Citizen superpowers


… your mind is your best friend, but it is also your worst enemy. Positive Intelligence measures the relative strength of those two modes in your mind. High Positive Intelligence means your mind acts as your friend far more than as your enemy. Low Positive Intelligence is the reverse. 

These are the words of Shirzad Chamine, in his book Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours. This got me to thinking about how this relates to citizens and cities – how we choose to use our brains matters. We can choose to be happier citizens and have happier cities.


In each of us, according to Chamine, is a master saboteur of happiness – the Judge – and nine accomplices. Powered by the fight-or-flight parts of our brain (brain stem and limbic system), they aim for survival and power. They will do whatever it takes to convince you that your survival depends on them.  See if you recognize any of them (text below summarized from Chamine):

  1. The Judge compels you to constantly find faults with yourself, others, and your conditions and circumstances. It generates much of your anxiety, stress, anger, disappointment, shame and guilt. Its lie: without tough love, you or others would turn into lazy and unambitious being who would not achieve much.
  2. The Stickler takes perfection, order, and organization too far. It makes you and others around you anxious and uptight. It saps your own or others’ energy on extra measures of perfection that are not necessary. Its lie: perfectionism is always good and that you don’t pay a huge price for it.
  3. The Pleaser compels you to try to gain acceptance and affection by helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering others constantly. It causes you to lose sight of your own needs and become resentful of others. Its lie: you are pleasing others because it is a good thing to do, denying that you are really trying to win affection and acceptance indirectly.
  4. The Hyper-Achiever makes you dependent on constant performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation. It keep you focused mainly on external success rather than on internal criteria for happiness. Its lie: your self-acceptance should be conditional on performance and external validation.
  5. The Victim wants you to feel emotional and temperamental as a way of gaining attention and affection. Its lie: assuming the victim or martyr persona is the best way to attract caring and attention to yourself.
  6. The Hyper-Rational involves an intense and exlcusive foxon on the rational processing of everything, including relationships. It causes you to be impatient with people’s emotions and regard emotions as unworthy of much time or consideration. Its lie: the rational mind is the most important and helpful form of intelligence that your possess.
  7. The Hyper-Vigilant makes you feel intense and continuous anxiety about all the dangers surrounding you and what could go wrong… It results in a great deal of ongoing stress that wears you and others down. Its lie: the dangers around you are bigger than they actually are and that nonstop vigilance is the best way to tackle them.
  8. The Restless is constantly in search of greater excitement in the next activity or through perpetual busyness. It doesn’t allow you to feel much peace or contentment with your current activity. It gives you a neverending stream of distractions that make you los your focus on the things and relationships that truly matter. Its lie: by being so busy you are living life fully, but it ignores the fact that in pursuit of a full life you miss out on your life as it is happening.
  9. The Controller runs on an anxiety-based need to take charge, control situations, and bend people’s actions to one’s own will. Its lie: you need the Controller to generate the best results from the people around you.
  10. The Avoider focuses on the prositive and the pleasuant in an extreme way. It avoids difficult and unpleasant tasks and conflicts. Its lie: you are being positive, not avoiding your problems.

Notice and identify these Saboteurs, for they keep you from reaching your fullest potential. They keep you – and your brain – focused on short-term threats to your short-term survival. Through you and each and every citizen, they keep our cities from serving citizens well.


In contrast to your Saboteurs, the Sage in you is a “deeper and wiser part of you. It is the part that can rise above the fray and resist getting carried away by the drama and tension of the moment or falling victim to the lies of the saboteurs.” The Sage in you uses whole other areas of your brain for an entirely different purpose. Use of the middle prefrontal cortex, what Chabine calls the Empathic Circuitry (mirror neuron system, the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex), and the right brain gives you the ability to see bigger pictures, empathize, and detect invisible things, such as energy and mood.

You and your brain choose how you are going to show up – in defensive survival mode, or as the Sage.

The Sage in you has five powers, enabling you to move “one positive step at a time, regardless of what life throws at you.” I call these your Citizen Superpowers:

  1. Explore with great curiosity and an open mind
  2. Empathize with yourself and others with compassion and understanding to any situation
  3. Innovate and create new perspectives and outside-the-box solutions
  4. Navigate and choose a path that best aligns with your deeper underlying values and mission
  5. Activate and take decisive action without the distress, interference, or distractions of the Saboteurs

These Citizen Superpowers allow you to accept “what is, rather than denying, rejecting or resenting what is. The Sage perspective accepts every outcome and circumstance as a gift and opportunity.” These Citizen Superpowers also allow you to make your cities better all the time.

The Sage moves you into action not out of feeling bad, but out of empathy, inspiration, the joy of exploration, a longing to create, a desire to contribute, and an urge to find meaning in the midst of even the greatest crises… there is no such thing as a bad circumstance or outcome…

Strengthen the Sage in you and you grow your positive intelligence – and your Citizen Superpowers. You strengthen your city.

How are you growing your Citizen Superpowers?


Ride the release safely


Ride the release
North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, April 27, 2013

I knew three years ago that a transition was coming for me in April/May 2013. In 2010 I was elected my my professional planner colleagues to serve one year as president-elect, then two as president, for my professional organization – the Alberta Professional Planners Institute. Our AGM was last week and I have officially handed the reins over to our next president. And I have picked up a new set of reins; as past president, I am on the board of the Canadian Institute of Planners for two years. Knowing this transition was coming, I stepped down as president of my community league.

The nature of the transition is clear and unclear. I have shed my two “presidential” roles and took on a new board. The other transitions I am less clear on. Two significant pieces of contract work are concluding and I don’t know what will come next to help pay the bills. As I look at my schedule for the coming weeks, I see that I have created space for myself to make a transition of some kind. My antennae are work!

Last week, I spent a day with David Whyte, reflecting on my work and where it is going. A big realization came to me: Lost? Let the city find you. On my way to spend a day with a group of women exploring their personal leadership, from the inside to the outside, the ice flows in the river have firmly caught my attention. Just when I think spring’s work is done, when life is flowing freely, a jam I never knew was there releases. I don’t see the jam, just the ice and the debris it carries. The smooth surface of the river’s spring flow is now a torrent, a rush I only noticed with the ice. There’s some inner work to notice what is flowing in and through me, and how to ride the release safely, or how to boldly grow the self.

Today, I have gathered with 40 other circle practitioners to explore our work creating the social containers our world needs at this time. For me, the social habitat is a critical aspect of making cities that serve citizens – and citizens that serve cities. While the gathering is work related, it is equally about my personal social habitat and my approach to myself and my work. My operating principle remains the same: nourish self, others and place.

I have no idea what will come next, but I choose to spend time where I feel nourished, where I can nourish others and the places we live, work and play. I choose to nourish my/our social, physical habitats and my/our economic life. This is ultimately what will enable me to ride the river, and whatever she throws at me.

What ideas and practices support you in your life’s journey? 

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This post is part of Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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The inevitable warmth of the Self


There is a point where the leap in front of me feels inevitable. It’s not rational, or even easy to explain. I just know it is time. Bruce Grierson describes it this way:

Every day, in almost every field, individuals perceive themselves to be on the wrong side of a divide.  The ‘second brain’ in their gut – that ten-billion nerve knot – tells them their life must change.  And, on more or at least deeply personal, grounds, they jump the gap.  The apprehension can seem so sudden that it straightens them in their chair – and then seems inevitable.

The divide shows up in a variety of ways. It can be a chasm I have been walking alongside for years but choosing not to look over and see what’s on my flank. It can be non-existent until something happens in life that makes it magically appear. It can sneak up on my consciousness, or it can boldly jump out in front of me.

Regardless of how it appears, when it is in front of me and I look at it fully, I recognize its inevitability. The persistent, practical problems I face will not be resolved until I cross the divide. I am compelled to leap, yet I must choose the right leap, and to do so, I must allow myself opportunities to step back from the edge from time to time.

Facing a threshold, let alone crossing it, is significant work because it requires us to delve into our inner knowledge, our in-tuition.  Our recognition of the crossing comes not from others, but from within. Our ability to make the crossing comes not from others, but from within.

From threshold to threshold new layers of our being emerge. What we become, and our ‘becoming’ relies heavily on our ability to explore our inner struggles. This is not easy work. It’s like looking into the sun: compelling and harmful. We can not fully look into ourselves, but we can let the bright sun warm us up. As the sun travels with us everywhere, so too does the Self, the higher Self in each of us that wants us to do well, be well and become our fullest potential.

Struggle, conflict and tension are not avoidable in life. I believe they are part of our lives because they serve as opportunities to learn. Each time we face a struggle, small, large or monstrous, we have a choice – go forward or turn away. Both choices are right. Its the choice itself that offers the opportunity to learn about our struggles and our path to become our fullest potential, as individuals, as families, neighbourhoods, organizations, cities and as a species.

John O’Donohue:

Without warning, thresholds can open directly before our feet.  These thresholds are also the shorelines of new worlds.

As we make our way through the world, we struggle regularly. When we choose to explore our struggles for what they teach us about ourselves, we begin to explore the shorelines of new worlds.  As we explore the world, shoreline by shoreline, we learn of the intelligence within each and all of us, basking in the warmth of what we know.

What shorelines are you exploring?


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This post forms part of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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Bruce Grierson, U-Turn: What if you woke up one morning and realized you were living the wrong life?

John O’Donohue, Bless the Space Between Us

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