Tag Archives: Integrity

Perspective

As I flew out of Richmond last week, I got a rare glimpse of the city at dusk:

River city

I just stared at that settlement on the banks of the James River and wondered what the next 400 years might bring. In the city of Richmond, there is the past, the present and the future. That makes us fortunate and it makes us complicated.

To move forward, we will have to make some sense of ourselves and our story.

In the past few months I’ve travelled all over the country: from Philadelphia to Dallas, to San Francisco. With each trip I’ve found new perspective on this current phase of the development of the city of Richmond. I’ve also found some clarity for myself and settled into four areas of focus for my writing:

1. Current events in context: If I ever write about current events, it will be to analyze and contextualize the story. I spent three years studying the debates in Richmond regarding the construction of the Richmond Petersburg Turnpike. That work left me particularly interested in economic development strategies and plans for improving the American city.

2. Drawings for the future: Like many of us, I’m constantly imagining new uses for old spaces and I’ve decided I’m finally going to get these on paper. I’m actually planning to draw them out. It will probably be pretty ugly at first, but I’m hoping to read a little on technique and improve over time.

3. The psychology of the city: I’ve been noticing for years that the city of Richmond has a certain personality. This personality comes out in furious debates as well as mundane daily life. Since college I’ve also entered the world of cognitive psychology, therapy, management, and organizational behavior. I’ve read books, met with academics, and watched every video I find. Insight from these fields will be my lens for understanding what’s going on in this crazy place.

4. The history of the history: There are so many stories being told about Richmond. I want to take those stories and study them to understand the different ways that we describe ourselves. I’m obsessed with historiography and excited to dive back into that field for a series of posts about the different ways we talk about our past. This is connected to the psychological perspective as well: how we talk about Richmond says a lot about how we think of ourselves.

I want a future for this city that is unique and authentic. I want Richmond to develop a maturity as a place that takes all of it’s qualities and integrates them into a coherent whole. As with personal development, this will require a lot of work. In a way, collective therapy. And all because we believe there is a best possible future for this city and that future must include a coherent, honest, and accepting understanding of the past and present.

As always, more to come.

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2012: A year in books

I haven’t blogged much lately. Most of what I’ve written in the past five months has filled the first half of my journal and the margins of the books I have read. This post is a digest of those books.

Books, some readIn 2012, I discovered that reading is more enjoyable as a hobby than as a job (big surprise). As a student for 16 years, I learned to resent the books that were assigned to me for book reports, essays and those dreaded Accelerated Reader (AR) tests. I watched as my hobby became points on a chart, grades and boxes to check. Most books I read during high school and college were left unfinished or skimmed at the last minute to meet deadlines and find quotes. Of the photo to the left, I probably finished a few.

Since finishing books wasn’t much of a priority, I did a little happy dance for each of the first three books I finished last year: another milestone. The authors of these books have since inspired me to read more authors in new fields. Following their suggestions has made for a delightful rabbit hole full of entertaining stories and thoughtful prose. These books have also reminded me that my childhood was full of days spent lost in the joy of books. I am thankful, once again, to be a reader.

This is the list of books I read in 2012. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s a first for me and hopefully a sign of good things to come. Enjoy:

Isaiah

I still have a hard time spelling the word, Isaiah. Every time I write it, I have to sound it out and double-check. After spending almost a year reading this book of Old Testament prophecy, that just about sums up my knowledge of the book as well. While I didn’t always know the context of the prophecy, I appreciated the content of each chapter and verse. Often, Isaiah caught me off guard with romanticized highs and lows. What was once beautiful is destroyed, the place we loved has been defiled, and great skill has been corrupted by great delusion. I could say more, but it’s probably best to read it yourself. Along the way, this book inspired me to write two blog posts: “Delusions” and “Haunted Houses.”

The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I read this book last year. It’s not that I’m ashamed of the book, it’s more that I’m ashamed at my lifestyle. While I read and appreciated this book (strong recommendation), I’m just barely beginning to apply the spiritual disciplines to my life. As Willard writes, “If we refuse to practice, it is not God’s grace that fails when a crisis comes, but our own nature. When crisis comes, we ask God to help us, but He cannot if we have not made our nature our ally.” This book inspired me to write a blog post about silence: “Our Haunted Selves.”

Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, Dr. Henry Cloud

My grandfather, Orville Rogers, gave me this book when I graduated from college. When I started it in May of 2011, I realized it was nothing like the books that I had read all my life. It was not “heady” or theoretical, it was practical and wise. While it took me a year and three months to finish, it sparked something in myself I never (ever) expected: an interest in business management books. Also, reading this book gave me more of an appreciation for Dr. Henry Cloud and I highly recommend his work. While reading this book, I wrote a blog post on decisions, “Gamble and Risk.”

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time, Susan Scott

This book is out of control. When I finished my yearlong internship at Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT), I mentioned to one of the board members that I wished I’d had more difficult conversations. “Oh,” he said picking up a book beside him, “you might be interested in this book my daughter’s team at Capitol One has been reading.” A year ago, I would have said forget it, but Cloud had already softened me on business books and two weeks later Susan Scott changed my life. This book is a hard-hitting, unpredictable look into your relationships and the conversations you have each day. If you’re avoiding it, Susan Scott will be sure to let you know and tell you how to have the conversation in a productive way.

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, David Brooks

This book says so much about who we are and how we develop from toddlers to adults. In typical David Brooks fashion, this book highlights the incredible connections that scientists are making between the brain and human behavior without being boring. Brooks trades science jargon with fiction and tells the story of cognitive science through the story of one couple from infancy to death. That’s not a spoiler, it’s all about the journey.

Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward, Dr. Henry Cloud

Not every ending is necessary, but determining when something needs to end is a hard process for all of us. This book taught me that if we don’t end things in life well (from jobs to friendships) we can’t move on in a healthy way. Cloud calls this process “metabolizing” endings and I think it’s the best description I’ve ever read.

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now, Dr. Meg Jay

Forget everything you’ve read in the tabloids: the twenties are an important decade of life. That’s pretty much the message of Meg Jay’s new book that’s been taking over my social networks since it was published. For me, it all started when my brother Steven sent Will and I a link to an interview with the author titled, “Thirty Is Not The New Twenty: Why Your Twenties Matter.” Since then, Eunice read it, Will read it, I read it, Nina read it, Stacy and Stephen read it, Elizabeth read it … it’s out of control. Read the book — It’s not always necessarily right, but it’s good and helpful.

The Five Love Languages Men’s Edition: The Secret to Love that Lasts, Gary Chapman

I am selfish. That’s pretty much the biggest takeaway from reading Gary Chapman’s often referenced (and suggested) book about the ways we give and receive love. One thing that was fun about reading this book is that tons of people talk about the 5 love languages, but most people I know haven’t actually read it. It’s practical, thoughtful, and entertaining. Especially talking to all the fellas right now, you will not regret reading this book.

BUMBLE-ARDY, Maurice Sendak

From the author of Where the Wild Things Are comes a book about a pig who wants to party and a domineering aunt that doesn’t see the point. Bumble-Ardy follows in line with other works from Sendak as creative and childish with a depth of human understanding. As in the case of Wild Things, when you read about Bumble-Ardy you simultaneously become the child and the adult: reckless and responsible. I love this book for it’s cadence and rhyme scheme and a reminder not to let control prevent me from enjoying a party. In an interview with an  aging Sendak, Terry Gross noted a section in particular where Bumble-Ardy is punished for his party and makes a profound commitment to get back in line:

“Okay smarty you’ve had your party! But never again!”

Bumble-Ardy replies, I promise! I swear! I won’t ever turn ten!”

Here’s to another year.

P.S. I’ve been collecting books in my Amazon Wish List (a service I highly recommend) that I may or may not ever read.

Gamble and Risk

During this year, I have learned a lot about how I carry and process the past. At one point, I decided that our experiences can often be put into the two categories of therapy and trauma. At the time, however, I didn’t really know if there was a proactive way to prevent the latter.

That brings me to a book by Henry Cloud, Integrity: The courage to meet the demands of reality. In it, he writes about the difference between a “gamble” and a “risk” and why successful people oriented toward growth are willing to take a risk, but never gamble. “Risk,” he writes, “means that you do something that has the possibility of a bad outcome, and that you embrace that possibility and are OK with it.” If you are not OK with the possible outcome (or, more importantly, if you can’t imagine the outcome), then you are not taking a risk, you are making a gamble.

The important step is learning to distinguish between the two types of choices. I’ve always been told that I wouldn’t grow if I didn’t take a few risks, but I didn’t really know how to do that well. Cloud writes, “People who grow are not afraid of getting out there. But they are not stupid, and they risk in increments. They start small, master that, and move to the next step. As they do, they have grown.” And something that is really important to note is that these sorts of people have already been moving in this direction for a long time. What seems like a rash decision, is often actually quite calculated and reasonable because of the growth that has occurred under the surface.

Unfortunately, sometimes we gamble and we get burned. Sometimes we move in a new direction, but it’s a job or responsibility that is just out of our reach and we fail in a way that we could never have imagined. If you don’t know how or to what extent you might fail, odds are good you aren’t prepared for the move. And, writes Cloud, “If someone cannot withstand the negative outcome, then it was not the kind of character investment that leads to growth.” The failure becomes a sort of trauma in our past that we then need to process, understand and prevent in the future. Then, the next risk will be more calculated and (hopefully) will lead to growth. That will also be therapeutic for the person who has recently failed.

The difference between therapy and trauma is important, but I think what is more important is simply calling it what it is. “That was really therapeutic” or “that was a little traumatic” have become phrases I say and think as I live my life. We will never fully know how each work together to form our experience, but the more aware we are, the more likely we are to see it when it matters.

And hopefully, as we watch ourselves live, we will be more prepared to make the choices that are best and we will be that much more ready to grow.

7 – 3 – 1: My Journey Through the Enneagram

 “One of the great dangers of transformational work is that the ego attempts to sidestep deep psychological work by leaping into the transcendent too soon. This is because the ego always fancies itself much more ‘advanced’ than it actually is.”
 

The quote above has become one of the defining quotes of my year. To me, it means it’s not enough to talk about practices for healthy life, you have to be willing to submit yourself to a process. You actually have to do the work.

This idea comes from a book about a system of personality types that has, in some ways, become my current practice of self-knowledge and discovery. For those of you who may be worried, it’s more psychological work than spiritual practice. The Enneagram has in no way usurped my Christian faith, but, to the contrary, has led me to a deeper understanding of my personal brand of depravity (in other words, how I personally manifest brokenness) and given me a vocabulary for understanding myself and my behavior. Also, when I talk about the Enneagram, it is through the lens of one book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram. To my knowledge, it’s the most thorough one of its kind.

I almost can’t imagine my life before the Enneagram, the book, and the quote.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Enneagram, it is a vastly complex system for understanding different personalities. Unlike the Myers-Briggs and others, it does not prescribe static labels or obscure beaver-otter-retriever metaphors. It contains nine personality types that have somewhat recently been placed on the ancient nine-point symbol of the Enneagram.

Beyond the nine main types, each type has “wing” personality types of the immediate numbers (e.g. “9 with a 1 or 8 wing”) which does not define their dominant motivators, but is still highly influential in their way of life. Furthermore, each personality type assumes the negative or positive qualities of another personality type when the person is unhealthy or healthy respectively. Thus, a domineering eight becomes more helpful like a two when healthy and more controlling and secretive like a five when unhealthy. So there are nine types, 18 sub-types, and the ability to “catch” you at any stage of development along the way to maturity.

Now, take a deep breath.

When I first learned about the Enneagram I was surrounded by two good friends who also happen to identify as sevens. That’s me! I thought, as one friend read the description of the “busy, fun-loving” personality type I so longed to embody. This seemed to explain why I was always distracting myself by looking for cool articles about my passions, stop motion videos and infographics on the internet and sharing them with my friends. I’m just a scattered seven, afraid of my past and searching for newer, more exciting experiences to assuage my pain.

But then people were like, hold up. I sort of act like my friends that are sevens in social settings, but there are some aspects of my life that don’t match up: My car is organized and vacuumed, I have a LinkedIn, and I talk about adventures way more than I actually go on them. And then it all made sense, you’re a three! With a two wing! You’re “the charmer,” always looking for another way to help someone and improve your image. And at the time this seemed to really fit.

As I started to look at my life, I became painfully aware of the fact that I have spent countless hours crafting an image for myself whether on social network sites, through this blog and in my personal relationships with others. I hated myself because I began to perceive all my pursuits (my hobbies and jobs) as mere image maintenance for my troubled ego. I started beating myself up for caring so much about what other people thought about me and this made me care even more about what other people thought than I had before. All about image and success? I wondered to myself if all my work were just to create a name and a desirable image as the three is prone to do.

Then all the sudden I had this realization: Work? Beating myself up? Passions? None of these tendencies fit either of the two personalities that I had previously considered for myself. Sevens are way too carefree to think that what they’re doing is work (“life’s an adventure!”) and threes are too busy fitting in and receiving awards (of the traditional sort) to really beat themselves up for failing to meet personal standards. Besides, if my desire were to have a good image, I wouldn’t type blog posts longer than 1400 words!

At long last, after about eight months of wrestling with this whole Enneagram idea, I found a personality type that describes me so well it hurts: I am a one.

My girlfriend (also, almost definitely a one) and I laughed our way through the entire section on this type, its tendencies, and our own stories from the past. We would read the first sentence of a paragraph, have an entire conversation, then realize that our conversation was almost identical to the rest of the paragraph we were on. The one is the personality that is essentially trying to prove its worth, its reason for existing. One’s are also impatient, think they know the right way things should be done, and, when healthy, champion reform throughout society.

Who would have guessed it? Probably all of my friends, family, and acquaintances. It’s so obvious now looking back on my time in college. If I wasn’t ranting about the administration I was organizing to get sidewalks built or developing plans for the student composting system. Always. Always. Always looking at what could be fixed/changed rather than what was going well. I also realized that I was sometimes so perfectionistic in my work that if I couldn’t do it perfectly, I would give up and do it poorly last minute. Then, I would beat myself up for not living up to my expectations of myself and fall into an emotional tailspin (ones move to fours under stress) and feel like I had lost myself entirely.

Conversely, some of the most difficult moments of growth in my life continue to be the times when I realize I am impatient with someone else’s way of doing things. I also realize now that my personality is to feel self-righteous and to orient myself away from other people in an attempt to feel personally just and good. That is, after all, what my personality is striving to be: good. But since no human can reach their personal standards of perfection, as I gradually mature I find more value in other people’s standards and processes while also transitioning from judgement to discernment. Rather than rely on a good-bad dichotomy to deceive my guilty ego, I develop more internal self-confidence and open myself up to more external disorder. I learn to embrace the grey of life.

Why have I put myself through this process? Because the Enneagram has forced me to examine my behaviors, thoughts and instincts in way that I would have never done otherwise. Furthermore, what I have learned has also been supported by other books I’m reading, most specifically Integrity by Henry Cloud and The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. One of Cloud’s quotes in particular seemed to encapsulate this realization:

“This process is called assimilation and accommodation. Which means someone has graduated past childhood levels of information processing and can adapt to reality and make external reality their own. I will repeat that for emphasis: it is the ability to make external reality one’s own reality.”
 

This sort of maturity does not come easily. We all have delusions, but it is knowing our delusions that will allow us to operate in the complex world effectively and honestly. Also, it is only “deep psychological work” that will force us to remember the parts of our lives that we desire to forget (our weakness and shortcoming) and integrate these into our more realistic and honest identity.

Thanks for making it to the end! You deserve a prize. And that prize should be a copy of the Enneagram book … and friends to share the journey.

As always, and most definitely, more to come.

Opening quote: Don Riso and Russ Hudson. The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 10.
Second quote: Dallas Willard. Integrity, 135.