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We are not our circumstances

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In my reflections with a coaching client at the start of this year, I was fascinated by what she has achieved during very difficult global times. I was reminded again: we are not our circumstances.

This point is backed up by research. A study that followed 52 men who were in prison at an early age found that these men did not all turn out as life-long criminals. The researchers concluded that not all children who start in adverse environments and exhibit antisocial and offending behaviour early in life continue that trajectory.

Living the truth that we are not our circumstances.
We are not our circumstances – neither our past nor our present. It is a comforting thought, particularly in the current global climate. However, it is not an easy truth to live. It means that when we deal with others, we can’t typify and label them – we’ll do them an injustice and rob ourselves of a better alternative. For ourselves, it also means that we need to challenge the way we view things. We have to open ourselves to new points of view. We have to challenge the status quo – especially in our own minds and in how we live.As Rosa Luxenberg said, “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
We need to move our mental and spiritual perspective if we want to change our circumstances and create a better future for ourselves and others.

Thoughts to challenge our worldview
The foundation for change lies within ourselves – how we think of ourselves and the world, which determines how we act in it.

I discuss this topic in-depth in Chapter 2 of my book, The Leader’s Inner Source*.  It is titled “The leader’s self”. The six statements summarise some of the main points I make in the chapter.
1. The nature of reality is such that the world cannot be fully predicted, and it cannot be controlled.
2. Science provides a good foundation for the grounds of knowledge, but it is only a limited view. Knowledge can also be more subjective, spiritual or transcendental.
3. Humans have free will and can make free choices, but we are limited in our choices by our thinking and circumstances.
4. To change our viewpoints, we must understand why we think what we think.
5. A more subjective approach, which includes reflection, is required to consider our ‘inner source’.
6. Our construct of spirituality and whether we experience it or not is our choice.

These statements call us to reconsider how we view the world and our place in it. Especially important for us as leaders is the thought that our rational understanding of the world is limited.
In the book The Hidden Half, author Michael Blastland explains why we know much less than we think. As the book’s description puts it well (my emphasis added):
We humans are very clever creatures – but we’re idiots about how clever we really are. In this entertaining and ingenious book, Blastland reveals how in our quest to make the world more understandable, we lose sight of how unexplainable it often is. The result – from GDP figures to medicine – is that experts know a lot less than they think.

Where our rational knowledge ends, subjective, spiritual or transcendental knowledge can help to fill the gap.
We must understand that our freedom needs limits. Profit and power cannot come before people and the planet.
A very difficult concept for me, one that I do not live is: do the rich have the right to hold onto their wealth while the masses suffer? For example, some wealthy people do not feel that they have the right to hold onto their wealth when many others suffer. Think of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, for example, who have donated of their wealth.
The thing is, if we treat all people the same, in other words, as equal in value, something many of us believe is the right thing to do, we reject market logic.
The same if we believe a poor child has the same right to proper medical treatment, parental love and education as a rich child. The market does not care about the starving and the sick, fairness and justice, how hard people work or how kind they are.
But people care about these things. As Raoul Martinez argues in his book, Creating Freedom: Power, Control and the Fight for our Future, how people work and how kind they are is what ultimately matters. Instead of only focusing on money, we also need to return to the meaningfulness of work and of life in general.

As leaders, we have the power to change the so-called “constance” or the status quo. We can shift the balance to create a tipping point toward a better future.
The knock-on effect starts when we change our worldview.

Reflections for greater self-awareness
As we reflect on the past year and plan for the year ahead, let’s make room for changing and challenging how we view the world. Let’s open ourselves to growth.
In Chapter 2 of my book*, I offer six fundamental questions (see below) as points of reflection about who we are and what we believe.
1. What do you perceive reality to be?
2. What is a human being?
3. What happens to a person at death?
4. How is it possible to know things?
5. How do we know what is right or wrong?
6. What is the meaning of human history?
I can also summarise it with this one question:
How and where do you access creativity, genius and wisdom?
In defining who we are, I was recently reminded that in ancient Greece and Rome people did not believe creativity and genius came from within human beings. They believed it came from some divine spirit, source or entity outside the person.

The author Elizabeth Gilbert, named as one of Time’s top 100 most influential people in 2008, says the shift to say that creativity and genius are within the person is a big mistake. Humans do not have the capacity to deal with the pressure to take on all the responsibility of creativity. While writing a book that sold 12 million copies, she admits that she pleaded for assistance from outside herself.
Honestly asking questions of ourselves like the ones I mention above help us gain awareness of how we view the world. In turn, it makes us more aware and engaged leaders.
It’s not easy, but it is powerful – especially when we allow our worldviews to be challenged. It is one of the best ways I know of to change our past, redirect our present and create a better future for ourselves and others.
And as always, I love to hear your insights. If there is any way I can help you or your organisation grow, be sure to get in touch.

by Rean du Plessis
* The Leader’s Inner Source is available on Amazon or you can contact us at [email protected] to order.
To book a session with Rean contact us at [email protected]