When we take a stand against something, we’re drawing a line in the sand. We’re saying “here is a line that we’re not willing to cross”.
It’s an appropriate metaphor, because the line is visible at the time we draw it, but it’s ephemeral. Once the situation passes and the context in which we made the stand is gone, then it’s as if the wind has blown our line away and the sand is smooth again.
Time isn’t the only threat to the line. It can also get trampled on and obscured by both ourselves and those we’re dealing with.
How many times have we drawn lines, only to jump, shuffle or stumble over them later?
The reality of the situation is that we need to be to keep drawing our lines for the rest of our lives. Because we want them to be visible.
They’re not meant to be a prison, a box we have to stand in. We don’t do this to separate ourselves off from the rest of the world, but to define a good space in it.
Our lines in the sand aren’t a prison, they’re a map.
We’re creating markers and waypoints that both ourselves and others can use to navigate. To plot a course that is safe, ethical and worthwhile.
“Here is good solid land, but here be dragons.”
We all like to be chameleons these days, changing our colours based on the situation, the audience, the social medial network.
It feels kind of old fashioned to nail your colours to the mast and have a single set of values.
And with a growing trend towards a secular society many of us don’t have institutions drilling us in codes, creeds or commandments. Retargeted advertising on the internet is probably the closest that many of us get to a repeated, daily message – Nike Air Pegasus, now 30% off.
But there is value in articulating what we stand for.
It gives us something noble to aspire to.
It gives us a benchmark to review our actions against.
It gives us a guiding light when we’ve lost our way.
We constantly transgress our own values, because we’re not giving our values enough time out in the sun to grow and become strong. Without air and light, they remain atrophied waifs who can only whisper to us from the dark.
If we want to rely on our values to help guide our way, then we have to grow them with intention and attention. We need to think about what is important to us and take the time to remind and reinforce what we believe.
It doesn’t mean putting them on a t-shirt – this isn’t a necessarily public act – but it does mean being able to articulate them at least to ourselves.
What would we stand for?
What would we fight for?
What would we die for?
Values can be the batteries that power our whole selves, but only if we’ve taken the time to find them, dust them off and plug them in.
We often wrongly assume that small pockets of our knowledge are robust robust and complete. That we know all we can know about a people, an events, a phenomenon.
This is because we close ourselves off to new information once we know enough to interact with something reliably. We learn enough to not get our heads bitten off and leave it at that.
Our picture then calcifies around the information we have, making it difficult for us to update our views when new information becomes available.
If we’ve only known someone to be kind, and they suddenly do something cruel – we write it off or say it’s out of character. If we see that cruelty much closer to the first impression, it’s more likely to influence our view.
But we need to remember that we have never seen the full picture. There is always another perspective, always another view and there is so much information which will always remain hidden to us.
This is why we should always be willing to accept new information and update our views.
We need to remember that we’re only ever working with scraps of insight, that the picture is always bigger and richer than we could imagine. That no matter how confident we are in our knowledge, that there is always more to know.
If we want the best outcomes, we have to take the best actions.
We can’t take the best actions unless we understand the situation.
We can’t understand the situation unless we pay attention to what’s going on.
We can’t pay attention to what’s going on without focus.
We can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.
If we want to take the best actions, we need to stop trying to do seven things at once.
Multitasking is bullshit.
We spend a lot of our time arguing and complaining about how things should be. When we do this, we forget that should is an argument against reality.
First we need to acknowledge and accept how and why things actually are the way they are. We need to say yes to reality in order to truly give ourselves the scope, opportunity and power to influence the situation.
When we talk about should before saying yes, we set ourselves in stark opposition to powerful forces, pushing with the weight of the status quo.
Saying yes doesn’t mean being a doormat or tolerating injustice. It means taking the time to truly recognise and understand something before we set ourselves in blatant opposition to it in the vain hope of making our should a reality.
When we say yes, we accept what is and from that position can be much more skilful and effective in how we spend our time, effort and attention.