Tag Archives: values

A Time for Striving To Understand Our Neighbor


From my point of view, it has always been essential to understand the thinking of our neighbor’s. I am not saying that it is a common practice or that I am good at it.  And I do believe that to appreciate how others feel about being ‘included’ or ‘not so included’ in the community is a big part of what it takes to make a community. To be aware of their view of the future and possibility that may lie ahead for them, their family or their friends.

Now, in February of 2017, it is becoming more and more clear to many of us that we don’t have access to our ‘neighbors’ thinking other than through parody or even mockery.

I have been looking for accessible voices of those that might be able to help me understand how it is that so many of my American ‘neighbors’ choose to support Donald Trump.

We benefit from living in East Lansing: and one of the many benefits is that each February, at MSU, there is the Slavery to Freedom lecture series open to the entire community.  It is a tremendous resource! Last week’s speaker was Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post opinion writer, MSNBC contributor, and he made several excellent points provoking thought and discussion.  The comment that stuck with me is when he challenged us all to seek out voices other than the voices that we agree with in an attempt to learn more, understand more and appreciate more.

Jonathan has a podcast, Cape Up and as I was listening to some of his interviews, I came across this recent one.   Arthur Brooks explains on January 24th how dignity links Trump to Obama.  I found it fascinating and thought provoking.  I started to think a little deeper than I had been about how others chose to vote for Trump.

Go to iTunes, or whatever you get your podcasts and search for Cape Up and then listen to Jonathan’s conversation with Arthur Brooks from January 24, 2017.

To anybody who wants to explore a thoughtful new podcast, I recommend Cape Up with Jonathan Capehart.


Orange . . . Read the Book Too!

“The United States has the biggest prison population in the world – we incarcerate 25% of the world’s prisoners, though we’re only 5% of the world’s population. This reliance’s on prisons is recent: in 1980 we had some 500,000 Americans in prison; by 2010 we have more than 2,300,000 American people locked up. Yes, that’s close to 2 ½ million Americans now!”
Piper Kerman has written a great memoir of for 13 months in the Federal prison system. Many people know about her work because they’ve seen the TV show which was created as a result of this memoir. Yes, Piper Kerman wrote Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.
I like the TV show AND the book. When I write “like” – it is the kind of appreciation that comes when I am made to think deeply about information and when I find myself caring about something which, previously I hadn’t given much thought to.  I also love good stories with characters that are authentic. Where people grow and evolve.  Where people are complex. All of that and more is happening in the book and the TV series.

If you are interested in learning more about our current American prison system – this book is a place to start. It is the story of one of those many million Americans who have spent or are spending time in prison. It is a story that let us into a world we don’t necessarily know much about. Yet, the world of prison life is huge in America. So, yes – this book and TV series gets us thinking about our country and how we operate.
Kerman sees clearly that “America has invested heavily in prisons, while the public institutions that actually prevent crime and strengthen communities – schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, community centers – go without.”  I see this too and  would add to the list the need for greater resources in responding compassionately and productively to homelessness and community and mental health across the country.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman 2010, 2011 is published by Random House and can be bought or checked out of libraries everywhere. The TV show is a NETFLIX original series (Orange is the New Black) is based on the work of Piper Kerman and season three is to begin in the summer of 2015. That gives you lots of time to read the book and catch up on season 1 and 2.
The complexity of the American prison system is important for all of us to think about.  Kerman asserts that we “Over incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities, making life outside the mainstream more likely by limiting opportunities for change. We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate, and doesn’t make us safer.”

The quotes above can be found on pages 303, 299 and 303 of the paperback of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

Water Falling on the Stone

                  From: The Rock Will Wear Away

Can we be like drops of water falling on the stone
Splashing, breaking, disbursing in air
Weaker that the stone by far but be aware
That as time goes by the rock will wear away
And the water comes again
~ Holly Near

In what ways are you the “water” that “comes again”?

For me I am the splashing, breaking, disbursing water when it comes to:

Having equity and dignity for all

Ending war

Bringing an end to poverty

No one is hungry

Education for all

Ensuring that everyone can read and write

Thinking interdependently in service of the common good

In what ways are you the “water” that “comes again”?

Man must Never



Inquiry Combined With Deep Listening

conversation_002Exploring with others through sincere and effective inquiry combined with deep listening for understanding are great tools to develop for working well with others. Often small or large groups of people are faced with working through what seem like insurmountable challenges.

How we ‘show up’ matters: It is worth considering that reframing the situation into many possibilities and opportunities rather than insurmountable challenges is a potentially more proactive platform to be working from.

I do believe that we are in charge of our own perspectives and that any group of people is in charge of their own perspectives. And that our perspectives influence how we navigate opportunity or, as some may see it – insurmountable challenges.

Further, I believe that the questions we ask can be powerful in setting a ‘frame’ for our thinking and actions. Great questions are valuable for the person who asks them – if that person is ready to listen deeply and consider what is shared. Great questions are valuable to those who take them seriously by pondering and responding to them.

Michael J. Marquardt puts it this way: “Great questions cause the questioner to become more aware of the need for change and to be more open and willing to change. The questions themselves may actually cause the leader to become a change catalyst. The leader who leads with questions will more likely champion new ideas heard and developed in the course of inquiry. New ideas and perspectives enable the leader to make strong arguments for advocating change.” Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, Revised and Updated, 2014, pages 42-43.

Marquardt also states that: “A questioning culture strengthens individual and organizational learning; it improves decision making, problem solving, and teamwork; promotes adaptability and acceptance of change; and helps empower people by strengthening self-awareness and self-confidence.” page 6

These are the kinds of questions that may have the power to help a leader or participant of a group to deepen and improve the culture and quality of thinking and work:

If you were to overhear an honest conversation about this intuitive 30 months from now – what would your highest hopes be for what you would hear? What do you believe you would actually hear, given the current trajectory of the project?

How would describe the way you want this project to turn out?

What resources might we tap into that we haven’t used before or not using currently?

What crucial or vital behaviors can we target that seem to provide the greatest leverage for dramatically advance our goal?

How can this team become more efficient and productive while also supporting its members in the pursuit?

What inspires us about this work?

What happens if . . .?

Have we ever thought of . . .? (This question and the two directly preceding it – may be good ones to go around the group and have everyone add in their ‘. . .’ and then go around again and possibly again to generate new and potentially provocative thinking)

For any of these or other such questions to have value a culture of open shared thinking must be supported and the questions must be asked with sincerity and listened to with a commitment to strive to understand and appreciate the perspective(s) being shared.


As I read Roger Lewin’s and Birute Regine’s Weaving Complexity and Business: Engaging the Soul at Work (2000) I was impressed with their message regarding ‘complexity’. Yes, they write from a business perspective where managers are many and their roles are very important. And yes, some educators and educational leaders might not like to think of ‘businesses’ and ‘managers’ when they think about schooling.
Given that, please read the following quote from their book. “When managers accept that periods of chaos are natural – even desirable – in business, then they will come to see chaos with different eyes. Specifically, periods of chaos can be embraced as a portal to change, which may be enhanced through respectful and limited influence, not as an aberration that needs to be avoided.”
Most of us would likely agree that education is going through a time of dramatic change. And that the concepts of maintaining the status quo or going back to the specific order of less chaotic times are not reasonable.  So, the times we live in, raise our families in, help with our grandchildren in and work in are changing.
These times may lead to a better and different future. Maybe our influence on the future may be limited yet respecting the fact that change is here and is continuing to unfold – we need to be part of the ‘unfolding’.
Our vision has to be on the future and not on the past. Helping to shape tomorrow for our children and grandchildren is important work. To do that we need to be clear on our vision of all children benefiting from schooling and all children being effectively launched as citizens of tomorrow. IMG_6481

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

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.