Belief

Today I found out that an inspiring figure from my past; a leader who had become a believer; an inspiration who helped me more than words could ever express, passed away aged 60.

Bernadette Kenny was a source of strength, courage and belief for me from 1999–2003. I was glad for the 4 years that Bernadette led the work I was part of. I learned a lot about leading others from Bernadette.

In several ways Bernadette showed belief in me. At times of tricky change, of a huge disruption to the way people worked and the way we needed to improve and be better for the people we served in our work, her belief made a huge difference to me. Not to claim some arrogant or overtly highbrow vantage point over others but:

  • To believe in what I stood for about this work;
  • To recognise that I had trust in my abilities to do my best work in this area; and
  • To feel a sense of worth of who I was and how I was being.

What I believed in at that time, what I’ve come to believe, what I know I will also come to believe — are important beyond words to me.

To have belief in a cause, in expressing your belief in and admiration for someone, in sharing your love of, and your belief in someone, is a strong and necessary conversation to have.

I was lucky enough to share a cup of tea with Bernadette about 2 years ago so we could update each other on our lives. I shared with her how important her belief in me was throughout and on particular occasions. She recalled one email I sent to her after a tough briefing where I gave her some positive feedback on how she was.

She said it made a difference to her. I said it was only because she’d already shown me how important acting on beliefs and showing authentic gestures was. We parted that day happy we’d shared the differences we’d made to each others lives. It was so important I shared that — even more now because of her too-soon passing.

Which is my urge here:

  • Share your beliefs in others.
  • Build their esteem with genuine and heartfelt appreciation of who they are being.
  • Let them know they make a difference to you and in what way.

Because in our hyper-connected, media-rich, posturing world, it seems to be relatively easy to do the opposite.

Showing our disbelief, contempt even, for other’s work, views, theories etc. seems a little too easy. I’m not sure I like how this is stacking up. More put downs than build ups.

David d’Souza (@dds180 on twitter) said it in a tweet — it perhaps has become trendy to debunk. I see it a lot. I experience it a bit too.

Things I believe in. People I believe in. Shot down by others. Picked on and criticised by others.

It’s ok though. Because if I believe in something or someone, then I inwardly reflect. Say quietly to myself, thanks for their challenge and come out the other side of that thought tunnel stronger in my conviction about what I believe in.

Of course I’m not naive though. I believe in the challenge of others theories and views, as a natural part of learning and clarifying something of high value, merit and relevance. It avoids us being taken in by something which is full of hyperbole, shallow or no evidence of impact and even dangerous theories.

With the “fake news” epidemic we need challenges to validate the helpful and debunk the manipulative.

The story of Amy Cuddy here is a point in case. Touching thousands, if not millions, of lives with her power-pose, and her invitation to show up as your best self and be confident. Whatever the science was, and wasn’t in this area, I am certain I never saw Cuddy overtly promise people something that turned out to be harmful. And yet, her fellow academics and others seemed to take great joy in casting doubts over the research.

As the feature in the NY Times said “Cuddy, in particular, has emerged from this upheaval as a unique object of social psychology’s new, enthusiastic spirit of self-flagellation — as if only in punishing one of its most public stars could it fully break from its past.”

This just makes me sad.

My thoughts here are, if Amy’s work inspired you and you felt good about knowing it, then fantastic. A result. A positive uplift in your spirit.

Scientists who can point to a lower than projected level of cortisol reduction — thanks, but doesn’t do much for me other than prove you can measure chemicals.

So Amy, I haven’t used your work to recalibrate my entire life and now it’s all gone to pieces because others have attacked you and shown different evidence.

And yet I believe in you.

Because you found something. It was interesting. It seemed to work for people. It lifted their (largely) unmeasurable elements of spirit, belief, passion, worth to their own self-described higher levels.

And yet others wanted to tear your playhouse down.

And yes, they may have found evidence that doubted some of the things you relied on in your wider work. And that may have disappointed a few people. And you, yourself, would have had some doubts about the validity of some of your work.

And yet I still believe in you.

Because you wanted to do good in the world. Help people. Give them something.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the power pose. I’ve not been that inspired to use it if I’m honest. Yet your piece on warmth and competence a couple of years ago gave me just what I needed for a group of leaders who were just in need of something like this, at that time.

So thank you Amy Cuddy (though you’ll probably not get to know about this piece, but thanks all the same).

Back to debunking and disbelief. Perhaps what the world needs is a lot more evidence to those things that can help us most. And so maybe your work was, as David d’Souza wisely suggested, “a theory to test and not a truth to be applied”.

I suppose we owe it to the world that if something isn’t as we feel or know it should be, we challenge it. We can say “yes, and…” or “not quite, and so…”

I think I’d rather just build something better to play in, than tear someone else’s playhouse down. So that’s where my energy is at.

And if there’s one thing that Bernadette Kenny has gifted me, it’s that no matter what the sciences say or don’t say, showing and sharing belief in someone can be the most positive act of human kindness to literally make the biggest difference in that person’s life and work. I think back to one conversation in person and one email exchange that literally, lifted my soul.

I believed in something better and Bernadette Kenny helped me see that in her, others and in myself. If Amy Cuddy helped you believe in something better that helped you be a better you, then she’s done you a service and no manner of debunking can take that away from you and countless others.

In the NY Time piece this came out strongly for me:

“Why does everyone care so much about what Amy says?” Brian Nosek says. “Science isn’t about consensus.”

And neither is belief — necessarily — driven by, held up by or shaped by consensus.

Knowing your beliefs system is possibly one of the most powerful quests you can undertake.

Showing your belief in others is one of the most powerful things you can gift to them.

And as the Gaping Void piece shares at the start of this blog post, you are only as good as the love you have for other people.

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