Change Writer

Why it’s good to read people you disagree with

If you want to cultivate and refine your understanding of your own worldview, it’s important to study the worldview of others.

Why you should read people you disagree with
Photo by Tarik Browne

I discovered this when I first began studying political philosophy. Reading the likes of John Locke, Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault I would ask myself: what similarities and what differences do we have in how we see the world?

I was surprised to find out that there was always something I could agree or empathise with in another person’s perspective (a lesson I learned from Atticus Finch, Mr Gove!).

There was usually an aspect of each perspective that troubled me or caused tension, and that tension helped me to develop a sense of what I believe in, who I really am.

For example, when I began looking at conservatism: the idea of the small state and political pragmatism, I could see glimmers of value in that point of view. Though I’m far from conservative, politically, being exposed to this worldview has enhanced and sharpened my thinking.

Today I find this practise invaluable. When I read the perspective of others, however different from my own, they help me to harness my focus, or remind me of blind spots I should pay more attention to.

In Writing and Music

This idea applies to any medium that is used to carry a message.

Another example for me is Douglas Coupland, the novelist and artist. I don’t see the world entirely as he does, but the way he weaves his love for the environment into many of his novels compels me not to forget its importance (see Generation A or Shampoo Planet).

I wouldn’t necessarily choose to back the same causes as Ani Difranco, but her songwriting stirs up inside me anger at the way women are often treated in this world.

Frans Kafka wrote:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to.

(via Brainpickings)

Writing that merely affirms our perspective of the world is meaningless.

If we want to be change makers, we need to hone our thinking and refine our ideas.

Exposure to conflicting and contrasting values helps us in this process.

It also helps us to avoid demonising people just because they have a different outlook on life.

It’s why I sometimes choose to read books I know I will find irritating, like The Fountainhead.

How about you? Are there people you read or listen to who you disagree with, but who help to refine your worldview?

6 Compelling Reasons to Get Yourself a Coach

A coach is someone who can act as a sounding board for your ideas, helping you stick to commitments and championing your progress as you pursue your goals.

6 Compelling Reasons to Get Yourself A Coach
Photo by Ed Uthman

Here are some reasons why you need a coach:

  1. They help you focus

    One of the things I love about meeting my coach is that he helps me refine my ideas and get down to the one or two practical things that I can begin taking action on.

  2. They hold you accountable

    A good coach will ask you how you’re doing with the targets you’ve set yourself. Living in a world full of distractions and voices competing for your attention, it’s so helpful to have someone helping you to stay on track.

  3. They give feedback

    Although the role of a coach isn’t to tell you what to do, they are listening to your process and can mirror back what they see. This can be key in identifying inconsistencies and blind spots.

  4. They help you carry your load

    Going after a dream is hard enough. Why would you choose to do it alone?
    Having one other person checking in with how you’re doing really helps to ease the load and prevent you feeling isolated, or like you’re the only person who cares about what you’re doing.

  5. They share their connections

    Most of the people who have coached me have connected me with resources or people who have helped me get unstuck from problems I’m having.

  6. They can track your long term progress

    Because your relationship has an element of commitment to it, you can be assured that your investment of time and energy explaining what’s going on in your life isn’t wasted. They’re invested in your journey, often more than friends will be.

So how do you go about getting a coach?

Many people out there pay to be coached by Strengths Coaches, or Life Coaches, or even Counsellors. These professionals are helpful, but if you don’t have the budget, don’t worry.

Look for someone who you respect and who you know is a good listener. Consider someone who has expertise in an area you wish to grow (although this isn’t essential).

Then ask them if they’d be willing to coach you, clearly defining your expectations (How often do you want to meet? What will your times together look like? What types of questions would you like them to ask?)

Have you been coached? Did you find the experience helpful?

How I Became More Thankful

Having a positive outlook on life is vital if you’re going to stir up change in the world around you.

I Didn’t Start Out Thankful

When I arrived in South Africa for the first time, I discovered I had some unrealistic expectations of what a change of location could do. I thought that moving would accelerate my growth process and turn me into the kind of person I dreamed of becoming: someone selfless, generous, open hearted and full of peace.

I’m a recovering millennial. It’s well documented that we don’t take naturally to discipline, focus or self-control. We’ve never had to suffer or work hard to shape our society. Our lives have been full of quick fixes to temporary lows as we sedate the inner disquiet.

After years of reading about people like Mother Theresa and Heidi Baker, I was under the impression that a change of location would bring about big change. I’d be overwhelmed with compassion when I walked around the townships, playing with children and showing love to people with AIDS. My heart’s natural tendency to love would come alive and I’d be a living example of Jesus for all to see.

So you’ll understand that I had a wake up call when I arrived and it was difficult. I was homesick, a long way away from my (then) girlfriend (now wife), and surrounded by people I didn’t know.

Instead of feeling the urge to self sacrifice, I was drawn inward, toward self preservation. I spent hours alone, focussed on home, ignoring my heart. I was always thinking about what’s next and how to get there with the least possible effort.

After a lot of wasted time moping and feeling misunderstood, I began to realise that I could do something about my feelings. My mind had been consistently drawn back to something that I envied Paul, from the Bible, for being able to write:

“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”

This guy had been in and out of prison, beaten and almost drowned. How could he be so content when I was so unsettled?

An Experiment

Fast forward a couple of years and my wife is reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, in which the author describes undertaking an experiment in gratitude.

Each day she would make a list of things that she was thankful for. Over time she found that she was more content and appreciative of what she had, rather than being discontent with what she didn’t.

I was so inspired by this simple wisdom that I decided to spend the following year making daily lists of things I was thankful for. Each day I would add 5 things to my list.

As the year went on, I realised that I was feeling more content. My circumstances weren’t more stable, we didn’t have more money or a better quality of life (at least not materially), but my heart was thankful and that made a world of difference.

It had such a positive impact on my thinking that, after the year was over, I decided to continue with my daily list making indefinitely.

Have you tried a similar to experiment to this? How did it go for you?

Books: The Starfish and The Spider

220px-StarfishandthespiderbookThe Starfish and The Spider is a book that questions the way we think about the nature of leadership.

Much of our culture and history has revolved around hierarchical, top-down leadership. You look at the structure and you know who’s boss. You know where the buck stops.

We build careers around climbing the ladder, hoping to one day occupy the CEO position (or to get as close as we can).

This book turns that approach to leadership on its head.

It points out the inherent vulnerability of traditional structures (what happens when the leader is killed?), and offers an alternative.

Why a Starfish?

There’s a new (ancient!) type of organisation emerging that’s much more robust. It’s not sustained by charismatic personalities or limited by cash flow. It’s the Starfish Organisation.

If you cut off the head of a spider, it dies.
If you cut off part of a starfish, that part becomes a whole new starfish.

With Starfish, power is devolved away from the centre, into smaller, autonomous units.

These units are held together by strong values.

These organisations are best explained with real life stories, and The Starfish and The Spider is full of them.

The Recording Industry

Back in the early ’90s, the music industry was all about the big labels.

They controlled the budgets and were the gatekeepers of artist recognition. They could make or break a career. They were (and still are) run for the sake of shareholders, so making money was at the top of the agenda.

But there was a problem: people love to share.

People had always shared music. They would lend cassette tapes and CDs to their neighbours, friends and colleagues. Some people even found ways to copy these resources. But this illegal distribution was always limited by the breadth of people’s personal networks, and the music industry could always out market the individual.

Enter the global community of the internet and the birth of the peer-to-peer file sharing movement.

The internet meant that people could share not just with their neighbours and friends, but with the world at large.

The more that the major labels litigated, the more decentralised the technology became. The more decentralised, the harder it was to track the perpetrators.

There was really no way for the labels to catch up with the evolution of technology.

This is what Starfish Organisations do. You kill a leader, and another one pops up to replace her.

There are many more compelling examples of Starfish structures in The Starfish and The Spider, but now I want to look at what these structures mean for leadership…

Catalysts: The New Leaders

While Spider Organisations are led by CEOs, Starfish are led by Catalysts.

Unlike CEOs, catalysts let go of power. They imbue life, and then quickly give away responsibility. While CEOs maintain systems, catalysts ignite values-driven movements.

These new leaders are not focussed on building personal empires, but rather seeing their visions flourish at the hands of people who share and are equally passionate about them.

Catalysing is about networking and forming relationships, about joining the dots and helping the big picture to develop.

Because they are so openhanded with power, Catalysts have to be comfortable with lack of clear definition:

Being a catalyst requires a high tolerance for ambiguity. That’s because a decentralised organisation is so fluid that someone who needs order and structure will quickly go mad

The Catalyst behind AA

Bill Wilson was the catalyst behind Alcoholics Anonymous.

It all began with a personal need. His doctor told him that if he didn’t stop drinking he would die.

It’s a long story, but his breakthrough came when he realised his need for accountability with others who shared the same struggle. He needed a community of people who had experienced what he was going through, and who would walk with him through the process of recovery.

It’s easy to rebel against a shrink. It’s much harder to dismiss your peers.

So AA was born. From the very start its values allowed for growth: no one’s in charge, but everyone has leadership. Twelve steps that anyone can follow. Leadership by example, not position.

Thanks to Wilson’s openhanded approach, AA has spread all over the world.

Catalysts for Change

The wonderful thing about catalysts is that they come from every walk of life.
Their leadership is about how they influence people, not about a formal position or title.

So they don’t need to know “the right people” to begin instigating change.

Order your copy of The Starfish and The Spider here

It Takes A Community To Spread An Idea

Watching Amazing Grace, you’d be forgiven for thinking that slavery in the UK was abolished singlehandedly by William Wilberforce.

It takes a community to spread an idea

Fortunately, the story isn’t quite so simple. Wilberforce wasn’t alone. He was part of a community that later became known as the ‘Clapham Sect’. They were a group of God-fearing activists who lived close to each other and rallied each other up for causes like abolition.

It’s this community that provided Wilberforce with the support he needed to last through the 18 years it took to get his Private Member’s Bill through parliament.

Had Wilberforce stood alone, he may not have persevered all those years.

The Ongoing Fight Against Slavery: Fairtrade

When I was a kid, back in the ’80s, the Fairtrade label hadn’t yet been invented. But the movement had already begun.

Depending on the congregation, after church on Sundays you’d find several old ladies peddling goods at the back. These goods were usually labeled ‘Tradecraft’, and had been produced somewhere in Africa or South America.

The items were often expensive and lower quality than you’d find in a supermarket, but the message was compelling: these goods are not produced by slaves.

Soon students got behind this movement, and injected it with extra energy. The message spread quickly from student union to student union, as this other group with time on their hands and energy to focus got behind it.

In time, the ethically produced chocolate started tasting better than the mass-market chocolate.

It turns out that if you pay a farmer a fair price, they are inclined to give you higher quality beans.

Today in the UK thinking as an ethical consumer is becoming normal. That doesn’t mean that the work is finished – there’s still a lot of unethical aspects to the consumer market. In some areas, like electronics and the car industry, we’ve barely scratched the surface. But the foundational idea that we consumers have power and can ‘vote’ with our money is firmly established.

The importance of community

If it wasn’t for communities like the Clapham Sect, Anglican grannies, or activist students, these important messages would never have spread. Their message wouldn’t be any less important, but they would never have made a difference in the world.

Some call these communities Tribes, others Hives. Whatever you call them, we need them to spread ideas effectively and to catalyse the kind of change that we want to see in the world.