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Facing the facts

Yesterday, inspired by my 14-yr-old, I wrote a post called “Facing the Fear“. Today I caught myself posting on Facebook that I was “making up stories in my head”. Then I remembered this quaint little acronym : “FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real”. Meditating on that this morning has been helpful and led me to focus instead on facing the FACTS…

Business man afraid of his own shadow monster concept on grungy

We all have our monsters. Some of them exist in the real world and we are right to be scared of them. But many of them are just stories we have made up in our heads.

The Buddha is reported to have said that “all pain and suffering comes from attachment to desire and ego”. This is not to say that when you get burnt, the fire didn’t cause you pain. But to say that much of what causes us distress is our attachment to some story we have made up in our head (some form of “ego”) that we can’t let go of.

To better understand this, let’s take an example : Suppose you have a meeting to go to and on the way, your car breaks down. That little voice might say “Oh no, I’m screwed” or “This is terrible” or “There is nothing I can do about it”.

What is happening? You had a plan and something happened. In this new moment, you have a memory of the past planning you did and things you wanted (to have a meeting) and an idea about what you want to happen in the future (to go to the meeting). Neither of these things now correspond to the current reality (not going) and you get annoyed, stressed, worried etc… It is the separation between reality and story that causes the pain. It is the separation between reality and story that IS the pain.

If you think about this a little, you’ll see that much of what annoys you, stresses you, makes you angry (or even makes you happy!) is not “true” in the traditional sense.

 

So what is this ego? What are these stories? What does all this mean in REALITY and how can we get out of it?

If you want the Buddha’s answer, do the research. If you think you can turn off this “ego”, try meditation (good luck!). And if acceptance is your thing, thats cool too. But a little bit of “cheap psychology” and fact-checking might help too.

 

MANY of the things causing the fear we have are simply not based in reality. A voice in our head is telling us all sorts of things. Most people have a tendency to over-identify with that voice, as it were “me” or “the real me”. Others believe is is just a thing that happens in your body over which you have no control, just like your breathing or your hair-growing.

When this little worrying voice comes up, here’s how it goes: First, there is a thought that comes out of nowhere. You can’t help it, it just happens. Somehow, on autopilot, you compare that (random, uncontrolled) thought with your memories and/or wishes for the future. Then you make conclusions and predictions about “what IS”. This is all normal.

But, in the words of Mr Dylan “It ain’t me babe”. It’s just a thing that happens. A thinking habit. A PIECE of what you DO. But not you, and oftentimes, not true. And to be more philosophical, it’s pretty strange to attach oneself to all this non-existant stuff. The past is gone and the future doesn’t exist yet. In short: Right now is just right now: Stuff is happening, including a little voice in your head. That’s it.

 

So check the facts. Example in case: In today’s economic and health situation, I am (was?) today worrying about the future. I am capable of telling myself “I’ll run out of money” or “No-one can help me” or “This thing could go on forever and I won’t be able to be freelance anymore”. These are normal worries for everyone IMO. But they are not “truth”, in the sense that they are not current reality. They are that little voice thinking about a (thus far) non-existant future and a (gone) preferred past.

This is not to deny that things might turn out as I imagine. And IMO I would be naive to think it will all be all right out of pure optimism. That would be just the same functioning : more stories in my head.

 

So what DAN? What do you want to really say?

Check the FACTS. Anything that isn’t fact NEEDS to be accepted as no more than a story or hypothesis to test or include in risk-analysis. But not more. Not worry, not stress, not fear. If you can already separate for yourself what IS true and what is your own story, you are going in the right direction. Try it..

 

When I see things on social media about what might happen for the Corona virus, it can almost immediately create worry in me (without any effort from the real me :). What do I do? I check belgium.be for the latest facts. Everything else is conjecture, fakenews and fear-mongering.

When I worry about paying bills and wonder if anyone will help me, I check the facts. I heard something about loan repayments being put off. Research… call the bank.

How many times in your life did you worry about something only to find out if didn’t happen? And how many times did you think “Oh, I should have checked that, or thought about that” ? This is hard to do because we get swept away by the worry, the little voice.

There is a lot of stuff in reality today that IS problematic for people. I do NOT deny it and I do NOT suggest ignoring it. I only add that there is also a lot of worry not properly grounded in fact. Go check.

Good luck to all.

 

More from me on this whole “stories” and “perception” thing:

2 of my short stories:

 

…otherwise, I would strongly recommend checking out YouTube videos or books from Alan Watts. I don’t want to start listing all my favourite links to this guy. Just know that he was the first (1950s) and foremost expert on Eastern Philosophy, including Zen Buddhism. If you dig anything I said above, you might like him too.

 

The man who made up stories

Once you a time, there was a man who liked to make up stories. He liked it so much he did it all the time.

When he heard people talking, he would imagine what they meant and why they said it. When he saw clouds in the sky, he imagined rain coming.

Very often, he was the hero of his own stories. When the characters he had invented spoke to him, he would make up replies to advance his plot. With the fear of rain, he would carry an umbrella. Sometimes he got what he wanted and would call it a good story. Sometimes, he got wet and called it a bad story.

One day, he hit his head and lost his ability to make up stories. 

All of a sudden, there were no more characters and he was no longer the hero. There was no more plot and no more story. Nothing was good or bad anymore. There was only the truth.

 – – The beginning – –

Aaron Silvers and Megan Bowe on (the philosophy of) content wrangling

ATD TK 2015, session TH304 is about content wrangling. The word (wrangling) seems to fit the first speaker, Aaron Silvers. A very peaceful looking man, I can imagine him coming in to put order into the mess and bring everything together. As a learning designer, technologist and strategist, he has worked with the NFL, US departments of defence, homeland security and education …and plenty of others. His equally cool co-speaker Megan Bowe works at Knewton, is a principal at consultancy company “Making Better” and co-created the “Up to All of Us” community.

 

Would you like to audit all the content in the organisation to know what is out there and to organise it better? Or set-up a platform to improve social learning and sharing of expertise and content? Or make existing materials more easy to search and digest?

If the answer is yes, you need to do a good job of content wrangling: Find what you have and make it usable for your people.

 

Megan tells us the primary steps for getting your content in order:

  • First, you need to get everything together (inventory) and know what you have, what you can delete and what you need more of (audit)
  • Next, think about how your people search for content, so you can create an effective “tagging taxonomy” to improve search of that content. Megan’s suggestion for doing this effectively is to do a card-sorting exercise with the users/stakeholders in the organisation. Together, they will create the right structure for the content.
  • Now think about how small you can make content, so that it is effective, but easy to swallow (granularity)
  • Then make things modular, so that content can stand alone. This will allow you to put things in the right order and also re-use content for multiple uses.

 

Once your content is broken down into the right collections of granular and modular well-tagged pieces, it’s time to think about how and where you will put it all together.

Back on the mic, Aaron Silvers says that when we do this, we must remember the mission of our work and the context of today’s business: Our aim is to make it easier for a responsive organisation to pull out content, even when the context or environment changes. We have to be sure that what we make is effective today, as well as sustainable for the future.

Silvers suggests that we take a lean approach to this work, focussing on what really matters: Where are our users? Who are they? What are they trying to do? And why?

 

Rather than get into the technology of content platforms at this point, the formal part of the session came to what seemed to be an abrupt end, opening the floor to any and all questions.

Not being a real techy guy and never building systems for corporate learning, I wondered why I was in this session for a while. But when I looked a little closer at what was being discussed, I realised that what Silvers and Bowe have done is give an effective and lean approach to consulting with customers and organising things (anything) in a given context.

I can imagine (I know, I’m a geek) going home to my DVD collection like a character from “High Fidelity” and getting all that film in order, searchable and chunked down into “all the best bits” for consumption by friends and family. But their work is much more than that…

When they talked about card-sorting, it reminded me of courses on metaphysics, Pirsig’s books (“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Lila”) and how the structure you give to something defines the experience you have of the world. There is beauty in this functional work. Silvers and Bowe are not wrangling content at all. They are defining purpose and values for the organisation, creating the space for breathing creativity and innovation.

 

Humans like to categorise and structure things. It brings comfortable order and a sense of safety. But the way these categories and structures are defined can change the way we experience things.

For example, if I look out of my window to Las Vegas Boulevard, I may compartmentalise what I see into buildings, water, people and lights. If I were thinking about making changes to that environment or its processes, I might then think of how the space is used and the efficient flow of traffic. But if I break down that same vision into entertainment activities, advertisements and mood, I would have a completely different vision. And that vision could lead me to work instead on improving the user experience or linking publicity to user emotions.

Our perception defines our reality and our subsequent behaviour.

And so, the work of “putting things in order” is not to be overlooked. Get it wrong and you may have an impossible mess that no-one can deal with. Or you may have a specific vision that leads to specific (potentially undesired) outputs. Get it right and you will give people the power to see new things, find more value and create change.

You might also find the answer to the questions that opened this blog-post.

 

Thanks for reading!
@dan_steer

ps For more “how-to” information on content wrangling, go here: http://eepurl.com/LpdwD