The Choices We Make

The Eagle Newsletter October 2022

Dear Ones,

How are you?

Do you feel the crisp breezes, notice the shifting patterns of crimson and gold in our trees, and inhale its unmistakable scent scape? Indeed, the fall has returned. I love the feeling of autumn rolling in here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Even if we call it “fall” with the wistfulness of loss as we watch leaves and ripe fruit drop to the ground, it is also the season of abundance, of labor coming to fruition in the harvest. Autumn is invigorating and a time to gather our thoughts in the same way that we might once have collected crops.
Nature is our teacher, reminding us that behind the illusion of stability, there is beauty in impermanence and light in loss. And that we too are in transition, that our lives will soon be changing. I like how the French writer Colette celebrated autumn and the autumn of life as a beginning, not a decline, the season of “those who have nothing more to lose and so excel at giving.”

As we start to cool down, what would it be like to remember that we can always find a gorgeous place of tranquility in and out with this beautiful piece “Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake” from the composer Lü Wencheng, performed by Lang Lang?

Whether the season’s cooler days are a prelude to a cold winter or a long stretch of sweater weather, we feel obliged to slow down and take stock of our lives. There is an interconnectedness to all things, we’re reminded. We are invited to surrender, let go and flow, allow ourselves to be carried. This has been such a difficult time for so many. An individual and collective push to our edge. An unstable epoch where we’ve been yanked all over the place, treading water, suspended in a liminal space, feeling neither here nor there.

There may be grief that wants to move, activated by outer events such as the ongoing armed conflicts from Ukraine to Yemen and Syria to Myanmar, to name just a few. Metaphorically, a psychological death occurs whenever we are forced to let go of something or someone and must grieve for the loss. Whatever the catalyst, let the tears roll; they’re healing.

Questions are here: Will we emerge or survive these “collective and personal losses times”? Can we grieve and go on? Or will we give up, become bitter, or be overcome by depression; will we stop our journey at this point, letting others decide our fate?

This is a significant moment for assessing where we are and where we’re headed. A pause to ask: Have we had enough? This may just be the breaking point, the one we’ve been putting off. What do we want? We can remain ideologically rigid here, but the opportunity for innovation is immense.

Getting Through the Dark and Narrow Passage

I know, I understand, we have all the excuses of the world to close down as we travel through dark times. How not to feel endangered and become cynical and hostile in front of the constant flow of disturbing news, the witnessing of inequalities and incivilities, the abuse of other individuals who want to hurt, dominate, humiliate, or control us, and the rise of so much anger, despair, resentment, blame, vengeance, betrayal, fear, and guilt in and out?

Image from Liz Fosslien

It doesn’t come as a surprise that many of us are passing through phases of depression, anxiety, violence, and addiction regarding the circumstances. However, there is guidance to find in the stories of our childhood. It helps to realize that death and rebirth, in myth and dreams, are metaphors for loss, depression, and recovery; that we need to keep on moving, to keep on functioning, to do what has to be done, to stay in touch with our helpers, to not stop and give up (even when we feel lost), to maintain hope in the darkness.

The choice is ours when we come up against something destructive or dangerous in our path that could defeat what is compassionate and competent in our humanity.

As a little medicine, I recommend a viewing of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece “Spirited Away” celebrating this 20 years premiere, and still an absolute gift for our resilience and humanity, or a trip to a museum as psychiatrists in Brussels are starting to prescribe for those feeling depressed or anxious.

Whether we are demoralized or not functioning or we wisely perceive that we are caught in a situation we need to understand and change, it is time to learn how to be better protagonists in our own life.

These times are forcing our hands, urging us to upgrade. Principles and determination, these things cannot be outsourced. The same goes for our community, workplace, our friendships, and those with whom we build bridges. We’re here for one another. So how can we remain rooted in our principles and vision without sacrificing our hearts and humanity?

It is time to make conscious choices that will shape our lives. Turn these challenging periods into rites of passage, where we can learn something of value and grow. To finally become a guide for others.

The Great Expanse of Possibility, Reclaiming Our Ability to Choose

“For what it’s worth: It’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald​​

We all have the leading role in our own unfolding life stories. As we travel on our particular path, we will undoubtedly encounter suffering; feel loneliness, vulnerability, and uncertainty; and know limitations. We also may find meaning, develop character, experience love and grace, and learn wisdom.

We are shaped by our choices, our capacity for faith and love, and our ability to learn from experience and make commitments. When difficulties arise, if we assess what we can do, decide what we will do, and behave in ways consistent with our values and feelings, we act as the real protagonist of our own life.

Although life is full of unchosen circumstances, there are always moments of decision, nodal points that decide events or alter character. To be a leader in our journey, we must begin with the attitude (or even at first act “as if”) that our choices do matter. We either grow or are diminished by what we do or do not do and the attitudes we hold.
In living from this premise, something happens: We become choice makers, a shaper of what we will become.

It is not just what happened to us that shaped who we are, but what happened in us that made the difference. What we feel and how we react inwardly and outwardly determine who we become much more than the degree of adversity we encounter.

We are living in wounding times. In the United States, panels recommend that most adults be screened for anxiety disorders and all adults be checked for depression. We have seen consequences spreading everywhere in workplaces from the rise of incivility to the quiet quitting movement or the great resignation.

Traumatic experiences always leave their mark; they are not unscathed, yet an essence of trust, a capacity to love and hope, and a sense of self can survive if we can maintain a sense of ourselves apart from how we are treated. We can always become choice-makers by assessing the situation, deciding how we would react in the present, and making plans for the future.

What Would We Do in the Face of Opposition or Danger?

“To know what one ought to do is certainly the hardest thing in life. ‘Doing’ is comparatively easy.” — Maria Mitchell

When we face a culture that devalues us and limits what we can do, it is also when our courage rises in response to circumstances that are not of our own choosing.

For example, there is a narrative to change in career-making. Life dictates your career, not the other way around. A disease, a loss, a divorce, the birth of a child: So many things can derail the beautiful template that we would follow to serve our greedy ambition. Not everyone will make it through elite schools and fancy firms, and it has NOTHING to do with their talents or worth. Still, why do we measure our life with someone else’s ruler? We all deserve the same respect, regardless of our career path and the money that we make. Every time we compare, we kill the necessary bond that actually helps us live a fulfilling life.

There is an absolute necessity to recognize the worth and value of every human being in the complex mechanics of life and work. We need everybody, and everybody needs us.

Behind the great resignation and great awakening, there is a quest, a journey to find others like ourselves. Companies should pay attention. Emotional or affiliative bonds to others are key elements in deciding where to work and how to live. It is all about union, reunion, and home.

The Path

“revelation must be terrible
knowing you can
never hide your voice again.”
- Abstract from the poem “Revelation Must be Terrible” by David Whyte. You can listen to the full poem
here.

There are crucial forks on every road where a decision needs to be made. Which path to take? Which direction to follow? To continue on a course consistent with one’s principles or go along with others? To be honest or cheat?
To go, the true cost of anything is what we give up in order to have it. It is also the path not taken. Taking responsibility for making the choice is crucial and not always easy. But it is in the act of choosing that we define our humanity and build our sincere and original path.

However, workplaces are rarely choice-enabler environments. In many hierarchical organizations, we follow the “whatever you want to do” habit of deference without realizing its consequences, from the impossibility of choice and so for innovation to the danger of moral dysregulation that comes from alienation and apathy.
In addition, there are all the ongoing unwritten rules called “politics” when everyone is “invited” to stay at a crossroads, unwilling to choose, because they don’t want to give up any options out of fear or opportunism.
Of course, in any case, nonaction is still a choice with a consequence. There is a high price to pay for not asserting ourselves. We are depriving ourselves of the freedom to be and become with honesty. The vital respect for our individuality, of our truth. Far more damaging in the long run than we may think.

Whenever we are at a crossroads and must decide what to do now, we must pause to sort out our priorities and motives and the potentialities in the situation. We need to see the choices, the emotional cost, where the decisions will lead us, and what intuitively matters most to us. Based on who we are and what we know, we must make a decision about which path to take. It is our precious life, after all, and we will live with the consequences.

What to Do When We Are Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Sometimes choices don’t give a key to the problem at stake. That despite all our efforts, it is still not enough. Or, in other cases, the ambivalence in the situation is so strong that a decision seems impossible. And here we are, caught between a rock and a hard place, not knowing, unable to go forward or back.

How prepared are we not to know? Not knowing can be incredibly challenging in the face of a culture that requires and rewards us for our knowing.
How not to be tempted to choose the easy — but inappropriate — answer and start making things up? There is gentleness and forgiveness to find here, and to not fall into the trap of blaming, shaming, and choosing from a place of desperate pride. The danger comes from the impulse to manufacture ourselves out of alignment and self-respect, to explain and name ourselves and others far too early, in judgment, defense, and narrowness.
There is lucidity in accepting that we are not supposed to have an answer to everything that happens to us.

When we find ourselves in an unclear situation, where every route or choice seems potentially disastrous, or at best a dead-end, the first thing to do — and challenge — is to stay ourselves.
In every crisis, there is always a temptation to become the victim — from blaming others to cursing fate, from going into addictions to attacking ourselves or giving up entirely — instead of staying the main protagonist of our own story.

I still think it is okay and healthy to acknowledge our turmoil during the victim phase of feeling hopeless/helpless. From the awareness of being a victim, we can acknowledge what we need in order to find a way back to self-love and self-respect despite everything. I find helpful the way the singer Bruce Springsteen lives through the visitations of the darkness: “If you can acknowledge it and you can relax with it a little bit, very often it shortens its duration,” he advises.

The best leaders have “not knowing” in their job description and “knowing” as their calling.

There is nothing wrong with feeling stuck and lost as we face unanswerable questions; we just need to accept the push of falling deep inside ourselves while keeping our eyes on the world, while reaching out for help from others, from the natural world, from Grace.

In a hard place, staying true to ourselves may not protect us against defeat, loss, and pain. But it doesn’t mean that we should give up or act out of fear; there is still the possibility that something may change.
When in a dilemma, the best thing to do is be ourselves, true to our principles and loyalties, until something unexpected comes to our aid. Behind every hard place, there is an invitation to structure ourselves, to test and grow our character with more humility, gentleness, and faith. Faith that the solution, the answer, the choice exist, and we just need to hold the dilemma in consciousness, wait for new insight or changed circumstances, and trust the incubation process, out of which something new and beautiful can emerge.

The Journey For Us All

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” - from “Little Gidding” by T.S. Eliot

The times are challenging inside and outside the workplace. It reminds me of the opening line of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” play: “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Discontent is everywhere and for the right reasons. Our character and compassion are tested as we encounter the dark, shadowy aspects of our personality and those around us. And grief is probably our loyal companion as we experience loss, limitations, or defeat.

The thing is, we are also here for that, whether we like it or not. It is part of our human journey to be shaped by life. Life presents us with repeated opportunities to face what we fear, what we need to become conscious of, or what we need to master.

Mastering choice-making is an ongoing apprenticeship in front of the myriad conditions and conditionings outside ourselves that color and confuse our ability to choose with a purity of purpose. Even without considering the question of free will, the choices we make in life in discerning what we ought to do are invariably limited by our perception of what we can do, which are in turn a function of our individual talents and the cultural canvas of permission and possibility onto which these talents can unfold.

That’s why each time we cycle around the spiral path to the place that gives us difficulty, there is an opportunity to gain more consciousness rising above the maze of conditions and conditionings that limit who we can be; so we can respond more wisely to the next time; until we can finally pass through that nemesis place at peace and in harmony with our deepest values, and not be negatively affected at all.

As uncomfortable as it is when we welcome our troubledness as a teacher — a difficult one I agree — we may find, lose, and rediscover what has meaning to us until we hold on to these values in all kinds of circumstances that test us.

We can’t immunize ourselves against life. Our duty is to confront tasks, obstacles, and dangers during our journey whatever our role in our community, family, and workplace. How we respond and what we do will change us.

Our journey should be one of discovery and development, of integrating aspects of ourselves into a whole yet complex personality.

Don’t Forget Dignity

“The constellations of solidarity, altruism, and improvisation are within most of us and reappear at these times.” — Rebeca Solnit

As this time together ends, I would like to leave you the gift of dignity.

Dignity is the basic respect due to every human being. It acknowledges that we have value and that our contributions matter. It says we have great potential worthy of investment — an investment of time, resources, and others. It reminds us of our significance and helps us to discover our purpose. It draws out the goodness inside us that enriches our lives and those of others around us. And once it is embraced, it fuels greatness.

Amid our present age of shootings and senseless violence, amid toxic competition and hate crimes, amid rampant discrimination and hubris of success, amid so many illusions and denials, we may be tempted to see human nature as monstrous, selfish, chaotic, and violent, or as timid, fragile, and helpless. And as an excuse to remove our unconditional duty and right to respect and dignity to ourselves and our human fellows.

Our human dignity, explains the poet David Whyte, is an inherent worth that we all share equally. Everyone has their own dignity, however absurd it might seem to us, and we are all bound to recognize and respect it as we wish our own life to be recognized and accepted.

Coming from respect and freedom to be, dignity requires tremendous strength, insight, and vigilance to be valued and preserved. Across the globe, for instance in Iran and Russia, citizens are displaying enormous courage and resolve to protect their dignity, an indication of the sweeping social outrage we’ll continue to witness and experience over the coming years.

Again, a conscious choice needs to be made to reawaken our noblest nature as the French philosopher Albert Camus called us: “We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more.”

I can’t resist leaving you with one of my superheroes: Fred Rogers and his song, “I Like You Just the Way You Are.”

Let’s follow his example and embrace “radical acceptance” for our good and those around us. We all have the same right to be there. Whatever it is, wherever we are, it’s those we encounter with respect along the journey that make it mean so much. With dignity, we reclaim lost parts of ourselves, re-establish ties to ourselves and others, and rework more generous and beautiful plans and ideas for the future.

May we choose to live in peace, dignity and truth. Always.

As always, I thank you for taking the time to do this reading with me. I am so grateful to journey alongside you. Please feel free to drop me a line at laurence@stratandshield.com with ideas, suggestions, or comments.

Your presence is my purpose.

Be safe and be watched over until we meet again in November.

With care,

Laurence

PS:

To go deeper on the subject of choice-making as well as being inspired by the concept of the hero and heroine journey, I recommend the work of author, psychiatrist and Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen, author and professor Joseph Campbell, and mythopoetic author, poet, analytical psychologist Marion Woodman.

Banner Art : Autumn from Frederic Edwin Church

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Laurence Duarte

Head of Strategy with innovation on the brain and a focus on creating safe and thriving business environments.