Archive for December, 2018


Education is the key to unlock the door of freedom. –George Washington Carver

Words matter.  Questions matter. Metaphors matter. Concepts matter.  In our Culture there are few ideas that matter more than the Concept of Freedom

In our Culture today there are two different concepts of freedom.  These two concepts are rooted in two radically different political views.  These views are not unifying but dividing views.  ‘We the People’ is being transformed into ‘We Our Tribe.’  [Consider, Gentle Reader, that transformation involves a fundamental change in character and structure.  A transformation is quite different from a shift or even a change.]

In our nation, the traditional-historical definition of freedom is progressive.  The United States of America has, traditionally and historically, been a nation composed of committed activists, activists who have been consistently expanding our most valued freedoms. [NOTE: ‘Consistently’ is crucial; too often we confuse ‘perfection’ with ‘consistency’ and condemn efforts that are, at best, consistent.]

Consider the following valued freedoms:

  • Ensuring that every citizen has the right to vote. For years only white, male land owners were given this right.  Over-time, non-property owners, former slaves, women, younger people and those denied the vote because of prejudice have been granted this freedom – now a right and privilege.
  • We expanded the freedom of ‘opportunity’ which led to better jobs, improved working conditions, the banning of child labor, increased opportunities for women (although we still have a way to go before ‘equality’ is achieved). Opportunities for non-whites have also increased.  Opportunities for foreign-born have also increased (although we still have a way to go for both non-whites and for foreign-born before ‘equality’ is achieved).
  • We have expanded the rights of workers – think: freedom from inhumane working conditions – thanks to unionization: from ‘slave’ labor to the eight-hour day, to the five-day week, to worker compensation, to paid sick leave, to overtime pay, to paid vacations, to paid pregnancy leave, etc.
  • Thomas Jefferson reminded us, more than once, that a major tap root that needed to thrive in order for democracy to thrive was a commitment to public education. Public education was expanded to include elementary, secondary, college/university (undergraduate and post-graduate) institutions.  [Sadly, today, we are not as committed to Public Education as we have been in the past and we, as a Culture/Nation, are paying a price; a price that has yet to be truly determined.]
  • The expansion of public health. We still fall short for we do not ensure good health coverage/care for all.
  • We have been committed to the expansion of consumer protection – more recently, however, this commitment has been stifled.

These are some of the progressive trends in our history.  It is crucial to remember that progress, is not, for the most part, linear and perfection is never achieved (although it has, at times, been set up as a goal; an illusion at best).

We have been, until recently, committed to these progressive trends.  The rise of radical conservatism in the United States threatens to hinder and reverse many of these, and other, progressive trends.  What is also threatened is the progressive ideal of freedom that has been the major tap root that feeds and sustains them all; that has fed and sustained our Republic and our Democracy.

Consider that the hindrance-reversal is proceeding at an ever more rapid rate.

America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. –Abraham Li

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“Escape from Freedom attempts to show, modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.” –Erich Fromm

These past few months I have been re-reading and re-savoring three books:
‘Lincoln’ by David Herbert Donald, ‘Escape from Freedom’ by Erich Fromm, ‘A Theory of Justice’ by John Rawls.  As I was reading and savoring a number of pathways presented themselves to me; as is my wont I wandered down each of them for a bit in order to see what might present itself to me.

One pathway led me to reflect upon and consider the concepts of ‘Justice & Caring.’  Our Founding Fathers and Mothers held a vision of a society that would be more just and caring; we are still struggling with the implications of what this means for us as a nation, a society, a people.

One pathway led me to reflect upon and consider the advantages and disadvantages of a two-party system.  Do we remember that in 1855 we had three political parties, perhaps even four if we include the secret party called the ‘No Nothings.’ [NOTE: I am not referring to Schultz, the German guard in ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ who would often utter ‘I know nothing!’]

The three parties: The Democrats (who morphed into conservative, right-of-center, Republicans); the Republicans (who morphed into the left-of-center Democrats); and the Whigs (some of their members joined the ‘moderate’ Democrats and ‘moderate’ Republicans and formed what came to be known as the ‘Party of Lincoln’ – sadly, a party that no longer exists).  Lincoln emerged as a ‘Conservative-Progressive’ – he was committed to conserving our Republic and he was committed to moving us forward (think: abolish slavery and heal the nation – a living testament to justice-mercy-caring).

A third pathway led me to reflect upon and consider how the concept of ‘Freedom’ has been and continues to be interpreted in our society and how conservative and progressives (and the radicals among each group) interpret the concept today.  Their interpretations continue to be, I believe, one of the major reasons that we have become so divided.  How divided?

Consider this one little idea: Our Founding Fathers and Mothers believed, and knew from experience, that Democracy would only survive – and potentially thrive – when nurtured by a tap root of ‘Compromise.’  Today, we are so divided that this major tap root has been re-framed as a major weed and it must, therefore, be rooted out at all costs (and the costs are high indeed).

On the 24th of December I was driving to our family gathering and I began to consider writing about one or more of these pathways.  Again, as is my wont and my woe, I knew I wanted to spend time on each pathway and (remember, there is always an ‘and’) I knew I needed one focus (in order to help keep me on a path and not simply wander around the many paths available to me).  I chose the path and focus of ‘Freedom.’

Again, Gentle Reader, as is my wont (I do seem to have many ‘wonts’ don’t I), I do not know how many postings I will make; I do believe it will be more than two.

I needed a guiding question.  Two days ago the question emerged into my consciousness: ‘Whose Freedom?’

“…the lust for power is not rooted in strength but in weakness. It is the expression of the inability of the individual self to stand alone and live. It is the desperate attempt to gain secondary strength where genuine strength is lacking. The word power has a twofold meaning. One is the possession of power over somebody, the ability to dominate him; the other meaning is the possession of power to do something, to be able, to be potent. The latter meaning has nothing to do with domination; it expresses mastery in the sense of ability.” –Erich Fromm

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Follow your own passion, not your parents. –Robert Ballard

Good morning Gentle Reader.  This will be my final posting for this topic; I am sure that at some point I will continue to explore this crucial topic.

For more than 45+ years now I have had the privilege of listening to many folks.  Part of my charge has been to listen and call forth gifts, talents, potentials, and ‘passions.’  ‘Calling Forth’ is the first definition of the concept ‘educare’ which is the root for our English word, ‘Educator.’  By definition, the ‘Teacher’ is the expert who ‘puts in’ and the ‘Educator’ is the one who calls forth.

This morning I will focus on ‘Passion.’  I cannot begin to count the number of hours I have spent with ‘professionals’ helping them explore, renew and even discover their ‘passion’ and ‘purpose.’  Like Bishop Jakes (see his quotation below) I found that ‘passion’ leads one to discover one’s ‘purpose.’

I developed what I call a ‘work-treat’ (part workshop and part retreat) in order to provide professionals an opportunity to explore, renew, and/or ‘discern/name’ their passion (Professionals included: teachers/educators, medical professionals, attorneys, military officers, law enforcement folks, dentists, business owners, etc.).

Some participants joined us because the ‘passion’ that had motivated them was waning; the fire was burning out or was smoldering.  The poet David Whyte reminds us that when our inner fire – our passion – is extinguished that our body fills with dense smoke and we suffocate from within.

Some participants joined us because they were seeking their ‘passion’.  They believed that they were living someone else’s passion – generally their father’s passion.  Here is one story.

In 1996 I had the privilege of spending a few hours with four business leaders in The Netherlands; my host, Tjeb Maris had invited them to join us.  My charge was to listen to them and then invite them to reflect upon and explore a few challenging questions; questions that might help them explore their passion.

What each if these men discovered – or remembered – was that they were, each one of them, living out their father’s passion.  They were quite good at doing this.  What each was able to discern and name and ‘emotionally own’ was the passion – their passion.  They had buried their passion and each could recall the date that they decided to do so.  As they, once again, touched and embraced their passion the tears of regret flowed freely.  I learned later that two of these men left the business that their father had begun and had embraced their own passion.  I was told that the other two had considered doing so but were not able to ‘betray’ their father (each of them used this powerful term, ‘betray,’ to describe what it would take for them to live into their own passion).

Gentle reader.  Are you living your ‘Passion’?  If you are, what disciplines do you practice so that your ‘Passion’ continues to be nurtured more than depleted?  Two weeks ago my son, Nathan, the struggling artist, and I were talking and he told me that his life was ‘good’ because he had found a way of living into his ‘Passion.’  I could hear the affirmation and contentment in the tone of his voice and I could see it in his eyes.  He then looked at me and said: ‘You taught me that dad.  You taught me to embrace and live your passion.  Thank you, dad.’

Gentle Reader, who have you thanked when it comes to encouraging you to live your ‘Passion’?  If you have not thanked this person – or these people – when will you do so?

If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion.  Your passion will lead you right into your purpose. –Bishop T. D. Jakes

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The most important thing is hearing what isn’t said. –Peter Drucker

Good morning Gentle Reader.

Consider that we can develop our capacity to listen more intently and receptively if we develop the discipline of ‘Suspension.’  Anyone who has attempted to develop a ‘discipline’ – spiritual, physical, intellectual, or emotional – knows how challenging this is.

What do we need to ‘suspend’?  Here is a short list.  We need to suspend our assumptions, especially our deep tacit assumptions; we need to suspend our judgements; we need to suspend our stereotypes and prejudices; and, at times, we need to suspend our knowledge (think: our knowledge about the topic being explored).

Consider that it is impossible – that’s correct, Gentle Reader, I typed ‘impossible’ – to listen in order to understand and to listen in order to clarify when my assumptions, etc. are actively censoring what the other is telling me.

What continues to puzzle me – about myself and about others – is that I/You know this to be true: Our assumptions, etc. not only hinder, they block our ability to listen in order to understand or in order to seek clarity.  YET, we seem to refuse to suspend them even when we are consciously seeking to listen in order to understand and in order to clarify.

Now, here is the rub.

Consider that it is a challenge for us to identify, emerge and name our assumptions, etc. because they have become second nature to us.  In addition, when I identify, emerge and name one I experience, at minimum, a sense of embarrassment and at maximum, a judgement of guilt for holding such an assumption, etc.  I also might well feel anxiety for my assumptions, etc. are integrated into my identity and hence my identity is threatened if I suspend them(I could make this extremely complicated – which it is – but I am limited to space and time so I won’t go down that path this morning).

There are some clues that can help us identify when our assumptions, etc. are at play.  Consider these clues.  When I believe that I know what you are going to say, then an assumption, etc. is at play.  When I have a powerful emotional response to what you are saying, then an assumption, etc. is at play [by the by, this powerful emotional response can be an emotion that I consider to be ‘positive’ or ‘negative’].  When I become aware that I am judging or defending.  I judge and/or defend ‘internally,’ in my mind or verbally in the moment.

These become more depleting when my stated goal in listening is to seek to understand and/or when it is to seek to clarify.

I have found that it helps me and the other when I share my assumption, etc. with the other (in real time).  I have also found it helpful to me and the other if I offer a clarifying question – especially a question from a place of not-knowing.

I have also found that if I consciously practice these disciplines during ‘ordinary’ conversations that I am more likely to engage them during difficult or challenging conversations.

We have been given two ears and one tongue so we would listen more than speak. –Diogenes

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Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.  When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. –Karl A. Menniger

Good morning Gentle Reader. Many years ago the following poem emerged into my consciousness;


The Metaphors we use,
The Words we infuse,
The Questions we muse,
The Paths that we choose.  –Richard W. Smith

Consider that the Metaphors I have integrated – the ones that have become ‘second nature’ to me – determine not only the paths I will choose they will also determine ‘how’ I will listen to you.

For example, if I have integrated the Metaphor: ‘Life is a struggle!’  I will listen to you – and respond/react to you – in a certain way.  If, on the other hand, I have integrated the Metaphor: ‘Life is a story to be written and shared!’ then I will listen to you – and respond/react to you – in other ways.

We can begin to identify the Metaphor(s) we have integrated by, over time, paying attention to and noting our ‘word choice’ and our ‘question choice.’  For example.  A person who has integrated the Metaphor: ‘Life is war!’ will use many ‘war words’ and offer many questions that contain ‘war words.’

When I listen I listen by ‘hearing’ your statements and questions via my ‘censors’ – my ‘Life-Metaphor(s),’ my deep tacit assumptions, my core values, my prejudices, my stereotypes, my ‘world-view,’ etc.  All of this ‘censoring’ takes place at a pre-conscious and sub-conscious level and happens in nanoseconds (or faster).

We can change ourselves by emerging, identifying, naming and changing the Metaphors we use that do not serve us – or the other(s) well.  Now, of course, if my Metaphors get me what I want then I will have no motivation to change them.  So, I also need to respond to these two questions: Do my ‘Life-Metaphors’ get me what I want? What do I want? We begin by reflecting upon and responding to the second question first.

Paradoxically, our ‘Life-Metaphors’ can be depleting; they can actually support ourselves doing violence to ourselves.  They can also support the violence we do to the other(s) – some of this violence is unintended and some of it is intended.

Consider, Gentle Reader: In what ways do your ‘Life-Metaphors’ nurture your ‘self’ and the other(s) and in what ways do your ‘Life-Metaphors’ deplete – or do violence to – your ‘self’ and the other(s)? 

Listening is being able to be changed by the other person. –Alan Alda

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One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. –B. H. McGill

Gentle Reader, I invite you right now, if possible, to stop, step-back and reflect: Think of a time when you were truly, deeply, reflectively listened to.  AND, think of a time when you truly, deeply and reflectively listened to another.

Listening in this way – ‘truly, deeply, & reflectively’ – is a gift given and received.  When I am listened to in this way and when I listen in this way I experience time standing still, the ‘now’ is experienced.  I am not ruminating about the past nor am I anticipating the future (e.g. thinking about how I will respond).

For me, this gift of listening is a sacred gift.  It is also a rare gift.  The illusion of technology was embedded in a promise: ‘Technology will give us more time!’  My experience is that the opposite has happened.  We are so caught up in technology that we don’t have more time.  It is rare that I am with another and within five minutes of sitting down together that technology will cry not out for attention.

Listening in this way requires us (me and the other) to slow down, to wait rather than react, and to seek to understand rather than reply.  Listening in this way requires reflective silence and patience (patience first for some of us).

Listening in this way honors both myself and the other.  What a gift – the gift of honoring.

Listening in this way creates a space and a pathway for the quiet, small voice of wisdom that resides within me and the other to not only speak but to actually have an opportunity to be heard and heeded.

Listening in this way not only honors the relationship, listening in this way enhances the relationship.  ‘Trust’ is nurtured, and, often, is sustained as a consequence of listening in this way.

A gift that a leader (by role or by situation) can give the other is the gift of listening in this way.  Too many leaders are infected by the hurry sickness as a consequence of being addicted to speed.

Recently, a CEO decided to respond to the employees.  They had been sending him a message for months that he was not ‘present to them.’  He did not take the time to visit the centers (there are ten health centers available for him to visit).  Two weeks ago he announced that he ‘heard’ them and that he would visit each center.

On the given day of his visit a representative showed up.  The staff was gathered in a room and a video tape was put on – not a live feed, a video tape.  The CEO wanted to know the issues and told the staff to tell the CEO’s representative and that person would take notes and report back to the CEO.

Gentle Reader, this actually happened.  An example of listening – true.  How many employees felt honored and gifted by this CEO’s approach?  How much cynicism was sown or nurtured as a consequence?  What was the message sent by the CEO?  [The message received is the message; intentions do not matter in this scenario.]

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk. –Doug Larson

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Why is there so little listening? –R.K. Greenleaf
Listen, first, in order to understand. –R.K. Greenleaf

For more than 45 years now I have been helping individuals develop their leader-capacities.  Consider, Gentle Reader, that there are two types of leaders: Role-defined and Situational (for example, the CEO is a leader ‘by role’ and the person who steps in and takes the lead is often a leader ‘by situation’).

Both types need to develop or develop more fully their capacity to listen and, more importantly, to develop or develop more fully their capacity to listen, first, especially to develop or develop more fully their capacity to listen first in order to understand.

Robert K. Greenleaf, the ‘father of Servant-as-Leader’ offers us two crucial questions: Why is there so little listening?  When you speak, how will that improve on the silence?

This morning, Gentle Reader, I am going to reflect a bit on the first question.  My focus will be on ‘leaders’ (role-defined and situational); what I offer, however, can be considered by any of us, no matter our role or situation.

First, I am not talking about the skill-ability to listen.  We have all developed this skill-ability to listen by the time we are five years old.  I am talking about our capacity to listen.  Each of us can develop or develop more fully our capacity to listen.  We already have the skill-ability.

Conclusion: There is little listening because we have not developed or developed more fully our capacity to listen, to listen first and to listen first in order to understand.

Why do leaders neglect their capacity development when it comes to listening, to listening first and to listening first in order to understand?

Consider: ‘Habit.’  Aristotle noted a few thousand years ago that we become our habits.  Our listening ‘habits’ are reinforced every time we experience high anxiety, high stress, and when we become fear-full.  When these occur we fall back on our default habits of listening – or not listening.  This ‘fall-back’ reinforces our ‘habits’ and, as we know, ‘habits’ are not easy to change.

Consider: As a society (think: United States) we are addicted to speed; we are suffering from what Kundera calls the ‘hurry sickness.’  ‘Speed’ and ‘hurrying’ are anti-listening.

Consider: We are a society that is ‘action-oriented’.  Listening in these three ways requires us to develop and integrate the discipline of reflection.  This discipline requires that we stop, step-back and invest the time in developing the discipline.

Consider: We have not developed, or developed more fully, our capacity to listen with undefended receptivity.  Too often we believe that if I ‘receive’ then I must ‘agree.’  By the by, Gentle Reader, the same holds true for ‘understanding;’ too often we resist ‘seeking to understand’ because we equate ‘understanding’ with ‘agreement.’  This is a carry-over from when we were children and we would say to our parents, ‘You really don’t understand!’  Meaning, as we know, that if you did truly understand then you would agree with me.

Consider: We do not listen first in order to understand.  There are many reasons why we do not develop this capacity – here are a two of them: Seeking to understand takes time and we are suffering from a ‘hurry sickness.’  Seeking to understand means that I must develop, or develop more fully, my capacity for inquiry for we are not very adept at asking questions.  Leaders are not adept at asking questions from a place of not knowing, for example.

There are other ‘Considerations’ but these will have to suffice for now.

Reflection plus Experience is the learning. –Charles Handy
When you speak, how will that improve on the silence? –R.K. Greenleaf

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