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Archive for October, 2019

SEEKING ETHICAL WISDOM. . .

Morality, like art, really does come down to where you draw the line. –Oscar Wilde

I am a seeker.  Some would label me as a compulsive seeker.  I have learned that we seekers are a peculiar folk.  We always believe that there is ‘the truth, the beautiful and the good’ that is just over the horizon waiting to be revealed.  At our best we seek and search without a need ‘to find.’  At our worst we become delusional; for me, historically my delusion is that ‘this is the book that will provide me the answer.’

As a seeker, in this instance as a seeker of wisdom, I have become aware of and have learned to identify and embrace ‘paradox.’  I have learned, for example, that the world contains many more paradoxes to be embraced than problems to be solved.  In fact, one of the reasons that many problems don’t get solved is that they are not problems to solve but are paradoxes to be embraced.

One of the blessings and curses of being human is that we are, at our healthiest living paradoxes – we are living, breathing contradictions.  We preach peace and embrace war.  We claim to be compassionate and refuse to ensure health-care for all.  We believe we are made in God’s image and act as if we are children of Satan. We demand that people follow the rules and then we cheat.

We tend to search a path that will enable us to walk the edge between being moral-ethical and to immoral-unethical and to do so guilt-free.  We also search for what Aristotle called our ‘Golden Mean’ – that place on the continuum whereby we are our healthiest (physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually).  As living paradoxes we search for both.

A mentor once told me: ‘You do not find the good by striving to be good.  You find the good by looking deep within yourself seeking to discern the good that already resides within and then creating the space and the environment that will allow goodness to emerge.  We can, as we only know too well, also look for the darkness that resides deep within us and create the space and the environment that will allow the darkness to emerge.  As living paradoxes we care capable of both – and as being endowed with ‘free-will’ we also have choice.  AND we do choose – each of us chooses.

Each hour of each day of each month of each year for thousands of years we humans co-create hatred for one another and we co-create love for one another; we dehumanize one another and then guilt-free harm one another AND we humanize one another and demonstrate great care for one another.

The curse and the blessing of the ‘inter-web’ and all if its siblings is that today more than ever before we humans can, in a moment, learn about almost all other humans.  Sadly, even though it is clear that we humans are truly interdependent because we are living paradoxes we can still deny our interdependence.  ‘Who is my neighbor?’ – Today, the answer is clearer than ever before: Each person in the world is my neighbor.  My mind aches as I attempt to hold that idea.

As living paradoxes we want the sensational and social media (of all types) constantly provides us with the sensational.  What we miss – or is it that we don’t seek it out – is the thousands upon thousands of acts of kindness, charity, forgiveness, acceptance, patience and love that occur each hour of each day.  We feed our cynicism rather than our hope.  We nurture our dark side rather than nurture our light.  Daniel Goleman reminds us that ‘the sum total of goodness vastly outweighs that of meanness.’

The ethically wise person is awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full as he and she seek to embrace and live into and out of virtue, light, and goodness more than vice, darkness and evil.  This person does not deny either his/her paradox of virtue-vice, light-darkness, or good-evil.  This person embraces both and then consciously chooses which to enact.  Because each human is, by definition, imperfect, each person will not always choose rightly, wisely, ethically or morally.  When we don’t, then what?

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SEEKING SILENCE. . .

Upon waking each morning I seek inner silence.  This morning I realized that during these past weeks I have been whelmed over with internal noise-distraction; experiencing inner silence has been more than a challenge for me.

As I reflect this morning I am reminded of the discomfort our culture has with silence.  I recall the discomfort of people who are in meetings together; the discomfort that surfaces when silence appears and is quickly ushered off of the stage.  It seems that in public gatherings (two or more people) that silence will be tolerated for about 15 seconds, then discomfort sets in and words quickly follow or people run to their phones or ipads and fingers will swipe screens or tap, tap, tap away.

It appears as if we have an unwritten rule in our culture – whenever there is a few seconds of silence then someone must speak or swipe or key-tap; the vacuum must be filled with words – or is it ‘noise’.  We are, it seems, a culture of speakers, swipers and tappers not reflective-listeners; we are a culture of noise makers not silence holders.

Silence provides us gifts: a slower pace so we can reflect, breathing room so we can relax, time to think and then respond rather than shoot from the lip.  Silence can help us alter our perceptions – perhaps to see more clearly what is truly emerging or transpiring.  Silence helps us pause before we hit the ‘send button.’  Silence provides us the opportunity for clarity amidst inner chaos and outer demands.

I pause in silence.

I am now thinking of the example of Jesus – an example that can be helpful to each of us no matter our belief system.  Jesus had just finished talking about compassion and forgiveness.  A noisy crowd approaches and throws a woman at his feet.  A member of the crowd reminded Jesus what he had just spoken about and also reminded him of the law.  The law said the woman must be stoned for her sin.  Jesus did not expound upon the law and compassion.  He silently wrote in the dirt and then offered the key response: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’  Brilliant!  A response that could only come from reflective-silence.  It appears as if Jesus took time in silence to become ‘centered,’ and to reflect and only then to respond.  This is a gift to all of us who are buffeted about by external demands.

Each of us can, even if for a brief time, enter into silence, reflect and then respond.  We can also practice breathing slowly and deeply during this process for this helps us slow down – our heart rate slows and our blood pressure lowers and more blood is sent to our brain so we can think more clearly.

Sometimes when I am driving I drive in silence.  I breathe slowly and deeply.  I notice what emerges and I don’t dwell on what emerges.  I simply practice.  Frequently I become aware of the external noise and internal noise that surrounds me and that resides within.  The discipline and the practice are important to me, not the achieving of silence (another paradox for me).

Silence allows me to slow down and to become more aware and to provide me space and time for reflection; it also provides me the environment to hear the soft whispers of the spirit that guides me – my inner teacher if you will.  Silence also helps me be grounded and centered; it helps me keep my heart open so that I may offer care, love and compassion; it helps me discern how I might serve both my and the other’s highest priority needs.

I pause in silence.

Two quotations enter my thoughts: I will close with these: When I speak, how will that improve on the silence? – AND – These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness and worship without awareness.

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CONSIDER ‘PEACE,’ PART II. . .

War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace. –Thomas Mann

The ‘Peace-Makers.’  For thousands of years most ‘religions’ speak of ‘peace.’  This is a paradox (or is it irony).  I know of few ‘religions’ that did not, in the end – or in the beginning – mean that we must have peace AND the peace must be on our terms.  Today this belief is a dis-ease that infects almost all ‘religions.’

The argument tends to go like this (by the by, Gentle Reader, the ‘language/words’ used does not alter this argument): ‘Our faith speaks of peace; our scriptures-holy texts speak of peace; therefore, if only ‘you’ shared our faith and our scriptures-holy texts there would be peace.’ 

Tragically, this ‘path’ does not – cannot – lead us to ‘peace’; it never has and it never will for the ultimate belief is that there must be one world-religion.  And, by-the-by, this world-religion must be ‘our’ religion.

Ironically (not paradoxically) ‘Peace’ becomes the tap root that feeds the garden of conflict.  Conceived in this way, ‘Peace’ does not take into account the many irreducible differences between cultures, faith traditions, philosophic/humanist traditions and life-ideologies – the differences which define our world, for better and for worse.

Paradoxically (not ironically), a ‘better’ could not exist without a ‘worse.’  Our recorded history also continues to strive to teach us that the attempt to impose a single intellectual, cultural or religious order actually threatens humanity with the loss of diversity.  We not only need diversity, diversity is our divinely ordained fate.  It is our fate because we have been divinely endowed with ‘choice’ and with the response-ability to ‘chose.’

For the People of the Book (Jews, Christians, Muslims) the prophets were correct when they envisaged ‘Peace’ not within historical time but at ‘the end of days.’  This ‘Peace’ will be the work of God, not we humans.  History continues to teach us that our attempts to bring prophetic peace by human action creates war, not peace [By-the-by, we continue to be poor students and refuse to learn from our teacher – ‘History’.  Our pride-hubris always gets in our way for rather than trusting in God we love to play at being God].  We end up creating our ‘holy wars’ and miss the point that when we do so we are desecrating God’s ‘Will’ and ‘Image’ [the ‘Image of God’ as ‘Love’ is adulterated by our pride-hubris].

The sages of all traditions knew – and tried to teach us, over and over and over and over – that ‘Peace’ requires us to live with, tolerate, embrace and nurture our differences [not all of them, of course, and this is where it becomes even more challenging and complex and we humans dislike, if not disdain, complex challenges – which is one reason ‘we the people’ continue to elect folks who promise us a ‘simple solution’ and why we dismiss the candidate who strives to show us the complexity of it all – but, once again, I digress].

Healthy co-existence requires compromise.  Sectarianism and Nationalism are, at minimum, hindrances to healthy co-existence and, at maximum, are the tap roots that allow us to guilt-free harm the other(s).  Healthy co-existence also requires respect.  If I choose to dehumanize you, to marginalize you, to demonize you there is no hope of my respecting you (actually, a brilliant thinker once noted that when we embrace these positions that ‘you’ becomes an ‘it’ – it is easier to guilt-free harm an ‘it’].

There is a tradition in the Catholic religion that I am thinking of.  During the Celebration of their Liturgy there is a pause and participants are invited to turn to one another – especially to those they do not know and say these words: ‘Peace be with You.’  I pray, Gentle Reader that you seek and find ‘inner peace’ so you can say, as one rooted in inner peace, ‘Peace Be With You’ and say it to all you meet during your day.

World peace begins with inner peace. –Dali Lama

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CONSIDER ‘PEACE,’ PART I. . .

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Good morning Gentle Reader.  If you have been following my blog these many years you might remember that I love Tolstoy’s writings.  There are a number of his writings that I return to year after year.  One of these is his powerful novel, ‘War and Peace.’  A few nights ago I watched the 1956 movie, ‘War and Peace.’  As I watched it I kept coming back to a question: ‘Where is the peace?’

I have consciously been holding this question for the past two days.  This morning I decided to put finger to key and see what emerges from my question holding.

Peace is a paradox.  Nearly all faith traditions, philosophic and humanistic traditions and Cultures praise ‘Peace’ and decry ‘War’.  Paradoxically, for all of recorded history, these same traditions have supported all types of war.  In our Culture we love our war movies.  Sitting here this morning I cannot recall our embracing a ‘peace’ movie.  I can think of a few ‘anti-war’ movies but at this moment I am not able to think of a ‘peace’ movie.

Why do we love war?  A simple response is: We love heroes.  During a war even an ordinary ‘joe’ or ‘jane’ can become a hero.  Take the ‘common man’ Alvin York.  He became a war hero and was celebrated throughout the land.  New York (no pun intended) even gave him a ticker-tape parade.  Few remember the ‘peace-makers’ of WWI and even those who strove to be peace-makers were put off by the risks of brokering a lasting peace.  This failure, as we know, led us directly into WWII.

In addition, those ‘leaders’ who strive to become peace-makers are often assassinated – Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anwar el-Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin come immediately to mind – How many ‘War Makers’ have been assassinated; can you, Gentle Reader, name five?  It is as if ‘Peace’ is actually a betrayal.  For one thing, peace-making requires compromise – and as we know in our own Nation today our elected officials (thus, ‘We the People’) are adverse to compromise.  Embracing compromise means that all involved must embrace, not just accept, less than they desire (not ‘need’ I might add, just ‘desire’).

‘Peace’ has none of the clarity of ‘War.’  Those at ‘war’ are clear about the need for ‘self-defense,’ national honor, patriotism, and of course ‘Pride” (probably more ‘Hubris’ than simple pride).  These are compelling rationales that enable us to ‘go to war.’  ‘War’ speaks to our most fundamental sense of identity: there is an ‘US’ and there is a ‘THEM’.  ‘War’ unites us and ‘Peace’ divides us (historically at least).  Of course, given our decades long involvement in ‘undeclared war’ our concept of ‘war’ has shifted, if not changed (but, as usual, I digress).

With ‘War’ there are friends and enemies – historically this distinction has served us well (again, as Syria is reminding us, our ‘friends/allies’ can easily be discarded – but again, I digress).

When enemies shake hands who, I ask, is now the ‘Us’ and who is the ‘Them’?  The flip is also possible.  At the end of WWII the ‘Us’ of the USA and Russia quickly transformed into the ‘We of democracy’ and the ‘Them of communism.’  So much for ‘Peace.’

Moving from ‘Foe to Friend’ requires new boundaries and it also requires moving from ‘dehumanizing-demonizing Them’ to, at minimum, ‘humanizing Them.’  ‘Peace,’ at minimum, involves a profound crisis of identity for all parties.

Blessed are the peacemakers. –God

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A GUIDE FOR DISCERNMENT. . .

In November 2008 I was struggling with ‘what’s next.’  These past several months I have, once again, been struggling to discern ‘what’s next.’  As I was paging through one of my journals I came across the following that I had written in 2008.  I had labeled this entry as A Guide for Discernment.  As I sit with these guidelines this morning I again find them to be helpful and so I offer them to you, gentle reader, as you might also find some of them to be useful as you step along your life’s journey.  Here is what I wrote in 2008.   I wrote: Richard, Pay Attention & Listen…

BE STILL AND LISTEN — Take some time and become still, silent and listen

TRUST — that ways will open (and ways will close); prepare yourself to be open to the ways that will show themselves to you and prepare yourself to let go of ways that close to you

BE STILL AND LISTEN – Become quiet, sit in silence, be still and listen for the whispers that may guide you

SEARCH AND SEEK — What are the needs that exist in your world that your gifts, talents, presence, and ‘being’ can serve?

BE STILL AND LISTEN – Again, become quiet, sit in silence, be still and listen for the whispers that may guide you

ENGAGE IN SEARCHING CONVERSATIONS – Seek out those who care about you and seek out those you care about and search together without a destination in mind

TRUST — what you are discerning — the information AND your intuition

TRUST — the universe and God — you are here to help serve the needs of your world; no one else can offer what you offer for you are truly unique and you are needed

BE STILL AND LISTEN – Search and Seek; what you need will emerge so pay attention

CHOOSE AND ACT — do not give in to anxiety; your opportunity to choose and act may not occur for many months and be ready for you may discern a way open sooner rather than later

CARE FOR YOUR P.I.E.S. – Take care of your four dimensions: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual

BE STILL AND LISTEN – Be Still. . . Listen. . .

 

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The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. –Max De Pree

Leaders are response-able, responsible and accountable for being effective, for being efficient and for being faithful. 

The leader is ‘faithful’ even if he/she is not effective or efficient.  What?  The leader must be faithful to his/her core values and core guiding principles – the values and principles that the leader will never compromise – and will at times risk, if not experience, not being effective or efficient.  For example, the leader will bluntly refuse to compromise his/her integrity.  Now, leaders are by their nature imperfect human beings and so they will stumble and fall – their intent, however, is not to stumble and fall; choosing to compromise one’s integrity requires ‘intention to do so.’

There has been a great deal written about ‘being effective’ and ‘being efficient’ so I will not spend time focusing on these two ways of ‘being’.  I will, however touch on two ways of being effective that the leaders I admire embrace.

The first is to understand that being effective is a by-product of enabling others to develop their potential – their personal and their institutional potential.  This, of course, requires the leader to know something about the person – or to have direct access to someone who does (think for example: supervisor or manager).  A leader must assess capabilities.  This, as we know, takes commitment, time and energy.  Too often leaders become caught up in ‘management’ and neglect ‘leadership’ – a habit for some and a trap for others.

The second is for the leader to take a lead role in expressing and defending ‘civility,’ ‘core values,’ and ‘core guiding principles.’  ‘Civility’ is rooted in respect for the person.  As one leader told me many years ago, ‘I seek at all times to ‘see’ and ‘respect’ the person while holding the person accountable for his/her behavior.’  Lincoln put it more succinctly: ‘I don’t like that man; I had better get to know him.’

Jack Lowe, Sr., the founder of TDIndustries, would invite up to 20 employees a week to come to his home on Wednesdays and they would talk together about the importance of the ‘core values’ and ‘core guiding principles’ that he and TDI espoused and sought to live.  These weekly sessions, begun in 1946, continue to occur today even with close to 2,000 employees.

The leaders that I have come to admire committed themselves to ‘serve, first’ for they accepted the charge of holding in trust for all.  They committed themselves to serve the highest priority needs of the person and the institution.  For a year, I had the privilege of being a thought-partner with a senior-vice president who had twenty direct reports.  He served them so they could serve others.  The folks these twenty served then served others.  It was serving all the way up and down.

I leave our topic with the words of Bill Turner, one of the leaders that I came to know and admire.  When I first met him I asked him if there was a question that he held – a question that guided him as a leader.  Here is his question:

What do people really want from work?

 

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If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. –John Quincy Adams

What else is the leader response-able for?  Consider the following:

  • The leader must be concerned about the institutional value system. The value system is the tap root that feeds, nurtures and sustains the principles and standards that guide and support the practices of each person, team, department, division, Board, and institution.
  • The leader must be clear about which values are ‘core values’ – those 2-4 values that to the best of the ability of each person, team, etc. will never be compromised. This means that these core values must also be clearly understood and embraced by all.  The core values shape our individual and collective behavior.
  • The leader ensures that all know what the value system is rooted in, how the values are expressed (lived into and out of), how they are audited, and how they are determined to be ‘core’ in the first place. These are not easy charges to hold.
  • The leader is also response-able to ensure that future leaders will be developed. The risk in developing future leaders is that some of them will leave the institution.  Leaders who are rooted in an abundance mentality will not be threatened by this but will embrace it.
  • The leader is response-able to ensure that the institution is open to being influenced and is open to shifting, changing, transforming and evolving. The leader supports a balance between ‘maintaining’ and ‘experimenting’.
  • The leader seeks to understand the Culture and, perhaps more importantly, the Sub-Cultures that form two of the major tap roots that both nurture and deplete the health of the institution and its members.
  • The leader knows that the development of each person, team, department, division and board is crucial for the leader knows that ‘what we can become is rooted in who we are and who we are choosing to become.’ The leader knows that ‘all’ are in a constant process of ‘becoming.’
  • The leader owes ‘all’ a commitment to his/her own development.
  • The leader is committed to a number of ‘ways of being’ – here are a few of them: Being Rational, Being Authentic, Being Vulnerable, Being Present, Being Faithful, Being Useful – there are others but these will suffice for now.
  • The leader ensures that the ‘Environment’ and the ‘Climate’ support the health of ‘all.’ The ingredients of what helps ‘all’ be healthy vary.  It is crucial, however, for the leader to ensure that ‘all’ understand the ingredients that nurture and deplete the physical, intellectual, emotional, relational and spirit(ual) health of the person and the institution and to enhance what nurtures and minimize what depletes.
  • The leader ensures that ‘all’ develop or develop more fully ‘critical thinking skills/capacities’.
  • The leader ensures a commitment to high achievement and to working with distinction – ‘being mediocre’ is not an acceptable ‘way of being’ for anyone.

In closing this morning, I leave us with a guiding question: ‘What is it, without which our institution would not be able to live into its potential?’ 

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. –Theodore M. Hesburgh

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