Asking “What?” Instead of “Why?”

“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” ― John Kenneth Galbraith

Sometimes we can get stuck in a very frustrating loop, trying to understand our situation. Usually because our life isn’t going the way we had hoped. What can make these experiences so much more frustrating is not knowing WHY everything has gone wrong. Our search for the answers to these kinds of questions can’t be found and in our frustration, anger and sorrow, we just keeping asking – like a broken record.

I’ve been asking a lot of why questions over the past five years…I sound like a broken record

I assigned one of my classes a TED Talk to watch this week. I wanted students to learn about their level of self-awareness. The psychologist giving the talk has done research on self-awareness and published a best selling book on the subject. She offered a remarkable strategy to raise self-awareness and success at solving many of own difficulties.

Her advice, based on careful research, is to stop asking WHY when we are faced with obstacles and set-backs. Instead, rephrase our frustrations and ask instead, WHAT questions.

  • Why did my career end like this…becomes
    What are the next steps I need to take to start over?
  • Why was my spouse unfaithful to me…becomes
    What can I do to rebuild my marriage, step by step?
  • Why do I feel so alone in the world…becomes
    What should I do each day to be a better friend to others?

Asking these kinds of WHAT questions starts us on a more constructive path. We stop blaming everyone and everything else for our particular situations and instead find ways to take responsibility (when we can) for our own life. I think it’s a very healthy strategy for changing direction and getting out of the rut that we sometimes get stuck in. I’m going to try it. In so doing, I stand a better chance of expanding my own self-awareness.

“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.”  ― Meister Eckhart

The reason I have my class working on this assignment is because I want them to think about their own spiritual selves. This can be tough for young people who are just now starting to try their wings as adults. Many are not very self-aware, yet. I think that’s a crucial first step to spiritual awakening.

As seasoned adults, we may not be that different from first year college students when it comes to being self-aware and ready to be spiritually awake. I make many of the same kinds of mistakes. I’m not always as wise and mature as I thought I’d be at this point in my journey.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  – James 3:17

When I spend more time and effort reflecting, I’m certain that this is NOT the consistent kind of wisdom that rules my life.  The first step to making a change is to start thinking about the way I’m thinking.

What sets us apart (older adults) is our experience – trips around the block. Once we learn our lesson, it’s typically easier to figure our way out because we have more resources (both people and wisdom) to work with. Despite these resources, even older adults (like me) need some prodding when it comes to self-awareness.

That’s why I offer this bit of wisdom to you today – something I’m trying to learn myself. Start thinking more clearly about the kinds of questions you are asking yourself when you find yourself stuck in a bad situation. It really is possible to ask your way out of misery.

“Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily. It is a journey of the spirit through the material world and, since it is the spirit that travels, it is the spirit that is experienced. That is why there exist contemplative souls who have lived more intensely, more widely, more tumultuously than others who have lived their lives purely externally.” ― Fernando Pessoa

 

 

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How Could I Have Gotten it So Wrong?

553db62f-d3ff-45ba-9eda-0770aa6751e6When was the last time you came to the realization that you had been wrong the whole time? Was it a misunderstanding with your spouse or a friend? A decision at work or about your personal finances?

I don’t do it enough…think about the way I’m thinking…the way I’m believing…

Have you got God all figured out yet?

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – I Corinthians 13: 12

Mirrors back then were not like the one you have today or the ones we use to see distant galaxies. They were like looking at shimmering puddle of water.

We all carry around so many biases in our thinking.

  • Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
  • Self-serving bias perceiving oneself responsible for desirable outcomes but not responsible for undesirable ones.
  • Just-world phenomenon – the tendency for people to believe that the world is just and therefore people “get what they deserve.”

We end up believing that we know much more than we really do. Sometimes we run the risk of making big assumptions about how God thinks and will act. We interpret our circumstances with a biased thinking that clouds our faith.

Do you imagine that Jonah (the rebel) believed he was being delivered when he found himself inside that big fish? Did Zacchaeus (the spectator) really think Jesus would find him up in that tree and they would actually sit down to dinner? What about that woman (the outsider) who went to draw her water at the well and had a conversation with a stranger who challenged all of her assumptions about life?

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine…”  – Isaiah 55:8

  • I thought all the big plans for the future were null and void and then, over time, began to just want today.
  • I thought I was in exile, but then came to see that I was kept safely away from the devastating storm.
  • I thought I was all alone but then one day awakened to the realization that I had been in conversation with someone deep in my heart every single moment.

While I’m not a Christian fatalist, I don’t believe everything happens for a reason…Nor am I one who holds God responsible for all that occurs in this world. I’ve made too many messes to ever think I could get away with blaming Him. I do think God loves me. I know that he will guide my steps. I believe that he will take care of me – keep me from drowning, even when I’m too afraid to walk on the water.

My experiences here in this world can never become absolute reality. This mirror is too dim. I make so many mistakes. But I really can take hold of the promises that God has made and then make it day by day. In so doing (it’s a practice) this will transform the way I think about myself, my circumstances, and all the people I meet along the way.

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.  In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises.  – I Peter 1:4-5

What kind of response does God deserve today?

Believing is Seeing

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Pity me that the heart
is slow to learn
what the swift mind
beholds at every turn

– Edna St. Vincent Milay

When you’re looking at the world and all its traffic racing past you every day, how do you tend to see things? What shapes your “definition of the situation” as you navigate through all of those opportunities and obstacles? What do you see when you get a glance of that mirror deep in your own heart? Is this who you thought you were going to be at this point in your life?

At the end of the day, are you being transformed – even your perceptions and all that excess baggage buried deep in the basement?

Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!  – Matthew 6:22-23

One clue to the state of your transformation is your eyesight. Our perception of reality is connected to how we think and feel. Attitudes shape perceptions. Perceptions shape attitudes. It’s usually easy to figure out how someone sees and thinks by listening to what comes out of their mouth. Have you spent much time listening to yourself lately? Real transformation effects the whole you.

…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  – Romans 12:2

I thought I would get there one day. That I’d finally cross all the bridges and arrive in that vast field of dreams.  I’d be there having learned the hard lessons and would be wise. What a bitter revelation now, to see that field so very far away, almost beyond reach. Transformation never stops, it keeps on working, rooting out all the stubborn holdouts that cling to this life. I guess it’s a good sign, that this essential work is still happening in my hardheaded soul. But of course, my pride is bruised and my ego is not a happy camper.  I still need to be saved, just about every single day, usually from myself.

“Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and the heart has turned to stone.”   ― Thomas Merton

Empirical Living

I don’t know where I came across this quote…(I think it’s someone’s wisdom that just floats around the internet)

“Don’t let your ears hear what your eyes don’t see, and don’t let your mouth say what your heart doesn’t feel.”

I’m frequently encouraging my social science students to think and speak more empirically. I want them to be more specific and think about what they can feel, hear, see, taste or touch. To take their ideas (or those of others) and try them out, to see if any will hold any water. It’s another avenue to finding the truth.

Each one of us needs to live a life that’s always in search of the truth.

I don’t know about you, but it’s usually easy for me to get fuzzy in my thinking. In fact, it’s a rather common phenomenon among human beings.  Our minds are filled with all sorts of biased thinking.

  • Have you ever heard of the Planning Fallacy? That means that most of us underestimate the time it will take to complete a task.
  • What about the Social Comparison Bias? We don’t like to hire people who we believe will compete with our own particular strengths.
  • Then there is the Well-Traveled Road Effect – we tend to underestimate the time it takes to travel frequent routes and over-estimate the time it takes to travel less familiar routes.

Without even realizing it, we all develop crooked ways of thinking, feeling and then interacting with other people.

“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Ephesians 4:29

Does it have to be a cuss word to be considered “foul”? Sometimes, the most abusive words that I use toward others are little, bitty slights and slanders that I speak in jest. I do this automatically, without really thinking. My mouth is way ahead of my heart and soul.

“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

To follow the admonition of this Scripture takes deliberate, intentional and selfless living. It will mean more specific thinking about your words and deeds as they bless or harm those around you. You will have to find ways to be much more conscious about other people and to fade away yourself. Once your heart remembers it’s own bondage, it’s so much easier to let go and forgive.