See Mike [on Flawed Wednesday]

Sometimes I think I am way ahead of the game only to realize that I am so late to the party that the party is actually over. When we chose this phrase for the melange about the current president’s re-election strategy, I knew exactly what I was going to write about: Mike the chimpanzee! Mike’s story is from Jane Goodall’s book, My Life With The Chimpanzees.

Mike was not an alpha male but for a few short days assumed the dominant role when he learned that kicking kerosene cans and making noise frightened his rivals. No substance, all noise. I thought I was so clever, my analogy spot on! And then, I found this from an October 2016 article in the Atlantic about the debates with Hillary Clinton:

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks…”

In the 2016 article, Jane Goodall mentioned Mike. I’m so late to the party. So late. My clever analogy is nothing more than yesterday’s news. If the world still believed in print media my pages would already be yellowed.

There are two definitions of audacity. The first is “willing to take bold risks.” The second is “rude or disrespectful behavior.”

Creating confusion and noise as a campaign strategy fits both definitions. Loud sound without substance is a bold choice if you assume a big enough slice of the populace is grossly ignorant and will be wowed by stamping and slapping the ground. Rude and disrespectful behavior is no more or less than what we’ve come to expect from this kicker of kerosene cans. It’s a daily event and it must be since, without an over abundance of disrespect and piles of rudeness, he might be met with expectations of policy or perhaps a few ideas on governance.

Perhaps I am not as late to the party as I imagined. It occurs to me that Mike-the-chimp kicks cans and makes noise to frighten his rivals. Good analogies are familiar. They express an abstract idea in terms of a familiar one. The current prez kicks cans and makes noise to get a rise from his base. Like his allies in the senate, they, too, like loud sound but eschew substance. They cheer deconstruction because it is a fun thing to do but I suspect will disappear when the time of reconstruction comes. Building takes ideas, a blueprint, a commitment to a bigger vision.

Vision is the sticking point. Mike, like the current prez, lacks vision. Mike wanted to feel like he was alpha and achieved his dream and temporary rule through frightening his community with strange and thunderous noises. The community soon caught on when no vision, idea, or leadership materialized. Communities of chimps and communities of people are susceptible to noise for a time but soon catch on.

I learned many good and useful life lessons during acting training – of all places (actors deeply study people and history). Most useful in governance is this: a real leader, a good leader, need not make noise. They need not raise their voice. Their power is assumed, never imposed. Authority, real authority, is a blossom of respect and a respected leader is never fearful of challenge. A great leader need not kick cans or scream or rage or name call or lie. Those are the sure signs of a pretender.

read Kerri’s blog post about CAMPAIGNING BY AUDACITY

Become A Heart Symbol [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Almost anything can become a symbol. Almost anything can be made a symbol.

Symbols are very powerful, probably more powerful than we realize or are willing to admit. People die defending them. People die attacking them. They can serve as a moral compass. They can be a siren call and entice entire communities to crash on the rocks of devastation. Symbols can unite. They can divide. They can clarify. They can obscure. In almost every case, symbols serve as the defining line between Us and Them. They identify.

As a servant to identity, a single symbol can facilitate diametrically opposing points of view: hope and threat. It can be the taut rope in a social tug-of-war. Crazy things happen when, within a community, a symbol runs in opposite directions. We are witness to that today through the symbol of the “mask.” Some see a mask as communal responsibility. Some see it as a threat to individual freedom.

The challenge with any potent symbol is that it burns either through the heart or the guts. Only then does it run to the brain.

For instance, mask-wearers begin their symbolic journey in the heart. The symbol of “mask” is proactive. It signifies service to others and community protection. It unites in a common cause. It runs in the direction of hope. Giving. Inclusion. For them, a mask is a positive symbol. It confirms and accepts science, data, fact. It adapts to new information. It grows.

Mask resisters begin their symbolic journey in the guts. For them, the mask represents a fear of personal loss. It is a divider. It runs in the direction of threat. The symbol is reactive and signifies service to self. Exclusion. A mask, for them is a negative symbol. No amount of data or fact can assault a negative belief. A gut inception inflames the brain. It entrenches.

We’ve heard that, where mask wearing is concerned, there is a declining vigilance of the public. I wonder if that is true. I suspect the perception of declining vigilance is actually a matter of noise. Those who operate from their guts, their fear, will do anything, are capable of any and every form of cage-rattling. Theirs is a symbol of distress and is loud and enraged as is the case with most “me” focused symbols.

Those who operate from their hearts are generally quieter. They know the restraint that compassion brings. They are focused on the betterment of the entire community, including the fearful, so, as is true of most “us” focused symbols, calming the panic is an essential aspect of the action.

I doubt that vigilance is in decline. The fearful gut is screaming louder, garnering attention, daring to be made to wear a mask, cranking up the volume, loudly crying “hoax” – all the while knowingly spreading the disease.

In the meantime the quiet heart, the larger part of us, moves masked through each day. Hope need not make noise or news or announce itself. It is satisfied simply by doing the work of community, the real work of public vigilance.

read Kerri’s blog post about DECLINING VIGILANCE

Dissolve The Image [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We watched a live stream of the protests yesterday. The streamer interviewed many people. He chatted casually with others. What became abundantly clear was the myriad of issues driving people to the streets. The catalyst may have been the shooting of Jacob Blake or the president’s visit but the deep matter that drove each person to the street was utterly individual, personal. Unique. All trying to give substance and voice to their deep matter.

So many people alone together. I was witnessing a part of the Sisyphus saga that I’ve written about repeatedly. A boatload of souls arrive in the underworld, disembark, and wander along the beach. Each is completely unaware of the other souls. So wrapped in their story, they think they are alone. Finally, their stories play out, and in the silence they begin to see each other, and in coming together, dissolve, and blend into a single bank of mist. From separation to unity.

A quote from Krishanmurti roared into my mind: “You say that if the mind has faith in the image, then the image will give power to the mind. Obviously; the mind creates the image and then derives power from its own creation. That is what the mind is everlastingly doing: producing images and drawing strength, happiness, benefit from those images, thereby remaining empty, inwardly poverty stricken.”

The mind creates the image. The mind gives power to the image. The mind creates the story. The mind gives power to the story. It’s a fantasy feedback loop. We are mistaken to call our image, our story, “normal” or believe it to be “truth.” The protesters stand toe-to-toe and shout into the faces of others, a screaming match of conflicting images. A story collision.

“But the mind cannot create truth. What it creates is not truth, it is merely an opinion, a judgment.

Even as I write this I think, “Who cares?” The shouting, de-friending, families dividing and plunging into right-or-left-media-madness that matches the image-of-the-mind is escalating. The tug-of-war for story dominance is vicious and it seems Ethic and Moral have packed their bags and fled to a safe house.

Despite warning and wailing and prediction, the streets were silent last night. So still. Perhaps in our silent moments we will begin to see each other, and like the souls in the story, be drawn together, dissolving our individual images into a single bank of purpose. Perhaps.

read Kerri’s blog post on this Not-So-Flawed Wednesday

Step Into The Dark Wood [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Midway through one of our favorite hikes, the trail cuts through a section of dense tall reeds. I feel as though I could run and jump at the wall of tightly knit green and it would reject me outright. No entrance. I always imagine there must be a magic door, a secret phrase that will unlock passage to the wonders awaiting on “the other side.” Narnia will open if I know which reed to press.

In stories, the dense woods and murky places are to be avoided. They are where the monsters lurk, the bandits hide, where witches offer poison apples to little children. The community cautions against going there but the protagonist, usually to save the community, must enter that place, the place where no one is supposed to go.

The light must turn and see the shadow. Great power is always found there. Wholeness is never experienced by standing safely in the light but is brought back into the light from the dark side of the moon.

Jonah must go into the belly of the whale. The young wife must seek the Crescent Moon Bear. Luke Skywalker has to enter the dark cave on Dagobah. Adventures are not adventurous without a step into the scary unknown. Growth and new knowledge is not accessible from a safe seat on the couch. What we find in the dense wood or dark cave is often upsetting and unsettling. Revelation creates movement. That’s the function of the shadow. The ring of power is dark and dangerous and must be thrown into the volcano if middle earth is to survive. Who will take it?

Stories are there to help us both understand and navigate our personal and communal journey through this life. They help us know what to do when we have no idea what to do.  They help us know that the answers are not easy and usually arise after a step off the lighted path. They will come after a good bit of struggle, mess and misstep. The answers are rarely at first welcome because they challenge our smallness and will inevitably crack our safe denial.

Today, sitting in our city on fire, another night of protests looming, scary rumors running rampant, I can only hope that we – as a nation – listen to the great stories, that we step with shaky legs into our dark woods and face our dragon once and for all. The great stories assure us that what we find will not be easy or welcome. It guarantees that we will make messes and mistakes. But, it reassures us that our vulnerability and willingness to go through the dark passage will one day make us strong.

It will certainly transform us. I find that intensely hopeful.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DENSE

 

 

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See And Speak [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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We were sitting on a concrete wall, taking a break, when he asked the question. I’ve been asked this very question more times than I care to count and I did what I always do: I took a breath. When you facilitate conversations on diversity and culture change, this question is always lurking somewhere in the room, waiting for a break, a side conversation, so it can be given voice without ramification. Truth often steps forward at the water cooler. It was the question that illuminated for me the real problem with race in America and the mountain we need to move. “Don’t you think black people cause their own problems?” he suggested.

Breathe.

No. I don’t. I believe privilege is blind to itself. And, isn’t this the very conversation we need to have happen in the middle of the room and not at the margins? The mark of institutional racism is that it is utterly invisible to the privileged class.

In the United States we hear a lot these days about tribes and information bubbles as if they were a new phenomenon.  They are not new. Our bubbles, like all bubbled history, is meant to cleanse the narrative to justify the indefensible, to hide the ugly behind a noble mask. Here’s a phrase from our history: The ruling class responded [to Bacon’s Rebellion] by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of The Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.

If you are white in America this might not yet have pierced your bubble. Note these phrases relative to the history you learned in school. It might help to understand the system at play in our current historical attempt to change systemic racism: Ruling class. Harden the racial caste of slavery [yes, a created caste system. The system of slavery was erected and black Americans were legally defined as lesser beings]. Divide the two races [black & white]. The point of the black/white division was and is to prevent subsequent uprisings against the ruling class. Ruling class.  The division we wrestle with was intentional, crafted for a specific purpose, and systematized. It serves the same institutional purpose to this day.

Another tidbit worth gnawing on: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first appearance in print of the adjective white in reference to “a white man, a person of a race distinguished by a light complexion” was in 1671. Colonial charters and other official documents written in the 1600s and early 1700s rarely refer to European colonists as white.

If we are learning anything in these days of fox propaganda and pandemic tales it is the power of people to entrench in their narrative despite data, fact, and personal experience that disputes the narrative. Systematize a narrative and it is nearly impossible to challenge. No see, no hear, no speak. Systems, as I learned in school, are living things – not mechanical – and will fight to the death to keep themselves alive. We are currently watching the fight of a systemic challenge.

The question at the water cooler, “Don’t you think black people create their own problems?” was always asked in earnest. It revealed the successful hardening of racial caste, the power of the mechanism preventing the uniting of the races so as to ensure no possible subsequent uprisings. Us. Them. Bubbles. A vicious cycle.

It’s hard to see a mountain when you are sitting on it. We The People. Ruling class. These two phrases are incompatible but co-exist through the successful creation of division. It’s black and white.

We have a long history and have worked very hard not to see what is right before our eyes. The second rule of systems change: if you know where you are going then it is not change but repetition. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The opportunity for change is, once again, upon us. The conversation needs to move to the center of the communal square and we need to muster the courage to step into unknown territory. Silence and denial are not now nor ever have been valid excuses for perpetuating an ugly system. We betray ourselves.

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.” ~ John Lewis

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SILENCE

 

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Close The Distance [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ~ Rumi

John O’Donohue wrote that spirituality has to do with the transfiguration of distance. “At the heart of spirituality is the awakening of real presence.”  Here. Now. His message is about our busy minds that incessantly create separation. Busy minds create obstacles and keep us seeking. If we are lucky, as the old cliche’s goes, after the long search we learn that we had “it” all along.  Separation is the creation of distance. Presence is the elimination of distance. Love is the absence of distance.

The transfiguration of distance is the power and purpose of art.

On our walk through downtown we saw this message stenciled on a wall: You hate me. There is no greater distance-creating word than “hate.”  You. Me. Hate is the creation of distance between us.

One of the Hermitic Laws is the Principle of Correspondence: As above, so below; as below, so above. As within, so without; as without, so within. Applying the principle, if hate is the word you place between you and me then it is likely that hate is the word you place between you and you. It is nigh-on impossible to hate me without first hating yourself.

Doug used to tell me that health was determined by the distance between who say you are and how you actually live; the shorter the distance the healthier the person.  As without, so within. Applying Doug’s rule, our nation has been distinctly unhealthy for a very long time. We are currently witness to the illness (once again) breaking through the skin. Any physician worth their salt would tell us we have an acute distance problem and health will come when, as a nation, we close the gap and live what we espouse.

I am reminded of an exercise I used to facilitate. Step one: Walk about the space and point at the others in the group and say, “NOT LIKE ME.” Step two: Walk about the space and point at others in the group and say, “LIKE ME.” Step three: Walk about the space and point at others in the group and say, “ME.” Step one is a rejection. Step two becomes an appeal. Step three is a recognition. Step three always brought whispers and a profound shedding of distance.

Rejection. Appeal. Recognition. What is the distance between you and you? What is the distance between you and me?

“From a distance you only see my light; as I get closer and you see that I am you.” ~ Rumi

 

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU HATE ME.

 

 

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Love Your Words [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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I have grown fond of words. No one is more surprised by this statement than me.

A decade ago I did not consider myself a writer. Nowhere in my limited identity structure did I harbor thoughts of writing. This is an admission of my utter unconsciousness since I was writing and performing stories at conferences, with symphonies, and during facilitation. Tell a good story and even the most disparate-and-divided group will inhabit a common metaphor. Tell a good story in cliffhanger segments and even the most resistant conference-goer will greedily return to the general assembly to gobble up the next bit of story.  Stories are powerful magic and I loved telling them. At the time, it never occurred to me that I first had to write them.

The Buddha said, “The mind is everything. What you think is what you become.” I’ve also found the quote modified to read, “What you think is what you are.”  We think in words. We think in stories. Mostly, we are unconscious to the stories we tell ourselves and, more to the point, we rarely recognize that the river of words running through our mind is not truth. It is not fact. It is interpretation. It is story. We are storytellers all and the stories we tell define the moments we live. The stories we tell determine what we see or do not see, how we see or do not see.

That recognition brought me to my love of words. I started paying attention to the stories that I tell myself. I have a Hall-of-Grievances. I have a Complete-Book-Of-Rules for how I ought to live. I have a Jukebox-Of-Greatest-Hits, a entire collection of  stories and conversations that I replay again and again and again. I’m fond of the debate records I play because I win every time! There’s even a special long play set of recordings of things I SHOULD have said and, guess what? In my mind I say the SHOULD-HAVE-SAID words every time! I especially enjoy being witty and quick (in my mind).  It is a wonder that I have any space for new thought given the story-grooves I play over and over ad infinitum.

Words matter. The words I choose matter. I learned in school that William Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of approximately 26,000 words. If we are average, you and I top out at around 1,800 words. William either made up or was the first to put on paper roughly 10,000 of his 26,000 word vocabulary. We tell shorter, less articulate stories. Less poetry and more “get-to-the-point!” He didn’t have commercial breaks shaping his attention span.

I story other people as much or more than I story myself. The annoying little secret about the-story-I-tell-myself-about-others is this: it is not a story about them at all. It’s my story about them which makes the story I tell not about them, but about myself. “Words, words, words,” Hamlet replies to Polonius.

My world can be beautiful. My world can be ugly. My world can be safe. My world can be violent. My world can be kawaii. My world can be fugly. My world can be fearful. My world can be love-full. My world can be. I can be my brother’s/sister’s keeper. I can be concerned only for myself. Yes. No. Just words. Not just words.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KAWAII

We are still in the Facebook annihilation zone. It is possible that Kerri’s posts may never reappear so, if you enjoy reading Kerri’s blog, consider subscribing to her blog. I know we publish waaay too much but, with the minor exception of us, no one reads everything that we write – except Horatio and for his dedicated perseverance, we are grateful.

 

chicken and perseverance website box copy*look at this website box on Kerri’s post. She added pupils to the eyes. Originally, I drew Chicken Marsala without pupils and that creeps Kerri out. She always adds pupils to Chicken!

 

 

 

Compose Your Differences [on Flawed Wednesday]

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A quick glance at recorded human history and it’s not a stretch to suggest that we’ve done everything BUT give peace a chance. Peace, I imagine, is buried beneath the stacks of untouched gun control legislation towering on Mitch McConnell’s desk.

The centerfold of the June, 2020 National Geographic Magazine is a color-coded chart of the roots of violence across time with corresponding estimates of lives lost. Religious conflicts, wars of conquest, colonial exploitation and revolt, despots, dynastic disputes, wars of dominance, and internal clashes make up some of the variations of the theme. The two most relevant to our current struggle are internal clash and collapse of state.

In an us-and-them world, resources are worth fighting for. There’s not enough pie to go around apparently so taking other people’s pie is reason enough to kill. Defending pie is also reason to kill. It follows.

In 2011 Steven Pinker published a book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. He argues that violence has declined over time and provides a mountain of data and theories to support his contention. He suggests that we are not inherently violent. I find that hopeful.

Of course, the decline in violence can only be seen by stepping far enough away. These days it feels like the necessary step is into outer space. Up close and personal, and according to the narrative-of-the-day, we’re a bloody fighting mess. It’s the story we tell. Startlingly, we are living proof that data, fact, and science can’t hold a candle to conspiracy theory and narcissistic fantasy. Gullibility, thy name is human.

Here’s my two cents: war is profitable and peace is not. Make peace profitable and we’d give it more than a passing chance, we’d insist upon it. That sounds jaded but keep in mind that our lexicon includes the phrase “military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower warned us against this unholy alliance, the marriage of defense contractors and the armed forces. It would become, he foretold, a threat to our democracy. “We must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”

Decent purpose.

The second of my two cents goes like this: we’ve built our castle on a bedrock economy of war. It’s a complex system and systems do not go gentle into that good night, they fight to the death to sustain themselves. Peace will have a chance when we decide to embrace a decent purpose and, ironically, that will probably require a fight.

In the meantime, we’ll see multiple conflicts fueled around the globe, military budgets that dwarf every other line item to fund the fighting. Locally, our leaders will douse us in endless thoughts and prayers as the next elementary school is shot up, we’ll see small differences of opinion settled by guns and not intellect, conversation, or simply agreeing to disagree [on a very sad and revealing note: the people at our local grocery store are timid to reinforce their mask policy for fear of being killed. And so, we see up close and personal the threat to our democracy that Eisenhower cried out to no one listening].

As for me, I do not wish to be covered by anyone with an assault rifle. I do not wish to have one pointed at me either. I do not think citizens in a civilized society need military grade weapons unless they are confined to the shooting range. I think a civilized society should operate on the principles it espouses, principles of civility and, yes, intellect and the most decent of purposes: peace.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE

 

 

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instrument of peace ©️ 2015 david robinson

 

 

Walk With Me [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Lately, I’m dreaming of walking the Pacific Crest Trail. It is an escape fantasy. I want to unplug from this angry culture and its toxic division. I want to walk until it hurts. I want to listen to the wind. I want to think-no-thoughts.

I’m kinesthetic. Walking is a better form of meditation for me than sitting. I get quiet when I walk. Chris once told me that I should lead pilgrimages. At the time it made me laugh since I was certain I could probably guide the walk but had very little to offer seekers other than this bit of counsel: shhhhhhhhhhhh. Listen.

I grew up in Colorado and camped often. Say the word, “sacred” to me and I immediately hear the sound of wind rustling through the tops of pine trees. Once, walking a trail in the mountains, it began to gently snow. The forest stilled. It was so quiet I thought for a brief moment that I’d grown deaf. The wind. The quiet. I heard myself catch my breath. Sacred.

At the beginning of this pandemic time, we’d wake in the morning and, sometime during coffee, we’d remember. “Oh, right,” Kerri would say, “we’re living in a sci-fi movie.” The night had forgiven the previous day’s stresses.

One day in Bali, walking down a long road, I felt unsettled. A young man came from the fields and joined me. At first I was perturbed because I wanted to be alone but soon I found his company reassuring.  I asked where he was going and he said, “With you. I walk with you.”

I was confused and asked “Why?”

He was confused by my question. “You are a guest here,” he said in his broken English. “To let you walk alone…is not nice.”

I thought of this young Balinese man, my one-day companion, as I drifted off to sleep last night. The gentle courtesy of his act. His deeply felt obligation of presence. His work-of-the-day was less important, less vital, than showing spontaneous kindness to a stranger. Would I need my escape fantasy, my epic walk, if the people in my country were as generous, as respectful of each other, as he was to me?

“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” ~ Frederick Buechner

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ANOTHER DAY’S CHALKING

 

 

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held in grace: rest now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Create Calm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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This word, calm, is a rare bird among words. It is a triple play of words: an adjective, a noun, and a verb. A descriptor, a thing, and an action.

If I had a superpower, it would be to calm. To create calm. To inspire calm hearts. Soothe, make peaceful, generate calm within and beyond the eye of the hurricane.

Last night we watched The Barkley  Marathons, a documentary about a wacky ultra-marathon trail race in Tennessee. Very few people finish the race. One of the racers, an unlikely finisher, told the story of how he came to be in the field. His dad did what he was supposed to do – he worked and saved all of his life so he might retire and then go have experiences. But – you know the story – he died one year shy of retirement. “I decided not to wait,” the runner said. “I want to suck the marrow from every moment of this life.”

Usually, the center of a delayed life smolders. Henny Penny races around the center-cage of a fearful life. But, you’ll know someone who is fully in their moment, who is sucking the marrow out of this tasty life, when you see them. Their center is calm. They are not predetermining their experiences. They’ve stripped off their “should” and “can’t.” Rather, they step onto the unknown field and open their arms to what comes. They play an infinite game, they play-to-play, and perhaps learn a little bit about themselves along the way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CALM

 

 

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