The Hermeneutic of Charity

It is very easy to assume the worst about another.

  • They didn’t show up on time? They don’t respect me.
  • They didn’t complete the project on time? They are lazy.
  • They didn’t communicate with me? They are arrogant.
  • They didn’t fulfill their commitments? They are millenials.

The list goes on, and on…and none of it is of any use.

What happens in life is that our expectations are constantly unmet. Always, always what happens is that something happens inside of us when our expectations are unmet. Some of us can react in resentment or anger, others simply never work with you again. Note, none of this has anything to do with the other person, only our response to them.


The most important thing to realize is the incredible amount of power or importance you have given another person who disappoints you. You had such high expectations for them, of course they would disappoint you at some time or another. Their disappointing you has absolutely nothing to do with them, it has everything to do with the importance you give them.

There are two tools that I would propose when you are dealing with these disappointments:

The first is confusion. Being confused is the most effective psychological tool, because it puts a pause on your amygdala’s fight or flight reaction. It allows you to gather more information, to see the information more clearly. Still mad? Stop, say the words, “I am confused.” That will help you diffuse your own anger, keeping you from going down a spiral of bad emotion.

The second is a hermeneutic of charity. Hermeneutics are how we interpret events or information. If I show up late, for example, it may be helpful to say, “I know that Alan knows that it’s important to be on time, since we talked about this yesterday. However, since I believe he is a good man and would do his very best to be on time, I’m not sure (read: confused) why he is late again. I am sure there is something going on with him or his family, and maybe even there is something I can do to help him.” This takes a great amount of humility to accept that you might not know everything at first.

It’s hard, however, when you don’t get to have those conversations. If you lose a job, it’s easy to resent your previous employer. They might be a two-faced spineless spawn of Satan, but you also get to undo the evil they have done to you by embracing a hermeneutic of charity. It will do far more for you than it will for them, and you will have new opportunities to love and to be understood much better in the future. That is the choice of love, and also the choice of hope.



The Uncertainty Principle and Dead Reckoning

Stephen Tobolowsky talks at great length about the “uncertainty principle.” As  rough quote: “Certainty, like doritos, is best in small doses.” I couldn’t agree more.

The difficulty is that when you are staring down the barrel of untold of changes and life seems to change every day, literally moving 90 degrees to the left one minute, followed by 90 degrees to the right. The rapid changes make for an exhausting emotional rollercoaster of change. It’s not so much that we want certainty as much as all our expectations have been completely flummoxed.

Greek has a term for this: paradox. That is, when something happens that is contrary to our expectations. The problem is that the subconscious does not know what to do with confusion, and so often we may act out in anger, frustration, go on a bender, or pick up an extreme sport. It’s not so much the matter of encountering transcendence that is the motivation for so much of our bad behavior in the face of confusion, it’s rather wanting to make that encounter on our own terms. Rather, we can also choose to embrace confusion, to allow ourselves not to get angry, to not act out of our misguided need to control things.

The choice to make a more positive response lies in two factors that I can see.

First, we have to get change our mindset. What we see as a 90 degree shift may actually be only a five degree movement if we zoom out a bit. It’s not that everything has changed, it’s that there are some adjustments to be made. When we think the adjustments are too large

Second, we have to practice a mindful attitude of dead reckoning. Dead reckoning is a naval term that means that you determine where you are going to be within the next hour with 95% accuracy, and the next 24 hours with perhaps 75-80% accuracy. That is to say, you will likely be right about what will happen on your drive home from work, but you will not expect the very possible car accident that you will be in. You may imagine that tomorrow you will be going to work just as you are now, but you might have a lot less clarity or control over all the other factors 24 hours from now. You recognize that you have a good guess as to what will happen, you have some ability to predict the future, but it’s only a probability, never a sure bet.

What this does is it frees the subconscious from having to ask the question of “what if?” of having to have a need for certainty that cripples us from living and taking risks and becoming flexible to the million and one changes that can take place between now and one week from now.

Today, we got some interesting news. Nothing bad or good (nothing wrong with our health and no deaths in the family), just interesting news. We have a pretty good idea of what will happen in the next hour: we might get a particular email or we might not. We have an even less clear idea of what will happen in 24 hours. Beyond that, we are not engaging that part of the future, because there is so much going on now here in the next hour and 24 hours. Moving beyond what dead reckoning can tell us is only a recipe for predicting what may never have reason to come to pass. For me, I will remain tranquil.



Maribél the Fish Monger

I recently made a resolution to slow down and to pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells and people around me. And I am so glad I did.

It’s Lent so for us that means more frequent trips to the fish market. I usually look around at the various fish offerings, but I am always attracted to one stand in particular, usually on account of their tremendous display of  monkfish and other critters from the Cantabrian coast.

Although I had things to do, I told Maribél (featured here, and holding one of these creepy monkfish) that we were leaving Spain. She was very sad to hear the news and we were talking for a good 10 minutes about various topics related to this, primarily the goodness of what lies ahead and what the opportunity to be close to family. We both understood each other perfectly well when we realized that not having Spanish nationality and living in Spain complicates things a lot, not just with the mass of paperwork that is needed, but also with the future opportunities that not having nationality prohibits.

Maribél and a Monkfish!

Maribél herself is from the Dominican Republic and married to a Spanish man. She has been working at the fish shop for a good 3 years.

Eventually she asked what kind of fish I might want and I found some “carrilleras de bacalao,” basically cod cheeks — very tender! I asked her if she might have a recommendation on how to cook them and her eyes lit up. She told me a good length how to make them with a green sauce, including how to make the fish stock that would be used to add additional flavor.

She then asked if I had fish stock at home, (This is Spain, so it’s possible I might have) and I said that I didn’t. She told me to hang on a minute. She ran and grabbed a big fish head and started taking the giant clever and splitting it in two. She was getting me the fixings for the fish stock without me even asking! Then she offered me a huge bunch of fresh parsley to make the green sauce. This plus the 1.5 lbs of fish came to a measly €7,32. I don’t know if I have ever been so excited to boil fish heads in a pot, but that Friday I was.

We said goodbye over more conversation, and she confirmed when I was leaving, but of course, I said I would be back many times before we left and would be visiting soon. She insisted that I come back to visit when we did visit Pamplona next.

Fish heads, fish heads, rolly polly fish heads…

I had spent the last 5 days or so trying to figure out what it was that I had done to deserve such undivided, personal attention. What was it about this fish shop that allowed them to both stay in business and also provide this kind of service. A friend recently told me the exact reason, it was because I had offered her the personal gift of my time, my interest and my ears. I had been genuinely open to a human connection with this person, one that could have been fishy but ended up with a delicious meal (don’t worry the recipe is below).

When we have the opportunity to work with anyone, the genuine interest and openness that we offer them is both immediately apparent and also obvious. Otherwise we fall into the take-a-number service that we are so tired of as a culture and as a nation. This does cost us something, though, it costs us time. We think that time owns us so much of the time, when the fact is that there is always enough time for everything. It is in our own minds that we do not have enough time. It is this slavery to the clock that prevents our ability to engage each other in meaningful relationship and dialogue, and as one of Germanic and British origin I am more guilty of this than anyone.

Take time this week to be present to the sights, smells and the people around you. Look for the gifts of people’s time and attention that many freely offer, and do not turn down one of these valuable opportunities. That will lead to greater inspiration and creativity in your own life and in those around you.

Alright here is the recipe for Maribél’s Carrilleras de Bacalao


  • 1.5 lbs of cod cheeks (serves 4)
  • 1 small-medium onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup white wine.
  • 1 tbsp corn starch or 2 tbsp tapioca flour (arrowroot can also work)
  • Oil, salt, pepper, water, etc.


  1. Get some nasty bits of fish (head, spine, etc) that the fishmonger would otherwise throw away. Make sure to get a head and have him or her cut it in half (or do it yourself). Set this to a boil in a pan, and just cover with water, you wont need much. Let this lightly boil for 45 minutes.
  2. Salt and pepper the cod cheeks and set aside.
  3. In a large pot, take a diced onion and begin to carmelize (i.e. add salt) in about 3 tbsp of oil.
  4. Meanwhile, mince fresh parsley (must be fresh) to get 1/4 cup finely chopped.
  5. As the onion starts to turn brown, add a diced garlic.
  6. Make sure the fish stock is ready, then add the tappioca flour and allow it to bubble for a few seconds.
  7. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Don’t let it all evaporate.
  8. Add the parsley and stir it in. Allow the mixture to heat up and start to thicken a bit.
  9. Add the cod cheeks and let them sear just slightly (1 minute) then add enough fish stock just to cover the surface of the cheeks. Do not use too much!!!
  10. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes, then serve! Add a bit more fresh parsley as a garnish / for presentation.
Here is an excellent example of the consistency of sauce you should be aiming for. Note this isn’t carilleras but other parts of the cod and mussels in this picture.
Here is mine, I used a bit too muchstock and parsley so it looks a bit soupy.

















The Essence of Management: Right Priorities

For every man that eateth and drinketh, and seeth good of his labour, this is the gift of God.” Eccl. 3:13

Believing work is a gift can be difficult. After all, people bring with them conflicts, misunderstandings, and their own humanity. Ugh! Who wants that? Ask any business owner and the most important asset in their employees is “people skills.” What they are really saying is that they are looking for someone who can look at another with understanding and can help them overcome their fears in order to move forward. This is also the essence of management.

The path that I have discovered for developing these people skills is (and actually a lot more) is part of what I call “Doing the Work.” Doing the Work is an education of the heart and mind. It is the development of the ability to see ourselves and others with love, honesty, gratitude and forgiveness. Doing the Work is what leads us to truly working with our integrity, and acting within our power.Doing the Work may take many forms, that of self-help books, coaching, or even counseling. However, the first and most important aspect of  Doing the Work is a daily process of keeping our priorities in the right order.

With respect to our working relationships, this priority set looks like this:

  1. Self Care
    Most fundamental is self care. What self care does is give us the maximum control in our lives. If we are the usual combination of Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired or Stressed (HALTS) we are usually not exercising good self care. I cannot remember a time when I was any of these and also made a good decision.
  2. Key RelationshipsHierarchyofRelationships
    When our relationship with our most key relationship, usually that of our supervisor, is on track, then we are able to function well. When our relationships are not on the right track, it is nearly impossible to get anything done or to feel empowered to do th
    e work we need.
  3. The Good of the Team and Organization
    Third, is the good of our team and organization. When we keep the overall needs of the team that we are on and the organization as a whole in mind, especially before thinking of the good of the customer. This is why Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines does well, they put the good of the employee before the good of the customer.
  4. The Good of the Customer 
    Fourth, is the needs of any customer or individual within the organization. If there is an individual who is yelling for something that they cannot have today or who is any of the hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or stressed, we cannot handle them well unless we have the first three priorities established.

I use the word “education” to describe this process because this process is scary. Education, when done well, is the exposure to scary things, events, ideas in a controlled, non-scary way. Education causes us to look more deeply at the world and ourselves, walking away more attuned to the world around us and the mind inside of ourselves. If we do not take the time to educate ourselves by doing the work, we will be unable to approach the world with any real skill.

In fact, the role of the manager is to be an educator. Her or his job is to expose us to scary ideas, perhaps the idea that there are better ways to do something, but in a safe way. This requires trust, yes, but more importantly it requires a safe way to talk about these things. Some education is organization-wide, some is team-wide, and some is very personal.

And you thought it was just people skills? Try this, ask an excellent manager what how they developed their people skills? Also ask them what makes them an effective manager in these cases. I’m sure that the answer they give will be something like this.