This is taking us a bit far afield of the Chutzpah theme, but I’ve been reading a bunch about mindfulness as background to using it as a general tool for enhancing my chutzpah and other good traits (as well as diminishing some less-desirable traits, but that’s another story).
Mindfulness is not some gushy New Age concept. It’s a pretty understandable state of mind where you are neutral-to-friendly about what’s going on in your mind while not getting sucked into it. Yes, you are “not attached”, but in a rather rarefied sense: you’re not exactly remaining indifferent while lovely foodstuffs or gorgeous sex partners are presented to distract you from your detachment. You feel your hungers and you feel your lusts but you’re not drawn into them to the point that you lose your awareness of yourself.
In any case, one area where mindfulness is familiar and key to success is debugging. I’m most familiar over the years with debugging software, since that what I did for a living for twenty-odd years and may do again someday, but if you read something like “Shop Class as Soulcraft” or “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” other Maker-ish stuff, you can see the same use of mindfulness and debugging, only in this case debugging shop tactics or repair.
The idea is that you can’t see the problem if your mind is clouded by attachment. You get attached to the last thing you fixed, so you (wrongly) conclude that the problem you’re looking at now has the same cause. You get attached to some of your presuppositions (“the problem must be in the allocation module”) and close your attention off to data that lead you away from that to the correct root cause.
Most makers of one sort or another have encountered mindfulness in this disguise. It’s part of what I love about debugging: you’re rewarded for the rectitude of your mindfulness.
Of all the Interventions I’ve tried so far this year, Be Interesting When You Get On Stage is the easiest for me. I’ve been in the habit of being interesting for decades, and although there are venues where that’s more challenging for me – small crowd of powerful people I want to impress – I generally leave my mark.
But it ain’t as easy as it might look. For whatever reason, each interesting remark costs me something. If I try to pay mindful attention to it, there’s a very brief flash of longing, longing that these people will like me, like what I’m saying, reward me, praise me, then a flash of fear that I won’t be able to be heard, that they’ll ignore me, then finally a flash of angry contempt, for them for scorning me (in advance, so to speak), but also contempt for me for wanting their good opinion. The anger stays with me, largely as anger at myself, and it’s not uncommon for me to recall with self-contempt charming things I’ve said at a dinner party on the way home: my wife and I call them Bad Thoughts. The Bad Thoughts crystallize all the contempt for myself without the intervening longing and anger at the others that make the contempt more comprehensible.
Easy to see why the roomful of powerful others is so challenging, given this internal play. But it took years to decode it and I’m still not seeing it all in the moment, which is probably the key for harnessing these charming interventions in the service of Greater Chutzpah.
As I thought about throwing away an old gas grill, I thought again, and repurposed it as an herb garden. Original plan was to put the soil right in the firebox, but it was too rusted away on the bottom.
Mara took this picture
So, yesterday, I had a big meeting to attend, one where I’m supposed to do great things but in fact have been pretty much unnoticed in the hustle and bustle (somehow, despite my charm and good looks…).
In the past, I’ve longed to get out of going, and have used some excuses to do so.
And yesterday morning I was full of them: I had gotten in late the night before, there had been a chance I’d be out of town that day anyhow (which meant, I thought, that I wouldn’t be missed).
But because of mindfulness, I had an inkling that these were excuses, and what was lurking beneath was The Fear: they will ignore me (which, as I have said, is a big one for me).
I didn’t have enough direct chutzpah to get myself to go to the meeting anyhow, but I had enough to ask for help: I asked my wife what she would do.
She said, “You might as well go; something good may happen.”
And that was enough to tip me. I went, and it was in fact quite good. I spoke up, I got noticed (by some for the first time). I made a splash: a very mild one, but a splash, instead of a no-show.
Mindfulness + asking for help = different outcome.
As I start tooling up to speak up more, it occurs to me that you can be a jerk about speaking truth to power.
There’s a way of doing it that makes you lose credibility instead of gaining it. If you wade in with a “take-no-prisoners” attitude and blurt out your truth, it’s as if you hadn’t said anything.
In “48 Laws of Power”, one of the laws has to do with this. It’s “Don’t argue with your superiors, but demonstrate the truth of what you say indirectly.” That’s part of it. A standoff – opinion against opinion – with a powerful superior just ends up with all your supporters and all your support evaporating and a conclusion that, even if you’re on to something, it couldn’t amount to much.
Demonstrating, to the contrary, invites others, including your powerful superior, to draw their own conclusions about the “facts” (although, of course, the conclusions are yours all along).
I’d love to get better at demonstrating as part of speaking truth to power.
Since I started the “Learn to Love the Phone” intervention in April, I’ve noticed a big down-tick in my habit of running away from phone calls with emails.
It goes like this: the right thing to do is to call X, but instead of calling her, I talk myself into sending her an email “first”. “Rude to interrupt someone without teeing it up first.” That kind of thing.
What inevitably happens is that X doesn’t respond to the email. May not even notice it. And that gives me an excuse to defer the phone call: “haven’t heard back from X”.
Chutzpah giants around me don’t waste any time worrying about being rude interrupters. They want to reach out, they reach out. Phone first.
That’s my next step.