Oct 292012


No matter what tragedy people are experiencing, their suffering is alleviated when they learn that others are standing with them. Some of my best teachers of this truth have been younger leaders. One in her twenties said, “How we are going is important, not where. I want to go together and with faith.”*
Many years ago, when our son was just a tyke, we visited a popular Renaissance Faire. Parking was difficult, forcing us to park on a muddy incline. As we tried to leave, the car became hopelessly mired, and I became frightened I would be unable to get it out. Before long my fear turned to frustration and then anger. David, who was strapped into a car seat in the back, began to cry and received the brunt of my emotion. We eventually extracted the car. On the way home, I fretted about my inability to control my emotions and the destructive nature of my words to the son I loved so much. When we arrived home, I pulled him aside and said, “David, next time this happens if you try not to get upset, I will try not to get so frustrated.” He turned to me and said, “Dad, next time let’s not park in the mud!”
I am happy to report that in more than 20 years since that afternoon, I have managed to avoid muddy embankments. I wish I could report similar success in avoiding being ambushed by my emotions. While I have managed on occasion to set initial conditions for the future based on compassion, caring, love and faith, I have, far too many times seeded it with my lesser self. Too often I have faced the world and allowed my insecurities about who I am to unleash fear, frustration and anger…and in doing so, have left those in my wake feeling less.
After apartheid ended in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission aimed to heal the nation through restorative justice as oppose to retributive justice. Victims and perpetrators faced one another. Victims told stories of the horrors they faced, and in many cases, those responsible admitted to their failing, regret and sorrow. Time and time again, victims reported great joy at being deeply heard, and sought no retribution. In the spiritual traditions of Hawai’i, Ho’oponopopo is a process to move beyond violations of the human spirit through forgiveness and reconciliation as opposed to retribution.
Our actions change the future, but over time and distance we can never predict its trajectory. The same is true for the emotions with which we germinate the future. Every change in initial conditions reverberates through the interconnected web of relationships that make up the complex adaptive system we refer to as Pacha Mama. And while I wish I had never parked on that muddy embankment, the fact that I did would have receded from memory many years ago had it not been for the way I did violence to my son. I grieve to this day for my inability to avoid that quagmire, and my inability to seed the future with forgiveness and reconciliation. David deserved better…and so did I.

So Far From Home by Margaret J. Wheatley, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2012
Oct 142012


Many years ago, my heart was captured by stories—stories of authentic, caring community—shared with me by John McKnight of Northwestern University. They were so compelling, I asked John if he would introduce me to someone who was building community based on authentic care. Without hesitation he told me about Jackie Reed at the Westside Health Authority (WHA) on the far west side of Chicago. After spending time with her and the people of the WHA, my heart was captured yet again. They accepted me in the most caring and compassionate ways.
The Austin neighborhood, where the WHA resides, is an area that white, baby-boomers like me have been taught to fear—an area in which I was clearly in the minority. As you drive east from Oak Park into Chicago, the change in socio-economics becomes painfully obvious. The store windows that are not boarded up are barricaded with metal grates. At first, my eyes, filtered by middle-class privilege, were only able to see poverty, crime and drugs—unable to discern the hope, pride and love I subsequently came to experience.
The people of the WHA are using, not needs analysis, but capacity building, to bring both hope and investment to an area of the city that 20 years earlier benefited from little of either.
But, besides optimism in the face of hopelessness and perseverance in the face of poverty, what is behind their success? I sat in Jackie’s office talking with her and Pat Perkins, one of the WHA’s most active citizen leaders. “How,” I asked, “do you deal with drug dealers and addicts, a segment of the population most of the world has given up on?” “We love them…unconditionally!” “How,” I had to ask, “can you love drug dealers and addicts unconditionally?” “Because,” they explained, “each of them is someone’s child.” “But if you love them, doesn’t it hurt all the more if you fail?” With eyes that forgave my extraordinary ignorance, Pat turned to me and said, “Roger, love never fails.”


Oct 052012


Judi and I recently visited Williamsburg, Virginia. I did not realize, until we experienced the extraordinary reenactments, the vital role the people of Virginia played in our journey from independent colonies to a united nation. Two events in particular connected me to the 18th century—in different ways.
One afternoon, we found ourselves in a small room of the George Wythe House. Wythe was the first law professor in the United States and noted classical scholar. Since he also enjoyed music, he and a group of friends played together; and spent time discussing and debating ideas; everything from the classical to the current.
When this group decided to add a violinist, they found a talented young student at the College of William and Mary. Likely, the young man attended to the discussions as well as the music. It was, no doubt, a very formative time for young Thomas Jefferson.
I was actually standing in the same room where Thomas Jefferson began to contemplate the future of the New World. As a young man in this place, his ideas were just beginning to emerge; many years before Congress would appoint the “Committee of Five”—John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman and Jefferson—to draft a declaration. How might these United States have emerged differently had this chance meeting between student and mentor never happened? In that moment, I felt a powerful connection to July 4, 1776.
My other connection to that time was similarly powerful, but confusing. The very talented Williamsburg thespians reenacted an event that occurred outside the Raleigh Tavern in 1775. As tempers began to flare over independence, a brash young man by the name of Carter, perhaps after a few too many tankards of ale, decried the folly of the colony’s amateur militia facing the British Army. He was dragged from the tavern and tried on the street. Three townspeople passed judgment following an inflamed prosecution by an angry Captain James Innes of the Virginia Militia. No real opportunity for defense was offered. Even as I stood there, more than 225 years later, I felt how dangerous it would have been to even suggest a more reasonable trial be held at a later date. Carter avoided being tarred and feathered by publically recanting his beliefs. Nothing less would have satisfied what had essentially become a lynch mob.
I’d like to think we have come a long way since 1775, but I fear we have not. As the 2012 presidential election approaches, I hear too many ideas tried and convicted “on the street” with little opportunity for defense…and it saddens me.