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How Do You Know What You Know?

DragonsOnce upon a time when dragons roamed the earth, guru’s were thin on the ground and the Internet was still on dial-up, there lived a very wise man in a land far, far away (probably China).

This particular wise man was so wise he was deemed to be a Zen Master.  In the wisdom stakes that’s pretty damn good, let me tell you. He was revered by all the villages as the go-to guy on any issues pertaining to wisdom and trivia quizzes.

Then one day it all went horribly wrong.

Our Sage was sat in his hut, stroking his chin and drinking green organic decaffeinated wild mountain tea when the door burst violently open. In stepped Bob the village Fishmonger brandishing his best fish filleting knife and not looking at all happy.

“You have been sleeping with my daughter” screamed the irate Bob.

“Is that so?” replied the Master

“Yes it is that’s why I said it. And another thing, she’s pregnant!”

“is that so?” said the Master again

“Yes, and the child will be your responsibility when it’s born”

“Is that so?”

“Can you stop saying that now please, it sounds silly”

“Is that so?”

At this point the story gets hazy, but I’m pretty sure Bob pounced on the Zen Master and punched him several times and pulled his beard very hard indeed.

I was on Twitter yesterday and quite frankly came under the sort of attack that I haven’t experienced before. Completely out of the blue somebody responded to a comment I had left at the end of this review on How To Be Rich and Happy, and demanded I explain on Twitter what I was up to with the pricing structure for the book.

It’s not very often I get annoyed by tweets or blog comments because they are water off a ducks back most of the time. But this was different because I felt, rightly or wrongly I was having my integrity questioned in public by somebody that didn’t even know me.

If I was working with a Life Coaching client under similar circumstances I would have advised a completely different strategy to the one I foolishly rushed to adopt with this guy.

I would have said something like this:

Look, it doesn’t matter who you are, how you act, what you do or where you do it, there will be always people that don’t like you, don’t like your values, don’t like the way you dress, don’t like your nationality, don’t like your style of writing, don’t like the way you talk and 1,001 other things.

They will think they know you, when they don’t. They will presume they understand your motives when they don’t.

I often say to clients, I’ve enough problems understanding what is going on inside my own head, how the hell am I supposed to know what is going on inside somebody else’s? I’m almost certainly going to get it wrong because I’m never in possession of all the facts.

You have no idea what this guys motives are or were. You can run around defending yourself if you have the time and energy to do that, but what happens if/when the book takes off and that one guy becomes 25 or even 100? What will you do then, hire a team of VA’s to do all your defending for you?

Or would it be wiser to concentrate on those people you can help, those that get what it is you’re doing and those that aren’t so quick to judge, and just ignore the rest?

As Jeffrey Gitomer once said “Isn’t it about time you resigned your job of the General Manager of the Universe?”

That’s what I would have said to a client, and on the whole I think they’re wise words. Maybe not Zen Master type wise, but not too shabby nevertheless.

I’m not sure if the tendency to defend ourselves when we come under verbal attack is hard-wired in at birth, but even if it isn’t, it’s fairly well established in the vast majority of adults, including I have to say, myself.

How often is it valid though? How often does it help us as opposed to throwing gasoline on an already roaring fire?

Of course we want people to think positively about us, but if they don’t, should we really worry about it? Should we use up our energy trying to convince somebody how lovely and cute we are, when we don’t even know their motives?

Their actions may stem from jealousy, fear, having a bad day, rampant paranoia or a genuine belief they are helping others. Or of course they may just be an asshole that enjoys stirring the pot.

After the baby was born to the Fishmongers daughter, Bob went to drop the kid off with his new dad.

“This is your son” said Bob.

“Is that so”

“Oh don’t start that again, I’m not in the mood”

“Is that so?”

Bob felt his hand slowly caress the cold blade of his knife, but then remembered his promise to Marge his wife not to decapitate the Master, and he backed slowly and silently out of the hut leaving the baby behind.

A couple of years later and there was a party at Bobs for his daughters 21st birthday. There was much merriment and lots of ‘herbal’ tea being consumed. Quite frankly Bob’s daughter was hammered, and in her inebriated state decided to announce to the world that the Zen Master wasn’t the real father. It was actually Frank the traveling knife salesmen.

A huge gasp went up in the house, not least of which came from Frank who was in town for a few days attending a knife sellers convention.

“Shit” said Bob, “I suppose I now have to go and apologize to the Master and get the bloody kid back?”

Off he trailed back up the hill, only this time on arrival he knocked meekly on the door. As he entered he could see the baby asleep on his ‘fathers’ lap.

“Er, I’m going to need the little fella back please Your Highest Excellency”

“Is that so?”

“Yes Your Divinenebuddhistness. Er, this is all a bit embarrassing because apparently you didn’t nail my daughter, it was that bastard Frank. You know, the knife guy with the mullet hair cut” (laughs weekly)

“Is that so?”

“Yeh, who’d have thought it, huh? Oh well, got to be going I have a delivery of Hungarian Haddock due in any time now” With that he scooped the baby up and ran back down the hill.

We all carry many misconceptions around with us. We often have to form incredibly rapid decisions about people and events without all the information. That is just life and there is no way round that.

It isn’t making the decisions that’s really the problem, it is the holding onto them when contrary evidence shows up to suggest we were wrong in the first place.

We have a tendency to start looking for evidence to back our initial opinion up, rather than evidence that will cast doubt on it. When we get into this mindset we often don’t even see the truth of the matter when it presents itself because we have become so invested in our initial belief.

There is power in knowing this. Power because I KNOW you will have some such beliefs about yourself. Beliefs that aren’t facts, but may well be holding you back because you continue to hold on to them.

Well, you’re an open-minded person, so what about scrutinizing them a bit more seriously? What about really exposing those beliefs to the ridicule they quite rightly deserve.

Could you do that today? could you take one niggling, self-limiting belief and demolish it with contrary evidence? Sure you can.


24 comments to How Do You Know What You Know?

  • Dear Life Coach Tim,

    I spent yesterday being criticized very harshly by several people who made some very hurtful assumptions about my character and motivations.

    I was calm, addressed valid issues and treated myself to a nice relaxing evening to unwind.

    The student has exceeded the master. BOO-YA! In your face!

    On a more positive note, I will say that one of the hardest beliefs I am working on breaking is my belief that I am extraordinarily good at sussing out other people’s character and motivation, from things like noticing how they park.

  • Ya, I have a huge problem defending myself. Sometimes I ask myself “what exactly am I defending?” It gets really easy sometimes to get my sense of identity wrapped up with an idea or belief.

  • @ Tracy – Yeh well I was just taking a day off. I can’t be fully coached up 24/7 ya know!

    @ David – Oh yes! Very true that, and I think we’re all guilty of it from time to time. I think the key is that conscious awareness and not shooting off on auto-pilot all the time.

  • “I am half way through it and there is some cool stuff in there.”

    Is that so? (:

  • Tim,
    I am right in the middle of attempting to smash a belief that will not give up with ease….tomorrow I am working with an Irish Healer on the phone….attempting to smash and break up what is clogging the system…
    I have been eating raw and vegan for 7 weeks (DR. Fuhrman style) to make sure I do not get diabetes and to heal the liver disease….the average weight loss is 25 pounds…I have lost 1 pound and am starving all the time…and cold…

    What is interesting is that in the middle of this “good” and faithful quest….my church wants to grill me about taking away my “medical leave post ovarian cancer” and my Ordination….35 years they have been rejecting me…I do not wish to defend myself any more….

    Why am I holding on? Why am I not releasing?
    I loved your story and humor and drawings…

    I am not laughing much any more either.

  • I loved this story, and your refreshing ability to cop to being human. In particular this message:

    “Or would it be wiser to concentrate on those people you can help, those that get what it is you’re doing and those that aren’t so quick to judge, and just ignore the rest?”

    Yes. Yes it would. Thank you for the reminder. Focusing on what’s right (and who’s right for me) instead of worrying about the rest. A great plan for today (maybe tomorrow too).

    You’ve got yourself a new subscriber…I look forward to reading through your archives (the post titles intrigue me).

  • I really enjoyed your story, and what you would have said was perfect.

  • I like it when any guiding figure can stand up and admit that they, too, have to work at it.

    Nothing’s a given. My combatives training coach always gets asked what it is like to not have fear. He always chuckles and says, I always have fear, although I usually get around it pretty quickly in the majority of cases. You can’t stop being human.

    When I talk to people about confidence in arguments or even in the possibility of violence, I always reinforce fallback options and a personal directive.

    Basically, I encourage them to follow a plan, what they can forecast as problems now, plan and practice for. Then, when that stops working, go to your purpose, customer is always correct, value the internal customer, or even make it right, regardless. If that falls out, roll in to principles like fairness, decency, truth, compassion to resolve the disagreement.

    It allows a few footholds to center when things start going emotional, or worst case violent. Getting a grip on what’s left of your cognitive brain is difficult when it is being doused with cortisol and betaendorphine!

    The best prescription is always ….Breathe…. Then beat the crap out of the person who is pissing you off! (kidding)

  • I didn’t catch the commotion that caused this post, but I must say that your use of metaphor was very nice. The post flowed well and, I believe, your point was well taken.

  • @ Pace – Thanks I hope the 2nd half stays equally cool.

    @ Patricia – A better question than “Why am I holding on?” is “What is stopping me from letting go?” Why causes us to defend and justify and that is seldom useful. You are multi-faceted and your behavior has a positive intent. If you can find out what that intent is you can then look for different ways to meet it.

    @ Wendy – Thanks a lot! Very happy to have you reading and worry not you’ll get lots of humanness round here ;-)

    @ Dr George – Thanks Doc!

    @ Mike – Should I have just kicked the crap out of him then Mike? ;-)

    @ Lisa – Thanks and you’re probably better off not catching the commotion! The guys final dig at me was to comment about my cothing! He doesn’t like pink apparently.

    @ JJ Jalopy – No it isn’t actually, now stop bothering me.

  • I truly have nothing to comment but I had read the guru-kid story somewhere, and you have put it across so hilariously that I simply had to. It was terribly humorous and made me laugh like this – :D

    On a serious note, I realize I have a long, long way to go before I can say – is that so?

  • I know I’m going to sound like one of those horrible uptight parents, but I couldn’t get past the baby being jerked around like that. I don’t know what the moral was; I just want to go hug my 1-year-old son right now and assure him no ignorant fishmongers or too-serene-to-fight-for-a-child gurus are ever going to yank him from his home :-(

  • @ Meghashyam – Thanks a lot, and yeh, I have a ways to go too!

  • We all still have a long way to go – that’s the point; to keep going, because we never really get there.

  • [...] Tom Volkar’s incredible questions on his blog: Tim Brownson’s humor and how he tweaked my comment into a meaningful reply: Patricia – A bet… [...]

  • Swing away Tim! Just kidding, as always I advocate love, not war!

  • My personal favorite version of “Is that so?” is: “You may be right.”

  • Hey just wanted to say I really enjoyed your post and agree with your opinion. Everyday when we let those “things” bug us we tend to ingest poison and we expect someone else to die. But the reality is that we are the ones that suffer.

    We are all human but instead of letting those “jabs” at us overcome us, we can overcome them. Nothing has meaning except the meaning you give it. I value everyone’s opinion but that is all it is their “opinion” or perception of the event through their eyes. You have your own perception, it’s easy to confuse the two as each other but when you understand that their perception is based on the events they have lived thus making them the person they are at that moment, and like wise so are you!

    Keep you head up always otherwise you miss all the opportunities right in front of you.

    Coach Bob (certified life coach)(member of CANC2)(Coaches Accountability Network Certified Coach)

  • Dear Tim,

    It is amazing what happens when we take a good look at what we thought was real in the universe and realize that it isn’t exactly as we thought. Letting go of the need to gratify our ego and let others grow based on their own amazing talents and abilities is a special skill. I try to look at each day as a learning experience and open myself to all kinds of new thoughts. Sometimes it’s painful, even embarrassing but I’ve never regretted looking outside myself.

    Take care,


  • “Is that so?”
    It can be a great questions to ask ourself too!