Surge Protection

This morning a movie line jumped into my head. It’s from “The Four Seasons” with Carol Burnett and Alan Alda. Yeah, yeah, don’t judge me, weird stuff jumps into your head all the time too, and in the scheme of weird stuff that jumps into my head, this one’s pretty minor. “The Four Seasons” is your typical 80’s road movie about three couples who vacation together. At one point Alda and Burnett are having a marital dispute and she says; “Is this the fun part? Are we having fun yet?”

Don’t worry if you didn’t see the movie, that’s the sole highlight. Also, I have absolutely no idea why my brain chose to file that one away for 39 years to be recalled on an September day, during a pandemic, racial unrest and economic devastation, and temperature is so hot you can fry an egg on your forehead. I would have preferred to retain something more profound in its place, like a page from the Bagavadgita or anything Stephen Hawking ever said. But no, it’s a quote from a movie starring Carol Burnett, I probably saw stoned, because the girl I was dating wanted to and she was too scared to see “Apocalypse Now.” Which, incidentally, I saw by myself and specifically remember I was stoned. I remember, because right around the time the tiger jumps out of the jungle, into the camera, full screen, I told myself that a joint beforehand may have been a profound mis-calculation. It turned out that it was.

But, back to Carol Burnett. The quote sarcastically acknowledges a fun time is not being had, but one could very well start again soon. Which brings me to an article I read this morning that really resonated with me, about ‘Surge Capacity.’

Surge Capacity is our ability to cope with emergencies and dire situations in the short term. Think someone having a heart attack near you, being in a car accident, even being evacuated for fire or storm. Surge Capacity helps you perform optimally during these events and reduces the possibility of panic by limiting your focus to the danger at hand. However, it is not meant to be used outside of temporary circumstances. You’ve probably already guessed the problem; for the last six months we have all been living in a state that is constantly triggering our Surge Capacity response. To make matters worse, there is no end in sight which Surge Capacity is not optimized for. Basically, it’s OK to have outside stressors that human physiology equates with survival. But, if the stress that your body equates with danger goes on too long, you start feeling worn down, your surge capacity depletes, and you feel both vulnerable and unfocused in general.

If you can get past the next level of depression that last paragraph incited in you, we can start to look at what strategies can be used to avoid Surge Capacity triggers.

1.) Turn Off the News: Unless there is a natural disaster near you or OJ is making a run for it in the Bronco again, do not have CNN or Fox News or MSNBC running for hours on TV. They are there to freak you out, they’re good at it, and they aren’t saying much that is affecting you in this moment. Turn it off. I scan the NY Times and the Boston Globe online in the morning and that’s it for the day. Since I live in LA, the only problems that need my immediate attention are likely to be earthquakes, brush fires and traffic. I have apps on my phone that notify me if there’s a local event of those varieties that I need to pay attention to.

2.) Sleep Hygiene: I know, I have trouble with that term too, but it’s a thing that’s real. What is good about limited social interaction is that you really can turn in at the same time each night, and get up at the same time every morning. If you have trouble sleeping in general as I do, try Melatonin Gummies. I take 10mg before bed and it works pretty well for me, and keeps me off the hard stuff. CVS has it in the vitamin section. Disclaimer: My wife tried it and after a few days it made her depressed. That can be a side effect, so keep an eye on it.

3.) Take Walks: Everyone from Einstein to Marcus Aurelius took long walks. It clears the mind, relaxes you, gets the blood pumping a bit, and being in nature, even just a lap around the neighborhood is very good for well-being. I do this, but not enough. I’m trying to improve.

4.) Sit Quietly for 20 Minutes: Call it meditation or prayer or breath control or anything you want. Just try it. There’s 1000 ways to do this that will fit in with your life philosophy. At the very least, set a timer, sit in a chair in a quiet place, close your eyes and count your breaths in and out to ten and back to one. Repeat until the timer goes off. Start with 5 minutes and work your way up from there. Don’t worry if thoughts come and go, just keep going back to the count. If you get distracted enough to forget what number you’re on, just start again at one. If I can do it, anyone can. When we’re stressed our breathing gets shallow. The increased oxygen alone of deep breaths will help calm your nerves.

There are many other ways that experts cite as ways to relax and keep focus. Journaling, gratitude rituals, hobbies, etc, etc, but I’ve never had much long term luck with anything but the big four I’ve listed above. They’re the most simple and the most actionable and even though we’re not at full capacity yet, I’m pretty damn busy, so no time for messing about. “Is this the fun part? Are we having fun yet?”

Be well, be safe.

Steve

Learning To Breathe

As the Pandemic has progressed, it has become natural to want things to go back to normal. We’re all tired. We spend so much time now, feeling like we have to keep our heads above water that we are not paying attention to a simple fact; It’s time to learn how to breathe underwater. I know, I’m going all esoteric, but that’s it in its purest form. We need to learn to breathe underwater because who knows when things will, if ever, go back to the way they were before Covid-19? The world has moved on already as the world tends to do. There’s no going back. If you’re waiting for things to get back to say January 2020, it’s going to be a very long wait. As in so many previous eras with significant challenges, it’s a matter of adapt or perish.

Learning all the set protocols is learning to breathe underwater. Adjusting to a new marketplace where most projects are made for streaming while the world figures out the future of Movie Theaters is learning to breathe underwater. Making Advertising while sports are an on-again-off-again affair is learning to breathe underwater. Of course, your kids attending school at the kitchen table is probably more like learning to breathe while someone holds your head underwater, but you get the picture.

It’s a brave new world out there. We’re all learning to do our jobs over again in many ways. Embrace it. It’s just what we have to do now.

Here’s an article from The NY Times last week about the adjustments made on Jurassic Park – Dominion. It’s the 200 million dollar movie learning to breathe underwater.

Vancouver continues to lead the way in North American Production hubs. They are committed to getting back to work safely and were questioning protocols early on. They reached an agreement on protocols with the Studios over the last week. Here’s the latest on learning to breathe underwater from the Great White North:

http://www.btlnews.com/featured/vancouver-back-to-work/

“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’” – Marcus Aurelius

So, pining for the past, which is not coming back around soon if ever is not the answer. If it’s not essential to going back to work so we should put it aside. It’s time to lean into where history is taking us. Wear a mask, know the protocols. Many people in different departments are taking the same online class that Covid Officers are completing to be Certified, because, more information is better. 

If you have a desire to be Covid Certified, here is a resource for that:

https://healtheducationservices.net/training/c19co-officers/

As we start to travel again, it’s good to see what to expect at airports, not only today but three months from now, as they find more effective scanning and disinfectant technologies:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/2020/08/the-future-of-flying-is-going-high-tech-due-to-coronavirus-cvd/

We can look at it all as an annoyance or hope that things will go back to normal. But, the better strategy is to re-educate yourself on what you need to know to work effectively in our chosen field. Yes, so much of the new world involves things that don’t pertain directly to the technical art of filmmaking. But, if they are what we need to learn to continue to tell stories, so be it. If we need to grow gills, we’ll do it.

Be Well, Be Safe,

Steve

Normal

Aurora 4What do you accept as normal? It’s funny because just about everything we accept as normal at one time was considered abnormal. Everything from premarital sex to lack of gun control is normal now. In the 1940’s and 50’s most people really didn’t have sex until they were married. As recently as the 1970’s there were strict curbs on gun possession and types of weapons available.

But, now, and for a long time now, both hooking up single and wanton gun violence are considered the norm. Why? We get used to things that we don’t reject with enough collective force because we become distracted by other more pressing problems, and then either they have an inherent justice that makes them acceptable, or in other cases, greater forces are able to oppress us with the status quo.

As we know politicians are pros at distracting us with shiny things. Trump has made a career and now a Presidency out of a never ending game of three card Monte. He does something outrageous and the cover for it is something more outrageous. The daily shifting of the narrative is now normal.

My statement here is not a judgment about sex or gun violence. What’s the big deal about sex anyways? Consensual sex is the major component of the human experience. It’s natural, it feels good, everybody seems to like it. You just have to be aware that there may be unintended consequences and accept responsibility for yourself. And guns? I’ve given up on that at this point. If massacring a classroom of 1st graders didn’t get the society to do something significant, then you have to figure the debate is effectively over. Our collective will is weak and we’ve decided money is more important than the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, of not just 6 year olds, but all of us.

But, the thing about normal is this: What’s normal for the United States is not necessarily normal in other places. For example, if Sandy Hook had happened in France, millions would have been in the streets and they would have stayed there until something was changed. They would have changed their whole government if necessary by the sheer veracity of their Frenchness. That’s just the way they roll.

I was just in Iceland. What’s normal for the Icelandic people is far different.   There’s 350,000 people living in the country and it takes about 4 hours to get from end to end. Once you’re outside Reykjavik, the economy seems to be overwhelmingly focused on sheep and horses. So, of course it’s different. They are concentrating on community and sticking together, because they depend on each other to get by.

They don’t understand what’s going on in the US at all. Why would they? They have no context for living in a society of 330 million people. By their standards we’re incredibly abnormal. By our standards they are quaint at best. But, which is normal? It depends on your circumstances and context.

But, what about shifting normal? First, you have to discover the baseline of your reality based on the world directly around you. Then you have to examine it versus what will give your life meaning and what is acceptable or unacceptable to your circumstances. If you can’t reconcile what your meaning is with the baseline, you need to shift your “normal.” Every gay person who has ever come out has had to do this.  To further that thought, marriage equality is in that space between abnormal and normal.  After a time it will enter the normal sphere fully, just as marriage between races has.

Decide what is your normal. But, at the same time, realize that others have their normal. Normal is not the exercise of getting all of our ideals to match up. Normal should be not getting sucked into a status quo that excludes some and silences others, but that is often exactly what happens in the pursuit of “normal.”

If you know me well, I certainly hope that you don’t think I’m normal, because I don’t think I believe in it any longer. Hopefully, you think I’m too complex and hard to pin down to think I’m normal. As I look back, I realize I’ve changed so much over the years that I could never be considered normal from a simple congruency standpoint.

In actuality, normal is and should be considered the process of change. Abnormal is feeling that the status quo is appropriate, that everything is fine the way it is. That nothing ever really changes. Abnormal is demanding that everyone should agree with you.

Normal is the realization that the only constant in the world is change. Normal is evolution. Normal is knowing that everything, including you and I are temporary. Temporary problems, temporary raptures. In the end it will all pass away and be replaced by something new.  Take it all in and go with it, because that is the only normal offered to any of us.

Painted Tigers

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“There was a hermit monk living in a cave in the mountains of Japan.
He was a talented artist, and over time he painted a picture of a tiger on the wall of the cave. He was extremely meticulous in his work, and it took him several years to finish. When it was finally done, the tiger was so realistic that when he looked at it he became frightened.”
Excerpt From: Goldstein, Joseph. “Mindfulness.” 
How much of our day is spent on “Painted Tigers?” In this Zen story, the monk becomes frightened of his own creation.  But, not just his creation, what the creation represents.  If it is indeed an image that becomes real in his mind, it could certainly eat him now or if he stays in his cave, it could eat him in the future.
Can an image kill you? Of course not, or can it?
What you hold in you mind, an image from the past that hurt you, an image that makes you apprehensive of the future will define your reality.  I’ll take myself for example.  Cold calling artists I would like to work with fills me with dread.  Why?  Any time I reach out to someone I do not know already, who doesn’t know my work, there is always the possibility of rejection, and that is a painted tiger.
I remember all the times I called people in the past and they rejected me – painted tiger.  Never mind that I’m relatively successful and I have also reached out with great success.  But, in the moment I don’t remember the successes, only the failures. Rationally I know why, because they cause psychic pain!
Our minds are optimized for two things: to seek pleasure and to avoid pain.  Of the two, avoiding pain (like being attacked by a Tiger!) is the stronger of the two instincts, and on a primal level your mind doesn’t differentiate between a tiger and a phone call. So, it becomes easy that in our attempts to avoid pain we paralyze ourselves.
The kicker is that paralysis also causes pain. The pain of failure and regret for having not acted in the first place.  It’s a vicious cycle. But, even as the cycle may have started many years ago with real pain, it is now and into your future only being perpetuated by a painted tiger.
You have a choice: You can continue to stare at your painted tigers and scare yourself into inaction. Or, you can choose to see it for what it is: an image from your past that is ruining your present and future.
By doing so, you paint over it and reclaim your power.  What are your “painted tigers?”  Declaring them publicly is a way to cast them aside.  Feel free to use the comments to share.

Values

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What do you value? Your family, wife, kids, friends, filmmaking, your career? All of the above? In what proportions?

In your work, what value do you provide? Are there multiple elements to your value? In what proportions?

Most importantly, what are your “values?”  I would argue that values inform what you value and the value you provide, and all of their proportions.  Your values, or “how you see the world” or “what you stand for” tells the world everything it needs to know about you.

So, what are your values? What are the principles that guide your life.  Mine are: honesty, loyalty, hard work and humility.  You see, knowing this about myself helps me color inside the lines.  When I fall outside my values (and I often do, especially the humility one) , knowing that I have contemplated and articulated the things that are my guiding principles will instantly set me straight.  In any situation, I am either walking with integrity in my truth or I am not, and if I’m not,  it’s up to me to get back on the right side of my values.

It’s good to take stock. Do you value honesty, yet find yourself lying a lot, even about little things, even if to just spare other’s feelings?  Doesn’t matter, you have to call bullshit on yourself and get back to where you’re supposed to be.  You may have to fess up, make amends and now try twice as hard.  It’s worth it.

It’s also OK to have a values wish list that you are working towards.  On mine would be “no-ego,” but I’m so far from it that anyone who knows me would do a spit take at the very mention of no ego and Steve in the same sentence.  I wield mine like a Sith Lord with a double sided Light Saber.  It doesn’t mean I can’t aspire to it, notice where the line is and work towards getting and staying on the right side of it.  That’s how you start to develop better habits.

So, think about it and as an exercise in getting on the same page with yourself.  If you dare, state them in the comments below.  What are your values? Whatever they are, know that they will directly affect what and who you value AND the value you provide.

Scarcity

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I think we’ve all heard at this point about how what drives us are the opposing elements of love and fear.  That we are fight or flight animals that at our core are driven by our survival instincts.  All of this is true.  All of this is fact.  It’s the mere functioning of our primitive brain.  But, one thing that always gets lost is that in the modern world, in our modern brain, most of our fight or flight responses are being translated into what we don’t have and how to get it.

Do you want to know why you are worried about getting enough work?  Lack of resources = financial scarcity.  Lack of good projects to work on = creative scarcity.  Lack of a good partner that shows you the love and support you need = emotional scarcity…  and on and on.

It’s so easy to blame others for all of this.  Dr. Brené Brown states: “Blame is the discharge of pain and discomfort.” Look what’s happening in our country right now.  Nationalism and Populism depend on creating divisions  between people based on finite resources and scarcity.  So, those exploiting that ideology for their own gain begin by blaming the “other.”  Mexicans will take your job. Muslims will take your safety. Transgenders will take your children’s innocence. While none of this is true, the easiest way to manipulate people is through scarcity, and it’s all around us.

Tune into a shopping channel sometime. Always on the screen are the amount of time left on the sale and how many units there are left to buy.  It’s designed to manipulate with the idea of finite resources and to create the anxiety of being left out.

Scarcity is rarely anchored in the moment.  If you are hungry right now and have no food that’s one thing, but I can’t imagine anyone reading this is in that position.  Scarcity as we experience it has a context based on the past or future.  Just take the White Supremacists in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.”  That’s not a fear based in the moment. To be replaced in the future assumes you are currently holding some position. They’re fearful they’ll be left out someday?  That they’ll somehow be replaced at some point down the road?  It’s idiotic.  No wonder they’re anxious. They are focused on a dark, completely undefined future of scarcity, not what is good right now.  At the very least, in the present they have those groovy white polo shirts and khaki pants uniforms. that’s something, right?

So, what’s the antidote?  What would happen if we stopped listening to the shrill drone of marketers, politicians, reality television and social media?  All of the forces saying:  “you are not getting enough” which is really code for “you are not enough.” The answer is simple: it would force us into the present where, if you look around, you’ll find plenty of abundance and much to be grateful for.

Each of our mind’s create the Universe we live in. Focus your mind on the abundance and love you have right now, not on the ambiguous scarcity you may or may not experience in the future. Or, equally important, don’t dwell on the things you lacked in the past.  There is nothing you can do about that anymore.  If you can bring yourself to the present moment, you’ll feel better and you’ll be able to think more clearly about what really matters.  I promise.

Transformation

Artists are in the transformation business.  Business is in the transformation business.  Society is in the transformation business. We all seek the same thing.  A better way, a better life, a better world, and as Steve Jobs famously said:  “making a dent in the universe.”

We can choose through our actions to just reflect what has already been present in the world, or we can choose to make our way forward with the spirit of transformation and evolution.  To be truly useful and to lead fulfilling lives, we have no choice but to consciously and constantly engage the world in a transformative way.

But, transformation works both ways. When you engage the world through transformation, you get to choose to evolve or devolve. Evolution is forward thinking, bright and dynamic. Devolution is a dark corridor, full of derivative thought and laggards. The Rainbow flag and the Confederate flag as art and symbol for example.  Which one is transformative in a evolutionary way and which is devolutionary?

With every breath we take in the entire universe.  Everything that has been and everything that will be. That is a mighty responsibility. There’s a simple fact to our biology:  within every human now living  resides some molecules of every human that has ever lived, and our earliest relatives came from stardust. So too, in one thousand years our molecules will reside in others.  Yes, with every breathe we take in the entire universe.

It’s easy to disappear into the problems of every day life and forget that we’re here to create and move forward.  It’s easy to to think that “I’m just one person, what can I possibly do?”

Jobs didn’t do it alone.  Churchill rallied a country but didn’t take on the nazis by himself.  These people had vision yes, but it took many thousands of people to transform that vision into transformative experiences.  Edison didn’t do it alone, nor did Charlie Chaplin, Mary Ellen Mark or George Lucas.  They had friends, family, crews, executives and an audience that wanted to evolve with them.  They together transformed industry, art and society.

Do you want to feel excited about what you do and what you’re leaving to your children?   Commit to evolution and be in the transformation business. Use your creative voice to make a dent in the universe.

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Wind Direction

Boat bw

Have you checked the wind direction lately?

Where are you going?

Are you still on course?

Did you decide along the way to head in another much more desirable direction than where you first intended to go, but suddenly find you are still headed towards your first destination?

Has a storm risen up, forcing you to set down for a while to wait for better conditions?

Have you followed a tributary inland and now find yourself fighting your way upstream?

Has the sea totally dried up and you find your boat aground?

 

After you choose a destination, it’s easy to not notice what’s happening around you if the first part of the journey goes smoothly.  You think you’re focused, but focused on what? It’s easy to wait until it’s too late to change course.  We have so many distractions, so many things trying to get our attention that it’s no wonder that obvious changes to the environment can take us by surprise.

Any port in a storm is often a mistake.  It’s preferable to sail through the tempest.  You may know you don’t have the skill set to enter the storm, but if you can survive you will have the skills forever after. No storm can then frighten you and you may even welcome them as they put you at your best.

Just be careful not to create storms where they don’t exist. They come from changing your destination from week to week because you can’t see past the horizon. That boat just sails in circles.

Check the wind direction, set the sails, push off and stay the course. But, remember that the only constant is change. Conditions may change to the degree that you abandon your ultimate destination for another.  It’s life, we all need to do that from time to time, just make sure you are not compromising your truth or the desire of your soul.

So, have courage, be adaptable, watch the sea carefully and listen to the breeze as it whispers.  The wind will tell you everything you need to know.

Ambition

“He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Universe,
just do your job, then let go.”
– Lao Tzu
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As I watch the National tragedy play out in Washington.  A President and those close to him only focused on their own benefit, both in terms of power and plunder, I have to ask: as the days and weeks and eventually years go by, what effect does it all have on us deep inside?  What effect does the barrage of reckless and unreasonable blind ambition have on each of us and our businesses? On our families?
Is it becoming normal to try to crush those around us who simply have another view? Is it really just all about being a winner or a loser? Are we becoming numb to the idea of grabbing what we can and selling it to the highest bidder? Does watching lack of loyalty to the whole in the name of expediency and self aggrandizement encourage us to follow suit?
We have to be careful to not steamroll others with our own view of how things should run. For within our ideas lie our own ambition and within our ambition lies our personal agenda which is only human to have, but not usually helpful.  If we don’t listen to those around us very carefully our ambition can quickly become blind.  When we do that, it may seem as if we are getting ahead, and we may very well be in the short term.  But, in pursuit of our personal goals we may just destroy everything around us in the process.
I recently read “Powerhouse – The Untold Story of CAA.”  Fascinating and in many ways inspiring.  But, it’s easy to forget that at it’s core, it’s a cautionary tale.  In the end, although extremely successful and wealthy, Ovitz and company managed to destroy friendships, long time working relationships and each other.  At a certain point, they forgot why they started the company in the first place and were no longer working together.  Instead, they were working against each other and the greater good of the group that was so tight in the beginning.  All for blind ambition, power and greed.
Ambition is good when it’s purpose is for something beyond ourselves.  It’s good when we’re making a difference not just in the day to day of helping our clients, our co-workers and our families,  but in making the world a better, more gentle and honest place. That is accomplished by examining the how and why of the way we as individuals and as a group are doing things.
Ambition should feel great.  It should feel like you’re at the best beach party you can imagine, laughing with your friends and together feeding a warm bonfire.   That is the joy of feeling successful together. But be careful. If you see the bonfire going down, don’t run back to the house by yourself and comeback with the furniture and doors.  You’ll eventually throw the whole house on the fire.  Instead, to bring that bonfire back up, scour the beach together for more wood.
I make it sound easy, it’s not. It takes putting your agenda aside. It takes listening respectfully,  being calm, having empathy, giving honest feedback and aligning towards a common cause. Not aligning against each other, individually or in groups.
If Ambition feels anything but great, don’t bother looking at others as the reason why it doesn’t.  Look to yourself and do a careful examination to make sure your purpose is truly beneficial to those around you.  If it’s not, you may be going blind.

The Middle Path

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In the “Untethered Soul,” Michael Singer brings up the following concept:  Picture a blind person with a red tipped white cane walking down the street.  They move the cane back and forth tapping.  They are not trying to find where to walk, they know where to walk.  They are determining where not to walk.  By staying on the middle path of their trajectory, they are staying safely between any obstacles.

We have a terrible tendency as humans to swing between extremes as we make our way.  We hit obstacles at the edges and swing back the other way until we find an obstacle at the other extreme.  These obstacles tend to be the sharp rocks of our own fears, biases, neuroses and perceptions.  You find gossip, disrespect, paranoia, rejection and bullying there.  Do you want to know why people get hysterical at work?  They are out on one of the edges.

We’ve all known co-workers who are addicted to drama.  Well, that drama is found at the edges. As they are getting scraped up by immovable objects, they are also doing all they can to drag others there as well.  Before long, they will soon careen to the other extreme and beckon you there also.  Left to these swings, a effective, energetic workplace can soon turn toxic.

There are many workplaces that will mistake this for progress.  It’s not progress, it’s reactive, needless activity that in and of itself is wasted energy. It pushes people out or burns them out.

I’m not talking about the strenuous and rewarding action of forward momentum.  I’m talking about impediments to forward momentum. A person on the edge is moving side to side, not forward or backward.

It’s most easily seen in our political climate.  The polarization is this endless careening from side to side. One side holding their position on the edge against the other at the other edge.  When administrations change sides, so do the parties.  It creates intractability and stasis and it’s the people who lose. Where there is no middle, no progressives, there is no progress.

I think everyone, in every workplace, on every crew, has the best intentions of acting in the best interest of helping the endeavor be the best it can be.  But, we’re human. Our natural tendency is to serve our self interest first.  Once we do that, we’re headed towards the edge.

So, the trick to moving forward is to walk past the drama on either side of you and remain focused on progress.  Check your own drama and correct course when necessary.  In this sense, the middle way becomes the only way.  If you stay in the calm middle, you can keep moving forward, even if in your peripheral vision you can see someone thrashing about on the edge.  It doesn’t mean you have to join them there.

If you want to work effectively and you want to get things done, take the middle path. Beckon others there also. Take the middle path.