Archive for May, 2014

The great Roman Emperor and Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, gifted us with his ‘Meditations.’ Since about 200 A.D. countless of folks have spent time reading, reflecting upon and have been deeply affected by his words. Since I began posting here in February 2012 I have at times provided you, gentle reader, with some of his journal entries. Today I will provide you with a few more; these are taken from ‘Book Nine’ of his ‘Meditations.’ It is important to remember and note that Marcus is writing to himself; he is not addressing his words to anyone else – he did not write with the idea that his ‘Meditations’ would be published for others to read – thus they provide us not only one man’s inner journey, the provide us a window to his heart and soul. Marcus writes:

If you can, teach others to become better; if you cannot, then remember that the power to be kind has been given to you for this purpose. Even the gods care for such people and help them to gain health, wealth and reputation, so helpful are they. Such kindness is also in your power, or tell me, who is there to prevent you? [9:11]

Today I escaped all difficulty; or rather, I have ‘cast out’ all difficulty, for difficulty is not external, but rooted in my judgments. [9:13]

Just as you yourself play an essential role in the social body, so should each of your actions help to perfect a communal life. Therefore, any action of yours which does not bear some direct or indirect relation to his common goal will fragment your life, disrupting its unity and creating internal strife. [9:23]

Whenever someone blames or hates you, or if anyone should express such sentiments, go directly to their souls, pass into them, and see who they really are. You will then see that you do not have to trouble yourself about what such people may think of you. However, you must be kind to them, for they too are your natural friends. [9:27]

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Longfellow wrote words that continue to give me pause: ‘If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm our hostilities.’ Recently I have, once again, immersed myself in seeking to understand the causes of war, what then sustains them once they have begun, and perhaps most importantly, how we manage to convince folks to kill one another (slaughter one another is more appropriate).

Consider that in war human beings have never killed other human beings. Human beings have killed japs, nazis, gooks, pagans, unbelievers, papists, micks, huns, commies, etc. We do not, it seems, fight people, we fight symbols or adjectives or appellations. We view our foes as inhuman, greedy, immoral, sadistic and devil-like (if not the devil incarnate). Each side must view the other in this way in order to kill for humans do not kill humans (in fact there are many stories about enemies choosing not to kill the others because they ‘humanized’ them – A Christmas eve during WW I and again during WWII dramatically demonstrated this).

Consider that all wars are ‘just wars.’ Each side believes that they are fighting for the ‘good’ and the ‘sacred’. Every war, in the end, is truly a ‘holy war’ – a battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness; don’t believe me? Read a few of the ‘histories’ written by folks on either side and you get it (the ancient Greeks thought the Persians were ‘pagans’ and ‘heathens’ and the Persians thought the same of the Greeks and during the Crusades the Christians thought the Muslims to be ‘pagans’ and the Muslims the Christians to be ‘infidels’ and in the many ‘Christian versus Christian’ wars each side view the other as ‘heretics’ and non-Christian).

It seems that just as we have needed to have friends we have needed to have foes – a mutual dependency appears to exist. We embrace those who are ‘part of us’ and we fear those who are not; at all levels we are suspect of the ‘stranger’ and his or her motives and desires. We will defend what we believe to be ‘sure’ and ‘sacred’ – we see ourselves as ‘light’ and we project our ‘darkness’ onto the other; our projections fuel and sustain our passions (this enables Christians to demonize and kill Christians and Muslims to demonize and kill Muslims, for example).

Consider that if it were indeed the case that the world is composed of ‘friends and foes,’ of ‘good people’ and ‘evil people’ then we should expect that our enemies would be ‘constants’ through time. But, of course, they are not – they never have been. For example, at one time the Chinese were ‘good’ and then ‘evil’ and then ‘good’ again (now they are somewhat good). The Russians were good, then evil then good again (now they are moving toward being evil again). The Japanese were evil then good (they were ‘saved’) and once they became an economic powerhouse they became suspect again (now that they are struggling economically and are with us against the potential Chinese threat they are good again).

There is hope. As a by-product of many things the world is becoming more and more connected and we are, more and more, aware of the ‘others’ as being fully human. If we do not destroy ourselves or our planet we might well be able to hold onto our view that all are human, that all have pain and struggles, and that we – as fully human beings – are truly our brothers’ keepers. Although this is no simple challenge; the more we are able to see and engage the others as fully human the more difficult it will be for us to dehumanize the others and thus the more difficult it will be to see them as foes rather than as friends. The more we can accept our own selves as living paradoxes of ‘good and evil’ of ‘light and darkness’ the less we will seek to name the others as ‘demons.’ The more we connect with the others, the greater the likelihood that we will establish, nurture and maintain healthy relationships with them.

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The renowned British economist E.F. Schumacher noted that: ‘The whole crux of life…is that it constantly requires the living reconciliation of opposites which in strict logic are irreconcilable.’ At first blush, polarities appear to be logically irreconcilable; a broader and deeper exploration, however, invites one to consider that there might be something else afoot – the ‘third way’ for example.

These past many years I have had the privilege of engaging polarities that specifically addressed questions that powerfully impacted a number of cultures and perhaps more significantly sub-cultures (the cultures within cultures). I have been invited to engage a number of folks, for example: educators, religious leaders, business leaders, and physicians. When I meet with them I introduce them to the concept of polarities and then I invite them to list those polarities that they believe have been – or are – the most powerful for them as professionals. Here are some examples from each profession:

Right answer-Wrong answer
Rational-Intuitive [Thinking]
Student-Class [an iteration of ‘Individual-Community’]


Individual-Team [or Institution or Department, etc.]
Short Term-Long Term

Body-Mind [or Body-Spirit]
Symptom-System [Are they treating a symptom or are the treating the whole person?]

After they emerge their lists we engage in searching conversations as we explore each set of polarities. We seek to understand, first by listening to one another, by employing inquiry more than advocacy and by entering deeply into each polarity (see Part III for what this might look like). We then explore the ‘third way’ that might emerge if we strive to move from separateness to connection to wholeness. I continue to stand in awe as I observe the searching and seeking and at times the ‘third way’ that emerges (a ‘third way’ does not always emerge during our time together – if ever for some).

I am well aware that just being able to recognize, name and explore polarities does not easily lead to the emergence of ‘wholeness’ (a ‘third way’); just as having ‘knowledge’ does not lead to ‘change’ (ask most smokers). Yet my experience continues to affirm that our searching and seeking for ‘a way to open’ that supports our moving from separateness to connection to wholeness is well worth our time, energy and effort. This process is about ‘direction’ not ‘destination.’ It is more about searching and seeking than finding [if we get caught in having to ‘find’ we might well stop with our searching and seeking]. To amend the great German Poet Rilke’s words – ‘Some day you might live into the answers’ I offer: ‘Some day we might live into the third way rather than find it.’



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Many years ago Rumi wrote: ‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’ More recently Robert Frost wrote: ‘It almost scares a man the way things come in pairs.’ Whether it is in our ‘nature’ or whether we have been socialized to it we do view and experience reality as composed of polarities. For example, we divide our world into ‘sacred and secular,’ ‘true and false,’ ‘friend and foe.’ We also see some things as ‘objective’ – real and concrete – and others as ‘subjective’ – intuition, feelings and imaginings. We also believe that there are ‘virtuous’ acts and ‘vice’ acts. As an aside, some equate ‘duality’ with ‘polarity’ and they are not the same. Duality involves ‘either/or’ while polarity involves ‘both/and.’

Consider that today’s critical questions invite us and challenge us to embrace a blending toward wholeness when it comes to our traditional hard and fast distinctions. For example our global view of ‘we versus them’ is evolving into ‘us.’ In addition, role defined hierarchies of many kinds are evolving toward ‘interdependent relationships.’ Here are a few of them: teacher-student, doctor-patient, manager-worker, and sacred-secular. Blending toward wholeness doesn’t negate polarities. Blending toward wholeness supports our developing a growing capacity to view life in terms of an integrated process; a process that moves us from separateness to connection to wholeness.

Moving toward wholeness is a popular topic today [note Parker J. Palmer’s wonderful work ‘A Hidden Wholeness’]. In health care, the ‘whole’ person becomes the focus, not just the symptoms or the disease. Globally we are now considering the ‘whole system’ and not just the disparate parts or the global polarities. Take a moment, gentle reader, and ask yourself: What does it mean to be a ‘whole’ person? Consider that wholeness means ‘complete’ within one’s self AND it also means being a part of a number of relationships (we are, as I noted in an earlier posting, ‘holons’ – complete within ourselves and at the same time we are part of larger systems).

Consider the words of Biologist Lewis Thomas: ‘There is no such creature as a single individual; he has no more life of his own than a cast-off cell marooned on the surface of your skin.’

Evolutionary reality presents a reality of interconnecting and interdependent whole systems. We will need to embrace these realities – moving from separateness to connection to wholeness – if we are going to survive and thrive.

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How might the ‘third way’ emerge? A story might help.

It was late August 1995, the first session of the Business Ethics course I was teaching; this was a required course for all Business Majors and the twenty-four students were juniors and seniors. Because of my travel schedule this class met on Monday evenings from 6pm – 10pm. The first hour was a ‘getting to know you’ hour (many of these students did not know one another and I did not know any of them). As we settled in for the second hour I posed the following questions: ‘Unconditional Honesty: Is it possible? How do we achieve it?’

After a few minutes of silence, one person spoke up, then another, then a third and the words began to fly around the room. The debate was at once chaotic and rich (debate = heaving ideas back and forth until someone wins or someone surrenders). Passion permeated the room. As the debate continued and no ‘resolution’ was in sight voices became more strident, tempers flared, the mood in the room became ‘ugly.’ Stances were taken, trenches were dug and the students began to move into two camps; some attempted to remain ‘neutral’ and ‘open’ and soon even they were drawn to one side or the other. Inquiry had been lost; advocacy rose up like a tsunami and washed over everyone. Civil searching was replaced by intense attacks, some of them bordered on the personal. The students had lost their way; they had lost track of what was important. They had become powerfully polarized.

I called for a time-out. The room had become physically divided into two camps. I invited the students to take some deep breaths and then to join me in the center of the room. I reflected that two polarities had emerged; I named the one ‘the possible’ and the other ‘the not-possible.’ I then invited them to imagine with me that we had been transported to another world. This world was made up of two cultures: ‘the possible’ and ‘the not-possible.’ I then invited them, as a community of observers, to walk together to ‘the not-possible’ side of the room. I invited them to find out all they could about this world: Speak like these folks, move like they move, feel what they feel, think like they think, emerge their values, their fears, their hopes, their dreams and the legacy they want to leave their children. After twenty minutes or so I invited them to return to the center of the room and to share with us what was most interesting for them, what insights they now had about this ‘culture’ and what surprised them.

I invited them into a ‘clearing exercise’ and then I invited them to visit the other side of the room and we repeated the exercise. Then we again met in the center of the room and ‘debriefed’ their experience.

Now I invited them to reflect a bit and emerge a way, a ‘third way’ that incorporated both polarities and at the same time honored the unique ‘culture’ of each. In order to do this they had to form small groups…groups that they had to organize. The twenty-four formed four groups of six and made sure that each group was ‘mixed’ (men, women, minorities, and contained ‘voices’ that represented the two polarities). As they now moved away from debate and into dialogue (a searching conversation) the energy shifted from conflict to cooperation; members would also briefly visit the other groups to see what was emerging for them and these visitors would take some of the ideas back to their own groups. Within an hour a ‘third-way’ had emerged.

We were all amazed. We were all hopeful of what might happen when a polarity was embraced in a different way. We were excited as we had taken a step from ‘separateness to connection to wholeness.’ As our energy level began to subside I offered the following: Now here is an important question; the question that I invite you to continue to hold and live into. If ‘the possible’ culture were over there and ‘the not-possible’ culture were over there, then who are we here? What is this place called, the place from which you can learn to appreciate both polarities; the place from which a ‘third-way’ might emerge and evolve? What was it like to stand in this place? What was it like to search together in this place? What did it feel like, sound like, look like to co-create in this place?

The responses came. The learning continued. Wholeness was, once again, experienced.

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