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Archive for March, 2021

CONSIDER – ‘PROVIDENCE’

Spirituality does two things for you. One, you are forced to become more selfless, two, you trust to providence. –Imran Khan

Consider that it is easy to praise providence for what happens in your/the world provided you have the ability to see individual events in the context of the whole and you have a sense of gratitude.  Without these you might well miss the ‘good’ [or ‘blessing’ or ‘usefulness’] of what happens or, supposing that you are able to ‘see it’ you might not be able to be grateful for it. 

For example, if God had created colors, but not the faculty of vision, colors would have been of little use.  Or, if God had created vision, but not made sure objects could be seen, vision would have been worthless.  Even if God had created both color and vision, but had not created light, then neither would have been a blessing or a gift. 

It appears as if all animals possess this same ability of ‘vision.’  And it appears as if we humans are the only animals that have the capacity to understand what we see and to be grateful for it.  ‘Use’ is one thing; ‘understanding’ and ‘gratitude’ are something else.  It seems that for the other animals it is enough to eat, drink, sleep, breed and do whatever else it is that satisfies the members of their kind.  But for us humans, we have been given the capacity (gift?) of understanding.  Yet, ‘understanding’ itself is not enough.  We are called to do more than seek understanding; it is in our nature to do more. 

We humans were brought into the world to look upon God and God’s works not just with understanding but with appreciation as well.  And part of our appreciation is directly linked to whether we are then ‘good stewards’ of our/the world.  But the world is not all ‘light.’

Difficult things happen to us; bad things happen to good people.  Our favorite sport in America is American football.  Many people each week, during the football season, will brave the elements and sit outside for hours in order to support their team.  They, at minimum, put up with the inclement weather and the noisy (often times drunk) fans — they practice a form of patience and they cope fairly well. 

Now, as humans we also have the capacity to develop our inner strengths, the strengths that enable us to cope with a variety of life’s difficulties.  We can develop our capacity for patience or fortitude or courage.  One is able to cope with anxiety when one has developed the capacity for/of fortitude.  Instead of meeting difficulties with groans and moans and tears I might well call upon my coping skills to help me ‘see my way through’ — especially if I believe that ‘this too shall pass.’ 

This is the season for spring colds.  I remember observing a mother and daughter.  The daughter was complaining that her nose was running.  Her mother looked at her and simply said, ‘Wipe your nose!’  It did no good for the child to complain; her runny nose was a ‘fact’ and at that time the best coping she could do was to wipe her nose.  How often do I complain of a ‘runny nose’ [now, gentle reader, this is a metaphor although at times my nose does run] and complain about it rather than just ‘wipe it?’ 

At times life is ‘difficult’ and presents us with a variety of challenges.  Would we have had Hercules if there were no challenges like the lion, the wild stag, the rampaging boar or the fearsome hydra?  What would his life have been like without these difficult challenges?  Well, he might have simply rolled over in his bed and gone back to sleep — snoring his life away.  He would not have become ‘Hercules’ and we would not be telling his story today.  I am remembering Achilles.  His mother told him that if he did not go to Troy that he would find a wife, have many children and live to a ripe old age.  His children would remember him and so would their children but then his name would be lost; no stories would be told of him.  If, on the other hand, he went to Troy, he would face many challenges and difficulties and he would overcome them; he would also die there.  Yet, his story and his name would resound for the ages.  He must choose his path. 

Like Hercules and Achilles we all have gifts, talents and abilities and we have choice.  We can develop them and find ways of using them to meet the needs that exist in our/the world or we can roll over and go back to sleep.  Are we going to choose to celebrate the resources that God has given us?  Are we going to choose to develop our gifts, talents and abilities so that we can say — as Hercules and Achilles might have said to Zeus: ‘Bring on the challenges and the difficulties. I have the resources to cope with them and I choose to live rather than to sleep.’ 

Am I willing to ‘see the whole’ of it — the good, the bad, the ugly — and am I willing to be grateful for all that comes my way?  Both are challenging questions for me.  Well, I will think about them later, for now I plan on settling in and taking a nap. 

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THINKING ABOUT ‘THREAD & YARN’

It was December 24, 2005 and I was spending the holiday in Florida with my oldest brother and his wife.  We were relaxing one afternoon, I was reading and she was sewing.  I began to think about my mother.  My sister-in-law, Rae, was a sewer and my mother was a knitter.  As I reflected on the difference between sewing and knitting I began to think about ‘Thread & Yarn.’   

Thread & Yarn‘Thread’ (the string-like material one sews with) and ‘Yarn’ (the string-like material one knits with); they convey, among other things, different degrees of flexibility. 

Thread holds together and restricts, while yarn stretches and gives.

Thread is the overall theme that gives meaning to our words and thoughts – so, to   lose the thread is to become confused and promotes inattentiveness.

A yarn is a long, sometimes seemingly pointless, but usually engaging story whose facts have been relegated to a secondary position in the story (I, for one, never let the facts interfere with a good story I am telling).

It can be more relaxing to listen to a good yarn than a lecture whose thread we have to follow; many times it is for me.

So, what does all of this have to do with such things as retreats and renewals?  And what does all of this have to do with leadership development?  And what does all of this have to do with how one lives his/her life?   Good Questions deserving a response — perhaps deserving a good yarn or a good lecture, or both. 

On the other hand, perhaps if we hold onto both metaphors we will discern a ‘third way’ — a ‘both/and’ way — rather than an ‘either/or’ (thread or yarn) way.  If we hold the question and ‘live the question’ then perhaps someday a new metaphor will emerge that we can use to capture the wonder and power of ‘thread and yarn’ as combined and integrated wholes. . . perhaps.  What do we have to lose?  What do we have to gain? 

In life, as in sewing and knitting, we need both ‘thread’ and ‘yarn.’  Perhaps we also need a ‘third-way,’ a ‘both-and’ way. . .another ‘perhaps’ for us to consider. 

Excuse me Gentle Reader, I must step aside as I sense fragments of a good yarn emerging and I want to see if I can thread them together into a seamless whole. 

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EDUCATION & LEARNING, PART II

We become our thoughts and habits. –Aristotle

Our ‘Culture’ (the United States) continues to teach us that virtually all traits-characteristics-talents reside on what is called a ‘normal distribution curve.’  This means that a few of us lie at each end of a continuum and have either a plethora or a little of what is deemed to be ‘good’ (superior intelligence or extraordinary artistic capacities) or ‘bad’ (being extremely aggressive or being cursed with a severe learning disability).  Sadly, schools unwittingly (I believe) confirm these expectations by awarding grades: ‘As’ to those whom they believe are gifted and ‘Ds’ and ‘Fs’ to those they deem to be failures. 

Even today, schools generally pay little attention to how, when, and by whom the criteria for grading were chosen (what are the deep tacit assumptions at play).  I learned, by experience, that if the criteria are questioned and varied then a student’s position on the continuum might change (some of the ‘slow-learners’ we had in our school-within-a-school thrived at Harvard or became architects or physicians).  Sadly, the criteria are rarely varied. 

To make matters worse (yes, Gentle Reader, they can become worse), in our ‘Culture’ once one is placed on the negative end of the continuum societal forces work to keep one positioned there (the assumption is that this is where you belong). 

In 1968, Robert Rosenthal published ‘Pygmalion in the Classroom.’  ‘Average Students’ were chosen at random and put into a teacher’s classroom.  One teacher was told that her/his students were the brightest of the bright.  Another was told that some of her/his students would really struggle (which students these were was not ‘disclosed’).  Another was told that her/his students were under-achievers and some had learning disabilities.   Low and behold… the students lived up to, or down to, the teachers ‘view’ (the ‘view’ planted by Rosenthal and his team). 

The teacher with the ‘gifted’ students would seek to find ‘sense’ in the responses these students gave.  The teacher with the ‘underachievers’ would deem ‘incorrect’ answers as evidence of incompetence.  The ‘bright students’ were asked to explain/clarify their ‘wrong answers’ and were rewarded for their ‘creativity.’  There is the old story of the underachiever being asked: What does one wad of chewing gum plus one wad of chewing gum equal?’ The student’s response was, ‘It equals one wad of chewing gum?’  Was this an underachiever or a clever person at work?

It is an unusual teacher who is confident enough to become counter-cultural and seek to see – and find – greatness where most do not even believe it exists.  I leave us this morning with words from Oliver Sacks (yes that Oliver Sacks). 

People will make a life in their own terms, whether they are deaf or colorblind or autistic or whatever.  And their world will be just as rich and interesting and full as our world. 

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EDUCATION & LEARNING, PART I

Things are neither good nor bad but thinking makes them so. –Wm. Shakespeare

Shakespeare, among other wise folks, warned us against being judgmental.  Another wise person, my mentor, R.T. Williams added that behavior makes sense from the actor’s perspective or else the person would not have acted as he/she did. 

These past weeks I have been engaged in a number of searching conversations with a good friend, Steve.  Steve was the President of a High School for more than 16 years and I had the privilege of being a thought-partner with him for 14 of those years – we remain good friends.  Recently Steve connected me with Mike, a football coach living in another State; Steve and Mike are also good friends.  Mike and I have also been engaging in a number of searching conversations.  Our conversations have stimulated my thinking about ‘Education & Learning.’

During the mid-1960s I had the privilege of developing a school-within-a-school for 100 high school students (this school had an enrollment of about 1800 students).  Our focus was on ‘Education & Learning’ not on class rank, grades, nor test scores.  Sadly, we were too successful and we became a threat to the establishment.  When that ‘way’ closed for me in 1971 I was able to discern ‘new ways’ opening – and – as they say, ‘that has made all the difference.’ 

‘Evaluation,’ as we well know, does not end when one leaves or graduates from school.  Anyone who has worked in an organization knows all about ‘Evaluations’ and ‘Performance Appraisals.’  Even folks like me who are ‘self-employed’ know what it is to be evaluated by those we serve. 

Consider this: When we evaluate a person negatively, – ‘He is lazy.’  ‘She is stubborn.’  ‘John is gullible.’  ‘Mary is incorrigible.’ – we are evaluating the person from our subjective perspective.  It does not even occur to us that the person might actually be insufficiently motivated, steadfast, trusting, or committed.  One of the gifts that the great novels offer us is that they show us how behavior makes sense from the actor’s perspective.  As Albert Camus noted: ‘True artists…are obliged to understand rather than to judge.’

Consider this: Educators are some of the most caring people that live among us.  Sadly, they end up in a system that, in part, seems mindless.  Tests, grades and labels are part of the judgmental culture of educational institutions/systems.  As a first year teacher I entered a school that ranked/labeled the students.  At the top were the potential National Merit Winners – they were taught by the ‘Master Teachers’ and there were 8-10 students in a class.  Then there were the ‘High Honors’ students, then the ‘College Prep’ students, then the ‘Average’ students and then there were the students I was assigned to teach (remember I was a new teacher).  These students were labeled the ‘Slow Learners’ (a catch-all label) and I had five classes of 40 students in a class (no wonder I decided to start a school-within-a-school for these students). 

Within a school, a child is viewed as ‘distracted,’ for example, rather than as otherwise attracted.  For most, the ‘problem’ is the ‘child’ not the ‘system.’  I did not believe this.  I changed the system and low and behold the child changed.  My son, now an accomplished artist with a graduate degree in art, was one of the children that was ‘distracted.’  In the second grade we encountered the teacher that was willing to discern what my son was attracted to (art, for example).  This man was a brilliant teacher for he found ways of helping my son build on what attracted him (this teacher sought to do this with all of his students).  True ‘Master Teachers’ seek to observe and discern the ‘attractors’ – build on the student’s strengths. 

I leave us this morning with a poem by Wang Ken, Song of Joy.

Pleasure is the state of being

brought about by what you

learn.

Learning is the process of

entering into the experience of this

kind of pleasure.

No pleasure, no learning.

No learning, no pleasure. 

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A FEW HAIKU

A number of years ago my friend, George, introduced me to the poetry of the great Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694).  Basho was a master when it came to Haiku poetry.  This morning I decided to share a few of my Haiku poems with you, Gentle Reader.  If you are not familiar with Haiku I invite you to search and seek and perhaps even write a few Haiku yourself.  I first wrote Haiku in 1964.  Here are a few of my Haiku poems.

Lonely snowy days

The Elder sits in silence

Wisdom lies within.

Choosing the no-path

The deer leaps over the brush

What do I risk in following?

It is cold and dark

Night seems endless and so scary

A small light flickers.

The Servant Seeks

Water searches for the sea

The journey is all.

The leader and led

The cubs grow when they are fed

The led are nourished.

My soul is hungry

Nature provides food for all

Spiritual sustenance.              

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