I caught myself on the wrong side of assumption again the other day. I’m glad I did. Some lessons, you just keep learning over and over until you’re ready to move on. Apparently I’m still stuck on this one.
Intellectually and spiritually, I’m quite sure that what I want to is to see the best of any person or situation I come across; to see parts of myself reflected in them, and to lead with immediate thoughts of care and compassion. And, more often than ever before, that’s what’s been happening.
But I still encounter instances when the first impression that pops into my mind is negative. I don’t want to be like that. At least I will now catch myself doing it, maybe give myself a minor scolding and then move on again, but it’s my hope that my compassionate, positive side will one day become completely automatic.
I don’t trust the “default” of assumption anymore, even though I still fall prey to it at times.
Like the other day, for instance.
I was at my gym, having just enjoyed a nice bit of exercise. As I was getting dressed back into my work clothes afterward, there was another fellow a few lockers down who was silently getting set to do the same. I noticed he was likely younger than me, that he had a cane, a noticeable gut and that he’d been in the pool, as he still had his swim trunks on.
Right away, before I could even catch myself, I passed some judgement on this guy and made some immediate assumptions. I’m not proud of it. I’m just being honest.
I thought, “Hmm. A few too many beers, I bet.”
Then I thought, “I wonder what the cane is for? I bet his back hurts.” I thought this because it was only about 6 years ago that I, too, could only get around with the help of a cane, thanks to herniated discs in my back and wicked sciatic pain down my left leg. The only thing my physiotherapist allowed me to do for a while was stand in the pool and wave my arms against the water. I was told that would force my core muscles to wake up.
Since I’d seen this fellow had been in the pool, I assumed he had a sore back.
What I’ve just described took, perhaps, only a couple of seconds. And then I caught myself and immediately felt ashamed at what I was doing. The “default” had kicked in first.
I still have work to do.
But I’ve come far enough to be aware of it. I don’t want to feel separate from anyone anymore. So just as soon as I realized what I was doing, I told myself to say something to this guy – just start talking to him. I had to tell myself that several times before I finally heard my own voice ask, “What is it that’s got you hobbled?”
He looked over at me and said, “I broke my legs.”
I asked, “Legs? Plural? You broke both of them?”
“Yep,” he said. “Seven years ago.”
My assumptions about this fellow, just as most assumptions tend to be, had been way, way off.
He went on to tell me that his injuries were the result of a motorcycle accident all those years ago. I asked if he’d be able to continue to rehab and hope for more mobility. He said, “Maybe. By now, I just try to do what I can do.”
So, here was a guy who will likely never walk without a cane again. And that extra weight I mentioned? Well, it’d be hard to stay slim if you couldn’t really be mobile. And if it were me, I’d be likely to enjoy whatever food or drink brought me any kind of pleasure if I were in constant pain otherwise.
But here I am assuming again.
Then he told me about the symptoms of the head trauma he suffered that were just now beginning to surface. We’re hearing a lot about this kind of thing these days, mostly related to concussions in professional athletes (particularly football players). He told me that within the last couple of years, his cognitive ability was failing from time-to-time and that he was encountering memory loss and other symptoms from the accident that happened seven years ago.
Within an instant, I admired this fellow, who introduced himself to me as Steve, for the willingness to even come to the gym and do what he could for himself. When he spoke to me, he didn’t sound like he was complaining at all. He was very matter-of-fact about everything. And not knowing what lies ahead (who among us really does?), he said he just does what he can for himself today.
I left that conversation with Steve affected quite profoundly. Here I had started by assuming things that turned out not to be true at all, and put myself in a position of somehow being separate from Steve by assuming or judging in the first place. But then I caught myself and forced a potential correction by daring to invite a conversation. Once my ignorance had been revealed, I went away from it feeling compassion for Steve, admiration for his spirit, and a resolve not to believe my assumptions anymore. Or better yet, to continue to work to program myself to not have it occur to me to make those assumptions at all. I don’t know if that’s realistic, but it’s what I’ll strive for.
So if you’re like me, and want to feel more connected and less withdrawn, try this: next time you catch yourself making an assumption, reverse it and assume you don’t know, and then ask. Speaking up will help create the connection and you’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how often your assumptions are wrong.
We think we know. We don’t. But the real connection in living is in admitting it, opening up your mind and heart and going about the business of finding out.
This is the third in a series of articles. Click these links to read the previous entries:
Part Three: What is Mutineer?
In fact, I established a rock band name and concept almost a decade ago, and even had a logo made for it. The band/project name is “Mutineer,” a brand concept that has very little to do with sailors taking a ship away from its captain but everything to do with recognizing that this current culture of celebrity, entitlement, comparison and consumption is something that I feel needs to change. It comes out clearly in the song lyrics: that the way we are here in North America is largely not okay with me, and that the “mutiny” is about accepting yourself for who you are, being accountable to the person in the mirror and being brave enough to treat others with empathy and compassion and to not just blindly follow the herd.
Mutineer is not about pointing fingers. Mutineer is about looking in the mirror, being accountable, and being strong enough to say, “You can point fingers all you like and tell me who and what you think I’m supposed to be. But I’m not falling for it. I’m brave enough to love myself no matter what I have or don’t have, and courageous enough to wish you well, regardless of what you may think of me.”
I did not set out to write songs to fit this theme. Rather, looking back on the content and tone of the lyrics I’ve written over the last 10-to-15 years, the consistent message clearly showed itself to me.
Rather than a call to confrontation, Mutineer is a removal of resistance and rally for accountability and self-acceptance. Instead of bearing arms, a Mutineer, in this case, is simply saying to this society of celebrity worship (and consequent abandonment), instant gratification, entitlement, blame, criticism and self-judgement, “No. There’s no more of this for me. I don’t believe these lies any more. Being like someone else does not make me worthy. Being me makes me worthy. I am responsible for everything that happens to me, and I accept that, and am setting sail to a life well-lived and will take what comes and know that I can handle it.”
In a way, Mutineer is about all the things it took me 40 years to learn about myself, even though I’d written about it in my 20’s and 30’s. Rather than “taking over the ship,” we’re simply stating, “You know what? We don’t like where this one’s been going. We’re getting on a new one, and going in a different direction. Meantime … good luck to you.”
I feel I can say things as Mutineer than I wouldn’t necessarily say with my acoustic voice, as Kevin Bulmer. Here’s an example of lyrics that are, essentially, about accountability:
“Don’t drag your heels and tell me you’re runnin’
Don’t run me around and say I’m a square
Don’t serve me dirt and say it’s delicious
Just do better.”
That’s from a fun little song called “Do Better,” a Jimmy Buffett-sounding track on my “No Schedule Man” CD. It’s kind of light and breezy and a bit tongue-in-cheek. It’s meant to try and get a bit of a point across without rubbing anyone too raw.
Now, here’s a similar thought, but from the Mutineer voice, from a song called “High Road:”
“Though it’s been swell, I might as well tell you
That it’s time for me to go
I don’t want to stand here watching
While your noose runs out of rope
I wish you hadn’t tied that knot yourself
I coulda’ told you so
For what it’s worth, I’ll say a prayer for you
From up here on the high road”
That’s a little edgier, I’d say. And it feels really, really good to sing and play that song, and others like it.
Here’s another passage, from the same song:
In my opinion, if you look around at the world these days, sadly, you’ll see a lot of folks lazily “volunteering a soul into where ignorance thrives” (and you can interpret that however you wish). But it’s also true that, if you look for it, you’ll see a lot of good things happening too.
Mutineer tries to shine a light on one while celebrating the other.
But, how exactly am I going to make it happen? I’ll outline some of those challenges in Part 4 tomorrow.
This lyric is actually from a song I never completely finished, and have yet to give a proper title. But it has been one of my favourites since the moment it appeared.
There are so many massive challenges in our world that it can feel overwhelming to consider. It’s easy to think that we’re insignificant compared to some of the issues plaguing our planet. But as individuals, we matter. We matter to ourselves, and to anyone we come across today. And often the thing that lifts up someone else is a much more humble endeavour than we might first have thought necessary.
I’ve come to believe that’s the only place where positive change can really start and grow. So do what you can, for you and those around you. It matters more than we may ever know.
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You may have heard the line, “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” It’s a phrase not usually offered as a positive observation when trying to reach a goal. I’m reminded of it now, in the throes of an annual collaborative effort to gather as much food as possible for people in need in my community.
This particular “kitchen” is crowded with A-type cooks. And yet it works.
I’m in my third year as part of the organizing committee for the Business Cares Food Drive in London, Ontario. It’s taken me until now to fully accept and embrace that this committee runs counter to most others I’ve experienced. While this three-week-plus sprint to raise food and donations for our local food bank has many different activities and agendas as part of it, the whole thing seems to steer itself in a common direction, driven by good feelings and genuine positive efforts.
I believe there is a strong lesson in it.
The brainchild of Wayne Dunn (current committee Chair and owner of County Heritage Forest Products in London) and Ed Holder (Member of Parliament, London West), Business Cares was born 15 years ago and has since seen all kinds of companies from this area come together to reach a common goal: feeding people in need. Wayne leads by setting the example, creating the timeline and then empowering people to run with the ball. To his credit, Wayne runs harder and faster than anyone else. But when someone comes along with a new idea that could help bolster the overall effort, not only does Wayne not micromanage them to fit the brand or to mold their efforts into the way he might do things, but he is likely to have encouraged and empowered that person or group within moments instead. By doing so, he gives these people a sense of ownership and pride in their end of it. And so they go, and it all rushes forward in a gush of hopeful inertia that concludes by feeding a lot of hungry people.
As a person who works in marketing, I sometimes get antsy sitting at the committee table as we continue to splinter off the main “brand” (Business Cares) to create other off-shoots that are smaller (but very important) parts of the bigger goal. Usually, you want to keep to one defining brand name and stick to it, otherwise you risk confusing people. But the many cooks in the Business Cares kitchen have their own unique ways of contributing and a lot of terrific sub-brands have been the result. Some examples are “Be a Fan, Bring a Can” (where sports fans are encouraged to bring food donations to the Budweiser Gardens arena prior to select dates for the IBL’s London Lightning basketball team and the OHL’s London Knights hockey team), Golfer’s Care” (a one-night event that gathers local golf enthusiasts for an evening of fundraising and entertainment) and what has come to be known as “Metro Weekend” (a two-day volunteer effort of canvassing in front of several local grocery stores). Each of these activities could be their own brands and/or stand-alone efforts in their own right. But they aren’t. It could all end up being confusing. But it isn’t. It’s all part of the machinery and magic that is the larger effort called Business Cares. And it works.
You’ll sometimes hear negative things about big business. You may hear some not-so-nice things about small business, too. And yet I believe that the world of business remains similar to people in general: most of them are good and decent. A select few sometimes cloud it for the rest. But when something like this rolls around, I’m reminded of just how kind-hearted and hard-working most people can be.
Businesses of all kinds get involved. Over 400 companies find a way to contribute what they can to Business Cares. Some challenge other industry competitors to raise the most food. Some rally their staff and adopt the cause as their own. And some simply display a poster and drop box for food. All of it is valuable.
It will all wrap up at County Heritage Forest Products on Tuesday, December 23rd. There will be last-minute cheque presentations and other eleventh-hour surprises that morning. There always are. It is, for me, one of the best parts of Christmas and a reminder that the true spirit of the season does still exist. It is genuinely heartwarming.
Wayne says that “Taking care of business means taking care of people.” Ironically, it’s people that have to take care of any business. And in this case, the businesses come together to help more people. And when those people are empowered and truly believe in what they’re doing, they work, put their egos aside, and are well-equipped to successfully arrive at a mutual, positive goal. Business Cares is proof of this, and I give Wayne Dunn and everyone who participates loads of credit for it.
In my experience, it usually doesn’t work to have “too many cooks.” But this is a crowded, happy kitchen that thrives because it’s driven by genuine good feelings and honest efforts.
You’re welcome to join us.
Please bring more food.