Monthly Archives: December 2013

Five Smooth Stones

Thank you, Karen, for inviting me to read this book.  Back in 1974 or 1975 I didn’t read for pleasure.  We were married in December of 1973.  You were surprised and saddened that I didn’t read for pleasure.  You had a plan.  You asked me – if you suggested a book of fiction to me, would I agree to read it because you asked?

You introduced me to the world of “want to” (as opposed to “have to”) reading through this book, Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn, and I am forever grateful to you.

As I would read we would talk about what was happening and how the plot was unfolding each night at dinner.  Those discussions were rich and real.  Thank you, Karen.

On the occasion of our fortieth wedding anniversary I decided to reread Five Smooth Stones.  I was once again enthralled and captivated by this piece of art.  I found myself attracted to the rhythm and pulse of the story, characters and issues.  This is a love story, an epic tale of family, a historic and dramatic glimpse of the struggle for basic civil rights in our country and a challenging stimulant related to the realities of social privilege – all making for a truly great read.

This is a story of beauty amid reality, injustice and brutal violence.  This is a story of people who are so real I found myself believing that they were.

Fairbairn is a writer! She crafted characters of clarity and difference: Each real and provocative. She generated story lines that begged to be followed.  Mostly she was an artistic ‘weaver’ of divergent and convergent ‘wrap and waft’ of material.  Whether it was individuals, history or events – she brought this huge story into what I consider a treasured piece of art.

Ann Fairbairn published this work in 1966. I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to get immersed into a compelling, intense, serious, loving and abundant story.

I am a slow reader and the hardback copy of Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn I was reading from was 853 pages long.  I loved its length.  Actually I wished it were longer.  Shucks . . .  who among us wants a good story to end?

Thanks again, Karen!

Five Smooth Stones

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Forging the Future by Effectively and Honestly Working Across Differences

I hope to probe some thinking and possible discussions stimulated by excerpts from Giants: the parallel lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln by John Stauffer, 2008.

The following text is from the book jacket.  It helps to set the stage for the quote you will be asked to consider and respond to.

Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were preeminent self-made men of their time.  In this masterful dual biography, award-winning Harvard University scholar John Stauffer describes the transformations in the lives of these two giants during a major shift in cultural history, when men rejected the status quo and embraced new ideals of personal liberty.  As Douglass and Lincoln reinvented themselves and ultimately became friends, they transformed America.

Lincoln was born dirt poor, had less than one year of formal schooling, and became the nation’s greatest president.  Douglass spent the first twenty years of his life as a slave, had no formal schooling – in fact, his masters forbade him to read or write – and became one of the nation’s greatest writers and activists, as well as a spellbinding orator and messenger of audacious hope, the pioneer who blazed the path traveled by future African-American leaders.

 At a time when most whites would not let a black man cross their threshold, Lincoln invited Douglass into the White House.  Lincoln recognized that he needed Douglas to help him destroy the Confederacy and preserve the Union; Douglass realized that Lincoln’s shrewd sense of public opinion would serve his own goal of freeing the nation’s blacks. ~ Quoted from the Book Jacket of Giants: the parallel lives of Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln

John Eaton (a chaplain who organized freedmen) considered Lincoln’s friendship with Douglass a testament to the president’s bipartisan diplomacy.  One of the president’s great skills, he said, was “in handling the men who were inclined to find fault with his policy,” Eaton had no way of knowing that Lincoln had developed his skill on the Illinois frontier with adversaries ranging from Jack Armstrong to Stephen Douglas.  “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.” He had declared twenty-two years earlier.  The doctrine had served him well, for he had done exactly that with countless blacks.

Douglass could befriend Lincoln because the president had finally converted to his abolition cause.  He too had remained faithful to his principle of friendship, which depended upon a shared cause.  The two men needed each other.  Lincoln needed Douglass to help him save the Union, and he served Douglass’s own goal of freeing the slaves.  At their August 1864 meeting both men recognized that these twin goals were mutually reinforcing.

But their friendship also hinged on their capacity to forgive.  As self-made men who continually transformed themselves, Douglass and Lincoln understood that former enemies may become future friends and vice versa.  They refused to see themselves as fixed or static.  In order to achieve transformation, they needed to forgive their former enemies of wrongdoing and credit them with the potential for change.  Their faith in the power of forgiveness led to the possibility of rapprochement and gave them the strength continue evolving.  (pages 291-292)

Something to think about:

There are countless situations in a career as a leader that stimulate growth.  Think through the lens of the probe below about any of the times you have developed as a person or a leader.

Think about (and share by posting, if you wish) yourself as a leader/person who has:

forged friendships with those you disagree with,

demonstrated the capacity to forgive,

sees yourself as a self-made woman or man,

sees yourself as continually transforming or evolving yourself,

refused to see yourselves as fixed or static, and/or

found that in order for you to achieve transformation – you have needed to forgive your former antagonists of wrongdoing and credit them with the potential for change.

Giants