Your recycling is in a Turkish river
27 May | 4 min read
Last week I was listening to the Today Programme, and the presenter was saying, ‘Are you suspicious about what happens to your recycling after it’s taken away? Well you’re right to be. A new report from Greenpeace has found British plastic piled high and partially burnt in Turkey. They found waste from Lidl, Sainsbury’s, M&S and Tesco dumped by the roadside, in fields, or spilling in waterways and floating downstream.’
I felt anger towards the corrupt people in government and in businesses who are responsible. I felt sadness, powerlessness and despair, that something I do every day, thinking that I’m doing a small positive thing for the environment, might actually be doing more harm than good. I had a desire for whoever was responsible to be punished, and ideally humiliated.
Which just goes to show how deep my conditioning is that the harms that happen in our society are caused by a few bad apples, and that removing them will solve the problem.
I’m watching The Wire, about 15 years behind everyone else, and realising that it is indeed one of the best TVs shows ever made.
One of the reasons it’s so good is that you can’t work out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. It shows it actually doesn’t matter what the police do, they can’t stop the sale of drugs and the murders that go along with that.
Even if they lock up one of the top drug dealers, he’s replaced before he sets foot in jail, by several more. To be one of those cops within the system must feel so infuriatingly futile.
And it’s the same with our waste problem. If we changed the governments and businesses involved, it wouldn’t change the fact that the amount of waste we are producing is going up every year. It wouldn’t change the fact that our whole economy is based on the myth that we can limitlessly extract from the earth and limitlessly dump toxic waste back into it.
Global primary plastics waste generation (in million metric tons) according to industrial use sector from 1950 to 2015. Geyer, Jambeck, Law, ‘Science Advances’, July 2017
This myth, again, isn’t being propagated by a few bad apples — evil capitalists who are pulling the strings to enrich themselves at the expense of the earth and the majority of people.
This myth is woven into our entire civilization. It’s the myth of separation.
The myth that I am a discreet separate self, in a Universe of separate selves, who are all in competition with each other for survival. The earth and other living things are separate from us. We are superior to them. All living things came about through a random series of mutations and through the playing out of the survival of the fittest and when we die, nothing happens. Nothing has any inherent meaning. There is no reason we are here except to pass on our genes to the next generation. Humans are greedy, selfish and always looking to maximise their own rational self-interest. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
This myth completely justifies the extraction of ‘resources’ and dumping of waste because the earth is separate from us, it is just a thing for us to exploit. If we start to run against limits we will use technology to use the resources more efficiently, or remove the waste more effectively.
Well that doesn’t seem to be going very well so far.
But there are other cultures who have a different understanding of reality. They see us all as interdependent. Being kind to you is good for me, and harming you harms me. They see the earth as a living being that we are in relationship with and will only keep giving to us if we give back to her. The Buddhist monk Tich Naht Han calls this the ‘Story of Interbeing’.
Until we change the lens through which we see the world, we won’t stop destroying it.
But how do you change a story that is so pervasive and runs through every aspect of our society?
The only way I know how is to act as if the Story of Interbeing is true in my own life. By showing kindness, care and generosity to others, whilst also looking after my own wellbeing, as I am also an integral part of the whole.
Also, crucially, by not wasting my energy on hating the ‘bad apples’, but when I notice that that feeling is being evoked in me, redirecting it towards compassion and reminding myself that this is a systemic problem.
I think it is actually a good thing for us to be feeling the despair and hopelessness about the inadequacy of our current solutions. Hopefully that feeling will lead us to slow down and realise that more of the same is only making it worse.
The key to overcoming conflict
27 May | 3 min read
Marshall Rosenburg (1934-2015) was as American psychologist who believed that it is in our nature to enjoy giving and receiving compassionately.
Given that belief, he attempted to answer two questions:
What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?
And, conversely, what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature, even under the most trying of circumstances.
What a great pair of questions!
I feel that his work is now more relevant than ever, given the increasing polarisation we are seeing and how that involves dehumanising each other as stupid, insane or evil for having a different perspective to our own – whether that’s on politics, vaccines, alternative medicine or anything else.
When I did a training course on non-violent communication (NVC), one of the principles that the teacher gave us went off like a lightbulb in my heart and mind.
‘People are never in conflict on the level of needs. They are only ever in conflict on the strategies to meet their needs.’
In those words, I believe, are the seeds of world peace. I felt a wave of excitement and possibility.
If you’re new to NVC, you might not know what I mean by ‘needs’ in this context. They include things like food and shelter, safety, freedom, belonging, purpose, and feeling appreciated and understood. Here is a full list.
In our culture, one of the most embarrassing things to be accused of is being ‘needy’. This is incredibly damaging, because it contributes to a sense that we shouldn’t feel or express the needs that we all have. We live in a culture of need suppression.
Going back to world peace: I might think I hate you, because you’re a racist Trump supporter, and you might think you hate me, because I’m a socialist Biden supporter.
As a Trump supporter, maybe you’re in touch with your needs for freedom, hope and belonging, and you believe that Trump will help you meet those needs by being tough on crime, growing the economy, cutting taxes, protecting your local community from immigrants, and outsourcing to China.
As a Biden supporter, you also have a need for safety, hope and belonging. There is no conflict there. You are only in conflict over the idea that voting for Trump is the best strategy for meeting those needs.
At the level of public health, I might not want to have the covid vaccine and you might think that makes me an imbecile, ignorant about science and a threat to public health.
I might think you’re an imbecile for blindly following what big pharma and the government are telling you, and it’s the vaccine that’s a threat to public health.
Both of us have needs for safety, health and trust, but we have different strategies for meeting those needs.
On a personal level, my friend was furious with her housemate for having a shower at midnight in the bathroom next to her room, which woke her up. She had to get up at 6am and had a need for rest.
The housemate was furious when she angrily confronted him about it, because he had a need to feel relaxed, refreshed and clean before bed.
How dare you wake me up? What are you doing having a shower this late?!
How dare you tell me when I can have a shower!
In terms of needs, they are not in conflict. She is pro him feeling refreshed, relaxed and clean. It’s mutually beneficial. He is pro her feeling rested, for the same reason. They are in conflict over how to meet those needs.
We waste so much time and energy clashing at strategy level. If our starting point was to recognise the needs that we are all trying to meet – effectively the end goal – we would make a lot more progress towards everyone getting what they want.
It’s very challenging when you are in a conflict with someone, and you feel angry with them, to remember the truth of this: that you are both compassionate human beings trying to get your needs met. But when you can remember that, it becomes much easier to find a way to reconnect.
10 ways activism makes things worse
8 April | 4 min read | Image by Halfpoint on Shutterstock
When I was at university, being an environmental activist was such a central part of my identity that I was nicknamed Captain Planet.
The belief system I had was that polluters and exploiters cared more about money than the harm they were doing, and the average citizen cared more about an easy life than taking a stand, changing their behaviour, going to a protest or learning about the issue.
Eventually, I gave up being an activist, because it felt as though nothing I was doing was working. Trying to live a low-carbon lifestyle, protesting, encouraging people to save energy, signing petitions — none of it seemed to be making one iota of difference to the unrelenting increase in carbon emissions.
What I wanted was a world in which we cared for each other and the Earth. My unquestioned assumption was that the way to do that was to defeat the bad guys who were doing all the harm.
I was trying to use anger, shame and guilt to make people more caring.
I think this is relevant to write about now, because I see this mentality so much in the way people approach issues such as sexism, racism, xenophobia and homophobia.
Here are 10 ways I think my mentality was making things worse.
I really hated the climate sceptics, the fossil-fuel lobby and anyone who was opposing action, because they were a threat to our future.
I wanted to achieve harmony through hatred.
How was that going to work?
I felt really alone in my activism. We were such a minority. The majority seemed apathetically complicit in the violence of the system.
How was I going to achieve harmony if I felt so separate? Connection was what was needed.
The upside of no one else caring or being interested was that I felt exceedingly morally superior. I knew more about the solutions, had better solutions, and was taking more action than most people. So I felt above them.
Of course, this made me feel even more alone.
4) Creating gridlock
Have you noticed what happens when you have a disagreement with someone and you insist that you are right and they are wrong? It creates an impasse. Both sides dig their heels in. How was I hoping to change things through gridlock?
5) Diverting attention from solutions
Gridlock meant we weren’t actually moving forward with healing the planet. It was continuing to get worse during all the bickering.
6) Increasing the possibility of violence
What do you do when someone digs their heels in? Raise your voice? Attack them verbally? Maybe even physically?
When the struggle has become about one trying to overpower the other, things get nasty quickly. Just look at your Twitter feed.
7) Violence against myself
I was not paying attention to what would make me feel good. What I should do to save the planet was more important.
8) Focusing on what we didn’t want
‘Stop climate chaos’, ‘Carbon zero now’ — I was putting a lot of energy into opposing what was happening, and very little into imagining a compelling alternative.
9) Making environmentalism very unappealing
‘You know how you love going somewhere warm on holiday, you need a car to get about and your favourite food is steak? All those things are wrong, and you shouldn’t do them.
Right, who’d like to sign up to saving the planet?
10) Reinforcing the myth of separation
To believe it’s in your interest to exploit people and planet, you’ve got to believe they’re separate from you. If you judge people for not caring, you’re believing the same thing.
The mindset I try to live from now is one that sees the interconnection between me and the world: that my wellbeing is interdependent with everyone and everything else.
So, instead of needing to change other people, I seek to connect with them and understand them more.
In my work as a coach, if I slip into trying to fix my client, I can sense the disconnection that happens, the disempowerment in them and the lack of potency in the session. It also starts to feel like much harder work!
But I don’t want to fall into the trap of judging myself for being judgmental. By throwing myself headlong into that world, I learned so much, and it’s really made me who I am today. It also makes me feel empathetic when I see other people being angry, judgmental and trying to change people. It just really doesn’t work.
Three steps to letting go of fear
29 March | 3 min read | Image by fran_kie on Shutterstock
Fear is one of the major causes of suffering for we humans. It can keep us awake at night, ruin our relationships, make us addicted to our devices, distract us from pleasurable experiences, stop us making decisions, work too much and just generally feel unhappy – even miserable.
Clearly, being able to deal with fear is a major life skill, and one of the many that ought to be taught in school, but isn’t.
Here are three steps to help you let go of fear:
Step 1: Name it
One very simple way to reduce fear is simply to name it: to write it down and – even better – tell someone about it.
As Yoda said, ‘Named must your fear be before banish it you can.’
I’ve been working with a client who was so fearful that he was having intense nightmares and having to change his clothes twice during the night, because he was sweating so much. He’d wake up feeling exhausted and anxious.
Until we spoke about it in our session, he had never articulated the specific thing that he was afraid of.
I could tell that just putting it into words led to a little bit of a release.
What was immediately apparent was that he was convinced that this fear was something that was definitely going to happen.
It can also be very helpful to name the sensations you are experiencing in your body, such as a tight chest or butterflies in your belly.
Step 2: Is it true?
The next step after you have identified the fear is to ask, ‘Is this definitely true?’ The fact is, the vast majority of the time, we’re safe and our fears are imaginary.
As Mark Twain said, ‘I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most of them never happened.’
One way of playing with this is to keep asking, ‘And then what will happen?’
For example, I was feeling anxious that no one would sign up to my course. My friend asked me:
‘And then what will happen?’
‘I’ll lose confidence.’
‘And then what will happen?’
‘I’ll give up teaching mindfulness.’
‘And then what will happen?’
‘I’ll get a job as an estate agent.’
‘And then what will happen?’
I’ll feel depressed, my fiance will leave me and I’ll die alone under a bridge.
Most fears seem to come down to death and abandonment!
It became ridiculous when I played it out, and the absurdity took the power out of it. But when it was just a vague sense of impending doom in my mind, it was much more difficult to deal with.
That client is now also experiencing much less anxiety and fewer nightmares since we talked through exactly what the fears were.
Step 3: What if the opposite were true?
What if I sold out the workshop? What if you asked her out and she said yes? What if your new business were successful? What if Covid doesn’t cause your holiday to be cancelled?
It can help to imagine what you’ll do, say and feel when the positive outcome happens. My mum has always said that anxiety is praying for what you don’t want to happen, so how about focusing on what you do want?
This is a process you can go through on your own, but it’s much more powerful to do it with a partner. You can bring your issue to them or, if someone tells you they’re anxious, you could ask them if they’re willing to try going through the steps with you.
If you’d like me to support you in dealing with fear, you can book a free consultation here.
The new macho
8 March | 4 min read
Going to an all-boys school, joining the hockey team at uni and watching Hollywood movies gave me a very clear idea of how men are supposed to behave. This included:
- Drinking vast quantities of alcohol, quickly.
- Sleeping with as many women as possible.
- Making as much money as possible.
- Owning a big, fast car.
- Only showing two emotions: anger and lust. Never showing vulnerability or crying.
- Being good at sport.
- Being physically big and strong (with a large penis, of course).
- Never showing any verbal or physical affection towards another man, and telling your friends you like them by mocking them.
Most of these things aren’t intrinsically bad. It’s fine to like cars, money and sex. But being made to feel like this is the only way to be is what’s damaging and limiting. It makes people feel inferior or even ashamed when they’re not like that.
I had an allergic reaction to all of this. I hated it. As I think most men do, if they’re being really honest.
Apart from anything else, it just didn’t make sense to me. It’s not conducive to happiness.
Through my work, I’ve ended up coaching people – both men and women – in corporate, macho cultures, where people are competitive, aggressive and don’t show any vulnerability.
I’ve wondered whether maybe, in these places, it does pay to act like that.
We tested it. Through the coaching, I supported them to be more willing to feel and express their emotions, and be kinder to themselves and their colleagues. Less competitive and more cooperative. Less directive and more supportive and able to listen.
The result – every time – has been that they performed better in their role, got more out of their colleagues and felt happier. Sometimes, quite severe symptoms of stress and anxiety lifted completely.
The old machismo doesn’t work.
It leads to poor mental health, poor relationships and poor performance.
Perhaps the most easily identifiable example of this is Donald Trump. Although I have written about how I understand why people voted for him, to me he’s a caricature of an outdated form of machismo, and it made him a terrible president and a terrible role model.
These experiences and observations have contributed to me suppressing my own masculinity.
What I’m starting to explore now is healthier ways to express it. I’m very much at the beginning of this journey, but I feel excited about how it will help me to be more fully myself, and to understand how we can undo the damage caused by patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
Yesterday, I came across ManKind Project's Vision of Mature Masculinity. I love it, and I know it is going to form part of my redefining of what it means for me to be a man. I want to share it with you:
The New Macho
He cleans up after himself.
He cleans up the planet.
He is a role model for young men.
He is rigorously honest and fiercely optimistic.
He holds himself accountable.
He knows what he feels.
He knows how to cry and he lets it go.
He knows how to rage without hurting others.
He knows how to fear and how to keep moving.
He seeks self-mastery.
He’s let go of childish shame.
He feels guilty when he’s done something wrong.
He is kind to men, kind to women, kind to children.
He teaches others how to be kind.
He says he’s sorry.
He stopped blaming women or his parents or men for his pain years ago.
He stopped letting his defences ruin his relationships.
He stopped letting his penis run his life.
He has enough self-respect to tell the truth.
He creates intimacy and trust with his actions.
He has men that he trusts and that he turns to for support.
He knows how to roll with it.
He knows how to make it happen.
He is disciplined when he needs to be.
He is flexible when he needs to be.
He knows how to listen from the core of his being.
He’s not afraid to get dirty.
He’s ready to confront his own limitations.
He has high expectations for himself and for those he connects with.
He looks for ways to serve others.
He knows he is an individual.
He knows that we are all one.
He knows he is an animal and a part of nature.
He knows his spirit and his connection to something greater.
He knows future generations are watching his actions.
He builds communities where people are respected and valued.
He takes responsibility for himself.
In times of need, he will be his brother’s keeper.
He knows his higher purpose.
He loves with fierceness.
He laughs with abandon, because he gets the joke.
What do you think?