Archive for April, 2012


Passion = the fire within that nurtures rather than consumes; my life-breath/spirit (spirit comes from the Latin ‘spirare’ which means ‘to breathe’); the taproot that feeds our spirit; a driving energy – a need to connect (to self, another, community); a healing energy that I can bring or that I can accept.

Some ‘Passion Questions’ to consider:

  1. If you were to develop a documentary about something that moves you, what would it be?
  2. If you started a foundation to address a need, what foundation would you start?  What’s the need that would be addressed?
  3. What issue would you like to see someone write about?
  4. What would you like to learn about; to study and perhaps to master?
  5. Who do you get together with in order to have ‘deep’ conversations; how often do you get together?  What are some of the topics that you’ve talked about?
  6. Is there a need in the world that you would work full time at addressing if you were compensated as you would need (not ‘like’) to be compensated?

A QUOTE: Someday, after we have mastered the wind, the waves, the tide and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love.  Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.    – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin



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Recently I visited an old friend.  Prior to our lunch I stopped in one of his retail stores.  I was impressed.  The staff were beyond competent, the climate of the store was warm and welcoming, laughter abounded, customers lingered, it seemed, just to be nourished by the spirit that permeated the store.  Staff unhesitatingly helped one another and did so with great cheer.  It reminded me of Starbucks in 2001.  One of the managers shared some of their story – two people many years ago seeing a need used their gifts and talents to respond to the need.  Their venture grew.  Two years ago the founders decided to ‘take the company public.’  The manager said that the plan is to add 15-17 stores a year for the next number of years.  This also reminded me of Starbucks in 2001, only on a smaller scale.  My heart shrunk.  Like Starbucks in 2001 they are able to hire the very best and they have the time to develop people and help them integrate into this wonderful culture.  It seems that so far they have not thought about how difficult, if not impossible, it will now become to continue to ‘hire the best’ and to have the time to develop people and integrate them into the culture.  Starbucks paid a huge price, in my view, for losing their way and I am fearful that this wonderful organization that truly serves both the customer and the staff in so many powerful ways will also lose their way.

I admit I have a bias.  I think it unbalanced and unjust when one group of people, those outside of the organization, the owners – the share holders – have so much power while being so disconnected from the enterprise while those who are intimately connected are so powerless. Why should people care for something that other people own?  There are, by the by, two types of ownership, fiscal and emotional.  The staff in the store I visited ‘emotionally own,’ I am not sure if they are also shareholders.  Emotional ownership, I believe, trumps fiscal ownership anyway.

The early Christians had another model.  They called it Koinonia, a community with a purpose.  The individual in such a community is a member, not an asset or a commodity or a resource.  Those who provide the investment needed get their fair return and their security, but they did not own it.  No one ‘owns’ a community.  The language does not fit.  I do know some businesses that are run like this and that have integrated a community metaphor in to their very being; they are, by the way highly ‘successful.’

Communities must grow or they will die; this is a reality.  But the type of growth that truly nurtures involves, not getting bigger but getting better.  It involves developing and using the current gifts, talents, abilities of its members; it involves caring for its members and it involves using current resources more fully and wisely; it also involves high achievement and serving with distinction.

Perhaps we should have thought more about those early Christians when we made property not community the basis of our law for companies so many years ago.  I still find it ironic that legally, organizations are seen as people, yet we treat them as property.

I do believe that a community with a purpose, better not bigger, Koinonia, is the kind of business that many employees would not only be proud of but be one in which they would flourish.

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Organizational health is possible if the organization has integrated an organic metaphor.  Too many organizations espouse an organic metaphor but live as if they are inorganic; their metaphors are war-sports [we meld these two into one in our culture in the U.S.], or they are mechanical metaphors [left over from the industrial age] or they are banking metaphors [our current major metaphor where people are assets, commodities or resources, for example].

Healthy organizations, it seem to me, are those which exist for others, not for themselves.  Show me a business, a school or a church that is focused on those it serves as well as on those who are doing the serving while they are determined to serve with distinction while being high achieving, and are motivated by deep care for human beings and who serve a purpose beyond themselves and more often then not this organization will be a healthy one.  They are fun to be part of, they make sure all diverse personalities and gifts are honored, allowed to flourish, growth-supported, and utilized; people are encouraged and supported for who they are, for expressing themselves, and for their growth and development.

Each of us need a purpose beyond ourselves in order to develop and to the ‘best selves’ we can be.  When we lose sight of this we commit, says St. Augustine, the most destructive of sins.  Yet it is easy to become fascinated by who we are and forget why we are here.   I remember the story of a government minister who was being shown around a new school and the minister told the principal how impressed he was.  The principal paused and replied that the minister should have seen the school before the students arrived; it was really something then.

I believe that most organizations could do with a great deal more care, love, forgiveness, healing, faith in and belief in others, improved relationships which feed the tap root of trust.  They could, in effect, become healthier than they are.

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The Kentucky Derby will soon be run.  If our lives were governed by the philosophy of this horse race, the first three of us would finish in the money and the rest of us would be losers.  I am thinking of a story.  A group of 6-7 year olds were going to participate in a race.  I forget how far they were to run, but it was more of a long dash than a sprint or marathon.  About ¾ of the way through the race one child who was not in the lead, fell down.  The others, all of the others, stopped.  They gathered around the child, helped the child up and then formed a chain and as all were laughing they crossed the finish line together.  Some parents celebrated with them; some were incensed that their child had not taken advantage of the situation and ‘WON’ the race.

For years I have been struggling myself with the difference between ‘competition’ – a few winners and many losers – and high achievement – measuring one’s self against one’s best efforts.  True super stars in sports do this regularly; in fact they believe that in order to perform at a high level that their opponents must also do so and they actually help them improve [professional golfers, the great ones and even the good ones do this regularly].

Does it matter?  You bet it does (keeping our horse-race metaphor).  When winning becomes the ‘end game’ then, paradoxically, so does mediocrity.  If I can’t win, why try?  Each of us is given gifts, talents, and abilities that we are called to develop and use in response to needs that exist in our world.  To ignore these, to not develop them, is to spit in the face of the creator.  To suppress them in others is tyranny.

I am called to love my self and to love my neighbor as myself; if I don’t love my self I am not able to love my neighbor – then we both end up losers no matter what type of race we find ourselves in.

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I was 20.  It was winter, 2am.  I stood on the bank of the lake; one step away.  46 years later I wrote the following poem.  After the poem you will find a photo of the lake on whose bank I stood so many years ago.


I stood in the dark night of winter

peering into the water that seemed

so inviting.  Like a polar bear, I

was covered in layers of warm clothing.

Like a polar bear I was there to take a swim

in the cold winter water.  Unlike the polar

bear I was not there to seek nourishment but



The dark night of my own winter had

become unbearable and so I stood

contemplating one final step into the deep

that would provide relief.  One step.


I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.


In the wintery silence of my soul I heard a

whisper; a tiny voice struggled to be heard

amidst the noise of my silence.


I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.


I listened.  The whisper grew in intensity

and clarity.  I listened.  Why don’t you

go and talk with somebody?


I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.


I listened.  The question held a bit of

light in the form of a small hope.


I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.


I turned, I took the One Step, not into

the water of relief but into the dark

that held out a small light of hope.

–Richard W Smith, 21 February 2010


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