Thoughts on “laissez faire” leadership

I have been writing an essay about collaboration, using the process of making the album “Eleventh Hour Shine” as a case study.  To my surprise, the essay has taken a turn towards the study of leadership.

I’ve decided to post different portions of the essay in individual blog posts.  Today, I’ll present a brief passage about a style of leadership called “laissez faire” or “Delegative” Leadership.

Laissez Faire/Delegative Leadership  This leadership style seems to be the most prevalent in large bureaucracies.  The words laissez faire come from the French and mean “let” (laissez)  “do” (faire).  The phrase was born from a French economic philosophy which champions the idea that an economic system should take its own course without regulation or interference.

As far as leadership is concerned, this style has some merit in that the leader chooses not to micro-manage or interfere with subordinates.  Rather she allows the activities of the organization/project to take their own course and trusts people to do what is needed.  If the right people are hired or brought onto a project or organization -people with an internal locus of value and intrinsically high standards- then this mode of leadership might be effective.  Problem is, this is rarely if ever achieved.

Projects, businesses or organizations with this style of leadership are destined to fail because this mode of leadership doesn’t take into consideration the following factors: 1) There are certain personality types that thrive on clear and directive guidance from people with formal authority.  2) The lack of direction and oversight almost always breeds a power vacuum in which informal authority can be seized by unscrupulous individuals with psychopathic tendencies.  This is why workplace bullying is so prevalent in public bureaucratic institutions.

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Laissez-Faire Leadership can lead to organizational malaise and potential chaos.

Death brings “closer to home”

This morning, I awoke with a vivid recollection of numerous moments throughout my life.  It didn’t feel like what the Buddhists call “monkey mind,” the onslaught of chaotic, rapid disconnected thoughts that cause agitation or coagulate into a rigid storyline.

It felt more like the simultaneous visitation of life moments beyond time and space.  Hard to explain.  It was more than just the visual representation of long-ago moments.  It was the presence of positive feelings associated with all of them.

I remember I used to say to myself “which one was my home?” when reflecting on all the changing relationships and situations throughout my adult life.  As I have experienced three sudden deaths in my family this year, this question often comes to the fore with a gentle intensity.  Gentle in the sense that there is no urgency to answer the question.  Intense in that this question is the primary, all-encompassing one at this time in my life.

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Steven at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, spring of 1982

Tibetan Buddhist teacher/scholar Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche often wrote about “the genuine heart of sadness.”  He defines this sadness as an all-encompassing vulnerability, the ability to hold in one’s heart the whole spectrum of the human condition all at the same time without filters, without anger or regret, without fear, and most importantly, without romanticism.  Put another way, all of these feelings both positive and negative can be present simultaneously, and can be accepted, too, as part of that spectrum.  The idea is that when we really look at life in a truly real way, the painful, the beautiful, and the terrifying … if we can really be with that, a feeling of kinship for all things sometimes percolates and we feel a sweet kind of sadness.

That is the feeling I woke with this morning, and I would like to honor those life moments that cascaded through me as I slowly opened my eyes. I’ll just list a few of those moments without much elaboration.

The deep regret and anguish on my frail father’s eyes last October, as I spread my sister’s ashes at sea. He died unexpectedly six months later.

The feeling of “home” whenever I hear country music, which I was introduced to in the early 1980s when my mother, sisters and I sang at country & western jamborees.

The bag of rotting lobster shells filled with maggots, underneath the Route 295 bridge in the summer of 1980 in my hometown Portland, Maine.  I was 10 years old at the time and vividly and immediately recognized that death was a part of all this, and sometimes disgusting and undignified.

The taste of Dr. Pepper and Alexander the Grape candies, mixed with the smell of the Nissen Bread factory, located at the bottom of Munjoy Hill where I once lived with my sister and father.  My life in Portland, Maine was not a happy one, by any means, but there was the feeling of “home” that has never left me.

Now, that my sister and father have both died without saying “goodbye”, that feeling of “home” is a deeply private place now that nobody alive can ever really share with me.

There are many homes I’ve experienced over the years -jobs, friendships, projects and social scenes I identified with.  Now, they are all gone and their memory feels like a series of foreclosures.  There has always been an ending beyond my control, even if the ending was a positive transition to something else.

I recall that the original Guautma Buddha of 2,500 years ago equated the liberated heart with “homelessness”.  Letting go of vanishing realities and impermanent phenomena is akin to dying into all things.  Maybe this is what the genuine heart of sadness is all about.

It just might be that the recognition of my powerlessness over death is bringing me closer to home than I ever was.

 

Paying attention in the teaching situation

The other day, I had an interesting experience that reminded me why it’s important to be aware and hopefully even caring when working with people -especially in a teaching situation.

On a warm October morning, I was training a mother and her two teenage sons in how to use a Segway properly and safely.  As the Director of Training, I have been developing a curriculum for tour guides that includes the ability to recognize the basic psychology and learning styles of the people we are training and the appropriate training responses available to us.

Segway student

Her older son, 15, who I will call Reynold, exhibited a lack of energy and appeared not to notice me even as he stood on his Segway and looked straight at me.  I knew right away that he had a learning disability and that I had to use very specific instructional strategies to teach him.  I recognized that if I failed in teaching him, he could fall off the Segway and get hurt.

The younger son, 13, who I will call Justin, lacked a strong sense of self – what some psychologists and educators would call a sense of agency, the feeling that “I can, and I will”.  I was not aware of any learning disabilities in Justin, but I recognized that his educational background was poor, as he did not know important words that I regularly use in my training, such as “come to a gradual stop.”  He did not know the word gradual, and I could tell that he was embarrassed about it.  For him, I felt the main issue was confidence and self-esteem.

In both training situations, the safety of my guests very much depended on my resonance with their particular learning style.  It was less important that they understood the narrative of the city’s history, and so much more important that they mastered the use of the motorized vehicle they would be operating.

I succeeded in training them, because I cared.  I paid attention.  And I responded to their specific needs.

For Reynold (who I later found out had Asperger’s Syndrome), I had to use re-direction and hard, physical reality-based instruction.  For example, “on the left, we have a big, red building”  or “look at your left wheel as you turn left” and “don’t let your wheel touch the bright orange cone”.  Using modifiers and repeating words was an important strategy for keeping Reynold focused and safe.

I also made sure to place the responsibility of learning on Reynold himself.  I did this by asking questions that would guide him to come to make decisions on his own.  For example, I asked him “Why did you take your hand off the left handle bar as you stepped off?”  He answered that he didn’t want to jerk the Segway to the side.  Questioning helps students to develop an ownership of whatever material they need to master, as they come to grasp the “why” and “how” rather than try to remember an abstract “right answer.”

Justin required only two things.  Paraphrased instruction, in which I used big words and their simpler cousins (e.g. gradually and more slowly); and consistent public praise, while using his name.  I could have just used the word slowly, but I felt responsible for helping build his vocabulary, which is why I introduced a few ten-cent words into the training.  “Great, Justin, you carefully rolled over the speedbump, just like we trained you!  Well-done!  You’re becoming an expert.”  All of my responses were designed to build a sense of agency and confidence in Justin, something I dearly hoped he could walk away with…. just enough that it might carry over into his next endeavors.

So, the key here is that I succeeded because I cared.  And, because I cared enough to respect the actual teaching situation, paid attention to the details of the situation, and responded appropriately, these young men not only enjoyed themselves but avoided potentially serious injuries.

So, it’s important to be aware.  This is the simplest essence of the teaching situation.  It is the essence of cultural sensitivity, attunement to different learning styles and abilities, and concern for the well-being of the person we are serving.

Nothing satisfies me more.

 

The Hero’s Journey… a lens for storytelling

Over the past six months, I’ve been developing an approach to educational consulting, that I think has made me a better teacher.  One client in particular has given me an opportunity to see stories in a whole new way, as we have worked together for two months building a theatre arts curriculum geared towards middle school and high school students.

The unit that I enjoyed the most is the one on playwriting, which we have titled “The Play’s the Thing.”  In this unit, we explore playwriting through the lens of “The Hero’s Journey,” the archetypal path traversed by the protagonist in most conventional narratives.  The book we studied together is called The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

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Traditionally, plays and screenplays are organized into three acts.  The first act involves exposition, where we learn about the characters’ lives, histories, gifts and flaws.  The second act involves conflict wherein the main character is set against external forces (people, circumstances) that keep him/her from achieving some objective.   The third act involves resolution, in which the conflict comes to a close in some way and the objective is either achieved or tossed aside in favor of a more enlightened objective.

But, the Hero’s Journey offers a deeper more meaningful template for storytelling.  In the curriculum we have been building, we divided the 12 phases of the journey into three parts and correlated them with the traditional three-act structure.   What we discovered is that the individual phases of the Hero’s Journey become very much alive in each act and help to place exposition, conflict and resolution in a broader and more detailed context.

I will return to this topic in a later post, but i want to introduce the reader to the Hero’s Journey for reference.  Below is a brief description of the phases.  Most of the writing below is copied directly from Chrisopher Vogler’s website.

Act I (Exposition)

1.    THE ORDINARY WORLD.  The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma.  The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history.  Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.

2.    THE CALL TO ADVENTURE.  Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.

3.    REFUSAL OF THE CALL.  The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly.  Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.

4.    MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.  The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.  Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.

Act II (Conflict)

5.    CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.  At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.

6.    TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES.  The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.

7.    APPROACH.  The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.

8.    THE ORDEAL.  Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear.  Out of the moment of death comes a new life.

9.    THE REWARD.  The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death.  There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.

Act III (Resolution)

10.  THE ROAD BACK.  About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home.  Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.

11.   THE RESURRECTION.  At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home.  He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level.  By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

12.   RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR.  The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

Schaudenfreude and “nerd bonafides”

I just read a few articles on the designer, H. R. Giger.  Learning about his work designing the “Alien” creature in the movie of the same name was interesting.  Even more interesting is the story of how an early version of “Dune” was never made.  Giger was one of its effects people.

What struck me about this article was a very articulate comment by a self-described “nerd”.  As is so often the case, it was a comment that reveled in the desire to place negativity front and center as a primary value.  Oddly, though, I found this comment quite elucidating.

The comment below reminds me that people putting themselves out there need to take into account that thee will always be a significant number of people who are hard-wired to go against the grain, the bandwagon, the tide, the trend and sometimes just the man.

As this commentator puts it, it’s about maintaining one’s “nerd bonafides.”

Being a nerd in something of the self-hating variety, I admit to getting a disproportionate thrill from people’s reactions to any perceived infraction against a beloved franchise.

I could say it’s something high-minded along the lines of any good idea held too precious will be smothered and snuffed out, leaving only a dogmatic shell behind -therefore change must be embraced; but I think it’s just base schadenfreude.

It’s the kind of thing that could ultimately embitter and turn me, earning me my own domain in Ravenloft, I say to verify my nerd bonafides.

ESAC, a non-profit with an integrative mission

Recently, I joined the Board of Directors of a non-profit called ESAC, which funds adult education programs across the city, works to prevent homelessness, and helps senior citizens avoid foreclosures on their homes.

Today we had a meeting that was so inspiring I could barely contain myself. We were talking about expanding adult education programs, and forming partnerships with other non-profits, community colleges and GED programs across the city.

By sharing resources and building coalitions of mutual support, the possibility for fulfilling a mission shared by so many is that much more possible.

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Crowdfunding… giving it a go

It’s been an interesting experience working to raise awareness and funds for a music project, especially online with a public website.

A few weeks back, I made the decision to go with Kickstarter because of its all-or-nothing funding model.  I figured that the best approach was to create a transparent budget for mastering, duplicating and releasing an album called “Eleventh Hour Shine” and to use a crowd-sourcing site that guaranteed results for backers who pledged their dollars.  This way, their dollars would only be used for a successful project, not for a half-finished one where the money could conceivably be used for other purposes.

But, it is somewhat stressful to strike the appropriate balance.  Putting your work out there and asking folks to help fund it requires a certain degree of moxie.  But, I feel it’s important not too be too aggressive or presumptuous, which is where some of the stress comes from.

In the end, it’s not so important whether the funding campaign succeeds, but whether we ran the campaign respectably and with class.  If we succeed, then the music will have a chance to be heard, and we can green light the CD release show.

If we fall short of our goal, then at least we can be happy that we gave it a go.

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What I’ve learned about “positive politics”

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I miss graduate school.  The UMASS Boston program’s training in pedagogy was excellent, but the dual degree also focused on organizational change and dialogue, which I fell in love with.

The following list is a guide for managing the political aspects of effective management and community organizing.  It was developed during my graduate work, and the original title was “The Key Elements of Effective Representation”.

I adapted the title and language to include the broader domain of both formal and informal leadership in communities, projects and organizations.  The basic point is that leadership requires the consistent quality of trustworthiness and the intentional effort to maintain healthy relationships with colleagues, subordinates, superiors and all other stakeholders.  Some organizational scholars have called this approach “positive politics.”

KEY ELEMENTS

1.  Adopt a healthy attitude about “politics”

Politics is a neutral word. It means nothing more than a group of three or more people negotiating the ways and means for distributing resources (money, time, people) and determining who gets to have influence and how much. Positive politics, if played fairly and ethically, can create mutual respect and harmony. Without active and positive political management (see elements below), the politics of any community or project can descend into defensive maneuvering and unproductive conflict. So, adopt a healthy attitude towards your political role. It is needed.

2.  Maintain collegial relationships with all stakeholders

Even if you are not actively seeking support for something or gathering input, informally check in with colleagues, managers, subordinates, partners and other stakeholders in your community.  Most importantly, treat all with equal respect and dignity -even those who have disagreed with you or have opposed ideas and/or initiatives you have proposed in the past (see number 5). Please keep in mind that those with a lower-status position in your organization could one day be a huge resource for an initiative, so try not to slight them or exclude them.  Of course, they matter in their own right, so treat them respectfully for its own sake.  Finally, try not to adopt the anger or hardline stance of any particular faction in difficult situations (even if you share their point of view). You will need to keep your relationship with the offending party intact during these challenging circumstances, so try to remain as neutral as possible.

3.  Circulate, circulate, circulate!

Simply put, try to circulate throughout the  organization on a regular basis.  This is especially important when trying to generate support for a project or when you need input from colleagues, manager/directors or other stakeholders. But, it’s important not to feel entitled to anyone’s time. If someone is obviously occupied, politely stand aside and wait for the right moment or return at a later time.  People will appreciate it when you respect their time and space and will more readily give you their time when you come back.

4.  Distribute leadership and responsibilities

“Power” and influence are neutral energies. Over time, if they’ve been at it long enough, individuals or groups could come to acquire one or both. It is well known that power can corrupt, but the softer version of “influence” can cause burnout (people of influence are go-to people, which can take up a lot of their time and mental space). To avoid corruption and burnout, distribute leadership and responsibilities as much as possible. Share the tasks of writing letters and emails, facilitating meetings and circulating. The added bonus of sharing these responsibilities is the increased investment of others in the organization.

5.  Embrace the opposition

Every “battle” comes to an end. Sometimes a project or initiative you have proposed fails or never gains ground. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Don’t make anyone your permanent adversary. Someone who opposed your idea(s) in the past could one day become your greatest ally for an even better idea in the future. The most valuable thing about embracing the opposition, however, is not limited to maintaining a politically viable relationship for future endeavors. The simple fact is that sometimes the opposition is right. Listen carefully to the opposition in all circumstances. Even if you decide to stick to your position, their views will help inform you about the best way to proceed.

6.  Provide framing in difficult situations

As a manager/director or a community organizer, you will have developed relationships with a number of people from different sectors of the larger community.  At times, you may find yourself navigating divergent views and representing the entire spectrum of opinions around an issue, procedure or policy.

Because of your many relationships, you may be in the unique position to provide the framing around an issue or decision because of the fact that you have access to the information and perspectives provided by the various parties that you have maintained a relationship with. It is important to bear in mind that bringing these various perspectives to light  can help to move things forward, which is why the framing you provide is key.

Of course, it’s always helpful to keep in mind that it may not be YOU who needs to be provide the framing (see number 10).

Whether you choose to take sides or to remain neutral about something, try to find a way to respectfully surface each point of view in an open forum. You can do this during meetings or in the writing of letters, proposals or memos. However you choose to proceed, frame all points of view in a clear narrative and connect them to the shared values, goals and vision of the  community.

7.  Gather input to make buy-in unnecessary

If you want a project or initiative to be successful, your colleagues and other stakeholders will need to know that you have consulted them every step of the way. Gathering information and input is the best way to generate support. People love to support projects in which they have served as one of its architects. This goes for writing, too. Jot down the phrases, metaphors and tidbits that you gather from those you’ve consulted and include them in the writing associated with the project. However small, staff input in the writing and framing goes a long way in shoring up support.

8.  Tell the truth always, but know your audience

Lying will get you nowhere and will erode your informal authority and influence in a New York minute. The fact that you were untruthful can circulate very quickly no matter how sophisticated you are in presenting a favorable image. If you have formal authority (such as a CEO, manager or administrator) you might have some more leeway here, but, in most cases, it is best to avoid deception and trickery.  Once you lose trust with people, it’s difficult to get it back.

However, be strategic about who you share information with. A gossipy colleague who enjoys ridiculing others may not be the best person to communicate with in certain situations. While maintaining transparency and stating your intentions are laudable goals, use caution, discernment and balance in your communications. Not everyone is an honest broker.

Always remember, too, that there will be circumstances that require confidentiality. Never repeat anything told to you in confidence. It will be regarded as a betrayal, and if word gets around that you betrayed someone’s confidence, nobody will trust you.

Finally -resist, resist, resist the temptation to ridicule others or to gossip about them. A “juicy” or entertaining piece of information might offer the satisfaction of one-upping a potential adversary in the short run, but it will sully your professional reputation in the long run. Besides, it’s mean, petty, and just plain wrong.

 

Tell the truth and be respectful always. As a leader with formal or informal authority, your reputation around issues of honesty and trust is the highest political capital you have. You don’t want to squander that.

9.  Respect that politics is often about perception

Five words. How will this be perceived?

The following bullet points will help you to navigate the stormy waters of the perception game.

  • Use language strategically and constructively. Avoid making absolute statements when possible by using the following words and phrases: might, may, could, possible, possibly, potential, potentially, commonly understood to be, general consensus that… When possible, make general statements about issues that commonly surface in the arena in which you are operating.
  • Connect your ideas and concerns with the organization’s mission as much as possible.  Try to avoid confusion by being explicit about your intentions in all matters.  When possible, connect those intentions with the intentions (purposes and goals) of the organization.
  • Share the credit and tasks of writing emails, letters, action plans and reports. This will help to maintain the collective spirit of personal investment among the organization’s leadership, workers and stakeholder partners.   It also keeps the focus on the organization and its goals, rather than on any single person.

10.  Don’t make it about “you”

Don’t take anything personally. You could be lionized as a hero, maligned as a phony, or tolerated as a nuisance. You might even  be ignored. No matter what, don’t make it about you and try not to let others make it about you. Of course, if someone expresses gratitude for something you’ve done, graciously accept it and walk on. Remember, everybody loves a hero, but not nearly as much as a fallen one. Don’t buy your own press. And make it about others.

The elegance and power of nonviolent talk

Good evening.

I discovered an article written by William Powell, the author of “The Anarchist’s Cookbook.”

The title is “I wrote the Anarchist Cookbook in 1969.  Now I see its premise as flawed”.

Powell argues for his book to taken out of publication and urges us to understand that “violence can’t be used to prevent violence.”

But, the same principle can be applied to the words we say, too.

Equally violent -and often a direct cause of physical violence- is the growing culture of mockery and deception, and the intentional distortion of the character and positions of those we consider adversaries.

This culture seems to be everywhere: the political arena, the playground, the workplace, the local pub, the media, the internet…. everywhere.

For now, cruel talk is king, and our celebration of it continues to poison the well.

Hopefully, there will come a day when the elegance and power of nonviolence will open up to include the way we communicate with our tongues and fingertips.

The impact on progress in politics, the office, and in all communities would be nothing less than remarkable.

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Personal development as primary value

An important idea suddenly struck me.

It happened just last night after a conflict-resolution process, in which I served as mediator… and only weeks after the sudden death of a person very dear to me.

Last night, at the end of one of these meetings, I came to the conclusion that the essence of a healthy community is the open commitment of its members to personal development.

Through the years, I’ve participated in a variety of communities, projects, and organizations, including public schools, rock bands, theatre productions, nonprofits, support groups, various workplace environments, and even local restaurants pubs.   From my experiences in these and many other social contexts, I have been able to observe a wide variety of outcomes.

What I can say with great certainty is this:

If personal development is not a primary value in a community, things always go badly.

 

A simple axiom for personal development is the willingness to think of ourselves as a work in progress.  To allow ourselves to experience the discomfort of being around someone we don’t like or don’t know.  To allow for ambiguity and the possibility that our position may not be entirely objective or even accurate.

The courage to be with discomfort and ambiguity gives us an opportunity to become more flexible, less rigid, and, thus more emotionally responsive.  This, in turn, increases our value to the community, because our flexibility makes it easier for us to respond more intuitively and more appropriately to situations that come about.

How does this work?

By keeping ourselves and those around us as an open question, we have a much better chance for accuracy in our understanding of what’s going on with us, with others, and with the situation.  And, for a community that has a specific mission, that accuracy matters.

But, it takes a certain amount of courage, because embracing discomfort and ambiguity can be painful and sometimes even scary or embarrassing.  It’s worth the effort, though, because when conflicts arise (and they always will), there is an opportunity for a community to resolve those conflicts, learn important lessons, and evolve.

Without a commitment to personal development, a community’s norms, policies, and legacy will fail.  Systems are a support, but maturity and awareness are the essential fuel. So, this is how I define personal development.

It is late at night, and I am about to get on a bus from New York City to Boston.

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The arts as potent meaning-maker

Good afternoon.

I’ve read this quote from Kurt Vonnegut before.

The arts in my own life, of late, has been a potent meaning-maker… aside from good people and their kind acts.

What I love most about my current projects is their inherent collaborative nature.  Working in the studio on recordings with my co-producer is like going into a magical workplace where mutual respect, creativity and vision is the order of the day.

It certainly helps that we and the musicians of Pragnus Gray Collective believe in what we are doing.

Nicely put, Mr. Vonnegut.

Kurt

Gratitude as renewable fuel

Good morning.

I’m grateful for the humanity I’ve seen from a lot of good people over the past several weeks, and wanted to re-post some thoughts I posted yesterday on Facebook.

I’ve noticed that people who feel genuine gratitude can’t help but to extend their well-being to others, using whatever resources at their disposal… whether inner or outer.

Their gratitude compels them to contribute to the happiness of other people without hesitation.

In this way, gratitude is experienced as a renewable fuel rather than a stored reserve.

I’d like to see more of this in the world.

Gratitude

Post tragic resilience

Good afternoon.

I got back to work today on a recording project called “Eleventh Hour Shine”.

The song we are working on is called “Hollowed by the Sun.” It’s about a male bee who is dying under the scorching sun, caught between a window pane and a screen.  It is one of a few songs on the record that deals with the issue of death awareness.

It has only been two weeks since the sudden death of a loved one, and it’s interesting that the song that was interrupted by death is itself about death and dying.

It was healthy to get back to the project, but I felt somewhat deflated and perfunctory as we proceeded.

But, there was progress. As they say in self-help circles, one day at a time.

*The photo below of two bees was taken by Anthony Lee.

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Insights about “complicated mourning”

*Below is an excerpt from a Facebook post I wrote earlier today.

Good morning.

I am posting a link that explains about “complicated mourning” in the event of a sudden, accidental or traumatic death.

The link: Resources for Complicated Mourning

Speaking for myself, I would like people to feel comfortable bringing up this topic, and, at the same time I would like people to have at least a cursory understanding about how to relate to someone who has lost someone like this.

One of the insights found in the article is that survivors who experience a traumatic death of someone close to them almost immediately feel that everything they have been up to is trivial or even frivolous. So, perhaps this is one of those times in a person’s life when gentle encouragement to continue on with their own lives and interests can be pretty helpful.

Maybe you can ask me what I’ve been up to this past year.

If we run into each other somewhere, please feel free to acknowledge my experience (sorry for your loss), and give yourselves permission not to pursue a longer conversation if you are not comfortable doing so.

I will understand.

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A British politician responds nonviolently to a pastor

*The following is something I posted on Facebook earlier this evening.

Good evening.

I don’t usually place my political/social views on Facebook, but I really have to say “wow” to this British politician’s response to a pastor’s question about gay marriage.

His response was thoughtful, reasoned, respectful and complete. I wish non-violent language were practiced more in the world, and particularly in our society.

This little clip gives me hope.

 

A song about compassion

Good morning.

Two days ago, I finished collaborating on the mix of a song I wrote for my mother, who has been singing rhythm and blues for four decades. The song is called “The Gospel of Longfellow” and is my first attempt at R & B.

The refrain in the piece is based on a quote by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

 

I’ve always been touched by that quote (which Longfellow penned shortly following his wife’s horrific death in a fire).

I take it to mean that if we had access not so much to the content of another’s journey but to the inner reality of the person, we would see that he or she is not so different from us, after all.

We would see that the words and actions we have deemed unjust or evil are the person’s best attempts to achieve “the Good” according to the understanding and worldview formed by his/her unique life experiences.

Just like ourselves.

This is perhaps what empathy and compassion is about, and admittedly, it doesn’t come easily for me at times. But it helps to look at it all from this perspective.

Sort of warms up the inner atmosphere.

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Here’s to Oskar Schindler

Good afternoon.

Just watched the Spielberg film, Schindler’s List this morning. Seen it many times, but it’s been years since I’ve seen it, and today it moved me more than ever.

Oskar Schindler was a businessman who saved more than 1200 Jews in 1944, bribing Nazi officials into letting him keep his Jewish laborers for his munitions factory. These Jews survived the end of the war because of his courageous actions and have produced more than 7000 descendants.

Oppression, silencing and the arrogance of power-holders will always be with us. It will continue to show itself in families, government, artistic circles, schools, universities, and even online communities.

Those of us who remain cautious bystanders, silently supporting the “tall poppies” are making the right choice in many cases.

But, when we dismiss or take for granted the courageous actions of others, we are making the wrong choice. We can never know the great harm that often comes to them.

Or the great benefit we have received from them.

Here’s to Oskar Schindler.

http://www.schindlerjews.com/

forsideschindlerbillede