What's Right About This

By Dr Pauline Arneberg

Releasing The Untold Story – Imagining Possibilities For Yourself And The Workplace


Is the glass half full, or half empty? How we answer this question has everything to do with how much satisfaction we find in our lives, including the time we spend at work.

Jerry is deaf and blind. His wife died a few months ago and he insists he can manage on his own. He knows every corner of his house; he knows where vitamin bottles are in the bathroom cabinet; he knows where to find the ketchup in the refrigerator; he knows where to find the bleach above the washing machine. I realized it was a losing fight, he would continue to live as he wished, alone. He said, “I appreciate every day I have; I love my garden; I can go out when I want to; I love my freedom. I can take care of myself.” Jerry’s glass is half full; maybe that is why, at 93, he still does 200 sit ups everyday.

Living from “what’s right” has many applications. Almost everyone I know is dieting. Perhaps when it is necessary to lose a few pounds, we might remember a time when we felt most alive and deeply connected to our bodies. Remembering what impact this moment had on you and others at the time, strengthens the memory. Remembering what we value about our bodies, and the myriad of ways it serves and supports us can help avoid victim thinking. Savouring our positive stories helps us “live into” the future we wish to create. This will also help us stop the search for yet another diet. The imagination is a powerful force for creating a positive relationship with our bodies. Imagine one year from now, what three wishes do you have for your relationship with your body?

Inquiry and change are simultaneous events. As we ask new questions, and allow different answers to emerge, we form a new relationship to the issue we are contemplating. If one is facing a career crossroads, for example, it is useful to ask:

  • Who am I at my best, when I am most alive, engaged and committed?
  • What is the life giving center from which my best thinking and most creative contributions emerge?
  • What are my most courageous dreams?
  • What are my greatest possibilities for serving the world?

These questions invite us to remember what is right about ourselves, what is valuable, noble, and worthy. These are the stories that can reignite our purpose and lead us to the next step in unfolding our career.

This same approach can be used to bring out the best in an organization. We spend much of our lives in the workplace. For some this is drudgery, for others an experience of satisfaction. It all depends on the stories we tell ourselves and each other. Learning to ask “what’s right about this” contributes to individual health, and organizational productivity. What if everyone told stories of the times when the organization/unit was most successful? What if everyone talked about times of high engagement, and effectiveness? What if the normal conversation was about “what’s right” with the organization? These conversations would cut into the deep cynicism that prevails in many organizations. What if we told stories of the courage, determination, and integrity of our leaders and co-workers? What if our conversations explored how the organization’s positive core and the individual’s dream for their lives intersect?

Imagine a workplace where you and everyone else in the organization are working in the same, jointly set direction. Such a group would be “unstoppable”. What if the best of the past became the basis for strategic planning efforts for the future, or teambuilding sessions focused on seeing how the team is currently collaborative, and supportive of individual efforts. These stories are already present, waiting to be released. They have not been spoken because no one has asked. Releasing the vision all employees hold for the organization defines the collective dream; this serves to create new possibilities, based on existing strengths. Suppose for just a moment that everyone was seen as a leader, and the opportunity to talk about the experience of being a leader was provided. This positive attention would elicit more personal leadership from everyone. What we pay attention to multiplies.

What is the root cause of your organization’s success? What is its positive core and it’s uniqueness, and when was the last time you held this conversation with your colleagues? Contrast your answer to this question with your answer to the following: When was the last time you had a “problem centered” conversation? Probably today. Purely problem centered conversations do not bring us closer to a desired state; rather, they keep our thinking focused on more problems. Many problems disappear when we focus on what is right. Peter Drucker suggested the role of the leader is to build on strengths so that the weakness becomes irrelevant. The leader’s work is to nourish the appreciative soil from which new and better images can grow.

We are all part of many communities. These communities nourish us, support us, and help us learn about the world. The appreciative approach has much to offer community revitalization efforts. New leadership emerges when communities focus on their strengths, tell the stories of their contributions, celebrate their successes so that the next generation can participate in the community with pride. The positive story is beyond time and helps to create images of a collectively desired future. Our stories create our worlds.

Whatever the decision, whether to live alone after a spouse dies, to start a diet, to embark on a career change, or to lead an organization, there are no quick-fixes or slick formulas. This article can be summarized by three principles governing change:

  • WORDS enable worlds. The words we use in our inner dialogue are a powerful indicator of our actions and our ability to positively create our future.
  • Positive IMAGES of the future influence our behavior in the present.
  • Positive EMOTIONS lead to increased intelligence and creativity.

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark,
The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato

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