Sep 012016

I’m just trying to save lives, but I’m handcuffed. It breaks my heart, and leaves me feeling set aside.

Youth suicide is epidemic, often the second leading cause of death for those between 15 and 24. No one understands why, and there are many valuable efforts to curb the onslaught. But what we are doing is clearly not enough.

As I have traveled the country, speaking to anyone who will listen, I have begun to focus on the disconnect between our elders—those we always looked upon as our wisdom keepers—and our youth—those I might call apprentices on the human journey. In the skilled trades, apprentices learn from those most experienced; those who have learned their craft through myriad successes and plentiful failure. In life, the masters are those who have deep experience in being human. They have traversed the paths of joy, heartbreak, creation, devastation, love and pain. They know the profound wisdom that comes from living…and only from living.

I recently proposed a gathering of elders and youth for a period of dialogue. My hope was to help our apprentices learn that, in spite of the tremendous pain life can provide, if we travel with others who can help us tease it out, on the other side is joy, wisdom and beauty.

The plan was to bring youth into local retirement communities. The elders are there, and they typically have access to comfortable venues in which to share hopes, fears and dreams.

What I came to discover is that these organizations simply will not allow such meetings to take place. The legal and insurance liabilities are simply too high.

Allowing youth, some of whom may be at risk, into the facility is considered too great a risk should something untoward happen. I get it. I really do. I certainly do not want anyone harmed. But I also believe that real life has risk embedded in it. If we refuse any kind of risk, we leave great wisdom behind.

The second reason is more personal. I have no credentials to facilitate the dialogue. 3000 hours on a suicide hotline and 11 years with teens at Operation Snowball are admirable, but not credible. This too I understand. But it hurts.

I’ll get over it. I will find others ways to combat the epidemic if youth suicide, but for now I am going to honor my broken heart.

Oct 302011

“To know the truth is to enter with our whole persons into relations of mutuality with the entire creation—relations in which we not only know, but allow ourselves to be known.”

                    Parker J. Palmer in To Know as We Are Known
Twice each month, for more than eight years now, I have participated in a “Socrates Café”—a space where a small group explores what we have come to know and how is it we came to know what we know…our individual and collective epistemologies. During our time together, we try to remain “in the question.” Even sentences ending in periods, extend, rather than end, inquiry and exploration.
A path we have traversed many times over the eight years wends its way around the meaning of truth. In virtually any Socratic journey related to truth we inevitably come to a fork in the road. Is truth, we ask, objective or subjective? Objective truths do not depend on cultural or even individual journeys and experiences. They are universal…shared and honored by all of humanity. To follow the path upon which truth is subjective is to accept that truth can diverge in different parts of the world, in different cultures or even in different people. “Well, that’s my truth” we exclaim, as if that closing salvo wins the day in an argument.
In more than eight years, 200 sessions and 400 hours, we have yet to decide if either or both paths to truth are valid.
I have loved Parker Palmer’s work, wisdom and insights since discovering his book The Courage to Teach more than ten years ago. In an earlier, recently discovered, work To Know as We Are Known, Parker offers a fascinating insight into truth. We mislabel truth, perhaps even do it violence, he suggests, if we use either moniker: objective or subjective.
When we view truth as objective, we build a wall between it and humanity. Objective truth stands alone and apart. We lay claim to truth as an aspect of the Universe outside of us as participants in the play. It is what the scientific method has asked us to believe is the only valid truth. It is a truth outside of, and unchanged by, humanity.
When we see truth as subjective, we may keep our personal relationship to the way we see the Universe, but we separate ourselves from each other. Each of us, bearing our own truth, becomes a beacon unto our individual self. My truth is mine, yours is yours and neither need interfere or intertwine with the other. “Well, that’s my truth” draws a wall between us that may never be pierced.
So if sliding truth gently into either envelope—objective or subjective—serves to separate us, either from the world or each other, what then? It is from this place of confusion that Parker reminds us that the word truth has the same Germanic root as the word troth. As in betrothal, troth is a covenant we make with another in which we understand that our futures together shall be forever intertwined.
So truth, Parker suggests is not an objective or subjective set of facts or opinions. It is instead a covenant we make with each other, and with knowing itself, to explore the world together…opening ourselves to many perspectives…and allowing the possibility of being rendered anew each and every moment as we encounter the world with open minds and hearts. It is to “enter with our whole persons into relations of mutuality with the entire creation.”
If this troth is to be true and honest, the search for truth requires obedience and vigilance—obedience to the covenant into which we have entered and vigilance in our commitment to both know and be known. As with all of life, truth is an often messy, confusing journey…not a clean, well-manicured destination.
Mar 022010

Thank you your Honor and members of the City Council.

I’ve come before you tonight to talk about Ignite!…the community visioning session we are planning for March 26 at Waubonsee Community College.

The great psychologist, Kurt Lewin, generally recognized as the founder of modern social psychology, was the first to say “Nothing is as practical as a good theory.”

So here is the theory driving our plans for March 26. All living systems naturally seek life, health, and growth. In living systems, life, health and growth naturally emerge through intimate connections and interconnections. In the living systems we humans inhabit—our organizations and communities—that intricate web of connections and interconnections is known as social capital. What Robert Putnam discovered in researching his ground-breaking book “Bowling Alone” is that social capital is in dramatic decline in America.

At a very high level, March 26 is about rebuilding social capital in Batavia. It is an opportunity for everyone who joins us to reestablish old connections and build new ones. Those will, over the coming years, enable new possibilities and a new future…a future built on friendship, respect and trust.

So how do we make this theory practical on the 26th? After we gather, we will identify the hundreds of extraordinary assets and capabilities we enjoy…the spirit of volunteerism, the magnificent Riverwalk, our relationship to Fermilab and Mooseheart, our history and historic architecture, and hundreds of others. We’ll use this amazing inventory as our foundation, and gather in small groups to generate the ideas and projects that will build the Batavia the future is waiting for us to manifest.

We’ll leave Waubonsee Community College on the 26th with ideas, project teams, plans and dreams. My dream is that future generations will point to that day in late March, in the year 2010 and say, “that was the day Batavia ignited a bright new future.”

I am hopeful hundreds will join us to begin the journey. Registration is available on the Community Calendar at and participants can follow along on our “Ignite Batavia 2010” page on Facebook.