Archive for October, 2013

One must not always think so much about what one should do, but rather what one should be.  Our works do not ennoble us; but we must ennoble our works. –Meister Eckhart

In 1984 I began to develop my capacity to serve not-for-profit boards and since then I have had the privilege of serving on a number of boards — both for-profit and not-for-profit — and I have had the privilege of using my gifts and talents to help address the needs of for-profit and not-for-profit boards.  I am drawn more to not-for-profit boards and so they will be my focus for this posting.

Effective boards are relationship dependent and hence Meister Eckhart’s quote above will help frame our searching and seeking today.  Consider that there are three relationships that are crucial if a board is going to function effectively.  The first is the relationship each board member has with him/herself.  Who we are determines how we will act and what we will choose.  Socrates advised us a number of years ago that it is important for one to ‘know thyself.’  Here are four questions that a board member can engage: Who am I?  Who am I choosing to become? Why am I choosing this ‘becoming’?  What is the effect of who I am on myself and on others?  Hence, I must know my core values — those three or four values that I strive not to compromise no matter what — and I must know my ‘favorite’ virtues’ and ‘vices’ and when I engage both and I must know and understand my deep tacit assumptions and how they affect me and my role as a board member (there are additional ‘knows’ but these will suffice for now).

The second relationship is, literally, the relationship I have (or don’t have) with each of the other board members.  Effective boards are rooted in and influenced by the quality of the relationships that the board members have with one another.  My experience for these past thirty years is that board members do not take the time and energy required to develop relationships with one another.  There is a direct connection between the number of people serving on a board and the quality of the relationships; numbers do matter.  I know that when I have developed a relationship with another that I work more effectively with him/her — I am, for example, more open to their ideas, I am more accepting of their views, I seek to be more understanding of their ‘side’ or their ‘interpretation’ or their ‘perception.’  I do not think I am alone when it comes to this.  Because numbers matter a board must engage the tough question as to how many board members they need in order to be able to develop and maintain healthy relationships AND work effectively together (larger boards tend to entrust too much of their work to either committees or to an executive committee — they seem to forget that ultimately they, as a board, are fully accountable).

The third relationship is the relationship the board has with the chief administrative officer, with the staff and with those the organization directly serves — there is another group and for not-for-profits this always seems to be a challenge to identify; this is the ‘owners.’  Developing these relationships (beginning with defining the nature of the relationship needed/desired) will, of course, take a certain type of commitment.

I continue to be puzzled (is this the word?) by not-for-profit board members.  They want to serve on the board (for any number of reasons — and perhaps this is part of the problem) and yet when they are challenged to develop these types of relationships they will claim that ‘I am only a volunteer’ and ‘I am not willing to give the time’ (too many don’t even take the time to come to board meetings).  Some folks also serve on a number of boards and this, too, dilutes their ability to develop these three relationships.

In thirty years I have only experienced two boards that came close to being as effective as they could be; one was a twenty-member board and one was a two-member board.  All of the other boards I experienced (perhaps 40 of them) did not come close to their potential.  Most were mediocre at best; a few were truly harmful to those they were entrusted with serving.

Relationships are the tap roots that must be nurtured by not-for-profit boards, this I believe.

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It is a cold and rainy morning here.  I am savoring a cup of coffee and I am savoring Epictetus’ words.  Epictetus writes:

. . .standards of reasonableness and unreasonableness vary from one person to the next — just as we consider different things good or bad, harmful or beneficial. . .

. . .this not only weighing the value of externals, it also means considering what agrees with our own, individual nature.  For one person it is reasonable to be a bathroom attendant. . .Someone else not only finds such a job intolerable for him personally, but finds it intolerable that anyone should have to perform it.  But ask me, ‘Shall I be a bathroom attendant or not?’ and I will tell you that earning a living is better than starving to death; so that if you measure your interests by these criteria, go ahead and do it.  ‘But it would be beneath my dignity.’  Well, that is an additional factor that you bring to the question, not me.  You are the one who knows yourself — which is to say, you know how much you are worth in your own estimation, and therefore at what price you will sell yourself; because people sell themselves at different rates.

So, for instance, Agrippinus told Florus to ‘Go ahead’ when he was debating whether to attend Nero’s festival, maybe even participate.  But when Florus asked him why he was not going himself, Agrippinus answered, ‘I don’t even consider the possibility.’  Taking account of the value of externals, you see, comes at some cost to the value of one’s own character.

. . .’But if I refuse to participate in Nero’s festival, he will kill me.’  Go ahead and participate, then — but I still refuse.  ‘Why?’

Because you think of yourself as no more than a single thread in the robe, whose duty it is to conform to the mass of people — just as a single white thread seemingly has no wish to clash with the remainder of the garment.  But I aspire to be the purple stripe, that is, the garment’s brilliant hem.  However small a part it may be, it can still manage to make the garment as a whole attractive.  Don’t tell me, then, ‘Be like the rest,’ because in that case I cannot be the purple stripe. 

In his actions Priscus showed his awareness of this principle.  When Emperor Vespasian sent him word barring him from the Senate, his response was, ‘You can disqualify me as a senator. But as long as I do remain a member I must join the assembly.’  ‘Well join, then, but don’t say anything.’  ‘Don’t call on me for my vote and I won’t say anything.’  ‘But I must call on you for your vote.’  ‘And I have to give whatever answer I think is right.’  ‘Answer, and I will kill you.’  ‘Did I ever say I was immortal?  You do your part, and I will do mine.  It is your part to kill me, mine to die without flinching; your part to exile me, mine to leave without protest.’ 

. . .That’s what I mean by having consideration for one’s character.  And it shows how weighty a factor it can be when it is allowed a regular role in one’s deliberations.

. . .’But how do we know what is in keeping with our character?’

Well how does a bull realize its own strength, rushing out to protect the whole herd when a lion attacks?  The possession of a particular talent is instinctively sensed by its owner; so if any of you are so blessed you will be the first to know it.  It is true, however, that no bull reaches maturity in an instant, nor do men become heroes overnight.  We must endure a winter training, and can’t be dashing into situations for which we aren’t yet prepared. 

Consider at what price you sell your integrity; but please for God’s sake, don’t sell it cheap.  The grand gesture, the ultimate sacrifice — that, perhaps, belongs to others to people of Socrates’ class.  ‘But if we are endowed by nature with the potential for greatness, why do only some of us achieve it?’  Well, do all horses become stallions?  Are all dogs greyhounds?  Even if I lack the talent, I will not abandon the effort on that account.  Epictetus will not be better than Socrates.  But if I am no worse, I am satisfied. . . In short, we do not abandon any discipline for despair of ever being the best in it. 

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I love to read.  Currently I have about 40 books in the mix.  I have so many for a number of reasons: I love variety (although the novels that I read tend to be considered ‘classics’ — I am currently reading Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ and Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’); I am often a ‘mood reader’ and so I have a number of books that I can open depending upon my mood; I am curious, so I have a number of books that feed my curiosity; I am a searcher and seeker and so I have a number of books available that enable me to go searching and seeking.  As I read I pay attention to the words, images and questions that emerge into my consciousness, thus I am a ‘slow reader.’  I also like to make notes in many of the books I read and so having my own copy is important to me AND I love the feel of the book itself so electronic readers are not appealing to me.

As I read I also note and write down quotes that ‘speak to me.’  I write them in my little black book — thanks Moleskin; truly, I carry a little black book with me.  I actually decided to do this when I was an undergraduate; I had watched my father take out his little black book and make notes and one of the things he noted were quotations that spoke to him (he was an avid reader).  So, gentle reader, I thought I would share some of the quotes I have in my current little black book — I don’t know how many of these little books I have filled up and I also have some not so little journals full of quotations.  Gentle reader you might find one or two of these speaking to you.

Your amicable words mean nothing if your body seems to be saying something different. –James Borg

The real labour is to remember, to attend.  In fact, to come awake.  Still more, to remain awake.  –C.S. Lewis

How is it no one sees how deeply afraid we were, last night, this morning?  Is it something we all hide from each other, by mutual consent?  –Don DeLillo

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  –Annie Dillard

The rain cloud of adversity is spreading over their heads.  Calamity is showing itself. . .From left and right is coming the cry; ‘Who were you yesterday, and what have you become today!  Just now you were awake, and now you have gone to sleep.!’ –Hali [1879, a Muslim Poet]

You are given three names in life.  The one you inherit, the one your parents give you and the name you make for yourself.  –Abraham Lincoln

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. — Carl Jung

I am not upset that you lied to me; I am upset that from now on I cannot believe you. –Friedrich Nietzche

And a final one (for today).  It is attributed to Carl Jung and he is speaking to Bill W (one of the founders of AA): ‘You were reaching for spirit, you just reached for the wrong kind.’ 

What is the spirit that you and I will reach for today?

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NO EXIT. . .

Emily Dickinson wrote:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

The coachman will arrive for each of us and will hold open the carriage door; we will enter and we know that it is a door with no exit.  Like the theater door that closes behind us, the one without a handle or knob, this carriage door will not have a handle or knob on the inside.

Our physical death will bring a finality and completion to our bodily existence.  As I sit here this morning I realize that I am not comfortable thinking of my own demise; I do not believe I am alone regarding this discomfort  Ram Dass noted: “We remain a society in which death is viewed as the enemy, an onerous ‘thing’ to be hidden or shunned, and separated, physically and philosophically, as much as possible from living.”

Now I know that no matter how much discomfort I have when it comes to thinking about my own demise, eventually the coachman will arrive for me.  I also believe that what I do with the life I have been entrusted with will greatly determine my attitude when the carriage door is opened for me and when I step across the threshold into the eternal unknown.  I know that if I am able to step through life’s little doors with grace and hope and gratitude and trust then I will more likely find it ‘easier’ (is this the word?) to enter the coach.

The poet Dawna Markova reflected upon ‘practicing for death’ when she wrote: “When I die, I want to remember the pulse of life. . .I want to be well practiced in letting go over the edge of the known. . . It’s not so much about being prepared for death as it is about being full of life.  I want to be so well practiced in crossing thresholds that dying is merely another step in the dance.”

As a theist of a certain persuasion (actually of multiple persuasions), I believe that the carriage will carry me to a new life.  My new life might be as a seed, a sunset, a Jack Rabbit in Arizona (this is an inside joke), or a soul, or a spirit.

When the coachman arrives will I be able to bring my full-soul to the carriage door.  A ‘full-soul’ will mean that I have relished my life, that I have celebrated my life, and that I strove to be the Richard that I am called to be.  I don’t know when the carriage will arrive.  I can decide, even today, to live more fully into the Richard that I am called to become.

I also like Emily’s second stanza and will close with her words:

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

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US. . .THEM. . .

Martin Buber provided us with the concept ‘I-Thou.’  In some indigenous cultures an ‘I’ recognizes a ‘Thou’ with the words: ‘I see You!’  As I sit here in the coffee shop this morning watching folks come and go I pause and ask: ‘How many of these folks do I really see?’  How many ‘Its’ have come and gone and how many ‘Thous’ have come and gone.  I make a point of ‘seeing’ each employee; partly because I do want to ‘see’ them and partly because so many folks who come to be served by them don’t seem to ‘see’ them.

What stimulated my thinking this morning was a recollection.  I don’t always know what triggers my recollections and so I don’t spend a great deal of time trying to source them; such it is this morning.  Anyway, my recollection involved my sitting with a group of eight employees and our conversation about ‘Us and Them.’  There are those in our world who view the world through the lens of ‘Us and Them.’  It is, it seems to me, a fairly common viewing.  But I am not thinking of this, I am thinking of those who truly see the world through this lens of ‘Us and Them.’  This is their perception of the world and it scares me to no end.  Why?  Well, for those who perceive the world to be this way results in a dual world — the way a child might perceive the world as ‘either/or.’  For ‘Us-Them’ folks it appears as if there are people of the light and people of the darkness; the sheep and goats, the saved and the damned.  There is no argument — no searching and no seeking — for the children of the light, the sheep and the saved will win out and the rest will lose.  Should a child of the darkness, or a goat or one who is damned seek to address the other the other will not hear, much less heed, what is said.  Why?  The child of darkness, the goat and the damned are NOT ONE OF US and so they do not deserve our attention (there is no hope for them anyway).

Consider that ‘righteousness,’ intelligence, integrity, humanity, freedom, and ‘victory’ belong to ‘Us’ while wickedness, hypocrisy, brutality, stupidity and ultimate defeat belong to ‘Them.’  What is overwhelming sad for me is that for those who have learned to deny the complexities of life; who deny that we humans are imperfect; who deny that each of us — at our healthiest — are living paradoxes of good/evil, light/darkness, virtue/vice.  Many of those ‘Us’ folks who have cut through (denied?) the complexities of life are seen as prophets to be followed; they are seen and hailed as the bearers of ‘the truth’ and ‘the way’ and support the old adage of ‘Us’ folks: ‘If you are not with US you are against US — you are, sad souls — one of THEM.’  Rather than accept ‘Them’ ‘Us’ folks pray for them and ‘love’ them even though the ‘Us’ folks don’t believe that any of ‘Them’ will be saved.

I have wandered in the land of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ — sometimes as an ‘Us’ and at others times as a ‘Them.’  No matter which side I am on I find this land not to be one of milk and honey but to be a wasteland that is not able to nurture life.  The land of paradox, for me, is the land of milk and honey — it is Eden for me.  It is not easy for me to live in the land of paradox; but it is life-giving and life-sustaining and provides HOPE for each one who resides in this land.

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