough!

We find it really hard to keep listening.

What if you haven’t heard enough?  What if we’ve been asking finite questions rather than infinite ones?

We know the kind of things that get in the way of listening, and not listening leads to many misunderstandings:

Finite listening and finite questions lead to finite possibilities.  They’re usually concerned with finding out why you haven’t done what you were supposed to do, why we didn’t keep to the rules.

Infinite listening and infinite questions leads to infinite possibilities.  These are more concerned with knowing why you aren’t exploring your potential and flourishing, why you aren’t creating new and better rules.

The infinite listener with her infinite questions opens the way for others to find their voices, ‘through the silence of wonder, a healing and holy metaphor that leaves everything still to be said.’^

(*Madeleine L’Engle, quoted in Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(**From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

jandarma people

17 there can be no

“If people would but do what they have to do, they would always find themselves ready for what came next.”*

In order to move from the present to the hopeful future of greater possibilities, individuals, organisations, and societies have to cross thresholds into liminal spaces – liminal space that is unfamiliar and disorientating.  Because the future doesn’t exist, none of us can claim to be expert guides – we can be guides to one another though.

The first liminal space lies between judgement (our old ways of seeing an understanding) and openness (an ongoing attentiveness to the new and different and unfamiliar).  We cry out in frustration, “I can’t do this” because  our present ways of seeing include a too-small understanding of the self, which we daily reinforce with the familiar.

The second liminal space lies between cynicism (a basic distrust of others and their motives) and compassion (more than a feeling, compassion is a heart, soul, mind, and strength solidarity with others and appreciation of their world) which provokes action.  We admit, “I feel nothing” because we have found the lingering effect of distrust to be numbness.

The third liminal space lies between fear (we imagine the worst happening when it could well be the best) and courage (which is not a lack of fear, but a compulsion to act with others).  We protest, ” I cannot move,” because we feel frozen to the spot by the fear of what probably will not happen.

“I walk to challenge myself to be less afraid of the world.”**

These are the words of Matt Krause who set out on the quest of walking across Turkey at the slow speed of nine miles a day.  When we walk slowly, our encounters and engagement are greater than if we find some way of moving fast – at the speed of a car nine miles are covered in around ten minutes, at the speed of a plane, in less than sixty seconds.  When we move fast through life, we cannot experience life in a deep way.  Krause took six months to cross Turkey.

The point of this is to see a world that others have told us could never be, which is when we’re at our most human, exploring the one life we have:

‘That’s the point – to do what you’re not supposed to do.  To do it because it is overwhelming, because it is ridiculous.’^

When we journey together, we’re able to help one another to cross the thresholds, to be pilgrims through the liminal spaces.  On his slow journey, Krause encountered a jandarma, a security point for outlying areas, which also provide resting points and journey advice.  He was fed and the jandarma commander gave him the name of a friend in the next town, and so he set out on another nine miles.  We all have something different to offer to one another, making us jandarma people for the journey we’re all taking, enabling us to overcome “I can’t do this,” “I feel nothing,” and, “I can’t move.”

Maybe the slow journey is the most empowering journey of all.

(*George MacDonald, quote in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer, 17/6/16.)
(**Matt Krause, quoted in Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)
(^From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)



terror of terroir?

16 we are me 1

‘Five times a second, at an unconscious level, your brain is scanning the environment around you and asking itself: Is it safe here?  Or is it dangerous?’*

‘[G]ossip plays an important social role by reinforcing community values: it makes people feel closer to each other, it unifies people who play by the rules, it helps people get a sense of the values of their community … .’**

When we sense danger things become black and white.  Do we run or stay?  I’m wondering if this is something of what we see in gossiping.  Making black and white judgements, deciding who is with me and who is against me.

Michael Bungay Stanier offers four drivers for engagement, or sticking around, using the acronym of TERA, which he links to terroir, the influence of a specific region upon the grapes grown there, and therefore the wine produced.  These are four ways of influencing the environment.

T is for Tribe, which I would translate as enlarging your tribe to include others – or better still, let’s create new tribes together.

E is for Expectation, which I understand to mean creating a better future together, hoping for the best rather than expecting the worst.

R is for Rank, so why not treat others as equals, imbibing humility and, so, standing in our dignity and providing this for others.

A is for Autonomy, which is about giving others their say, their moment, to bring something awesome.

You may have noticed that each of these can also be used in a disengaging way, tribes disengage from other tribes, my expectations can come before yours, my rank supersedes yours, and, my autonomy is paramount for survival.

We have a choice, then.  This is a choice over whether we are an influencer towards a bigger world or a smaller one.  Gretchen Rubin, warns us that the things we say about others comes back to shape what others think about us:

‘What I say about other people sticks to me – even when I talk to someone who already knows me.  So I do well to say good things.’**

(*From Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(**From Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.)

when what not why

15 when we explore

If you had these two questions to choose between, which one would you pick?

Why did this happen to me?

What am I now going to do?

In reality, we don’t have to choose one over the other, but we can get so over-focused on the first that we lose sight of the second.

The first allows us to dwell on what others, circumstance or the system has done to us.  The second puts the responsibility upon us and the kind of action we’re going to initiate – because we can’t wait for others.

This kind of Why question creates a loop that can both comfort and trap; offering the appearance of moving towards what we want, it becomes difficult to escape.

Marshall Rosenberg identifies nine needs behind our wants: affection, creation, recreation, freedom, identity, understanding, participation, protection, and subsistence.*

What is my need?

‘The lesson is to know your own motivations.  That way, you’ll keep going even if no one else cares.’**

Identifying our needs helps us to begin moving from Why did this happen to me? to What am I now going to do?  If we’re not clear about our needs, and therefore, motivations, we can lose our way when difficulties come along.

Something else to help us move on.  Forgiveness is an important tool for freeing us from the cycle of Why:

“[I]f a society does not have an apparatus for forgiveness, then its members are fated to live forever with the consequence of any violation.”^

I’m thinking of organisations and individuals too, employing this means by which they can voice their hope and dream wants.

When we clear the gravitational pull of this kind of Why then we find traction towards the future.

(*Referenced in Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(**From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)
(^Hannah Arendt, quoted in Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination.)

voodoo dolls

14 genuine travel

‘The more clearly we remind ourselves we can have no unnatural influence on nature, the more our culture will embody a freedom to embrace surprise and unpredictability.’*

Originally these dolls, made in the form of witches, would be stuck with pins with the intention and hope of breaking the power of witchcraft over someone’s life by causing pain to the witch.   More popularly, they’re seen as a way of exercising control over the life of another.

Perhaps we don’t use voodoo dolls, but we do try and blame others for situations and circumstances that aren’t working the way we want them to: someone in the family, someone at work the system.  By blaming, we somehow try to control what others do, forgetting that we can really only control ourselves.  As a coach Michael Bungay Stanier would find people wanting him to coach the other person or people, but for the coach:

‘The key thing to know is that you can only coach the person in front of you.’**

It took me back to something I stumbled on more by accident almost twenty years ago.

I’ve previously mentioned how I was going through a really tough time for which I could have blamed the system or certain people using and abusing it.  Instead, I decided to focus only on my own part in the situation, believing I could only work on what I was willing to take the blame for.  Perhaps from some belief that I shouldn’t blame others if I was going to make the most of a time of study, what I wandered into was the truth that I can’t control others – I can only make decisions for myself.

What I didn’t know then was how this would bring me to a place of peace, and to the beginning of an adventure.  Here are three “scriptures” which make a lot of sense to me as I read them together:

‘True storytellers do no know their own story.’*

‘People don’t need new facts – they need a new story.^

‘I wonder if real art comes when you build the thing that they don’t have a prize for yet.’^^

As I breathed deeply at the beginning of the day, feeling the breath move through my body, I realised I can only experience this for myself; I don’t know what this must feel like for someone else – their experience is unknown to me.

I can only help another reflect upon their own story, knowing that my own story changes for the better when someone helps me to reflect – we can even come to use the negatives someone directs towards us to improve our story.

The best though, if I might borrow the words of Walter Brueggemann is to offer ‘passion and compassion that completely and irresistibly undermine the world of competence and competition.’*^

I don’t know if the people who’d wanted to control me moved into their own adventure – I hope they did, but I do know that taking control of our own life allows us to move into surprise and unpredictability, serendipity and synchronicity.

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**From Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(^From Blake Mycoskie’s Start Something That Matters.)
(^^From Seth Godin’s Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?)
(*^From Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic 

choose blue not red

13 life now open

There’s nothing quite like getting another chance.  Just when we thought we’d messed up so badly that we’d completely blown it.

We need to remember, though, that life is drama rather than theatre; it is unscripted, unfolding.  We can always write the next sweep of story.

The key is to go deep, kindly:

‘Focus on the real problem, not the first problem.’*

Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne write about the difference between red ocean and blue ocean strategies.  The red gets nasty when we engage in a small, competitive ocean of scarcity; this is theatre-thinking – we think we know how things work and what will happen.  The blue is about opening ourselves to the new possibilities no one else is thinking about or imagining – this is a dramatic story of who knows what will happen next.**

When it comes to the things we’ve got wrong, we think it’s going to be red ocean – getting bloody and very messy, so we avoid facing our wrongs and mistakes like the plague.

The blue way, however, promises that if we go deep, kindly, then we’ll see things differently, we’ll grow wiser, and we’ll find new possibilities because the universe can be about abundance we can share with others.

Our choice.

(*From Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(**From Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy.)

fake questions

12 our questions change the story

What does it mean to you to be human?

There are as many answers to this question as there are humans.  It’s a real question, and our answers will show just how fond, or not, we are of facing searching questions.

If it were a fake question, it would be telling you how you ought to be human.  It’s only asking for your best imagination and hope – fake questions offer advice in the form of a question.

Another kind of of fake question is the switched kind, like, Who has most inspired you? or, to switch the switch, Who would you not want to be like? – they are  less-demanding than the answers to the real questions.

Fake questions allow us to absence ourselves from the deep work, covering up the real issues even more – closing down minds, hearts, and wills.

Real questions help us to get to the source, not to a symptom – being deeper than we imagine, they make it possible to journey closer to knowing what we are capable of – whatever that might be.

‘When people start talking to you about the challenge at hand, what’s essential to remember is what they’re laying out for you is rarely the actual problem.’*

‘People don’t need new facts – they need a new story.’**

(*From Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(**From Blake Mycoskie’s Start Something That Matters.)

when the question is the servant

11 time for questions that

There are times when questions are not servants.

When they’re after the answers the questioner wants to hear.

When they want to prove you’re wrong, or stupid, or unfit.

“And the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now.”*

Quick answers, easy answers, predictable answers, steal from us the exploring of possibilities.

Great questions are beautiful in their form.  Michael Bungay Stanier offers “And what else?” as a question that can be asked several times to go deeper:

‘More recent studies have found that follow-up questions that promote higher-level thinking (like “And what else?”) help deepen understanding and promote participation.’**

Another example is, “Why is that important to you?”  A simple question that can be asked several times.  Krista Tippett holds that a beautiful question elicits a beautiful answer, and a generous question elicits a generous answer.

Servant-questions desire the best for others, trying to help people across the boundaries preventing them reaching their future Self.  We live, though, in a culture that goes for quick answers, running too quickly for structure.  Questions prolong the mess, yet the mess is where some of the most beautiful of future possibilities can appear.

“I’m a firm believer in the chaotic nature of the creative process needing to be chaotic.  If we put too much structure on it, we kill it.”^

(*Rainer Maria Rilke, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(^Pixar producer Lindsey Collins, quoted in Creativity, Inc..)