Words matter; the linguistic make-up of discourse is all-important…

One of the reasons for… lack of understanding… is to be found in the language which people speak. This language is full of wrong concepts, wrong classifications, wrong associations. And the chief thing is that… the vagueness and inaccuracy of ordinary thinking happens because every word can have thousands of different meanings according to the material the speaker has at her disposal and the complex of associations at work in her at any one moment. People do not clearly realize to what a degree their language is subjective, that is, what different things each of them says while using the same words. They are not aware that each one of them speaks in a language of their own, understanding other people’s language either vaguely or not at all, and having no idea that each one of them speaks in a language unknown to them or anybody else. People persist in having a very firm conviction, or belief, that they speak the same language, that they understand one another.

GI Gurdjieff (Gurdjieff quotations courtesy of Allan Clews)

‘Social Media’, Chat Shows, the Feuilletons, Pub gatherings ‒ avalanches of words, words, words. From a meta-position one might well ask what any of them signify. And then more generally ‒ What’s the function of language in the ‘conversation of humanunkind’? How do we use words? What do they do for us? What kind of ‘reality’ do they represent? What do they have to do with ‘communication’? Are they anything but a very crude stab at representing what we like to think of as ‘reality’?

In The Glass Bead Game, set in a Castalia of the future, Hermann Hesse calls the 20th Century ‘the Age of the Feuilleton’, when the media served up a trivialities ‘…by the million… They reported on, or rather chatted about, a thousand-and-one items of knowledge. … A torrent of zealous scribbling poured out over every ephemeral incident and in quality, assortment, and phraseology. All this material bore the mark of mass goods rapidly and irresponsibly turned out.’

‘…People have a very firm conviction, or belief, that they speak the same language, that they understand one another…’ The fact is ‒ they don’t. A biased media uses this insight to manipulate minds: it knows it is safe to churn out words and that nobody is likely to be able to piece together all the contradictions involved.

For a lark, I recently participated briefly in a ludicrous Farcebook exchange (something Hesse would no doubt have scorned) with some local Brexit fanatics. I attempted to point out that, quite irrespective of the arguments for and against leaving the European Union, Referendum voters had been bamboozled by abstractions ‒ word-sounds commonly used by demagogues to brainwash people into voting for their cause. For example, in the current context, ‘control’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘democracy’, ‘leadership’, ‘immigration’, ‘our country’, ‘the people’, their ‘will’, and so on. I challenged them to say what they thought these words actually meant in the context of the Referendum. I pointed out that such words easily become unexamined common currency in a so-called ‘debate’ on the assumption that everybody knows just what they mean ‒ thus subscribing to mass linguistic confusion. I didn’t actually use these words but it’s the gist of what I meant! The level of ‘debate’ goes off with the fairies into the heady realm of abstraction while the solid sticks & stones of things are left miles below.

My local Brexit fanatics either would or could not even address the idea, let alone try to offer something of an opposition. They resorted to the usual ad hominem abuse. I pointed out that such abstract words, meaningless in themselves, gave people the infinite space to fill them with just whatever ‘meaning’ they chose to inject into them so that they then inevitably voted for something that was their very own invention.

They voted for something that was their very own invention; they voted for their own idea not for anything that might be called ‘objective’.

It’s Worth Playing This Little Game…

Entertain an abstraction ‒ any one of the examples above will do ‒ and notice how your inner voice immediately swings into action to provide ‘meaning’. An abstraction always offers space to determine ‘meaning’. Meanings are individually constructed. Gurdjieff calls the phenomenon ‘Internal Considering’. When a million voters indulge in this same game the result is a million different ways of ‘thinking’. It ought not to surprise anybody that the Referendum ‘winners’ can’t agree on a way forward ‒ there was no agreement about the reasons for leaving the EU in the first place; millions of different angles cannot be reduced to purely digital alternatives.

After I’d had my amusement playing around with Deaf Ears and after suffering the unpleasant characteristics of others for a length of time that I deemed sufficient, I eventually blocked my assailants. I was described, with what Mr Polly called ‘allitrition’s artful aid’, as ‘boring Blundell’ because I ‘went on about abstractions’ when they were quite clear that my trouble was being in denial about the Absolute Truth of their Brekshit cause.

The crowd neither wants nor seeks knowledge, and the leaders of the crowd, in their own interests, try to strengthen its fear & dislike of everything new and unknown. The slavery in which mankind lives is based upon this fear. It is even difficult to imagine all the horror of this slavery. We do not understand what people are losing. But in order to understand the cause of this slavery it is enough to see how people live, what constitutes the aim of their existence, the object of their desires, passions, & aspirations, of what they think, of what they talk, what they serve & what they worship.

George Gurdjieff

All abstractions (such as, in the current context, ‘control’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘democracy’, ‘leadership’, ‘immigration’, ‘our country’, ‘the people’, their ‘will’) stimulate internal dialogue ‒ they never sustain themselves as ‘just words’ ‒ they require to be filled with meaning.

Abstractions are ‘Thought Viruses’

They infect what passes for thinking. Thinking becomes diseased.

In the turmoil following the absurd vote to ‘withdraw from Europe’ the abstraction ‘leadership’ kept on being thrown about as though everybody agreed on the meaning of the word. It’s only necessary to point out that the authoritarian personality will fill the word with loud mouth authoritarianism ‒ will require the passion of a Hitler ‒ while what we might call the ‘quiet democrat’ is likely to opt for the kind of person who leads undemonstratively from the rear, like the Baggage Handler in Hesse’s Journey to the East. We identify with our leaders.

I’m going on… The description ‘Boring Blundell’ is very accurate as far as somebody who is prepared to be bored is concerned! But I suppose I do go on a bit ‒ it’s been pointed out to me before in relation to my Globs. I’m unrepentent! There are so many angles to pursue. It seems to me that in general, spoon-fed by triviality and idiot-chat, the human race is less and less able or willing to engage in what I’d call small chunk, ‘genuine thinking’ ‒ which perhaps says something about human attention spans in general. I don’t know whether it’s a recent phenomenon, but I call it ‘the Blue Peter Effect’. Blue Peter was a UK children’s TV programme: it featured five minute slots on this & that and programmed kids into expecting presentations on which they didn’t really have to concentrate for too long. I compare its effect on intellectual expectations with that of Children’s Hour; first broadcast in 1922, it was one of the earliest radio programmes and was part of the BBC’s ethos until 1964 and had a satisfying mix of relatively serious plays and talks, including Helen Henschel on music (where I cut my teeth) and Nature Parliament in which a serious panel answered serious questions about things that happen in nature. It was what I was brought up on. I listened enthusiastically daily at five o’clock teatime for an hour for many years. Everything was low key & serious without all the A Influence razzmatazz that it’s considered children need nowadays. Now I think about it, the need to concentrate was more intense: one learned to concentrate for longer periods. The younger generation has been razzmatazzed.

How do we learn to concentrate? Not by being content with sound bites and a sense of ‘always hurrying on’. Needs peace & quiet & time to consider…

On the other hand part of me always asks why should anybody pay attention to what I think; why do I bother to attempt these long-winded word-assemblages? That’s one of my own ‘thought viruses’. For a long time, for fear of being ‘boring’, it got in the way of my ever opening my mouth! I was called ‘shy’.

What is a Thought Virus?

NLP pushes the phenomenon. It’s a belief possessing negative implications whose origin lies possibly long-buried in our other-than-conscious mind; it’s more or less impossible to discover where & how such a belief came from without a lot of delving into our past ‒ we’ve no idea where we caught the virus, it’s an other-than-conscious mental pattern that helps to determine behaviour. We harbour the virus; it feeds off our energies; it can take over when we are required to face a challenge and feel helpless or up against it in some way. It’s the result of programming, upbringing, education, people we’ve met ‒ the rebuffs, disappointments, set backs not resourcefully dealt with.

Abstractions, seeds of disease, facilitate thought viruses; they block thinking, drain the energy out of it.

How do thought viruses work? One has to investigate the things that drain resolve. I can only think how thought viruses have affected me. As an example, I fight shy of producing poems, music, artwork for competitions. I have long rented out space in my being to a thought virus that appears on competitive occasions. Because I’ve done plenty of what in NLP is called ‘time-lining’ I know exactly how, where & when I caught this particular infection. To ponder it in the first place I literally walked back into the past with a question in mind: ‘Where did this avoidance of competitive occasions originate?’

It’s a curious thing but when you get to the moment-when, you don’t discover it ‒ it just leaps out at you. So I walked back down the years. The moment leapt out at me when I got to the age of 16: I had written a few poems; I sent one to Time and Tide, a literary-political journal long since defunct ‒ they sent me a rejection slip. After that, on the very rare occasions when I entertained the thought of presenting any kind of artefact for display or performance it was always accompanied by the mantra ‘I won’t win’ or ‘This won’t be any good’. I did not resolve this till I was approaching 60! The time-line exercise got rid of the virus simply by bringing the process into consciousness. I still avoid competitive events but only because they seem to me to be a waste of time & energy. I do things now from a conviction that they just have to be done; I push things out into the world without bothering about consequences; their production ‘satisfies my soul’. The virus is eliminated. It’s nice when two or three people respond to what I do but external recognition is not important.

Learning to avoid competition had a Positive Intention for me: it was a defensive gesture helping me to avoid ‘failure’.

The pattern was, “Oops, I’m being asked to compete!” trigger thought virus ‒ “I’ll always get a rejection slip!”. Knowing the pattern robs the thought virus of its power to infect.

Since around 1987 I have just made poems, music, works of art and experimental novels without stopping to think about consequences.

This is the way out of limiting thought viruses: ‘anything is possible…’ ‘I can’.

Another example reconstructed from the behaviour I observed in my very disabled sister. When she was a few years old she overheard doctors telling my mother that she’d only live till she was about 40. I remember her waking in the night screaming out that she didn’t want to die. I don’t know how she did it but she developed a dogged determination to defy the doctors’ prognosis. Perhaps we had the same absolute bloody-mindedness that I know I have in my repertoire. I wonder how she managed to avoid the effects of what could have been a killer thought virus. How did she do that? Perhaps by simply keeping what the doctors had said in her mind, facing up to it, and having a determination to prove them wrong ‒ which she did by 25 years.

My old mum had a thought virus she never got rid of: ‘I don’t do long pieces of reading’: it successfully ensured that she always chose to skip long prose paragraphs in novels, trotting her eyes down the page for the next bit of conversation. I suppose I could have been infected by this. Somehow I developed an immunity. How did I do that? I wonder if she said sometime, “I don’t read the long boring bits!” with the emphasis on ‘don’t read the long boring bits!’ which incited me, being what they call a Polarity Responder, to do just the opposite! I jumped to attention at the call of the hidden imperative ‒ read the long boring bits!

An Otherness-thought-virus…

There’s a deeply embedded thought virus which can infect the absolute capacity to be oneself: instead of building on what you have, it creates a lurking desire to be ‘as good/clever/observant/athletic/handsome as other people are. An Otherness-thought-virus plants a constant wish to be other than what you are.

I suffered from such a virus for many years: ‘What will it be like when I function as other people do?’

By the age of 10, apparently, I use to express deviant opinions of some kind ‒ I don’t remember what they were so perhaps they have come to be the norm for me! I do recall standing on the kitchen step around 1943/44 and saying to my mother, “I don’t suppose that Hitler is all bad…” I was whisked inside lest the neighbours heard what I said!

When I was 10, my mother’s mother sought to re-assure her by saying, “Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it by the time he’s 30…” I became infected by the Otherness-thought-virus there and then: it goes like this, “When am I going to be other than how I am right now?” The corollary was that I ought to have been different from how I was; things ought to have been different. Life was always about to start in some new mode. For many years I found it difficult to face up to my ‘real being’, warts & all. Have I done so?

Accepting various recognitions (as teacher, creative person, thinker, poem-writer, whistler of obscure pieces of music, not to mention a lot of Beethoven) has always been difficult but I have come to laugh at it all as Absurd in the technical Sartrean sense which leaves just me functioning in the world in the only way I know how.

Thought viruses prevent the healthy functioning of the individual. We all suffer from them; like the common cold they creep up on us unawares…

How do we cultivate a immune system? How might a political leader present their case in order to counteract the effect of a thought virus. It was through spreading the contagion of thought viruses that the EU-quitters won their absurd case.


First, we have to grasp fully the concept ‘thought virus’. Think what exactly a virus is. In modern times (since 1728) a virus is an ‘agent that causes infectious disease’. In the late 14th Century it meant a ‘venomous substance’, from the Latin virus ‘poison, sap of plants, slimy liquid’. Sanskrit visam ‘poison’, transmuted into the Latin viscum ‘sticky substance, birdlime’.

So a virus is a something or other with viscosity ‒ a ‘venomous substance’ that sticks to you. If you were aware of it you would take steps to scrub it off.

Since 1972 it’s been a metaphor in computing. A computer virus is a program or piece of code that is loaded on to your computer without your knowledge and runs against your wishes. It sticks there.

Computer viruses are manufactured. A simple one can make a copy of itself over and over again and is relatively easy to produce. Even such a simple virus is dangerous because it will quickly use all available memory and bring the system to a halt.

A ‘thought virus’ is a mental program deriving from something we’ve coded for ourselves sometime in the past in the way that I’ve suggested. We choose to invent a thought virus; it can infect our entire system in a jiffy. Like an original ordinary virus, thought viruses can also replicate themselves in one’s psycho-physical machine. One’s thinking process is hijacked ‒ it comes to a halt.


For a computer system there are antivirus programs which periodically check it for the best-known types of viruses. Can we develop our own anti-thought-virus program? Can we become thought-virus-resistant? What anti-thought-virus mental programs can we develop? Perhaps we need to practise exercises like these:-

Instead of merely accumulating, one must try to keep constantly the organic sensation of the body. Sense one’s body again, continually without interrupting one’s ordinary occupations ‒ to keep a little energy, to take the habit… Wet a handkerchief, wring it out, put it on your skin. The contact will remind you. When it is dry, begin again. The key to everything ‒ remain apart. Our aim is to have constantly a sensation of oneself, of one’s individuality. This sensation cannot be expressed intellectually, because it is organic. It is something which makes you independent, when you are with other people.

GI Gurdjieff

Thought Viruses and Viscosity ‒ processes that stick to us… What is the solvent?

For Sartre ‘…the viscous, that sticky sliminess of the world’, has a way of revealing an individual notion of ‘reality’. Viscosity is a something-or-other in the interface between observation and whatever’s ‘out there’. Stuff sticks to us. Without realising it, we take the sticky qualities of things to express their ‘reality’ for us. Oiliness, sliminess, viscosity become an inchoate metaphor for our being in the world. Remember that oiliness, sliminess, viscosity are characteristics of the common virus!

Mary Warnock quotes from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness:-

The honey which slides off my spoon on to the honey in the jar first sculptures the surface by fastening itself on to it in relief, and its fusion with the whole is presented as a gradual sinking, a collapse which appears at once as deflation… If an object which I hold in my hands is solid I can let it go when I like; its inertia symbolises my total power… . [But the viscous reverses things]. I, the conscious being, am suddenly compromised. I open my hand. I want to let go of the viscous object and it sticks to me, it draws me, it sucks at me. Its mode of being is neither the reassuring inertia of the solid nor a dynamism like that in water, which is exhausted in fleeing from me. It is a soft yielding action…. It lives obscurely under my fingers… At this moment I suddenly understand the snare of the viscous; it is a fluidity which holds and compromises me… The viscous seems to lend itself to me, it invites me; for a body of viscosity at rest is not noticeably different from a body of very dense liquid. But it is a trap. The viscous is like a liquid seen in a nightmare, where all its properties are animated by a sort of life and turn back against me… A sugary viscosity is the ideal of the viscous; it symbolises the sugary death of consciousness, like the death of a wasp which sinks into the jam and drowns.


Here’s another way of looking at this via the concept of identification.

We identify all the time. It keeps us asleep. We identify with our thoughts, feelings and whatever happens in life. Not properly conscious, we operate mechanically. We take this for normality. We become absorbed in things, lost in what we are doing. This is called identification. Whatever you become interested in, or associated with, sticks to you; it takes over your being like a virus and a ‘you-in yourself’ no longer exists.

I am identified now with getting my ideas straight on the screen and suddenly become aware of the music that’s playing through my headphones which had faded into the background. When we’re not identifying with this we identify with that; one identifying event displaces another ‒ adding to the typing/thinking trance, there comes another moment of identifying because I suddenly notice the green-leafed summer scene outside my window ‒ and there’s a fourth when I become aware of my hands jumping up & down on the keyboard and so on. What might be added to experience if/when we became able to focus on everything that comes at us thus with ‘divided attention’. What if I could focus on many things all at the same time? It might increase our repertoire of ways of concentrating.

Whatever else it might do, divided attention enhances discrimination; instead of being stuck in one mode of being it offers the opportunity for making comparisons… I type. I think, I look out of the window, I notice my hands responding to thinking ‒ what is the difference between these experiences?

Asleep in life, we are identified with every thought we have, every feeling and mood, every sensation, every movement. It’s just ‘life’. The way it is. At moments during the day we could learn to challenge ourselves with asking ‒ what am I identifying with right now? What word? what event? what opinion? what favourite idea? There might be things we’re identifying with that are unnecessary to the task in hand. What is it that’s taken me away from knowing who & where I am? What Attentional Virus has attacked my being? STOP! Remain apart!

Attentional Viruses

There are many different kinds of Attentional Viruses. We identify with them. The common feature is that they all get us to look at things askew. For example:-

‘This AV is called getting angry’ = being in Getting-angry-I
‘This AV is called feeling hurt and left out’ = Being-in-feeling-hurt-I
‘This AV is called being disappointed’ = Being-in-experiencing-disappointment-I
‘This AV is called being disorganised’ = Being-in-disorganised-I
‘This AV is called being enthusiastic’ = Being-in-over-zealous-I

Identification wastes energy. Awareness of the act of dividing attention increases energy ‒ the resulting ability to shift attention helps tell us what’s important and what isn’t. Learning to make a shift away from an ‘I’ that’s identifying with something unnecessary (such as trying to win an argument, as I was briefly in my Farcebook exchange) towards something more important. ‘One must not do anything unnecessary’, said Ouspensky.

In a moment of not being identified you seem to be in a quiet, central place in yourself and you are aware of the different ‘I’s and events trying to advance and capture your attention. It’s like keeping a gap, maintained by some invisible protector, (Meta-I, Protecting-I) between you and the crowd of things. This can be called a ‘Work-state’ as opposed to a ‘Life-state’. So, in order to have the blissful experience of a moment of non-identification it is necessary to put yourself in a ‘Work-state’ every day.

There are many ways of doing this including: remembering your aim and remembering yourself at the same time: ‘this is me here and now reviewing something I’ve read in connection with the system that’s not a system; going over in my mind what happened the previous day…’ Or else bringing to mind something you want to be more conscious of regarding another person or a certain situation; trying to see events and people in the light of the non-system.

Struggling against identification needs practice first in easier moments. As PDOuspensky said: ‘You cannot learn to swim if you fall in the sea during a storm. You must learn in calm water. Then perhaps if you fall in you’ll be able to swim…’


Eliminating thought viruses requires breaking their effects down, discovering their origin, making comparisons, forming discrete discriminations. We can do that with the thought viruses of abstractionism.

Take ‘Control’ and ‘Sovereignty’ ‒ two abstractions by which people were conned into voting to quit the European Union’; they identified uncritically with airy nothings ‒ abstractions.

It’s not that abstractions are totally meaningless; they are shorthand terms, pure representations, of a complex set of factors & events; they result in our losing touch with all the variables; they are airy nothings in themselves.

Unpacking abstractions is an intellectually satisfying thing to do: it harnesses the resources of our whole being ‒ intellect, feeling, action.

Let’s do that with ‘Control’ and ‘Sovereignty’. They relate to ‘Leadership’: when you have personal control over events you have power/authority over them; you are able to lead things your way.

It hardly needs pointing out that the immediate result of the Brexiteers voting for the abstraction ‘Control’ has been that things are spiralling downwards ‘out of control’ ‒ markets falling, monetary collapse, companies closing. ‘Control’ has been lost, whatever that means!

And the two major parties in the UK are plunged into a ‘Leadership’ crisis. The ‘debate’ seems to centre on personality rather than policy ‒ ‘who do we want?’ rather than ‘where do we want to go or be led?’ Or even ‘how do we want to be led?’

The sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party says he doesn’t have the qualities of ‘Leadership’ which enables her to hide behind an abstraction rather than deal with the question of ‘where do we want to be?’

We need a strategy for analysing the term ‘leadership’. On the Enneagram, a powerful analytical tool said to be thousands of years old, Fixation 8 is about the qualities of leadership. Take your pick!

1. A Top Form leader is one who

• has a charismatic aura of absolute self-mastery being able to inspire others to action
• is seen by others as a benefactor, creating opportunities for peace & prosperity
• inspires loyalty & devotion
• is able, given a high degree of courage both physical & moral, to restrain any tendency to naked power
• is self-reliant so that set-backs become opportunities ‒ always rises to new challenges
• does not suffer from self-doubt and is not given to introspection or concern with identity
• operates with a kind of innocent & balanced impartiality
• is seen as a protector and provider
• inspires others to work for something larger than themselves
• is benign, possessing great intrinsic authority

2. Leaders who act out of self-interest rather than altruistically fail ultimately because they are

• rugged individualists, adventurers, entrepreneurs, intent on own ends
• not cooperative ‒ not good team players
• driven by the profit motive ‒ money is power
• content to make deals
• on the descent from being healthy leaders towards being dominating bosses
• believers that power is not an abstraction but something you have to succeed at
• inclined to feel that expanding a sphere of influence expands sense of self
• literally and metaphorically craving power to express self
• into domination ‒ being the Big Shot with an egocentric view of the truth
• happy to rule by patronage in order to get supporters
• unlikely to back down because pride is at stake
• of an authoritarian cast of mind

3. Then there are extreme cases of so-called leaders who need to be taken out somehow. They

• become ruthless tyrants, belligerent and bullying ‒ leadership is being tough
• believe that might is right ‒ the law of the jungle applies
• think expedience is all
• forbid all questioning of their commands; only intimidate those they sense are vulnerable ‒ have to be sure they can succeed
• are impossible to be intimate with since friendliness and cooperation are taken to be signs of weakness
• have no compunction about lying, cheating, stealing, reneging on promises
• act in a way that suggests ‘More power ‒ less need to justify’
• are desperate to hold on to power
• have delusional ideas about being god-like
• set themselves up as super-people, beyond morality
• lack any capacity of self-restraint
• want to destroy before being destroyed
• believe that survival is all (‘Better Dead Than Red’!)
• defy death ultimately by stamping on others

Such a taxonomy provides a detailed analysis of the abstraction ‘Leadership’. The key characteristic of somebody with top leadership qualities is ‘a charismatic aura of absolute self-mastery’, that is to say, the ability to be a leader to oneself.

Unfortunately, individuals with an authoritarian mentality can only believe that an authoritarian leader of ‘types’ 2 and 3 is worthy to be a leader. Authoritarianism is a very persuasive abstraction. Authoritarianism is rife. The Brexit campaign was run by people of an authoritarian cast of mind; it was voted for by those with a similar cast of mind.

…when the conquest of nature has secured the possibility of nourishment for everybody, and when the growth of technique has made large-scale co-operation profitable, the conflict of man with man becomes an anachronism, and should end in a political and economic unification such as is sought by the advocates of world government. By this means an external harmony of man with man can be established, but it will not be a stable harmony until men have achieved a genuine harmony within themselves, and have ceased to regard a part of themselves as an enemy fo be vanquished.

Bertrand Russell: New Hopes for a Changing World (1951)



  1. Shouldn’t this be a letter to the times?! Or even an insert or pamphlet for wide distribution to the masses. Particularly to party memberships who will soon be voting for their new “leaders”

    Phenomenal Colin. I shall have to read it at least twice more before attemptin to make any other sort of comment.

    Needless to say I like the long, anything but boring, bits.


  2. So here’s a thought

    Definitions of a sort – source Collins Concise dictionary – not the best source perhaps, but one I happen to have to hand as I think about Colins Linguistic conundrums I apologize that all of this comes from the post brexit slant of the almost entirely politically disillusioned.

    An attempt to illuminate my understanding of the abstraction Leadership

    First take the word Lead –

    I notice there are 28 uses of the word in the definition of the word lead. It is a verb – therefore something you do. To lead. Definition number 18 says to lead, example, precedence or leadership: the class followed the teachers lead (adj). Is the only one that mentions leadership (n)

    A leader (n) according to this dictionary is apparently a person who rules, guides or inspires others. Definition 9 of this adjective is 9. (Brit) a member of the Government having primary authority in initiating legislative business esp in Leader of the House of Commons and Leader of the House of Lords.

    Leading (adj) is defined as (a person) capable of guiding, directing or influencing.

    From here on in I quote extensively from Richard Strozzi-Heckler and his book The Leadership Dojo. Offering an alternative view of leadership which is clearly defined within it.

    The Leadership Dojo, “We live in a time where very few seem able to answer with any depth the question “ what are we striving for?”. We live in a world that increasingly lacks any firm grounding in meaning, values or purpose. “

    He goes on “Deterioration of the natural environment, the increase of the international arms race, the erosion of public education, the breakdown of the family and social anomie and fragmentation argue against hierarchical (or despotic) leadership.” And says these are the concerns for everyone in leadership.

    The test of contemporary leadership is to attend to the force of history, act fully in the present, and build narratives and practices for a generative future. (Use language wisely)

    The exemplary leader embodies grounded compassion, skillful action and pragmatic wisdom.

    He describes two categories of leadership – as a role and leadership as a way of being.

    Leadership as a role: is the category with which we are most familiar. Beginning with hunter gatherer bandsm through agrarian societies and expanded upon Industrial Revolution there is a historical record of individual called upon to formally lead others. In contemporary life withs is the individual who is a leader within an organizational setting. This includes the private, public military government and social spheres. The roles can be chief executive officer of a corporation, chairperson of a board, manager of a team or division, etc etc including In the UK (I use the term loosely) leader of a parliamentary party or Prime Minister.

    The Capabilities of modern leadership can be grouped into three broad categories:

    1. Intelligence. Todays leader has to have a certain level of intelligence (n) {The capacity for understanding; ability to perceive and comprehend meaning} Intellectual might is necessary in order to think through complex issues, navigate through a wide range of commitments, hold multiple horizons of time, manage a diversity of people, analyze data and thing both tactically {tactic adj. having a specified kind of pattern or arrangement or having an orientation determined by a specific force) tactical adj. of relating to or employing tactics} and strategically. {strategist n. a specialist or expert in strategy. Strategy { the practice or art of using stratagems in politics or business: stratagem n. a plan to deceive an enemy

    (I hope the difference between tactic and stratagem is clear to you if not me)

    2. Technical skills and knowledge of his or her industry , analyzing reports, planning running a division, strategy, implementation and so forth. It is also necessary for a leader to be sufficiently knowledgeable in his or her area to be successful, whether it’s finance, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, advertising marketing health care raising children or running a dairy (which calls in to question how “qualifies UK ministers are to run their departments or could it be that they are figureheads rather than actually leading a department?)

    3. Being a particular kind of self. The premise in the Leadership Dojo is that the “self” is the leader’s primary source of power as intellectual capacity and specific skills matter but alone they do not make a powerful leader.

    AH at last – “It’s the self that is able to mobilize and motive others, co-ordinate effectively with them, build trust (ha!) and generate positive moods. We have seen time and time again that the value on has as a person, that is, the self that one is, ultimately becomes the deciding factor in success as an exemplary leader. Cultivating the virtues, character, ethical and moral values that make up the exemplary leader,

    Mmm? did I notice any of the above characteristics in either side of the debate about brexit or in the continuing imbroglio that passes for British parliamentary parties of any hue these days. I think not –

    Despite laying myself open to having moved to cloud cuckoo land, let us consider what the characteristics of a particular kind of self might be in the context of exemplary leadership.

    In the business arena Strozzi Heckler asked these three questions of senior businessmen from various industries in a leadership development programme abstracted from a course run for the US Army special forces designed originally to train the holistic soldier, but which became recognized and known as a leadership development course.

    Q1. “What does a leader do?” A question which always elicited as many answers as there were people in the room The answers all related to leaders having a high level of skill in a variety of areas related to the business they were in. As almost as many as the number of different types of business that the leadership development programme was delivered in.

    Q2. “What are the character values most essential to exemplary leadership?” this produces an entirely different response. The answers fell into a consisten and predictable pattern. Whether the poll was taken with Chilean telecoms execs the senior leadership of the Marine Corps 30 something technology entrepreneurs, European financiers etc etc including US senatorsthe same virtues unfailing appeared.

    and self-control

    Lived out in a Grounded Embodied PRESENCE. Capable of guiding, directing or influencing through that presence with skillful action and compassion.

    The above list of qualities showed up time and again as the hallmarks of a leader. (they have nothing to do with swagger) The literature and research on the character aspects of leadership also reflected this response. There seemed to be a universal consensus about the type of character values necessary for leadership and for leading an honorable life. More-over this list of values was hardly new. A far back as Plato and Thucydides in the West and the Indian epic Bhagavad GIta and Buddhist text Abidharma in the East, these attributes have long been distinguished as the cornerstones of exemplary leadership and life.

    The final question “How do you teach these virtues?” I was met universally with blank stares.

    It’s as if we know what we’re aiming or and we know when it’s present, but we don’t know how to get there.

    BUT it is something that can be learned and it’s generated in relationship with others. Exemplary leadership is not a thing – the correct genes, an appointment, (Oops we’ve just got a new prime minister) a technique or the chance of the draw that favors one over another. Exemplary leadership is a way of being, whether you are leading others or leading your own life. It is a question of active embodiment all of the above qualities and authenticity.

    Active embodiment – living out these virtues, will automatically lead to an authentic grounded presence which might be put in a wheel barrow and called leadership. (Please excuse obtuse NLP reference if as a reader you are not of the NLP persuasion).

    Given that this concrete form of leadership can be taught and is learned in relationship with others, perhaps schools might like to begin teaching embodiment of these virtues alongside the academic curriculum. I see them as equally important.

    Yours ever hopefully, Pandora.


    1. Dear Pandora

      Joining you in cloud-cuckoo land for a moment before breakfast…

      Knowing ‘how to get there’ is, for me, to convert all abstractions (nouns) to activities (verbs)…

      It [leadership] is [should be] a verb – therefore something you do. I think this is fundamental! ‘Leadership’ is an abstract noun – an abstraction, in itself meaningless but crying out for meaning, a shorthand for the >28 uses in Collins. The way to unpick the abstraction is to say ‘Leadership’ is a noun but it should be construed as a verb – something you do. (cf ‘Memory is a noun but it should be thought of as a verb, viz, remembering‘ as before!)

      Teaching people to remember well would be about practice in how to make connections-etc (active embodiment of same). Teaching for being able to lead is, as you say, ‘active embodiment’ of a range of things. Notably those things in the Strozzi Heckler list converted into verbs.

      Self-control – how to make it so that one is at home in oneself
      Honesty – being honest about the things that get in the way of being at home with oneself
      Accountability – accepting responsibility for chiming with others
      Integrity – the expression of being at home with oneself
      Vision – being able to state what life’s about in a selfless kind of way…

      It’s just as you quote from The Leadership Dojo, “We live in a time where very few seem able to answer with any depth the question “ what are we striving for?”. I think that they can’t answer the question because it’s never occurred to them to ask it… Corbyn/Saunders/Chomsky/Gurdjieff’etc express a visionary perspective. That’s why they’re vilified.

      I think that the question that’s never asked by politicians is WHAT IS LIFE ABOUT? So kids ought to be helped to keep asking that question and questions like it. It’s the place where Gurdjieff started his quest.

      Commitment – ‘stickability’ is what I used to advise trainee teachers to encourage in their charges – so it would be teaching people to stick with a line which is ecologically sound.

      Empathy – how to get inside another’s mind. Covey Habit 5 – ‘Seek first to understand before ever trying to make yourself understood…’
      Courage – how to have the oomph to follow a course of action through. Ivan Karamazov: ‘I would rebel even if I were proved to be wrong…’
      Trustworthiness – how to be a hero to oneself… Dancing around with aplomb.

      For me, all this amounts to ‘Being a particular kind of self’. That’s where it has to start. Teaching that is about all the The Leadership Dojo kind of things! This could, with a bit of a squeeze, be accommodated in a wheelbarrow. Perhaps there’s another Glob here: devising a curriculum for converting abstract nouns into verbs.

      Corbyn or Bust


  3. Colin, you just mapped out a way for people to free themselves from themselves. There is something called The Art of Conversation which I think I made up, but it takes all 3 centres working at least partially for it to work. I’m not sure about the young people’s attention span being any more or less than any other generation? A long-winded glob without the boring parts, they must have been left out.


    1. I’m not sure about that either! The attention span thing, I mean. It’s just a hunch from a very limited example! And from a personal angle! I used to watch Blue Peter with my own kids and it constantly struck me how different their experience was to mine. Blue Peter was A Influence stuff; Children’s Hour was more B Influence. Trump as compared with Chomsky. Camoron/May as compared with Corbyn. Something like that…


      1. perhaps there is – I apologize for the typos etc in my previous, my eyesite is appalling these days coupled with a tendency toward dyslexia the result is obvious. Thank you for seeing through it!

        I particularly like the definition of trustworthiness which includes dancing around with aplomb!


      2. Corbyn certainly has stickability – and consistency of line. And he walks his talk…… In fact doesn’t he have all of the above as it were? No wonder he’s considered not to have leadership qualities – it isn’t that at all of course, it is just that people have neither experienced (in their lifetimes) nor thought about what authentic leadership is about. Or perhaps it is just that people in the PLP don’t seem to want to be lead in his distinct direction, despite the fact that it is the natural direction of the labour party… or it used to be before a segment became quasi conservatives.

        Enough of politics perhaps except it is so damned important.

        As for children’s attention span, it depends on the individual child not the category children.


  4. Colin, you mentioned A influences and it seems politics is a huge A influence, something with no guts, no blood, no muscle. The external world is always changing while its essence stays the same, G said something like that. In the hero’s journey the hero goes out into the wilderness and while he is out there he or she discovers something of great value to take back to his tribe or community. The hero then spends his days among the people and all the boring minutia of everyday problems ; he serves his people for ten years. These are the Blundells and Corbyns of the world that have an understanding and this understanding comes from their Being. If you get a chance watch the movie “The Big Short” Bernie Sanders is our Corbyn and it’s a wonderful dream. It takes more than stickability much more…


    1. Yes, ‘politics’ is as much of an A Influence as ‘religion’ or ‘ambition’ or ‘sport’ or ‘fun’ of any kind. Mind you I have what I call ‘fun’ writing Globs – intellectual-feeling-fun.


  5. I think that Manuela Cadelli, President of the Magistrates’ Union of Belgium, may be on the same wavelength! In a brilliant article Neoliberalism is a Species of Fascism dated 11th July 2016 she wrote about abstractionism:-

    Abstraction predominates in public discussion so as to occlude the implications for human beings.

    Abstractionism kills discourse.

    Nice to be bracketed with Corbyn & Sanders!


  6. It’s good to see someone else gets the dark centre of abstractions and how they are used to bamboozle our psyches. Changing abstractions into verbs as you’ve written creates a pause to question to ponder to action By placing Brexit as a lightening rod in your glob it blasted duality thinking into fine particles of thought. I’ve felt for some time now that there is a dancing fool inside good writing that causes an existential dilemma for the writer. This Fool could be seen as a Trickster of sorts, a shadowy “I” that feeds on our use of abstractions. Onward to our small group of seekers!



        In his book Silent Messages, Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA, asked the question “What makes someone credible?” or “Why do we trust someone?”

        In his study, people stated that the believability of someone’s message was influenced 7% by content (The words), 38% by voice tone and tempo and 55 by body language or non-verbal communication. Ongoing there have been many other studies that came to the same or thereabouts conclusion.

        Therefore – even though words are extremely important, especially to those who care so passionately about them; it is clear that there is something else is more important to the receiver of the message, usually known as the listener.

        The Chinese character for listening contains elements of ear (what I hear) you (the message giver) eyes (what can be seen in the eyes of the other) undivided attention and heart (not the organ but much more). In Oriental medicine the heart is referred to as the emperor organ, having reign over all others. (this does not refer to organic function but to the qualities attributed to specific organs) The heart contains shen, or spirit.

        In the Neijing, shen is mentioned about 240 times. Traditionally, the term refers to the mechanism of change, the mystery of sudden and profound transformation, and the expression in a person’s face, particularly the eyes. When applied to the human body, the term describes a major part of what would be called physical vitality, mental activity, and spirit.

        There are three main functions attributed to shen,

        1. mental activity (consciousness) as a manifestation of the central, albeit hidden, movement of shen. The heart, via the flame of shen that it harbors within, is therefore like a lantern in charge of illuminating the outside world; it is seen as the source of thought processes. Any thought or idea, the will to carry it out, mental focus, planning, and intelligence can thus be considered to be manifestations of shen;

        2. the seven emotional reactions (joy, anger, sadness, grief, fright, apprehension, worry) and their involuntary expressions (facial expressions, body movements, gestures, sighing, moaning, giggling, sobbing) are manifestations of shen;

        3. the controlling and regulating effect of the heart over mental and physical properties that are classified as the five modes of operation (wushen): hun, po, yi, zhi, and shen (this latter being the same term). Each of the modes is attributed to one of the five organ networks:

        hun refers to the self-awareness and self-control mechanism; associated with the liver;

        po refers to the body’s basic reactive instincts associated; with the lung;

        yi refers to the ability of thinking and remembering; associated with the spleen;

        zhi refers to the function of memory; associated with the kidney;

        shen refers to the function of processing all incoming sensory and intuitive information and supervising the body/mind reaction to it; associated with the heart.

        So of greater importance as what is being said (the words) and why it is being said (which is open to interpretation), are the elements of “how” it is being said.

        We unconsciously “do” what the Chinese character for listening conveys on an other than conscious level.

        This “how” constituting the 93% of what constitutes building trust and credibility is communicated by through the body of the speaker (and filtered and interpreted through the body of the listener) We “feel” we can trust another’ and rarely analyse the data to see if “trust” is a suitable response to a person, we assess trust through our own body and the body of the other.

        Trust is of critical importance in human relations, whether to trust or not tells us whether we are safe. The percentages from Professor Mehrabians study on trust and credibility require much more of us than a cursory unconscious acceptance.

        I view it as a call to action to begin to act in our lives differently, basing our “judgement” not on the words we hear but upon a miriad of other somatic factors going on in our own bodies. We need also to embrace the notion of language as an embodied commitment derived from the work of Dr Fernando Flores PhD where language is regarded as action.

        A question might be – How do I act in my body in order to embody a specific word.

        The percentage relating to voice tone and tempo, 38%, tells us that who we are (how we act) is far more influential and expressive than what we’re saying. It tells us that our presence is language and there is always sensitivity to who we are at a cellular and energetic level. They point out that humans first seek to trust the person and then the message.And that coherence between the person and the message is essential.

        So our felt sense of trust comes about only because of a person to person relationship, it cannot come about through globs, or email or text of any other from of one or two dimentional electronic means.

        From this we can conclude that we are our message, when we embody our values, we are at the height of our power and influence. It reveals that our presence, our way of being, is the foundation for building trust, intimacy and connection with others. It is the ground upon which exemplary leadership is built.

        If I ask myself what I saw from any of the brexiteers, was it something I could trust, and yet people did, or did they?

        What about the remainians, what of their “voice” tonality and tempo, and non verbal communication did that engender trust ?

        The fact is, the words of the remainians were not being heard or when heard were not being believed, or trusted. This seems to me less to do with abstractionism, but much more to do with the consequences of how many of our political elite comport themselves.

        But do I think the leave campaigners whipped up an unsavoury storm of racial intolerance and worse? Yes undoubtedly, and what’s more they were proud of it, playing this time to fear and adding to the lack of trust already “felt” by those who voted to leave. Only this time it was lack of trust in anything, or more particularly anyone, “other”. Cynically manipulating the already vulnerable to do what you want them to do is unforgivable and we are only just beginning to live with the consequences.

        The politicians in government pre-brexit were in the majority so completely disconnected from themselves and from their electorate that they consistently failed to take note of the fact that fewer and fewer people were exercising their right to vote because they considered it futile. This can hardly be described as a new phenomenon in Great Britain. Governments here have been minority governments for decades now.

        Once trust is lost, it is considerably harder to win it back.

        That in my humble opinion is why the brexiteers voted to leave, the use of abstractions added to the ability of people to make up their own stories as to what was being promised, BUT actually did they even care, I think they saw brexit as an opportunity to be heard, and a chance to kick a politician where it hurts because their sense of trust had been systematically betrayed time and again by successive governments.

        From a somatic perspective, brexit was lost not on the campaign trail but far far earlier, when great swathes of our society, did not trust the person, or the message that they were hearing from their members of parliament, their elected (largely by a minority) representatives. What they experienced was a dis-embodiment from government, a disenfranchisement from society, opportunity and dignity.

        If persons who lead undertook to lead themselves in alignment with their own stated values and became a physical embodiment of the values of being honest, of being open to being held to account, to be the embodiment of integrity, to be empathic, to act out their vision with courage, and have self-control, in otherwords to embody authenticity they might just stand a chance of being considered trustworthy.

        First of course they would need to become aware of the necessity to BE different and to LEAD differently and to be acutely aware of what any of that would feel like in their own bodies. Quite a steep learning curve me thinks. But not impossible.

        Yours truly



      2. Yes, thank you Pat, Eric, and everyone who contributed to the conversation. It’s been a highlight for me during this terrible week of violence in america. I am reading good old Walt today as a reminder of a voice out there in the wilderness that speaks to something else in us all. Onward!


      3. Thank you Patrick, your succinct comment is a timely reminder that we are all connected; and each one of us matters in some way.

        Onward small group of seekers!


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