The Sources of Leadership Confidence

Tooth of Time at Dawn

Where do you find confidence?

Especially, where do you find it in moments of great challenge and pressure?

It comes as a gift from people who care and love us, who believe in us, and see within us something that we don't see in ourselves ... our potential for impact.

If we do not have those kind of relationships, it may just be because we have not shown our confidence in other people.

Imagine a work team where part of your team's discipline is the expression of both confidence and gratitude towards one another. Imagine a work environment where we tell one another that we appreciate the gifts and strengths that they bring to work each day. Imagine the difference this would make.

Here is the key.

We must nurture in others what we desire for ourselves.

Read that last sentence again ... slowly.

If we want confidence in ourselves, we must show confidence in others.

If we want affirmation, then affirm others. If we want understanding, then be understanding towards others.  If we want love, we must love others.  If we want accountability, then begin to hold others accountable.

To do this requires us to be intentional about our relationships. Just don't just float on vague expectations that are unfair and unrealistic. Be clear and intentional about your relationships with others.

Relationships of confidence, therefore, are mutual ones.

We give and share. We receive and give thanks.

We celebrate and we mourn.

It is from this deep richness of life, in all its manifestations, that we discover the confidence to live through life's transition points, to begin new ventures, and, to discover in ourselves that which has been suppressed by fear, cynicism, and, self-doubt.

This one key ...

We must nurture in others what we desire for ourselves.

... is the source of leadership confidence.

The End of Work



"The use of horse labor used to grow along with the population and the economy. In the United States horse labor grew 6 fold from 1840 to 1900. But then it plummeted as internal combustion engines replaced horses on farms, in factories, for transportation. Does the same fate await humans, or at least some humans?"

In ten years, what do you think these young women in Glasgow will be doing to earn a living?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics link in the above blog post shows that the work for people will available to those who are more intellectually developed and capable of handling more complex, adaptation oriented work.
These stats show that our society and the economy that under girds it is changing dramatically. The push to automate the functions of business is a continued recognition that people are simply components in a system. While the age of production passed a generation ago, the age of information is built upon the same foundation that people are expensive and superfluous in a global economy. This is not just a capitalist development, but also the same outcome that comes from governments that seek to integrate all aspects of society under their control.
It is time to admit that the large institutions of business and government, those that I refer to as the forces of global integration, are not going to be the source of new jobs in the future. We need, you and me, to begin to establish a parallel economy based in individual human initiative that does two things.
One is to build networks of relationships that provide a communal platform for economic enterprise that supports families and strengthens local communities.
Second, we need to establish a culture of initiative where the creative endeavors of individuals becomes the core purpose of an educational system that is preparing people for the realities found in these statistics. This means we must shift the mission of educational institutions away from preparing students to work in systems of production, to being able to create their own businesses and networks of relationships.
I’m convinced that every child should have been provided experience in creating a business that monetizes some idea that they have by the time they enter middle school. Repeated attempts to start projects and new businesses at a young age will foster a culture of collaborative independence that is the parallel economy that we need along side a global economy of integration.
Let me then ask you the following questions as a way to move you into action.
If you had to do one thing in the next year that would make a difference in your local community, what would that be?
Is it important enough that you would give up some aspect of your life to do it?
Is it the sort of thing that you could find a way to monetize it if you found yourself on January 1 out of the job you currently have?
Living with this perspective in mind is how we'll adapt to a world where the global forces of integration have no place for human beings to contribute.
Read the whole article linked above, and especially connect to the links of the jobs that are growing and declining.

Two Hashtags

Nez Perce National Historic Park - Spaulding, Idaho

 Behind every political deal in this country, the first casualties are always the ordinary people, who are barely treated as human.

Ai Weiwei

Chinese artist and activist

The modern world is a world of large, complex institutions. These institutions replaced the social world of families and communities. Instead of relationships being at the heart of our national society, we have politics.

The way politics is conducted in the modern world is to simplify the issues so that there is no longer any thing to think about, it is just about the emotion of the subject. Combine emotions with the power of images you have a toxic mix that alienates people from the realities of the world at large by distracting them with politics.

This is true across the ideological spectrum. This isn't a left / right thing. It is how institutions manage their "relationship" to people. As a result, we live in a world of greater conflict, division and confusion than is necessary.

This is particularly true with the question of race. For me, two hashtag phrases frame this place of race in America.

One is ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬.

The other ‪#‎WhitePrivilege‬.

I find these two phrases saying things that may be missed, or, that their most passionate promoters may or may not see. Yet, we need as a society and as individuals to talk about the deeper meanings of these phrases.

Those who speak about #WhitePrivilege are speaking about the privilege that White people have had in the USA since the day Columbus stepped on shore. All that they assert maybe true. Some of it is ugly, some of it is not. The question that confronts those of us who are White is "What should we do about it?".

So far, since this idea began to be promoted, I have heard of no one who has stepped down from their position of privilege so that someone who has been disadvantaged by that privilege may find opportunity which presently is not given to them.

This idea is a political message. All contemporary political messages are inherently dialectic, saying two things.

The #WhitePrivilege message has two messages.

To White people it is a reminder that they should feel guilty for their privilege. But their guilt does not require any action. By simply holding a belief in #WhitePrivilege our guilt as White people is relieved.

The more insidious message here is the one reminding African-Americans that not only are they are still victims of racism, but they are depended upon the White establishment for its resolution. In effect, in my opinion, #WhitePrivilege is a code word for #WhitePaternalism. Is that not the political system that African-Americans and other minorities have found themselves in?

I find #WhitePrivilege a sophisticated version of the liberal White racism that I heard in my seminary urban ministry course 35 years ago. At that time, an African-American scholar spoke to us about the racism of Whites. I found his words hollow, and prejudicial, unwittingly making the claim that Blacks were in effect helpless in the face of #WhitePrivilege. And yet, here he stood speaking to us as an authority, looking very much like a representation of White privilege, except with dark skin. I knew then, that this was not directly about race, or rather about our relationships with one another as the races, but about the politics of race. Politics in this instance is a code word for power. This is what #WhitePrivilege has always been about.

I am suggesting by this post that #WhitePrivilege is really a reminder to the African-American community that their benefits as citizens have always come as a result of the ‪#‎WhitePaternalism‬ of those who lead the nation. I don't think that those who speak of #WhitePrivilege realize that they are saying this. I think in their earnestness to resolve racial conflict, they want to take responsibility. But continuation of the paternalism that has been at the heart of the American political system towards all minorities is not really a suitable answer here in the second decade of the 21st century.

The other phrase ‪#‎BlackLiveMatters‬ rose up as a way to focus public attention on the rate of violence brought against Black males by law enforcement officers. It is a movement not unlike the conservative Tea Party movement seeking to draw attention to issues within their communities about how the government, in this case, law enforcement agencies, treat them.

Whatever the merits of their cause, the politics of the nation, and not realities of the local communities, is where these issues are being addressed.

There is a deeper message, however, in this phrase that I believe is worth reflecting upon.

#BlackLivesMatter is, also, a statement of the recognition that African-Americans are people, not merely victims, but people worthy of dignity, respect and honor. The power of language can get at this point this way.

If I was to call Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr a Black man, everyone would acknowledge this to be true and quite obvious.

However, if I was to say that Dr. King is a man who is Black or an African-American, then I would be saying something different. I would be first saying that he is a man. He is a man who was a son, a husband, a father, a pastor, a national Civil Rights leader, a Nobel Prize awardee and ultimately, a martyr, who is Black or African-American.

When we say #BlackLivesMatter, we are speaking about people who are more than the color of their skin. They are people like you and me. People who live and work to fulfill their dreams, care for their families, and participate as full citizens of their country. Much about us may be different, but those differences should not divide us, but rather enrich our lives as citizens of the same nation.

Politicians may or may not get this because to do so complicates the messages that they are trying to communicate to their political base. Politicians don't want us to think. They want us to believe in them. Belief often requires suspension of our critical thinking faculties. They want to touch our emotions, so that we are not thinking too much on election day.

When I think of #BlackLivesMatter, I think of Dr. King and Rosa Parks. I think of W.E.B. Dubois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright, of Roberto Clemente, of Tar Heel basketball star Charlie Scott, and, of my high school football coach, Baxter Holman. I think of friends and colleagues over the years through whom I've become a better man for knowing them. I think of the beauty of Yolanda Adams as she sang on The Tonight Show. #BlackLivesMatter because they are rich in contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of America.

When I think of #WhitePrivilege, I think of the Clinton's, the Bush's, the Trump's, and all those White men and women who have served in Congress, and yet have not figured out that the vast majority of problems this country faces, like race, are products of their own failed leadership. Why is it that fifty years after the voting rights act and the war on poverty was instituted that we are still dealing with those issues. I'm convinced that is because it is politically expedient to do so.

Institutional nature of modern society is essentially political in nature. Politics in this sense is both a product of image, of appearance, and, of transactions and exchanges of privilege. I have something you want, and, I will exchange it for your vote or support at the next election or team meeting. The more transactional our society has become, the more toxic its political culture.

What's the solution?

It begins with our own perception of the world. It is important to understand that the institutional nature of our society dictates how we view other people. When people have the opportunity to meet and get to know one another, the similarities of our lives take on a greater presence than our differences. Politics emphasizes our differences because that sequesters communities into voting factions.

However, when we perceive our world as foremost and fundamentally, a series of interactions with people, then race takes on a different perspective.

Let me suggest as you walk down the street today, look each person you pass in the eye, smile and say "Good day.", "How ya doin'?" or nod your head. Many will return the gesture, others won't.

Learn to strike up a conversation. If you are respectfully curious, you'll find a way to begin a conversation.

Listen. Appreciate. Don't argue.

Learn to see who this person is from their perspective.

Politics tells us that we must defend our position. Why? Because our self-identity is so fragile that must have a political identity to feel secure. This is another reason why politics has become so toxic in America.

Forty years ago, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of life is bound up in relationships. If we were to place our emphasis on building relationships across political, cultural and racial lines, then we'd find the capacity to restore peace and prosperity to our communities.

In the end, #BlackLivesMatter because their lives are like our lives and the lives of people everywhere. They matter and are worthy of respect and honor.

And privilege, whether White or otherwise, matters only when responsibility is taken to use that privilege to build relationships and community that serve each person.

Two Forces of Globalization


Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be.

Ai Weiwei

We are in the midst of an unprecedented transition globally. This change is historic, cutting across all segments of society, and is not happening in a predictable way. Two examples from the past year illustrate this historic moment in time.

Independence referendums in Scotland and Catalunya, as well as movements in Wales and Northern Italy, show that there is strong sentiment for separation from the countries where they currently belong.  As the picture above from the demonstrations in Glasgow leading up to the Scottish referendum vote says, "You are better than you think you are."

In Greece, a national referendum showed that the people of the nation desired a non-austerity solution to their nation's financial crisis. Yet, the country's financial crisis demonstrated that the nation of Greece was no longer in control of its own welfare. It had lost it to the Troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank as they sought to impose austerity measures upon the nation.

While the reach of governing institutions, whether national governments or global supra-national ones, has grown over the past two hundred years, another global phenomenon is emerging represented by the capacity of individuals to create small, focused entrepreneurial organizations and movements to affect change on a global scale.

We now find that there are two forces for change functioning within this 21st. century global context.

One is the force of global integration of business and government.

The other force is of personal initiative operating within the context of networks of relationships.

It is at the point of interaction between these two forces that this historic moment of transition is taking place.

The Force of Integration

This first force seeks to integrate all functions of society into one seamless efficient system of governance by global institutions.

The people and institutions at the center of the preeminent expression of this global force believe that it is through the integration of economics and governance that a peaceful and prosperous world can be achieved.  These international institutions emerged after the First World War to manage how the nation-states of the world interact to create peace and prosperity.

Emerging the past half century are similar movements like ISIS that want to want to integrate global governance through the eradication of people and nations who do not follow their strict line of belief.

These two very different versions of globalism share a belief in integration, but through different means.

This drive for integration is the logical unfolding of the modern hierarchical organization. Whether in business or government, integration enhances efficiency and the control of variables that affect the functioning of large complex institutions. Remove the inefficiencies and you achieve success. Unfortunately, human beings tend to represent the greatest form of variation in these large organizations.

The theme of integration has emerged in popular young adult novels and films like The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner and The Giver. In each of these narratives, a governing authority seeks to or has accomplished the integration of society by controlling how each person functions within that world. In these stories, characters of a particular independence of character and diversity of talent foster a crisis of change for the governing systems of society through their own personal leadership initiative to bring people together to resist the forces of integration.

The Force of Personal Initiative

The second force is reflected in the native desire of people to live lives and do work that matters. These acts of human initiative operate within the context of relationships of trust and mutuality, and are facilitated by the growth of computing and communication technology.

Many of these acts of personal initiative are done without recognition. The gift of a meal to a hungry person. The mentoring that takes place in scouting, sports and in youth club programs. The volunteering that takes place in local communities through religious congregations and community non-profits. Entrepreneurial programs to train and develop the leadership of new businesses. Event planners who bring people together to support local programs. The meetings over coffee where community understanding and healing begin to take place where conflict has existed. In each situation, the beginning of the effort starts with a person taking initiative, and then, grows through the networks of relationships that emerge at both the local and global level.

We can see this force of personal initiative in the central characters of the stories mentioned above. Their motivation to act comes from a source of inner values that move them out of the crowd into a place of influence.

Katnis in The Hunger Games steps forward to compete in the games instead of her sister.

Tris in Divergent is motivated by an inner sense of justice about the importance of family.

Thomas in The Maze Runner discovers within himself a calling to serve the members of The Glade by leading them through the maze to a safer place.

In The Giver, Jonas discovers within himself an emotional depth that is expressed in his love for Fiona, his desire to save the infant Gabriel, and, ultimately to take action to cross the boundary that will release memories both painful and joyful back into society.

These two forces are not necessarily incompatible. However, the challenge is how the legacy institutions of global hierarchy can adapt to growing importance of networks as the structure for human work and community.

The particular context of this great transition are the structures of society, government, business, communities, and the non-government organizations that serve people.

The Context of Organizational Structures

It is important to understand how organizational structures function in society.

Organizational structure has no voice, but it has force.

It is invisible because its presence is so comprehensive.

The force within every organizational structure is to resist change. It seeks regularity, consistency and efficiency.

Real change cannot happen without change to the structures of society and organizations.

How many carriage makers went out of business a century ago because they could not change from making horse drawn buggies to automobiles?

How many small businesses and religious congregations closed their doors because they could not adapt to changes in their neighborhood or the technology of their business?

How many communities now languish because they could not adapt to changes taking place in the larger society?

In ancient times, kings would build a wall around their city to guard against the invading forces of change. Today, physical walls don't work. They have been replaced with political, legal and economic walls. The fortress walls of today are under threat, and are just as susceptible to collapse as those ancient ones.

Today, the structure of integration seeks to create an orderly and efficient system of governance throughout global society.

The institutional force of integration is hierarchical, operated by an elite circle of global leaders, who hold authority over the whole system.

In business, when one company totally dominates the marketplace, so that all their competitors are in effect dependent upon them, we call this a monopoly.

In politics, if a small group of people hold dominant control over the governance of a city or a nation, we may call that an oligarchy or a dictatorship. The history of nations and empires is filled with examples of these kinds of hierarchies. We can also see that they are unsustainable.

The mandate of hierarchical structures is to bring control to all facets of business or society.  In a global context, this governing hierarchy trumps democratic choice. This is the one lesson of the Greek crisis.

The question that interests me here is whether this trend can last.

Has the power of personal computing and communication technology, as it has expanded globally over the past 25 years, now made it possible for many things to be done without the requirement of an hierarchical authority?

I do not believe that the future is either utopian nor dystopian.  I do see that global networks of human relationships are structured very differently. Its power to adapt and to extend its reach quickly without prior expectation is remarkable.

At the heart of the network is the individual who initiates and acts to create opportunities within relationships of trust and mutuality. 

Hierarchies are not built on trust, but rather on the integrity of the system.

Networks, on the other hand, only function well when there is trust at the center of the relationships.

Both systems are inherently fragile and susceptible to change from outside forces.


I have thought a long time about the difference between these two structures. Increasingly, I am convinced that hierarchy is a structure that functioned well in an earlier era, but no longer. 

The authors of the introduction to Jean Baudrillard's In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, characterize a shift that has taken place in the society where Henry Ford's factories once were the norm.

"The dominant characteristic of Fordism was repetition and stability. Post-Fordism, to the contrary, brings out instability and adaptability, all qualities instilled by advanced capitalism."

In effect, the direction that we are moving globally is from a world of regularity and predictability to one where there are no givens. Some of the skills required for this new world are ones of adaptability, collaboration and personal accountability.

With this disintegration of traditional hierarchical institutional structures comes opportunities that are present directly in front of us each day.  As a result, networks of relationships provide a structure that more easily provides a globally dispersed people the capacity to work in concert towards shared goals.

Five Questions for Understanding

My search for understanding about these two global forces has been driven by the following questions.

How did we get to this point of significant transition in how we live and work?

What is the long term impact of the growth of networks? What is the future of global hierarchical systems of economics and governance? Can they adapt by adopting the relational structures and values of networks of relationships?

Who is most significantly benefited by this interplay between the forces of integration and the network?

Where is this leading? What changes are coming that we can barely imagine right now? What opportunities will come with these changes?

What obstacles make it more difficult for networks of relationships to reach their potential impact? What must each of us as individuals do to alleviate those problems?

We are on the verge of seeing a great calamity as the structure of supra-national institutions diminish in credibility and effectiveness. The dependence that national governments have placed on these supra-national institutions to managed progress towards global peace and prosperity will become more difficult. 

In effect, these global institutions are painting themselves into a corner from which there is no easy exit. This is what I see in the Greek crisis.

The conflict between the forces of global integration and the power of personal initiative expressed through networks of relationships is the context of this growing crisis.

It does not have to be, however.

All we must do as leaders and global citizens is to begin to take personal responsibility for the world at our finger tips, by acting to make a difference that matters, by building networks of relationships that facilitate greater capacity for organizations and communities to adapt to a changing world.

I return to the quote of Ai Weiwei that began this post as a fitting place to end.

Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be.

May each of your actions build strength in your own circle of impact.

What is Leadership?


"It's time to stop talking about leadership, and lead."

The voice in my head. One afternoon.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

July 1999.

Over the past three decades I've lived and worked in the world of leadership. Part of my passion has been the desire to understand the intersection of organizational structure, culture and human nature with the phenomenon of leadership. From early on in my training and study, it was clear that my perception of leadership is different than many who write about it and the practitioners of the leader craft.

Two Trends

There are two trends that I see that I find problematic for effective leadership in our world today.

The first is the relationship of organizational leadership to globalization. Many people think that as we have become a more globalized society, that we are living in a much larger arena. The fact, that during the course of a day, that I can engage in conversation and project work with colleagues in Europe and Asia would initially suggest that this is a much bigger playing field. However, I am convinced that one truth remains.

It is that all work is local work.

It ceases to be local when a business no longer requires human beings to do the work. Regardless of how big an environment that we live and work in, the work is still done in communication and collaboration with people whose proximity to us is made closer by both their physical presence and the aid of modern technology.

I want to suggest that the importance of local proximity, even through a screen, has become even more significant as our possibilities for world-wide impact have grown. In some respects, our vision for that impact has not kept up with our reach.

People no longer dream of grand visions. Our lives and work are more fragmented, more confined into ideological and socio-political enclaves. The Steve Jobs' and Elon Musk's of our world stand out as visionaries because they are exceptions, and not the models to follow.

I take my reference point for this perspective, President Kennedy's Houston Speech in 1962. In that presentation, he challenged the nation to believe that we could go to the moon within the decade.


And we did. 

I have tried to identify similar grand endeavors that were presented to the people of the world that catalyzed society to act in unity and harmony toward a grand goal of achievement. I have yet to identify one.

The second trend has been around as long as I have been involved in the world of leadership.

When James Magregor Burns published his text Leadership in 1978, we were a few years passed landing on the moon, the end of the Vietnam conflict, and, the Watergate scandal. From Burn's Wikipedia entry:

Burns shifted the focus of leadership studies from the traits and actions of great men to the interaction of leaders and their constituencies as collaborators working toward mutual benefit. He was best known for his contributions to the transactional, transformational, aspirational, and visionary schools of leadership theory.

This was a significant shift in understanding the nature of leadership. Yet it is a shift that has never been fully realized. Today we still live in a time where conceptions of leadership presented to us in popular media are about individuals whom some editor or producer has determined to be today's great leaders. This personalization or celebrity-ization of leadership marginalizes many people whose leadership is an embodiment of Burn's description.

These transformational leaders live in the shadow of their shared accomplishments with their partners in leadership impact. They are individuals and teams that are not interested in the title leader, or any other title like, facilitator, convener, mentor, catalyst and servant.  These transformational leaders are the hidden leaders that do not attract large advertising budgets, but makes every organization on the planet function as well as they do.

What, then, is Leadership for Today?

Leadership begins with individual initiative. If every person who reads these words would do one thing that they have never done before, based upon some concern or passion to make a difference in the world that really matters, then we'd notice. People in Mumbai may not notice what's happening in Monte Carlo, or people in Memphis know what's happening in Munich, but the people in those locales certainly would. 

We live in a time of great pessimism about leaders and organizations, which in many cases is justified.  I'm not a pessimist, nor am a starry-eyed optimist. I am very much a realist who believes that the strength of a society is found in the individual leadership of its people.

So, may I encourage you to focus on two things.

First, look closely at your local community. Where you have questions, ask someone. Find out what needs your community has that are important to you. It maybe education or children's health, or, racial reconciliation.

Take seriously the idea that you can make a difference. Do not let the pessimism and fear that exists in so many places convinced you not to care.

Second is to decide to do something to make a difference. Understand that most of the leadership we do is not world changing in the moment, but when combined with thousands and millions of other individuals' initiative, then impact can truly be world changing.

Where to begin

If the two areas of focus is a bit much, as I'm sure it for some people, then may I suggest that you look at the story that you'd like to tell about your community. Write a short story of what your community would be like if all the major issues began to be resolved. Just try a sentence at a time, then a paragraph. This is how I began to learn to write years ago. Words, phrases and fragments of sentences on scratch paper.

If you write something, send it to me. Let me celebrate with you a statement of hope that could become a reality if folks like you cared enough to take initiative.

This is what leadership is today. It is the best part of us giving ourselves to people and places we care about.

Listening to the Stories People Tell Themselves


Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

People are, everyone of us, "embodied narratives." Our lives are unfolding stories that embody the values and desires that may or may not make sense to us. As a result, humans are beings who seek to make sense of the world they live in.

We all interpret what we see, hear, smell, touch and taste from our own perspective of experience. We put words to those sensory experiences to give us meaning and connection to other experiences and people.

People gather in bars to watch their favorite team play in the playoffs. They share a common love for their team, but each person's experience of that affection is different.

If you are a person who wants a life that is not mediocre and simply derivative of someone else's life, then learning to listen is a most important skill.

What Listening isn't.

Listening is not waiting to speak.

Listening is not preparing either a counter argument or a story which is to one-up the other person.

Listening is not being silent.

What I call listening is what others call active listening. It is seeking to understand what you are hearing in the context of the person who is speaking.

I don't know how many times that I have been listening to someone, trying hard to understand, and when I respond, thinking that I'm doing so appropriately, that I've missed the point that she was trying to convey.

Particularly with people we are just meeting, there are always missing clues that would help us better understand.

For example, a couple years ago I attended a festival day of the Laguna tribe in New Mexico. I had met a group of people from that tribe at a conference in Phoenix earlier in the year. It was there that I met Mollie Curtis who created the beautiful vase above. Their festivals are about their tribe, their families, and their traditions. I had lunch in the home of one family whose members were on the dance team.

As a Southern-born Caucasian, on the surface, this is an alien world to me. However, the longer I watched and listened, I realized that many of my own values are shared in their culture. As a result, I began to understand who they are.

Being able to listen and understand the other person is essential in a global culture that is a diverse as the world is today.

How To Listen.

1. Cast aside your assumptions that you already know and understand what the other person is saying.

Listen with openness, not judgment.

2. Whatever you are being told, there is a back story.

If we approach our communication with other people as one seamless thread, then we will realize that no conversation ever truly begins, but rather is a continuation of one that is constantly going on in our head, and the other person's as well.

When I tell about the time that I got our scout troop lost on a backpacking trip, I'm also saying something about the time as a child that I got lost and separated from my family at the county fair.

An anecdote always has a purpose other than the subject of the story.

Several years ago, I was facilitating a discussion with a congregation about the kind of pastor that they wanted as their search for a new one began. One member rose and with tremendous anger told us about what he didn't like about the previous pastor. In this instance, the back story was about values that he felt were apart of who they were as a faith community, yet were missing under the former pastor. What the man was telling us through his anger was what he loved. That was the back story in this situation.

3. Ask the other person to validate your understanding of what they are saying.

This is a act of respect. "Did I hear you say ...?"  "If I heard correctly ... "

4.  The stories we share are stories we tell ourselves that ground us in a way of life that makes sense to us.

Listen for the story.  It embodies something important about the other person. It is a way they define themselves.

5. In listening, the other person is sharing a part of themselves. Seek to find points of understanding and mutuality. Be grateful, and give them thanks.

These points of connection are typically based upon shared values.

When I first met Mollie Curtis, our connection was in the beauty of art as an expression of God's presence in the world. Beauty transcends the specifics of life. Today, I look at her vase and not only marvel at its beauty, but also her artist craft.

For listening to bringing unity and understanding to people, it demands of us to be grateful for their willingness to open themselves up to us. Listening maybe a tactic of communication, however, it is also how we bridge the gap that separates two people from genuinely understanding the another.

Truth is in the Shadows


In the 1960s, I remember being told not to trust anyone over 30.

Now, we don't know who to trust.

This article about Peter Young, "the jet-setting terrorist", is a fascinating look into the collusion that exists between the media and those who seek exposure for their ideas and causes.

A quote from the article:

"The unspoken conspiracy that you speak of, that exists between journalists and those seeking publicity is very real. If you have a story that provokes—real or not—they have the time. Give them the promise of traffic and a little plausible denial and you’re in. I’ve received tremendous insights from Trust Me, I’m Lying and your Creative Live course. I got to work on The Jetsetting Terrorist the day after finishing the latter. Your point that there is a harmony of interests between journalists and those who wish to hack the media is very powerful, and has proven true."

Here's an example of how this works. Two reports about the same thing. Two very different messages.

Cancer Rates Soar by 6000% Near Fukushima Site, New Reports Show

Why the Cancer Cases in Fukushima Aren't Likely Linked to the Nuclear Disaster: An increase in thryoid cancer may just reflect the intensive testing of children.

Who, then, can you trust when it comes to messages that are delivered by various media, whether newspapers, television, social media or your neighbor next door?

I am convinced that you can only trust yourself.

You have to do your own research, just like a journalist, with your "BS" meters set on "extremely high" if you want to find out what really is going on. Then you have to decide without really knowing whether you are right. This means we must hold fast to our values, and, never buy totally into whatever any person or media is telling us.

As I wrote about Marshall McLuhan yesterday, everything now is marketing and sales. And as one of Seth Godin's best marketing books taught us, All Marketers Are Liars, because they tell stories.

This is the story that NBC and Brian Williams wants to go away because next year's presidential election is an opportunity rich environment for the manipulation of the "news". If you remember as you read everything about the campaigns of the candidates, that every writer, producer and media coordinator involved is trying to communicate a message, not the news, but a message intended to obscure unpleasant realities about themselves and their intentions, and, expose the perceived weaknesses of whomever they decide needs to be put in their place.

Just remember.

Truth is in the shadows.

A Bird in Search of a Cage - Seth Godin​ on freedom


A bird in search of a cage

So much freedom, so much choice, so many opportunities to matter.

And yet, our cultural instinct is to find a place to hold us, a spot where we are safe from obligation and the opportunity to choose. Because if we choose, then we are responsible, aren't we?

It's Your Turn - Seth Godin

This theme of freedom is not about being without constraints or without responsibility. That is not freedom, but anarchy, which there is much too much of in our world today.

No, this freedom is the willingness to step outside of the social constraints that bind us to others' opinion of us and do that which we were born to do, that makes a difference, that changes the course of not only my life, and, your life, but the lives of thousands and millions around the globe.

From page 23:

Making everything okay.
There are three problems with freedom.

Things often don't turn out precisely the way we hope.
Resolution takes too long.
And we might fail.

Let's look at these three.

1. When we make our lives dependent upon them turning out a specific way, we are not free from the external constraints that bind us to social obligation. We need to find our freedom within ourselves, so that we can act as soon as we can, as often as we can, in as many places as we can, in ways that surprise others as frequently as we can. This is how freedom is joined with integrity to give us the life that beats with our hearts telling us who we truly are.

2. Taking too long is a product of living by the clock expecting things to always be a certain way. However, if we embrace The Speed of Change, we'll see time disappear. Everything will begin working as a nice simultaneous whole. We'll still get exhausted. We'll still make mistakes. We'll still miss out on opportunities. We'll still encounter challenges and traumatic situations. However, the joy we gain from the inner strengthening of our lives will make it all worthwhile.

3. Failure is only a word for those who are unable to learn from mistakes. If you are moving fast through change, then failure becomes the impetus for simplifying, clarifying and focusing on precisely where our impact should be. Until then, we are just searching for that "one" thing we are supposed to do. There is no one thing. There is the thing right now that presents itself to us. So go do it.



 “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don't need to escape from.”
  Seth Godin

In the summer of 1995, our family moved to Hendersonville to start a new chapter in our lives. At that time, I started a consulting practice, Community of Leadership, LLC, that has been my principal focus of work for the past two decades.

Over the past five years, it has become increasingly obvious that the consulting work that I was doing had run its course.  The context of work and business had changed significantly, and, how organizations used consultants had changed as well.

In the spring of 2012, I came to the conclusion that everything that I had been doing was done. I did not take that as a defeat or failure, but simply as one of those transition points in life and work that I continually talk about with people. I began a process of self-reflection and prayer to discern what my impact should be over the last third of my life. I knew that if everything is ending, then it means that something is beginning.

In November of last year, I came to a final realization as this process of reflection on personal change reach a climax. The realization that I came to was for me to restart my work required me to move away from Asheville and Western North Carolina where I’ve lived for the past twenty years.

As of March 1, I begin the next chapter of my life and work as a resident of Jackson, Wyoming.  While many of the details and the timeline are still in their formative stages, my plan is to focus on two projects. One is the writing of a book on personal leadership that I’m calling “The Story We Tell Ourselves.” This book, based upon my Circle of Impact Leadership model, rises from work that I’ve been doing with a group of young women who are in an addiction recovery program here in Western North Carolina. These women embodied the desire, the will and the commitment to change unlike any group of people that I’ve ever known.  They are my inspiration for writing a book that I’m convinced with inspire others as these women have inspired me.

My second project is the restart of my Community of Leadership business as Circle of Impact Leadership Solutions. My purpose is to produce tools and products that support leaders and the development of leaders in organizations. I do this from the conviction that the approach to leadership that we all followed in the 20th century into the 21st, is no longer viable or healthy. Instead, I see a great need to develop organizational structures that equip and empower all the employees and constituents of an organization to take leadership initiative in problem solving, collaboration, and internal communication.

I do plan to split my time between Jackson, Asheville and Ventura, Ca. I look forward to those of you who travel to see the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks to let me know you are coming. As many of you know from me, friendship transcends time and space.  As my new work develops, a new website will be created, and, opportunities to speak and conduct workshops will be sought. We are at a very tenuous moment in human history. It is time that we all, regardless of who we are, where we live and what role we play in our families, businesses or communities, focus on the contributions that we individually and collectively need to make to create a more peaceful, sustainable world.

May you inspire leadership initiative in others.

Ed Brenegar

My Resolutions for 2015


"Take good care of yourself."

Zach Brittle

Typically, at the turn of the year I've posted some thoughts about how to approach the coming year. This year, I've decided, because of this post, to post my own resolutions.

My Resolutions for 2015


Listen more. Read more novels. Read more ancient literature. Learn, not to know more, but to live better.


Sleep more. Be more physically active; spend more time outside than inside. Cook more. Take more cooking classes.


Pray more. Spend more time with people who have gone through trauma and hardship. Practice integrity and generosity.  Say No to meaningless distractions, and, Yes to things that are acts of gratitude.

Family / Friends:

Talk with my children every week. Be better connected to my cousins and aunts. Make my home a place of welcome and retreat. Love others as I wish to be loved. Make new friends, care for old ones.


Restart my business with fresh purpose and initiative. Write and publish “The Story We Tell Ourselves”. Learn how to generate new streams of income in a changing economy.

In a couple weeks, I'll have more to say about some of this.

May your 2015 bring you, your families, friends and colleagues opportunities to make a difference that matters that are filled with hope, joy, love and peace.

The Situational Awareness series


Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.


Here are the posts the series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves

The Story We Tell Ourselves


Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

This series on situational awareness is principally about how we learn to relate to people in situations outside of our comfort zone.

To do this we need something more than tactics for making conversation. We need to be able to know who we are, what matters to us, and why.

What I've learn by working with a wide variety of people and groups, who are in the midst of change, is that we need a story that we tell ourselves. This story distinguishes us in every situation we are in. It is a story that enables us to know who we can trust, and who we can't. It is a story that tells us, don't go there, or, let's find out more.

Another way of understanding this story is as a foundation, a platform, upon which we stand, while everything whirls around us. It is the story of our inner strength and commitments in the context of the external world.

It is not necessarily a story that I will tell people. This story is private, not public. It isn't a branding or a promotional story. It is, rather, a story of the values that matter to us, that we are unwilling to negotiate away by our accommodation to others. It is the story that enables us to walk into any situation and not feel compromised.

In this post, I'm going to describe two ways to create this story. One way out of reflection on who we are and what we want. The other through a more analytical approach using the Circle of Impact. 

Let's start with the first method which creates the story by looking at a couple of  scenarios.

Seeing the Situation

For example, when you go on vacation, what do you want to gain from it. Are you like some of us who enjoy adventure and discovery, or, like others, seek to be quiet and still. What appeals to you here is a part of your story.

I know folks who love going to the beach. They love sitting in a chair at the beach, reading a book, watching the waves come ashore, and then going out for a seafood dinner at night. They don't enjoy a manic schedule of biking, card playing and trips to the outlet malls. They have come for peace and quiet.

In this instance, that is their story. As a result, they need to be honest with their family members who love an action oriented vacation. That is the story which they tell themselves.

As a result, both types of vacationers need to be honest and respectful of the other. Both have to give in a bit, let the other have their approach, and plan to join them for some of the time that they enjoy, whether quietly on the beach or riding a jet ski jumping waves.

Here's another scenario. You are invited to a business after hours networking social event by a friend in your industry. You've never been to one of these meet-n-greet things. You don't really know what to expect. You are meeting your friend there. As you walk in the door, he texts you to say that he is running late, and will be there in 15 minutes. What do you?

The story you tell yourself, about who you are and what matters to you, guides your response in this awkward situation. You can stand outside and wait for him. Or, you can go in, register at the door, get your name tag, get something to drink, and stand near the front waiting for your friend. Or, you can immediately begin to introduce yourself to people you do not know. If you are somewhat shy, this may take some effort. However, I believe, what you will find is that many of the people in the room are experiencing the same uncomfortableness.

If being uncomfortable in social settings is the story you tell yourself, then you will be. If, on the other hand, the story you tell yourself is

"I'm not here to impress people. I'm here to listen, and learn, and make one new contact with whom I'll schedule a follow up meeting."

In effect, the story is a plan of action which sets specific boundaries, and is focused on one goal. Once there, and the goal is met, then, a release of pressure will be felt, and our story changes.

This shyness thing used to be me. Those of you who know me personally may find that hard to believe. But it is true. The story I told myself in those days was

"What do I say? How do I start? What if I look weak and silly?"

It took time but the story I told myself changed. I began to walk into those situations looking for someone whom I could befriend. I would not go to a mingling of 3 or 4 people, but to the person who was standing by themselves. I'd introduce myself, and just start asking questions. Each question was not planned other than the initial one,

"So, what do you do? How do you spend your days?"

After they told, me, I'd ask a question about that thing. If they said,

"I sell insurance."

I'd respond with,

"What kind?"

Then they say, something, and then I asked, something like.

"How do your new customers find you?"


"What is generally the first question people ask you when they come to you for insurance?"

My story shifted from being about my fear to about my curiousity and interest in the other person. The rapport that comes from asking questions is the kind that builds trust, at least when the questions are kind and respectful. Now, I am not afraid to meet any person regardless of who they are.

Another Approach

The story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but about who we are. If your sense of identity is murky, then the story you tell yourself will be too. As a result, it may then be helpful to take a more analytical approach to developing your story. My Circle of Impact model can be a help.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values

To develop the story that we tell ourselves, we don't start with the Three Dimensions of Leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. Instead, we work from the Four Connecting Ideas - Values, Purpose, Impact and Vision. Let's take them one at a time.

Think of this discovery process as a conversation between us right now over coffee or dinner. Just the two of us talking. We aren't looking for the perfect answer, but an honest, beginning point of understanding. We've just met, and I'm just asking questions because I'm curious, not nosey, just interested getting to know you.


I ask:

"If you didn't have to work for a living, and you had access to all the financial resources you would need, how would you spend your days, and why?"

"What do you think are the values that are important to you in doing those things? Do you think those values define you more than any other? Do they please you, make you smile, get you excited about the day ahead?"

In discovering the values that matter to us, we are identifying the foundation upon which we have built our lives. These values help us to establish the boundaries that guide us. If this is new to us, then we may have to live into this awareness. These values may not be evident, active or relevant at a particular moment, with some people, and then, some comment, triggers in us an awareness. This is how we grow into the values that matter. We try many, discard many, from our emotional investment in them, and then come to realize what is truly important to us.

These are the values that tell us who we are, and are the ones we want to have always present. I have five of these values, and I'm looking for them in every thing that I do. I, personally, have decided that if three of the five are not present in the opportunity before me, that I'll not participate. Knowing the values that guide and give meaning to our lives is a way of saying No to situations that are not supportive of the values that are important to us. This is why knowing what our core values are is so critical to being able to walk into any situation and function well.


I ask:

"How do you spend your days? How did you end up doing this kind of work? Does it give you a sense of purpose, a sense that you are making a contribution?"

The conventional thought is that we all have a singular purpose for our lives. I find that very limiting. Instead, I see purpose as an intentional focus on applying our values in a specific way in the situation that presents itself to us. Here's how this could work.

One of my values is integrity. It is so that I don't live with regret or fear, or, even the sense that I've compromised by values to accomodate some person or situation. The purpose of integrity beyond that is to provide me a basis of relating to every person from the same position of respect towards them. My purpose, then, in social situations is to act with respect, by listening, being honest and truthful, without being beligerent. The purpose of my integrity is to establish a basis of friendship that is open, mutual and filled with opportunity for shared work and contribution.

Purpose is a way of translating the values that matter to us into action. While our values may become clearer and more specific over time, they rarely change in any radical sense. Our purpose, however, can and should change. For purpose is the mechanism for focusing our values in the situation that is before us right now. Even if we are talking about our purpose as sort of a life mission, it still is subject to change. With our values as a foundation, we live out a purpose in an adaptive manner to fit the time and place in which we live.

While our purpose is about what we do in acting upon our values, it is also about the effect that we want to have.


I ask:

"Tell me what difference you think your work makes? Why is it important? Who is impacted by what you do? What do they tell you?"

The way our world works is by an exchange of products or services by an agreed upon price. Money is the most tangible medium of measure we have. It is simple, straightforward, and for that reason obscures many of the signs of value that actually exist, yet we never really see.

To look at the difference a person makes, we have to look at what our expectations are, right now. This requires us, on both sides of a relationship, to have an idea of what we want, or, what our purpose is. If we can define our purpose, not as what I do, but rather the difference I want to make, then my story takes on a very different feel.

Let's return to our business after hours event. In that room, our purpose is what? Is it to meet people? Or, is it something more. Is it primarily about "my" interests or about the other person's?

My friend and colleague Meridith Elliott Powell told me years ago about her strategy for after-hours business events. Her focus was to go, meet people, and leave as soon as she had three follow-up meetings with new contacts. She would go to alot of these events, and built up a substantial client list through that focused approach to business relationship building. She's one of the best I know at this. I found her approach incredibly helpful, and focused on the purpose of the event, which is to initiate new business relationships. Then she works her "magic", she's really good, in the interaction she has with people within the context of their business.

When the story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but what we create, the difference that we make, about the relationships that we form, then we approach everything with a different level of confidence. If we measure our lives by our activity level, then we never really see clearly the outcome of that activity.

Measuring by activity comes out of the old factory production model focus. The most tangible measure of that work was the paycheck. Measuring by impact is a change model focus. One is repetitive. Let's see how many events I can go to this month. The other is a creative relationship with people where together we learn to make a difference. How many relationships do you have right now that if asked they would say, "She makes a real difference in my work." And, then be able to describe precisely what that impact is.

The Four Connecting Ideas are not isolated from one another, but, are interconnected as a way to understand how things can fit together in our life and work. To be able to see the impact of our values and purpose in real life, then our perspective changes, and our story does too. It opens up possibilities that may have been present, but were hidden behind the production measure mindset.


I ask:

"Where do you see yourself in a year? What's your plan for today?"

The vision we need is not some grand, epic adventure into the future. Instead, our vision is our story lived out in real time, right now. It is the story we tell ourselves every day that enables us to make decisions. In the context of the Circle of Impact, it is about people, and the organizational structures in which we live and work. Our vision emerges and is lived out every day through the story we tell ourselves.

A vision then is simply what I do and the decisions I make, based upon my values and my sense of purpose for this particular moment, all through a deep desire for impact, with the people that I work with and encounter everyday.

The story we tell ourselves is a guide in the unexplored land of today. It helps us to know the boundaries that will both protect us from the unwanted compromise of our values, as well as, opening us up to the possibilities in every human relationship and situation.

When we find the story we tell ourselves, and, we grow into it, it ceases to be a story "out-there" that we tell myself. We become the story. We become the living embodiment of the values, the purpose, the difference and the vision for being an authentic person regardless of where we are and with whom we are with.

The story that we tell ourselves is the secret to being situationally aware. If you are a person who finds him or herself overwhelmed by circumstances, people and change, then you need a story which helps you live in those moments that are threatening and uncomfortable. 

Where do you begin to write your story. Here are two suggestions.

1. Think of the situations where you are most comfortable. What are the values at work in those situations that you'd like to see in those uncomfortable situations.

2. Write a three sentence introduction of yourself that describes the person you believe you actually are. This is not what other people think of you, but you at your strongest, most impactful, most free and at peace self. Write it down, carry it with you, and edit it until you've found the story you really want to tell yourself. Then toss it away, and let your story unfold.

It all starts with personal initiative. One step. Then another. And another. If you need to share your story with someone outside of your world, send it to me. I'll not critique, but will ask questions to clarify, so you can be clear. Then you can go live the story you tell yourself.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves

In the Moment of Situational Awareness


Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

From this place, situational awareness enables us to discern the influences that affect us both internally and externally. From those perceptions, we gain perspective. We can because we see the distinction between external realities and inner strengths. The external realities of the situation we are in seeks to control and absorb our attention. Our inner strengths are those qualities, so may say character, that enables us to move into a wide variety of settings without losing our sense of who were are.

External Realities - Inner Strengths 

Here's a depiction of this perspective that resulted from my engagement with a group of young women who are each in the midst of a dramatic life change.

They identified the six eternal realities that they must address in their lives. Then from our exploration of them, we came up the ten inner strengths that would be most helpful for adapting to those realities with the greatest benefit.

The conclusion is that we need "tools" for coping with challenging situations. This is why situational awareness is a skills-based capacity, and, not just a tactic or an idea.

Here's an example of what I mean.

Like many of us, I often encounter people who are panhandlers, asking for some spare change for various reasons. They may or may not be homeless. They may or may not be telling me the truth about why they need the money. Their reasons don't really matter. What matters is the interaction we have at the precise moment of our encounter.

My values tell me that each person, regardless of their life situation, should be treated with dignity as a human being. That doesn't mean that I have to approve of their life choices, or whether they have the self-respect that should accompany that sense of dignity, or that I should even trust them. It is that without a belief in the inherrent dignity of each individual, we do not have a foundation for a relationship that allows for us to honestly explore what is possible between us.

If a person on the street, who asks me for help, is clearly not high or drunk, then I will do something to help him or her. It they say they are hungry, I will take the time and buy them a meal. If they say they are hungry, yet do not want the meal, but the money, then I know that there is an ulterior motive in their request to me.

I tell them that is all I am willing to do. (This reflects the boundaries that I have set for my interaction with this person.)

If they say they need a bus ticket, I may drive them to the bus station. If I am convinced that this is a legitimate request. I will ask them lots of questions to determine whether the story is legitimate. If I'm satisfied that it is, then I will help them.

If they are drunk or smell of alcohol, I'll send them to the local agency that works with people in need.

I hope you see by this scenario that I have constructed a way of being situationally aware that does not place me in conflict with the external realities are clearly designed to do so. Many of our interactions with people are intended to put us in a compromised position, so that we give against our wishes and our own interests. The key is being prepared to relate to the person or group as they present themselves to us right now, in this moment, not historically, or as may happen in the future.

I have decided that to treat people with dignity, who lack self-respect and feel no reciprocal dignity towards me, requires the kind of internal strengths identified above. 

To learn to do this brings freedom and peace of mind to our relationships, both those with whom we live and work everyday, and, those whom are strangers that we encounter outside of our normal environments.

Situation awareness is a type of intuition into a particular situation.

We see into it, connecting different observations, sensations with logic and past experience.

We see into the situation as a result.

Let's take this interaction a step further.

The dignity I offer to a person asking for help is to believe what they tell me. To respect them as a human being, and to establish a relationship of trust. Even if this is for a minute or two, it is important to do this.

Social conformity, which I wrote about in my previous post, is derived from the need for secure external circumstances. The goal is to minimize the internal discomfort that we may feel as we encounter all kinds of people every day. These feelings of discomfort are the ground upon which we build the inner strengths that we need for situational awareness.

There is a kind of natural co-dependency that occurs when social conditions are secure and constant. It is the picture of happy families and homogeneous communities in movies.

Times of social and economic disruption are more traumatic for people. Their emotional health and sense of self-worth become dependent upon the support and constancy of external circumstances. In other words, when personal security is found in conforming to some social expectation, we lose the best parts of our individualism, and become more resistant to change and social difference.

When a person goes through a divorce, loses their job, finds their children are disabled in some manner, or the nation goes to war, the community experiences a catastrophic natural disaster, or at a more superficial level, their favorite sports team fails to win the championships that everyone expected them to do, then these are not simply emotional blows to be weathered as better times return. Instead, these changes may be threats to one's own sense of self, or identity.

Returning to my scenario of the panhandler, if I give her or him, I then tell them the following.

"I am giving you this money trusting that you are telling me the truth. I have no way of knowing this. But you do. This money is a gift to you. In response, I only ask you that when you are given the opportunity, that you do the same for someone else. I am asking you to give to someone as an act of thanks for the gift that I am giving you right now."

The money is not the point. Establishing a rapport of trust, dignity and mutuality is.

To act in this way requires discernment that is learned at a deep level. It requires of us to be able to listen to the story behind the story, to ask questions that get to that story, and from that awareness, determine whether there is a possibility of establishing, even for a moment in time, an open, trusting relationship. If we can do this once, we can do it again and again.

The risk is that I may have totally misread the situation, and I have squandered the price of a bus ticket or meal on someone who is simply using me. That is the price I pay for treating people with dignity. I accept that, and am willing to take the risk because of the times when the response is one of deep gratitude.

The point is not the money, but the story we tell ourselves about who we are in social situations. My story is about dignity, trust and generosity.

In the next post in this series, I'll write about the story we tell ourselves. I've written about this before in The Edge of the Real: The Unfolding Story.

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness


Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

One of the most challenging aspects of being situationally aware is learning how to deal with the social conformity that lies at the root of all social environments.

Social Conformity and Self-knowledge

Much of our socialization as children and adolescents was not intentionally focused on developing situational awareness as I describe it. Rather, we were taught various ways of conforming to the social requirements of a particular situation.

Social conformity breaks down situational awareness by suppressing individual initiative.

The institutional form of social conformity requires us to think less for ourselves by operating according a set of prescribed codes and processes. Ironically, the "expressive individualism" as Charles Taylor describes in his book, A Secular Age is at the same time conformity to a wider consumer culture.

I believe ... that our North Atlantic civilization has been undergoing a cultural revolution in recent decades. The 60s provide perhaps the hinge moment, at least symbolically. It is on one hand an individuating revolution, which may sound strange, because our modern age was already based on a certain individualism. But this has shifted on to a new axis, without deserting the others. As well as as moral/spiritual and instrumental individualism, we now have a widespread "expressive" individualism. This is, of course, not totally new. ... What is new is that this kind of self-orientation seems to have become a mass phenomenon.

... With post-war affluence, and the diffusion of what many had considered luxuries before, came a new concentration on private space, and the means to fill it, ... And in this newly individuated space, the customer was encouraged more and more to express her taste, furnishing her space according to her own needs and affinities, as only the rich had been able to do so in previous eras.

While we perceive ourselves as individuals, we still make choices that are motivated by the fear of rejection or retribution for standing outside the circle of conformity. To think for ourselves in a situationally aware context requires us to have the self-knowledge that enables us to see social situations more objectively, to engage people without personalizing the interaction, and to discern what is in the best interests of the group.

Social conformity produces a personal identity that is formed by external conditions governed by institutional rules and defined by objects that provide us our identity.

Consider all the groups a person experiences from kindergarten through high school. Family, academic, sports, arts, religious and community organizations each have a set of guiding values. From place to place, town to town, organization to organization, each one provides a developmental experience that may or may not have the intention of creating stronger, mature, life-ready individuals.  Each institutional situation does require some sort of accountability to the goals and values of the group. An over-riding concern, therefore, is when social conformity is accomplished by cohersion, threat and fear. An extreme example of this would be the practice of hazing as an initiation rite into membership of a social organization.

Group oriented organizations can provide lessons in how to fit in, to play the game that others control, and how to win or excel as a group. One of the realities of this situation is that some people are better at whatever the purpose of the group is. Whether it is math class, football or band, there emerges a recognition that every group is ordered according to those who are the elite players, and those who are the support ones. Every kid knows who the cool, the key, the elite members of their school or group are. It is a part of the process of social organization and conformity.

This kind of institutional social control is a product of a time when our society was based upon people working within large institutional organizations. If you are going to grow up, work in a factory, in a corporate environment or any large complex organization, knowing how to play the game of social conformity is essential to success. There are multiple boundaries that a person must learn to negotiate to function well in those complex settings.

However, this kind of social conformity is becoming less and less beneficial in society. Institutions are no longer capable of sustaining life-long employment where the benefits of fitting in are rewarded. Instead, in today's world, advancement comes through not fitting in, of moving from one organizational setting to the next, as a means of finding the most advantageous place for ones' gifts and talents to be expressed. In effect, advancement is "expressive individualism" as a life strategy.

As a society, social conformity works less and less for more and more people. A recovery of genuine identity is essential. Today, we need to develop the self-knowledge that provides skills of objectivity, engagement and discernment.

The virtue of self-knowledge is that it provides us the foundation upon which we can develop the social awareness that is necessary to be effective in a global world of connection.

As I have explored this aspect of our lives, I believe we can say this much.

Situational awareness begins with self-knowledge.

I can stand apart; I can see what is going on; I can empathize with a person; I can avoid compromising situations.

With self-knowledge I grow out of the need for every situation to be about me, and I lose the fear of what happens when I do not fit in.

When I am able to be myself, without losing myself, then I am able to see how to build relationships of understanding and collaboration that create strong families, organizations and communities.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves

The Social Space of Situational Awareness


Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

Situational awareness functions in real time and in real places. Think of it as a relationship, as a connection, to people, places, ideas, structures, institutions and to one's self. The space is a kind of gap, a discernable distance, between me and the other. This space is a situation that calls upon us to think, to engage, to decide and to act in a way that reduces the distance that exists between me and the people and situations that stand apart from me.

Situational Awareness is the skill that enables a person to establish community, peace and reconciliation in places that are fragmented, broken and in transition from what they once were to what they will be in the future.

These social relationships are varied and inter-mingled in time. They follow patterns of attitudes and behaviors, but not always in a predictable fashion. To be socially aware is to observe all that is taking place in a space, and, then, understanding how to respond appropriately.

Here's an example.

Walking into a coffee shop on the way to work, you are talking on the phone. You acknowledge the server, see your best friend in a business meeting in the corner, nod an acknowledgement, and, read an ad on the community bulletin board for a local theater group's play to be performed this coming weekend. The phone call ends. The order is placed. An introduction is made to the friend's business contact, and, order for tickets to the play made from the smart phone all within a matter of just a few minutes.

However, what if this typical busy, non-stressed moment in your morning, randomly includes the following. After you've order your coffee, the person next to you picks up their coffee, the lid pops off, and the hot liquid goes all over her and the floor at your feet. As you turn to find some napkins, you see that your ex-mother-in-law is standing in line behind you with your ex-husband's new wife. Then a text message buzzes, and it is your son letting you know that he has been in an auto accident on the way to school, and that he is okay. 

We move through situational spaces that require us to observe, engage and act. If however, we personalize all these situations, we then demand that each of these situations function for our benefit.To personalize a situation is to make it about ME, and, to narrow and confine the possibilities for interaction and impact.

To practice situation awareness is to see a larger picture, where my needs, wants, desires and demands, are not at the center, but just another set of considerations to be addressed in that moment of decision.

To treat this moment from a socially and situationally aware perspective is to take the initiative to help the woman whose coffee has just spilled, by reaching for some napkins, and to begin to help clean up the mess on the floor. At some point, you wipe coffee off of your own shoes. Instead of ignoring your ex-mother-in-law, you go over say hello, and introduce yourself to your ex-husband's new wife. Then you pick up your coffee, step aside, and text your son asking whether he needs you right now.

If, in each of these situations, we are unsure of ourselves, lacking the confidence to know what to do because we are unsure of who we are, then we avoid having to make these choices. We may stay hunkered over our smart phone, reading email as if no one else in the shop matters. We present an image of strength and detachment in order to block out intrusion.

Charles Taylor speaks about these spaces as a moral space, as "a space of questions" that require us to make distinctions. These distinctions that we make in these situational moments are answers to the fundamental question of who am I in this particular setting at this moment in time. If everything is personalized, or, if we lack confidence to make those decisions, or, if we have no clear idea of what we believe or value, then these situations fill us with fear and anxiety. What happens in situational space reveals who we are at our most basic level.

This is why living in the world of The Spectacle of the Real can be so attractive. We vicariously live through the lives of others, transferring responsibility for acting as a person onto the celebrity or the news opinion reader, instead of discovering the life that is available to us to live. The development of Situational Awareness is a path towards understanding who we are, finding our identity, and with humilty and confidence, understanding how we are to fit into all the social situations that we find ourselves in everyday.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves

The Speed of Change



In 2010, I wrote a post, Change: No Lines, No Waiting, where I stated the following.

Whether you are 25, 50 or 75, dealing with change isn't about who you are or what you do. It is rather about putting yourself in the position to make a difference, to make a contribution, to create impact. ... (I learned that) how I dealt with change was too abstract, logical, rational. It didn't deal with reality.

I'm been thinking about the speed of change.

A lot of people want to slow change down. They want time to adapt to it. I've become convinced that we need to speed up change. We do because it forces us to simplify our life and work. Squeeze out the non-essentials and a higher level of productivity results.

I know. It is all very counter-intuitive. The faster you change, the slower life becomes. I know it sounds like something out of the Matrix. But, it is true.

As I edited and republished that post last night, I began to think about the "speed of change" phrase.

Two images come to mind.

Image One.

Change is like a wave.


A large wave. It comes at you, and if you are standing still it hits you - Whappp! - then drags you in its wake until it has moved on, and you are left gasping for air. Then the next wave of change comes along, hits you, and instead of being the master of change, you are hanging on for survival.

Instead of standing still and being hit each time by change, you have to climb on top of it and ride it until it begins to run out of steam, you curl off of it, to prepare for the next wave.

This is the kind of change we are all in today.

I'm no different than the rest of those who have been run over by a wave of change that came out of nowhere, doesn't even have a name, and is gone.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that what we once thought of as stability, consistency, and continuity in life was just our experience of the slowness of change. There has always been change, but it just never reached the level of a hurricane storm surge. Until now.

What is it about us as human beings that we want to remain where we are?

Why is change what we resist instead of boredom and unfulfillment?

Why are we willing to make our world small and confined just so we can feel in control?

If it sounds like I'm calling for us to give up on our commitments and do whatever is before us, that would be wrong. That is not the point, at all. Instead, it is questioning what we mean by commitment, focus and staying the course through to the end. It is questioning what we think it means to be effective and successful.

Life today is not a placid pond where we can gently float through our days.


Instead, life has become an endless series of big waves, roaring down a mountain river full of rocks, whirlpools, massive amounts of water in your face, with no place to escape, it seems.

One after another we are seeing changes happening in our world that are totally disruptive to everything we have told ourselves is the way the world is.

Change forces us to simplify. We simplify by being clear about our values, and clear about the impact we want to have. Too many of us are more committed to the processes of our work than we are to the impact. When process takes precedence, we become disconnected from the outcome of the process. I know I live in a world where process is everything, and hardly anyone can say what the outcome of our work is.

The speed of change magnifies the problem because an overly process-centric organization cannot maintain former process levels when things speed up. The wave of change crushes processes. Instead, we need to know how to trim back the process, and move to knowing how to create impact in the moment as the opportunity presents itself. That is how to ride the wave of change.

Image Two.

Change is a door, a threshold, to what is next.


Showing you a door is misleading. It suggests that we enter, and we stay awhile, but that doesn't get at the real issue at the heart of the speed of change.

Instead, let's see change as a series of doors in an endless progression, coming at us an increasingly level of speed.

Between each door, we enter a specific context or situation that demands that we perform at our best. As I was thinking about this, this scene from Monsters, Inc came to mind.

This is what change is like. Moving from one context to the next, without continuity, and, at a pace that does not allow us time to think through every single possible option.

The speed of change requires us to think fast, decide fast, act fast and move on fast. 

It means that we need to have more than tactical skills for change, and, more than a long range strategy for impact. It means we have to be prepared to be the person who can walk into the room and know what we have to offer to whomever is there.

This means that we have to simplify our lives, become more clear about who we are, who we are not, and, what we want from the life and work that gets offered to us on the other side of every door.

Even this picture doesn't fully get at the real issue we face with the increasing speed of change. There is something deeper, more personal at work in this context of change.

The modern world has robbed most of us of the confidence that former eras had from doing, making, creating and crafting things. Today, we are manipulators of objects, processes, financial resources and people. We do one thing, but we rarely see the outcome of that one act of work. The result is a vague sense of accomplishment, or, none at all.

Today, we find our confidence in our affinity towards ideas or symbols. For example, most people I know who are die hard Democrats or Republicans find it easier to tell you why they are not members of the other party, than their own. Their affinity is not to the outcome of the party's policies, but to the culture of symbols that the party claims as their distinctive value.

Same with sports teams. I have been a Boston Red Sox fan all my life. Not because they won, but because I started following them as a kid, and still do. People follow the Dallas Cowboys, America's Team, because they symbolize something specifically American in the minds of many fans. 

The confidence that we find in these associations is not the kind of confidence that makes it easy for us to deal with an increasing speed of change. We look for strength and security in our affinity associations. It is why fans are fickle, faithful until a rainy day spoils the parade to the championship or election.

To gain the confidence that we need, we have to be able to quickly move into a new space, and, know what our contribution can be.

This is what I mean by having a story that we tell ourselves.

We enter a room. We don't know these people. They may be Yankee fans or hate football. There's no affinity. Yet, we have to deal with the situation as it is presented to us. The story we tell ourselves is of the impact that I can have with at least one person. Just one person is enough. Maybe two is better, but one is enough. Because one can lead to more.

We are not thinking about how to fit in the group. We are thinking about how I can connect with these people so I can make a difference in their lives right now. Making that connection is essential to finding what it is that we can do to create some good in the moment that we are there.

There are three things we need to recognize every time we pass through a new door.

Context: We need to be able to see the social, relational, cultural and organizational context quickly.

We need to be able to assess what is going on, so we can move into action. We cannot assume that what is on the other side of the next door will be the same as the last two or ten doors. We must develop the capacity to understand what is going on as quickly as possible so we can move to begin to make a difference.

Content: We need to have something to offer people.

This is the content of our thoughts and character as a person. We enter into these situations confident that we have the substance to make a contribution that means something to someone or the group.

This content is best presented as a story. It isn't the story I'm telling myself, but the one that I've prepared to tell others. To not have a story is a lack of confidence. To have a story is not egocentric or arrogant. It is rather being prepared to connect with people at a deeper level than is typically happening at the moment of introduction.

Connection: We establish connections with the people because it will be these relationships that move with us through the change we experience.

As we encounter the speed of change, we need to move more quickly than we have in the past. We will find when we do, that much of what we are now doing is adapting to changing circumstances. The quicker we do so, the better off we will be.

This is what I've learned. I no longer fret over change. If anything, when I see change that needs to be made, I'll become more impatient, ready to move through the door and catch the wave as it moves forward.

Resistance to change has as much to do with our lack of confidence as it does with the change itself. Fight the resistance. Be clear about what you stand for as a person. Keep telling yourself your story.

Look for the opportunities to make a difference, do it, and move on. What we'll find is a new set of patterns in our life and work will emerge. This is the truth I have found, and so can each of you.

Many thanks to David Pu'u for the wave pictures. Check out his pictures, videos and blog at

Top Leading Questions Posts 2004 - 2015

Top Leading Questions posts 2004 – 2015.


I'm celebrating ten years of writing blog posts here at Leading Questions. Those posted here are ones that I find have two qualities.

The first is that what I said when I first posted it is worth hearing again.

The second is that these posts represent my own perspective and voice.

I hope you find them helpful.

Thank you for reading.

 1. Leading Questions  

2. Who Stands With You 

3. A Relationship of Confidence 

4. Passion and Success 

5. Being the Leader-in-Relief – Boston Red Sox 1918 

6. The Leader’s Quest 

7. Agoraphilia - Pertinax

8. The Source of Confidence 

9. Confusing Roles: Board Member or Consultant 

10. Why Friendship is Different 

11. Most CEOs Say Flexibility and Adapting to Change Now Vital to Competing Worldwide 

12. Pioneering Creativity - Being Emotionally and Intellectually Engaged 

13. What is Community 

14. A Conversation about Strategic Planning 

15. The Community of Leadership – Updated 

16. Can the World of Business Be Characterized as a Moral World? 

18. Visioning – How to get the picture 

19. Betraying "What's Right" - The Moral Order of Leaders, Part 1

20. What is Trauma? - The Moral World of Leaders, Part 2 

21. The Gentle, Kind Leader - The Moral World of Leaders, Part 3 

22. Trust and the Social Power of Institutions – The Moral World of Leaders, Part 4

23.  Why Don’t People Participate 

24.  Scouting Principles of Leadership 

25.  Climbing the Mountain of Change One Step at a Time 

26.  The Great Planning Myths 

27.  Why SWOT analysis is no longer adequate 

28.  Translating Ideas into Action 

29.  To Dream 

30.  The Hope of The Children of Men 

31.  The Workmanship of Leadership 

32.  When Hope is a Hindrance 

33.  Moving from Talk To Action To Impact 

34.  The People of Scotland – Slainte 

35.  Extraordinary 

36.  Leaders – Nature or Nurture? 

37.  Sailing With A World-class Sailing Team 

38.  If you want to transition to the next level, then … 

39.  Moving from Thinking-in-part to Whole 

40. Innovation on the Montana Plains 

41.  A Counter-intuitive Paradoxical Social Being 

42. Values 2.0 Now 

43.  31 Questions series ebook 

44.  Say Thanks, Everyday 

45.  Customer Relations in Hard Times 

46.  Now is the time for great leadership to demonstrate itself 

47.  Thanks Completes the Bunko Cycle 

48.  A Revolution in Thanks and Welcome 

49.  Receiving a Gift with Gratitude 

50.  Saying Thanks, Everyday – A Revolution in Communication

51.  Where’s the Love? 

52.  Bigger Than Simply Saying Thanks 

53.  Is Gratitude the Greatest of Virtues 

54.  The end of institutional convention and the beginning of the age of welcome 

55.  The Hostmanship of Saying Thanks, Every Day 

56.  The Relationship Factor in Johnny Bunko 

57.  The Leadership Gap 

58.  The Subversive Nature of Thanks 

59.  Leadership in Times of Suffering 

60.  Saying Thanks Every Day – my inspiration for this ethic of giving 

61.  The Personal Side of Hard Times 

62.  Beyond the Charts 

63.  Bridging the Gap between Idea and Application 

64.  Do you know who you need to know? 

65.  How to make a transition that matters, with new afterword 

66.  Homage 

67.  Changing Jobs? Five Questions to Ask 

68.  On Fear

69. Three Communities and Change 

70.  The Continuity of the Local 

71.  Creativity for Creating Impact 

72.  Being Authentic in Inauthentic Times 

73.  Resolving Complex Issues Simply 

74.  We Are What We Do 

75.  D-Day’s 21st Century Message 

76.  The New Intelligence 

77.  How Risk Tolerant Are You 

78. To live honorably is to recognize how we are connected together 

79. Celebrating Our Founding Ideals 

80.  Let The Tribe Be The Tribe 

81.  Banking on Cupcakes 

82.  To Initiative Is To Lead 

83.  Are Your Customers Commodities? 

84.  Creating a Communication Culture 

85.  Have Notepad, Will Consult

86.  The Uncomfortable Nature of Leadershp 

87.  Managing Morale in a time of change - a Triiibes e-book 

88. The Subverting of Hierarchy 

89.  Making It Simple, and Then Following Through 

90.  The Real Secret to Success 

91.  “If we live in a state of constant fear, can we remain human?” 

92.  Notes on change in search of a presentation

93.  The Communication Bug-A-Boo 

94.  Starting with a Client’s Perceived Need 

95.  Perspective for 2010 

96.  You are replaceable ... You do realize that, don't you 

97.  Alignment 

98.  Counter-cultural Collaboration 

99.  Ten Actions that Make a Difference

100.  Just Knowing You Are In Transition Doesn’t Mean Much

101.  Change: No Lines No Waiting 

102. Experience 

103. A Dozen Thoughts on Thinking, Communication & Relationships 

104. An Idealist in the Midst of Cynics 

105. Changing the Factory 

106. Creating Healthy Partnerships 

107. Why Alignment Matters 

108. Closed Collaboration 

109. The word keeps popping up 

110. Qualify Your Network 

111. The Sweet Spot

112. 7 Virtues of the 21st century Organization 

113. The Choice 

114. Alignment and the Myth of Balance 

115. How to make your ideas connect 

116. Leadership Emotion 

117. No Rules, Just Relationships 

118. What We Know 

119. Honesty 

120. To Be a Welcoming Leader

121. After 15 years, this I've learned, with a new update

122. When Starting a Group 

123. The Journey and the Guide 

124. Stuck 

125. Ten Leadership Gaps 

126. What is Good? 

127. Tradition and Change 

128. Tradition and Change, part two 

129. A Fine Line 

130. The Moral Component 

131. The Unnameable Problem 

132. Fragmented, Compartmentalized or Connected, Aligned for Impact 

133. The Ascendency of the Local 

134. How To Be A Local Leader 

135. Organizational Obsolescence 

136. Trend Lines Going Forward 

137. The End and The Beginning 

138. The Future of Trust 

139. The Social Bond

140. Return on Initiative: ROI for the 21st Century

141. The Initiative Generation

142. Creating An Open Culture of Gratitude 

143. The Kindness / Gratitude Connection 

144. 10 Assumptions about Change 

145. Three Turns 

146. Lost Horizon-New Frontier 

147. From Fragmentation to Wholeness 

148. The Age of Connection 

149. Parallel Structure of Networks of Relationships 

150.  Gaining Perspective 

151.  The Benefits of Adaptive Learning 

152.  Measuring Leadership 

153. Leading by Vacuum

154. Still Water Still Flows

155. Networks in Transition

156. Understanding What You Have To Offer

157. Three Things To Know When Making An Offer

158.  A Century of Difference

159. Relationships in Transition

160. Life’s Transition Points

161. Twelve Ways We Know We Are At A Transition Point

162. In Transition, Start with Connections

163. The Value of Failure

164. The End of Binary Faith

165. A Culture of Alternatives

166. Simple Happiness

167. The Frontier is Within

168. The Platform of Desire, Part 1

169. The Platform of Desire, Part 2

170. The Platform of Desire, Part 3

171. The Platform of Desire, Part 4

172. The Platform of Desire, Part 5

173. Change Early, Not Late

174. The Sweet Spot

175. When the Souvenir becomes a Social Object

176. Being Trustworthy

177. What Defines Us?

178. Living in the Worlds of Ruthie and Rod

179. The Spectacle of The Real

180. The Path to the Real

181. The Reason for the Real

182. Reclaiming the Real through the Living Past

183. The Map of Memory

184. The Lost Maps of Reality

185. Hope that is Real

186. The Art of the Real

187. The Edge of the Real: The Fragmented World

188. The Edge of the Real: Fragmented Boundaries

189. The Edge of the Real: The Call of Desire

190. The Edge of the Real: The Unfolding Story

191. Ten Years, Ten Questions, and, Ten Lessons

192. Values 2.0, Now

193. The Edge of the Real: The Leader’s Call

194. Three Keys to Situational Awareness

195. The Speed of Change

196. The Social Space of Situational Awareness

197. Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

198. In the Moment of Situational Awareness

199. The Story We Tell Ourselves

200. Truth is in the Shadows

Three Keys to Situational Awareness


Recently I began to work with a group of young women who are in an addiction recovery program. I meet with them each week to work on the life skills they will need once they graduate.

One of the skills we work on just about every week is situational awareness.

Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

This is where I begin in describing situational awareness.

A friend invites you to a business-after-hours event or a presentation at the local community college. You arrive. Walk into the room. Don't see your friend. The room is filled with people that you do not know. They are mingling around talking with one another. What do you do?

There are two choices.

You find a wall, or the corner of the room, and hope no one sees you.

Or, you begin to introduce yourself to people.

Situational awareness is a missing element in many people's lives. The rapid deterioration of relational and social skills needed for a healthy society is a result.

The lack of this skill is manifested in making every situation about me, instead of about the group or the other person. This is either out of fear or by forcing one's own personality upon a group. In either case, this is a product of the weakness of individual self-perception.

Situational Awareness is a skill, not a cultural condition outside of us.

It is a capacity to see, to engage, and discern what I am to do.

Because situational awareness is a skill, it requires preparation, practice and the mastery of those skills. Anyone can learn them. Even the most introverted person can learn how to walk into a room, function well in that social environment, and walk out having accomplished a specific goal for their time at the event.

In addition, I know no skill that is more valuable than being able to function well in situations that are uncomfortable and alien to our past experience.

Three Keys for Situational Awareness

I have found situational awareness one of the most important skills for individuals and groups who are in the midst of change. There are three keys to developing the skill of situational awareness: Objectivity, Engagement and Discernment.


The key of objectivity helps us see things from a detached perspective. We can, in effect, stand apart from the crowd, read it, and know what we are do in response.

It is virtually impossible to be absolutely objective. Absolute detachment is a mental disorder requiring a total loss of empathy, or the inability to emotionally connect with people. That is not the kind of detachment I see.

The kind of detachment that I am describing is the ability to stand apart, and see the various facets of a situation. It is the ability to not personalize the situation as being about me. When we make a situation about me, we are unable to see the range of motivations that may be affecting the attitudes and emotions of people.

To personalize is to narrow our situational awareness, and make it more likely that we won't understand what is going on.

Walk into a crowded room of strangers. What are the power dynamics of the room? Can you see who is comfortable, who is shy, who likes to draw attention to themselves, and how long to spend with each person that you meet. This kind of detachment identifies why we want to meet someone, what we'd like to see happen in the encounter, and how to structure the beginnings of a new relationship.

This is more than making connections, telling my story, picking up some business cards and leaving. It is about seeing the opportunities to make a difference in the room at that very moment.

To be objective in this way is to see time suspended, so to speak, in the moment. With this person, I am fully present, attentive to what they are saying. I'm listening to connect. I am not looking at my phone, thinking about my next appointment, or observing the person that I see over her left shoulder. I am right there in the moment, not thinking about myself, but about the person before me.

Objectivity, therefore, is the ability to connect with another person in such a way that we understand who they are and how we might contribute to their life or work. This is an essential ingredient in every sales call and every service encounter that we may have.


For this kind of detached objectivity to work, we need engagement. It seems counter-intuitive to say that being detached requires us to be engaged.

To be engaged is to emotionally connect with the people we meet in the room.

We are detaching ourselves from making our interactions all about us, about validating some perception about ourselves by other people.

Engagement requires a kind of empathy that sees into the life that this person is leading. As social settings and communities become more culturally diverse, less homogeneous, we need the ability to engage people as people, as individuals, rather than as objects of interest, a point of sale transaction or out of fear. Doing so, as well, with respect towards the social and cultural differences that distinguish us one from the other.

The portal for engagement, the path into an engaged relationship begins with the ability to listen. Every person's story is a set of cues about who they are. Even those statements and stories that the other person uses to hide themselves, or present themselves in a stronger position than they actually are, or, simply to lie to us, reveals who this person is. We are the same way.

We want to manage other people's perception of who we are as if that perception is a brand. However, the more manufactured that perception, the less engaged we are. The pathway to engagement is through the kind of vulnerability that Brene' Brown describes.

Engagement, as a result, is how we establish ourselves as authentic people. Not by showing authenticity, but by being authentic. By this, we must learn to be transparent (vulnerable), open, listening, while at the same respecting boundaries. The boundaries are ours, not the other person's. For essentially what we are doing by enagaging the other person is establishing the ground for trust.


In the social context of a room of strangers, we need to discern who people are and know what I have to offer in that situation. 

Recently I attended a celebration event for some friends. As I walked into the living room of the home, I saw that I was the only male in a room with 35 women, two-thirds of them I did not know. I immediately realized that my presence could create an awkwardness in the room. I didn't go hide in the corner. I didn't pay my respects to the host, and quietly leave. Instead, I went around the room and introduced myself to every one present. I did so to create an individual comfort level between me and each person in the room. The event was a great celebration and I came to know some new people whom I respect for their support of the cause we were celebrating.

Discernment is a process of seeking answers to the questions we have about people and situations. I'm trying to answer, for example. Do I know this person from another context? Do we have any mutual friendship? Are we Facebook or LinkedIn friends? Is he trustworthy? What is she interested in? Am I am being trustworthy? How far can I go in being transparent with this person? Do we share some value or commitment that gives reason for us to develop a relationship or a friendship?

This is why discernment is the third leg of the stool. It helps us answer the questions that flow through our minds in new or dynamic social situations.

The goal of engagement is to determine whether there is the possibility for a relationship. For a relationship to work, or be healthy, or, happy, requires each person to be open and trustworthy. It is important to understand that our responsibility is to be open and trusting, not really to determine whether the other person is. The engagement and interaction will bear this out in time.

Establishing clear boundaries for our relationships is so important. These boundaries must first be my boundaries. Without an understanding of how far I'm willing to go in being transparent and vulnerable, I cannot see or discern to what extent the other person or persons are open, trusting, and, whether they have an understanding for what is appropriate for the situation in which our relationship is being formed.

Discernment, therefore, is a skill that understands how to translate the values that guide our lives into decisions that affirm those values in action.

This is how learning to be situationally aware can lead us to find strength for our lives and build relationships of openness and trust, so that in any situaiton we can make a difference that matters.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves

The Edge of the Real: The Leader's Call


The Edge of the Real is a boundary, a border, a threshold, a decision, action and change.

It is discovered as individuals take initiative to act upon their own discernment. It is found as people decide to no longer passively adopt what is trending as their concern. It is realized in individual decisions to act passionately on those things that matter to them.

The edge is a place where values move from being abstractions of absolvement of responsibility to actions of change that make a difference that transforms situations, organizations and people's lives.

Each time a person takes initiative to do something whose impetus has risen up from within the person, that person is exerting leadership. They are leading, not as a positional leader within an institutional structure, but rather as a individual human person.

This call to lead comes from within us, and stimulated by our engagement with various settings of our life and work. The call to lead through one's own initiative is born in three desires that define us as individuals.

Three Desires-Impact-NoFill

The desire for personal meaning roots us in values that define and guide us in life.

The desire for happy, healthy relationships provide a social environment where we find not only affirmation and love, but also the challenge and encouragement to reach beyond the edge of social conformity.

The desire to make a difference that matters leads to become agents of positive change.

These desires constitute a call upon our lives. They beckon us to cross over the threshold from hanging back, going along with the crowd to stepping forward to leadership.

This is not a call from someone else, or some group asking for us to take a responsible leadership in their organization.Though it may align well with the opportunities that others present to us. It is in knowing what our desires are, and especially, the difference we want to make with our lives that begs us to walk out the door of the room or the house that confines us within an already preset conception of who we are and what we can achieve.

As I write this, I'm in the middle of conversations with a variety of people about the creation of a new business. The form of this business as it has been presented to me aligns well with my own three desires. At a time, when many people my age are contemplating retirement, I'm looking at what I'm going to acheive over the last third fo my life.

Initiative is born in our own desire to cross over from feelings and notions of what is important to actions that validate and confirm the importance of our values, our relationships, and the desire we have for a better world.

This is why all leadership begins with personal initiative, and why leadership in this sense is open to every human being.

In order to embrace our desires, and, move towards taking initiative, we must confront reality as it exists right in front of us. The hyper-reality presented to us in all forms of media is an alternative reality that is many situations is meant to divert us from seeing the real world as it is.

If we are serious about making a difference, we must develop a healthy skepticism of all those who identify themselves as advocates for one position or ideology or another. To lead requires us to abandon narrow special interests in favor of looking at the larger realities that affect us.

To move in this direction requires self-confidence and a network of relationships which provides us support and honest critique so that we maintain a healthy balance of thought and action.

The Edge of the Real is the next action we take based on our own convictions that something must be done. Whatever that something is, do it whole-heartedly with passion and commitment to the process of discovery and development that leadership requires.

To stay on track regularly ask the Five Questions.

The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide

 Ask them in real time. Ask them regularly. Keep a journal if you need to track progress.

1. How am I in transition right now from where I was a week ago, a month ago? What has changed about my ideas, relationships and life-work situation?

2. What is the impact I'm having right now? What difference do my ideas, relationships and my impact upon my life and work situations make that matter?

3. Who is being most significantly impacted by me and what I am doing right now?

4. Are there opportunities opening up for me that I need to take initiative on, right now?

5. If problems do I need to address right now? What obstacles do I need to remove or work around?

Asking these questions brings clarity and direction to our acts of initiative. Do so and you'll begin to see that The Edge of Real is an awareness of what is possible right now.

Take the initiative that this picture suggests and you'll begin to see things that were hidden before. Be open to what is possible. Take care to maintain balance, especially as it relates to the financial resources that you need and are required for new ventures. Take a step at a time, and each subsequent step will become more evident sooner and more definitively.

This is what I've learned about living at The Edge of Real, and continue to learn as I begin to plan the creation of a new business. As always, if you need help, or, just a conversation, get in touch. For after all, my desire and purpose is to Inspire Leadership Initiative.

Values 2.0 Now

Lemhi Dawn 12 9-16-04


The following is an updated and revised version of a set of five posts from the spring of 2008 on the topic of Values 2.0. After reading them during my 10th anniversary of blogging, I decided that they needed to be brought together into one longer, more coherent, less fragmented post.

The above photo is symbolic of the values that I write about below. It is taken at the Lemhi Pass along the Lewis & Clark Heritage Trail on the Montana - Idaho border. A place of great meaning to the followers of the story, as well as to me.

The Value of Values

Several years ago, I was involved with a project where values were the focus of the revitalization of the company. In this project, a cross-section of the company developed a values statement that they believed, and I concurred, were representative of the values of the company's people. Their values statement was warmly and enthusiastically received by the company. The efforts of the company's leadership to inform and deploy their values throughout the company earned them recognition beyond their industry as a trustworthy company.

Having gone through this experience, I became convinced that values are a social mechanism for the purpose of uniting people around shared ideas or beliefs.

Whether the idea is integrity or creativity, the idea provides meaning and purpose for people. When that idea is shared with others who also value it, a social context for their relationships is formed that enables them to work through obstacles and achieve higher levels of impact that thought possible otherwise.

The values culture of a business is integral to the healthy functioning of human relationships within an organizational context.  Too many organizations ignore this facet of leadership. They treat values as an ancillary exercise that is elective and marginal in impact. 

Values: Museum Artifact or Living History

Values are ideas that identify what is important to us. In an organizational context, these ideas are intended to project a certain image about the company. Whether the value is being "dependable" or "fun" the effect is to make a statement that describes what the company believes in or stands for. This is the traditional approach to values. They are iconic statements of identity. 

For many people and organizations, this approach treats values as an historical artifact.

You go to a museum, and in the main hall there is a life-size model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. You walk into a room called The Hall of Values, the first thing you see is a frame with a magazine ad for "ACME Dynamite Company - Dependable Explosions since 1904."  Then there is a statue of a man in a business suit and a sign that simply says "Trust."  At the rear of the hall, there is a display of an auto assembly line from the 1950's with a sign that says, "Innovation."

We see concepts applied to business as a way of distinguishing them from their competitors. We call this branding or marketing, of course. But we treat values in much the same way. They are like museum artifacts.

There is an ancient, historical character to words like "trust", "dependable", or "integrity." They are words that signify a specific meaning.  These words are recollections of a past time. They carrying with their historical meaning, fixed images of the company that are intended to remain as the values impression of the company.

We know when there is a breakdown between the espoused values and reality, when a company sells itself as trustworthy, dependable and operating with the highest integrity, and in the morning newspaper we read of the embezzlement of millions of dollars by a top official. We know that the "espoused values" no longer command attention like they did in the past. This disconnect leads people to believe that the value words are hollow. Have enough of this occurrences, and people believe that this isn't one person or one company but a society-wide or industry-wide culture of corruption. 

It may well be true that 99% of the company's employees are trustworthy, dependable and have integrity.  The moral failures of a few are thrust upon the many whom remain behind to pick up the pieces of a tattered reputation. Values reduced to ad copy or a relic in the company museum set up the conditions for failure.

This traditional approach to values treats values as museum pieces. Leaders are curators of those values. We parade the values out for celebrations, then return them to their rightful place in a glassed trophy case in the lobby. I'm not blaming marketers for this situation. In fact, they may be the only ones who come close to understanding the importance of values that represent the company.

How we utilize values in the future must be very different than in the past. Instead of values being museum artifacts, they need to be living history experiences that take on a life of their own.

Values that are fully realized are not static museum displays, but about the living experiences of the company. If they are historic values of the company, recreating the experiences that led to particular values becoming the company's values may be needed.

For example, I have heard people say that their company used to be like a family. They would say things like:

"We cared for each other like family. We knew each other's spouses and kids. We got together to play softball in the spring and attend company picnics in the summer."

If being a family is a value that is a part of the company's DNA, then create opportunities to be a family. Set up committees to raise money to help "family" members in need. Just don't talk about the glory days of the past when you were like a family. Be a family now.

If values matter, then they will mean more by being intentionally applied to the relationships and processes of the company. The ideal is simple. The application is not so simple.  It requires work to integrate values into the work of a company. Yet that is what Values 2.0 is about.   

The Difference between Values and Value-added

Is there a difference between values and value added?  What is this difference?

Value is a measurement of appreciation, impact or benefit.

For example, I hear often the phrase "value added" which means that the client is receiving more than what they expected. There is a higher level of impact or benefit.  Value can be defined as a Return-On-Investment (ROI) figure. Or it can be something less quantitative, more qualitative.  In those instances, the measure is based on a particular perception of an idea, like a car or a suit being valued as a luxury item.

Values are ideas that define meaning or value.

Typically we'd see values as those ideas that point to a purpose or a standard.  Values unify when shared between people or in organizations, and divide when not. Values create culture. Values guide culture, build trust in relationships, and strengthen a group of people to do the unimaginable.

For example, you are sitting in a meeting and everyone is texting on their phones, not paying attention to the presenter. This typical experience may be widely accepted, but it is also rude. The judgment that the behavior is rude is based on values that govern the social relationships of people. Typically we call this set of values, etiquette.  These values are ideas about what is appropriate behavior in a meeting or other social context. The values of respect and courtesy demand some sort of accommodation to the ever present smart phone.

Values are the ideological foundation of human interaction. They are the fundamental beliefs that create a culture, and as we all know every organization is run by a prescribed culture. Groups that work and those that are ineffective are both so because of various values that are functioning. Those values are either shared ones or at odds with the purpose of the meeting or group. More importantly, their share values are either not acknowledged or not acted upon by the group or organization create ambivalence and indifference in the participants.

Ask any person who works in a large corporate culture, and they can describe values that govern how they work together. 

If you want to provide value-added products and services, ask yourself, "What values am I utilizing to increase my value-added impact?"

Values 2.0, the Interaction Paradigm
We are entering a new era regarding organizational values. It is an analogous to the change that Neville Hobson describes in this video from 2007. He says that the web has shifted. It used to be that websites were "read only ... (and now, we're) seeing a shift to read - write. You can read and write." This is happening through the use of social media. A similar shift is taking place on the values front.

For illustration purposes, let's describe the old way of using values as Values 1.0, and this new approach that I'm advocating as Values 2.0.

Values 1.0 are values that are used as boilerplate ideas to serve some abstract function. They represent an idea that is meant to be read without interaction. These words become iconic as representations of the company.

For example, for as long as I can remember, Coca Cola has been referred to as "The Real Thing." This values statement is an iconic label for the soft drink. Is the value of authenticity simply a marketing slogan, or is this representative of the company itself? I don't, and my purpose here is only to show how a value concept can be used in a non-interactive manner.

This was been the basic approach to communication by companies throughout the 20th century. In essence, their communication strategy is the distribution of information to the public.

Values 2.0 are the ideas that give people a reason to engage, interact and unite around a share purpose of who they are and what their organization stands for. Today, this is now the default approach to communication. Interaction with the customer is the key to building a successful brand. It is also the key to changing the internal communication environment of organizations.

These two approaches can be distinguished in this way.

Values 1.0 - Ideas - Icon - Irrelevance

Values 2.0 - Ideas - Interaction - Integration - Impact

Placed in the context of the Circle of Impact, values serve an important role, just as do a clear purpose, a compelling vision and a healthy organizational structure.

Values 2-0-Interaction
Values matter at the most basic point of human interaction, and increasingly in a business climate that requires greater people interaction skills to meet complex demands.  Values are the super-glue that unite people together for the work they must do.

The heart of Values 2.0 is human interaction for action. We are not talking about lovely sentimental ideas that are printed on posters and hung on office walls. We are talking about the ideas of substance that support and guide people in their interactions.

Creating a Culture for Interaction

When The Cluetrain Manifesto came out in 1999, it represented a transition that would come to mark the first decade of the 21st Century. The shift is captured in the first Cluetrain thesis - Markets are conversations.

Cluetrain introduced the idea of human interaction into the discussion about marketing and business, predicting the rise of the social media phenomenon. The book seems a bit obvious now, but a decade and a half ago their book was revolutionary in what it proposed.

Two decades ago, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras' published Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. One of the first books that took seriously the place of values in organizations.

I find myself returning to both books time and again because of their treatment of values in organizations. They were both instrumental, at the time that I first read them, in my own developing thoughts about leadership and organizations.

In Built to Last, Collins and Porras make an insightful distinction between values and cultural practices. The difference is simple.

Core Values provide a social foundation for groups of people and organizations to change while preserving the integrity of the organization.

Cultural Practices are those practices that have lost their reason for being, yet still command allegiance as the historic traditions of the organization. These are situations where you might hear in a meeting, "Well, we've never done it that way."

According to Collins and Porras, companies that are successful over time, are so because they are true to their core values. The distinction matters because leaders of organizations must push change at the cultural practices level in order to preserve their core values.

Collins & Porras Diagram

Values, whether acknowledged or not, are important to a business. A basic question we must ask is: "How are values important to us?"

When Built To Last was written, the approach to values in business was primarily ethical and utilitarian, asking, "What are the boundaries of what is legal and will not embarrass us?" This approach was inadequate then, and remains so today. The complexity of organizational life has grown, even as web-based transparency has grown, it is much easier to hide the unethical and illegal, and let ethics be a function of public relations.

Without genuine, authentic transparency, companies are really not in conversation with their constituents. The effect of not recognizing the role of values in organizations, like transparency, a business today can lack real awareness and perception of how it is doing.

Today, a business that is not addressing the Interaction Paradigm is behind the developmental curve. Clay Shirky, a smart observer of the cultural implications of the development of social media, says,

... Media in the 20th century was run as a single race--consumption.  How much can we produce?  How much can you consume?  Can we produce more and you'll consume more?  And the answer to that question has generally been yes.  But media is actually a triathlon, it 's three different events.  People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share. 

And what's astonished people who were committed to the structure of the previous society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interesting, is that they're discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they'll take you up on that offer.

Values 2.0 is a strategic shift from a consumerist view to a more values focused, relationship-centric organization.

The Nature of Interaction

The question remains for us what is interaction? How can we interact about values so that they are more than some abstract concepts that has sentimental personal meaning, and little practical relevance?

Hugh MacLeod writes about the concept of "social objects." Here's how Hugh defines it.

The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if (we) think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.

I see values as social objects that function to united people together. Let us call them "operational values."  These values are ones that are utilized, operationalized, deploy, lived out in the operations of an organization.

For example, if trust is a core value of a company. Then actions of trust would be ones like transparency,

Values function to strengthen, support, guide and protect relationships within a social context. These are the kind of Core Values that Collins and Porras describe in Built to Last.

What are the interaction functions of an organization that are strengthened or empowered by values?

There are three human interaction functions that are enriched by values.

Communication in all its forms.

Decision-making and its implementation.

Evaluation of both people and company performance. 

When values are utilized in an operational sense, they shift from being abstractions for promotion, to practical beliefs that open up avenues of learning and discovery for meeting company goals.

A social object, according to Hugh MacLeod, could be anything. These objects are points of affinity that people share. It could be a local sports team, family history, spiritual beliefs, a music group, or a co-worker's fight with cancer. The stronger the affinity, the more personal the connection, the deeper the values are.  

Social objects are a connecting point. The values deepen and give purpose to the relationship.  For organizations, these social connecting points provide an additional means to quality people for employment.

The relationship starts with the social object - an introduction to one another- and deepens as values are identified.  The relationship finds vitality and sustainability as purpose and vision develop.

From this development, smart leaders will adapt their organizational structures to support the strengthening of the company's social environment.  This is how abstract values become operational values.  It is important that businesses understand what their values are. Not the boilerplate ideas of P.R. materials, but rather the beliefs and attitudes that people have about the company that they share and give them strength and hope.

Creating a Culture of Trust

At the beginning of this post, I wrote,

Values unify when shared, divide when not. Values create culture. Values guide culture, build trust in relationships, and strengthen a group of people to do the impossible.

In a Values 1.0 world, values are treated as Icons, as symbolic emblems that have meaning, but little relevance. In fact, the iconic values are in competition with the actual values of a company.

There is no choice about whether to have values or not. They are the most fundamental expression of who we are as human beings. There is no escaping their impact upon the functioning of any social or organizational environment. When ignored or conflicted, values become a source a divisive constraint on a business' ability to create impact.  When they are utilized as a platform for interaction, they build unity and a culture of trust.

In a Values 2.0 world, leaders understand that to build their corporate culture around a clearly identified and embraced set of values provides the conditions for creating a culture of trust.

Values - Culture of Trust

This diagram illustrates this connection.

Values are ideas that unify relationships and guide an organizational structure to create a culture of trust.

Is trust really that important? Ask the former employees and shareholders of Enron.  Ask the spouses of politicians caught having extra-marital affairs. Ask your children if trust is important.  In fact, ask them about their friends, or supposed friends, and you'll find that much of what passes for human relationships in a business setting is at the same level as a 15 year high school sophomore. It can be mean, nasty, petty and emotionally destructive. Ask your kids. They understand trust in a more immediate, fundamental way than we adults who play our word games with the idea.

Trust is earned by the integrity and impact of the organization.

The culture of an organization is representative of all the people, not just senior leadership.  The idea situation is for senior leaders to express respect down through the organization chart, while employees express trust up through it. In each case, at the heart of this exchange is a set of values that are shared, mutually believed in, and that create the unity that enable the company to do more.

The application of values is not the ultimate purpose of Values 2.0. It is rather a means to the creation of a culture of trust that elevates the prominence of the social environment to be a place that strengthens the organization. That is the long range purpose of utilizing values as a means to enhance interaction and impact.

The key is to begin. To take this one page conversation guide on Values 2.0 and see how one idea, with one person can become something more than a topic of conversation. Follow the line of thought from Idea to Interaction to Integration to Impact. This is a learning process, and the best learning is transformational. What better way to be value-added.

Ten Years, Ten Questions, and Ten Lessons


The First Post

On July 4, 2004, I posted my first blog post here. I wrote,

"...questions, questions, questions...always questions with you..."

Questions lead to insight, focus, direction and action. 

If leaders don't ask questions, then they are going find themselves stuck doing the same old things in the same old way, and missing out on the opportunities that are right before them.

What are the questions driving your work?

This weblog is going to range far and wide looking at the questions leaders either are asking or should. 

What's on your mind today?

Amazingly, I've stuck with that aim, to ask questions that can help us better understand what leadership is in the 21st century.

Here are Ten Questions that I have after ten years of blogging.

Ten Questions

Let me begin with a question that novelist Walker Percy asked a half century ago. His question still resounds with truth for me.

"Why does man feel so sad in the twentieth century?  Why does man feel so bad in the very age when, more than in any other age, he has succeeded in satisfying his needs and making the world over for his own use?"

My 21st. century questions are not much different. However, I'd say the context and answers to my questions are very different. This is why asking questions is essential to living well in our time.

1. Why are people afraid to stand on their own? Why are they so willing to let other people think for them, and be dragged into divisive social / political controversies that have no other end that to secure the status quo?

2. Why are the revolutionaries of my childhood as resistant to change today as those they challenged when they were young?

3. What is it about power and wealth that closes off life from the living?

4. Why is darkness, death and human brokenness so elevated in contemporary film, television and literature, and yet so unacknowledged in our lives? Why are zombies and sociopaths today's (anti) heroes?

5. What would happen if 10% of the population of every nation lived lives of sacrifice?

6. What happens when the world of hyper-reality and the Spectacle of the Real collapses? Will we be free or lost?

7. Why is it so hard to put our values into action? How do we cross the gulf between idea and action? Why is it so hard to do this together, in community?

8.  Who do you believe in? Who do you trust absolutely? Who believes in you? Trusts you, absolutely?

9. What do you hope for in the future? Is it a blind hope against hope, or, is it a guiding hope that helps you to answer the questions that face you every day?

10. Where is love in your life? Who do you love without fear or doubt? Who loves you, sees you as you are, and still, at the end of the day, says, "I love you?"?

Over the past ten years, these questions and others like them have become increasingly important. From asking questions like these, I am learning things about life, work, people, leadership and the time we live. Here are ten of those lessons that have changed me as a person.

Ten Lessons

10. Write to Find Your Voice

Learning to write with one's own voice maybe the greatest means of self-discovery that exists. It took two years of writing my blog before I began to regularly say things that were my ideas, and in my voice. Before, all I did was comment and criticize, which in retrospect, is all that is expected of us today. It has much less value and benefit to the writer and to readers than sharing your authentic voice.

9. Write to Leave a Legacy

To write with one's own voice is to create a legacy of thought which is unique and valuable to future generations. Writing with this purpose is to create an historical marker that says, "This is who I am or we are, right now at this time in human history." The measure of our writing's value is not what people think today, but what future generations will think. I recognize that most of my writing over the past half decade is to those in the future. They will be in a better position to grasp what I've been seeing.

8. Writing is Leading

I define leadership as personal initiative to make a difference that matters. When I write, I want to make a difference. I am choosing to take the time to create posts that can have an impact with people. Writing is an act of the will that overcomes all sorts of emotional and intellectual obstacles in order to affect change in some way. The person who is most often changed by writing is the writer him or herself, and why the leadership of writing is so important.

7. Observations and questions

A blog is a chronicle of our observations about life. To write well, we must have something we want to say well. That something comes from the questions we ask, and the observations we make. This requires us to think for ourselves, and listen to others' perspectives with a critical, yet fair, ear.

6. Crossing Boundaries, Exploring the Frontier

We all live with boundaries of thought and expression imposed upon us by people who have no direct relation to us, and, yet, claim some kind of personal, familiar, cultural or intellectual authority over us. As a writer, and as a person, one of the most important things to do is to deny the power of those who would silence your voice. Stand up, and with conscious purpose, obliterate those boundaries that confine you in the prison other people's fears and prejudices. Go, in writing or life, and pursue the farthest, wildest frontier possible. Do not settle. Do not be satisfied until you have discovered your authentic voice.

5. Writing in context 

Context is important for any kind of communication. In writing, there are many contexts. There is the style on the page which organizes the words in an inviting way. There are social, cultural, philosophical, historical, familial, ideological and spiritual contexts to writing. Each provides a landscape for perspective and understanding for what the writer presents. It is, therefore, essential that the writer understand the time and place in which they write.

4. Writing is Personal in a Social setting

I write for myself, but always with particular people and groups in mind. My writing is a sorting out of my observations, reading, thoughts and feelings that need order. I am doing this within a social context that helps me to better articulate my thoughts. I've learned that to have a voice is to speak, and to speak is not to hear one's own voice, but to let others hear it. In so doing, a connection is made that can become more deeply personal in the best sense.

3. Tell a Story

My writing is my story. It is not just the story that I'm telling you my readers, but, more importantly, it is the story I tell myself, to remind me of who I am, what matters to me, and how I choose to live my life. The writing is one facet of the story I am telling myself. Without it, I would be lost.

2. Writing is an Expression of Three Desires

My writing is a expression of the Three Desires - Personal Meaning, Happy Healthy Relationships and to Make a Difference that Matters that are a part of the Circle of Impact Leadership perspective. I write to discover the meaning of my life, work and relationships. Through my writing, I have come to see that Integrity, Intimacy and Generosity are values that define who I am. Those values guide me through my relationships and help me to know the impact that my life and work have. Without writing this blog, I never would have found the mental and emotional space to discover these deep truths for my self.

1. Write for Love

I write because it brings pleasure, peace, purpose and progress to my life. In other words, I write for love as an expression of my gratitude to be one person living at this time in history. Without love, the words mean nothing. With them, everything.

The Next Ten Years

I know that over the next ten years, I will not post another 1200 posts. I will continue to write. My plan is that over the next 18-24 months, to take posts that I believe have value beyond the moment of their publication, and rework them for republication in some form.

A Word of Thanks

Thank you. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my posts. Every post I publish, I do so with the sense that no one will ever read them. But you do, and your comments to me in various ways is very gratifying. Thank you again for honoring me with your time and attention.

My advice to each of you is that you write. Write in some form, in some way that helps you discover your voice. Begin by writing a chronicle of your own thoughts and observations. Carry a notebook around. Write down words and phrases, draw pictures, all for your own benefit and remembrance. Take pictures that help you to remember the context of some observation or conversation. Listen, watch, ask questions. You'll find something that calls you to write. When you do, share it with someone. Share it with me, if you want. Let your life grow through the questions that drive you through pain, suffering, love, and joy. Be honest and real, and you'll find what you did not know you were looking for.

Again, thank you. Now onto the next ten years.

The Edge of the Real: The Unfolding Story


Our Stories, A Story of Wholeness

Life is movement and change. Each day is different. Each conversation, even on the same subject, is different. Perspectives change. We change. We change jobs. Move to a different city. New relationships start, others end. We grow older, wiser.  We encounter new ideas and ways of doing things. We reconnect with old friends, see our children grow into adulthood, and, for many, we see our parents diminish back into childlikeness.

All this change is a part of the narrative of our lives. But it is not the whole story of our lives.

Combine all the encounters, all the events, all the notions, all the false steps, mistaken assumptions, failed efforts, successful ventures, and times of pure ecstasy, and patterns of meaning will emerge. We'll see that our response to differing situations was often the same, or our opinions about people followed a pattern of judgment that is revealing about who we are, and the truth of our lives and their lives. It is this pattern of response that is the unfolding story of our lives.

What this pattern reveals is the truth about us. It is this truth that I see in our desire that our lives be Personally Meaningful, have Happy, Healthy Relationships and To Make A Difference That Matters. In my previous post, The Call of Desire, I make the point that our desires are a call upon our lives. They bring with them a responsibility to follow where they lead.

This call is a story, an unfolding one that is yet to be completely written. It is not a script that is already written that we are simply following. It is a story that is serialized, a new chapter each day, each moment, each time our desires are exercises in the living of our lives.

Our story unfolds like the opening up of a folded piece of cloth, a large multicolored tablecloth, for example. As it opens, new parts of our lives that were previously hidden from view, now reveal themselves.

If we are stuck, remaining enfolded within what we already know, then, as the world apart from us unfolds its own story, as change happens, we become more anxious about change. We want more and more for time to stand still. More and more of our life seems fragmented and alien. We become more isolated.

This isn't the isolation that comes from not knowing what is going on in the world. We may be fully immersed in the fascinating stories of The Spectacle of the Real. The screen's virtual image may captured our interest and imagination in the lives of others, of celebrities, and events manufactured to create news, that we no longer have a story which is our own. Our story is a vicarious one lived out through the lives of others.


To find peace, purpose and wholeness in our lives, we individually must establish a connection between our inner selves and the outer world. We do this through the exploration of the desires that define us as individuals.  By acting upon them, we find ourselves in the midst of our own unfolding story. Not someone else's story, but our own.

How ironic that in a time in human history when we are at the apex of the culture of individualism, of the culture of me, that so many people have lost their individualism to The Spectacle of the Real.  It is time for us to recover our individual responsibility to be ourselves in relationship with others as we create a better world.

What Defines Us.

This whole line of thought began for me many months ago with my post, What Defines Us?.  There I referred to the influence of my family upon my sense of identity. In that reflection, I recognized that my story is a part of a larger one, going back at least six generations, and in a specific instance much more. Choices made by various members of my family that led to historic, life-changing moments in time, are today, influencing how I make my choices, and today, are contributing to defining who I am. Their story grounds me in my own unfolding story.

My story unfolds, just as yours is, and every person we encounter. We each have a story.  The closer we get to understanding it, the stronger our sense of who we are as individuals it becomes. My story has not been swallowed up by my family's. Instead, I found myself at a young age jettisoned out into the world with the freedom to follow a path that has matched my Three Desires. Self-knowledge is not just about one's self, but about all those people and events that have influenced us. They are part of our unfolding story. This is why, for me, life-long friendship has always been important. There are no cast-off relationships, for each encounter, whether for five minutes or five decades is a chapter in my unfolding story.

Most people I know are not clear about their story. They know parts of it. Like sound bites. "Remember where you were when the Twin Towers fell?" We remember snippets of people and impressions of events. We need to remember these events so we can remember the people. We need to reconstruct events that have been instrumental in our lives in order to remember how we responded. To know this over time, to reconstruct our past can lead to seeing patterns of attitudes and behaviors that either helped us advance in life or were obstacles that held us back.

Begin with the events, look for patterns, then create a story. Weave in the Three Desires. Show how what took place reveals the things that matter to you. When we know the values that are most important to us, and we see how those values live in the best of our relationships, or their absence is the reason for the worst of those relationships, then begin to see our story.

When the story begins to be clear, then we begin to see those times when we felt at our best. Identifying that moment in time when I was my happiest self is typically one of those revealing situations. We may see for the first time the impact that we want to have through our life and work. The point when we can define the difference we want to make with our lives that matters, is the point when the story has come together.

The point became clear for me during the Questions & Answer session following a conference presentation on leadership. I had been speaking on the Circle of Impact. One of the participants asked me, "What's the impact you want to have?" Up to that point, I would have said, I want to help leaders build better organizations. Instead, in that moment, it became crystal clear to me. In that moment, the Three Desires melded into one, and I responded with,

"I want to see people who don't see themselves as leaders, taking initiative to make a difference that matters. I want to be present for that moment when they make a turn in their lives, to step out and take leadership initiative. There is no more powerful and exciting moment for me than when a person changes their life to become the person they've always wanted to be."

In that moment, my unfolding story took on a new wholeness. My philosophy about leadership was already well developed. My desire for happy, healthy relationships had been born into me as a child, and now, it was clear to me the difference my life was to make. It was then that I realized that I had my story.

The Story We Tell Ourselves

This is how our stories unfold: one page, one chapter, one event, one revelation, one decision, one action, one impact at a time.

Our unfolding story is not the one we tell others. It isn't a brand or a marketing narrative. It is, instead, the story we tell ourselves. This is very important to understand.

Every one of us has a story that we are constantly telling ourselves about who we are and what we can do. There is narrative feedback loop that is reminding us who we are, who we are not, how we are to think, behave and respond in each situation, encounter and decision we have. 

If your story is, "I can't do this!" or "I'm not going to quit this time!" or "I'm not worthy." or "I deserve this; I'm entitled; I've earned this.", then you are going to respond accordingly when you are placed into challenging, unusual and change-oriented situations.

These stories are not written until we write them. There is not a script that we are given that we are obligated to follow. Our stories are unfolding. They are the product of many unseen micro-decisions that lead towards and away from things that could potentially define our lives. As human person, we are free to write our own stories. When we invest our attention in The Spectacle of the Real, we accept the responsibility of following someone else's story for our lives.

I've seen too many people whose lives never approach fulfilling the potential that I see in them because someone else's story for them has control over them.  I see this in particular in well-meaning parents who tell their children that they can do anything in life that they want. As I've learned from those who are enmeshed in this kind of co-dependency, they feel the burden of living up to their parents' confidence in them. With those expectations comes the pressure to achieve, and with that their parents' approval and disapproval. Parents see this as love and responsibility. Their children feel it as a burden to live to expectations that are not their own.

Psychologists call this co-dependency, and we live in a culture of co-dependency. This is the culture of The Spectacle of the Real. It is a culture that says, "Trust us; We know better who you are than you do."  It is a culture of conformity to whatever is the producer of the Spectacle's expectation upon the viewing public. As a result, the #trendingstories of the day replace the stories we tell ourselves. As we lose ourselves in other people's stories for us, we lose the connection we all need between our inner selves and the outer world. The stories we tell ourselves are the bridge between the two, and help us to know how we are live each day.

A Unique Story 

My story is mine. Your story is yours. Your mother's story is hers, your father's is his. Your sister's is hers, and yours is yours. Each of our stories is uniquely ours alone. It marks our own individuality, not for others, but ourselves.

This story is a product of all the interactions, encounters, endeavors, learning, discovery, influences, and situations that we had during our lives. It is a story that provides a way to connect our inner selves with the outer world. It is a story that requires us to have discernment about what is good and true and what is false or fake.

This story begins to be written in childhood. If our parents treated us a precious little prima donna's, then the story that we tell ourselves is that we are entitled to privileges and benefits that others are not. If we were bullied, and no one came to our defense, then we tell ourselves that we are not able to take care of ourselves. If a teacher took time to help us discover some topic of learning that inspires us to learn skills for doing math or writing, then we will look for situations where we can use those skills. If we were close with our siblings and friends, then our story tells us that friendship and family are central to our lives.

Our experiences through life, whether good or bad, don't just happen to us. They form us into the people that we are. As a child, I had great freedom to come and go as I wished. Today, that freedom continues to be lived out in my love travel and the discovery new ideas.  At the same time, the injury my mother suffered when I was eleven years old, which kept her life in pain the remainder of her life, has made me more sensitive to others pain, loss and even death. Our experiences don't just happen to us, they form us into the people we become. As a result, the story we tell ourselves grows out of our life experiences.

An important part of understanding our life's unfolding story is to see that every day we have the opportunity to write the unfolding story we tell ourselves. We don't have to accept the story that we were told us as children, or the one that comes because of some traumatic experience. We each have the power to write our own story, and with it change the course of our lives, and the impact that we can have.  In this sense, to write our story is to bring healing to our lives. To create connection where there was none, meaning where once there was emptiness, and fulfillment in making a difference that matters where passivity and fear once existed.

Writing Our Stories

The stories we tell ourselves affirm who we are, and provide us a way to act with integrity. Whatever the values are that we choose to live by, we must be consistent in living those values in order to live with integrity and authenticity. If we are inconsistent, we create confusion about who we are, and raise questions about the practicality of our values.

It is for this reason, we keep these value words ever present in our minds. My approach imagines various scenarios in my mind about how I'd react in one situation or another. This has been extraordinarily helpful in preparing me to respond quickly and truthfully in complex, emotionally charged situations where I must make some statement or decision.

Living out these stories doesn't mean that we have one story that is fixed for all time. We have a story which has a core meaning that is applied in these differing situations. Our values are like a thematic thread that is woven through the length of our lives. This thread ties each chapter of our unfolding story together. We see our lives taking on the form of a serial narrative that makes sense of our lives.

Understanding that this is my story or your story is the key. We must own our own stories. We create them in real time in real situations and relationships. This is the same story we tell ourselves as we view The Spectacle of the Real. As we watch, our stories are a mirror upon which to see ourselves in the context of the images or commentary that are being presented. Instead of being absorbed and lost in the flurry of images, sounds and opinions, we can see ourselves in perspective. We can see how we fit into situations, or not, and better know how we would respond with integrity and authenticity.

The story we tell ourselves is our living story.  As it unfolds, wholeness, meaning, and fulfillment are possible.

The Edge of the Real: The Call of Desire



The physical, emotional, or intellectual longing that is directed towards something or someone that is wanted.

Sarah Coakley, PhD.

Cambridge University

Desire is a longing which bridges our inner life with the outer world. It is a longing for connection, completion, and relationship.

Desire is a longing for fulfillment or achievement. It is a longing that is born in emptiness, frustration, or loss. It is the feeling that comes from a missed opportunity or the sense of unrealized potential when a project ends suddenly, or when love shared goes unrequited. 

This longing is born in our experience of change. It is something we feel inside. It is our inner voice telling us that more could be done or needs to be done.

Desire does not fade. It seeks out that which is beyond our grasp today, but maybe not tomorrow. Our desires define who we are.

Desire precedes and is greater than our goals, strategies, plans and intentions. Desire is that deep core within us that we identify as what we love, for those people and causes to whom we give ourselves with passion and sacrifice. It is that place within us where human flourishing finds its source and motivation.

I've seen desire in people for a long time. Early on, it was that "thing" which emerged when a group began to have a vision for their organization or community. They are passionate about their cause. They see it, feel it, taste it, smell it as this movie-like visualization of a idea that comes to life and compels them to invest their shared life to bring it to fulfillment.

Passionate desire is a longing for something better that engages the whole person, mind, body and spirit. It is who we are at our most central, deep and intimate level.

The desire for wholeness is born within us. Philosophers, theologians, motivational experts, story-tellers, and artists have spoken about desire, passion, and completeness in many and various ways. They know, as we know, that this is the nature of our world. Broken, incomplete, unjust, raw, untouched potential, filled with passionate visions of the good which touch us down deep inside, drawing us out into a life which is better, more complete and whole. This isn't a new story. It is rather the oldest story of human endeavor taking on urgency for each of us, everyday.

To follow our desire, we must think for ourselves, act as responsible persons, and live as the embodiment of that desire. Out of this commitment we discover a new life, and the potential for completeness.

Philosopher James K.A. Smith, writes,

“… we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things ... what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are – is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate – what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hoped for, what we think the good life looks like. The vision of the good life shapes all kinds of actions and decisions and habits that we undertake, often without our thinking about it.”

The challenge is to not get lost in the rush of emotion that comes from passion.  We need to treat our passions with maturity, respect, and understanding.  Our passions have the power to create goodness as well as to destroy the very desires at the heart of our passion. 

We, therefore, need to understand the source of desire. We need to find a way to create patterns of thought and practices of behavior that allow us to see how to bridge the deep reservoir of meaning within in us with the world of change that envelops us like the sea does its fish.

The Three Desires

Over the years, as I've listened to what people say and have observed what they do, both in private and organizational settings, I've seen that this inscruble thing called desire is always present. It is evident in the passions and visions that people have for their future. It is also evident in their response to situations where they are frustrated, disappointed, anxious or angry.

I eventually came to see that this desire from down deep within us is a mix of three desires. I've concluded that this is the spiritual core of our humanity, or, what we mean by our human spirit. It is the center of our individual humanity that is the platform for the life and relationships we nurture in the outer world. It is what is celebrated, what elicits tears, cheers and commitment to making sacrificial gifts of art, wealth and time. From my own experience, I see this as the mark of divine intention upon our humanity. Nourish these desires, and we see why we exist, and what our lives are to mean in practice and difference. Our desires carry that kind of singular importance.

The Three Desires guide how we function in our work, our communities, and our families. Our desires are revealed when we plan, in how we address problems, in our celebration and mourning of life's transitions , when we succeed or fail, and, in how we go through the changes and transitions of our lives and work.

What are these desires and how are we to understand their function in our lives?

Our Three Desires are

for Personal Meaning, for Happy, Healthy Relationships,

and, to Make a Difference That Matters.

 Three Desires-Impact-NoFill
We desire for our lives to have personal meaning.

Our minds sort through our experiences; sift through the sensory data we are receiving; categorize the information that we absorb; identify patterns of behavior and recurrence of ideas; then, our minds establish order, perspective, understanding, and finally meaning.

Most of the time, all of this takes place just below the level of our conscious awareness. Learning from childhood onward to think this this way, it becomes second nature. Physicist and philosopher Michael Polanyi describes it as tacit knowledge. It is that knowledge that we know, but we don't know how we know it. We just know it. It is learned in the experience of life.

We think this way, finding meaning in our lives and in the world, until there are too many discontinuities. Increasingly, in the modern world, these discontinuities are markers of societal and intellectual change on a grand scale. All the meaningful continuities of the past, of belief in God, in the goodness of humankind, in the power of government to do good, in freedom, opportunity and progress. Each of these points of personal and societal meaning are in transition. It doesn't mean that the foundational truths are changing, but rather how they function in the world is changing.

Personal meaning is not just a set of intellectual or spiritual beliefs that are important to us. This sense of meaning rises from down deep in us. It is not just individual, but a shared feeling. I've seen it in working with businesses. There is something that draws these people together. Some vision or desire that compels them to join their lives together to venture forth in some great endeavor.

A vision of this sort, as I point out in my Circle of Impact Leadership system, is formed by ideas. They provide a core belief or meaning for us to make the commitment to work together towards goals that we define as our organizational purpose. A vision, then, is a picture of shared meaning that is acted upon by the people who work within an institutional system to create impact.

Circle of Impact- simple

We articulate this order by telling stories. We share our opinions, make decisions and practice ethical discernment because of the clarification of the values that form our desires, or are the product of our desire for personal meaning.

We act on what is personally meaningful, by defining our purpose, by elevating values that underlie our purpose to a central place in our relationships with others, and, then, together, implement a vision that leads to the impact that is a fulfillment of that which is meaningful to us.

Unless there is constant attention to sustaining a culture of founding values, future generations only see those values as relatively meaningless, and possibly, irrelevant cultural practices.* In other words, Personal Meaning is not private meaning, but meaning that is shared within the social context of our lives.

We desire to have happy, healthy relationships.

In a previous post in this series, Fragmented Boundaries, I write,

I am who I am, always have been, always will be. Though I live in the external world, I am who I am, in an always changing interaction between this person who I am and the world in which I live. Therefore, I am always becoming the person who I am right now.

Crossing the boundary from our inner life to the outer world requires an engagement with that world. It is in our relationships with one another that we find our most tangible connection to the outer world. Let me describe what I see.

Recently, I took a salsa making class. In this class was a retired couple who had been married for six years. As we prepared our salsas, they talked about all the cooking classes that they had attended, from Santa Fe to Boston to Paris, and soon, in Tuscany.
I asked them, "Which one of you was the foodie who got the other involved? They said, "Neither. When we got married, we decided to do something that neither of us had ever done. We took a cooking class, and found out that we both loved it."
What was it that they loved? Sharing the experience of learning, of being creative, and establishing a whole new circle of friends in their hometown.

In the context of their relationship, individual desires, long dormant, came to life. Joy and meaning, and a life that matters resulted. For not only has their experience provided them a context for a happy, healthy marriage, it has also brought them into relationship with people that they may never have had  the opportunity to know.   

We are social beings, even the most shy, introverted and individualistic ones of us. It isn't that we want to hang out with people all the time. It is that our engagement with people, more than in any other facet of our lives, is where our inner selves meets the outer world. To speak, to know, to share, or to love, requires something from within us to form into words or actions that communicate to the other person, who translates what they see and hear into something that touches their inner self.

We are not random objects bumping into one another, like billiard balls on a pool table. We are purposeful, desiring beings who seek connection with other purposeful, desiring beings.

Our shared connections make us tribal beings as well. We gather around the things we love which release our passion in life. My tribes are the church, social entrepreneurs, organizational and community leaders, people who desire change, the Red Sox Nation, jazz and classical music aficionados, lovers of history, philosophy and culture, and travelers through landscapes of mountains, oceans and open spaces.   

We learn in the context of relationships; a living context where our inner lives touch the outer world in a less mechanistic, more organic way. To know someone, to interact with them, requires us to live in a shared story of meaning and expectation. This is true for our oldest friends and family, as well as the person that we have just met.

Our human relationships are the embodiment of particular values that are intimate, social and practical.

A happy relationship is one free of doubt, open to vulnerability, peaceful, affirming, with genuine compatibility, and love.

A healthy relationship is built upon the mutual practices of openness, respect, trust, honesty, and responsibility.

There are two distinct contexts for our relationships. One is personal, the other professional.

Happiness and health in our relationships with friends, lovers, spouses, children, parents and in-laws function in a long historical arch. Live with someone for ten, thirty or fifty years, and our lives are bound together in ways that are invisible and continually present. We nurture the health and happiness of long term relationships by giving our attention to the core desires that we each have individually and those we share. It is by this daily practice that we produce happiness and health. The ancients believed that happiness and health came as the virtues of life were mastered. This is the intention that is needed in our closest, most intimate relationships.

A relationship between two people is between individual persons. Each is defined by their own distinct values. Each is defined by what they desire in a relationship to the other, and, together they grow into an understanding of the difference their lives are to make. When there is compatibility and a sharedness in each of these three parts of our lives, then happiness and health can grow.

In the professional sphere, our relationships are less personal, more detached, more difficult to be qualified by the terms happy and healthy. Modern organizations have become increasing dehumanizing, unreceptive to human interaction (communication), and lacking the supervisory space to allow for the expression of individual initiative to create a collaborative environment for relationship.

As the old, dying models of 20th. century hierarchy fail to adapt to the rapid introduction of technologies for individual autonomy and collaboration, resistance to change grows. Defense of institutional positions of power and influence create weakness in the operating structures of organizations, making them less agile and more prone to corruption and violation of founding values.

Outside of many of these corporate structures are networks of relationships that are spontaneous, open and collaborative. Leadership is not directed and delegated, but shared and facilitated. The network of the relationship is marked by the phenomenon of shared values, responsibility and outcomes. The structure of organization that is needed rises from the purpose and desired impact of their work together, and by design is agile and adaptive to contexts of rapid, discontinuous change.

Network-Hierarchy ImageThe weakness of these networks of relationships is that it is difficult to scale and sustain the work of these kinds of relationships. As a result, they need a structure within which to work that can accommodate the energy and ambiguity that exists in these relationships. The challenge of hierarchy is nimbleness for change. Networks of relationships emerge out of the discovery that we - WE - share similar desires that call us together for achieving impact.  These structures need one another to counter their inherent weaknesses.

We desire to make a difference that matters.

The desire to make a difference that matters is the most fundamental expression of human desire. It is what we do, and the effect of what we do that we see as validating the value of our lives.

For some people, the obsessive need to prove their worth in achievement is the extreme expression of this most human of desires. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the lack of desire towards achievement or fulfillment is the product of the weaknesses or absence of the other two desires.

To make a difference is to create impact. To create impact is to take some idea or value and create a living expression of it.

If there is a forward movement through the three desires, it is towards making a difference that matters.  It is the most logical place where achievement and completion are realized.

There is some satisfaction in finding what is personally meaningful, as well as in having happy, healthy relationships. But it is this third desire which brings wholeness to our lives. If values strengthen the mind, and friendship enriches our physical life, it is making a difference through the expression of values in our relationships that brings the three parts of ourselves to fulfillment.

As a result, it is what we do, create and the impact we have which is the greatest expression of human spirit, and where wholeness is realized.

The Leadership of Making a Difference That Matters

Early on in my exploration of leadership, I came to see that all leadership begins with personal initiative. This initiative is specifically an act of decision in response to an inner desire for change. In effect, leadership is a form of our inner selves' engagement with the outer world.

This perspective is vastly different from views that are hierarchial or inspirational. Neither view places the source of leadership in human desire. Instead these views see leadership as either a position of responsibility within a management system, or, a kind of sloganistic pumping up of one's emotions to do various kinds of work.

My early inspiration for seeing leadership as a function of human desire towards creating change came from Peter Drucker, one of the preeminent management thinkers of the 21st. century. In his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, that was spark that led to the creation of my own leadership consultancy a decade later. Drucker writes about entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs see change as the norm and as healthy. Usually, they do not bring about the change themselves. But – and this defines entrepreneur and entrepreneurship – the entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.

Drucker's view from three decades ago remains true today. Change is the norm. Effective leaders, as well as managers, learn to work within the context of change. This requirement is now no longer limited to people in positions of leadership, but the necessity for each individual, regardless of their place, standing or position in life or work. To respond to one's desires, is to accept, not a leadership role, but a call to take initiative to make a difference that matters.

The Call of Desire

Desire rises from within us as a longing for connection, completion and fulfillment. It is expressed in the desire for personal meaning, happy, healthy relationships, and, to make a difference that matters with one's life. This movement of desire bridges our inner selves with the outer world. When we act upon our desires to make a difference that matters, we are exhibiting the character of leadership.

Our desires, therefore, are a call upon our lives. A call to step out to make a difference in a way that fulfills one's desires.

The Call of Desire is a call to meaning, friendship, wholeness and impact in life. When we respond to this call from within us, we are deciding to change not only our outer world, but also ourselves. When we do, we turn away from the world of the Spectacle with its artificial hyper reality. We claim a reality that can be touched and experienced, created and replicated. This is how we reclaim the real for our lives and for the people and places where our lives make a difference that matters.

The call begins within, must be answered, and lived out in the world of change. As a result our lives take on the character of an unfolding story. It is this story that I'll explore in my next post.

*See Jim Collins and Jerry Porras' Built to Last for a description of this reality.

The Edge of the Real: Fragmented Boundaries


 To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go. To right the unrightable wrong, to love pure and chaste from afar, to try when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star. This is my quest, to follow that star - no matter how hopeless, no matter how far. To fight for the right without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause. And I know if I'll only be true to this glorious quest that my heart will be peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest. And the world will be better for this, that one man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage. To reach the unreachable star.

The Impossible Dream - Mike Leigh

Man of La Mancha

Mike Leigh's classic song tells a story of a man who late in life has found a calling. The quest unites all parts of him, transforms him into someone new, different, alive. The man becomes a character in his own life's play. He is now Don Quixote del La Mancha, knight errant. From this new sense of identity, the man bridges the gap, crosses the boundaries that once confined him in a fragmented existence of doubt. No longer. He is now on a mission that gives him life to the end.

The question the play raises is whether Don Quixote is a man who is a fool or a man who is more alive that all the rest of us. The answer is left to the audience, for in the end, it is this question that defines us. Who are we? Are we the fragmented soul, torn between the competing demands and defining expectations of others? Or, are we whole, a complete person, alive and flourishing along our own self-identified path of life?

Fragmented Boundaries

The boundary between our inner selves and the outer world is where we can see the fragmentation of our lives. It is here, along these fragmented boundaries, that wholeness can be discovered.

A fragmented life is a divided existence between the random, arbitrary moments of change in the external world, and the feelings of purpose and confusion within us. The external world cannot provide a kind of static, secure continuity for life. Our outer life exists in time, a context that is always changing. Moments following moments, some repeating what has gone before, others, random, new and incomplete. Yet, it is that unchanging experience of continuity and wholeness that many of us seek. We desire meaning, connection and a way to see that our lives count.

With wholeness, the gap that exists between our inner and outer lives is bridged. Not just bridged, but rather melded together so that there is little distinction between these two aspects of our lives. We discover a continuity of movement in time that has a logic often missed in the fascination of The Spectacle of the Real. Continuity is created through the intentional, and adaptive, choices that we make that find tangible expression in the outer world. It could be said that ...

I am who I am, always have been, always will be. Though I live in the external world, I am who I am, in an always changing interaction between this person who I am and the world in which I live. Therefore, I am always becoming the person who I am right now.

Our inner self is sometimes like an idea and other times a feeling, like a vapor, here one moment, then gone. To understand how this connection functions, we must begin to act consciously, with intention and discernment in the midst of time and change.

Here's an example of what I mean.

It is a familiar story. A wife and mother faithful to her husband and family over many years of marriage discovers that her husband is having an affair with her sister. This is a double blow of disloyalty to the heart of her and to her family.

How is she to respond to her husband, to her sister, to her children, to her parents and their friends, and, most importantly, to herself?

Is her loyalty to her husband a part of who she is in her inner being, or is it an acquired conventional social behavior?

What about the disloyalty of her sister?  How should she respond to her? Can she forgive her?

What of her husband? Is there hope for reconciliation with him?

Ultimately, she must come to understand how to feel about who she is as a person, a human being, a woman, wife, sister and mother? Is she less of a person because of their betrayal and her embarrassment? Or, is she a person defined by an inner core of truth; her own inner sense of well-being that is the foundation of her life?

At a point of crisis, who we are, and how we define ourselves is not measured by our response to the offending party, or the situation, but, rather, in our response to ourselves. Is she the same person now as she was before she learned of her husband's and sister's betrayal? Or has this now historic and defining event in her life, changed her. Is her own response to their disloyalty, quite possibly making her a stronger, wiser person?

The Wholeness Relationship

Wholeness is not merely a philosophical ideal, nor, a commercial marketing gimmick. It is an integral, interactive relationship between three parts of our lives, our Body, Mind and Spirit.  To be a whole person is to discover an integrity by our acting upon the ideas, desires and perceptions that constituted our sense of who we are. 

To understand how to move towards wholeness we must look deeply at the fragmented condition of our inner selves. To see ourselves as fragmented persons living in a fragmented world is to understand the fundamental relationship between our mind, body and spirit.


In this picture, the Mind, the Body and the Spirit serve as way to define the functional aspects of our inner selves. Here's how I see each.

The Mind

We experience fragmentation when the Mind is isolated into a closed hyper-rationalism (for example) that submits all experience to a rational explanation. Cogito ergo Sum, I think therefore I am. I am my thoughts first and foremost, everything else is subordinate.

The weakness of the mind in isolation can be seen in the inadequacy of a rational answer to the simple question between two lovers. "Why do you love me?". There may be a logical answer to the question, but is it an answer that satisfies the one loved, who asked the question?

This is a picture of the boundedness that Charles Taylor writes about in A Secular Age.

"I started off explicating this understanding with the notion of mind. Thoughts, etc., occur in minds; minds are (grosso modo) only human; and they are bounded; they are inward spaces.

... What am I gesturing at with the expression of "thoughts, etc."? I mean, of course, the perceptions we have, as well as the beliefs or propositions which we hold or entertain about the world and ourselves. But I also mean our responses, the significance, importance, meaning, we find in things."

I see the mind as the culminating point of a process of discovery. The mind provides a point of clarity where many notions, impulses, sensory signals come together into a relatively clear, always unfolding perspective. The result is an understanding of the world around us. It is what we finally call our perspective. When we become too bounded, too locked into our minds, too closed or detached from our physical experience that comes through our bodies, then our mind's capacity to perceive the outside world clearly is inhibited.

The limitation or boundedness of the mind can also be seen in how often we find we do not have the words to express the deep feeling of love that we have for a person. We stammer, shift on our feet, look away, and finally, say, "I don't know, I just do!?" Life is more than words. This is especially realized in our relationships with those whom we are the closest.

The Mind is a powerful tool for organizing all the information that we receive, giving it order, providing perspective, and helping us understand what we are to do. But it does not do this alone. When it is united with our Body's experience in the world, along with our Spirit's desire for life which is good and full, then the Mind's contribution elevates it all, and the Mind, sort of disappears while it flourishes in making sense of life at this moment.

The Body

Our body isn't just a containment vessel for our mind. It is a sensory collection and distribution device for engaging in a meaningful connection to the world. Our sensory lives come through our five senses - taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. Each sense contributes to our understanding of where we are. A perfume counter in Paris smells, looks and sounds different than the tastes, colors and sounds of the market place in Murree. We take sensory data in, which give us clues as to where we are, and how we are to respond to our surroundings.

Isolate one sense above them all, and perspective is lost. When we taste something that is incredibly sour; our eyes fold into our heads; our mouths squeeze the source of sourness to close off our taste buds; whatever we hear vanishes; and we lose touch with our surroundings

Permanently lose a sense, and the others compensate. Our senses, through our brain chemistry, function as a magnificent system of engagement with the world. Together, they provide us a physical connection to the outer world that helps us make sense of where we are, and who we are in that context.

Friends of mine who have lived with addiction of some type, tell me that when they were using or consuming the object of their obsession, that their body was full of sensation. For many they did it to feel, or, to not-to-feel, or to feel alive, to be free of the constraints and pains that their minds could not resolve.

A life lived just through intense sensory experience ceases to be our lives. It is a fragment of our life. Instead, it is more like a machine running at full force. Kachunka, kachunka, kachunka, kachunka, kachunka ... until some part fails, and the machine broken, stops. The machine of our senses is doing what it is suppose to do, transfer sensory data to the brain and back to the body. The Mind-Body system is a glorified human reinforcing feedback loop. When healthy and whole, we are in touch with ourselves and the situations we are in. We know how to respond. We are, what many people call, present

When out of balance, through the isolation of our mind, or, over stimulation of our senses of taste, smell, hearing, sight or touch, we lose the connection between our inner and outer lives. The boundary between them becomes a gap that must be bridged. 

This is what I see in the hyper-real world of The Spectacle of the Real. Images, sounds and snippets of thought without context (sound bites) rush at us through the screen filling our mind with sensory data. Our mind adapts to the sensory overload, processes it, and makes sense of it.

Yet, when our senses are disembodied, through the sensory experience of the screen, our engagement with the outer world is partial, incomplete, and lacking in a context. Our five senses cannot integrate us into the story that is presented to us.  We are left looking at a world that is detached and isolated from us, as if we are only partially alive.


Take for example this picture. It is obviously a picture of the ocean, taken at the beach. But, which ocean, what beach, what time of day, dawn or sunset? To see a picture of the ocean with a beach scene is not the same as standing on the beach seeing the ocean. The picture is a vicarious, suggestive experience. It is a substitute experience that touches our mind's imagination. It still has value for we can still see beauty in a picture without being present.

It is still a partial, incomplete experience. Here our sense of sight is isolated from the smell of the ocean; the feel of wet sand between our toes; the wind blowing through our hair; the taste of saltiness from the water; and, the sound of the waves coming ashore. To be present is to have a complete experience of the relation between the ocean and the beach. The picture is suggestive of what could be. It is a substitute for the real thing.

When our bodily experience is separated from our mind's rational understanding, we find ourselves living in a random, sometimes chaotic series of sensory experiences that must be repeated for the experience to be retained. The screen is an addictive vehicle for sensory overload that gives us a life that is ephemeral and transitory.

This experience is unique to the modern world. Prior to the filtering of sensory data through electrical technology, first with the radio, the electric light, the kinetoscope, and the telephone, then later through television and the computer screen, our sensory experience was an embodied one, rather than a mental one. To see the beach, you had to go to the beach. To hear a symphony, you had to go to a concert hall. These embodied experiences provided a complete sensory context for understanding. Today, less so.

An event, which is mostly engaged through images on a screen, takes on a fragmented character. The television coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings was just this way. Here's my description of the news coverage from The Spectacle of the Real.

The Boston Marathon bombings were watched by millions on television and discussed all across social media platforms and online communities. The event, though, was mostly absorbed through pictures. The bomb at the finish line exploding over and over again. The pictures of the injured and maimed being wheeled away to rescue workers and hospitals. The faces of the two brothers as they became known as the bombers. Facts were few in number; reporting rich in conjecture, and all born through images that touched our emotions.

We are moved by the images. Their repeated presentation envelopes us in a story, a partial story, without context or human connection. Is it our story? No. Whose story is it? Is it the victims story? The bombers story? Not really. It is the story through which the producers and reporters draw our eyes and ears to the screen, transfixed by the spectacle unfolding before us. 

When the Body is isolated, either in over-stimulation of our senses, or in our physical absence from the context that engages our imagination, we experience the broken nature of modern life.

In the past, wholeness was limited to the social and physical space a person inhabited. I still remember my grandfather telling me how his world changed as a child when he first heard a radio, and realized that there were people who lived elsewhere.

Today, to be whole, we must see that our lives are fragmented by design. We live in a time growing global awareness, yet we are detached from the reality that people in other places that we see on the screen experience. We can travel to foreign lands, spend a week engaged in some kind of social benefit activity, be with people who are culturally very different than us, then, return home with a feeling that we understand a whole new culture.

What we do not realize is that to understand another culture, we first must understand our own. I'm convinced that most of the people I know do not understand their own life setting. They live in it uncritically, in a numbed state of confusion, and tend to blend into whatever is trending that day.

We are daily immersed in a fragmented culture that detaches our inner selves from the outer world. It is difficult to pinpoint just how fragmented we are, because their is no real context for doing so. Bridging this fragmented gap in our lives requires that we be more than just being physically and mentally present. Wholeness requires a deeper part of our human self to be engaged. 

The Spirit

Herman Dooyeweerd, a 20th. century Dutch philosopher / theologian identified the "core of human existence" as the heart, the spiritual center of a person. It is not the physical heart, but rather a metaphorical heart. That intangible, mysterious part of us that beats to a certain passionate rhythm that is individually ours. Here, I'm identifying this Spirit as our human spirit, seen from my own experience and observation of others. This spiritual center is that place where passion and purpose emerge to bridge the mind / body divide. Each of us, everyone of us I am convinced, has a purpose, or, as many refer to it, a calling. There is some core part of our being that provides the ground for bridging the inner and outer parts of our selves. It is this that I see as our human spirit.

As I have sought to find ways to explain this core aspect of our human lives, I keep returning to experience of human love. How do two lovers know that the other loves them? When we speak of the chemistry between people, when that chemistry is filled with euphoria, ecstasy and, often, deep erotic desire, we are not simply speaking of some logical abstraction of the mind, or, some overwhelming sensory feeling or, just the function of our brain chemistry. We are identifying something much deeper within us. Something that is inscrutable, without the kind of boundaries that enable us to objectify the phenomenon. It is something that is whole, deeply personal, that grows and emerges as we nourish it.

This feeling is not simply sensory, which lasts only while it is stimulated. It is also not simply an idea, a objective proposition defining one's intellectual understanding of love. Rather, this spiritual core is something other. It is that thing that wakes you in the night with vivid scenarios of beauty or horror. It is something so deep within us that we cannot grasp it as a whole. Instead, it grasps us, swallows us whole in its significance.

When this spiritual presence is missing, there is a sense of emptiness, alienation, and ennui. It is this aspect of our fragmented selves that poets, philosophers, psychologists and theologians have pointed to as the mark of the modern age upon human life. This is why zombies seen to be a fitting image for the lives of many people today. The walking dead fragemented, broken, half alive, unable to love, share or see other human beings except as sources of their own ravenous need to consume.

Our human spiritual core is at the same time the heart of our lives and the most mysterious and untouchable. For our Spirit to flourish, to bring us to wholeness,  requires action. We must to do something as it passionately calls us into action. This is what love is, and love is at the core of our spiritual being. Without love, we are dead, simply human thinking, sensory generating machines, which are fragmented and broken. When love emerges within us, whether for a person or a cause, it is then that we begin to see how we are to live in the outer world.

In my next post, I look into what I've identified as three desires that drive our human spirit. By moving towards these desires, we begin a path towards wholeness that carries across that threshold which is The Edge of the Real.

The Edge of the Real: Our Fragmented World

Big Hole Battefield 1

I have been arguing that in order to make minimal sense of our lives, in order to have an identity, we need an orientation to the good, which means some sense of qualitative discrimination, of the incomparably higher. Now we see that this sense of the good has to be woven into my understanding of my life as an unfolding story. But this is to state another basic condition of making sense of ourselves, that we grasp our lives in a narrative. This has been much discussed recently, and very insightfully. It has often been remarked that making sense of one's life as a story is also, like orientation to the good, not an optional extra; that our lives exist also in this space of questions, which only a coherent narrative can answer. In order to have a sense of who we are we have to have a notion of how we have become, and of where we are going.

Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity

Charles Taylor

We all exist in time. We know that yesterday we went to the market, and tomorrow, we'll visit with friends over dinner or spend our days at work. We look back in remembrance and forward in time with anticipation. We understand the cycle of time as a part of life.

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes wrote a very long time ago,

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
  a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
  a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
  a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
  a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
  a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
  a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
  a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

While we may acknowledge this to be true, we also desire for time to stand still. We desire stability and continuity, to keep the good and avoid the bad. This is a response to a world that is more fragmented than whole.

Look to the conditions of our external world. It is a world of change that is often disruptive, random and unwelcome. Yet, it is this very fragmented world that we ask to be consistent, stable and compatible enough to make us feel good about ourselves and provide a ground for a personal identity that can withstand the change we experience. This fragmentation is primarily between our inner selves and the world that is separate from us.

The challenge to be a whole and complete as a real person becomes more urgent as our world fragments into hyper-realities.  Of course, to see this, understand it, and live into it requires us  to understand how our inner and outer lives have become so fragmented, how the world is and is not a mirror of our inner state, and how we can establish a path to personal wholeness.

The Hyper-reality of the External World

The hyper-real social world that I describe in The Spectacle of the Real is a world of random experiences that are presented to us as daily events of significance intended to define who we are as people.

Look at your Twitter or Facebook feed, or, watch the news scroll across the bottom of the screen of your favorite news channel, and you'll see events, causes, ideas and personalities that are promoted as information that is important for us to engage. These status updates are not descriptions of all that is taking place, but rather a filtering of what is important and what is not. The selection of what is included and not included is commentary on the news, not the news itself.

ALL media content is mediated content, not raw data for our own critical mind to determine whether it is news or not.

The early promise of social media was as a more or less unfiltered reservoir of people and information to connect and engage.  Social media sites have evolved into clever, highly sophisticated advertising platforms, promoting not just products for sale, but perspectives and social philosophies intended to guide our understanding of the future and our place in it. The more they know about us through our social media postings, website selections and online purchases, the tighter and more closed the sources of information that are provided to us.

The hyper-reality of social media fragments the narrative sense of our lives, that Charles Taylor describes. For our lives to be understood as a continuous, unfolding story, we need to be able to see our life experience as a whole in two ways. First, as having continuity and connection over the entire length of our lives, and second, as being open to what is new, different and unpredictable.

Hyper-real contexts always place us on the outside of the screen, looking in at those who are doing the real living. We are meant to see a reality that is larger and more important than our own existence, filled with the fascinating people we must follow, and never, ever, involving us as direct participants in their lives. The result is that our inner lives take on a stunted, not flourishing life, disconnected from an outside world that can fully engage us

I have often heard people say in response to my daily change of my Facebook cover picture, how much they would like to go to the places that I have been. There is nothing unusual about those places. Many are within minutes of where I live. Or, the number of times the thought has crossed our minds about how much we would like to do what those crazy guys in a YouTube video did or say what they said. Social media sharing is a vicarious experience, not a direct one, as it is not quite as real as the one we create when we act upon some desire to go see a concert or hike to a beautiful mountain waterfall.

The reality is that the attraction of the screen is always random, momentary and intermitant, never whole or complete. Our lived lives, on the other hand can be filled with meaning, friendship and a real sense of accomplishment and contribution.

As Umberto Eco wrote in Travels in Hyperreality"the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake." This is the hyper-real, social media context in which we seek to understand who we are as persons. The more deeply engaged in this hyper-real world we become, the more disconnected we become from our inner selves.

The Numbed Self, or, The Hyper-Real Inner Life

Marshall McLuhan, writing in the 1960s, was one of the first to recognize the social impact of images on a screen. His most famous epigram is the medium is the message. In McLuhan's most important book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man there is a chapter entitled The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis. In this essay, he uses the Greek story of Narcissus as a way of seeing the effect that electronic technology has upon us a persons.

"The Greek myth of Narcissus is directly concerned with a fact of human experience, as the word Narcissus indicates. It is from the Greek word narcosis, or numbness. The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions ...

... the wisdom of the Narcissus myth does not convey any idea that Narcissus fell in love with anything he regarded as himself. Obviously he would have had very different feelings about the image had he known it was an extension or repetition of himself. It is, perhaps, indicative of the bias of our intensely technological and, therefore, narcotic culture that we have long interpreted the Narcissus story to mean that he fell in love with himself, that he imagined the reflection to be Narcissus!"

Narcissus was unaware that the image was of him. His inner self-awareness was disconnected from the external reality of the pool. His sense of self or identity was broken.  His awareness of who he was had been severed from his awareness of the world beyond his perception. The wholeness of life was lost on him. He had no way to tell a complete or whole story of seeing his reflection in the water, because his perception of the image in the water and his self-perception were disconnected. He was a fragmented man captivated by a hyper-real image in the water.

McLuhan was one of the first media critics to see electrical technology as a tool for replacing our sense of identity with an artificial image. The computer screen, the iPad, the Smart Phone are objects which are now extensions of our identities, representing our inner selves in the outer world. This is why it is do difficult to let go of them. To let go is to lose our identity.  Whatever is on the screen is not who we are, but, rather, a substitute representation, a hyper-real presence.

Sherry Turkle two decades ago began to speak about how Life on the Screen provides us multiple identities. In her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other  she has similar insights as McLuhan's.

Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies. These days, it suggests substitutions that put the real on the run.

... we seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things.

But when technology engineers intimacy, relationships can be reduced to mere connections. And then, easy connection becomes redefined as intimacy. Put otherwise, cyberintimacies slide into cybersolitudes. And with constant connection comes new anxieties of disconnection, ...

This is a fragmented relational world lived through the hyper-space of the screen.

At The Edge

Charles Taylor in his book, A Secular Age, draws a distinction between the self of the modern age and that of the premodern one. He speaks of the modern self as being "buffered" against the intrusion of the outside world, and the pre-modern self as being "porous" so as to allow what is in the outside world to take on meanings that intrude into our sense of who we are.

By definition for the porous self, the source of its most powerful and important emotions are outside the "mind"; or better put, the very notion that there is a clear boundary, allowing us to define an inner base area, grounded in which we can disengage from the rest, has no sense.

As a bounded self I can see the boundary as a buffer, such that the things beyond don't need to "get to me", to use the contemporary expression. That's the sense to my use of the term "buffered" here. This self can see itself as invulnerable, as master of the meanings of things for it.

... the porous self is vulnerable, to spirits, demons, cosmic forces. And along with this go certain fears which can grip it in certain circumstances. The buffered self has been taken out of the world of this kind of fear.

... the buffered self can form the ambition of disengaging from whatever is beyond the boundary, and of giving its own autonomous order to its life. The absence of fear can be not just enjoyed, but seen as an opportunity for self-control or self-direction.

As Taylor's description shows, the separation between our inner selves, or "minds"  and the world at large is much more complex than simply identifying either a connection or a detachment between our inner and outer worlds.

The point I wish to draw here is that the extremes of either a "buffered" or "porous" self are products of the fragmentation of the world in which we live. Wholeness is discovered, lived out, at the boundary between them, which I'm calling The Edge of the Real.

Two Questions

There are two questions that I wish to raise that I will pick up in part two of this essay.

1. Is the fragmentation between our inner selves and the outside world neutral, neither good nor bad, just the way things are, and therefore, just something to adjust and adapt to each day?

I am asking whether what I have said thus far has any merit. Am I just creating an issue where this is none?

I ask this because Taylor in his A Secular Age clearly shows that there are benefits to living a bounded, buffered life, creating a safe space between my inner self and the outer world.

2. If this fragmentation is unhealthy, then what does it mean to be a whole person, and how does one bridge, cross over, heal the gap between our inner lives and the outer world?

I ask this question because of what I observe in people who are broken and people who are whole. I see a pattern or a collection of patterns that point to how the boundary between the world of our minds can engage in the world apart can become a place where life is made whole.

The Edge of the Real is a place of discovery. In part two, I'll explore what I see as the source of wholeness, and part three how to create wholeness in our lives and work.

Reclaiming the Real - a Leading Questions series


RECLAIMING THE REAL series. (March - October 2013)

What Defines Us? - "It has become clear to me that the way we understand what defines us has to change."

The Spectacle of the Real - "Living in the world of the image and the spectacle is a world where reality is an appearance and beyond our capacity to determine is this real, true and the way things actually are. This is a hyper-real world which turns reality on its head."

The Path to the Real - "To recover reality, we need to recover our awareness, our perception, of the physical spaces that we live in each day. We need to immerse ourselves in the processes of change that carry us forward. To do so is to seek to discover the fullness of human experience within the world as it exists."

The Reason for the Real - "The reason for the real is to create environments where doubt, suspicion and anxiety are replaced by trust, understanding and peace."

Reclaiming the Real through the Living Past - "Recovering the real from the hyper-reality of today's culture of the spectacle is partly accomplished by remembering the past as a living reality, here and now, in the present."

The Map of Memory - "We need to see that the world is not a collection of parts, of time and history as simply a linear list of dates, names and events, and that our lives are lived in a meaningless succession of discrete moments in time. We need to see life as whole, as integral and complete when the linkages of time and space are recognized and recalled."

The Lost Maps of Reality - "If we are to recover reality from the nullification of our minds and souls, then we must reclaim the context of history as a the map of memory, connecting past and present together as a living reality."

Hope that is Real - "Hope is visionary. It is something we can see, something we can imagine that is worth holding to, worth sacrificing for to gain a greater good in the future. In the case of Admiral Stockdale, he could see making it through, and going home. What does the unnamed author of lost hope see? Hard work and commitment without hope of success."

The Art of the Real - "Context matters because it is the ground upon which we live in the real."

THE EDGE OF THE REAL series. (March-May 2014) 

Our Fragmented World - "Hyper-real contexts always place us on the outside of the screen, looking in at those who are doing the real living. We are meant to see a reality that is larger and more important than our own existence, filled with the fascinating people we must follow, and never, ever, involving us as direct participants in their lives. The result is that our inner lives take on a stunted, not flourishing life, disconnected from an outside world that can fully engage us."

Fragmented Boundaries - "The boundary between our inner selves and the outer world is where we can see the fragmentation of our lives. It is here, along these fragmented boundaries, that wholeness can be discovered."

The Call of Desire - "Desire is a longing which bridges our inner life with the outer world. It is a longing for connection, completion, and relationship."

The Unfolding Story - "Our unfolding story is not the one we tell others. It isn't a brand or a marketing narrative. It is, instead, the story we tell ourselves."

The Leader's Call - "This call to lead comes from within us, and stimulated by our engagement with various settings of our life and work. The call to lead through one's own initiative is born in three desires that define us as individuals."

THE PLATFORM OF DESIRE series. (November-December 2012)

Part One: “I want to change everything related to 20th century organizational purpose and structure. I want to replace the institutions that created the problems we face now.  I no longer want to be sad because of the waste of human potential that I see around me.”  

Part Two:  Our loves and desires are shaped by how we live in the world around us.  The social and organizational systems and structures that are the context of our life and work is a place of engagement where we either find our desires fulfilled or frustrated.  Our happiness is not so much about what we think, but how we intersect with the social and organizational places where we live and work”

Part Three: When Nature is a platform, like any social or organizational structure as a platform, it influences what we value and desire. Or in the words of James K A Smith, what we love. To live in nature is to love it, but not in the abstract sense of love, but in the deeper sense of understanding, of respect, and of a relationship that requires listening and giving.”  

Part Four:  “The Platform of Hyper-reality- The world of social media is very far removed from our premodern ancestors' experience. Our experience is not one of a constant awareness of the physical danger of the natural world or of life on a farm. We live in a world mediated through sophisticated technology that, for many people, has removed them from any direct exposure to the world of nature."

"We live in an immersive world of an always-on information feed directed at our sub-rational desires. And the worst of these onslaughts focus on our fears, not our ambitions.”

Part Five: “Desire isn't just an idea. It is a movement within us drawing us towards some value or experience or person."

"This drawing, like water into the porous membrane of a sponge, is the activity of connection.”

THE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS series. (August-October 2014)

Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

 It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

 Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

Three Keys to Situational Awareness - "There are three keys to developing the skill of situational awareness: Objectivity, Engagement and Discernment."

The Speed of Change - "As we encounter the speed of change, we need to move more quickly than we have in the past. We will find when we do, that much of what we are now doing is adapting to changing circumstances. The quicker we do so, the better off we will be."

The Social Space of Situational Awareness - "To practice situation awareness is to see a larger picture, where my needs, wants, desires and demands, are not at the center, but just another set of considerations to be addressed in that moment of decision."

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness - "Social conformity breaks down situational awareness by suppressing individual initiative."

In the Moment of Situational Awareness - "From this place, situational awareness enables us to discern the influences that affect us both internally and externally. From those perceptions, we gain perspective. We can because we see the distinction between external realities and inner strengths. The external realities of the situation we are in seeks to control and absorb our attention. Our inner strengths are those qualities, so may say character, that enables us to move into a wide variety of settings without losing our sense of who were are."

The Story We Tell Ourselves - "What I've learn by working with a wide variety of people and groups, who are in the midst of change, is that we need a story that we tell ourselves. This story distinguishes us in every situation we are in. It is a story that enables us to know who we can trust, and who we can't. It is a story that tells us, don't go there, or, let's find out more."

The Art of the Real


Aviary Photo_130247938124161624

Analytical writing ceases to be able to express what is real and what we know about it.

Christian Smith

What is a Person?

Christian Smith's statement is particularly true of writing about beauty. For beauty, as in this vase created by Mollie Curtis of Laguna, New Mexico, is something that must be encountered in the real of life. The moment I saw it, I couldn't take my eyes off it. It isn't just the pattern, but the creativity that went into it. All by hand. No template. No formula. As she told me, a blank slate when she began. Just imagination applied in shape and image. For me, this is symbolic of the real that cannot be put fully into words. It must be encountered, not simply observed.

It is, also, somewhat contradictory to think that writing about reclaiming the real is an act of reclaiming it. The real is something that can only be reclaimed in the world of experience, of doing, of action, in creativity and through change and transformation. It is more than what goes on in our heads. It engages the fullness of our body's senses, emotions and thoughts. It connects to the moment of encounter with past remembrances of similar encounters, and gives a grounding to understand our place in time and place. This is what it means to live in the real. It is full, complete, integral and alive.  

We do need words to help us tell the story that gives meaning to the work of art and to life as a whole. In many senses that story is a story of human encounter. This is why the best novelist creates for us a real world in our imagination. She elicits from us emotions and memories, images in our minds that create a world in which we are apart as the story teller proceeds.

Carried out in the fullness of our lives, the words come to us within a context that guides us to see how we can act, not just feel. To make a difference that matters, that gives meaning to the action itself, we must be engaged in a real context as whole persons. To reclaim reality today, we must articulate why it is necessary, and why we have a problem at all.

The Inadequacy of Analytical Observation

Christian Smith's statement above gets at part of the issue, that of treating reality from an analytical perspective. This is what Pierre Bourdieu, French sociologist discovered as he studied the cultures of North Africa. He found that the analytical tradition that emerged out of the European Enlightenment two centuries before was inadequate. He writes,

Objectivism constitutes the social world as a spectacle offered to an observer who takes up a 'point of view' on the action and who, putting into the object the principles of his relation to the object, proceeds as if it were intended solely for knowledge and as if all the interactions within it were purely symbolic exchanges. 

Let's look at what he is saying here.

Objectivism is a belief that we can know something by standing apart from it. From the observers point of view everything is an object for detached observation and evaluation.

In its most benign sense, it is what the clinical lab does with the blood after your doctor draws it from your arm during your annual physical. Back from the lab comes a reading of your blood count that gives your doctor an indication of your health. However, as essential as this data is, it is your doctor's ability to see the whole context of your body's health that gives meaning to the data in the blood analysis. What matters is not an analytical reading, but a synthetic one that blends analytical analysis with an understanding of who this particular person is in their life context.

Detached observation and analysis has become the primary means for critics and commentators in the worlds of sports, entertainment, politics and society at large to present themselves as authorities.  They speak with an air of authenticity. As alleged 'objective' observers, they claim to provide "objective" knowledge for the viewing public. They exist to inform us about the issues of the day, and guide us towards a "correct" understanding of events.

Watch them on television as they interview the subjects of their observations, the practitioners of whatever arena the commentators are observing and their condescension emerges. Because they are detached, analytical observers, they believe they are more honest, objective critics. Listen carefully to their questions, and a formula reveals itself. It is the formula of The Spectacle of the Real, that I've written about in this series of posts. There I write,

Fueled by a 24/7 news cycle, actual news - a statement of "facts" that an event, an accident, a death, an agreement, a visit or something has taken place, described in the traditional journalistic parlance of "who, what, when and where" - is transformed into a spectacle of opinion and virtual reality driven by the images of faces speaking words of crisis, fear and self-righteous anger. Televised analysis - more important than the "facts" of the story- drives the news through the ambiguity of the visual image and is its source of validation.

The problem is that there is an 'accepted' narrative, and an 'unaccepted' one. The former we must 'accept' on face value, because it comes from those who have been chosen as "authoritative" interpreters of events. In this sense, the real is not authentic, the 'narrative' is the substitute for the real. The acceptance of the broadcast narrative leads to an audience and a populace who are passive receivers, dependent upon their daily missives from the screen to tell them what is true and real. This is the nature of the world as a series of spectacles as French Marxist philosopher Guy Debord has written in his book, Society of the Spectacle.

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. ...

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images. ...

The concept of "spectacle" unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena. The diversity and the contrasts are appearances of a socially organized appearance, the general truth of which must itself be recognized. Considered in its own terms, the spectacle is affirmation of appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as mere appearance. But the critique which reaches the truth of the spectacle exposes it as the visible negation of life, as a negation of life which has become visible.

Life seen as a series of spectacles, without continuity or reality, but rather a bright, shiny appearance of something of significance.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants, tells the story of the French Impressionist painters of the late 19th century. In that day, the public celebration of art was governed by the French government. An annual artistic competition called The Salon was held to determine the best (good?) art of the day. Repeatedly, the grand epic paintings of day were chosen, and the Impressionists paintings of ordinary life through very different images of color and technique were rejected. Gladwell writes,

The Salon was the most important art show in the world. Everyone at the Cafe Guerbois agreed on that. But the acceptance by the Salon came with a cost: it required creating the kind of art that they did not find meaningful, and they risked being lost in the clutter of other artists' work. Was it worth it? Night after night, the Impressionists argued over whether they should keep knocking on the Salon door or strike out on their own and stage a show just for themselves. Did they want to be a Little Fish in the Big Pond of the Salon or a Big Fish in a Little Pond of their own choosing?

The Spectacle of the Real is a constant reminder to each of us that the world is a Big Pond, and we are all tiny minnows. We are dependent upon them for their observations to determine who we are, what we are to believe and how we are to live.

It is impossible with this kind of manufactured narrative-based, posed objectivity to establish a basis for understanding what is real. Every person has a 'point of view' that they use as the basis of their analysis. Everyone of us. We, each one, speak from a context that disqualifies us as objective presenters of reality. This isn't a problem, but a social asset. Our point of view is OUR perspective. Just as The Impressionists perspective was THEIR perspective.

Context matters because it is the ground upon which we live in the real. The further we distance ourselves from the spectacle of manufactured opinion, the more likely it is that we will discover the value of our own opinion, and consequently begin to express it inways that are creative and elevating to the worlds in which we move.

It is important, therefore, that we own our prejudices, claim our perspective as our own, and speak and act from a standing position in the arena of life. In doing so, we are better able to engage in conversation and deliberation about the crucial issues of our time, because we are honest about our bias and perspective, and have the humility and self-confidence to listen, learn and engage with people of differing view points. But to get there, we must see clearly how objectivity is a mask for prejudice.

What is good art?

In college, I took one philosophy course.  It was on the philosophy of art. I took it because I was interested in art, especially the visual arts, and wanted to develop my critical faculties for understanding what I saw.  The professor told us, at the beginning of the course, that we'd spend the semester exploring art from the standpoint of what is 'good' as a way to get at what art is. What he did not tell us at the time, but became obvious, fairly quickly, was that he did not believe that there was such a quality as good.

As the semester proceeded, many of us in the class became increasingly aware that while our professor claimed an objective perspective as our academic authority, we students increasingly did not. Instead, we viewed him as a dishonest teacher of philosophy. Ultimately, it was not his stated position on 'the good' or art that disqualified him as a professor worthy of our respect and allegiance, but, rather, his constant denigration of students who saw things differently, who were trying to work out in their own real world context the meaning of art and the good. What I learned from that semester is that all knowledge is interpreted knowledge, interpreted from within a person's own life experience.


The issue here is not that we have opinions, but the relation that our opinions have to reality. Bourdieu writes,

... The theory of practice as practice insists contrary to positivist materialism, that the objects of knowledge are constructed, not passively recorded, and, contrary to intellectualist idealism, that the principle of this construction is the system of structured, structuring dispositions, the habitus, which is constituted in practice and is always oriented toward practical functions.

To know something is not to know it as an object, but rather as a part of a living context that is constantly in flux, always changing, and in which we live each day. To know something, anything, is 'to learn' to know it. This knowing is an engagement, or as Bourdieu calls it, a habitus, that involves us in the thing to be known.

These 'structuring dispositions' or habitus are the virtues that Aristotle writes about in his Nichomachean Ethics. Virtue is more than an ethical perspective as in "She is a virtuous lady" or "He is a good man."  Rather, it is a learned mastery of living. It is life as a craft to be mastered, a work of art to be created over the course of our lifetime. It is our capacity to live fully in a real world, with all its hardship of work, pain and suffering, along side the beauty and goodness that we can create through our own desires for meaning, connection and impact. Aristotle writes,

Virtue, then, is of two kinds, intellectual and moral.  Intellectual virtue owes both its inception and its growth to instruction, and for this very reason needs time and experience. Moral goodness, on the other hand, is the result of habit, from which it has actually got its name, being a slight modification of the word ethos. This fact makes it obvious that none of the moral virtues is engendered in us by nature, since nothing that is what it is by nature can be made to behave differently by habituation.

But the virtues we do acquire by first exercising them, just as happens in the arts. Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it: people become builders by building and instrumentalists by playing instruments. Similarly we become just by performing just acts, temperate by performing temperate ones, brave by performing brave ones ...

We don't know something because we read a book about it, or took a class on it. We know something by living in a learning relationship with it. Mollie Curtis did not wake up one morning and create beautiful pottery automatically. She learned over many, many years how to create a work of art as the one shown above.

The vase is a whole and complete expression of Mollie's art. It stands alone. It is does not need reference to anything else to be complete. It is not symbolic of anything. It is a work of art that is whole and complete in itself. As a result, it will be a lasting source of fascination as it resides in my home.

It is an expression of a creative life of integrity. Nothing artificial, nothing intended to push a perspective, just art for the sake of creating something beautiful.

 This vase is a product of the mastery (virtue) of Mollie's craft. It is good because it is a reflection of her learned skills. Goodness is another way of talking about excellence. As a work of excellence, it stands on its own, as a unique expression of the artist her self.

The Choice

Ultimately, it is not necessary to understand the inner workings of the Spectacle of the Real. All that is required to reclaim the real is to act, to create, to contribute to the world in which you live.

Start somewhere, and go where it leads. As you do, your world will expand. It doesn't expand by spending more time passively observing others expressing their 'authoritative' opinion. It does not because it lacks a context in which you live.

Plan each day to choose to do something that makes a difference that matters. By doing so, by focusing on creating impact, you turn away from a passive fascination with the spectacles of our time.

Ask yourself these questions.

Why is it important to understand why Mylie Cyrus has taken her performance craft in the direction that it has?

Why is it important to pick sides in the political games that Washington plays to distract us from what is really going on?

Why is it important to know how much money NFL quarterbacks make each year?

Now ask, how does this change my life, and especially what I'm going to do today?

More importantly, what will I do differently because of knowing more about these spectacular subjects?

Follow the desires that we all share. There are three of them.

1. That our lives have personal meaning.

2. That our relationships are to be health and happy.

3. That we make a difference that matters with our life.

We all share these desires. They are part of what makes us human. And to flourish as human beings, we must find ways for these desires to live and find fulfillment.

Lastly, think for yourself. Don't let anyone tell you what you must believe, think or do. Stand fast as a person of dignity, with gifts to share, having a purpose that elevates your life and the lives of others.

This is how we create our lives as works of art that enable us to reclaim the real.

May this be true for you and all those whom you touch with your life's work.


This post is apart of the Reclaiming the Real series. Links to the other posts can be found here.

Hope that is Real


Over twenty five years ago, I first encountered the writings of Admiral James Stockdale (second from left in above picture). They were writings about philosophy and life as a prisoner of war.

Stockdale was the highest ranking US officer imprisoned by the North Vietnamese. His story is one of strength and resilience in the face of torture. His attitude and behavior, during the eight years that he was in the Hanoi Hilton prison, provided the leadership that made it possible for other POWs to survive the ordeal.

Jim Collins did the world a favor by bringing Admiral Stockdale's story to a wider audience. In his book, Good To Great, Collins presents the leadership principle, The Stockdale Paradox.

The Stockdale Paradox is two practices, that when joined together, provide a strength of character that is hard to match. Collins describes it as the capacity to,

"Retain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND AT THE SAME TIME have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

This is a way that people can maintain a clear connection to reality, even in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances.

Loss of Hope

Hope and optimism have always been part of the public face of leadership. Yet,  I know many people in positions of leadership who are filled with doubt, disillusionment and lacking in hope for the future.

One of the reasons is the effect that living in a world of images and hyperreality has upon us. I call it, The Spectacle of the Real. In this culture, our sense of self, our self-perception and awareness, is established by our outward appearance. This is more than whether we are young, handsome and pretty. It is seen in the products we buy, the causes we join, the celebrity figures we follow and the way we spend our off-time.

A friend recently recommended to me a book by a popular business consultant. He did so because he felt that the author and I where addressing leadership issues in the contemporary world in very similar ways. I will not name her or her book out of respect for her past work that I have found innovative and useful. This book is a personal cri de coeur. It crosses a boundary of expression that is not simply an author demonstrating her change of mind, but rather raises questions about the perspective that she has presented for the past two decades. She reveals her own loss of faith in the ability of people to change the world. Is this a way of grabbing her audience's attention, or is she really a person who has lost hope?

My reading of the book left me with the uneasy feeling that her loss of hope has led her, not to self-reflection, but to blaming the public for not recognizing the genius of her ideas.

Here's how she frames her loss of hope.

Many of us – certainly I’d describe myself in these terms – were anxiously engaged in “the ceremony of innocence.” We didn’t think we were innocents, but we were. We thought we could change the world. We even believed that, with sufficient will and passion, we could “create a world,” one that embodied our aspirations for justice, equality, opportunity, peace ... This vision, this hope, this possibility motivated me for most of my life. It still occasionally seduces me into contemplating what might be the next project, the next collaboration, the next big idea that could turn this world around. But I’m learning to resist the temptation.

This is not a book that contemplates what we might do next, what we’ve learned from all our efforts, where we might put our energy and experience in order to create positive change. I no longer believe that we can save the world.  Powerful, life-destroying dynamics have been set in motion that cannot be stopped. We’re on a disastrous course with each other and with the planet. We’ve lost track of our best human qualities and forgotten the real source of satisfaction, meaning and joy. ...

But now, for many reasons, hope is hard to find and the good people who have created successful projects and built effective non-government organizations (NGOs) are exhausted and demoralized. They keep doing their work, but it’s now a constant struggle.  They struggle for funds, they struggle with inept, corrupt bureaucracy, they struggle with the loss of community and the rise of self-interest, they struggle with the indifference of the newly affluent. The dream of a new nation of possibility, equality, and justice has fallen victim to the self-serving behaviors of those with power.

Yet I have not set out to write a book that increases our despair. Quite the contrary. My intention is that we do our work with greater resolve and energy, with more delight and confidence, even as we understand that it won’t turn the world around. Our work is essential; we just have to hold it differently. ...

How do we find this deep confidence that, independent of results, our work is the right work for us to be doing? How do we give up needing hope to be our primary motivator? How do we replace hope of creating change with confidence that we’re doing the right work?

Hope is such a dangerous source of motivation. It’s an ambush, because what lies in wait is hope’s ever-present companion, fear: the fear of failing, the despair of disappointment, the bitterness and exhaustion that can overtake us when our best, most promising efforts are rebuked, undone, ignored, destroyed. As someone commented, “Expectation is pre-meditated disappointment.”

The author, with respect to her, is a victim of The Spectacle of the Real. She considers herself one of the experts who has the answers for solving the world's problems. She is so confident about the work she and her colleagues have been engaged in, that she cannot imagine, how on earth the world has not embraced the relevancy of their message. Her loss of hope is essentially a loss of faith in herself. She is a victim of her own celebrity and the followers who tell leaders just how important they are.  There is more that I could say in critique about her book, but that is not, ultimately the point of this post.

The Stockdale Paradox

To stay connected to reality, and remain hopeful about the future, requires resilience and circumspection.  Hope must be held within the context of the way the world actually is. Not the way we'd wish it would be.  In other words, if we can embrace reality and maintain hope, then we are more than likely to find a way to achieve our life and work goals that we would otherwise abandon.

In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins describes his first encounter with Admiral Stockdale as they walked across the campus of Stanford University.

"I never lost faith in the end of the story ... I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade."

Collins, after few minutes of reflection asked,

"Who didn't make it out?"

"Oh, that's easy," he said. "The optimists."

"The optimists? I don't understand," I said, now completely confused, given what he's said a hundred meters earlier.

"The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."

Another long pause, and more walking. Then he turned to me and said, "This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

To this day, I carry a mental image of Stockdale admonishing the optimists, "We're not getting out by Christmas, deal with it."

Reading Stockdale's account of his imprisonment, In Love and War: The story of a family's ordeal and sacrifice during the Vietnam years (co-written with his wife, Sybil, a national leader of POW wives, who brought public attention to the plight of POWs and their families), provides the backstory that illustrates the principles he described to Jim Collins.

I want to use the Stockdale story as a mirror to reveal that the unnamed author of lost hope is one of Stockdale's optimists. She lives with the resignation that " I no longer believe that we can save the world."   Her statement is not a judgment about the world, but, in truth, about herself. She believed, naively, in my estimation, that the power of her ideas, and her approach to leading are self-evidently the way the world must go. All we must do is follow her lead. Her disillusionment came in seeing that "Powerful, life-destroying dynamics have been set in motion that cannot be stopped."

Sadly, and most importantly, she does not believe that she and her colleagues will prevail in the end. Instead, "that we do our work with greater resolve and energy, with more delight and confidence, even as we understand that it won’t turn the world around. Our work is essential; we just have to hold it differently."

This is an odd denial of reality and loss of vision for how we can adapt to the realities of the world as it exists. On the one hand, she believes that the world cannot be saved. Yet on the other, she still believes that her work is essential. What is missing is reflection, circumspection, and positive self-criticism. She needs the capacity to look at her own reality, at the brutal facts of her situation, assess and recognize her own failings or limitations, and then to understand how to work with greater resolve and energy, with more delight and confidence, to prevail in the end. Her problem is not her ideas for change, but a lack of grounding in reality.

The line between idealism and defeatism is thin.  What this unnamed author of lost hope needs is the inner strength of resilience to the face of obstacles that stand in the way of changing the world. Embedded within her philosophy is a deterministic perspective that sees the world as a system of emergent forces that are outside of our control. If she is correct, then her loss of hope makes sense, and we should join her. If, on the other hand, there is freedom to affect these impersonal forces, to foster change in the world that makes a difference, then her loss of hope is not grounded in reality, but in her own fear or loss of faith in herself. 

To embrace reality in this way requires a capacity for self-learning that is more than philosophical, but at the practical level of character development.

Hope in the Midst of Torture

NVA Rope Torture
North Vietnamese Rope Torture

In a speech that Stockdale gave following his return, he speaks about the US military's Code of Conduct that was the ground upon which POWs lived under torture.

"I am not aware that any POW was able, in the face of severe punishment and torture to adhere strictly to name, rank, and serial number, as the heroes always did in the old-fashioned war movies, but I saw a lot of Americans do better. I saw men scoff at the threats and return to torture ten and fifteen times. I saw men perform in ways no one would have ever thought to put in a movie, and because they did perform that way, we were able to establish communication, organization, a chain of command and an effective combat unit. ...

Unless you have been there, it is difficult to imagine the grievous insult to the spirit that comes from breaking under torture and saying something the torturer wants you to say. ... But I and many others were tortured in ropes ... The reason it was important to take torture ... was to establish the credibility of our defiance - for personal credibility ...

In short, what I am saying is that we communicated. Most of the time most of us knew what was happening to those Americans around us. POWs risked military interrogation, pain, and public humiliation to stay in touch with each other, to maintain group integrity, to retain combat effectiveness.

We built a successful military organization and in doing so created a counterculture. It was a society of intense loyalty - loyalty of men one to another ..."

To live in this kind of life situation requires circumspection paired with an indomitable commitment to prevail over the brutal facts. This is not egotism plus stubbornness. Rather, it is self-awareness and resilience.

In his memoir, following a torture session where he surprised his torturers with an outburst of anger, Stockdale writes, 

"Anyway, I'd committed myself to another course now. Live and learn, live and learn. The rules of this ball game would change as we went along. But for now I was spinning the web, and I like it better on this side of the fence. Time would tell."

This is the attitude of prevailing.

Hope in Hard Times

Many people I know have experienced hard times. They have lost their businesses to economic collapse. They have lost children to suicide or drug and alcohol abuse. They have seen their marriages end, or lose their spouses to cancer or other diseases. These people have every reason to have lost hope in the future. It is out of these relationships that I developed my Transitions in Life & Work program.

What I've learned from these friends and colleagues, as well as from my own experience of change, is that hope is not blind. Hoping against hope is not hope. It is the loss of hope.

Hope is visionary. It is something we can see, something we can imagine that is worth holding to, worth sacrificing for to gain a greater good in the future. In the case of Admiral Stockdale, he could see making it through, and going home. What does the unnamed author of lost hope see? Hard work and commitment without hope of success.

Hope that is Real.

Hope - to believe in a better future - in the midst of an embrace of reality - confronting the brutal facts - requires us to live in the real world. Real as in the opposite of fake. Umberto Eco wrote in his Travels in Hyperreality,

"... the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake. ... the frantic desire for the Almost Real arises only as a neurotic reaction to the vacuum of memories; the Absolute Fake is offspring of the unhappy awareness of a present without depth."

A present without depth is a future without hope. It is the loss of the past as a living reality, the loss of reality as a context for understanding and, the loss of an embodied presence that gives a clear sense of who we are.  The hyperreal present is one without a past, a future or hope.

Admiral Stockdale's POW war experience is analogous to our present culture of simulation and hyperreality. His captors created a fake world of isolation built around the false charge of criminality. The entire context of the prison was intended to break down the body in order to reach the mind and heart. Reach the mind with doubt. Reach the heart with lost hope. 

It was a game of propaganda. The intended audience for the fruits of torture was the American public who would view this artificial hyperreality through the screens of televised news and their morning newspapers. The aim of the North Vietnamese was to create a hyperreality where the POWs looked like they were healthy and well-cared for, and had come to see the rightness of the North Vietnamese Communist cause. In effect, the war on the minds of the POWs was also a war on the minds and hearts of Americans in their homes across the country.

The Spectacle of the Real is a similar form of propaganda. It's methods are not physical torture. Its aim is the same. Isolate the individual into a present that has no past, nor future. This is a culture of alienation and lost hope. The Spectacle of the Real is an emotional vacuum that creates a longing for the real that can only be met through the emotional attachment to consumer products, celebrity entertainers, politicians and, the 24/7 broadcast of opinions and adviced by authorized experts.  The is not an artificial reality, but a fake one, an unreal one that seeks to end individual thought and initiative.

One could describe this system of the spectacular in the words of the unnamed author of lost hope,

"Powerful, life-destroying dynamics have been set in motion that cannot be stopped. We’re on a disastrous course with each other and with the planet. We’ve lost track of our best human qualities and forgotten the real source of satisfaction, meaning and joy."

Admiral Stockdale challenged a similar system in the Hanoi Hilton prison by creating a communication system that connected the POWs together. It was essential to their survival and their ability to resist the propaganda efforts of the North Vietnamese.

At one point during the POWs' resistance to be used for propaganda, Stockdale issued a general order not to volunteer for a bomb-debris cleanup in Hanoi. He writes in his memoir,

"... it was a trap - that for every prisoner, every shovel, there would be two cameramen snapping propaganda shots continually, and there we would be in the world press: 'American prisoners of war go to the aid of North Vietnamese patriots as Yank bombs rain on the city of Hanoi.' ... we made up another general order ... 'No repent; no repay; do not work in town.'"

The result of this defiance was that Stockdale was handcuffed in manacles, both feet and arms, and place outside in a open courtyard exposed to the South East Asian sun.  After three days, they came to take him to interrogation.  He writes,

"I sensed I was going over toward Heartbreak (an isolated section of the prison), and my anxiety was high enough, with the cuffs still at full ratchet, that I called out my name: 'Stockdale, heading for Heartbreak!' In the midst of the noon-hour quiet, I knew some prisoner would pick it up. Position reports become an obsession when you realize how close you are to permanent isolation or even death."

Hope that is real amounts to a belief in one's capacity for adaptation and resilience. In our culture of hyperreality, the loss of hope is the loss of belief that one can prevail. This loss at the inner core of lives requires us to create change in ourselves that builds character for face to face confrontation with reality.

Ultimately, what I've learned, and Admiral Stockdale's story confirms it, is that prevailing in the face of the brutal facts cannot be done alone. We need others in our lives who believe in us so that we may believe in ourselves.

The reason I did not name the unnamed author of loss hope so as not to isolate her any more emotionally than she already is. For to lose hope is to accept emotional isolation. 

Finally, how do we have hope that is real. Three suggestions.

Follow The Stockdale Paradox. Be absolutely convinced that you will prevail in the end, and at the same time, face up to and deal with the brutal facts of reality. The more you practice them, the greater confidence you have to stand on your own and be less subject to the hyperreality of modern day consumer and political propaganda.

Establish relationships where Admiral Stockdale's two principles live. We need people in our lives who believe in us. We need to believe in ourselves, but also in others as well. Where those relationships are strong, we can face the brutal facts of our world, with resilience and hope. These relationships require honesty, transperancy, integrity and mutual caring.

Learn to see how hyperreality is a fake reality. The whole point of this series of essays on Reclaiming the Real is to recover a belief that we can make a difference that matters.  It is so people like the unnamed author of lost hope, the men who shared prison life with Admiral Stockdale, and the people you and I live and work with everyday, may not lose hope, and find ways to live lives of meaning and impact.

May it be so for us all.

Series Note: This post is one in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

The Lost Maps of Reality



This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

Henry V

William Shakespeare

History is more than a record of past events. It is the story of the actions and decisions of people, and as in this scene from Henry V, the shared experience of endeavor. The Spectacle of the Real, on the other hand, wants no part in the kind of history shared by King Harry and his "band of brothers" on the fields of Agincourt. Rather, they seek the public's passive attention to their opinions, in effect to nullify the living presence of the past.

In my post, The Map of Memory, I write,

"History, in its simplest form, is a story in the context of a specific time and place.  It provides perspective for understanding how we got here, and, possibly, where we are going. The map of memory helps us decide today what is true or real within the culture of the spectacle because it reveals the embodied relationship we have to the past.This is what a well-told story does for us. Places us into a context of meaning that helps us to know ourselves within the larger scope of history.

History, as a living narrative, is accessed through memory and recollection. Seeing history as the facts of chronological time, retrieved as lists of dates, events and personalities is to fail to see that the meaning of the past has meaning for today."

History carries a deeper resonance than simply my story or your story. It is even more than our story. It is the story that illuminates the present so that we can understand why life is the way it is, how we got here, and where we might go in the future.

There is a great divide, greater than the span of the Grand Canyon, greater than the length from our world to the end of the universe, greater than the distance from mind to heart. It is the divide between individual initiative and acquiescent passivity.

This difference is the one that exists between a life lived to the full, and a life that is viewed vicariously through personalities portrayed in the virtual world of the screen. This latter existence is what I see as The Spectacle.

Look, watch, observe and be a spectator; don't speak out, just listen; don't think, just comment; don't imagine, just accept; don't act on your own initiative, just do as you are told; don't remember, just be in the moment.

This is the message of The Spectacle of the Real. A life suspended in order to absorb the opinions and conjectures of others. To do this, one must detach oneself from time and the course of history. One must live only in the moment, and forget the continuity that exists in time.

But history does exist. It is all around us. It is discovered in places of honor, remembrance, restoration and reenaction. It is where families gather to remember lost love ones. It is where communities restore historic districts. It is where people gather to commemorate significant historical events.  In these settings, history can live as an act of remembrance. In others, the commemoration is The Spectacle, where the historic occasion is just the excuse to direct people's attention elsewhere. Where history lives, we can become a part of the story as it connects to a past that informs us of the realities of the world in which we live.

William Cronon writes about what American historian Frederick Jackson Turner told his students,

"... they must bring to the past their most urgent concerns of the present. "Each age", said Turner in 1891, "writes the history of the past anew with reference to the conditions upper-most in its own time. Pursuing that idea, he argued for a history that would study not just politics and elites, but the social history of ordinary people: "the focal point of modern interest," he wrote, "is the fourth estate, the great mass of the people.' A history that would do those people justice would have to study many fields-literature, politics, religion, economics, culture. It would have to focus on places and regions which past historians had ignored, places which, as luck would have it, were also home to many of Turner's students. It would have to turn to untapped documentary sources and apply new statistical techniques to their interpretation. It would have to set American history in the context of world history, and it would do so not by simple narrative but by studying problems. If these things were done, then the histories of ordinary people in places like Wisconsin or Kansas or California might come to have the significance they deserved. "History has a unity and a continuity," wrote Turner; "the present needs the past to explain it; and local history must be read as a part of world history." "

This is The Map of Memory, where the connections between generations, between past and present, between my story and our story becomes a panorama of understanding that we can share.

This living narrative is lost in The Spectacle of the Real. History is swallowed up, digested and regurgitated, as the authorized perspective replaces historical context. We, then, suspend our skepticism, that is at the heart of learning, in favor of a passive acceptance of expert opinion.

Without critical awareness, understanding the causes and meaning of moments in time becomes unnecessary. The goal of those who profit from The Spectacle is a passive, attentive following, who believe what they are told and accept what they see as true.

The Spectacle, therefore, is the active nullification of individual initiative and thought.

History Must Be Destroyed

French critic Guy Debord, writing in the context of Europe between the 1960s and 1980s, makes this point about the Spectacle's effect.

"With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning. ... One aspect of the disappearance of all objective historical knowledge can be seen in the way that individual reputations have become malleable and alterable at will by those who control all information: information which is gathered and also – an entirely different matter – information which is broadcast.  Their ability to falsify is thus unlimited. Historical evidence which the spectacle does not need to know ceases to be evidence. ... Never before has censorship been so perfect. Never before have those who are still lead to believe, in a few countries, that they remain free citizens, been less entitled to make their opinions heard, wherever it is a matter of choices affecting their real lives. Never before has it been possible to lie to them so brazenly. The spectator is simply supposed to know nothing, and deserve nothing. Those who are always watching to see what happens next will never act: such must be the spectator’s condition."

The Spectacle is a form of domesticated thought control. It is the efficient management of public opinion through self-censorship and collective shame. 

All we need to know about what to think, who to trust, what to buy, who to vote for and what not to say is gained by listening to the expert pundits who fill the internet and television programming with their opinions and prejudices. To doubt is to court humiliation and shunning. To be a person free of having to think for him or her self, and take responsibility for making a better world is to listen, follow and do nothing. It is a kind of noble passivity where one feels apart of some great following, while contributing very little.

Bloggers know that embedded in the comment section of their weblogs lies a public seeking intellectual communion with others. The comments may be rude and disrespectful in many cases. And many are parrots and trolls who simply comment to suppress alternative comments. Yet, seeing one's ideas in print along side dozens or hundreds of other commenters creates the sense that individual contribution and mass support is possible, and can make a difference.

That difference can be made only if our perspective is broader than whatever is on the screen of our computer or television. To think independently, we must learn to read the Map of our Memories within the context of history. We need to realize that the context that we are often fed online is non-existent.

In order to think, to understand, to make our own choices, and act upon them, we must reconnect with our history.  We must look beyond the moment and recognize that what is happening now is a product of what happened in the past. It is all connected, and by making the connections, we gain wisdom for our lives, our families and communities. Here's an example of what I mean.

The Context for Understanding

Torkham - Kyber Pass - Afghan-Pak border
The border village of Torkham - Kyber Pass - Afghanistan-Pakistan border - July 1981

If we knew our history and the history of other peoples, would we have ventured into a war in the mountains and on the plains of Afghanistan?

But we did go. Do you know why? Was it to fight the war on terror or secure our rights to oil? Did we go because we didn't not want to show weakness in the face of terrorist destruction? Or, did we go to project American strength and confidence in the world?

See how confused our reasoning was. All those reasons are not reasons, but attempts to justify what essentially was an unclear context of understanding. These are the reasons that are derived from The Spectacle, which is founded upon the projection of unquestioned authority. For all the bright and intelligent experts who have continued to speak about the war on terror, not a one, in my opinion, has yet to provide a clear historical context for our actions, both domestic and foreign, since 9/11.

What do you think? Are we in a better place as a nation today than in 2001?

While I do believe America is exceptional, I also believe that it requires us to be far more humble and circumspect than we have been in our response to terrorism.

To know the history of the Afghan region is to know that war is not occasional, but perpetual. It is to recognize that no one invades and conquers. Rather one leaves as a stalemate is reached. It happened to the Soviets. It is now happening to us.

Without historical perspective, we believe anything. Collect the right images together, and anyone can be fooled for a fortnight. Then the next Spectacle is upon us because there is no real historical continuity, only momentary linkages.

Without historical perspective, we believe that history is on ourside. We look at the outcome of the Second World War, and think, we can do it again. We tried in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and now on the steppes of Central Asia. What has been the outcome? What is the endgame? Can there be a perfect outcome? Can there ever be an ending? These questions are much more easily answered when we have a understanding of history's continuity over time.

At the heart of that history is remembering the failures that brought perspective. What did we learn from our past wars?

From the Civil War on through to the current war on terror, what we learned is that if we apply enough technology, enough young creative minds and bodies to the battle, then we can defeat any foe. At least that is what we tell ourselves. In other words, we learned not humility, but hubris.

As a mindset, this hubris is applied every where American power can be exercised home or abroad.

I see this because as a person born and raised in the American South. As the descendent of men who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War, I grew up in a region that understands what it means to lose a war, and the consequences of that loss. Many of those who fought in the Vietnam conflict feel in similar ways. Yet, their loss is not to the Communist forces they faced but rather from their conviction that their country failed to stand by them as they put their lives on the line for their country.

North Carolina Memorial at Gettysburg

Two members of my family served with the 55th North Carolina Vounteers, one, my great, great grandfather, Alfred Belo commanded the regiment at Gettysburg, and another, his brother Henry, died later, during the Battle of The Wilderness. The following two quotes are taken from Jeffrey Girvan's history of the regiment.

"Once in the Confederacy, North Carolina made important contributions to the South's quest for independence. Approximately one-fifth of all the provisions and supplies used by all Rebel armies came from the Old North State. An estimated 125,000 men from North Carolina eventually served in Confederate regiments and state militia units ... at least one-eighth of all soldiers who fought for the South were from the Old North State. Only 19,000 of these fighting men were draftees. Over 23,000 North Carolinians deserted during the war, more than from any other state in the Confederacy. By the end of the war approximately 40,275 North Carolina soldiers had been killed in battle or had died from disease while serving in the army. One-fourth of all Confederate soldiers killed on the battlefield were from North Carolina."

This is part of the historical context of the Civil War. Why did all these men leave their homes and venture off to fight in a war? Is it simply to preserve the institution of slavery as we are informed today during the 150th anniversary of the war? Or is there something more going on that gives reason to their service.

"The 55th North Carolina was probably one of the least homogeneous regiments from that state. The ranks of the unit were filled by men from every region in the state and represented over 20 counties. This regiment was a microcosm of the state. These counties varied in political ideology, social institutions, total population, slave count, and economic stability. The majority of the counties represented in the regiment contained less that 4,500 slaves, but the unit had a company of men from Granville which according to the 1860 Federal Census had more slaves than any other county in North Carolina. ... Most of the soldiers who fought with the 55th owned no slaves and worked as yeoman farmers or farm laborers. Although farmers constituted the majority of the regiment, there were also blacksmiths, teachers, merchants, lawyers, doctors, and mechanics. it is reasonable to assume, on the basis of the soldiers' letters and the 1860 Federal Census information, that most of the men who fought for the 55th were not strongly motivated by questions regarding slavery. However, they still felt motivated to resist when "outsiders" invaded their soil, and they were not about to let Yankees dictate how they should live their lives."

There is much more to be said about the historical context of the reasons why these men from North Carolina and the South would go to war against their own countrymen. It is the story that is missed in the coverage of the 150th. anniversary observance. It doesn't fit the narrative because it isn't simple or image based. This lost of historical reference points means a loss of perspective about what it means to be an American.

What is it that drives people to visit a battlefield like Gettysburg? Is it a shared experience of battle as soldiers? Is it family history? Is it a desire to understand this pivotal moment in our nation's history?

Today, what does the Civil War, understood both from a Northern and Southern perspective, tell us about how we should have approached the war on terror?  What about other threats to the nation?

In the end, what drove these mostly farm boys to war was an ancient notion of honor. This idea is gone, totally eradicated, from The Spectacle that is presented to us each day in Washington, on Wall Street, and through the media. If you look there, you will not see it. You must look away to those who do not seek your attention, but rather live quiet lives of service to their families, neighbors and communities.

What has not been lost by the public is an understanding of the importance of trust in relationships. People who venture to military parks like Gettysburg, whether they are aware of it or not, come because honor is, ultimately, the only answer to Why did they fight. And they seek, whether they realize it or not, the lost virtues of honor and trust that are fought for on battlefields wherever citizen soldiers fight.

Recovering the Lost Map of Reality

In my post, The Map of Memory, I present a perspective that characterizes our memory as a map. The more connections there are, the more detailed the map of memory, and the greater our understanding of the landscape of meaning.

French theorist Jean Baudlliard's Simulacra and Simulation, written a quarter century ago, is today more relevant than ever. He writes,

The great event of this period, the great trauma, is this decline of strong referentials, these death pangs of the real and of the rational that open onto an age of simulation. Whereas so many generations, and particularly the last, lived in the march of history, in the euphoric or castastrophic expectation of a revolution - today one has the impression that history has retreated, leaving behind it an indifferent nebula, traversed by currents, but emptied of references.

Walking the battlefields of Gettysburg during the 150th. anniversary of the battle, I wondered whether there were sufficient reference points for the thousands of people present to understand what had taken place. More than anything, as troop movements are described, cannons fired, and heroism celebrated, I wondered if anyone would leave with an understanding that these thousands of young men did not come to play war games, shoot their cannons recreationally, and go to battle to have stories of heroes to tell their grandchildren. They came to kill as many men on the other side of the battlefield as possible in the name of honor.

The Spectacle avoids death in these terms. Death as the purpose of fighting wars. Death to the Spectacle is something to sensationalize, as the daily murder trials that fill newspapers and televised news shows. We become immune to death when the killers become celebrity personalities. It becomes a game whose purpose is to divert us from reality.

The nation's awareness of the deaths on 9/11 are the exception. Within a few short months, though, we loss our historical perspective as Americans cheered the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. I am not a pacifist. I believe that war is often necessary and unavoidable. I respect and honor the men and women who go to war. But I do not at the same time view it as a game, a Spectacle for our amusement. I hate the deaths that result, the loss to families and communities, and the desensitization to death that results.

French cultural philosopher Guy Debord, who was the first to write this phenomenon in Society of the Spectacle and two decades later, in Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, writes,

History’s domain was the memorable, the totality of events whose consequences would be lastingly apparent. And thus, inseparably, history was knowledge that should endure and aid in understanding, at least in part, what was to come: ‘an everlasting possession’, according to Thucydides. In this way history was the measure of genuine novelty. It is in the interests of those who sell novelty at any price to eradicate the means of measuring it. When social significance is attributed to what is immediate, and to what will be immediate immediately afterwards, always replacing another, identical, immediacy, it can be seen that the uses of the media guarantee a kind of eternity of noisy insignificance.

This is how we came to lose our maps of reality. What is reality, if not a clear perspective where we can see ourselves in both a positive and critical light. We have lost this capacity for self-criticism as individuals and as a nation.

The things that provide us a basis for understanding the past are being lost in the unreality of the Spectacle.

History isn't simply facts, dates and names or a rationale for contemporary ideologies. History is a living human context of conversations about who we are as people and how we inhabit time and space on both a local and a global scale. It is also what has truly mattered in our lives when we reach our lives' end.

George Santayana is famous for having written, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

If we are to recover reality from the nullification of our minds and souls, then we must reclaim the context of history as a the map of memory, connecting past and present together as a living reality. 

All this requires is a willingness to think for ourselves and take responsibility for what we learn. That's all.

Series Note: This post is one in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

The Map of Memory


Parker Homestead near Three Forks, Montana


                                         Time past and time future

    Allow but a little consciousness.

                                    But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,

                          The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,

                              The moment in the draughty church at smokefall

                           Be remembered; involved with past and future,

          Only through time time is conquered.

Burnt Norton

Four Quartets

T.S. Eliot

Time is the nemesis of progress. Time is change. Yet, not all change is progress. Instead, change is the natural state of all things. Things grow and decline simultaneously. To see this reality requires perspective, the perspective of memory.

To remember is to see the past as integral to the present and instructive for the future. But memory is difficult in a time of images and spectacle.

William Faulkner wrote in his novel Light in August,

"Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders."

Our memories are a presence that lives in, some say haunts, time. History is not just collections of the facts of time, place, person and institution. History is memory. Representations of the reality of our lives: of our past successes and failures, of love, rejection, boredom and abandonment, of joy and suffering, of life and death. Memory is the record of life lived.

Living in a time where images and spectacle dominate and dissimulate, we distance ourselves from the reality of the past as it lives in the present. There is an unfortunate prejudice against the past as less progressive, modern, forward and complete. The result is the lost of a context for perspective for knowing who we are, and why our lives, and our world is as it is. In remembering, we reclaim time as the past is present for us.

Remembering in Context.

Anyone who has a shared past with others realizes that our perception of the past is highly individualized. It is personal. Listen to a group of friends who have shared a concert, and they each remember something unique to their own experience, even as they stood and clapped and cheered together. The richness of the experience is both shared and individual.

Our memory is a patchwork quilt of recollections that help us to see the past. We don't remember facts, but the connections that link what we call facts into a picture that helps us to remember the past as present. As that recollection lives, it changes, becomes clearer, and its value grows.

I don't remember every meal I've ever eaten. I do remember the ones where there was a significant human encounter with another person or persons. I remember Thanksgiving at my mother's parent's home; how the cousins ate in the foyer of the house; how we played football in the front yard, and roamed the woods surrounding the house. These moments in time remain with me, and form the bond that I have with my sisters and my cousins. Time remembered and cherished.

In The Spectacle of the Real, the past is not history as it happened last week or a century ago.  It is a platform for the sensationalization of the current moment. This past no longer represents the past, but rather a simulacrum, a replacement of what happened to serve the moment of attraction. The past becomes a Disney-like hyper-reality, pristine and sanitized for consumer consumption. 

In this way, our memories are valid only if they fit a narrative structure that is contrived and hidden. The spectacle nature of hyper-reality makes it difficult for the real of the past to live in the real of the present. There is no connection, no relation that allows for this blending of time past and time present to make sense.  As a result, memories, instead of serving us by connecting us to meaning, are treated as illusions.

Is it any wonder, then, why life in the modern world feels so disconnected and unstable. These are not just feelings, but recollections of our embodied memories telling us that something is awry, not quite right. We must listen to reclaim the real.

Our memories, therefore, are the ligaments and tendons of time that tie together the events of the past into a body of remembrance that gives us perspective and meaning. The more we remember, the better able we are to discern the real from the hyper-real, the true from the false, the good from the meaningless.

Memory in a Lockbox

Memory in modern thought has been treated as if it was a container for objects of remembrance. We retrieve the past as snippets of data that are contained in a book or an encyclopedia, sealed in a bank lockbox or in a computer harddrive to be shared on Twitter, Pinterest or Tumblr. David Farrell Krell describes this perspective.

"'Memory,' says John Locke, ' is as it were the Store-house of our Ideas.' ... Memory is a storehouse whose stores are nothing stored nowhere. ... Call it then a power to revive perceptions of 'Ideas' once perceived, along with the assurance that one has perceived them before; a power of the mind to paint its 'ideas' afresh on itself, though with varying degrees of verisimilitude. Verisimilitude? To what should memories approximate? Whence the assurance that one has perceived this or that before? Apparently memory is a storehouse?"

The Wikipedia entry on memory provides a similar description.

"In "Psychology", memory is the process by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding allows information that is from the outside world to reach our senses in the forms of chemical and physical stimuli."

I find this not only an inadequate perspective, but misleading about human experience. It suggests that memory is a fixed object of information that can be isolated from our experience. Maybe, in a laboratory, a memory can be isolated in such an pristine manner.

However, we don't live in research labs, but in the real world, where our memories, good or bad, live with us. We don't have the option, if we desire to live healthy lives, to isolate parts of our lives, like the past, our memories, as if they don't matter. We are whole beings, not mechanical thinking contraptions that can simply shut down one function so others may continue unhindered by remembrance.

Our memories function within our intellectual, emotional and spiritual selves. We are not separate from our memories. They live with us. We can choose to embrace them or deny their presence, and that is where the challenge of recovering the real in our lives exists.

Memory in Context

Our memory exists in a context of space and time, and in relation to the people who were present then, and who are present now.

I remember many events as a child. I remember being lost at the county fair, fearful of never seeing my parents again, and then standing at the gate, relieved to see them approach. I see and feel it as if it was yesterday.

I remember the days that I spent as a refugee worker during the summer spent in Pakistan in 1981. I remember how those eight weeks were a progression of days of travel, on foot, by jeep, van and plane, every day, to a new corner of the mountains of northern Pakistan, engaging new and different people every day. I remember those days as if they were one long epic story that occurred yesterday. The pictures that I took, the map that I carried, and the journal I wrote in that summer, all contribute to memories remaining vivid to this very day.

As a result, my memory of Pakistan, is not that which we see on the evening news. My memory is not the televised spectacle of the war on terror taking place on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead, I see a country divided by terror, no different than ours. I see mothers and fathers, and their children suffering because of wars, both internal and external, that have been their constant experience for centuries.

Is memory just data, like a commodity, stored and retrieved at will? Or is our memory a context of living history that influences how we live, relate to others, and find direction in life?

This is the question that we must answer to find reality for our lives today.

The Map of Memory

A better analogy for our memories is that of the map, an interactive map of connections, personal, physical and cultural. There are points on the map, the "facts" of history, like a birthday date, the name of your 4th grade teacher or that song from your first junior high school dance. Our recollection moves between these kind of facts to create a landscape of memory that we remember as a story.  Tied together they create a landscape of recollection that places us back in the moment of time.

When I was five or six years old, I swiped a pack of gum from the drug store that my parents patronized. As we drove home, my father asked where I got the gum that I was chewing. I said at the store. He turned the car around, and took me back to the store, where I apologized, and my father paid the clerk. That early childhood moment, I remember vividly, the layout of the store, the moment in the car, the place on the route home when my petty theft was discovered. But the central memory of that moment in my childhood isn't the fact of my thievery, but rather the shame I felt.

In this sense, the map of memory cannot be just facts, but rather the connections between those facts. These connections are paths that link the parts of our experiences into a whole picture, like a map, which guides us through our memories. The more complete the map, the more complete our memories.

Our memory is part of the moral context of our lives. We access meaning and purpose for our lives through our embodied sensory experience.  To remember is to be ever present in that memory. With that memory, we remember what matters and why.

Where do those connections come from? Our memories are not created out of nothing. They don't originate with themselves. They are not like the false memories of the Spectacle. They are representative perceptions of the world that we experienced at the time, that remain with us as memories.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes in Phenomenology of Perception,

"... in order to fill out perception, memories need to have been made possible by the physiognomic character of the data. Before any contribution by memory, what is seen must at the present moment so organize itself as to present a picture to me in which I can recognize my former experiences. ... ."

We are embodied persons, not memory containers, or mechanical thinking machines. Our memories are links to past perceptions that are recollected in the context of current ones. This linking creates a map of memory that is constantly being evaluated and reformed in the blink of an eye. Merleau-Ponty writes,

"No sooner is the recollection of memories made possible than it becomes superfluous, since the work it is being asked to do is already done."

Living memories, therefore, no longer live in the past, but in the present, and become part of the moment itself. This is the unfolding character of time and history. It is not linear, but whole, opening itself up to new "maps" or landscapes of understanding.

A Map of a Moment in Time

I see it in my minds eye. I see the precise moment, the place in my fifth-grade classroom, the angle of my head as I looked at the speaker on the wall, as the principal of my elementary school announced to us that President Kennedy had been shot and killed.

That memory is a map of a whole series of moments all linked together like a network of pathways that will forever remain with me.

I remember vividly what happened from that moment on Friday afternoon through Sunday morning in late November 1963. The Friday afternoon in the classroom. The Saturday I spent at my friend Steve's house where every channel on the television was about the assassination. The Sunday morning as our family watched coverage on the television, then seeing Lee Harvey Oswald being escorted out of the Dallas police station only to be shot dead by Jack Ruby. 

All those recollections of moments within that three day time frame serve as a map through those days. It is not the linear record of the clock, but rather a map of the landscape of time. Landscape as in a panorama of images and emotions all connected together to create a whole, embodied memory though my own personal, quite selective recollection. What is remembered is the connections that link the various parts of those days. This is how memory works. It is a landscape canvas that captures a moment in time that continues to live, past and present together.

Memory as a Living, Ever Present Story

History, in its simplest form, is a story in the context of a specific time and place.  It provides perspective for understanding how we got here, and, possibly, where we are going. The map of memory helps us decide today what is true or real within the culture of the spectacle because it reveals the embodied relationship we have to the past.This is what a well-told story does for us. Places us into a context of meaning that helps us to know ourselves within the larger scope of history.

History, as a living narrative, is accessed through memory and recollection. Seeing history as the facts of chronological time, retrieved as lists of dates, events and personalities is to fail to see that the meaning of the past has meaning for today.

This is why the novels of William Faulkner have had such a powerful influence upon people in the South. We are brought into a world of living memory that resonates as true and real, even though we live in a different time and place. Few of us alive today, lived in the culture of the Deep South in the late 19th, early 20th centuries. Faulkner's stories are narrative histories of human imagination that place us in a time remembered that is as contemporary as it is historic.

Lee Anne Fennell describes Faulkner's literary world as,

"... a 'land haunted by memory' ... too little attention has been given to memory's overarching role in elucidating such distinctively Faulknerian elements as disordered time, preoccupation with the past, the influence of the dead, and, most importantly, determinism. It is memory ... that pulls pieces of the past into the present, resurrects the dead and remakes family history. ... Time collapses for Faulkner's people: the past is conflated with the present, the dead share narrative space with the living, and childhood traumas lie just beneath the skin of the present moment."

This is not the container view of memory, but rather a living context, a living presence, that is more spiritual than informational.

Faulkner's intentional disordering of time brings the past into the present as a living reality that is not just personal, but a shared experience of human community, at its best and worst.

French novelist Jean-Paul Sartre in his essay about about Faulkner's use of time in The Sound and The Fury, writes,

"In the classical novel, the action has a focus ... It would be futile to look for this kind of focus in The Sound and The Fury: is it Benjy's castration? Caddy's unfortunate love affair? Quentin's suicide? Jason's hatred for his niece? Each episode, once it has been grasped, invokes others - in fact, all the other episodes connected with it. Nothing happens, the story does not progress; rather, we discover it behind each word as an oppressive and hateful presence, varying in intensity with each situation. ...

It is man's misfortune to be confined in time. '... a man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you'd think misfortune would get tired, but then time is your misfortune. ...'  This is the true subject of the novel. And if the technique adopted by Faulkner seems at first to be a negation of time, that is because we confuse time with chronology. Dates and clocks were invented by man: ' ... constant speculation regarding the position of mechanical hands on an arbitrary dial which is a symptom of mind-function. Excrement Father said like sweating. To reach real time, we must abandon these devices, which measure nothing: '... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.' Quenton's breaking his watch has, therefore, a symbolic value; it forces us to see time without the aid of clocks. The time of the idiot, Benjy, is also unmeasured by clocks, for he does not understand them." (emphasis in the original)

Faulkner's treatment of time, as Sartre describes, is quite similar to what I see as the map of memory. It is landscape of recollection that travels with us.

Faulkner is famously remembered for the quote from Requiem for a Nun, "The past is not dead. It is not even past."  I find this to be true. It is a living presence that fills in the gaps of perspective so we can better see the world as it is. This is not just an alternative to the Spectacle, but its opposite.

Mapping Our Memories

In order to regain our sense of the past as a living reality, we need to make one important shift in the way we perceive the world.

We need to see that the world is not a collection of parts, of time and history as simply a linear list of dates, names and events, and that our lives are lived in a meaningless succession of discrete moments in time. We need to see life as whole, as integral and complete when the linkages of time and space are recognized and recalled.

"The past is not dead. It is not even past."

To recognize this to be true requires us to be skeptical of all claims to authority by those who produce The Spectacle of the Real. They must earn their credibility and our trust by demonstrating a respect for the past as meaningful in itself for making sense of the present.

It is, therefore, not enough to simply understand that history is the map of memory. We must understand how to use the map of memory to reclaim the real that has been lost. I'll address this in my next post, The Lost Maps of Reality.

Series Note: This post is one in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

Reclaiming the Real through the Living Past

Aviary Photo_130143349190604384"The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Gavin Stevins

Requiem for a Nun

William Faulkner

The Spectacle of the Real penetrates into all aspects of contemporary life. It isn't just about the media, or the news, politics or sports. It is also about family and history.

Families get trapped into the culture of the spectacle when the externals of consumer choice determine how a family positions themselves within the social environment of their community.  The context of history provides a counter-balance as past generations' culture of identification provides perspective for self-identification.

The advent of "moving pictures" over a century ago in films and later television initiated the use of images as a way to depict the real world. Over the decades, the image on the screen became increasingly a hyper-reality.  Post-World War II families, as presented on the screen, were understood to be a cultural standard for what a typical, traditional, middle class American family should be. The emergence of a new and growing middle class marked the shift of families out of the the poverty of the Depression era as a new society of consumers, with Hollywood and Madison Avenue as their guide.

Television's presentation of families shifted over time to become less traditional to more hyper-real and spectacular. Beginning with the traditional family of The Donna Reed Show, to all-male families of My Three Sons and Bonanza, to the pristine frontier family of Little House on the Prairie to the blended family of The Brady Bunch, each family represented a type of growing hyper-real traditionalism, where what constituted a family became less and less defined. 

The ironic genius of Norman Lear in the late 60s and 70s, entered new families in shows like All in the Family, One Day at a Time, and The Jeffersons as the traditional understanding of the family was turned upside down.The span of television's perspective on the family came full circle as the Huxtable's of the Cosby Show were an updated affirmation of traditional family values and structure.

The_Loud_Family_1973All these shows, though were fictionalized families in situation-comedies and historical dramas. Even as a kid, I knew they were not real families. Then in 1973, An American Family premiered on PBS. This was the first truly reality-based show. The series followed The Loud family through their daily lives. One son, Lance, came out as gay during the series. The parents, Pat and Bill, separated and divorced during the series. It began the trend toward reality television that continues to this very day in series like, The Real Housewives of Orange County. 

The spectacle of hyper-reality is detached and voyeuristic at its core. It builds around the attraction of the images and stories whose unbelievability makes them all the more believable.There is fascination in people who are somewhat like us, yet, not like us at all. This is the pull of hyper-reality.

As a result, history has become less a continuing story of the past, but, rather, a design backdrop for the present.

History as Context for the Real

My son Troop and I have a long running, ongoing conversation about history, its place in the modern world, and its effect upon our family.

As a young man, he is seeking to understand history through the craft of writing novels. I find his insights deep, rich and expansive. He has begun a multi-volume history of one North Carolina farm family through many generations. The first volume of this family's story, The Knot of Home, will be published later this summer. Here he describes the cycle of stories that he has begun.

Stories have beginnings and ends, we all know, but sometimes we aren't aware of the start until we have already reached the finish.  Maybe we were simply unaware of what was happening, or were born at the wrong time to have seen the whole of the story from its inception. 

Arlen Breckenridge came to realize this too.  Perhaps he feared that he was at the end of the cycle, that the family ways would all die with him.  But that gave him the ability to look back to the beginning of his story, embodied in his family, and understand.

The Knot of Home, though chronologically the last, is in truth the first of several books in The Breckenridge Cycle.  Each book in the Cycle will examine the roots of the American agrarians, their values, their ways, and what they fought to build and preserve, often in vain, as America modernized.  The Cycle will illuminate for all Americans what has been lost and forgotten, but what can be remembered and upheld, if we just have a little imagination.

Following one of our late night conversations about history and our time, I asked him to put in writing what he had said. Here's a portion of what he sent.

Rather than a distinct collection of facts that we know are right, have been tested and proven, are easily definable, and can be used to justify any theory or position on the world (present and past) in a neat, bibliographical form, history is rather a massive, ill-defined, humbling dialogue, both between individuals, but also larger groups, communities, etc; and also between the self-conscious thinker and his acknowledgement of his own influences, personality, and tendencies.

The latter definition encompasses everything - every discipline, field, tool, etc. - as a way for understanding the world in relation to the past (which is really the only real world, because it colors our view of the present). Thus it can build something by the agglomeration, juxtaposition, tension, or negation of various ways of looking at the world.

To get at both a certain true historical reality and thus a workable method for living in real, current world (two sides of the same coin), I am not writing any academic history. I am not dealing with facts, because the tested and proven facts that I was given by those who have "done the work" before me do not explain the reality that keeps poking its Cyrano de Bergerac nose through the curtain. Thus I combine from different sources - folk tales; philosophy; my own archaeology of past behavior in certain groups of "backwards" people; personal letters; psychology; traditional histories; and literary archetypes. These all prove to be different tools for getting at the same thing, which you will never do perfectly. For choosing one of these methods for understanding is as arbitrary as choosing "facts." There is no rational (or otherwise) criteria for choosing facts as criteria. But if you understand the uses of each method and are prepared to create a dialogue between them (both in your own head and potentially between other people who represent a given method), then you stand a chance at working out some kind of synthesis. ...It is all context, then. It is also the universal. ... Thus the dialogue runs on, getting closer to the truth, but always needing expansion. (Emphasis mine.)

This historical context for recovering the real is a dialogue that takes place with many contexts, not just one or two.  Most of us can access these histories. They are embedded in our families and the communities where we live. We do so by talking with others, doing some leg-work, doing research online, and being aware of the historic connections that exist between the present and the past.

The Context of Family

I have a photo file of grave markers of the members of my family, from both my mother's and father's side, going as far back as six generations. I have been accused, jokingly, but not without cause, of practicing ancestry worship; it isn't worship, but honor and remembrance.


The scene above is of the Brinegar Cabin where Martin (1856-1925) and Caroline (1861-1943) Brinegar settled after they migrated into the mountains from the foothills of the Piedmont region of North Carolina in the late 1800s. This cabin is preserved by the National Park Service within the boundaries of the Blue Ridge Parkway (Mile Marker 238.5). The Brinegar's (notice the different spelling from mine, Brenegar) are "distant" cousins. We have to go back about five or six generations to find the family connection between my father's line and Martin's.

The story of Martin and Caroline and their cabin provides context for understanding my father's father's family who lived within a twenty mile ride of the Brinegar's before they moved to the mountain. Seeing the contrast between Martin and Caroline's life and my grandfather's family's life in town has provided me and my family perspective on who we are.

What is that story? Martin's lineage were farmers. My grandfather's were merchants, clerks and government workers.

On both sides of my family, I cannot find a single farmer within the past five generations. One great, great grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. Another great, great grandfather was a newspaper man, and his father ran a general store. My mother's father's mother's grandfather (my great, great, great grandfather) was a farmer in the Swannanoa River Valley of Buncombe County, North Carolina. One great grandfather was a lawyer, another a banker. Others were politicians and civic leaders. My father's father worked as clerk for a tobacco company. My other grandfather was a lawyer and a veteran of the battles in France during the First World War. No farmers after the first half of the 19th. century though.

What does this family history tell me, my siblings and my children? It shows how we were part of the growing modernization of the region and the nation. That there are reasons why we are more mobile, less rooted in the soil, and why our consumer tastes are more urban than rural.

I understand the reasons why my mother's mother told the stories that she did. Why she impressed upon us certain values. Why family was important. It wasn't about pride. It was about history and honor for those who came before us, and about never bringing shame to the family.  It is identity and meaning that links generations of my family over the past 300 years.

My mother was a Morrison. Our Morrison line came from one of three brothers that came over from Scotland in 1750. Those three brothers ended up in the Rocky River community of Cabarras County, north of Charlotte, North Carolina. Two sisters there have done the genealogical research and produced a volume on each of the brother's lineage. It is fascinating to see time through the lives of these families. It is more than a history of the nation. It is a tangible way to understand the social, economic and political changes that have taken place over the past three centuries.

My father's family came to America in 1730 on a ship from Germany into Philadelphia. The Bruenenger's, as the name was spelled then, eventually migrated, like my Morrison kin into the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The two families were only about 65 miles apart. And yet, it was not until around 1949-50 that my parents met, and these two families were joined in their marriage.

Our family histories are not just about family, but about identity, place and community. In understanding them as living histories, we begin to understand ourselves within the context of each day's historical transition from the past to the future.

Traditions: Dead or Alive

I know many families that are broken, as spouses, children, siblings, parents and grandparents are at odds with one other. There is something missing from their relationships. It is only partly the self-centered independence of our time. That is too simple an explanation for the problems that I have seen in many families during my lifetime. 

The lack of a broader context for understanding who the family is, and the obligations that come with being family is a greater contributing factor. The weaknesses that I see are not because these families are not following a traditional path of recognized family values. In fact, many of these families, that are in distress, are very traditional in their approach to being a family. The reality though is that the family doesn't work for each member. There is a failure for the family unit to provide a sufficient environment for the child to discover her or his identity in the context of the history of the family.

For many families, the expectation placed on the younger generation is that they will follow along the path that previous generations have trod. That loyality to home and hearth is to resist change, and sublimate one's own personality and sense of call in life to the family. This is the heart of Rod Dreher's story, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, where he leaves his small town Louisiana home to discover his course in life, returning after the death of his sister, to discover a part of his family's life that he had missed by moving away.

Col AH Belo - 55th NC CSA
Col. AH Belo - 55th NC regiment, CSA

This also part of the story that my son Troop is writing in his The Breckenridge Cycle of novels.

We all wonder what it means to go home. For Arlen Breckenridge, it is no different. Leaving his North Carolina farm to fight a bloody war across Europe, Arlen finds that the memory his own home, a real and lasting place, is the only thing that makes him fight on. He hopes to protect it and return to it. But when he returns the hero, Arlen is a different man. His little rural world has changed, too, and Arlen is left almost alone, trying to bring the soil of his old farm back to life. Was all his sacrifice, misunderstood by everyone around, all for nothing? Or can he find redemption in how he has changed, able to make his home, his farm and family, live once again?

The larger context of family history is recognizing that each generation has had to establish their own path, while maintaining connection and respect for the past. At the heart of this context are values that provide a basis for understanding what has worked and has not worked in the past for families.

How we approach our family's histories is a guide to how we can approach history in general. If we close off understanding of the past because there are unpleasant aspects of it, the presence of the proverbial horse thief or scoundrel, then we also close ourselves off to a recognition of values that are worthy of elevation, and have served to define us as people.

Younger generations often struggle with the forced allegiance to family traditions that seem without logic or reason.  This is often their parents and grandparents fault for failing to articulate the significance of the values that are at the center of their family's history. Families, like other traditional social and organizational structures, can fall into the trap of simply doing things because that is the way it has always been done. However, if they looked back in their history as a family or group, they'd see that those hardened traditions had a beginning in time that were created with the same sort of resistance to change as new ideas today

There is a difference between traditions that are alive and those that are merely habitual. The difference are values that provide the glue to the relationships. Values, when they are elevated to a place of engagement, are a living context for families. 

In my own family's history, I go back to the decision my great, great, great grandfather, the proprietor of the general store mentioned above, gave to his son to make at the outbreak of the Civil War. The choice was to stay home, help his father run the store, or leave as a volunteer, and if so, the store would close. He chose to join the Confederate volunteers from North Carolina and spend the next four years at war. 

Choice, responsibility and contribution are values that are part of my family's past that live on in how we function as a family today. The strength of those values provides the glue that holds us together as we live in different parts of the country and world, and as we, like all families, go through times of trial.

Living within the context of history enables us to know and understand who we are. This is particularly true for families. Without a grounding in the past, even if that past is not one of strength, provides a context for knowing what are the values upon which we can build our future. 

Recovering the real from the hyper-reality of today's culture of the spectacle is partly accomplished by remembering the past as a living reality, here and now, in the present. Memory becomes an important aspect of this process of recovery, and is the subject of the next post in this series.

Poetic Postscript

2010-11-08 13.36.32

After posting, I decided to add this poem by Kentucky farmer and writer, Wendell Berry.


Wendell Berry

And Now in the Abbyss I pass

Of that Unfathomable Grass …


Dear Relatives and friends, when my last breath

Grows large and free in air, don’t call it death –

A world to enrich the undertaker and inspire

His surly art of imitating life, conspire

Against him. Say that my body cannot now

Be improved upon; it has no fault to show

To the sly cosmetician. Say that my flesh

Has a perfection in compliance with the grass

Truer than any it could have striven for.

You will recognize the earth in me, as before

I wished to know it in myself: my earth

That has been my care and faithful charge from birth

And toward which all my sorrows were surely bound,

And all my hopes. Say that I have found

A good solution, and am on my way

To the roots. And say I have left my native clay

At last, to be a traveler; that too will be so.

Traveler to where? Say you don’t know.



But do not let your ignorance

Of my spirit’s whereabouts dismay

You, or overwhelm your thoughts.

Be careful not to say


Anything too final. Whatever

Is unsure is possible, and life is bigger

Than flesh. Beyond reach of thought

Let imagination figure.


Your hope. That will be generous

To me and to yourselves. Why settle

For some know-it-all’s despair

When the dead may dance to the fiddle


Hereafter, for all anybody knows?

And remember that the Heavenly soil

Need not be too rich to please

One who was happy in Port Royal.


I may be already heading back

A new and better man, toward

That town. The thought’s unreasonable,

But so is life, thank the Lord!



So treat me, even dead,

As a man who has a place

To go, and something to do.

Don’t muck up my face.


With wax and powder and rouge

As one would prettify

An unalterable fact

To give bitterness the lie.


Admit the native earth

My body is and will be,

Admit its freedom and

Its changeability.


Dress me in the clothes

I wore in the day’s round.

Lay me in a wooden box.

Put the box in the ground.



Beneath this stone a Berry is planted

In his home land, as he wanted.

He has come to the gathering of his kin,

Among whom some were worthy men,


Farmers mostly, who lived by hand,

But one was a cobbler for Ireland,


Another played the eternal fool

By riding on a circus mule


To be remembered in grateful laughter

Longer than the rest. After


Doing what they had to do

They are at ease here. Let all of you


Who yet for pain find force and voice

Look on their peace, and rejoice.


from Collected Poems 1957-1982, Wendell Berry, North Point Press, 1985.


Series Note: This post is one in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

Leaders Open Doors - by Bill Treasurer - A Leading Questions Review

Some things that touch me emotionally very deeply. LOD cover

People who have special needs, and the people who care for them.

And people who are servant leaders who inspire others to take initiative to make a difference.

Bill Treasurer accomplishes both in a very simple, compelling, authentic way.

Bill is a leadership consultant and writer who has just published a much needed book for all leaders. It is a timely message that should resonate with leaders all over the world.

Leaders Open Doors: A Radically Simple Leadership Approach to Lift People, Profits, and Performance describes six strategies that leaders can deploy to provide new and better opportunities for people.

Many leaders must acquire a new mindset in order to fully appreciate the simplicity and genius of his message. He writes, 

Being an open-door leader requires having an understanding of what an open-door leader does. It also means having an opportunity mind-set, a significant shift from the more common threat-focused way of leading.  ... Open-door leaders view challenging as opportunities not problems. Instead of injecting people with fear, the help peole see the opportunities that challenges provide, inspiring them with excitement and hope. The resulting optimism lifts morale and performance.

Is this just more of the same relational rhetoric that leadership writers are producing lately, or is this an important insight that we should each stop and reflect upon?

One way to answer the question is by asking to what degree are your people reaching their potential. 

Do you have any way of measuring your employees potential? Do you know what potential is? Do you have a program or methodology for developing potential?

These are important questions for an organizational leader if they hope to get great performance out of their staff.

Bill Treasurer's open-door approach is place to begin this development. 

It isn't just a mechanical process of looking for more work for people to do. Rather, it is a way of building trust and initiative for impact within the business.

Trust grows when employees recognize that their boss or supervisor believes that they can do great things. This is different than heavy expectations for performance that are not reasonable and fear-based.  When doors are opened, and opportunity presented, then personal initiative produces benefits that no other way of managing people can do

Opportunities Make a Difference; Opportunities Create Change

Every opportunity to excel is an opportunity to make a positive change. Bill Treasurer's six open-doors are thresholds of change.

They provide people the opportunity ...

to prove themselves,

to find new meaning in life and work,

to have a second chance to make a difference,

to practice open-door leadership for others,

to become a person of integrity and authenticity, and,

to know how to build relationships of loyalty and trust.

Change your relationships, change your life and work. Change them within your business, change your business. Opening doors is a way to make it happen.

The Difference Matters

Bill Treasurer's Leaders Open Door is the right book at the right time. It is ideal for a leaders retreat, for discussion in a mentoring relationship, or to share with family, friends and colleagues.

By buying and giving this book away, you are opening doors. Not only for business people who may learn how to change their leadership method, but also because all the proceeds from sales of the book go to help special needs kids. Here's a video to explain.


The Reason for the Real


... is trust.

In the realm of the spectacle and the hyper-real, what matters is not engagement, but attachment. This kind of attachment, born of fascination, creates a co-dependency between the observer and the observed, between the viewer and the screen. With the spectacular, the pull is to become absorbed in the singular moment that evolves into a 24/7 series of manufactured moments.

For example, I ask because I do not know, what is the fascination with the Jodi Arias murder trial? Why does CNN and other networks invest so much air-time in the coverage of this one case. What is there to learn from it? What difference does this case make to the lives of millions of viewers that coverage of another court case does not?

This is the spectacle of the real that becomes the preferred hyper-real experience precisely because it is not our reality.  The culture of the spectacle is at its core voyeuristic.  We could describe this type of programming as murder-porn because it exploits the same sexual fascination with young attractive women to drive viewers to the screen.

When reality is engaged, a truth emerges that provides a way to understand how we relate to one another and to our environments. It is this relational connection that creates engagement. It is a connection that has a mutual flow between the relating parties. This is true even if we are speaking of our relation to the natural environment. 

Our human relationships of trust require honesty, transparency and openness in an environment of mutual sharing. It is possible to have these relationships virtually. But they must be intentionally developed.

The reason for the real is to create environments where doubt, suspicion and anxiety are replaced by trust, understanding and peace.

I'll write more about this in future posts. This short one is to simply clarify the points that I've made in The Spectacle of the Real and The Path to the Real.

Series Note: This post is one in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

The Path to the Real


All that passes descends and ascends again unseen into the light: the river coming down from sky to hills, from hills to sea, and carving as it moves, to rise invisible, gathered to light to return again. ... Gravity is grace.

The Gift of Gravity (1982)

Wendell Berry

In my previous post - The Spectacle of the Real - I take us on a long excursion to show how in many areas of our lives, we live in an unreal world of hyper-reality, spectacle and simulacra. This last term - an unusual one - is the simulation of one reality as a mask for another. It isn't a replacement, an alternative perspective, but something different. It accomplishes this diversion from reality through the use of images and the presentation of spectacles as a means to grab our attention.

The effect of living in this unreality is that it ill-prepares us for a time when reality surfaces in the form of disaster, disease or disappointment.

The Liberating Limits of the Real

This is what happens for the victims of a house fire, or a cancer diagnosis or the sudden discovery that a trusted business partner has been embezzling funds. Reality in this sense, accompanied by some kind of pain, awakens our perception to a world that we've been ignoring.

I've seen this in people who have suffered through economic hardships and loss. One response is denial and diversion.  Another is anger followed by bitterness and cynicism.

Then, there are those who wake up, fight through the pain to recreate their lives. For these people, they embrace the reality of their pain and use it as a lever to change their lives. In the words of Fredrich Nietzsche, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger."

Pain, suffering or failure confront us with the reality that there are genuine limitations to our existence. We discover a horizon to our lives when we discover we can't do it all "by my ownself", finding that we need help in completing a project or doing our best work requires collaboration with others or recovering from injury. Our limits are liberating as a result as they open us to possibilities that weren't present. Our limits are mainly time and space, the strength of our bodies, the capacity of our spirit, and our minds' imagination.

 The Embodiment of the Real in Time.

Without a grasp of reality, creating continuity in our work over time can be difficult. There is a transitional nature to life. Most of us speak of this, with teeth clinched, as change. Time and change are indelibly linked together as Aristotle writes,

Time is a measure of change and of being changed, and it measures change by defining some change which will exactly measure out the whole process of change ... .

We move through stages that flow enabling us to build upon both the good and the hard in life. Without a grasp of the real, we see life as random, intermittent, and disconnected from purpose and meaning. This perspective is the perfect platform for the spectacle to become the default culture of our time. It is embodiment of the irrationality of change.

As a result, we don't see the gaps, the in-between spaces, the transition points, the ways that creating openness or vacuum in processes lead to opportunities that can carry us beyond our horizons.  We don't discover the flow, where life flourishes. Without the real, sustainability is difficult to establish.

The problem of time in an age of hyper-reality and spectacle is that we believe that we can make time stop. Time is not a quantity. It is not really minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years or a lifetime. Rather, it is the way we recognize the embodiment of change as life. If all time is is a measure of an endless series of days, then we have a life of random spectacle. However, if time is a measure of change, then we can see meaning unfold in ways that help us to see how our lives can make a difference that matters. To do so requires that we recover the reality of time as change.

It is change that represents time better than the clock or the calendar. I take this thought from Albert Einstein to his life-long friend Michele Besso as an indicator of what this means.

For us who are convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, however persistent.

Change is what we experience in life. Some of it is welcomed, some of it not. But change, none-the-less, is what we live with each day. To face reality is to recognize that the boundary between the past and the future is a transitional one. What we call the present is just a way to identify the activity of change, those transition points, that we all experience. 

The border between past and future is porous, not defined. Some transitions are hard and fast, others slow and gradual, blending what was before into what will be. There is no static present that can be claimed and fixed in time. There is only the movement of time forward measured by change.

The illusion of time as something fixed is seen in our sense of having lost or wasted time. What we are really lamenting in those moments is the loss of opportunity or the failure to take advantage of a moment of change.

Along the path to the real, we recognized the importance and value of change in our lives. To resist change is to fail to understand life as it is. To embrace change is find the flow of life and time as synonymous. 

The Embodiment of the Real in Space.

Being able to distinguish the real from the fake or from the simulacrum of the virtual requires us to think differently about how we perceive the world we are in. Instead of taking statements and images at face value, we need to look at the wider context, which is always greater than the event or the presentation itself.

Almost seventy years ago, French writer Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote,

“We must not, therefore, wonder whether we really perceive a world, we must instead say: the world is what we perceive. In more general terms we must not wonder whether our self-evident truths are real truths, or whether, through some perversity inherent in relation to some truths, that which is self-evident for us might not be illusory in relation to some truth in itself. …  The world is not what I think, but what I live through. I am open to the world, I have no doubt that I am in communication with it, but I do not possess it; it is inexhaustible.” (emphasis mine)

We each inhabit a space. We move into and through other spaces to inhabit them along with others. The limitations and horizons of our lives are porous. We move into spaces and become a part of that space. There is a relational character to the way we move through spaces.

I sit in my favorite chair to read, but I do not become the chair. The chair and I do have a relationship that joins us together. It is not just momentary, but historic. It is my mother's chair from her childhood. I think of her as I sit. I remember other times, like the time I discovered a new way of looking at the world because of a passage in a book.

The same is true with other objects of which I am largely unaware yet within reach as I sit and read. The lamp behind me. The small table beside me. The pen and pad for taking notes. 

As I sit down, into my chair, for a brief moment, I feel the comfort of the cushion and tactile softness of the fabric. Then my awareness of the chair is gone, transferred to the book that is in my hands. Then to the words on the page, but not to the individual words but to the string of words that create a sentence, but not even the sentence or the paragraphs, but the meaning that the author's words suggest. Even then, I do not see the words, but the image or thoughts that the words conjure up in my mind, until I come across a word that I do not know. I stop, refocus to that word as the object of my awareness.

Our perception of things is whole, but our conscious awareness is always selective, governed by how and why we are moving through spaces.

I walk into a grocery store. I'm looking for things on my list. I ignore most of the things on the shelves that my eye catches. I don't see them. There is no conscious acknowledgement of those products. Yet, I am perceiving them because something triggers a recollection of a kind of cheese that I had a party last week. I go over to the cheese section, and find that special cheese that was not on my list, but is now in my cart.

We see more than we acknowledged. A part of these spaces are our memories, or recollections of things past. These are memories that are triggered by our senses. I've heard that smell is the sense most rooted to our memory. We remember things, not in our conscious awareness, but instead as an awareness of the wholeness of the spaces we enter.

We are watching a movie, and, we think, "I've seen this before." But where? We trace back through our memory. We are not thinking about the movie itself, but rather the context, the place in which we saw it. We try to remember the room, the people, the conversation afterward, the time of day, and other happenings in our daily lives at the time. Then our recollection of the space clicks into our awareness and we are there, in the past watching the same film. We relax, satisfied in our recollection, and settled back into watching the film in the present.

We move within physical spaces and encounter people and places that not only help form memories, but impact us as persons.

Educational programs that primarily focus on the development of intellectual knowledge are less effective in educating the whole person than those that create a range of behavioral responses to the situations we encounter. Aristotle wrote,  

"Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it; people become builders by building and instrumentalists by playing instruments. Similarly we become just by performing just acts, temperate by performing temperate acts, brave by performing brave ones."

This learning does not take place only in our minds, but in our bodies within the places we live and move, work and play.

To see these spaces as they are means that we must get out of our heads and recognize that we are fully embodied persons moving in a world of fully embodied persons who, like me, inhabit a world of objects that also inhabit a space. In this sense, it can be said that in whatever space that I am in, that I have a relationship to those things, those physical objects, like chairs, lamps, cabinets, refrigerators and the like.

A wood worker becomes a master craftsperson by developing a relationship with the tools of her trade and the wood that is her canvas. That relation becomes less conscious and more second nature as she develops that relationship.

It is just like learning to ride a bike. Once learned, being conscious of maintaining balance is not necessary. That knowledge is now in our bones, and it was not learned solely in the mind, but in the bodies that we have.

When you go to a restaurant, do you care where you sit? Of course you do. If they put you in the kitchen, by the backdoor, near the dish washer, you would be offended and leave.  The spaces we inhabit matter to us because each part operates as a part of the whole context.

When we enter the restaurant, we look for a space that is a network of relationships between the chairs, the tables, the lighting, the placement within the room and its proximity to people. We do not identify each of those separately, but as a whole set of relationships.

This is how we interact with reality, as a relationship to a whole context of space and time.

The Path through Space and Time

The virtual, online world lacks this context. We have the surface of the screen in front of us. The view could be Antarctica, but we are in shorts and a T-shirt on a ninety degree day in Miami. In virtual space, our body is mostly disconnected from the context that our mind inhabits.The connection is more emotional as we find ourselves immersed in a narrative of virtual reality. It can be compelling because it does touch us, but is still incomplete, because the embodied experience is missing.

We are more than thinking machines. We are more than feeling response mechanisms. We are embodied, perceiving, relating persons moving in and the through the spaces that we inhabit.

To recover reality, we need to recover our awareness, our perception, of the physical spaces that we live in each day. We need to immerse ourselves in the processes of change that carry us forward. To do so is to seek to discover the fullness of human experience within the world as it exists.

Over the next few posts we'll look at how to recover the real in some specifics ways of living and understanding.

We'll consider how reclaiming a context of history helps us understand why, where and how our lives unfold.

We'll look at the nature of meaning or values as reflections and guides to the real.

We'll explore how our relationships with one another are the most the best and most beneficial context for recovering the real.

And finally, we look at the nature of personal leadership within the context of social, institutional and organizational life.

The recovery of the real follows a path. As a result, it is a journey of discovery that will bring both pain and joy, freedom and obligation. It is the journey of living.

Series Note: This post is one in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

The Spectacle of the Real


Afghan Mujahideen camp

Afghan / Soviet War

Chitral, NWFP, Pakistan

July, 1981

We live in a time of images. They form our understanding of history and engage us in the present. These faces of Afghan freedom fighters from three decades ago sustain a memory of an encounter that I had with them as a young refugee worker. This image helps me understand the continuity of history in the region.

But without that direct engagement, this image maybe more surreal than real. For there is no life context in which to interpret what was taking place when the picture was taken.

Just a few days after the above photograph was taken, this man, an Afghan refugee, honored me with an expression of thanks after our team of refugee workers brought food, clothing and shelter to his refugee village on the desert plain outside of Peshawar, Pakistan.

Afghan man - Peshawar desert camp

Images influence our sense of what is real. Without direct engagement, however, they can deceive us.

Simulating the "Real" Story?

The Boston Marathon bombings were watched by millions on television and discussed all across social media platforms and online communities. The event, though, was mostly absorbed through pictures. The bomb at the finish line exploding over and over again. The pictures of the injured and maimed being wheeled away to rescue workers and hospitals. The faces of the two brothers as they became known as the bombers. Facts were few in number; reporting rich in conjecture, and all born through images that touched our emotions.

Fueled by a 24/7 news cycle, actual news - a statement of "facts" that an event, an accident, a death, an agreement, a visit or something has taken place, described in the traditional journalistic parlance of "who, what, when and where" - is transformed into a spectacle of opinion and virtual reality driven by the images of faces speaking words of crisis, fear and self-righteous anger. Televised analysis - more important than the "facts" of the story- drives the news through the ambiguity of the visual image and is its source of validation.

Imagine a gathering with family and friends, catching up on the news of each other's lives, and the conversation is like the panels of "experts" who fill televised news each day. No one intentionally chooses their backyard barbeque guests to mirror the political divisions of the nation. That would be boring, tedious, and just inhospitable and unwelcoming.

These televised events aren't conversations seeking truth, but, rather, people talking at and past one another in a game of leveraging images for social and political influence. We are drawn to the image on the screen of these "experts" having something to say that is meaningful, hoping that at some point some sense of the moment will be revealed, bringing reality into view.

Political Speculation.

Politics has degenerated into a unreal media-driven spectacle of dissimulation and simulation.  What we are given is not a story about what is real because to do so, the experts and our politicians would have to admit to their own limitations of insight and foresight.

Rather, we are given a simulacrum, a virtual story whose narrative appearance conceals a different purpose, enveloping the listener, the viewer, in an alternative world of meaning. Politics is a game of deflected attention, a sleight of hand, an allusion to the real that is an illusion. Get the public to focus on what inflames their passions, isolating them into their defensive enclaves, then we can go about the real purpose for which we were elected, to secure the next election and pass legislation that the public would not approve if they really knew. This is what the modern practice of politics has become.

French theorist Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacra and Simulation, describes how the portrayal of what is real has become the hyper-real.

To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have. One implies a presence, the other an absence. But it is more complicated than that because simulating is not pretending. "Whoever fakes an illness can simply stay in bed and make everyone believe he is ill. Whoever simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms" (Littre'). Therefore, pretending or dissimulating, leaves the principle of reality intact: the difference is always clear, it is simply masked, whereas simulation threatens the difference between the "true" and the "false," the "real" and the "imaginary." Is the simulator sick or not, given that he produces "true" symptoms? (emphasis mine)

This is the game of appearances. In one instance, it is like the child pretending not to have the pilfered cookie that is in his pocket. Dissimulation is the lie that we learn as children where we hide what we have. It is a denial of reality, based on what everyone knows is true.

Simulation, on the other hand, is an imitation of the real.  Some simulators, like those that train pilots, are meant to mirror the real world as closely as possible. Other simulations are intended for the exact opposite, to create an alternative reality.

The Main Street of DisneyWorld is a simulated image of a typical American small town. Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist and linguist, writes in Travels in Hyperreality,  

"the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake."

"The Main Street facades are presented to us as toy houses and invite us to enter them, but their interior is always a disguised supermarket, where you buy obsessively, believing that you are still playing,".

This is a simulacrum of a small town. It looks, on appearances, that it is a small town. But instead, it is a place of commerce hidden behind the image.

Simulations Abound

Patriotism is a common theme to simulate. Particularly in the use of the American flag as an icon of all things good about America. Print the flag on a can of beer, a bikini, a holiday table cloth, woven as a blanket, painted on motorcycle gas tank, flown in a church, and in massive numbers on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and on Flag Day, and you have attached the greatness of America to your consumer product. The image on the product distracts from the real purpose of the flag and its history in the founding of the American republic. The flag has become an commercial icon attaching itself to a powerful emotion - love of country - by simulating the perspective that buying is patriotic.

Pornography, in a similar way, is a simulation of love and intimacy. Televised sex is a provocative restatement of social relations for the purpose of advocating the primacy of sexual expression and pleasure for modern human beings. Pornography is a simulacrum that defines human beings, not as social beings, but as sexual ones. The erotic power of sex fills a person with intense sensory feeling, and by it, alters how a person views their relationships with others. The logical outcome is the practice of having friends with benefits.

Human beings may be animals, but we are not just animals. We are human animals for whom human fulfillment is more than intense sensory release. We desire to be known in the realness of our lives. We are not fulfilled by "playing" a part, but by finding relationships of openness and mutuality. The mutuality of human love, of giving, receiving, sharing, is at the heart of the sexual intimacy that is so key to human flourishing.  The lie of pornography is that sex = love and love = sex. It is a simulacrum of the appearance of intimacy, though without the other conditions that drive human communion.

Spectacle as Simulated Reality  

Simulations can become a simulacra, a virtual reality, a hyper-reality, a replacement reality of the world of meaning.They are a kind of diversion, a deflection from reality that commands our attention. This is the nature of the spectacular event.

The culture of the spectacle, of the event that captures our attention for the moment, has become the driving force in the culture of news, entertainment, sports and consumerism. The spectacle deflects us from the real toward the hyper-real through the intensification of the historical moment as beyond history, as a singular moment in time that we must become immersed in to be alive or to be "informed." Not just a different version of the story, or different narrative, or a different perspective; but a different reality. This spectacle is a simulacrum. A iconic image event that simulates a representation of values or meaning, regardless of whether the reality of the event was about the moment being represented.

Reporting on the Boston Marathon bombing became a platform for speculation and conjecture based not on what was known about the bombing, but a projection of individual bias as expert opinion. The nature of the spectacle requires linkage to other spectacles to establish a pattern that validates credibility. This is now the nature of the news as presented throughout the day, everyday. Everyday, every event, is a spectacle for drawing attention to the screen.

As news became an entertainment medium, entertainment lost much of its distinctive appeal. The "news" isn't about the news, but a sensationalization of opinions about the news for the purpose of ratings and increased advertising revenue. On-air time space must be filled, and be paid for by ads. Without the sensationalism of the daily spectacle, no one would watch. The entertainment value of the news is the hook to tie us into a consumer culture of serial exhilaration and boredom. The difference between CNN and TMZ is one of degree, not of the difference between news and entertainment. The difference between the reality TV of news and entertainment and the actual lives that people experience is the difference between the simulacrum and reality.

The Game of Entertainment

Professional sports is a televised entertainment spectacle, less a sport, no longer simply a game to be played by talented athletes. It is the business of entertainment. The game is just the hook. The simulacra of professional sports has permeated the games that children once played, so that now, play is an adult managed hyper-organized simulation of college and professional athletic competitions. No longer do children just play on their own initiative, but are socialized into the developmental system of organized sports, essentially trained to become part of the entertainment spectacle of modern sports. 

The NFL is the master of the weekly sports spectacle.  Fantasy sports leagues now provide outlet for filling the attention gap when games are not on. It is real only in the sense that the contest happens. But it is unreal because, as a spectacle, it exists less as pure sport, and more as a collection of one-off entertainment events.

Winning a championship has meaning for the moment. By the next day, the thrill is gone and the addictive pull of the next spectacle returns. The spectacle isn't the event itself, but rather all that precedes it.  College basketball's March Madness has turned what was a locally focused, end of season tournament by regional conferences into a national three week spectacle, where even the President's "bracket" makes news. The entertainment pull is to analysis and the set up for the next spectacle. It is a consumer culture of diversion and hyper-reality.

Living in a world of impermanence.

The simulation of reality, the game of appearances, a hyper-real experience, diverts us from the mundaneness of daily existence, towards more pleasurable diversions that take us out of the real world.  Watching news, sports or entertainment programming are diversions of the type that scientist / philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote about in the mid-17th century.

Sometimes, when I set to thinking about the various activities of men, the dangers and troubles which they face at Court, or in war, giving rise to so many quarrels and passions, daring and often wicked enterprises and so on, I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to be quiet in his room.  A man wealthy enough for life’s needs would never leave home to go to sea or besiege some fortress if he knew how to stay at home and enjoy it.  Men would never spend so much on a commission in the army if they could bear living in town all their lives, and they only seek after the company and diversion of gambling because they do not enjoy staying at home.  ...

The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion.

The triumph of the culture of simulation is that it replaces the reality that we don't want with a hyper-reality that simulates what we do. But the simulation is not the same as reality. As Baudrillard wrote, "To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have." This is the power of a world that exists increasingly like an immersive video game, where I can "play" a role, a character, and live a fuller, more complete life in a Sim-ulated world, than in the real world of home and work.

MIT professor Sherry Turkle describes this simulated reality in her book Alone Together.

"After an evening of avatar-to avatar talk in a networked game, we feel, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers. We build a following on Facebook or MySpace and wonder to what degree our followers are friends. We recreate ourselves as online personae and give ourselves new bodies, homes, jobs, and romances. Yet, suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection. And they report feelings of closeness when they are paying little attention. In all of this, there is a nagging question: Does virtual intimacy degrade our experience of the other kind and, indeed, of all encounters, of any kind?”

Simulation is not real life, but an artificial one. The result is that life becomes a series of spectacles, events that command our attention, one or more at a time in serial progression without continuity. The diversion works if we do not think too deeply.

French Marxist philosopher Guy Debord in his book, Society of the Spectacle, writes.

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. ...

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images. ...

The concept of "spectacle" unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena. The diversity and the contrasts are appearances of a socially organized appearance, the general truth of which must itself be recognized. Considered in its own terms, the spectacle is affirmation of appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as mere appearance. But the critique which reaches the truth of the spectacle exposes it as the visible negation of life, as a negation of life which has become visible.

The life of the spectacle, therefore, is a hyper-reality lived through the images of the event. During the 9/11 attacks, the images of the Twin Towers burning, then collapsing, became a reference point for people to share their shock, their sadness, their anger, and ultimately their compassion for those who lost love ones.

But the nature of the spectacle is that it is too intermittent an experience to foster a life of continuity. Moving from one self contained event to the next is not a sufficient ground for a society or community to find a common life together.  Something else must provide that glue that makes civic life work.

Recovering Reality

Living in the world of the image and the spectacle is a world where reality is an appearance and beyond our capacity to determine is this real, true and the way things actually are. This is a hyper-real world which turns reality on its head.

The dilemma we face is not directly with the spectacular or simulated realities. Rather it is not having a ground upon which to distinguish between the real and the hyper-real. Some people may choose to believe in the reality of the hyper-real world, which leads further into the world of spectacle and its consumer driven nature. But reality has a way of confronting such an artificial world with economic collapses, environment catastrophes, and the experience of disease, brokenness and loss.

To recover reality is not to challenge the simulacrums of our time. But rather seek to understand the larger context in which these simulations / spectacles function.

The ancients would describe this capacity to discern reality as wisdom. While wisdom is certainly in short supply and in great demand, it is only one piece of a wider fabric of reality that is needed.

One of the results of the world of simulation and spectacle is the loss of the capacity for open, trustworthy, mutually caring relationships. Instead, we have connections with people. We have "friends" whom we've never met, had coffee and seen face to face.

I am convinced that the recovery of reality comes through the establishment of relationships of genuine meaning and love.

For to love another person requires a kind of reality that allows for honesty, emotional intimacy and commitment to the care and nurture of the relationship.

Series Note: This post is one in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

Living in the Worlds of Ruthie and Rod

WP_001664Rod Dreher's memoir of his sister, Ruthie, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, is a simple story as the subtitle suggests of "A Southern Girl, A Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life." Yet, it is much more. 

It is a story of many layers, dealing with the realities of small town life, how we as modern people deal with death, and ultimately, in its own way, a mirror of America in the 21st century reflecting the fragmentation into societal enclaves of rich and poor, urban and rural, communal and individualistic, and the local and the global.

The story is told through the perspective of Rod, Ruthie's older brother, who grew up as the son who sought adventure through the world of ideas as a journalist, living for two decades in Washington, New York, Dallas and Philadelphia. His ambition was viewed with suspicion by his sister, who thought him "uppity" for leaving the small Louisiana town of St. Francisville and their families corner of that rural world, Starhill. As the teller of the story, he shows his frustration at being mistrusted for his longing for new worlds, as if the world of home was not enough to build a life upon.

As Rod tells this story, this conflict between he and his sister is never truly resolved. Ruthie dies without Rod and her truly reconciling the differences that had existed since childhood.This makes their story more indicative of the way families actually are. This isn't a story with a Hollywood ending, though there is much wisdom and goodness to be discovered in it.

Their relationship rings true as symptomatic of many modern relationships. Each are individualists, even Ruthie in her singular focus on family and homeplace, could not see beyond her own individualistic preference to see that her brother was pursuing his own desire for meaning in life. Her care for her students, believing in those from the most impoverished, least advantageous backgrounds, stands in contrast to her relationship with Rod.

Having spent some time with Rod as he came to Asheville on his book tour, I identify with how family relationships are sometimes much more difficult than our social and professional relationships. In effect, there was only an upside in believing that her students could become anything that they set their mind to doing. But there is conflict within a family when the family traditions are not sufficient to hold some members at home. I see this attachment to the past, which is what it is, as a way many people refuse to address the realities of the contemporary world, and as a result end up denying not only their responsibility to a wider world, but also their potential for making a difference that matters.

For me this relationship between Rod and Ruthie is the most interesting in the book, and worth reading by families so that conversation about expectations can be had.

We also see that small town life, for all its communal closeness, is not idyllic.  There is a tendency not to be able to see beyond one's own self-interest and that that of one's clan. Urban and suburban communities can be just as self-interested, just as easily denying an obligation to care for those who are less well off.

However, what distinguishes this story is the character of Ruthie Leming. For all her narrowness about her small town, she was a woman of extraordinary love and caring for people beyond her family. In fact, it is quite evident that her impact is global and not just local because of the care she gave to her students. It is people like Ruthie who make communities worth living in. The question is why are there not more like her. I hope the book inspires people waiting for something to move them into action to become more like Ruthie.

Small towns have advantages that big city life has a much more difficult time providing. Namely the closeness of family and friends who meld into one's family in ways that a cosmopolitan existence cannot afford. The ease that people move in and out of the Leming household during and after her death from cancer; how the community rallies to raise money for Ruthie's hospital bills through a concert, and how the spirit of Ruthie served as a bond for community that made life in their little community richer, are pictures of life in rural communities.

Rod tells his own story as a contrast to Ruthie's. He is like many people I know who are very cosmopolitan in their tastes. They find it easy to move between various cultures, finding commonality with people from all points on the globe. Yet, as his sister goes through her bout with cancer, the pull of family and Louisiana eventually uproots the Dreher family from their life in Philadelphia as they move home to Starhill.

Family and place are two of the three themes that make this book a thought-provoking, engrossing read. However, it is the question of the communal and familial nature of death and dying that is played out in Ruthie's illness which may be the most important insight that Dreher provides.

As an ordained minister, who has been in and out of pastoral roles in churches over the past three decades, I can say that we American's do not deal with death well. For Ruthie, she faced it by denial. She trusted her physicians to do the right thing. She went about her life as if the cancer did not have a hold upon her. As a result, she did not talk with her daughters about her illness. As Dreher notes, she answered her daughters questions truthfully, what few questions they did ask. So, she proceeds on with life and then it ends suddenly without notice.

What is clear is that death affects families differently than one's circle of friends. Her friends come to the home and celebrate her life the next day. But her family lives daily with her absence. Life never being quite the same without Ruthie at the center of it.

Reading her story, I was taken back to my own parents' deaths. My mother at the age of 48 in her sleep while on vacation. My father just three years ago this week from a sepsis infection that he acquired following knee surgery. For my mother, I had not seen her in two weeks. She was gone without any time to prepare. I am still numb 35 years later. For my father, we knew he would not survive, so my sisters and I had the time to say good bye. In both cases, the relational vacuum created by their passing is never filled. I'm certain this remains true for the Dreher and Leming families of Starhill.

As I had time with Rod last weekend, we talked about Ruthie. I told him that I had a strong identification with her. Her relationships with people are similar to mine. Her belief in people is very much like mine. I have said in many settings that "I believe in people so they can believe in themselves." I would have loved to have known her, and even though I did not, I miss her. I understand her, her motivations and the way she led her life. I also understand the choices that Rod made as a young man, the course of his life, as I made similar choices that led me away from my family to seek a course in life that we often call ambition or purpose. There is not a simple, single choice to be made between country or city living, or between family and ambition. There are choices we make every day about the kind of person we wish to be, and the life we want for ourselves and our families. In effect, life is lived one day at a time, one relational encounter at a time, with intervening moments of decisions that mark the long course that our lives take.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming is an important book. It is a book to be read and savored in conversation with family and friends. Rod Dreher's story isn't about everyone moving back to their home town. It is rather about being much more conscious that all our decisions carry with them both positive and negative implications. Ruthie Leming's life made a difference that mattered to the people of West Feliciana Parish. Rod Dreher's life through his writing is also making a difference by the telling of Ruthie's story. And we the readers of his fine book are the beneficiaries of both of their lives, and for that reason we are richer for it.

In Addition

Here's an additional thought that I had about the book that I posted to my Facebook page.

Been thinking about The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, by Rod Dreher.

It is such a honest and real book. It is one of truth as it deals with the pain and suffering of life, which is, in large part, familial and relational.

I've been having conversations recently with people my age about how many of us in our 50s and 60s are really unhappy. The people I'm thinking of have achieved everything that wanted. Yet, to talk with them there is a hard edge of bitterness lingering in the background. They aren't happy. I've come to the conclusion that this is so because all their relationships are structured to be professional and non-intrusive. The conversations are built around opinions and making distinctions between people who are with us and those who aren't. It is such a defensive posture to life. No wonder they are unhappy.

In Rod's book, it is James Toney, son of Miss Clophine Toney, his childhood friend, who became an evangelist who says it best as he eulogizes his mother.
"She was carrying a cross, ... because let me tell you something, if you don't sacrifice for your brother, if you don't sacrifice for your neighbor, you not carrying your cross."
"Aunt Grace told me the other day that of all the presents she got from everybody, those (Miss Clophine's) meant the most. ... Why? Because there was so much sacrifice. She sacrificed everything she made, just to give."

You have to read the book to get where this is going.

I wonder about these people I'm thinking of and their unhappiness. Do they have anyone whom they truly sacrifice to love? What is it that they are giving up for others? Or do they see their giving and sacrifice as a kind of victimization?

This is the hard truth of love, that without sacrifice, there is no love, just connection.

First, I hope you'll read this book.
Second, I hope you'll give this book to family and friends.
Third, I hope you'll find someone in that group of people with whom you can talk about the wisdom that can be found in this book.

Happiness isn't a commodity you buy at the store. It is a product of relationship and living a life where giving, and, yes, sacrifice, are part of what gives life its joy.

In a recent blog post, What Defines Us? , I ended with these words,

To live is to love.

To love is to give.

To give is to live a life where meaning, happiness, health and impact flow from the daily experience of seeking to fulfill the potential that we each have to make a difference that matters.

Read the book.
Thanks Rod for the posting.

What Defines Us?

2010-11-08 13.36.32


I grew up in a family environment where family history verged on ancestry worship.

Connection to the past mattered. I have a folder in my photo file of the grave stones of family members, from both parent's sides of the family.

I regularly recognize in my interactions with people how my family has defined me. My mother's parents (below) had more to do with this than anyone in my family.


What my extended family gave me as a child, and continues to provide me as an adult, is a ground upon which to stand that defines a part of who I am. Increasingly, I am aware that this is a fading reality in our society.

It is not that family doesn't matter. It just matters in a different way. Family has become, like any social relationship, a vehicle for self-expression and social positioning.  This is a result of the fragmentation of social and organizational life.

In the pre-modern past, one's identity was less individual and more social, defined by family affiliation and community proximity. Where you lived and what your family did defined you.

Today, we are all individualists, with a choice as to how we are defined.

Recently, this question came to mind as I talked with a friend about her past, and how it was filled with traumatic experiences from early childhood into middle age. I was amazed by her ability to stand apart from the abuse of her past and see it objectively. While that did not cancel out the deep emotional trauma she felt, her pain did not define her. She was not her pain, nor the abuse she received. She was something else, something more. For her family is central in defining who she is and is largely responsible for the healing she has experienced.


As I thought about her experience and her response to it, and reflected back upon my own family experience, a number of questions began to come to mind. Here are some of them.

To what extent are we defined by ...

        What we do?

        Where we work?

        Where we were born?

        Where we went to school?

To what degree do  ...

        Our choices,

        Our actions,

        Our network of relationships, and,

        Our daily work and recreation schedule

                ... define us?      

Is our personal identity a manufactured public perception like a product brand? Or, are we the person others think us to be?

I don't think there is an easy answer to any of these questions. There are answers, however they are complex, not simple.

The Question of Potential

Each question above I've thought about often, and in various ways, for almost 40 years. I used to think that our identities are unitary, singular, only one thing, that we are born with an identity.

I, now, see us human beings as much more complex. The range and possibilities for our sense of who we are is greater that we can imagine. One way to understand our identity is to understand what our potential means.

Potential is that unexplored, undeveloped part of us, born from the talent, gifts and experience that expands our awareness and reach in life. It is all future and very little past. It is the difference that we make that has yet to be realized. 

Potential is not something fixed and set at birth. It isn't a commodity. It is unbounded openness. It is not only unknown, but undefinable before its realization.

Potential is not additive but exponential. It isn't a container of what we haven't achieved. It is a platform from which our whole life & work is built. The more we build upon, the greater our potential grows. Our potential creates opportunities for new possibilities in our life and work. 

The only limitation on our potential is time. We must apply ourselves to reaching our potential everyday. I'm not advocating for becoming a workoholic. Rather, I am suggesting we develop an opportunistic attitude about each day. We look for opportunities to make a difference, to have an impact, and to affect change within the contexts where we live and work.

If we build toward reaching our potential each day, then over the course of our lifetime we reach far beyond our present abilities. If we did not try to grow or think that potential doesn't mean very much, then a growing sense of lost time and opportunity will grow within us. I do not wish that feeling on anyone. Regret and longing are not comforting thoughts when one is old and past one's prime.

My point is that we need to see potential as an ascending line of development throughout the course of our lives. This is the inner truth of our experiences of transition in life and work. Each transition point is one where we are being pulled to change in order to fulfill our potential. In each life or work transition is opportunity, if we only see it that way. 

In order to continue to reach for our potential, we must stop doing certain things and begin to learn and master new skills, attitudes, behaviors as we move into new social and organizational contexts. This is the secret to mastering our transitions in life and work. It is the secret to being adaptive and reaching our potential each day.

The Question of Impact

To understand and identify our potential is to understand our potential Impact.

Impact is the change that makes a difference that matters.

Embedded in that statement are the values, talents, relationships, strategies, structures and ways of measurement that are required to live a full, healthy, meaningful life. 

Impact isn't just what we accomplish or what we achieve. It is also opens up new potential, fresh opportunities, and environments that may not have existed even yesterday.

Impact never reaches a final point of completion, either. It is a stage along a path of development. Our potential is the same, not a fixed quantity, but something that grows and develops with initiative and action, or, diminishes from inaction.

We are not human machines, but living systems that are constantly evolving. We are always either growing or declining physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This growth is not set, fixed or predetermined. It may show itself as a pattern of development, but it is not formulaic. We are open and responsive to the full range of experience that we have. Our potential for impact is far greater than we can imagine.

To envision our impact is to imagine our potential.

To imagine our potential is to understand better who we are as persons within the social and organizational contexts of our life and work.

To define ourselves is to see that we are both the same and always changing. This is human nature at its most basic.

The Shift in Question

It has become clear to me that the way we understand what defines us has to change. Up to now personal identity has been seen as a kind of object, a thing that we possess, and lasts our life time.

I am (fill in the blank).

One of the reasons why we viewed our identities this way is that for most of human history we lived in homogeneous communities formed by generations of families. But over the past couple hundred years, that social context has been eroding as families fragment through relocation to new places for economic, ethnic and political reasons. Identities have become more fluid as social interaction required greater flexibility and adaptation to change in society.

As a result, we must learn to adapt to the relationships as they present themselves. This shows us that our sense of self is far more fluid and maleable than maybe we once thought. In this sense, our core identity ends up having multiple expressions, which may appear to us as different identities.

The question that confronts us most directly, then, is what makes up that core identity that allows us to be the same person in very different social and organizational contexts? Or to state it differently how can I be a person of integrity who knows how to find strength for any situation?

The Question of Identity

This post, like many I've written over the past three years, has taken not minutes to create, but weeks, and in this case months, to write. They have because so much of what I write is done in a quest to discover my own understanding of what I sense or observe in my and other's life and work. This quest to understand defines me as much as anything I know. What I learn feeds the importance that integrity has for me.

What I write therefore is often much more personal than may be evident. But it is also social because I writing in the context of many conversations and experiences that I have with people and organizations.

I find that many people have the same issues or needs as I do.The need is to be clear about who we are, and how that factors into how we live each day.

The Place of Desire

A third thing that I've discovered about personal identity, along with the importance of integrity, and our potential impact, is that we are driven by desires. We often talk about these desires as passions.

I have come to this view through the work of philosopher/ theologian James K.A. Smith. He writes,

"Because I think we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities - what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are - is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate - what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hope for, what we think the good life looks like."

I find this to be true, and yet hard to get at it. It is so much easier to create a list of values or strengths or traits, and say, that is me. But down deep inside of us is a presence that is passionate for the things that matter.

As I have written before (The Platform of Desire 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5) on desire, I see that there are three principal desires out of which the whole of our identity finds expression.

Three Goals of Life-Work - Simple

These desires are for Personal Meaning, Happy, Healthy Relationships and To Make a Difference that Matters in our live and work.  These desires form the core of our identity. They do because they are ways that we define what we love.

These desires must form the core of our identity because the platform of our identities in the past is eroding.  No longer will families live in inter-generational community. No longer will we work for the same company all our lives. No longer will we find homogeneous environments where everyone finds support and affiliation with people who are like them.

The future is open, diverse and filled with constant change. For this reason our identity cannot be based on external circumstances, but rather on who I am within. And who I am is what I love and desire to create in my life.

When our desires drive us to clarifying the values that give us identity, then we know where to find meaning in our life.

When our desires point us toward the kind of people with whom we can have happy, healthy relationships, then we will know how to be the kind of person who can create those relationships.

When our desires define the impact we want to have, then we know what our life's purpose ultimately means.

As I have worked through a number of scenarios that could possibly define who we are, increasingly they became more complex. The more complex they became the more I realized that the picture I saw was a picture of all the choices from which to build our lives. As a result I was pushed back to what I had discovered before.

There is more to say, and I will in future posts. But let me leave this long post with this final thought.

To live is to love.

To love is to give.

To give is to live a life where meaning, happiness, health and impact flow from the daily experience of seeking to fulfill the potential that we each have to make a difference that matters. 

Series Note: This post is the first in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

Being Trustworthy

STD_2331Trust isn't just an idea; its a feeling down deep in us.  

Trust is not some philosophical construct or a business strategy, but the measure of what people feel about us and our organizations.

In our interactions with people, it is an early warning system, alerting us to something being not quite right. It is that gut "feel" that we just can't quite place that tells us to be a bit more skeptical.

Trust is the mission-critical measure of our life & work.

Without trust, nothing is sustainable, things begin to fail. 

How do we measure trust?

The simplest measure of trust that's been told to me is, "You are a man of your word."

It means that our words and actions align, and trust becomes the measure of our competence to do what we say will do.

Trust is that feeling of confidence down deep within us that says yes or no to commitment, investment, vulnerability and risk.

Do we measure trust more by its absence than by some tangible measure? 

For example, when we talk about trust, why does our mind go immediately to Bernie Madolf or Enron or some politician.

Who would you list as a person or organization that is trustworthy?  What criteria do you use to determine trustworthiness?

Measuring trust is more a relational art than it is a science.

Forbes 100 Most Trustworthy Companies list is focused on financial criteria, therefore is limited in scope.  CNN/Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For is also limited.  These lists represent the fragmentation of understanding of what it takes for a company, or for that matter, a person, to elicit trust.

That feeling of trust is an intuitive measure. We know more than we can say; and never fully prove that which we know. This is what scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi calls "tacit" knowledge. It is the knowing that comes from practice, like typing on a key board, riding a bike, or interacting with people. Our determination to trust comes from the millions of interactions that we have over our lifetime that gives us a sense of knowing when to trust and when not to do so.

It is for this reason that trust is slow to build, and so easy to destroy.

What Trust is Not.

Trust is NOT something written on a piece of paper. You may have a trust account at the bank. You don’t place your trust in the document that is your trust agreement. You trust the people who are your bankers that they are honest and competent to handle your money.

Trust is about relationships.

Trust is NOT something one person can command another to give. We’ve all seen politicians or business leaders on television claim that they are trustworthy. I can’t help but think of Richard Nixon telling the American public, “I am not a crook.” Words and actions must align to be trusted.

Trust can't be delegated either. It resides with the person regardless of their place within the organization.

Trust is the gift that we give in response to the character of a person.

Trust is NOT something that can be bought or sold. Trust can only be earned or squandered. Trust is hard to develop, harder to sustain, and easy to lose. It is more precious than anything money can buy.

It is priceless and is never possessed by the person who owns it. Hear that! Our trustworthiness is held by others, not by us. Therefore it is fragile and relational.

Trust is an investment of respect and confidence in another person or organization.

Becoming a Trustworthy person

I'm not sure we adequately know what it means to be a trustworthy person. I've thought a lot about this over the years. So many of the leadership projects that I've done have had to address issues of trust.

Why is it that so many governing boards fail to understand that how they function, make decisions and communicate those decisions determine for their constituents whether they can be trusted?

It is like the way we approach ethics. It is about how to avoid embarassment and illegality, rather than how to create strength and trust.  It is a denial of ultimate responsibility. Only when we take that responsibility do we create the trust that matters.

I have identified three qualities or characteristics of people that create trustworthiness. They are Integrity, Openness, and Love.

Integrity is what we have when we live each day with honesty, respect for others and a clear sense of our values and purpose in our live & work.

Integrity is what we see in people who are not fragmented by doubt or fear or a lack of self-knowledge. Instead, we see these people as strong, rather than arrogant, humble rather than weak, committed rather than ambitious.

Integrity functions in our relationships by respecting boundaries. By boundaries, I mean that we don’t find ourselves caught in situations where someone can manipulate us into doing something that goes against our values or principles. We can say no, knowing that we might lose an opportunity that we've longed for. Yet, in doing so, we preserve our self-respect, and rise to see another day.

Often it is the "NO" decisions that determine our trustworthiness. When we are willing to sacrifice our own gratification to maintain our values, then we are becoming persons of integrity.

We don’t trust people who lack integrity. We are scared of them because they are not dependable.

For me, personally, integrity is more important than any other value. Or rather without it, all other values are mere words. To preserve and strengthen my integrity means that I cannot live or work for the approval of others, and that I must be quite clear about what success means.

Openness is our willingness to listen, to be vulnerable, transparent, and try new ways of doing things.

Openness is freedom to be who we need to be in the moment. This isn't the opposite of integrity, it is how integrity finds its place of strength and impact in our lives. A person of integrity who is closed, remains untrustworthy because we see their integrity as self-serving and rigid, rather than as a strength.

Without openness, we get resistance and push back. We find people closed to us, shut off, hard to reach, and difficult to deal with. It is difficult to trust people who always must have things their own way.

I have gained great insight and affirmation from Brene' Brown's work on shame and vulnerability.  She addresses the importance of our openness to others. She writes in her book Daring Greatly,

"Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection."

Openness is the willingness to be vulnerable and engaged with the people and situations that we encounter socially and organizationally each day. When this openness is joined with integrity, we find not only strength but a connection with people that truly matters. It is in that connection that trust is born, and where we learn how to be trustworthy.

Love is overcomes all sorts of obstacles to trust. But, what is love?

The ancient Greeks had four different words for love.

Phileo - friendship

Storge - affection

Eros - embodied, sexual

Agape - selfless, unconditional love

We live in such a fragmented world, our view of love is just this fragmented. These are not four loves, but four aspects of love. Meaning that we are not truly loving, except when all four of these loves are aligned.

How can we have friendship without affection. Erotic love that is only sexual is selfish and unsatisfying. It is embodied love, involving all of our physical being, touching all our five senses, that brings us to the fullness of the world in which live & work. These three loves can be fragmented, missing or corrupted. It is Agape, the self-less, unconditional love that creates an environment for the other three to find their fulfillment.

This love is not just about relationships. It is a holistic passion for our life and work. It is a love that is big enough to engage people to join us on our journey.

If I know what you are passionate about; what your committed to with your whole heart and life; what causes that you are willing to make a personal investment in to make a difference; then, I know almost all I need to know about you. I know what you believe in, what you hope for, and what you'll give yourself to create that matters. From there we can form a relationship of integrity and openness that allows our shared passion to create the impact that we both seek make.

Expressing yourself this way, with freedom and passion, with hope and determination, with a commitment to create impact in your life and work, to be a person of integrity, you are laying yourself open to both criticism, but also trust.

Leadership, Authenticity and Trust.

Trust comes with the price of responsibility.  It is a mantle of leadership to be trusted. Even if you are at mid-level in your organization, and you are trusted. You are trusted to lead.

Leadership in this sense is not a title or a role. It is our character, the performance of our attitude and behaviors in relation to other people in the social and organizational contexts of life and work. It is the alignment of our actions with our words.

Many people shrink away from such a responsibility.  That is sad. Mostly because down deep inside of us is the desire to be trusted, to be appreciated and to make a difference in our lives and work.

What holds us back is the fear of shame and vulnerability that Brene' Brown addresses. In an online conversation about her work, I made the following comment.

The whole shame thing that Brene' Brown describes is really my issue. Shame, for me, is looking poorly prepared, without an answer, or just damn ineffective; or, it is being out of touch, insensitive or just plain inadequate.

As a result, I work on too many fronts in order to stay ahead of the learning curve, and end up not being as impactful as I desire.

The result is weariness, and a growing awareness that I can't be a walking Wikipedia. I could be Brene' Brown's poster boy.

To be trustworthy is not to be perfect or having it all together. It is to be real and authentic, out which the characteristics of integrity, openness and love flow.

If trust is an issue in your business, consider that the solution begins with you.

It is not something you fix and move on.

It is learning to be a trustworthy person each day.

The place to start is with openness and vulnerability. Out of that learning experience, love and integrity will grow.

Ultimately, the desire to be count a trustworthy person must become more important than the fear and the resistance that keeps us from making the changes that matter. 

Honor and Recognition - Top 50 Leadership Blog

Honor and recognition are not always the same.  Linchpin headshot

However, from Jon Warner of the Ready To Manage blog, they are.

Jon has honored me by including me in his Top 50 Leadership Blogs listing.

I'm number number #36. Yep, I'm honored and happy for the recognition.

Thank you, Jon. Make sure you visit his blog often. He addresses important aspects of organizational leadership.

Also, check out others who are on the list. Many are people I know, follow and read often. You should too. You'll become a better leader and person for it.

When the Souvenir Becomes the Social Object


ThisMightWorkCover WP_001368

"A book is a souvenir of an idea" - Seth Godin

"The term, "Social Object" can be a bit heady for some people. So often I'll use the term, "Sharing Device" instead." - Hugh McLeod / Gaping Void

Seen in these pictures is the 19 lb Behemoth - This Might Work - compilation of Seth Godin's blog posts for the past seven years.

I'm sure many of those who received it, have it sitting on youre desk or office coffee table.

I'm using it, not as a souvenir of Seth's blog posting, but as a social object, "a sharing device" as Hugh McLeod suggests.

How a Social Object Works



Open up the book, and people want to look at it. 

Open to a page like either of these, and it provides a prime opportunity to begin to talk about change.

I've carried the Behemoth into several different settings this week, knowing that virtually no one there will know who Seth God is.

The intense interest that these pages foster demand conversation and exploration of the ideas in it.

My recommendation is find a way to take it with you, and when you have a few moments, take it out, and begin to read it. Share it with people, and talk about the ideas that have made a difference in your life and work.

I bought a copy of Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?, the abridged version of It Might Work. I'm using it as a loaner. You can too.

Using It Might Work as a Source for Social Objects

The design of It Might Work provides opportunities for using the images as conversation starters. That essentially what a Social Object provides. A way to start a conversation that can lead to a relationship, and maybe tomorrow, change the world.

Take pictures of the large format ideas pages like I have done here. Post them on your blog or Facebook page with your own insights into Seth's ideas. Make it a conversation.

Just look at these images. If you posted one a week in your office by the coffee machine, what kind of conversations are possible.

  LizardShutUp Passion AbundanceScarcity  PeopleNotOrganizations TrueFans LazinessEmotionalLabor LastForever Soon Ideas1-2

Ultimately, the Behemoth is not a depository of past ideas from Seth Godin. It isn't a relic, or souvenir. It is a tool for sparking conversations about ideas.


As a creative compilation of ideas, it fascinates people, just as it did my friend, Jina Hong, seen here.  As an artist, she was inspired by what she saw.

Books are great to share. But it is rare that a book can be utilized in quite the same way It Might Work can be.

If this still seems a bit weird, try this.

Take the book to a public place, and begin leafing through it. When a page captures a person's imagination, take her picture, and posted at your blog or on Facebook or Twitter. Get her email, and send her the picture.

You've not only made some new friends, but have made a difference in their lives by inspiring them with one of Seth's ideas.

This takes effort, but I'm certain it is worth it.


The Sweet Spot


There are two continuum that we all live on.

Between our talent and our skills.

Between what we love and what we hate.

The Talent - Skills Continuum

It would be nice if we could live out at the edge where we are at our most talented, and are doing what we love. But life and work doesn't work that way.

Talent is great, but without skills, we don't achieve what we desire.

Skills are fine, but if we aren't really talented in this way (Remember Johnny Bunko?) then we end up frustrated, disappointed, hating what we do, and quite stressed over it.

Most of us live in the middle between our talent and our skills.

Think of talent as your strengths. (If you don't know what they are then check out StrengthsFinders. It is a helpful guide to finding your talent.)

If you spend more of your life & work at the Skills end of the continuum, and not somewhere in the middle, then you will always feel that you are overcoming huge obstacles to getting things done.  You need to move to closer to where your talent is.

Talent is where we connect with our desires. We know that we are gifted and see it reflected in the satisfaction we get from utilizing our talent.

If you are at the other end, where you Talent rules, then you need to develop Skills that help sustain your Talent's vitality. Talent is a resource that is optimized by Skills development.

The Love - Hate Continuum

This is where the stress gets manufactured.

If you do what you love, then you are free. If you are in a situation that you hate, the emotional toll grows with each day.

Think of your emotional life as a well, a cistern, waiting to be filled. You can fill it with pure, clean water, or you can poison the water with the toxin of stress.

Find what you love, and live and work with it. Let it fill the well of your life with joy, peace, freedom, fulfillment, fun and a real sense of impact. This is where fun in life & work is found.

Finding The Sweet Spot

Doing what you love and are talented to do would seem to be the sweet spot on these two continuum. Ideally that is true. But in reality, that spot is closer to the middle on the Talent - Skills continuum and closer to what you Love on the other.

Here though is what is important to understand.

The price of living on these two continuum is emotional. Call it stress if you will, but it is emotional.

We hide this emotional toll because many more of the skills that leaders need are analytical, decision making ones.

We spend a lot of time in our heads. We think through problems, make decisions, implement them, and move to the next one.

It is that transition from one analytical process to the next that builds up the pressure.

It is important to understand the connection between our minds, our bodies and our emotions. There are many scientists who understand the science of this better than I do. So, do your own research. But here is what I've learned.

Rationalized Emotion

I've come to see that most of what we think is rationalized emotion. Our motivations begin down deep inside of us, and come out emotionally in some settings, like in sports, and yet in organizational / work settings we find them expressed as rational thought.

We all know people who are like emotional time-bombs. They seem rational on the surface, but they have a hair-trigger anger that creates fear and stress in people. That is a picture of this connection between our emotions, mind and body.

The well of emotions needs constant replenishing with positive emotions. If those emotions are not there in your life or work, then you need to begin today to address them.

Time to Make Changes

If you know you are stuck in a situation that is more stressful than fun, where you talent is under-utilized, where you hate not only what you do, but the whole context of the work, then you need to make some changes. The sooner you change the better. Waiting only fills the well with more toxic emotions.

Where do you start? Start with the Circle of Impact Guides. If you are new to them, here is a helpful guide to understanding the sequence of ideas in the guides.

Circle of Impact-StepbyStep


Change Early, Not Late

Seth-ChangeEarlyLatePage 24 and 25 of This Might Work This Might Not Work (Behemoth) by Seth Godin

This is EXACTLY right.

I remember years ago, my father, one of the best judges of people as an HR guy that I ever knew, said to me as we were talking about one of my consulting projects,

"Son, the best time to fire someone is before you hire them."

My rule of thumb #2 (Rule of Thumb #1 is "Everyone needs an editor.") is

"Never wait to change. It only complicates things and makes them harder."

Ok. That said, there is a continuum of change response that is worth recognizing.

Don't take Seth's words or mine as license to become a Change Junkie.

Instead, ask what is your purpose or mission, and will this change make it more likely that you'll achieve it.

Let's reorient this whole question.

The question should not be "To change or not to change"

The question should be "What change do I need to make right now?"

The assumption is that change is normal and necessary.

It is what we now call adaptability which is how we function in the transitions that we are constantly experiencing in our lives and work.

The Five Questions - HandoutPostcard

The first question of The Five Questions that everyone must ask is ...

What has Changed? How am I in transition?

If you are in the midst of a serious, overwhelming transition, then ask this question.

When was the last time I was happy, content and at peace with my work and life?

Whether your memory of that time is accurate or an illusion, it does not matter. What does is that the memory of this point in time is a starting point in understanding that transition that you are in.

Ask about what changed during this time? What changed about your perception of your purpose or in your relationships or possibly with the context of the work you do. These are three areas that are always present in our lives, and where our awareness of change has its greatest impact.

The second thing to recognize about this memory of a time in the past is that it reveals two things. The first are values that matter to us that we'd like reinforce or reinvigorate in our life or work. The second thing is that it points to a desire or desires in our heart that tell us what we love and want to see as central to our lives.

For example, lets say your company is bought out by a larger firm. Your memory points to how the company used to be like a family, where everyone care for one another. Now, that family feel is gone, and the pressure to perform is greater than you have ever experienced.

What you discover in that memory are the values of relationship and connection in the work place, and, that you love working for a smaller firm.

With that awareness, you can better understand the transition that you are in, and, the change that might be necessary in order to find that place of work and life that is meaningful for you.

This is what change is really about. Finding the right place where our desires for meaning, relationships that are happy and healthy, and a place where I feel my life matters can be realized.

So Change Early, Not Late. When you know that change is necessary, then begin the process of planning for that change.

What you'll find is that your capacity to change not only grows, but its negative impact upon your life diminishes. Why is this?

What I've discovered is that as we change, the speed of change increases. As it increases, it becomes simpler. Holding back changes inevitably means we must manage a host of obligations and expectations that have been thrust upon us by situations and people that may or may not carry meaning or impact for us.

The key is being very clear about your values, your purpose, and, how your team or group works together in the context of the transition that is taking place.

Doing the same things in the same way is not how we avoid the risks of change. It is how we embrace of the risk of irrelevance.

The risk of not changing is greater than the risk of changing.This is because we may think that not changing is just one decision, the same one, repeated over and over again, day after day.

To embrace change as the process of the transition we are in is to see that every decision is a new one and that when we make those according to values, purpose and a clarity about the impact we want, then we move forward to those decisions to see the path forward.

James C. Collins, who along with Jerry Porras wrote Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies make this point about how we function in an environment of transition.

“Visionary companies make some of their best moves by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and—quite literally—accident. What looks in retrospect like brilliant foresight and preplanning was often the result of “Let’s just try a lot of stuff and keep what works.”

 There is a fluidness about change, that once encounter, we discover a sense of flow moving through the moments of decision.

Simply put, change and change often. Not as a change-junkie, but as a responsible leader who both initiates and responds to change. Learn to do this and you'll never miss the fear and the doubt that accompanies change decisions. You'll find that the stress of change is not in the change itself, but rather in growing into a mindset that almost sees the connection between the past, present and future as happening simultaneously. I know this sounds crazy, but this is exactly what my own experience has been.

2013, The Year of Leadership and Healing

WP_000315I first heard of Esther Sternberg, MD in an interview with Krista Tippett at On Being. Sternberg is the author of the book, Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being. It is a book that provides a tour of how our sensory lives interact with our environment to create conditions for healing.

In the book, she tells of Roger Ulrich's experiment .

He had examined the hospital records of patients who had undergone gall bladder surgery in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital during the period 1972-1981. He'd chosen forty-six patients, thirty women and sixteen men, whose beds were near windows that overlooked either a grove of trees or a brick wall. Twenty-three beds had views of nature and twenty-three did not. Ulrich had recorded each patient's vital signs and other indicators of health, including dosages and types of pain medication and length of hospital stays. He'd found that patients whose beds were located beside windows with views of a small stand of trees left the hospital almost a full day sooner than those with views of a brick wall. Not only that, but the patients with nature views required fewer doses of moderate and strong pain medication. The results were dramatic and statistically significant. Ulrich had selected only forty-six patients to study because he was controlling for variables that could affect recovery, such as age, sex, whether the patients were smokers, the nature of their previous hospitalizations, the year of their surgery, even the floor their room was on. Each pair of patients-view of nature, view of brick wall-had been cared for by the same nurses, so differencesin nursing care could not account for the differences in speed of recovery. Even doubters had to sit up and take notice.

Sternberg's research is showing that the mind-body connection matters. She writes,

"Implicit in an understanding of the mind-body connection is an assumption that physical places that set the mind at ease can contribute to well-being, and those that trouble the emotions might foster illness."

This mind-body connection is revealed in how our desires connect us to people and places, and why certain people and places matter to us, rather than others.


For example, I'm a mountain person. I love to hike up a trail to a high mountain vista. It elevates my sense of connection to a larger world in a deeper, more complete sense than my virtual relationships online do.

However, for many connections that I have virtually, I desire for them to become embodied, that we might share this vista from Max Patch as shown above. The virtual, in this sense, is a portal that can lead to a fuller more embodied connection. I've come to call this non-virtual embodiment of human relationships, Real Presence.

In this video by Sternberg, she explains her work.


Also check out Esther Sternberg's PBS documentary, The Science of Healing: Understanding the Mind-Body Connection (available on Netflix).

Healing, the Unexplored Leadership Strategy

Over the past several months, I have come to know a group of people who each have a focused commitment to being healers. None of them are practicing physicians, consultants or own a healing business. They are simply people who approach their daily lives as healers. Two are focused on nutritional healing. Another is a professional musician and teacher, who writes music that creates an environment for healing.  Another group meets weekly to practice a ritual of silent prayer for people who desire healing. 

I'm finding that their work is a complement to Sternberg's scientific approach. Each addresses the mind-body continuum by recognizing that we are whole beings, not simply a network of bio-mechanical systems.

I have discovered through my relationship with them a deeper appreciation of the connection that our emotions or desires have to our rational mind, and how that contributes to stress. Not to make this too personal, but through these healers, I came to see the degree that my own life was being harmed by the stress of ambition, over-work and resistance to their emotional causes. 

Through the help of those who find their healing work in prayer, I was able to release the emotional burden that had been building up over years of operating a consultancy that was constantly pushing the perfectionist envelope of intuition and innovation. The healing that I received was of peace and resolution to some long held disappointments for which I felt grief and sorrow. The emptying of what I came to call "the well of sorrows" through the healing practice of prayer brought an immediate release and rejuvenation.

What Healing Requires

Brene' Brown is known as a social researcher of shame and vulnerability whose TED videos display a person who lives in the topic she researches. Here's a brief five minute interview that captures the essence of her insights.


Her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is quite good at getting at the issues that confront most of us leaders. I highly recommend this book to be read with other people, especially your spouse, your children and your business partners.  Everything she writes validates everything I've learned about life and work, professionalism and leadership, being a husband, father and friend, throughout my life.

Including Brown's TED talks, watch also her interview by Jonathan Fields of the Good Life Project, listen to the podcast interview with Krista Tippett at On Being, and finally this video of her speaking about the difference between shame, guilt, embarrassment and humiliation.

I discovered Brown's work after having the experience with the healers through prayer. She provides a helpful framework for understanding what I was experiencing and how to sustain it going forward in what she calls Wholeheartedness.  Here are her 10 "guideposts" for Wholehearted living.

Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think

Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism

Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness

Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark

Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty

Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison

Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth

Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle

Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”

Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

Understand that it is okay to be deficient in any if not all of these wholehearted areas. It is not okay to accept that inadequacy as the way life is and go on as if these things do not matter.

They do matter in every social and organizational context in which we live. These issues matter to the functioning of businesses. Most importantly, these are key areas for leaders to develop if they are to be at their best.

Healing, the unexplored territory of leadership

I am learning from this group of healers that I know, and from the work of Esther Sternberg and Brene'Brown that leaders need to address themselves to these issues.

Three Goals of Life-Work-CircleofImpact

This is one of the unrealized subtexts of my Circle of Impact and the Three Desires model. I did not know it at the time, but as I've gone through this experience of healing, I realize that this is one way to understand the work that I've pursued for the past almost thirty years.

So, with the beginnng of 2013, I am beginning to delve more deeply into an understanding of healing in order to understand how leaders may become the healers of their organizations, and provide an environment for their people to flourish in a healthy, whole context for life and work.

Any thoughts, directions, resources or connections to people who are also researching this area, I'd appreciate.  More to come.

May 2013 be a year of peace and healing for each of you.

The Platform of Desire, Part 5

IMG_2304The Desire to Connect

Desire isn't just an idea. It is a movement within us drawing us towards some value or experience or person.

This drawing, like water into the porous membrane of a sponge, is the activity of connection.

You walk into a room at a business after hours event. You register, get you name tag, and turn around and look at the crowd. Who are you looking to meet? Who is looking to meet you?

We are drawn towards particular kinds of people. What is it that us draws to them?

You sign up for an online dating service, and out of the dozens of possibilities, one person jumps off the page. Why this person?

What draws us towards this one individual rather than another?

Why can we talk about the synergy between two people who only met two minutes ago? What is it that draws us into relationships where we are prepared to trust, to be vulnerable and change our business plan immediately?

It is the intangible nature of human desire. It is beyond rational. It really isn't subrational, but rather supra-rational. It is beyond explanation. It falls into the realm of faith.

What is it about the connection of human desire that causes us to flee the safety of the fortress to venture out into the unknown to discover what lay in our heart's desire all along.

Many refer to this as a call, a voice that constantly beckons them onward, to risk all for the sake of that source of passion deep within us that refuses to be quiet.

This is the magic that happens between two people or within a team when they stop playing the game of control and risk management, and pursue a call they share to make a difference that matters.

In other words, it is love that draws us together. The love of ideas, of people and of the change that we can create together. This is the desire that lies deep within us that calls us to accept and honor its all or nothing demand upon our lives.

The People We are Drawn Toward

At a most basic level, we are drawn toward two kinds of people.

One type are those who affirm or validate who we are. They are like us or complement us by helping us see the inherent value of who we are. These relationships appreciate us for who we are right now. These are family and friends with whom we have happy moments each day.

Often these are people we've known a long time and with whom, even if we are very different in personality, we feel comfortable because of our shared life experiences together.  These are people with whom we share similar values. These are our peeps.

The second kind are those people for whom we feel a kind of longing. This longing is to be different, better, fulfilled, complete, or known for some facet of our lives that the first group cannot see. These people set a standard for their life and work that we view as higher or more ambitious, and therefore is desirable. We desire relationships with them, hoping that some of their magic will rub off on us.  We desire what we think they have. More than anything, we want their respect, and a connection to them.

These relationships may not be with people that we know or with whom we spend most of our time. The relationship may be virtual as on Facebook or Twitter. A connection is made when they like a link that we post. A social media connection with this person fulfills a longing for association with someone whom we perceive to be the person we wish to be in the future. These persons symbolize for us the values that matter to us, that may seem beyond our reach, yet live down deep within us as the desires that we have for our life and work.

We need both of these kinds of relationships. However, neither speaks to the character of the relationship, only to a type of relationship.

The character of our relationships matter.  I thought of this when I came across this selection from the Diary of Anais Nin.

"The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, the sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters. meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision."

She could easily be describing the relationships that many of us have through social media platforms. We desire connection. But too often it is superficial, lacking depth.

What then does it mean to have relationships of depth?  This is the kind of relationship that I wrote about in my post Still Waters Still Flow. There I write,

"Am I setting up an impossible scenario for our relationships? Of course I am! For without a standard, an ideal, or a vision of the highest in human experience, then there is no clear direction to the flow of our lives.

When the love I describe becomes complete within us, and seeks out others who also have found a completeness in the love within them, then a depth of relationship results that changes us. We are transformed by loving, not simply by the idea of love.

All these human characteristics that we celebrate and honor, like Respect, Trust, Confidence, Responsibility, Courage, Empathy and Self-sacrifice find a ground upon which to grow. For ultimately, flow rises from our own capacity to be the person we wish others to be.

I wish I could say that all this can come without pain or suffering but it can't. In fact, it is the very comforts of our modern life that stand in the way of a fulfilled, complete and flourishing life. Those comforts present the appearance of strength and completeness. But too often they are the curtain that blinds us to harsher realities of the world.

For still waters to run deep requires the dredging of the stream bed of our lives to remove all those barriers to flow. The more courageous, the more willing we are to raise the standards of our life and work, the more willing we are to be committed to do the hard work of changing our lives, the more willing we are to defy fear, and move into unknown territories of discovery, the more we will discover that still waters still flow bringing peace into a world of conflict."

For these kinds of relationship to flourish requires a setting or an environment for our relationships to grow. Increasingly, I'm convinced that this is difficult to achieve when the relationship is only in a virtual context.

Digital or Analog, Virtual or ... ?

What do we call the setting of relationships that are not virtual, that exist outside of an online digital social space? To say they are analog, physical or real does not capture it well. What are our relationships that exist where we live, with whom we encounter in physical proximity to one another.

Lacking an adequate terminology, I've decided to use a sacramental term that Presbyterians and other Protestant Christians use to describe the relationship of God to the eucharist, the sacramental meal that Christians observe in worship. That term is Real Presence.

I'm using real presence in a non-religious way. It is the relationship that develops between people who find their life and work connected at a deeper level of meaning and impact than with other people. The result is that they are drawn together in such a way that the traditional social media platforms are an insufficient for the purpose of the relationship. In other words, they find they need to be in physical proximity to one another often enough to advance their relationship's purpose.

To be really present, requires us to be open and vulnerable, attentive and willing to adapt to each opportunity as it appears. Real presence is living each day with intention and commitment. I realize that these are familiar words to people today. The challenge is not knowing the meaning of these words, but deriving our meaning of life from living them each day.

There are many people that I've met online with whom we now have a relationship of real presence. We are constantly in touch with the living our of our lives. We are not simply observing and commenting in a detached manner. Our relationships to one another matter. As a result, we are drawn to be with one another in a physical sense. And so we make the effort to travel to be with one another.

Let me return to my question from above. Why is it that we connect with some people and not others?  Is it because the place where we meet and develop our relationships is conducive for the kind of relationship we seek? Is it because there are certain values that we share that can flourish in either a virtual or a physical context?

This is a complex question. To understand it we must understand ourselves. To understand ourselves demands that we understand the kinds of environments that are most conducive to making the kind of connections that we truly desire.

This is an important question because so many of our connections are virtual, operating only within a digital context. Yet, we are not virtual people, digitized, pixelated images or text narratives on a screen. We are embodied persons whose whole selves experience the movement of desire flowing through us.

Developing Platforms for Desire

We are at the beginning point in the evolution of the digital world. What it will be in a decade or in fifty years is pure speculation.

I am convinced that because we are desiring beings (James K A Smith's term), that the structure of society and organizations ultimately adapt to who we are. It is never smooth, however.

Today, we are at the end of the industrial era, without real clarity about what is to follow. Current global social and political forces are aligned to avoid change as much as possible. Resistance to human evolution is futile. And at the heart of our evolution as a species is the drive our desires for meaning, healthy relationships and lives of impact.

As a result, there will always be a tug-of-war between those forces that seek to control the evolutionary course, and those who choose the freedom to adapt to change as it presents itself each day.

As social media platforms develop, change and die, new platforms will emerge to meet the opportunities that come from human social interaction. The challenge for the developers of these platforms as I've said previously in this series, is not really how to monetize the platform, but rather how maximize the ability of people of shared desires to collaborate to make a difference that matters. The mousetrap has been invented. Now is the time to make a better mousetrap.

There is much more that can be said about the relation of human desire to the virtual online world. For now, this is sufficient.

The Platform of Desire, Part 4

The Platform of Hyper-reality

The world of social media is very far removed from our premodern ancestors' experience. Our experience is not one of a constant awareness of the physical danger of the natural world or of life on a farm. We live in a world mediated through sophisticated technology that, for many people, has removed them from any direct exposure to the world of nature.

We live in an immersive world of an always-on information feed directed at our sub-rational desires. And the worst of these onslaughts focus on our fears, not our ambitions.

As Marshall McLuhan wrote, “It is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.”

Philosophers and social theorists call this hyper-reality. Italian author Umberto Eco writes that "the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake." French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation, writes,

"Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referrential being, or a substance. It is the generation of models of the a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal."

Albert Borgmann, in his insightful book, Holding Onto Reality, describes the transition to this hyperreal world through a description of how the place of information in human experience has changed. There are three different ways that information connects us to reality. There is ...

Information about reality - Our direct experience of the natural world.

Information for reality - Our experience of information as an interpreter or chronicler of reality.

Information as reality - Our experience where the medium is the message.

Here's one example of these three types of information.

Each of these forms of information can be seen in this video of the finale of Gustav Mahler's 2nd Symphony played by the Seoul (SK) Philharmonic Orchestra. (Don't skip this experience.)


The first type of information, about reality is seen in the singers and musicians actually playing the music. They are engaged in actually playing the music, not simply listening or observing it being played.Think of the experience of the choir and musicians, as the symphony reaches its peak of intensity during the last three minutes. This is a direct experience of the music as it was created to be experienced by the composer.

The second type of information is seen in the sheet music that the musicians are reading to follow the score. The lyrics of the score printed in the audience's program and projected on the overhead screen. This information enables the musicians to play together, and the audience to have a higher level of understanding of the meaning of thought behind the writing of the symphony.

The third type of information is our experience of watching and listening to this concert at another time, in another place, in a totally different and private context.  This third engagement is the platform of the hyper-real. The experience transcends the experience that Gustav Mahler envisioned when he wrote the work. Imagine listening to a recording on your IPod while standing at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or in the middle of Cathedral du Notre Dame in Paris. The recording creates a transcendent experience, providing another layer of experience that provides a way of personally interpreting the meaning of the physical place where you are standing. 

It is a wholly different reality. This YouTube portion is only 9 minutes of a symphony that is almost an hour and a half long. This fragment of the symphony, while dynamic and moving, is not the whole experience the symphony was designed to provide. Mash this video with other video content, and the information of the original becomes farther and farther removed from the original.

This virtual reality transcends the original. It is now no longer a representation of an event that took place in a specific place, at particular time, with people who were the participants at that moment. It is now a video that serves a different purpose. It has become its own reality.

The Hyperreality of Social Media

Social media is a platform for hyper-experiences of this nature. It is a medium where we can create relationships and experiences that are reflective of experiences that would not have been possible a generation ago.

Platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, intentionally guide the interaction that people have through it. I am convinced that people are changed by them.

The question that this raises for me is whether the purpose of the platform and the purpose of their organizations are the same.

Does Facebook's need to monetize the platform (organizational purpose) become the driving force that over time changes the purpose of the platform? 

Is it a social platform or a sales platform? Can both co-exist?

Here are other questions.

How would the platform of Facebook develop if the question of monetization never needed to be asked?

What if Facebook was only about the personal and social development of people in relationships in a global society?

What if the now shareholders at Facebook never asked about share price and dividends?

I ask these questions to highlight the importance of understanding the effect that social media platforms have. As a platform for human interaction, they different than anything in the past. The speed, immediacy and hyper-reality of these platforms changes us. It elevates old virtues like patience and listening.

The Difference between the Platforms

There are host of online tools that serve the interests of business people world-wide. For example, there are meeting platforms, conference call platforms, shared writing platforms, and all that can be done visually on a global scale.

In my work, I use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, along with many of the Google doc features. I use Skype as my office phone.  I use Pay Pal, SurveyMonkey, Slideshare and Scribd. I blog on Typepad and Wordpress platforms. And I have a Ning site. Each one is different. None are complete in themselves. All require skills that must be developed in order to take advantage of their benefits. All take time to master.

I am immersed like so many in the multitude of platforms that exist in the social media universe. And I, like I suspect many others, are dissatisfied with what they offer. For this reason, many of these platforms will not last. I say this because I am convinced that they are designed based on a certain perception, even philosophy, of human nature.

I like Facebook because it keeps me in touch with lots of people. I like it better than Twitter.

Google seems to me to be the only one of these platforms that really understands what I want, but its approach is less than appealing.

Ultimately, the difference between the platforms is not their companies' problem, but mine. I have know what I want to do with them, and use them for that purpose. But like much in hyper-reality, the old reference points fade, and new ones emerge.

For example, where most people use Facebook to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues, and others use it as platform for promoting their business, I use it more like a blog, as a place to engage people with ideas. And I find Facebook better for this than Twitter, Linked-In or Google+.

So, the difference then, is not just between the platforms, but between the people who use them. This means that the platforms of social media are a dynamic environment for human interaction, where peoples' lives can be transformed.

The Frontier of Social Media

Where does the hyper-reality of social media take us?

Is it a suitable and sustainable platform for our human desires for personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships and to make a difference that matters?

Is its virtual, almost disembodied state bode well for the ability of organizations to create collaborative structures that are prepared to replace the failing organizations of the industrial era?

These are the kind of questions I'll be asking as we continue to move through this series.

The Platform of Desire, Part 3

Lemhi Pass 26 7-14-04

The Platform of Nature

Prior to the industrial revolution, and especially prior to discovery of electricity, a person's life was lived within the confined space of their village. Social experience happened within the community of family and neighbors. People would gather in their homes, around the backyard fence, in church and community pot-luck dinners. Their world was small and confined to the close proximity of their town.

My grandfather once told me that the most significant invention he saw in his 94 years of life was the radio, because it opened up the world beyond the small town where he grew up. Listening to what was happening in Europe gave him the idea decades later to take my father to Paris on an American Legion trip. The medium of radio opened up the world to my grandfather, and the impact was felt by my father and later by me and my sisters.

This experience of openness to the world beyond that which we can walk or ride on the back of a horse in day is new in human history. While the radio began this trend, its technology matured into what today we know as computers and the interwebs. This has changed us socially, and it has changed how we relate to the natural world.

In an interview with Krista Tippett of the radio program, On Being, novelist and essayist, Marilynne Robinson speaks about her childhood growing up in Idaho.

Ms. Tippett: ... Marilynne, you grew up in Idaho, which you describe ... as a place of more austere but intense beauty. ... how do you trace the roots of your sense of mystery ... as something that came to be an animating force for you as a novelist and a writer.

Ms. Robinson: Well, my grandparents had a house in the mountains not terribly far from where I lived. It was in the western side of the Rocky Mountains, near Canada, and the proportion, or the disproportion, of nature on the one hand and human settlement on the other was really striking. I mean, even — as a child I grew up with the idea that human beings were a fairly trivial presence in the environment and that the mountains, you could hear them all the time. You could smell them. There was pine in the air or snow or whatever.

My grandparents had a house built actually by my great-grandparents, which was modern by the standards of the late 19th century and so it had a sleeping porch. You were supposed to sleep out there so that you wouldn't get tuberculosis. There was no ambient light. And it was amazing because at night you would hear the mountains. You would hear coyotes, you know, and there was no other light. There was no sense of human presence aside from my grandparents' house. (Emphasis mine.)

Robinson's description of her childhood experience with the "platform" of the Idahoan mountains points to how a place or a setting or an environment affects our sense of who we are and our sense of meaning and purpose.

As seen in Robinson's story, in the past there was a clear distinction between people and the natural world. It gave proportion to the place that a human being fits into the natural world.

011_11 2002 5

For me, riding on the back of a horse in the wilderness south of the Yellowstone border gives me a sense of my smallness in the midst of the vast grandeur of nature. It does not diminish me as a person, but provides perspective to see that I am not the center of the universe. Proportion is an important perspective to have. It can open us up to a much larger, wider world, if we choose to see it that way.

This sense of proportion is not limited to those of us who love the mountains. It is also a product of immersion in the life of the sea. My friend and colleague David Pu'u is a man of the water. I've learned much about life from his life-long love of the ocean. I've come down from my vantage point in the mountains to join him and the circle of surfers, artists and scientists involved in the Ocean Lovers Collective. When I asked David to describe the impact of the ocean as a platform, in the way that Robinson speaks of the mountains, he directed me to this video that he produced several years ago. It captures what I was seeking.

When Nature is a platform, like any social or organizational structure is a platform, it influences what we value and desire. Or in the words of James K A Smith, what we love. To live in nature is to love it, but not in the abstract sense of love, but in the deeper sense of understanding, of respect, and of a relationship that requires listening and giving.

To live outside in the natural world is to experience something different than what one feels driving through a natural setting in an automobile.

Chitral-Gilgit district border

Traveling through the NorthWest Frontier Province of Pakistan in 1981, our experience walking was quite different than riding in a Jeep. Walking, we encountered people. We saw little things along the road that we would have missed. And without the noise of the engine, we could here the wind and the sound of the water rushing down from the glaciers that we passed.

Humans in Nature

Some of my perspective has been formed by German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg who wrote that human beings were the most physically vulnerable and the most intellectually creative of all animals. To survive the physical harshness of nature, human beings had to use the creativity of their minds to develop clothing, shelter, tools and sustainable food sources. This human vulnerability was true throughout the pre-modern era, before electricity, in-door plumbing and central air-conditioning. And away from the technology that we've developed to support human existence, we are still the most physically vulnerable.

In earlier times, people understood that life was fragile, and depended upon others for support and safety. Creativity was not just in creating tools for survival, but also social structures to support human existence.

Victor Davis Hanson writes about how the cities of ancient Greece grew up as a place for agrarian farmers to gather to sell their crops and support one another.

The material prosperity that created the network of Greek city states resulted from small-scale, intensive working of the soil, a complete rethinking of the way Greeks produced food and owned land, and the emergence of a new sort of person for whom work was not merely a means of subsistence or profit but an ennobling way of life.... The wider institutions of ancient Greece --military, social, political--embodied the subsequent efforts of these small farmers to protect their hard won gain....The original Greek polis is best understood as an exclusive and yet egalitarian community of farmers...."

In the pre-modern world, the land was the platform for civilization. Today, the virtual world of electrons, bits and bytes and social media is that platform.

In the next post in this series, I'll look at how technology has changed the experience that we have. And look at the mediating role that the various platforms of technology and human institutions, like social media, have upon us. And how these platforms affect the formation of our human desires for meaning, for companionship and our ambition to create impact as human beings.

The Platform of Desire, Part 2

Desire or Rationality?

We live in an era created by science and rational thought. But the culture that we live in is not rational. It is sub-rational, almost primal, in its elevation of the expression of desire over everything else.

This elevation of desire is a two-edged promise. It on the one hand, a promise of engagement in all that life has to offer.

On the other a promise of total exhaustion, of even annihilation, if embraced without thought, direction and boundaries.  It is the power behind the passion of ambition and human connection.

Images of desire capture our attention, draw us into experiences that touch us, change us and can ultimately transform us into new persons. Our rational selves rarely do that. It is the passion of desire that makes it possibly for us to make the sacrifices to be people who create the goodness that lies dormant in the potential that we all have.

If that desire is let loose, never guided by our rational selves, then like Icarus' flight to the sun, we can crash and burn.

Desire = Love

I'm calling desire those inner drives that draw us toward what we love. Philosopher James K. A. Smith sees this love lived out in a sort of secular liturgy of worship. There are rituals that we observe because they reinforce the importance of our desires.

“…  we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities – what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are – is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate – what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hoped for, what we think the good life looks like. The vision of the good life shapes all kinds of actions and decisions and habits that we undertake, often without our thinking about it. ”

Our loves and desires are shaped by how we live in the world around us.  The social and organizational systems and structures that are the context of our life and work is a place of engagement where we either find our desires fulfilled or frustrated.  Our happiness is not so much about what we think, but how we intersect with the social and organizational places where we live and work. Smith writes,

So when I say that love defines us, I don’t mean our love for the Chicago Cubs or chocolate chip scones, but rather our desire for a way of life. This element of ultimacy … is fundamentally religious. But religion here refers primarily not to a set of beliefs or doctrines but rather to a way of life. What’s at stake is not primarily ideas but love, which functions on a different register. Our ultimate love/desire is shaped by practices, not ideas that are merely communicated to us.

Or to put it another way, our real world context is both outside of us and within us. The  connection between our desires and the physical places where we spend our days is intimate and integral to every aspect of our lives.

If you are like me, there are places you go to find restoration and perspective. For me it is the spiritual geography of wild places. Remove the technological noise and perspective returns. At these places, we reconnect with the desires that drive us toward what we love.

When I go to a place like Max Patch (below) I find myself standing on a high mountain bald with a 360 degree vista of mountain ridges.

Max Patch Edge

The vastness of this mountain scape, like that of this panorama of the Grand Tetons of Jackson Hole (below), touches me deep inside, reminding me of vastness of the opportunities that we each have each day to make a difference.

Jackson Hole Valley

The desires of my life and work resonate with the bigness of these mountains. It is why I constantly return to them, where I find balance and proportion between me as an individual and the bigness of the world in which I live and work.

Smith presents a compelling view that contemporary consumerism is set of liturgical practices that both inform and form us as people. He writes,

"Because our hearts are oriented primarily by desire, by what we love, and because those desires are shaped and molded by the habit-forming practices in which we participate, it is the rituals and practices of the mall - the liturgies of mall and market - that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves to the world. Embedded in them is a common set of assumptions about the shape of human flourishing, which becomes an implicit telos, or goal, of our desires and actions. That is, the visions of the good life embedded in these practices become surreptitiously embedded in us through our participation in the rituals and rhythms of these institutions. These quasi-liturgies effect an education of desire, a pedagogy of the heart. ..."

What is true of the mall's impact upon us is also true of the social and organizational structures where we live and work. They are not inert, neutral, artificial places. They are living contexts which engage our desires, and where our lives take root in a real world.  These "places" affect how we develop as human beings. 

It is this deeper truth that lies behind the design development of office space between those of an open plan and the closed kind advocated by Susan Cain in her book, The Quiet.  The architecture of space in social and organizational structures affects who we are and how we perform. This is the tangible representation of the role that human desire has.

A Structure for Desire?

We don't look at the way we organize our businesses and organizations from this point of view though. We tend to see space or organizational systems as just a place where work takes place. We think of organizational structural design as primarily about creating efficiency and production. We don't think of them as a determining factor in how people connect to their inner desire for meaning and impact.Three Goals of Life-Work-CircleofImpact It is the same reason we don't see people, but rather human resources. It is the utilitarian mindset of the industrial age that cannot see what is evident when one stands outside of that context.

The effect of this mindset is to diminish our understanding of human potential, reducing it to whatever is needed for the task assigned. Consequently, any connection to human desire is lost all together.

It was James K. A. Smith who provided me the insight to see something in my work with clients that had been evident all along: three human desires that everyone has. Desires for personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships and to make a difference that matters.

What we love drives us towards these desires. And we need to structure the social and organizational systems of our lives and work to enable these desires to find fulfillment. 

In part 3 of this essay, I will look at how we can create organizational structures that enable people who work within them to find personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships, and to make a difference that matters.

The Platform of Desire, Part 1

“It is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.” - Marshall McLuhan

Recently, my friend David Pu’u asked me about my vision. In a moment of rare, uninhibited candor I said,

“I want to change everything related to 20th century organizational purpose and structure. I want to replace the institutions that created the problems we face now.  I no longer want to be sad because of the waste of human potential that I see around me.”

The structures that I am referring to are not just organizational structures, but also social, moral and ideological structures. It is important to understand that these structures are systems of processes that affect us through our experience of them. Circle of Impact

From the vantage point of my Circle of Impact model, my conclusion is that ideas change, relationships change, but the social and organizational structures that comprise the context in which we think and relate do not change without great forces of disruption.

This is especially so as social and organizational structures disconnect Ideas (Values, Vision, Purpose and Impact) and Relationships from the processes and order of the institution. These structures are highly resistant to change, and only change when people join together around a set of common values, a shared purpose and a clear understanding of what difference their organization should make.

The Structure Lives

I have had a long standing interest in the structure of organizations. Not the structure of the organizational chart; but the living structure, the one that actually functions.

If an organization's structure was a spy, it would be a double agent, both working for and against the people of the organization.

The structure of an organization, whether it is a bricks & mortal business or a social media business, is designed for a purpose. Henry Ford's assembly line that made the Model T was designed for the purpose of mass production. Facebook's platform structure is also designed for a purpose.

A business' purpose and the purpose of its organizational structure are not the same.  The former is born out of the values that inform its mission; the latter out of the need for order and efficiency.

Marshall McLuhan said a half century ago that "the medium is the message".  At that time, he was speaking about how the form in which a message is delivered is a message in-and-of-itself. The form of communication is as important as the content of the message.

The classic example from McLuhan's era, the 1960s, is the effect of the nightly pictures of the Vietnam War. During the dinner hour each night, we saw pictures of US aircraft dropping napalm incendiary bombs, of piles of dead bodies, of unclothed children running from the fires of bombings, and executions in the streets. 

The visual medium of television created an experience, whether accurately or not, which words in a newspaper or magazines, and governmental spokespersons could not. The medium was greater than the message in itself.

Today, the digital revolution is an extension of this same reality. Even in a day when any photo can be Photoshopped, pictures carry a stronger influence than words.

The medium, the structure, the platform is the message, and always has been.

It is important to understand how organizational structures and social media platforms affect us. They are not neutral, but a living context which change in response to our actions.

Consider for a moment the morale in your office today. Is everyone happy and productive?  Or are there people who are disgruntled and angry about being there.

Several years ago, in collaboration with a global group of colleagues, an ebook of a conversation about morale in the workplace was published called Managing Morale in a Time of Change. It is worth reading. Without stating it, the conversation points to the impact that organizational structure has on the people who work with it.  The structure attempts to dictate identity and behavior.  To paraphrase McLuhan's words at the beginning of this post,

"It is the experience of working within a highly integrated corporate structure, not the understanding of its structure, that produces issues of low morale."

The medium of structure is a message to which we must pay attention.This is true regardless of size or organizational form, whether industrial or digital. We are influenced by the structures of the organizations where we engage in life and work. This is also true for all things digital and virtual,especially the form of social media platforms.

Social Media Platforms as Organizational Structures

I began to think about this after listening to Mitch Joel's Twist Image and Joseph Jaffe's Across the Sound shared podcast as they discussed Facebook's future. I left a comment at Mitch's blog. Here's apart of it.

... Facebook is a new thing. But it thinks like an old thing. It thinks bigger is better. It’s the old industrial mindset. The bigger it gets, the harder it will be to change course. I’ve felt for some time that FB has about five years of relevance left before it is replaced by multiple platforms that someone figures out how to tie together without creating confusion. This is already happening.

Why? Because people change, and it isn’t that they want more, they want better or different. Facebook is changing their expectations, their behaviors, and their attitudes towards themselves. We already see it in the proliferation of so many different social media platforms.

Here’s where I see the shift.

It used to be that we individuals had to fit into the institutional structures, and Facebook is an institutional structure, to find relevance and identity. The institution was king, and we were simply serfs. Now, that scenario is flipped, and the individual is king, and becoming more so, and Facebook is just an optional tool for our use. For these platforms it is a race to relevance in a fickle marketplace.

It isn’t that these platforms are changing, people are changing by using these tools to express themselves in way that they did not have in previous eras. They / we will gravitate toward those platforms / tools we need right now. I find Facebook is the lowest common denominator social media platform that provides a basic level of interaction, but not much more. I know they are trying to add features, but the mold / brand is set. FB is a slave to their own brand, not we to them.

The medium of social media is changing us. It is a platform for change. And, we, just may be changing faster than the platforms can keep up. Why is this?

What is it about social media that makes it so appealing?

How does it touch us, touch those aspects of our lives that other structures can not?

How can we better utilize these platforms to align the Four Connecting Ideas with our relationships in the organziational structures where we live and work?

These are the questions that I find most compelling.

We'll look at these questions in Part 2 of The Platform of Desire.

The Frontier is Within

IMG_0258A century ago Frederick Jackson Turner declared that the frontier was closed

A half century ago, President John F. Kennedy, challenged the nation to believe in the frontier of space as he focused attention on going to the Moon.

"No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space. ... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

A hundred years from now, what will people have said the frontier that we crossed and settled was? As I reflect upon this, I don't think we really know.

The Frontier of the 20th Century

When Turner presented his frontier thesis, what he saw was the emergence of science and expansion of education as the frontier boundaries of the 20th century. What he could not have known was that the 20th century would also become a time world war and violence between nations, and by nations towards their citizens.

While our science advanced, our humanity retreated into barbarism.

Of course, human beings have always been blood-thirsty. But the 20th century marks a level of the sophistication in the practice of genocide, slavery, eugenics and war that is unprecedented.

This development was not so much a failure of science, for science as a culture was never in control of its own advancement. But rather a result of the social, political and economic philosophies of the modern age that emerged during the 18th. and 19th. centuries that gave a rational basis to the violence on such an enormous scale.

The humanistic philosophies of the Renaissance, which drew upon the ancient philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, and the ancient religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, gave way to the ideologies that diminished human beings into utilitarian means for industrial and cultural advancement.

As modern people, we celebrate individualism and freedom as the ultimate purpose of human society, and yet turn a deaf ear to the sufferings of people singled out for extinction by their governments. We are following a logical course of the ideologies that have dominated the last two hundred years of human history. What is the future of a planet where death on such a massive scale is hardly mentioned by presidential candidates. Is our only option to throw up our hands in defeat and let violence suck the life out of civilized societies?

I have wondered over the past decade or so why it is that so much of visual culture about the future has become so apocalyptic, and less hopeful. Compare E.T. the extraterrestrial (1982) , Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series from a generation ago to films and games like The Road (2009) , The Book of Eli (2010), the Resident Evil series and, most recently books, films and television series about zombies, vampires and alien invasion.

Does the shift from an optimism about the future, as expressed in President Kennedy's challenge, to a darker, apocalyptic one reveal our own deep insecurity about the future capabilities of technology?

Walker Percy's question from a generation ago still resonates deeply as a question that remains to be answered.

Why does man feel so sad in the twentieth century?  Why does man feel so bad in the very age when, more than in any other age, he has succeeded in satisfying his needs and making the world over for his own use?

Maybe, to paraphrase a biblical reference, through the advancement of technology, we have gained the world and lost our humanity.

The question of our time is, then, "For what purpose, and to what end does our technological advancement lead us?"

One Step Removed

I have thought a lot about frontiers over past decade, as my interest in the Lewis & Clark Expedition grew. I found in their story both the inspiration for venturing toward the frontier, and the cautionary lessons that can guide us.

I've concluded that we are one step removed from understanding what the frontier of the future is.

I know that there are all sorts of predictions about the future. I'm not talking about predicting the future. Predictions are largely taking current knowledge and extending its development into the future.

Instead, I'm talking about a frontier of the future of what is unknown and undiscovered.

This is a different mindset that requires a humble openness to the future, and a certain skepticism about what we already know and have achieved. In effect, we do what the best scientists and explorers have always done, look forward without prejudicial assumptions that bind discoveries into a preconceived understanding of the future.

The future is the horizon upon which we set our bearings, our aspirations and the validation of our values.

The difference between being an explorer rather than a futurist is that the futurist stands in the present looks towards the future, and the explorer, instead, leaves the present behind to embrace an unknown future. 

In the past, explorer's were individuals of vision who largely made their discoveries out of the public's eye. Today, we need more than individuals who are willing to venture into the unknown, we need a society that will. As the old saying goes, "the thinking that got us here is not the thinking that will get us out of here."

This first step in pioneering the future is to reorient our lives and world so that we see ourselves living on the frontier. For this is what I see, the end of what we've known for 500 years, and the beginning of a new epoch of discovery.  This reorientation is the frontier that is within each of us that must first be crossed before the larger horizon of the future can be identified.

The Next Frontier is Within

Explorers do not decide to go, and then walk out the door. They prepare.

The preparation that we need now is the frontier that is within each of us. The focus of preparation is simple. The execution is difficult.

We can begin with this question.

What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?

This starting point leads us to the frontier within. The frontiers that we then must cross is intellectual, social and spiritual.

The intellectual frontier is to think for yourself, thinking with open observation, without prejudice, yet with skepticism toward your own conclusions. 

The social frontier is to make connections with people, establishing relationship of respect, trust, and mutual support and collaboration, so that shared discovery creates new communities of understanding for the future. 

The spiritual frontier is recognizing there is a reality beyond the material and beyond that which I can control, which is intelligible to those who embrace it with openness and a willingness to learn and adapt to its frame of understanding.

Once the frontier within has been embraced, then the next frontier will show itself.

A Return to Lewis & Clark for the 21st. Century

Lemhi Dawn 12 9-16-04Many of the pictures that I post on my blog posts and at my Facebook page have been taken as I have traveled parts of the trail of Lewis & Clark trail.

From August of 2004 through December of 2006, I published a weblog called, Lewis & Clark for the 21st Century. There I posted on the leadership of Lewis & Clark as the first 21st century leadership team. As the bicentennial celebration ended, I ended my posting, but not my interest.

Now through the encouragement of Joe Mussulman, creator of Discovering Lewis & Clark, I am returning to blog on the story. My latest post explains my multiple purposes in doing so.

I hope you will subscribe to Lewis & Clark for the 21st Century. There will be more there than just a retelling of the story. Their experience will be a stepping stone to an exploration of many themes relevant to where we are today. Please share with your friends and colleagues. I look forward to our discussions.

Simple Happiness


Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things. ... Despite these afflictions man wants to be happy, only wants to be happy, and cannot help wanting to be happy.

But how shall he go about it?  The best thing would be to make himself immortal, but as he cannot do that, he has decided to stop himself thinking about it.

-Blaise Pascal 1623-1662

The opportunities that life presents us today should provide us the conditions for happiness. But, as we are all discovering, these choices are not making life simpler, but more complex.

So many good choices, yet, so difficult to decide. Or so many hard choices, so difficult to act upon.

As a result, we ignore the complexity, and just choose the path that seems the least troublesome.

We face our opportunities with a form of denial. We deny that complexity has any control over our lives, and so we lean on the tried and true, denying that the world has really changed.

I see this particularly in how people have dealt with the recession over the past four years. A classic hunker down, trim way, downsize, wait it out scenario. That may work for some, if your industry is healthy, and your community is growing, but for others, not so much.

We must work through the complexity to discover simplicity that leads the happiness we desire.

Simplicity in this sense is becoming clear about what we want and how we want to get there.

This is how the Circle of Impact Guides came to be. Through lots of conversation about change, finding clarity in the midst of confusion, and discovering a simple path forward through a process that came to be. Here's how the image above gets processed.

Circle of Impact-StepbyStepI've written about this before at here and here.

Working through Complexity to Simplicity  

Complexity comes when we see so many opportunities. They are embedded in the relationships that we have with people, and the many places we encounter those people.

Our Network of Relationships

Consider for a moment the full range of people that you know and with whom you regularly interact. This interaction may be face-to-face or online. It really does not matter. Because there are opportunities for impact in almost any place where we have those relationships. There are more with some people than others, but the point is that each relationship has its own natural potential waiting to be realized.

If you were to map your network of relationships, meaning first list everyone with whom you regularly interact, and show the links between them, then with you, by interest, values, social or organizational proximity, and your desire for greater depth in the relationship, then you will see a broad range of opportunities emerging.

If you are at a transition point, these are the opportunities that will carry you into the next stage of life or work.

Social and Organizational Settings

Next list the social and organizational contexts where you live and work. These are places that you meet people, work with them, have fun with them, do serious things with them, serve with them, worship with them, do things with your children with them, and interact with them on the large and small issues of life and work.

The complexity for a lot of people has not come from those they meet face-to-face, but with those whom they meet online in a virtual relationship. Facebook provides the best example of a place where people go to interact with a wide diversity of people. Within those settings, there will be a small percentage of people with whom there are opportunities that advance us forward in our life and work. Make sure this people are included in your above list.

Like what you can find in Google+, identify the various places where you interact with these people. List them according to these There are opportunities that come in each, but they are dependent upon the relationships finding a common ground for working together.

Focusing on Our Values and Purpose

List the values that matter to you. There is no master list. What matters is that these ideas matter to the extent that they are non negotiable. From this list comes a sense of purpose that orients us toward what we want to achieve in life.

For example, one of my ambitions is to help people discover their call and realize their potential. It is based upon more core values of respect and belief in the inherent dignity and value of people.

My strongest relationships are with people who share a similar set of values. Some I'm never physically been in their presence. Yet, we support and mutually mentor one another based on those values.

When our purpose and values align with our social and organizational settings, we'll find happiness and fulfillment growing in our lives.  When these become clear, we will find our lives and work simplifying, and decisions more easily defined, and the actions that follow done with greater focus and passion.

Simple Happiness
Happiness is a product of values, purpose and action. It is not simply a feeling, which is fleeting. It is the full flourishing of human life.

Happiness becomes simple when we are clear about our purpose, and we are able to share its work with like-minded people.