Struggling to gain credibility

There may be many reasons why an elite sporting team performs poorly over time.

In my experience, the biggest contributing factor in determining whether the team wins or loses over time, is the nature of the leadership and the interpersonal dynamics that envelops the coach. A coach will struggle to motivate, unite and integrate the diversity of ideas within a team if the players experience the coach to be:

  • a bully
  • self-centred
  • non-trusting
  • arrogant
  • inconsiderate
  • disrespectful or demeaning
  • defensive or aggressive

If the players do not feel emotionally safe and are not able to be open and honest with the coach, for fear of reprisal, they will undermine and sabotage whatever the coach says, even if it means losing match after match. When such dynamics exist, the team invariably implodes and goes into a downward spiral. The team will want the coach to fail and will unconsciously or consciously sacrifice its performance to ensure that the coach gains no credit for any achievement or success. As this process intensifies over time, the coach will invariably ‘get fired’ due to the ongoing losses.

This does not only happen, in sporting contexts. It is the nature of human behaviour and can be seen in families, educational settings, work contexts and certainly in political contexts, where there may be many axes to grind with opponents – due to past issues.

The ascent
The ascent

In a previous post, I stated that in his personal quest to become president, Trump may have unleashed a complex divisive process in the country that may prove difficult to manage or change, when he is president… and that trying to lead a divided nation may prove to be more complex and challenging than dealing with immigration issues, threats of terrorism, or international trade relations with other countries.

Trump is dealing with legitimacy issues and is struggling to gain credibility.

In his desperate attempt to salvage credibility he is unleashing self-defeating processes that continually undermine his worthiness by:

  • fabricating stories (as if fact), to portray an image of success
  • attacking the press to negate their perspective of an event
  • impulsively signing executive orders to prove that he is a president that acts
  • ongoing social media tweets that reflect a defensive immaturity
  • publicly attacking other leaders (past and present)
  • denying the bubbling stories around his (or his team’s) relationship and involvement with Russia during and after his presidential campaign

Trump activates controversy and chaos in relationships. In short, he creates drama. He has a disruptive and divisive energy flow that may have succeeded in business as he gained the upper hand over a competitor. He appears to have many hidden agendas and given his modus operandi, others will not trust him. While he could dictate how he would do business with others, by hiring and firing who and when he wanted to, he is now finding that he cannot control the opinions of others around him.

Trump is not mindful of what he says and how he says it, especially with regard to indisputable facts. He does not fully comprehend the impact of what he says. Trump seems to believe that there is a fixed reality according to his perspective, which everyone needs to agree with. He does not seem to understand and accept that in this age of information flow, everyone has an opinion and interpretation of an event.

For now, Trump is teetering on the edge. In time, he will reveal more and more of himself. Over the past couple of weeks it has become clear that drama, distraction and fabrication will be drivers of his information flow. In the process, however, he may need to guard against digging himself in a hole from which it will be impossible to emerge.

Trump continually suggests that he is and will be, the most successful president of the United States of America. In a rather paradoxical way, he needs to understand that humility and ethics can start a process in which he slowly gains some credibility, however small. Without this, he is doomed to fail.

In the end, only the people will decide whether he is credible or not.


Scarcity and unpredictable intrusion

Food is scarce in the cold, snowy regions of Germany. The climate is harsh and the challenge for most of the living species is to ensure that they can survive this unforgiving environment. While the survival of the fittest and strongest definitely applies, there may be one or two unexpected moments in getting or losing food that becomes part of the story.

The steal

The group of crows were happily feeding on a small piece of food. Out of the blue, a red kite descended onto the group, stealing what little food was available. The sudden, unexpected arrival of the red kite was its main weapon as it activated a chaotic reaction within the group.

Just as quickly as it arrived, the kite was off again making its way into the sky with the food in its mouth.

The steal

The pursuit

One of the crows was able to orientate itself quickly and gave chase. It had some distance to make up, but seemed to have a focused determination to catch the intruder.

The pursuit

The drop

The crow managed to get close to the kite and did everything to harass it. After a couple of seconds of harassment, the crow seemed to tire, lose heart and/or lose interest in challenging the bigger predator, and turned away to fly towards the group still on the ground.

As the very moment when the crow turned its attention away from the kite, I saw it drop the piece of food. Maybe it lost concentration or maybe it was the unexpected relief that it was not being continually attacked by the crow that resulted in the drop. While there also may be the possibility that the food may not have been to its liking, the shocked look in its eyes suggested otherwise.

The drop

As the food landed on the ground, the group of crows made their way across to its location and continued their meal as if nothing had ever happened. Such is the nature of nature; harmonious energy returns without any indication of that past moment when the sudden explosion of unpredictable intrusion disrupted the natural relaxed order.

Discernment, drama and deception

According to Keyes, we are living in the post-truth era where the border between ‘truth’ and ‘lie’ is conveniently blurred. Society has been conditioned to tolerate this and in the process some of us may have lost our ability to discern right from wrong, fact from fiction. As a consequence, honesty in relationships has been seriously undermined.

Recently, a client told me that she usually felt emotionally worse after going onto Facebook. She felt that there were a number of friends who were in competition with her and had been posting experiences and events that conveyed the fundamental message of ‘look at me, my life is more important, interesting and stimulating than yours is’. In our conversation, my client made it known that a lot of what had been posted by her friends was not true since she had actually been to many of the events that were being referred to in the postings. There seemed to be a major discrepancy in what some of her friends had written about and her own perception of those same experiences. This was proving to be emotionally unsettling for her and was creating doubts regarding her own perceptions. In turn, this was having an impact on her self worth and confidence.

Alone and homeless in San Diego
Alone and homeless in San Diego

We need to guard against losing our ability to discern what is useful, meaningful and relevant when swimming in the vast sea of information that is being spewed out by all of the social media vehicles.

Unlike in the pre-information age, everyone now has a platform to voice their perspective on anything they choose. One can easily create and construct stories around who you are and what you do. For those who are emotionally insecure or need social recognition there may be a strong desire to impress and show importance. In such cases, drama, deception and embellishment may lie at the foundation of what is revealed. This usually occurs on the unconscious level, with little or no insight or concern regarding how others may interpret what has been said.

The creation of self is determined by an ongoing stream of events or experiences that come to make up a personal story. However, this creation cannot unfold in a vacuum. It needs an audience that listens, sees and witnesses what is being actioned and/or proposed.

Before the advent of social media, the construction of self took time and required hard work through actions whilst interacting in a family and/or community. Actions spoke far louder than words. Honesty and integrity were at the foundation of how one tried to live one’s life.

In therapy, I am witness to many life stories. I am aware that there is no single fixed reality and truth in what is being perceived and revealed in conversation. However, I have noticed that my clients begin to feel empowered and want to make the necessary changes in their lives when they:

  1. realise and understand that everyone is busy creating and constructing a story of self,
  2. become curious and aware of how they are constructing their own story,
  3. have the courage to reveal and explore some of the destructive assumptions, lies and beliefs that made up their own construction,
  4. begin to re-author their personal story in a more meaningful and relevant way by consciously working on changing behaviours that have been destructive and self-defeating,
  5. align themselves to their own inner truth to guide their actions.

Leading a Divided States of America

Donald Trump will be the next president of the Divided States of America.

Rising moon over the Alps
Rising moon over the Alps

Many years ago I facilitated a Tenth grade group discussion about Apocalypse Now, the epic film about the Vietnam war. There was much debate about the methods of Colonel Kurtz, the insane officer who broke away from the army establishment to fight his own war. For Kurtz, there were no humane rules when it came to fighting the enemy. He argued that the only way you could defeat the enemy was to align yourself more purposefully to the brutality of war than your enemy was able to do. ‘Horror has a face…and you must make a friend of horror’. He spoke about the ingenuity of the enemy who had hacked off the arms of children in a village since they had accepted help from the Americans, ‘…these men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love…but they had the strength…the strength…to do that’.

Kurtz shared a frightening insight: ‘If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral…and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling…without passion…without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us’.

The world of politics is full of deception, denials and hypocrisy. If we follow Colonel Kurtz’s logic, then Donald Trump played the political game to perfection. He should not be judged for his (a) perverse opinions of women, minorities and/or less fortunate human beings, (b) demeaning personal attacks on his opponents, (c) inflaming emotionality around sensitive issues that do not have simple solutions (such as immigration, terrorism, economic recession) and (d) neglecting and/or refusing to logically debate any issue that he was confronted with by the press, debate moderators or political opponents.

In his presidential campaign Trump said a lot of things. Like most politicians, soon he will forget what he said and/or deny that he said what he said. In time, even his own supporters will forget what was said, as they return to their unchanged lives, having to deal with the same issues that were around for decades. But what if he remembers a little of what he had said? Will he then act on his words? The chances are slim, since the nature of politics is to talk a lot and then to selectively forget what was spoken about. Actions may or may not follow, depending on the reality of the financial constraints that are at play.

In my experience as a therapist, I have come to see that words can belittle or they can uplift. Words are never forgotten if they have caused pain or more positively, given hope and meaning in times of despair. Words have a power that should never be underestimated. Besides the actual words, it is also the intention and energy that underpins what is being said that defines how the words are being received by others.

In his personal quest to become president, Trump may have unleashed a complex divisive process in the country that may prove difficult to manage and/or change. As the president of the Divided States of America, he is now faced with the challenge of uniting and healing a nation, not to mention, bringing together members of his own party that have been alienated in the process. There will be many people who will not forget what he has said. Given this, he will find it near impossible to win over their hearts and gain their respect. Trying to lead a divided nation may be more complex and challenging than dealing with immigration issues, threats of terrorism, and/or international trade relations with other countries that may be skeptical and mistrusting of one’s motives.

Seeing is believing: In search of the beavers

I had been sitting patiently at the wetlands along the Rhine for about two hours waiting to photograph some of the birds that frequent the river. The place was beautiful, with mist hanging over the tree tops. To the naked eye, however, it seemed as if all living creatures had abandoned this part of the river.

I had seen another photographer in the distance also waiting patiently for nothing to happen. I was about to leave when he walked across and joined me for some conversation. We spoke about photography in general, and more specifically about our experiences photographing nature and wildlife. He told me that there were beavers in this area, yet he had never seen them. I asked him how he knew. He said that the farmer had told him, since his crops had been eaten by them. However, the farmer had also not seen them. He knew that there were beavers since there were trails of bits and pieces of crop that were left between the farmland and the river, in the mornings.

He then proceeded to take me on a guided tour along the river showing me evidence of the existence of the beavers. He pointed out burrowed tunnels on the bank of the river. He showed me the trails of foliage across the gravel cycle path that separated the farmland and the river. He also showed me huge sculptured indentations on the trunks of large poplar trees. As I looked at the trees, I couldn’t imagine an experienced lumberjack doing a better job of chopping the trunk with such grooved precision.

As I was shown all of evidence, I felt a strong desire to see and photograph the beavers. Being told and shown evidence of their existence was not enough for me. I needed to witness and experience the beavers for myself. As a psychologist, I knew that the most effective way to learn about anything is to move into the experiential domain and to personally witness and observe what is being spoken about. Telling and showing are only secondary levels of the learning process. The primary and most impactful level of learning is to go through an experiential process.

Many years ago, I saw a film called Searching for Sugar Man, which documented the search for the poetic singer Rodriguez, who had disappeared into obscurity after producing a chart winning album.

After reading up about beavers and their habitat, I felt compelled to go back to the wetlands in search of the illusive beavers. Beavers are nocturnal rodents, but can be seen at dawn or dusk. In the 1900’s, they were hunted to near extinction for their coats. They were reintroduced into a number of European countries in 1960-1970.

Before sunrise every morning for a week, I sat patiently waiting for the beavers.

My first sighting felt surreal. The beaver seemed to emerge out of nothingness, swimming across my line of vision. Throughout the week, the sightings were sporadic as they swam passed me, or emerged from the burrows on the opposite bank of the river. There was only one morning in the week that I did not see them. I felt satisfied that my search for the beavers was so richly rewarded. I now knew that they definitely existed. Seeing was truly believing.


Time and change in a field of sunflowers

Six weeks ago I stopped next to a field of beautiful sunflowers. It was early morning. There was not a cloud in the sky. The flowers seemed to be worshiping the sun as they orientated themselves to the light and warmth. They appeared to be celebrating the start of a new day. Their body language reflected an abundance of optimism as they smiled joyfully.

As I looked at the sunflowers, no flower was the same. As in a sporting team, they conformed in dress, yet each reflected a uniqueness.

The new
Early morning

Metaphorically, opportunities and potentialities in life are associated with a new day as the sun first appears at dawn. As with a new born baby, there is much hope associated with the new emerging energy.

It was late afternoon, on a cloudy day when I stopped next to the same field of sunflowers. Six weeks had passed since my first walk in the field. How different they now were. They seemed to be weeping, heads drooped. Their youthful state had passed. They were now ready to have their seeds harvested.

The old
Six weeks later – late afternoon

As with all healthy processes, an end invites a new beginning.

This is the nature of life, never-ending cycles moving in time. However, despite the changing phases, there is a constant in the evolutionary process – healthy systems sustain and perpetuate themselves over time.

As a day or a month or year unfolds, there is a beginning and an end. But beginnings and ends are convenient punctuations that are intellectually defined to break the never-ending flow of time.

Due to the relativity of time, one does not always notice change. It is only when you ‘freeze frame’ a specific moment in time and compare it to another, that change is highlighted.

A flow of seven unique moments

One of the tasks that I had set for myself when starting this project was to do a concluding post in which I integrate the seven different parts (photographs). On completion, however, I do not have any desire to pull the parts together in a formal way or to draw any further conclusions. Instead I feel that the seven parts should be left to dangle separately and to be joined together in whatever way you may wish.

At the onset, I had no idea of what I would produce for this project.

Cycling down the hill
Cycling down the hill
Running up the hill
Running up the hill
Walking the dog
Crossing the road, walking the dog

When going out to take the photograph, I found that it was best not to preempt where I should go and what I needed to be on the lookout for. This attitude freed up my ability to observe, enhancing the visual possibilities that existed in front of me. Given this, the external environment was allowed to flirt with me in whatever way it wanted. This provided a co-evolved creation where the context and I, were able to connect in a meaningful way at a specific moment in time. The photograph was a reflection of that unique moment of connection.

I walked away from taking each photograph with a feeling of appreciation. Each photograph acted like a Rorschach test for me, activating further thinking about psychotherapy, meaning of life, personal worldviews and created realities.

There are no simple answers to some of life’s tough questions. In fact, the complexity of life usually reveals itself as a paradox, where there are no rights or wrongs to an issue that you may be struggling with. Having said this, there is always a part to us that strives to live life in a more harmonious and meaningful way. Experiencing and then sharing my perspective of the flow of the seven unique moments offered me the opportunity to do just that.