Vision and Meaning

Meaning of life

Keeping our vision clearly in mind and heart, we move toward our goals. Overcoming setbacks and disappointment, we maintain a positive, flexible and pragmatic attitude that enables us to learn, grow and succeed while remaining true to our values and vision.

We can’t get there by taking action out of restlessness, anxiety, or fear. There is something deeper. It’s difficult to get to it when distracted by the crises of everyday life. Perhaps some broken things in us can’t be completely fixed, but we can reach a peaceful accommodation with them.

Truth requires the courage to see ourselves and our world as they are, overcoming the fear, hostility and other negative emotions stimulated by challenging circumstances. This courage opens up previously hidden sources of creative thought and action.

With resourcefulness, we find creative solutions to problems when we feel like there is no way forward. It comes from a combination of courage and humility. Humility leads to resourcefulness by enabling us to acknowledge the limits of what we know; to get past the false conviction that there is no solution. We also need courage to deliberately turn away from negativity and hopelessness when they invade our thoughts.

Perhaps our greatest struggle is not for survival but for meaning. To be truthful, we fear suffering and physical death, but even these we can face if we have meaning and purpose. Many have demonstrated the willingness, ability and courage to sacrifice themselves for a higher purpose, whether that is love of family and friends or a principle like freedom and justice.

To believe that life is nothing more than the meaningless thoughts, feelings and actions of the deluded in an empty universe is to abandon all hope and to enter the personal hell of cynicism and hopelessness. Consciousness is itself proof of our existence in some form, even if the information from our senses and memory are distorted or inaccurate. But what is our proof of meaning or meaninglessness? Perhaps there is none, and instead of a proof it is a decision, choice and deeply felt conviction, either way.

Meaning is life and hope while meaninglessness is despair and death; a life and death even more profound than the life and death of our bodies. So let’s choose meaning rather than meaninglessness, and hold onto the vision we each have for our lives despite the setbacks and doubts that block our path.

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Dr. Bernard Brookes is author of the book Meaning and Mastery in Life and Work. You can get the audio book narrated in his own voice or the eBook or paperback here:  Sample Audiobook

He is also author of the forthcoming book The Seven Dimensions of Mastery.

Visualize Truth

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Visualize a shared human reality, of which we each experience a particular unique part, which nevertheless contains the genetic code that is representative of the whole. To the extent that any one of us can grasp and communicate the truth of our own reality, we can be shed light on the universal shared truth.

The challenge of seeing the truth in ourselves is like that of seeing what we look like physically without the aid of a mirror. The only mirror we have in this case is a fragmented one consisting of the pieces of ourselves that we see in others, and in our memories. The light from these fragments can be so glaringly bright that it hurts to look at them.

This phenomenon might explain in part why we seem to make more progress in science and technology than in human affairs. We can more readily and objectively pursue and observe truth in the physical world outside ourselves than within and among us.

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Dr. Bernard Brookes is author of the book Meaning and Mastery in Life and Work. You can get the audio book narrated in his own voice or the eBook or paperback here:  Sample Audiobook

He is also author of the forthcoming book The Seven Dimensions of Mastery.

Machiavellian Leaders and Authoritarian Followers: Two Recipes for Disaster

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To know the truth about how some among us can be possessed by the spirit of domination, exploitation or violence, we only have to remember some moment in the past when we too have tasted at least a small amount of that poison and have shown those characteristics. We have all been there, whether as children or adults, either in thought, word or deed; even if it only involved a mild case of road rage.

Perhaps a better question is how is it that some of us come to live in that place rather than just visiting it occasionally in our worst moments. Certainly human beings vary in underlying temperaments, which are then shaped by life experience. Ultimately we develop personalities, a mixture of attitudes and beliefs and emotional and behavioral tendencies or habits. Some of these attitudes and habits make us more or less comfortable with domination, violence and exploitation of others.

There are at least two main patterns that can be commonly observed, and have even been studied experimentally. One is called Machiavellian, named after Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, the 16th Century author of The Prince. Machiavelli described immoral behavior, such as dishonesty and the killing of innocent people as being normal and effective in politics. In the 1960’s social psychologists Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis created a personality test based on the extent to which a person agrees with statements from Machiavelli’s writings.

The essence of a Machiavellian attitude is a cynical belief that people in general are basically immoral, and that you are justified in doing anything you feel necessary to them to achieve your own goals. In other words, get them before they get you. It is a belief in domination without any regard for genuine mutuality. Any of us can get angry and lose control and do or say things that we later regret. But we can see how a Machiavellian attitude would make it easy to justify violence and exploitation of others, and to bury the guilt that usually results from that behavior.

The other well-known pattern associated with domination is authoritarianism. Social psychologist Stanley Milgram showed in experiments in the 1960’s how ordinary people are willing to commit violence against others (through administering electric shock) when urged to do so by someone in authority. You may have seen a recent movie based on this.

If we put these two patterns together, Machiavellian leaders with authoritarian followers, we can readily understand the root of some of the large scale atrocities and genocides have occurred in the past hundred years, and that continue up to the present. Bad economic conditions, and hatred based on race, religion, nationality, gender and any other form of xenophobia can become the gasoline that sets these attitudes ablaze into violent action.

We have also seen this attitude of domination in business, where Machiavellian leaders and authoritarian followers destroy the assets, lives and livelihoods of millions of people, and bring the world to the brink of financial collapse. Ten years later, we have mostly forgotten those desperate times and are back to business as usual; but the saying about those who don’t learn from history being doomed to repeat it applies.

There is no magic pill that can cure these fundamental human vulnerabilities. Scientists recently moved the Doomsday clock to two minutes before midnight; with the two main threats of human extinction being nuclear war and destruction of the environment. Both of these threats come from attitudes of domination; domination of other people, and domination of the earth without regard for mutuality.

The choice does not have to be either domination or subordination. Domination and subordination form a primitive type of social interaction that we often see in animal behavior. It has probably had survival value in our evolutionary development as a simple structure for managing competition and cooperation within a group and among groups. But ultimately we have discovered that justice, freedom and human rights have more survival value as foundational principles for a global society; especially on that has the technology to destroy humanity and decimate the earth.

We can replace the paradigm of domination as the mode of survival and development, with one based on mastery. Domination is based on power without mutuality and compassion. Mastery is first and foremost Self-Mastery, and recognizes that when power is not harnessed for mutual development it can become destructive on a massive scale. That mutual development will of course involve competition as well as cooperation, but constructive competition does not include degradation of the humanity of any of us.

For most of us who are just trying to live our lives with family and friends and working to the best of our ability, these threats can seem so huge that they are beyond our individual abilities to change. But we can each help to change this at the level of our own relationships and communities. We can begin by recognizing when we are behaving in ways that make us part of the problem. We can also learn to resist leaders who use the tools of domination and exploitation.

Change begins with awareness of a dissonance between the current state and the envisioned state that we are striving toward. This can be self-awareness, seeing the difference between our current actions and our own principles. And it can involve growing awareness of the state of our community or world and what we think it should be. That awareness creates a tension that we can resolve by taking steps to change the current situation, rather than escaping from the awareness.

Some of us have a large sphere of influence and others of us have a very small circle of people who care what we say. We can work on our own self-awareness and self-development and we can share what we learn within our circle, large or small. Possibly the most difficult challenge is changing ourselves. As awareness goes, it is still easier to see the speck in someone else’s eye than the piece of lumber in our own.

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Dr. Bernard Brookes is author of the book Meaning and Mastery in Life and Work. You can get the audio book narrated in his own voice or the eBook or paperback here:  Sample Audiobook

He is also author of the forthcoming book The Seven Dimensions of Mastery.

The Seven Dimensions of Mastery

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Mastery is based on understanding the true nature of ourselves and everything that is not ourselves, and being guided by a vision rooted in compassion and mutuality rather than domination. We can create a simple yet truthful model for human understanding and development based on Seven Dimensions of Mastery. As an aid to memory and organization, we use each letter of the word mastery to make a word that represents each of these seven core categories that underlie mastery. The Seven Dimensions of Mastery are Meaning, Assurance, Self, Truth, Energy, Resourcefulness, and You.

Mastery is first and foremost self-mastery, understanding our true nature and developing ourselves emotionally, mentally and physically. This is the opposite of domination. Domination of other people and our environment leads to destruction, the wasting away of our energies and resources in perpetual warfare of various kinds.  War is at times necessary for defense, but is in truth ultimately a lose-lose situation, not a long term solution. Understanding comes from our willingness and ability to grow by seeking truth, which is forever unfolding and never complete. This includes all areas of our interest and concern, including relationships and community, science and technology, art and sports, religion and spirituality etc.

The first letter in Mastery is M, which stands for Meaning. Meaning in life comes through pursuing purpose based in a vision that has both power and compassion. A vision based on power without compassion and mutuality is destructive. A vision with power and compassion leads to positive growth and development of self and community. The vision that gives purpose and meaning to a particular person is uniquely fitted to the personality and interests of that individual, and develops in the context of their community, however they define it.

The A in Mastery stands for Assurance. Assurance is a synonym for faith. We continually seek understanding and knowledge, but these are never complete and therefore we often have to live and take action without them. In our most difficult and desperate circumstances in life such as when facing suffering and death,  understanding and knowledge often fail to help us fully grasp and cope with our situation. That’s when we need to call on some source of extraordinary strength and resilience. That is Assurance or faith, however we define it based on our particular culture and personality. It may or may not involve established religion.

The S in Mastery is for Self. That includes the totality of what each of us is: mind, emotions, body, spirit and any other pattern or aspect that defines us. The core of Mastery is self-Mastery. Without a coherent sense of identity, self-awareness, and self-discipline, we are unlikely to master anything else. Mastery doesn’t imply perfection and even development across all areas, but may be quite the opposite. Sometimes it seems that it’s the little bumps and quirks that identify us as unique individuals. We can be highly disciplined, self-aware and skilled in one area, such as a career or hobby and be very naive and limited in another. While we are more likely to be happy if we are well rounded enough to fit easily into society, achieving our full potential can also require allowing ourselves to risk being as we are, warts and all. That means being able to unleash the full power of our mind, body and spirit and not being inhibited. That is a balance that we must each find between self-discipline and inhibition.

The T in Mastery is for truth.  Truth seeking is the motivation to know ourselves and the world/universe as they are, not just as seen through the distorted lenses of our own fears, desires and assumptions. If we pursue truth in the knowledge of physical, social, psychological, spiritual or any other aspect of reality, we find that it continually unfolds and expands but is never complete. To know truth means being willing to accept that what we don’t know is infinite. It requires a combination of the bold adventurousness of the explorer and the humility of the monk.

E is for Energy, the source of vitality, health and life itself. We can nurture this energy by listening to and caring for our bodies and the earth with which we are interconnected. Through our bodies we interact in the most intimate way with the physical world; ingesting air, water, plants and animals in order to generate energy that keeps us alive. Since we can’t turn the energy of the sun into food directly, we need plants to do that for us. We are also bound to them in the reciprocal production of oxygen and carbon dioxide. These processes are so commonplace that we tend to overlook this intimacy of the bond that we have with nature. We tend to believe that we can dominate the physical world through science and technology; but that attitude of domination rather than mutuality is as much a problem there as is domination as the basis of relationships among human beings.  These are the two most likely threats of extinction of human and other life on earth.

The R in Mastery is for resourcefulness. Creativity is a renewable and seemingly inexhaustible resource. Where do ideas come from? We can nurture creativity and resourcefulness as individuals and as members of organizations and communities.  We can’t force creativity, but we can create practices, structures and processes that encourage and support it.

The Y in Mastery stands for You, the one who is not me but is in relation to me. It’s through relationship with the you’s in each of our lives that we come closer to understanding and experiencing our own humanity. The most important you’s in our lives are the people with whom we interact in the flesh and who also become the ones inside our heads and hearts; who are always with us, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions. Whether they are parents, siblings, children, friends, mentors, team mates or partners, they become our internal symbols of both the positive and negative in ourselves and in human beings in general. As we come to terms with them, we have the ability to be reconciled with ourselves and with the rest of humanity. There is no self without others, without community. Even if a person is physically isolated, she/he relates to others in memory or in written or electronic media. It’s difficult to imagine that we can remain human without at least internally perceived relationships with others.

These are the Seven Dimensions of Mastery. They provide a framework for discussing and taking action on some of the areas that most impact our development as individuals, as communities, and as a global society. In a global society with an overwhelming amount of information at our fingertips, we hunger for ways to organize and make sense of our experience. Anything that adds even a small amount of coherence to our existence can be of value.

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Dr. Bernard Brookes is author of the book Meaning and Mastery in Life and Work. You can get the audio book narrated in his own voice or the eBook or paperback here:  Sample Audiobook

He is also author of the forthcoming book The Seven Dimensions of Mastery.

Hope and Courage

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Our fingers become cramped and scarred holding onto things that cannot be held; times and events fixed in the past that can no longer be molded. Still we grasp at memories, like a driver whose steering wheel has suddenly vanished into thin air.

Don’t sing us songs of despair and desolation. Yes, give us warning of impending danger; but must we wallow in doomed tales of zombie apocalypse, however epically told? No, we need encouragement; not saccharin, but the hope of overcoming challenges however overwhelming; knowing that in truth we will bear the cost.

Rage feels more tolerable than fear, but neither provides a solution. When we find the courage to walk past both, we open the door to possibilities previously unseen. We let go of grasping what is already gone. We pay the price of truth, and move forward with hands open to receive the future.

Consumer versus Worker: Us vs. Us

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A consistent finding by Gallup and others is that the overwhelming majority of people are not engaged in their work. Lack of engagement and motivation can be a serious problem in work and in other aspects of our lives. This likely happens because the activities we are performing are not closely enough connected to our heartfelt concerns and interests, or else we just don’t see the connection. What is it that motivates and engages us? Stimulating curiosity and building and controlling anticipation can create a lot engagement and excitement in us as we watch a movie or read a book. But how do we find and sustain that spark of curiosity within ourselves in our real lives?

We can begin by examining the things that move us to action and how we spend our time. Some of these will be the basic requirements for survival, including food and shelter. Other activities will be more individual choices. It’s these choice activities that show our real interests and passions. For some it’s social gatherings or physical activity/ sports. Others are unusually attracted to written words, to sounds, to understanding the physical, biological or spiritual world etc. These deeply rooted interests and curiosities may or may not be directly related to our work and careers.

Our challenge is to bring these two elements together as much as possible; our true motivations and the necessity to meet our basic needs. The economy is not organized around the motivation and interests of workers, but more so around those of consumers. We are also all consumers and when in that mindset, we are more interested in what we want and need than in the people who supply them. We don’t usually connect our consumer behavior with the general disengagement we experience in our role as workers. We are likely to react emotionally when extreme situations such as child labor abuse and modern day slavery are brought to our attention. But our overall disengagement from work is treated as something inevitable or unimportant, to be neglected or tolerated.

We can connect the dots between what is touching and engrossing us with that life vision that may now seem hazy. If we look beneath the surface we will find the same motivating passion and energy. We must constantly allow ourselves to rediscover what we have lost and be surprised at greeting it like an old friend. Our thirst for knowledge or experience can at times seem estranged from our life vision and goals as we understand them. But we can find the connection if we look for it. We don’t want to discount or lose that spark and passion, even if we have questions about it. Working with it is better than either disrupting it or becoming absorbed in it without reflection or self-awareness.

Leadership as a Story

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One of the essential ways that we understand ourselves, others and our world, and communicate that understanding is as a story or narrative. From prehistoric cave paintings, through the two thousand plus years-old manuscripts and oral traditions from our various cultures, to today’s movies, videos and books, the story continues to occupy a special place in minds, hearts  and imaginations. For this reason, examining leadership in terms of a story provides some useful insights.

One of the first things that gets our attention in a story is character; usually some kind of heroic or anti-heroic figure we become attached to as the story proceeds. If we can’t identify in some way with the main characters, as models of either what we admire or dislike, then it’s difficult to become emotionally attached and engaged. Even strong negative feelings can keep us involved more readily than blandness. This might explain why some despotic and truly terrible human beings have been able to amass multitudes of followers throughout history, and even today. They are able to tap into our most primitive emotions such as rage, fear, greed and xenophobia; and entrance some of us with flawed visions of a paradise built on the blood and bones of others. These leaders can be very effective in terms of accumulating power and wealth, but the societies or organizations they create are ultimately self-destructive as well as deadly to others.

Constructive leaders have more complex characters that involve a process of self=development. Instead of externalizing primitive emotions onto others, they struggle with them and through reflection and action, they transform them from raw power into a more humane and empathetic energy. They experience their followers not just as building blocks for their own power, but as people for whom they have a genuine sense of caring and responsibility. These leaders are not perfect. They at times make mistakes in judgment or lose control of their emotions. But the difference is they can recognize when they are wrong, accept responsibility and change. They are open to growth and development and their identities are strong and flexible enough to evolve.

One way that we recognize this difference in type of leadership today is with the concept of emotional intelligence. This includes both managing of one’s own emotional as well as successfully managing the relationships and interactions with others. Mastery is another concept that is useful because it can integrate the skills of emotional intelligence with other mental and physical skills that enable us to mold our environment to meet our goals and vision. This is easy to see in music and sports, where a blend of physical, mental and emotional dexterity is essential to achieving excellence. In leading organizations, a primary additional required skill is the ability to transform a vast amount of information into wisdom and to do so in a timely manner. Wisdom simplifies information into its most useful elements. It supports the creation and implementation of innovative concepts, strategies and action plans, which transform a vision into real world success and sustainable achievement.

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Dr. Bernard Brookes is author of the book Meaning and Mastery in Life and Work. You can get the audio book narrated in his own voice here:  Sample Audiobook

The eBook and paperback are also available here:  Go To Amazon

Power, Powerlessness and Mastery

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We need power to achieve mastery. Mastery is first and foremost self-mastery, which requires commitment to a practice that results in enhanced ability to produce results, as well as self-discipline and self-awareness. Mastery requires binding power to vision, compassion and self-discipline. The corrupting effects of power come from pursuing it unleashed from vision, compassion and self-discipline. Conversely, the experience of powerlessness in the external social and physical world can erode our internal sense of being capable, and this effect can continue even after the external barriers are removed. This was first clearly demonstrated in experiments with dogs by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier.

Challenges can be painful, but without them, we would not grow as rapidly and to the same extent. We can learn to grieve our losses and continue because we have a vision and purpose that is larger than ourselves. We get tired but we can find within and among ourselves the passion to rouse ourselves to higher levels of performance than we had previously thought possible. However, challenges can at times be so great that they overwhelm our ability to cope. That’s when we can lose hope and fall into despair and hopelessness.

There are probably situations in which just about any of us would lose hope. The extreme is probably a situation like that of prisoners of war or severely abused individuals where one is physically restrained and tortured. What most of us deal with in ordinary life is not this extreme and when we look at what others have suffered and overcome, we understand that our burdens are comparatively light. Perhaps it’s the nature of being human that we experience even our own relatively smaller challenges as being so momentous that we sometimes find it hard to bounce back from setbacks.

On the other hand addiction to power can be just as destructive as powerlessness. It’s a hunger that chews up other people around us as well as ourselves. And it’s a hunger that can never be satisfied. Its killing effects can be seen at the level of the family, work organization, as well as nationally and globally. It often uses the disguise of a cause, whether secular or religious, but its trademark is the deficit of compassion.

A deep connection to a compassionate source of meaning and purpose in our lives can be the difference between on one hand falling prey to either power addiction or powerlessness; or on the other pursuing mastery by binding power to vision, compassion and self-discipline. Through the fog of self-absorption, we can hear a faint melody or catch a glimpse of truth and beauty that seems heavenly.  But it’s actually very much of this earth. It’s a source of energy and power that is not corrupt or corruptible, because it is grounded in vision, compassion and self-discipline.

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Dr. Bernard Brookes is author of the book Meaning and Mastery in Life and Work. You can get the audio book narrated in his own voice here:  Sample Audiobook

The eBook and paperback are also available here:  Go To Amazon

The Allure of Opportunity

Choice_Opportunity_BookWhen we are centered in our internal quiet place, our ability to accurately assess the choices before us comes more readily.  Opportunities can sometimes appeal to us based on other people’s flattering but false perception of us; and lead us away from our true path. Clarity of vision requires recognizing the importance of saying no to things that we can do, but that are not consistent with our character, passion and direction.

It takes courage to let go of some apparent opportunities and to face the fear that we may sometimes be left without alternatives. But taking those opportunities that we know in our hearts don’t really fit may make us miss the road that leads to where we really want to go. Sometimes we are forced by circumstances to take these detours, but it’s important to know that they are in fact detours, and not lose focus on our long term goals. These are difficult decisions.

In our internal quiet place, we can sit by a tranquil stream and let time slow down, enough to breathe and let go of the fear. There we find peace and the courage to live and take action in the middle of turbulence and uncertainty.

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Dr. Bernard Brookes is author of the book Meaning and Mastery in Life and Work. You can get the audio book narrated in his own voice here:  Sample Audiobook

The eBook and paperback are also available here:  Go To Amazon

New Year Promises and Resolutions

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Sunlight seems especially precious between Christmas and New Year. Despite the cold, it quietly suggests that the coming year will be promising. The end of one year and beginning of another is a customary time to reflect on the past and consider changes that align our future actions more closely with our own goals and vision. It’s also commonly acknowledged that New Year resolutions often fade away as we revert to our familiar habits of thought and action. One way to increase the likelihood of sticking with the change is to begin with a critical step that involves people close to us.

This means taking an action that breaks with the past in a way that can’t easily be reversed.  It’s more difficult to involve others in making this kind of change, but once we take such a step, it is also more difficult to reverse it. If we see the change as impacting only ourselves, it is much easier to reverse it as the discomfort of giving up habits recurs, especially during periods of stress.

Our decisions and habitual actions usually impact the people connected to us. This impact can be on emotions, time, health, finances, and other important factors. We tend to justify our habits by downplaying the effects on others, making it our choice, our personal business and no one else’s. This reduces our guilt and smooths the way to continue following our inclinations.

If we really want to change, a good place to start is with acknowledging to ourselves the impact of our actions on the people close to us. Then we can bring them into our decision to change by discussing these impacts with them and making a commitment to act on specific changes in a specific time frame.

These discussions are likely to stir up difficult feelings in our people as well as ourselves. That’s why we tend to avoid these topics. But once the barrier is broken, it’s also more difficult to go back to the status quo than if we don’t involve others, and just make promises and resolutions to ourselves.

The shortened days and the cold may feel ominous, but the sunlight is promising and precious. Perhaps it touches something inside us that still believes in our ability to overcome inertia, to learn from our past and to take creative action with a sense of hope and renewal.

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Dr. Bernard Brookes is author of the book Meaning and Mastery in Life and Work. You can get the audio book narrated in his own voice here:  Sample Audiobook

The eBook and paperback are also available here:  Go To Amazon