A World of Wonders

“One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased.” (Mark Nepo)

duct tape 1cThese days, I’m looking for amusement anywhere I can find it. Like many people, I’ve cut back considerably on my news consumption. Though still (excruciatingly) aware of what’s going on, I also recognize that too much immersion into current events is hazardous to my health.

While I understand that the folks who are responsible for the Jeopardy debacle did not also coordinate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, I am nonetheless struck by the comparisons and the colossal incompetence demonstrated by both events. Sadly, one has become a catastrophe of massive human suffering, while the other just reminds us what fools these mortals be.

Earlier this month, I read Ross Gay’s 2020 release, The Book of Delights. Though he is best known for his poetry, this is a book of what he terms “essayettes”—very short (½-page to 2-page) celebrations of things that delight him—from the large and lovely to the minuscule and absurd. Mr. Gay set a goal of finding at least one delight every day for a year and recording them. The book contains about 100 of these morsels that manage in exquisite prose to shine a light on the world around us while also revealing our shared humanity. I must admit, it was delightful. Continue reading

Just Show Up

“We cannot, of course, save the World because we do not have authority over its parts. We can serve the world though. That is everyone’s calling, to lead a life that helps.” (Barry Lopez)

Yesterday, I participated in a Saging International webinar on “Cultivating Compassion.” I signed up for it weeks ago, not noticing that it was scheduled for the day after the inauguration. As it turned out, it was a perfect follow-up to President Biden’s powerful and beautifully inclusive speech, and also to Amanda Gorman’s luminous poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

Both asked us to step up to this moment in history with a commitment to unity and to bringing our best selves to the task. Each, in their own way, acknowledged that it will not be easy and there may be some who do not share the vision. Nonetheless, the time is now. Continue reading

Restoring Trust, Restoring Hope….

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

attribution Donna CameronGeorge Shultz is not a man I ever expected to write about with any admiration. Or at all, for that matter.

Having served in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations—as Secretary of Labor, Treasury, and State—it’s safe to say that our political leanings are in opposite directions. Yet, I believe he is a man of honor, and a voice to be listened to as we seek to find light after this year of so much darkness. On more than one occasion in the last couple of years, Shultz has lamented the climate of distrust at home and abroad that the current administration has fostered, noting that it will take years to reverse.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, which happens to be today, December 13, he wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post that is worth your attention. It’s a reminder of a time when we may not have agreed with politicians, but we could still believe that their motives were honorable and their commitment to public service genuine.

In “The 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Trust Over My 100 Years,” Shultz recounts moments—some personal, some significantly political—when he saw that trust is the essential element that must be present if we humans are to accomplish great things together. As he put it, “When trust was in the room, whatever room that was—the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room—good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen.”

Perhaps that is one explanation for the world we find ourselves in today. Trust is not in the room.

Years ago, I used to teach seminars on trust, and, like, Shultz, I saw it as the quality that must come first—in a friendship, a marriage, a business, and a community. Once trust is established, you can deal with just about anything. Trust serves as the solid foundation upon which futures are built.

In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey contends that the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the number-one leadership competency. Where trust is low, you find hidden agendas, interpersonal conflict, win-lose thinking, and defensive communication—all of which impede progress.

Where trust is high, you find transparency, confidence, win-win thinking, effective communication … and progress. Doesn’t this explain a lot about our country today?

Covey further explains that for trust to be present, a leader must display both character—which he defines as integrity and good intent, and competence—which comprises both capabilities and results. Again, we can readily see how trust has been eroded.

How do we establish trust once it has been lost? That’s the question we are facing today. Fortunately, it’s not rocket science, but it will require effort. As individuals and as a nation, we must consistently model behaviors that generate trust:

  • Speaking the truth
  • Following through on our promises—both the big ones and the little ones
  • Showing respect for others
  • Admitting our mistakes and taking responsibility to fix them
  • Holding ourselves accountable and expecting others to do the same
  • Confronting reality—having the courage to tackle the tough issues head-on
  • Listening to one another with the desire to understand
  • Extending trust to others, while at the same time not being gullible

All of these take awareness and practice. But all are doable if we have the genuine desire to come together as a nation. There’s evidence that many Americans do not share that desire, but if enough of us do—and are willing to do the necessary work—perhaps a year from now we can look back with pride on the changes we made in 2021.

I’ll give George Shultz, on his 100th birthday, the last word:

“The best leaders trust their followers with the truth, and you know what happens as a result? Their followers trust them back. With that bond, they can do big, hard things together, changing the world for the better.”

This Is How It’s Done – Redux

“If we cannot reconcile all opinions, let us endeavor to unite all hearts.” ~Nicholas Vansittart

Four years ago, in anticipation of a victory by Hillary Clinton and the expected resistance by Donald Trump to accepting defeat, I posted a message very similar to the one below.

Though my confidence in a Clinton victory was unwarranted, here we are four years later with a Trump unable to accept Joe Biden’s win. So, with a bit of editing, I once again share these example of men who exhibited grace and civility in the face of painful loss.

After an election season that showed us new lows in human behavior, a similar gesture by Mr. Trump would go far to restore civility and begin to rebuild unity after four years of strife and acrimony. It would also strengthen our precious but weakened democracy.

The likelihood of such a gracious act is about equivalent to me fitting into a size 8. It would require on Trump’s part a temperament able to look beyond his mirror to a nation in pain. It would require that he cared about someone, or something, other than himself.

Still, this reminder of how good men lose graciously may assure us all that goodness will ultimately prevail. Continue reading

Crossing the Bridge to Civility

“We’re all just walking each other home.” (Ram Dass)

Nearly three years ago, still reeling with disbelief and grief from the election that had called into question everything I believed about my country and my fellow Americans, a friend and I attended a lecture on “Civil Discourse.” The speaker was a University of Washington philosophy and religious studies professor, David Smith. I found Dr. Smith’s words both enlightening and comforting and wrote about them in-depth here.

In recent weeks, I find myself going back to the notes I took that day and thinking more deeply about what he said. It speaks to me not just of the looming election, but also these last many months of racial and social unrest, lived amidst a global pandemic … and, ultimately, our responsibility to care for one another, no matter who, no matter what.

Dr. Smith cited several reasons why we treat one another with incivility and disrespect, noting that we’re often not even aware of what drives our behavior. This, he said, is because most people don’t consciously choose their beliefs. “Everything we believe is the result of our life story.” Our beliefs rise within us as we live our lives. They come from how we were raised, our observations and emotions—which are often driven by fear.

Perhaps this knowledge gives us some insight into the people who do and say things that bewilder us. Perhaps it also gives us some insight into ourselves….

Causes of Incivility

  • Failure to recognize our own limitations – These may include intelligence, knowledge, and experience. We’re all wrong about something, but we don’t always recognize that. A most obvious example of this is the current president, who is unable to acknowledge mistakes or even admit that he doesn’t know something—a dangerous failing for someone whose decisions impact lives and economies. At a personal level, don’t we all occasionally find it hard to admit our shortcomings and our errors? The remarkable thing is that when we finally do, people respect us for it and we feel freer to be ourselves. This is one of life’s great lessons.
  • Bias – We want certain things to be true. And we cling to our beliefs even in the face of contrary evidence. As Dr. Smith noted, “We don’t always want the truth, especially if it means we need to make a change.” This brings anti-maskers to mind. For whatever reasons, they are determined to believe that masks aren’t a deterrent to the COVID-19 virus. Overwhelming evidence cannot budge them. We see it, too, when people cry “fake news” whenever they hear something that does not support their world view. Before we condemn them for their unthinking rigidity, perhaps we should examine some of our own biases.
  • I am X. I don’t just believe X, I am X – Some people over-identify with a label rather than take the time to discern whether they agree with everything that label represents. Example: “I am a Liberal. I don’t merely believe in liberal values, I am a Liberal.” Replace liberal with conservative, Republican, Democrat, Christian, atheist, etc. As a result, when someone disagrees with us, we take it as a personal attack, rather than a simple questioning of a particular belief or conviction. On the other side of this coin, there are people claim to hate X [conservatives, liberals, Democrats, Republicans…] and thus they will hate everything about that person, refusing to interact civilly or to see anything but the demon label they have affixed to them.
  • The incivility of the other person – Their bad behavior triggers our own bad behavior. I’ve written about this so many times. If we can only learn to pause and remember that because someone else is behaving like a jerk doesn’t mean we must, too. Breaking that cycle of incivility changes everything. It confounds the person who’s misbehaving and takes the wind from their sails. It deflates their power and awards the win to you (and civility).
  • Emotion – We’re triggered by fears of what the world would be like if the other person’s view dominated. We see this in so many political ads, which not only play on existing fears, but seek to incite new ones and demonize whole groups of people. We see it in the movement for racial justice, too, where some people fear losing their privilege or entitlement if others achieve equity.
  • Uncertainty – Could I really be wrong about some of this? Related to the earlier bullet about admitting our errors, letting go of long-held beliefs is hard. It threatens our selfhood. We’ve seen examples of people leaving the white supremacy movement or other cults and realizing how controlled they had been by the powers of hate and fear. We see it in the people who are unable to admit they may have erred in voting for a corrupt and incompetent man four years ago. Perhaps we all carry some long-held beliefs that might need examining.
  • Closed-mindedness – Are we unwilling to consider alternative information or beliefs that might be inconvenient or uncomfortable? Can we hold our convictions and still be open-minded? This goes beyond mere bias to the unwillingness to even consider that there may be alternate points of view. We can see this in religious zealotry, political jingoism, and xenophobia. It has always seemed to me that anyone so unwilling to examine their beliefs is probably not all that secure in them.

Dr. Smith defined civility quite simply as “treating others with appropriate courtesy and respect.” He reminded us that to be full participants in a civil society, we need to expand beyond a circle of people who confirm our own opinions and biases, and interact with people who don’t share our views. We need to be open to the possibility that the other side of anything might contain some truth, something we can learn from.

At this critical juncture, as we seek to change the direction of our discourse, my hope is that each of us will see that we have a role in making that happen. In the words of the late Congressman John Lewis:

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”