At the Same Time!

In the course of conversation in the VirtualChautauqua with Michael Ray, he makes this observation, on his way to saying something else…

At the same time (or “that being said” as everyone seems to say in the media nowadays in the same place that before that they would say “at the end of the day” and before that would say “the bottom line is.”)…

Language, and the very subtle shapes we create with it, are so important. This progression he notes, this shift in reference from quarterly (bottom-line business focus) to daily, to just a moment ago, to at the same time, is so subtle and so important.

The capacity to be and do, to pay attention and attend to, many things, inside and outside, self and others, past and future at the same time must be our most important practice and learning now.

Highest Goal

Lisa Kimball sent an invitation yesterday for a new Virtual Chautauqua event, September 15 (now) though the 30th, with author and teacher Michael Ray. I”m finding his book, Highest Goal, to be both brilliant and helpful. Some of my favorite bits from Jim Collins’ foreword:

…the story of a businessman who visited a Zen master seeking enlightenment. They sat down for tea, the businessman blabbering on about all the issues and challenges in his life, and his quest for achievement and direction and meaning and purpose and . . . the master said nothing, pouring tea. With the cup full, the master kept pouring, the tea flowing into the saucer, onto the table, and finally into the man’s lap.

“Hey! What are you doing?” yelped the businessman, leaping up as the scalding hot water seeped into his pants.

“Your cup is too full,” said the master. “You add and add and add and add and add and add to your life. There is no room for enlightenment until you empty your cup.”

…I’ve come to believe that there are two approaches to life. The first, followed by most, is the “paint by numbers kit” approach to life. You do what other people say. You follow a well-traveled path. You stay within the lines. And you end up with a nice, pretty—and unimaginative—picture. The second, followed by few, is to start with a blank canvas and try to paint a masterpiece. It is a riskier path, a harder path, a path filled with ambiguity and creative choice. But it is the only way to make your life itself a creative work of art. To paint a masterpiece requires a concept, a place to begin, a guiding context in the absence of the comforting numbers and lines in the premade kit. That guiding frame of reference is the highest goal, and bringing it into your life with the help of Michael’s discoveries is what this book is all about.

…A core process—both in the course and in this book—is the idea of “live-with” heuristics. These are mantras of living that you implement for a period of time (usually a week or more), and reflect on the experience. At Stanford, we were challenged with such livewith assignments as: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Surrender. Pay Attention! Ask Dumb Questions. Destroy Judgment, Create Curiosity. Don’t Think About It. Be Ordinary. And the hardest livewith of all: Do Only What Is Easy, Effortless and Enjoyable.

You can join, or just read through, the two-week conversation with Michael at the VirtualChautauqua.

Happy Enough

Corrigan pointing to Tracy Gary today, who inherited a lot of money, but lives on $35-45K annually. She spends most of her time doing service work around the world and working to give away her money.

Seems to go with this Trix comment in Pollard

In Ojibway, the word ‘debiziwinan’ means both ‘abundance’ and ‘sufficiency’.

Oh, to have enough, and be happy with just that much.

Housing Perspective

This point comes from Martin Barnes at Bank Credit Analyst…

The current 11% year-on-year gain in real house prices compares to a 50 year average of only 2%. The current growth is three standard deviations above its mean, and historically, this has broadly been a mean reverting series. The odds are high that the growth in real house prices will fall below zero in the next few years.

via John Mauldin’s free letter, which I devour every week.

New Social Models

Dave Pollard posting some guiding principles for Next-Society Models. Among a nice round list of 11 principle characteristics, I especially like his suggestion that new social models should be replicable but not necessarily scalable:

If the model only works in special rare circumstances, it’s probably not a very useful model. But there is some evidence that small is beautiful, and some of the best models in the world just don’t scale. In that case, don’t make ’em bigger, just make more of ’em. The Waldorf schools might never scale to a centralized global system, but they seem to work very well as a replicable, tweakable model.

Was surprised to see that Dave had eluded the net of my blogroll. That’s been fixed, under Blogs. See also a whole new blogroll section called Gifts. Many of the things listed there are indeed replicable, if not scalable. Remarkable, as well.

How To Help

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to help. And reading many people and pieces that point in various ways to the problems caused (or just not solved) by the provision of services. Meanwhile, the service providers are screaming that only they know how to do it right. It seems that little people taking direct care of other little people in need, in all their messy and creative little ways, is confusing for professionals following Plans and Procedures. I hope David Brin is right about the coming Age of Amateurs, when we will all reclaim our right, responsibility and regular practice of providing for ourselves, and each other, things like grief counseling and disaster support.

When the floods came to NOLA, I suggested to my mom that she ask around for friends of friends who might need help. Within just a few hours, two different neighbors happened to mention having people down there. It turns out that one of them had already given to the Red Cross. She’s got a brother-in-law down in NOLA, but the conditioned response was to give to the anonymous agency rather than give to family. I’d like to see us reclaim for ourselves our own abilities to do good. Not buy or hire or lend or deliver good. To actually do it, feel it, see it happening, for ourselves and others.

Mulling too many pieces of community research, policy debate and current events to link it all here, but this from Ram Dass via Chris and Nipun sums it well:

As chaos increases – and there’s a lot of inertia in the system that seems to suggest that is the direction we’re going in – it behooves us to prepare ourselves to ride the changes. If, in the face of uncertainty, people are busy holding onto something, the fear increases, then the contraction increases, and prejudice increases. The question is, what are you adding to the system to shift the balance? What you’re adding is yourself, and what yourself has to be is somebody who can handle uncertainty and chaos without contracting… I’ve gotten over the feeling of being somebody special… I help people as a work on myself and I work on myself to help people.

What more can I say? How can I help?

New Babies

And now for something completely different, I heard through one of my wisest friends today a report from an old midwife friend of hers.

We expect newborn babies to be pretty tuned out, eyes closed, dopey sleepy, oblivious. This midwife confirms that this is indeed how they used to arrive.

But babies today are different, paying attention much earlier, eyes wide open, engaging others, often even as they are still getting born. What’s that about?

Deschooling Society

When 9.11 happened, I treated it like any other moment of Open Space, any other gathering of attention in which nobody knew what would happen and everybody wanted it to go well. I looked for ways that I, myself just one little individual, but in a web of other good folk, could learn and contribute to the good. One result was that I pulled out a training program that had been in the drawer for four years, untried, and within a year offered that program on four continents.

As I watch New Orleans unfolding (or getting soggy and collapsing) I find a similar sort of activation rising. McKnight, quoted yesterday, leads me to Ivan Illich, who has been sitting in my drawer, so to speak for at least four years, probably since I met Chris Corrigan about that long ago. This morning, Wikipedia offers this intro to Illich:

Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. More Illich…

This starts to sound a lot like my own roots in Outward Bound founded by another radical educator, Kurt Hahn. Funny that I was visiting several of the old (and original) Outward Bound schools this summer in the UK. And not surprising that when, a couple days ago, I pencilled out my first draft outline of how I might do more to teach and support relearning in/of community, it too looked rather Outward Boundy. My notes on that, forthcoming under the working title of Ready for Anything, is really a list of webs. Imagine that.

The Careless Society

The events in New Orleans — weather, community, government and media — have me re-reading John McKnight’s Careless Society: Community and It’s Counterfeits

Service systems can never be reformed so that they will “produce” [or even “deliver”] care. Care is the consenting commitment of citizens to one another. Care cannot be produced, provided, managed, organized, administered, or commodified. Care is the only thing a system cannot produce. Every institutional effort to replace the real thing is a counterfeit.

Care is, indeed, the manifestation of a community. The community is the site for the relationships of citizens. And it is at this site the the primary work of a caring society must occur. If that site is invaded, co-opted, overwhelmed, an dominated by service-producing institutions, then the work of the ocmmunity will fail. And that failure is manifest in families collapsing, schools failing, violence spreading, medical systems spinning out of control, justice systems becoming overwhelmed, prisons burgeoning, and human services degenerating.

New Orleans under water sounds like a fast-forward version of this loss of care. And the scary thing about it, the nagging sensation that permeates our watching, is that we know that our own communities of care have also been decimated by institutionalization, professionalization, monetization into “services” of what used to be simple, powerful community practice.

We used to know things, in the places where we live. Now we might not even know many of the people. In this way, many many of us are living below sea level. McKnight’s response? Asset-Based Community Development.

UPDATE: via The Independent

… Although a government exercise last year predicted the course of the disaster, Mr Bush drastically cut back spending on city defences. Work on strengthening vital levees needed to keep out flood water stopped for the first time in 37 years.

What else, if not “careless?”

What FEMA Just Can’t Buy

Earlier this morning I read a story about a New Orleans father who injured his hand when he used it to break a window in his house, to get on the roof with his family. The story describes his wife’s blood pressure meds being “all stuck together” after the rains. I’ve been in the wilderness. I know that shit happens, and problems escalate. But I just can’t imagine having no better way to break a window and keep medicine dry. What’s more, these folks got stuck in town because he thought he didn’t have room in his car for everyone he needed to take, and he’d heard the police were arresting people. The story doesn’t say arresting for what.

Here’s an entirely different response:

Eighteen-year-old Jabbor Gibson jumped aboard the bus as it sat abandoned on a street in New Orleans and took control. The teen packed it full of complete strangers (100 or more) and drove to Houston. He beat thousands of evacuees slated to arrive there. “It’s better than being in New Orleans,” said fellow passenger Albert McClaud, “we want to be somewhere where we’re safe.”

“I just took the bus and drove all the way here…seven hours straight,’ Gibson admitted. “I hadn’t ever drove a bus.
I dont care if I get blamed for it ,” Gibson said, “as long as I saved my people.”

They say he might be in big trouble. I sure hope not. FEMA can never buy effectiveness like this kid, and won’t ever be able to pull enough of the other folks off of their roofs into hospitals.

The Beginning of the End?

Already it seems to me that New Orleans must someday be called the beginning of the end.

The city of almost one half million people is among the poorest in the nation. I can’t remember if it was 25% or 30% living below the poverty line, compared to 17% in Chicago and 9% nationally. Clearly we have not been able to eliminate poverty in how many years of government initiatives in this direction. So how could we ever wipe out its implications in the 2-3 days warning before the storm?

Everywhere we look, people are criticizing FEMA, but the primary response is supposed to be directed by state and local governments. And on a practical level, even in the poorest places, evacuation and relief must come from local associations. Where are the church buses? If they all got out of town full-up with people, that would be perfect, but I suspect not.

RFK Jr. and some others have decried 44% federal cuts in flood management and prevention funding in the last few years, and of course the National Guard is already quite busy in Iraq. People have been questioning those decisions for the last 3-4 years, and rightly so. It would be better to have had the funding and people committed to this scene, already knowing 4 years ago that this was one of the 3 top disaster potentials in the whole country.

And yet, if there is a failure in the whole scheme, it must be on the evacuation side. The buildings were always going to get creamed, but the people should have been out. Everyone is blaming the federal government, but much of what needed to happen is simply beyond the reach of government. And will be more and more beyond reach in the coming years.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert has already suggested that New Orleans not be rebuilt. I can’t ever remember agreeing with the man, until now. What he says makes some sense. We have limits, physical and economic. Period. Even if we manage to clean it up and rebuild, it’s still 8 or more feet below sea level and still sitting in the path of massive storms. This is the 6th in 100 years. It’ll go down again and again. This time or next time, no matter, one of these days we’re simply not going to have the money to rebuild.

We’re not going to have the money to do a lot of things at the federal level in the coming years. We’re going to lose our grip on drug and other healthcare costs, the value of the dollar, the price of oil, the solvency of social security, the rate of immigration, the ravages of a rising sea and shifting tectonic plates. If 9-11 made it all to clear that we are actually part of the rest of the world, Katrina (if not already Iraq) will teach us that we are not in control of much of it.

The only solution must be an active cultivation of individual, personal and direct responsibility and contribution. Everybody pays attention. Everybody helps out. Everybody is responsible for getting and keeping themselves out of danger. And everything that the federal government does is gravy.

And to be clear, I don’t see this as a step back, but a step forward for us all, albeit a long and difficult one to make. Or maybe it’s a very short one. What can you do? Who do you know? Everybody knows somebody down that way. Six degrees of separation might mean that we’ve all got a one-in-six chance of being the ones on the front line. And there are going to be more than six shots fired.

We’re all in this together. And last I checked, despite the wobbling, we are still a democracy, which means we are the federal government. All of us. Let’s get it in session! …and get it in gear! This end must be our beginning.

How to Help in New Orleans

This from the Philanthropic Enterprise email discussion group today…

The Mennonite Disaster Service is highly recommended by the American Friends Service Committee as being the best, most experienced disaster relief organization dealing with housing, the very needy, and US situatins. The web site is They are viewed as being much less constrained by institutional barriers than the other charities, and far more able to get to the truly destitute who do not trust readily.

That said, I still like the idea of friends helping friends of friends. If there’s no admin cost involved, person-to-person, then there’s no need for tax deductibility. Just give, you know, the old fashioned way, without a receipt. Here, for instance, is the campaign for my friend Rose Vines. Her house is a few blocks from the wet side of the picture in the last post.

Report from New Orleans

This e-mail from a New Orleans pathologist comes via a friend of mine, via family and collegial connections, and paints a pretty real picture:

Aug. 31, 2005

Thanks to all of you who have sent your notes of concern and your prayers. I am writing this note on Tuesday at 2 p.m.. I wanted to update all of you as to the situation here. I don’t know how much information you are getting but I am certain it is more than we are getting. Be advised that almost everything I am telling you is from direct observation or rumor from reasonable sources. They are allowing limited internet access, so I hope to send this dispatch today.

Read more… View WWL-TV slideshow… An public blog for news and photos… Give money for my friend Rose Vines who works for Sister Helen Prejean (yes, of dead man walking, death penalty opposition fame)… both evacuated safely but with only the clothes on their backs. Rose lives two blocks to the left in this picture, one of two main breaks…

Seems like everybody ought to have friends of friends of friends in the area. Seems like a ton of ‘aid’ could just go through these personal channels. Hope so.

The Dangers of Mixed Mode

Recent consulting conversations have me thinking about meeting design, group dynamics and productive work. Research meets practice in a short article I’ve just adapted from the writing of Bob Rehm and Merrelyn Emery:

The self-organizing workplace and Open Space approach run on the group dynamics researched by Wilfred Bion over fifty years ago. Bion discovered that when people come together they establish a group quickly. We see this all time in Open Space when a diverse group with sparse existing connections quickly comes to know itself as a “team” or “community.”

A group or community is not just a collection of individuals. A group is a separate entity with its own dynamics and behaviors, and it operates on certain assumptions. Bion observed that, at any given time, a group operates out of only one of two possible modes. The group is EITHER in a productive work mode OR a basic assumption mode.

Fred and Merrelyn Emery applied Bion’s insights to workplace design, in their search conference and participative design processes. This adaptation of their writing extends these insights to the design and practice of OpenSpaceTech meetings and events.

As soon as the facilitator or leader “steps into” or otherwise “takes control” of the process, even for the most well-meaning interventions, everyone starts deciding, moment-to-moment if they will submit to being “in control” or dare to step “out of control.” In that moment, the momentum of productive work and felt sense of active, personal responsibility are in danger, as everyone has to choose between what they personally understand as productive work on the task and the structure that is being imposed by the leader or facilitator.

Why force that choice? Why intervene in productive work?

Read More…

Praxis and Now

In a remarkable recent thread of email discussion, hosted by Lenore Ealy, a number of brilliant and passionate folk have been working the landscape of progressive, green, fundamentalist, liberal, conservative, feudal, enlightenment and other bits of polarity, mostly acknowledging the awful muddiness these terms have become.

In the midst of this, two one-liners popped out:

Chris Corrigan asked (if) how all the naming, mapping and remapping can lead to a “Praxis of Care.” What a fine phrase this is. Passion bounded by responsibility, run through the poetry mill.

To which David Brin eventually offered, “The real axis is between past and future.” The only polarity that matters; it certainly cuts through the mud on the map.

If the past is gone and the future ain’t quite here, then the healing (wholing) practice must be Now?

New York and Aspen

I’m off to New York early Wednesday morning to talk about the design and facilitation of an Open Space conference in Aspen this Fall. Two of my favorite places!

Will also get to have dinner with an old friend and ride the super fast ferry down to New Jersey for an Open Space day with a bunch of new friends. Busy couple of days, in all the best ways.

The Conversation Gap

According to a study by Career Innovation, four out of every ten talented employees have an issue they want to discuss with their manager, but feel unable to do so. Their survey research shows that these employees — talented folk but significanly less engaged — are three times more likely to leave as a result of this ‘conversation gap.’

The free report describes the issues they want to discuss and the why they don’t. The $120 report explains what to do about it. Reading only the free report, I do see that they suggest that the ‘gap’ can be bridged in many ways, but they’re all one-on-one interactions. That said, most of the conversations that people want to have are “future” conversations and I can’t help but notice that the theme or purpose of almost every open space event I facilitate is some form of “Issues and Opportunities for the Future of…”

Many many of these ‘future’ conversations that are missing in organizations come up easily, naturally and automatically in the course of working in open space on the future of various parts of the organization. When managers invite conversation on the future of the organization, employees have a better shot at working out their own future questions, and asking them in the context of larger, shared futures. No wonder engagement is so high in Open Space!

via Management Craft


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