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Archive for September, 2014

Once upon a time there was a Master Teacher who had become quite popular in certain circles. He also had become a threat to the establishment for he was helping the common folk to think. One day, after he had finished speaking about compassion a noisy crowd approached. People who had gathered close to the teacher stepped aside; space was opened. A woman was thrown down at the feet of the Teacher. Now in this culture a woman who was caught in a particular crime/sin was to be stoned to death. The Teacher had just spoken about compassion. One of the Elders stepped forward and noted two things: You, great Teacher, just spoke of compassion AND our Law says that this woman must be stoned to death. Which shall we do – you tell us. . . which is it, Mercy or Justice?!

Ah… The trap was set… The bait lay at the Teacher’s feet… The energetic crowd was waiting…

Now this Teacher had developed the Skill, the Discipline, and the Capacity for Reflection. Even amidst the high energy of the crowd and even amidst the pressure to respond (how many of us would actually become reactive rather than responsive when the crowd was energized and the pressure was on). The Teacher did what all of the great wisdom figures did before and have done since: He paused, reflected and then responded. I can see him looking down, perhaps kneeling down, and picking up a stick; he drew a bit in the dirt. After a time – we are not sure but it was probably not long – he looked up and spoke the words that continue to resound throughout the world: Let you who is without sin cast the first stone!

Reflection is a Skill that we have developed; we all can reflect. How many of us have developed the Discipline of Reflection? How many of us have, in addition, continue to build our Capacity for Reflection?

Reflection can occur in silence as it did with the Teacher. Reflection can also occur amidst many folks bringing their voices. I am thinking of James Burke’s leadership during the 1980s Tylenol poisonings. Although people had died after taking Tylenol he insisted that he and his advisors take time and ‘reflect’ – via a deep searching conversation. They were not reactive; they were responsive and their response was rooted in reflection.

I am thinking of my nephew and niece who were Company Commanders during the Second Gulf War. After each mission they would sit with their crews (they flew Black Hawks) and reflect. They took to heart Charles Handy’s great advice: ‘Reflection plus Experience is the learning. . .’ How many of us take the time to reflect after the experience?

What would it take for you, me, us to develop the Discipline of Reflection? What would it take for you, me, us to commit to developing more fully our Capacity of Reflection? Do we believe that Reflection is one of the primary Skills, Disciplines and Capacities that we need in our lives?

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A ‘Discipline’ is a regimen that improves a skill; its Middle English root is ‘instruction’ or ‘teaching.’ I have developed and integrated the Skill; now my charge and challenge is to improve the Skill via Discipline. In order to do so I need to be awake and aware of my motivation to do so (a ‘need’ to do so is more powerful than a ‘want’ and a ‘want’ is more powerful than a ‘desire’). Skill improvement takes time, energy, commitment, resources, and practice. It also requires that I be intentional and purpose-full regarding the process, the steps, and the practice I will need to embrace in order to improve the Skill. As I have noted in a number of previous postings: ‘Practice does not make Perfect; Practice makes Permanent!’ Thus, it is crucial that I am clear as to what practices will help me improve the Skill. In addition to specific practices it will also be important to have the support of another; it helps for this person to have developed more fully than I the Skill I am seeking to improve.

What is it that I strive to develop? I strive to develop my ‘Capacity.’ Here is an example that might help us understand what this means. I have developed and integrated the Skill of riding a two-wheeled bicycle. I have also spent time improving this Skill via a Discipline. Now I discern a ‘need’ that requires that I develop my ‘Capacity.’ Capacity development is rooted in ‘Need’ (a ‘Want’ or a ‘Desire’ or a ‘Wish’ will not provide the motivation). I decide that I have a ‘Need’ to ride a bicycle 100 miles without stopping. I am aware that although I have the Skill and I have improved my Skill via Discipline I do not have the Capacity to ride 100 miles without stopping.

In order to develop my Capacity I must have a ‘Need’ to do so – and I soon realize that a ‘Need’ is not sufficient. I begin to make a list of the support that I will need in order to develop my capacity so that I will be able to ride 100 miles on my bicycle without stopping. I will need a certain type of bicycle (my ‘fat’ wheeled, one gear bike will not cut it). I will need a ‘coach’ – someone who has helped others develop this Capacity. I will need to monitor my diet. I will need to develop a practice regimen (not any practice, of course) and I will need to Discipline myself in order to follow the regimen. I will need a road – the same type of road that I will ride upon for different types of roads require different types of bikes, for example. I will need to wear specific clothes. There are other things I will need but this short list provides us with enough to continue.

Over time I will gradually develop my Capacity. Now an interesting thing about Capacity is that once I have developed it I need to continue in order to maintain it. Unlike a Skill, once I stop my Capacity Development I begin to lose Capacity. If I am able to ride 100 miles without stopping and then I do not ride for five years I will not lose the Skill of being able to ride a bicycle; I will lose the Capacity to ride 100 miles without stopping. This is where ‘training’ fails us. I cannot begin to count the number of organizations and people that have invested mucho dinero into training and within a half of a year of its completion have become frustrated because the ‘training’ did not ‘take.’ We need all three. We need the Skill, we need the Discipline and we need the Capacity Development. This is the challenge.

So, what are some of the Skills that need to be enhanced with ‘Discipline’ and ‘Capacity Development’ (as I noted last time, these are the Skills we have already integrated and they are the Skills that we need in order to be fully human beings). Next time we will begin to explore a few of these.

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‘Skill’ is important and at times is crucial. Once integrated a skill becomes ‘second nature’ to us. Once integrated a skill is also difficult to ‘unlearn’ or to ‘change.’ A skill can also be adapted to complement another skill or to fit a different, if not a new, situation. When I was six, as I recall, I learned how to ride a two wheeled bike. This skill is now second nature to me. When I was in high school I learned the skill of typing on a typewriter (do you remember what those were – I know that some still exist; my friend George has one and at times he even attempts to use it); this typing skill is also second nature to me and I have adapted it so I can use the keyboard on a computer. Now, if a typewriter is placed in front of me I believe that within a brief period of time I will be able to use it effectively; if, on the other hand, a typewriter was placed in front of an adolescent who has never typed on one it would take this person some time to adapt to using it effectively (I am thinking of how easy it is to ‘backspace’ on a computer keyboard in order to correct an error – I just did it by the by – and what a challenge it is to type on a typewriter without the ‘backspace’ being available).

As we know there are thousands of skills that we learn as we journey through life. They are crucial to our survival and because they tend to be ‘automatic’ they allow us to use them while doing something else. Because the skill has become second nature to us we don’t have to think about each discrete step we need to take in order to use a particular skill (I can walk and chew food at the same time, for example). For this series of blog entries I am not thinking of just ‘any skills’ I am thinking of the skills that help us ‘be’ fully human beings and that can serve us well in life if we add two additional dimensions: ‘Discipline’ and ‘Capacity.’ As you will quickly note, gentle reader, the skills that I invite you to consider are skills that you have probably already integrated – the questions involve ‘To what extent do you use them in a disciplined manner?’ and ‘What are you doing to intentionally and purpose-fully develop your ‘skill-capacity’?’ What I have to offer you is not ‘the’ list or the ‘best’ or even the ‘most fitting’ for you. They are, however, the skills that for 40+ years I have noticed serve folks well (and are necessary, if not crucial to our development as fully human beings). I will offer a few of these and we will then explore them a bit.

However, before I name and we briefly explore some ‘skills’ it is important to continue developing a framework. So next time I will briefly focus on the other two concepts: ‘Discipline’ and ‘Capacity.’ Our non-organic metaphors (mechanical and banking) are interested in skill-building via ‘training’ and are not interested in ‘developing’ them (‘discipline’ and ‘capacity’) – the reasons offered for not doing so are legion. The lived-illusion is that having the skill is enough; the reality is that having the skill is not enough. This is where ‘Discipline’ and ‘Capacity’ become crucial. This is where a ‘developmental process’ not a ‘training experience’ becomes crucial.

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A trend in our culture continues to unfold. Organizations of all types and sizes are putting time, energy and resources into ‘skill building’ (also known as ‘training’). They are focused on ‘Doing.’ This is painful for me to observe; yet it does not surprise me given our culture’s powerful, integrated metaphors. Our deepest metaphor is the mechanical metaphor which emerged as we made the transition from an agrarian culture with an organic developmental metaphor to an industrial culture which required us to emerge, embrace and integrate a non-organic mechanical metaphor (organizations are well-oiled and well-run machines and people are the cogs in the machine; even our classrooms were set up to resemble assembly lines).

About fifty years ago – perhaps more, I am not quite sure about the timing – we began a transition from the mechanical metaphor to our current dominant metaphor, the banking metaphor (people are assets, resources and commodities). These two metaphors co-exist with the banking metaphor being the dominant one today. As an aside: we also continue to integrate a war-sports metaphor into our culture; this ‘hybrid’ metaphor generally complements both the mechanical and the banking metaphor (‘We are at war with our competition’ or ‘Business is a winner-take-all competition’).

Because we have abandoned the organic metaphor (although tap roots of the organic metaphor still survive and frequently complicate things for the non-organic metaphors) we do not value ‘development’ or ‘being’ (as in ‘human being’). ‘Training trumps Development,’ ‘Doing’ dominates ‘Being’ and the ‘Non-organic’ negates the ‘Organic.’ We still ‘espouse’ the importance of the ‘human being’ and of ‘developmental processes;’ we give them lip service. We might even say ‘We realize that who we are, who we are choosing to become, directly impacts and affects what we choose to do.’ Then, we act as if this is not true – we focus on training and neglect development; although we use the word ‘development’ and we act as if the two concepts are interchangeable; we invest (the banking metaphor again) in training and, if we have to, we tolerate development.

These powerful non-organic metaphors allow us to ‘guilt-free’ treat people as assets, resources and commodities and when they no longer provide us with a solid ROI we can guilt-free cash them in. If we relate to people as ‘cogs in the great machine’ then we can guilt-free replace them when they get old or after we ‘wear them out.’ Another aside: Consider this, gentle reader, if we were truly rooted in an organic metaphor we would guarantee health care and health insurance for everyone; assets, resources, commodities and cogs do not need health insurance much less health care – although, again, we espouse the importance of both.

OK. . .I admit that I am on a rant and roll today. But I am furious today as someone I deeply love continues to be used as an asset, resource and commodity. Perhaps you, too, gentle reader, know of someone who is also treated as an asset, resource, commodity or cog; if so, I hope you are also furious.

So what does all of this have to do with the title of this blog entry? Well gentle reader come back next time and perhaps we will find out.

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The topic of community is large and complex – just take five minutes and search for all of the books, articles and essays that have been written these past 2500 years and you will be whelmed over by the sheer volume alone. For us today there exists a tension between two theories: the Contractual and the Communal.

Contractual folks bring people into unity with each other through varies types of agreements, negotiations, and arbitrations (often referred to as ‘social contracts’). Communal folks assume people are in unity by nature. Negotiations, agreements, etc. merely ratify and specify what already exists; they are supported by the bonds that already exist between folks – these bonds are right and good because this is the nature of we human beings; we are, by nature, communal beings. At its best the Contractual is fed by two tap roots: the ethical and the legal; the Communal is fed by three tap roots: the ethical, the legal and the moral. The Contractual that is interdependent with the Communal seems to be the ‘ideal.’

The metaphor ‘Community’ involves paradoxes within paradoxes. Consider the one major paradox – it is found in the word/concept itself. ‘Community’ ties together two Latin words; words which appear to contradict one another. The first is the preposition ‘com’ which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ – thus a minimum of two is required. The second is ‘unus’ – the number one in Latin. A Community is many that becomes one and yet does not cease to be many ‘ones’. One person is not a community and a herd, group or multitude are not inherently communities either. The question about ‘what is community’ is an ancient question rooted in the paradox of ‘one and many.’ Plato wrote brilliantly about this in his dialogue, ‘Parmenides’ and seekers of wisdom ever since have sought – continue to seek – to describe the unity and multiplicity of things without suppressing either ‘both’ or ‘one.’

Community seeks to combine, to integrate, unity and plurality in a way that not only supports the existence of both; each is enhanced by the other. Community can validate the dream of every human heart. This dream is that we love and we are loved by the other(s) in such a way that both ‘togetherness’ and ‘autonomy’ survive and thrive. Both the Community and the Person are nurtured as they seek, together, to develop their potential. Both serve and are served. This serving is rooted in love and care – love and care for ‘self’ and for the ‘other(s).’ In Community we belong and yet we are not possessed; we are free, yet we are not alone. We balance two powerful identities: the Communal and the Personal.

Community, as anyone who has striven to nurture one into life, is not ‘easy,’ and it is the stuff of everyday life. It does seem to be that a rise in crime rates can be directly linked to a breakdown in the community known as the family. It does seem to be that the history of the arms race can be directly linked to the rise of nation states that emphasize boundaries rather than connections.

Yesterday I was re-reading W.H. Auden’s powerful poem ‘September 1, 1939.’ Auden perceived the connection well. He saw the roots of world war in the lives of millions of individuals, each one ‘seeking not love universal, but to be loved alone.’ To what extent are we, today, seeking love in this way? Without Communal love, without Community, the gyre, as Yeats noted, will widen and the center will not hold – things will fall apart (read and contemplate Yeats’ powerful poem ‘The Second Coming.’).

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