Balance: Everything Requires It

A man does not show his greatness by being at one extremity, but rather by touching both at once." ~ Blaise Pascal
I have several quotes I use to remind myself of philosophic truths to help me navigate difficult situations. This is one of them. It’s a reminder to me to see balance. Whenever I find myself drifting into a rigid ideology, or I find myself arguing with someone thinking I am right and they are wrong, I think of this quote. It’s a reminder to myself that we both can be right. The opposite of a great truth is often another great truth.

Holding one truth to the exclusion of other truths doesn’t help us solve our problems or win friends and influence others. Seeking a balance between extremes – both of which are true, is a good way to try and navigate life. That way you are taking advantage of all that is good and hopefully avoiding the pitfalls that come with being at an extreme.

Here are some opposites that are both good but that need to be balanced to achieve success.


Skepticism is good. It keeps you honest and keeps you from making mistakes. But taken to an extreme and all things become equal and relative and it is impossible to make decisions because skepticism devolves into nihilism. Which isn’t good.

Optimism is also a good quality – in moderation. Taken to an extreme and you get unrealistic wishful thinking that not only doesn’t help you solve your problems, the lack of realistic thinking makes it nearly impossible to solve problems.

Balancing skepticism with optimism helps you be both skeptical and optimistic at the same time. Helping you to avoid nihilism and flights of fantasy to tread a more realistic path to your goals.

                Responsibility to self and to others

Responsibility is a good thing. It gives our lives meaning and purpose.  Too much responsibility and we become overwhelmed and break down.   If we only think of ourselves, we are selfish. If we only think of others, we are self-less, but not in a good way.

In order to thrive we need to balance self-care with care for others.  If we don’t care for ourselves, we cannot care for others. Balance is needed.


I am like aspects of both capitalism and socialism.  Capitalism is a pretty decent system for allowing individuals to work on what they think is important. Laissez faire capitalism is exploitative and cruel.

Socialism in moderation is also good. It helps us think of our impact on others and to collaborate for the public good. Socialism taken to an extreme, where only the community good matters, as with capitalism, also becomes exploitative and cruel. 

 The problem in both cases (extreme capitalism and extreme socialism) is that care and concern for individuals gets lost in the ideology when taken to extreme. This is unfortunate because in their moderate versions, they are both systems designed to promote the welfare of the individual!

Balance helps us remember in our pursuit of happiness (capitalism) that other people matter too  (socialism). Finding the middle ground helps us get the benefits of both systems without devolving into exploitation of the individual to advance a “greater good”

                Autonomy/Social Responsibility

This last one also requires balance. We are all autonomous individuals, but no one is or should be an island. Humans in isolation go crazy. We are tribal animals and need our tribe to feel secure. Which is why we need community.

But just as care of others (social responsibility) is a good thing, too much means the loss of the individual or the subsuming of the individual to the greater good of the community.

When we seek balance between our need for autonomy and the need to be socially responsible we realize that by helping the community thrive, we help ourselves thrive – as individuals. It’s not either or, we only really thrive when we do both – in balance.


When you find yourself struggling along some dimension in your life, or in your work, the problem is probably caused  by you valuing one ideal over it’s opposite ideal and if you remind yourself to balance those competing ideals, you will probably get a better result.

Try it and let me know how it goes.

The Hows and Whys of Unlearning

Not a lot of time is spent on unlearning. Most of us are focused on what we want to learn, not what we need to unlearn.

The problem is, if we want to grow and change, we usually need to unlearn old habits first.  The good news is there is a science to that. No really, it’s called behavioral psychology and it’s the study of how we learn and unlearn behaviors. Researchers have been studying this topic of about 70 years now.

The good news is that we do know how to create unlearning, or to put it in simpler language, we know what it takes to break a bad habit.  The bad news is that it isn’t easy to do. Which is why so many people who try to change, fail.  The good news is that if you have failed before, it’s not really your fault. It really has very little to do with willpower and strength. It has to do with how you are conditioned and rewarded (both for the old unwanted behavior and the new behavior).

I teach several courses that integrate the science of how and why unlearning happens into the course content. It’s relevant to how to stop bullying, harassment and retaliation. It’s relevant to change management processes. It’s relevant to helping teams adopt new behaviors despite all their fussing and whining about it (which is predicted to occur).

The simplest way to describe this process is this: if you want to stop a behavior, you have to stop rewarding it. And yes, I realize that that statement is incredibly unhelpful. How exactly you do that is the challenge. And unfortunately, each behavior is different because how it is being rewarded is different.

What you really need to learn is the science. There are 3 types of responses, positive (reward), negative (punishment) and neutral (which is when nothing happens).  Most people think if you want to stop a behavior you need to punish it. But actually that just reinforces it. Negative reinforcement is still – reinforcement. Not rewarding it at all is what actually works AND you have to do that consistently to get the behavior to stop.

If this is knowledge you think would be helpful get my book, take one of my online courses and learn it.

Applied Humanism

What is Humanism and what are the benefits of applying it in your daily life.

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War and Peace – my Humanist Perspective

A friend of mine asked me my opinion on world peace – specifically wanting me to address this as a Humanist Here is his question and my answer.


For me World Peace is how to save the World. The battle over what is real and Fake news (information warfare) is old but to me Humanism should not take the side of the establishment, and the War Machine's killing and arms selling to every war in the world with constant intervention and the destabilizing nations with US endless wars of regime change. The answer is here in America where the big changes are now happening. Can you take on this problem as only a Humanist?


I think that Humanists agree on what the world would ideally look like. But we rarely agree on the best way to get there.  Both Hayek and Marx were Humanists for instance and their economic prescriptions couldn’t be more different.

I was at a Humanist conference in DC years ago and a guy from the Tabula Rasa Institute, which no longer exists, did a session on “just war.” We explored whether we as individuals had a secular concept of “just war.” In other words, were there situations where use of force was not only justified but moral.  It’s a seriously difficult question to answer.  We, as a group, agreed on the concept and the requirements of what would constitute a “just war” defense of the defenseless, that sort of thing.  We then were asked to get into groups of 4 and discuss whether particular recent conflicts/wars were just based on our agreed upon criteria.  We couldn’t agree. At. All. On any use of force in any situation and whether it was just or not. It turned out that we all knew different things about the conflicts we were considering AND what we knew to be true was different too. It basically came down to whose side of the story did we believe. It was really eye opening for me. This is why I think discussions over figuring out what is true and what isn’t – is so important. No moral reasoning will be good if what we believe to be true is actually false.

 To me, Humanism provides the moral framework and the methodology to come up with good moral reasoning. What is a good moral course of action in any given situation? That is the question we ask. It’s not a perfect system though and people, who agree on ideals and values, will still disagree on how to act morally based on those values.

What I do know is that when I debate someone who I respect who has a different opinion than me, I learn something about the limitations of my own thinking and reasoning. Every interaction of this nature, helps me improve my moral reasoning. I may still not agree on the best way to create the future I want, but I at least will hopefully make fewer mistakes.

 The distinction between establishment and non-establishment is meaningless to me really. They are all establishment. We are all establishment. I have yet to see a good realistic workable solution to the war machine problem and the underlying greed at the heart of it. Identifying the problem isn’t’ enough for me. I want a solution. Not just someone who says – it’s a problem. Of course it’s a problem, how are we going to realistically solve it? I still don’t know.

Can I take on this problem as only a Humanist?  I am not sure what that question means.  I am not just a Humanist so I suppose not. I also take on problems as a woman and as a mother and as a sister and as a wife and as an intellectual and as a member of generation x.

The real question is what can I, personally, do to stop war and promote peace. What can or should all of us be doing as individuals?

The problem for me is – I have a limited amount of time and resources, and I have to make a living. So I need to spend my energy on things that will have the most impact and are within the scope of what is realistically doable. There are a LOT of inter-related problems to be solved. It isn’t enough for us to say – we won’t get involved in any given war. Other people are still fighting. The causes of war stem from a lot of different areas. I am working on areas I think I can have the most impact in AND I am trusting that my fellow humans are working on the things they think they can have the most impact on.

For instance: I don’t have the ability to go to N. Dakota to support the water protectors. Others do. And they will be more effective than I would. Not everyone has to work on the same problems. What I do well is I help people see past the us. Vs. them mindset that leads to conflict and war.   I am concerned about the economic underpinnings of exploitative economic systems that lead to violent oppression in the service of greed, which leads to war. So I’m part of a movement to teach and normalize humanistic business management – globally.  I participate in round table discussions with academics who aren’t yet understanding what they teaching and what we need to focus on – needs to change because it’s still frigging white western focused.

There is the religious nationalism that is tearing regions apart right now that is leading to war – that seeks and lusts after war and conflict. In fact, it can only exist in a conflict framework and mindset. These ideologies can only be addressed and defeated with Humanism.  The Islamic world is experiencing a reformation right now. Those are bloody. We need to insure that the forces of Humanism win the war of ideas in the same way the Humanists ideas eventually prevailed in the European reformation.  We have to support the voices of humanistic Islam and humanistic Christianity for that to happen. We have to make sure they aren’t killed – which happens with startling frequency. Humanism in it’s pure philosophic form is necessary right now to end war.

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