Aug 132015
 

The temporary nature of life exposes its most enduring value and meaning. A delicate, fragile piece of porcelain has more value because we realize the ease with which its beauty might be ripped from our lives at any moment. A vessel made virtually unbreakable would seldom etch the same splendor in our hearts.

So it is with the delicate nature of those who know us and accept us for who we are. Their value in our lives is magnified by its impermanence; the magnificence of their unquestioning, unconditional love comes, in part, from its temporary, fragile nature.

If we could, would we return to an earlier time and cast-off the love, connection, and intimacy they offered in order to escape the pain and heartache that flows from having lost them? The answer is simple, but causes many to pause momentarily, especially in those moments when the sadness is fresh and the grief raw and unrelenting. In the end, we know that deep grief, and the tears that flow from it, are the price we pay for love.

It is said that a river cannot be halted in order to study its nature. When we fall under the spell of terrifying rapids, the melodious gurgle of a brook, or the majesty of water in free fall over a cliff, it is the impermanence, transformation and change that bind us to its beauty. If the current flowed forever without unexpected turns, protruding rocks, and the pull of gravity, we would never discern its power, grace, and beauty.

Life itself is much like the ever-changing, impermanent flow of a river, but in life, we find ourselves unable to witness its power and magnificence from afar. If we could, we might see the glory and majesty in a whole new way. Might the unexpected turns, the obstacles that rudely and harshly change our course, the free falls into an unknown abyss, contain a majesty we simply cannot comprehend as we are buffeted and battered by life?

With the perspective of time–more than ten years after his passing–I see the confluence and influence of my father’s life with so much gratitude and love. I see him for the gracious, kind, caring person he strove to be, and forgive him for the times he was so very human…and fallible.

Regardless of our beliefs about what transpires after this time on Earth, each of us is granted a kind of immortality here, in this place. Neil Postman once said “Children are the messages we send to a time we will not see.” By living the messages of those who have come before us, we alter the flow of human history in their name. Even when life is punctuated with turns, boulders and freefalls, with perspective, we witness the river of life as a thing of true beauty, understand that impermanence imbues it with majesty, and know that those we have loved and lost helped make it so.

Apr 232014
 

The flow of a river is constrained by its banks. Over time, however, the rushing water erodes the banks and redirects the course of the river. Riverbanks are necessary to give form, and yet the river retains the power to alter its future.

If you would be willing to play along, what appears a game just may prompt surprising questions about the riverbanks that constrain our lives.

Triangle Instructions

Figure 1

Take out a piece of paper and located three points in the shape of a triangle. Label them 1, 2 & 3. Pick any point on the page—inside or outside the triangle, and locate additional points using two rules: pick 1, 2 or 3 at random and move 1/2 the distance from the most recent point to find the next.

In Figure 1, I began at “a” and picked “1” at random. Point “b” is then 1/2 of the distance from “a” to the number 1. Next I picked “3” and moved 1/2 of the distance from “b” to 3 to locate “c”. Then I picked another “1”and moved 1/2 of the distance from “c” to the number 1 to locate “d”. Finally, I picked “2” and moved from “d” to locate “e” 1/2 of the way to 2. Simple enough…go ahead and plot a hundred points or so. I’ll wait…

Triangle 100 Points

Figure 2

If you did that, you would end up with a diagram similar to Figure 2. It appears a fairly random set of dots. What happens if you plot, say, 30,000? This time I won’t wait. But before you look at the resulting diagram below, any guesses what it might look like? Okay, take a look at Figure 3 at the bottom of the post.

I find this result both stunning and terrifying.

I am stunned that such simple rules—rules that appear at first blush to yield chaos—countenance order and beauty over time. Order out of chaos. Stunning! Rules as simple as green means proceed, and red means wait, give order and meaning to millions of vehicles. “Do unto others…” gives order and meaning to our lives.

But there are ways in which I am terrified as well. As long as we remain allegiant to the rules, future dots are determined, and our path is immutable. We remain trapped in the pattern forever.

I wonder how I remain trapped by rules in my life, even those so very subtle they remain imperceptible. Might there be ways in which my future is constrained, rigid and immutable? I hated writing essays in school and remained, for many years, certain of my inability to assemble meaningful words on paper. “I am a loner,” “I am artistically destitute,” “I am not a good listener” and “I don’t like to read,” defined much of my life. While I have not overcome feelings about lacking artistic ability, I have set aside many of the others. As I do, I erode the banks and set the river of my life on a new course.

I leave you with one final exercise. Allow yourself a few moments to reflect on the “rules” in your life. No doubt there are many that provide order and meaning. But if you are honest and look deeply enough, you just may uncover a few that keep you trapped in work, relationships, communities or images of self that limit your freedom, and constrain your future? It just might be time to jettison them, erode the riverbanks of your life and allow stunning new patterns to emerge.

 

Triangle 30000Points

Figure 3

Apr 282010
 
At the March Batavia Chamber of Commerce lunch, Dr. Ray Benedetto of GuideStar gave a wonderful talk on the unique “river of character” that flows through each organization. Some companies support a strong sense of character…others, less so. I wouldn’t even try to relate the depth of Ray’s understanding and research in the next couple hundred words. Instead, I would like to share some thoughts that erupted from the experience.
Like any river, the river of character carves a swath across the landscape, the banks of which are created and recreated with each passing current and the swirl of every eddy. Every grain of sand swept away, or morsel of soil dissolved, changes the course of the river, and leaves it forever diverted.
So what are the currents and eddies that create and recreate the banks of the river of character in the organizations we work so hard to mold? The well-crafted statement of vision and values? To some extent, sure. The CEO’s stirring speech at the last all-employee gathering? To a limited degree perhaps, but it is also the hasty decision to cut off a supplier for a single late delivery…the comment made in a moment of frustration that left an employee feeling something less…or the angry call to a customer who has just slid onto the 120-day accounts receivable report.
Too often managers believe culture is driven by the occasional pearls of wisdom they carefully polish and proclaim…or defined by the etched brass plaque in the lobby formulated on the mount during the three-day management retreat.
Unfortunately, while those pearls and plaques are valuable—it is, after all, a gift when those who are entrusted with the “big” decisions take the time to think deeply about what they want to be when they grow up—the banks of an organization’s river of character are actually shaped by the thousands of decisions made by each employee everyday. A decisions as simple as which phone call gets priority when an employee returns from a meeting makes a statement about whether attending to upper management takes priority over tending to a customer’s needs—or vice versa.
The narrative told by those millions of decisions—every interaction with another human, whether a customer, supplier, employee or other stakeholder—defines the river we carve across the landscape.
So, if plaques and pearls aren’t effective in etching the river’s path, what is? Stories. The myths and tales we tell about ourselves scream so loudly they deafen us to any other message. More on this in a future blog. Stay tuned!