Disagree [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Months later, she* is still angry with me. I asked her to “stop blowing me off.”

Some things need to be discussed and necessarily require entertaining differing points of view. Finding middle ground or considering alternate possibilities requires hearing what others have to say – and giving others the courtesy of hearing what you have to say. Her standard phrase of choice, when faced with an opinion or idea not her own, is this: “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

No. I don’t agree to disagree. Especially at the onset of a dialogue. I want to talk about it. I want to hear what you have to say and more importantly why you hold your point of view. I won’t agree to not hearing or being heard.

Opposing points of view, differing opinions, need not be conflicting. They can be highly generative. Mind opening. Thought provoking. “I’ve never thought of that,” is an expression that results when considering a different point of view. In ideal, our nation is based on the notion of two opposing points-of-view extending to each other the courtesy of listening and considering possibilities not yet seen. Yep. And, we are witness to what happens when one side (or the other) rejects the basic premise. Dismissiveness is the strategy of an empty suit.

Why assume conflict?

She followed “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree,” with the real statement, her actual aim: “You do what you want. I’m going to do what I’ve always done and follow my plan.” In other words, she had no intention of hearing anything that did not support her plan. Why, then, I wondered, did she invite conversation?

When the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. When the only door you have is a closed door, then every knock sounds like an intruder.

I laughed aloud when I read Bill Murphy’s article in Inc. Magazine about his pet-peeve phrase: “Look, I get it.” He writes, ‘”Look, I get it,'” is almost always inherently untrue…Even worse for our purposes, it’s woefully ineffective.”

It’s dismissive. Just as is “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.” The agreement she wanted was for me to agree to be dismissed. An agreement of silence. Why would I – or anyone – agree to that?

[* “She” is not Kerri. We hold each other in high esteem. It’s why the sign in our kitchen reads, “You are my favorite pain-in-the-ass.” We welcome our differing perspectives. Neither one of us dismisses the other nor tolerates being dismissed.]

read Kerri’s blog post about “LOOK, I GET IT.”

Gain The Force [on KS Friday]

It seemed appropriate, in order to conclude our year of water, that we travel to visit a region of the country with 250 waterfalls. Of course, we didn’t know about the waterfalls until we arrived. Water, water everywhere. I howled with laughter and secretly affirmed that our unintentional pilgrimage to the waterfalls might appease the great WHATEVER and finally release us from water-resistance into the watercourse way.

I will someday look back at our journey to the falls and realize the extent to which we “let go.” It already serves as a marker, a breaking through the resistance and fight of the last chapter and into the next. The new chapter.

Yesterday, at work, I had the opportunity to tease apart a question en route to asking a better question. I am fortunate to have a team of collaborators that, instead of rejecting my alternate perspective outright, even amidst the frustration of my challenge of the norm, ask me to lean into it. My assignment was to return next week with a better question. I am a firm believer that the form of a question – the way that it is asked – determines the answers that are seen or – more importantly – not seen.

Better questions are like the watercourse way. They show up when, instead of swimming against the current, against “what is,” the swimmer/questioner turns and allows the current to carry them. Wu-wei. Natural action. Every creator knows the moment of frustration when trying to force something into being. More force can only produce more frustration. Or, it breaks something. The best thing to do, when force can only produce an eddy, is put down the brushes, step back, and look at what-is. Force never produces a better question. Stepping off the mountain so it becomes visible – or acknowledging the direction of the river’s flow and giving into it, always reveals new possibility.

It is what I remembered for myself at the waterfall. It made me chuckle, then, when my first moment back at work, I was doing for my team what I’ve done all my life: attempting to flip or free a perspective by lobbying for flow; acknowledge what exists-in-the-moment versus what we want to exist. The better question – for me – and others – is always found when we turn and gain the full force of the river.

[I can’t imagine a better piece of music to carry us into 2022. Give yourself a treat – truly – and listen to Riverstone]

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATERFALL

riverstone/as it is is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

riverstone/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Ask A Better Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

This may be the height of cynicism but I don’t think so. Suddenly, as if dinged by a magic wand, we’ve entered that time of year when people remember to be kind. “After you,” the woman said, when I gestured for her to go first. The check out line was long so I had ample opportunity to witness the instantaneous return of the “After you!” It was ubiquitous. People were thinking of the needs of other people!

Later, we came to a four-way stop and everyone at the intersection waved for the other drivers to go first “Wow!” I exclaimed, “Just like the old days.” In my one-day anecdotal sample set, we’d just experienced more public generosity in an afternoon than we’d experienced in a very long time – twelve months to be exact.

It is possible, for the people in a nation newly-priding-itself on the depths of its divisions, to be considerate, one-to-the-other. If we are capable of a ritual-compassion-practice every year when Santa is looking, I have to believe that we can muster up some kindness and generosity of spirit in the eleven month gap between holiday seasons.

It was the day after Thanksgiving so it’s possible that the crowds were high on tryptophan, that the good mood and kindness I witnessed was turkey-induced. But, I don’t think so. I suspect the turkey consumption simply demarcates the time when we turn from our aggression-fantasy and consider our better nature. It simply feels better to lend a hand, to help another than it does to drive on top of someone’s bumper.

I appreciated the turn-of-question Kerri found in an article in Inc. magazine: instead of asking yourself, “What am I thankful for,?” a better question is, “What will I do to make others thankful?” The first question is a me-me-me question. The second turns the eye out, it first considers the needs of other people. It requires action, doing. What we experienced in the store, what we experienced at the four-way-stop, was steeped in asking the better question.

Sometimes the change we seek need not be legislated or debated or strategized; sometimes it is no more or less difficult than asking – and then practicing – a better question.

[Even though we’d hidden the store on our website, we’ve lately had a small run on Be Kind buttons. That, too, gives me hope that others out there feel as I do: a better world is not so far away. It’s as close as an act of kindness]

read Kerri’s blog post about A BETTER QUESTION

Stand In Time [on DR Thursday]

Stephen Hawking asked why we remember the past but not the future. Yesterday, in the middle of a meeting, I received a slack message with a sentiment from Russ Ackoff: entrepreneurs stand in the future and look at the present. I was fascinated by an article by Wade Davis, writing about a culture that experiences time as movement backwards; we row our way into the future.

Declan Donnellan writes that it is impossible to try and be present because we already are present. We live in it. We have to try very hard not to be present. In fact, we have to split ourselves in two halves. One looking backward. The other looking forward. We are, each and every one, Janus.

It is the time of year that time changes. It’s an odd ritual to “fall back” in time. What was 5 o’clock will soon be 4 o’clock, not because of a strange universal movement between planets and stars, but because we say so. A few states in the union don’t participate in the ritual so their time stays the same.

Time on a line. So many different realities, even in the most basic experience. Constructs of time.

I’ve read that old age is a return to childhood. Many, many great thinkers and writers from many disparate cultures tell us that we will journey through life and arrive where we began. The destination is ourself. Have you ever tried to describe your self and found the task impossible? Words simply cannot reach that level of complexity. There is a notion popular in the self-help world to define your life mission, your single life purpose. It’s meant to give you focus-of-action and certain-location on your line of time. It is also nearly impossible to articulate and becomes an exercise in metaphor selection. I’ve smiled knowingly as people in my past have asked, “Is this my mission or am I making it up?” The answer to both is, of course, yes. In a more universal peek, the exercise is meant to take you one more step around the circle that will bring you back to your self.

When I was doubting myself, judgmental because I “didn’t know” what I was doing, Quinn pointed to the tallest building and said, “The person on the top floor is just making it up, too.” He was standing in my future, looking back.

It’s just a matter of time.

Just.

read Kerri’s post about TEA LIGHTS

Greet The World © 2011 david robinson

See Through It [on Flawed or Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

Light passes through. Transparent. Trans; across or beyond. A prefix of movement.

Last night we had snacks with some pals. Our conversation turned to politics and how resistant we are as a nation to tell our full story. Opaque. The opposite of transparent. Impenetrability of light. “It’s just history,” someone said. “History is history.”

Narrative. With a point of view. The winners of wars tell one story. The opposite side has another tale to tell. History is never just history. A country as deeply divided as ours is warring over its history. What happens if we actually tell our full story? Who are we if we acknowledge our shadow? Shine the light or snuff it?

Boiling our times down to the essence, we’d arrive at these two words. Transparent. Opaque. Isn’t it always the way that people who have something to hide proclaim transparency? Isn’t it always the case that people who lie claim to be holders of the truth? Opacity is a tricky business.

I recently watched again Simon Sinek’s first TED talk. He said, “There are leaders and there are those who actually lead.” We could call it a simple truth: we know those who actually lead because they boldly shine-the-light. They are not afraid of being seen or seen through. They are, however, a threat to those who call themselves “leaders,” those that fear the revelations of light. Reveal-ations. Those leaders will fight to-the-death to maintain their opacity. They will sacrifice the greater for the lesser if necessary to remain opaque.

We are watching – and participating in – history being written. Our question – as has been true from the beginning: will we shine the light without fear of transparency or hide behind the wall of opacity? It’s just history.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRANSPARENCY

Know Why [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I’m working with a software start-up company. Upon returning from travels I found our conversation has shifted into articulating mission and vision and purpose. None of us are keen about writing these kinds of statements but the exercise is useful and necessary. Why do we do what we do? What, exactly, do we do? In that order. Why. What.

Why? It seems as if this should be an easy answer. To support other people. To support other people in doing what they need to do.

I couldn’t help but think of our experience last week. We shared our story of breaking down in Hays, Kansas. It was late in the afternoon. It was the day before my dad’s funeral in Denver. We hobbled into the dealership. They were jammed with customers and couldn’t help us. There wasn’t a rental car to be found. It looked bleak. The dealer recommended a garage on the other side of town. Davis Automotive. We limped into their parking lot. We told our tale. They moved heaven and earth to help. Why?

It was nearing the end of their day. They, too, were jammed. Yet, they helped. They took the time. They made our problem theirs to solve. They took to heart my need to make it to my dad’s funeral. My need became their personal mission.

I returned to work with a new view on mission statements. They need not be lofty or abstract. In fact, they should be visceral. Tangible. Everyday. Support other people in doing what they need to do. Why? Because they need it. Just like I need it. Or you need it. These good mechanics fix cars. That is their “what.” Their “why”: help people get where they need to go. Help people do what they need to do.

Help people.

It’s how interconnection works. My mission is, in a real way, to make your path easier just as your mission is to make my path easier. I need mechanics because I do not have that mind or skill set. They need software designers because cars are computers and they can no longer diagnose problems without them. I am an artist, a teller-of-stories. Mechanics and software designers need my mind and skill set to remind them that, beyond their role, their mission, their job, they are human beings living a universal story. Nothing they do will matter, nothing I do will matter – ever – if it is not in service to the support of others’ growth, or need, or desire or fulfillment. I cannot be fulfilled if my work does not support you. And vice versa.

So, why are these good men and women, these software engineers and entrepreneurs creating their software? They see a real need. They see people struggling. And, like good mechanics who encounter a brokenhearted son en route to his dad’s funeral in a truck that will not run, they know exactly what to do. And, they know why.

read Kerri’s blog post about SERVICE

Look. Really Look. [on KS Friday]

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).” ~ e.e. cummings

The ritual became real when Kerri asked the bride and groom to turn and look at the community of people assembled as witnesses to their wedding, “No, really look,” she said. Eyes met eyes. Family. Friends. The unspoken but oh-so-apparent moment: We’re here for you.

Rituals, like a good story, are about single moments. Everything builds to the moment. In the ceremony, Kerri told the couple that they would have days that they could not take their eyes off of each other and that they would have days that were…not so much, but in all of their days, through all of their challenges and celebrations, they would have this moment, and this single-moment, when all else dropped away, would carry them through everything: standing before their community of support, they looked into each other’s eyes and said, “I do.” I carry your heart.

Initially, when they asked her to perform their wedding, she was stunned. “Why me?” she asked. After their ceremony, unique in all the world, simple and profound, I wanted to ask but did not, “Now do you know why they asked you?” My wife understands the power of a moment, the deep river of a ritual, and the long ripples that simple words and intentional actions can send through the long-body of a lifetime.

“Are you ready?” she whispered to the couple when the music faded. “Yes. Oh, yes,” they replied.

read Kerri’s blog post about I CARRY YOUR HEART

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

Consider It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.” ~ Marshall McLuhan

At the first theatre company I artistic directed, we cut silk screens and pulled ink to make our posters. They were crude but we didn’t know it at the time because that was the most advanced process available. At the time they looked cool and we were proud of them. They took some effort.

I remember the day a student came into my office and showed me how we could design our posters on the computer. His designs were gorgeous, easily adjusted, took almost no time, and came back from the printer quicker than I could cut a good screen. We felt like our status bumped up a notch. We looked professional, and, what we’d been so proud of only a year before, now looked primitive.

My first website cost an extraordinary amount of money. It took weeks of working with a designer. Changes were costly so were made rarely. Now, Kerri and I design, redesign and make changes to our site every week. A few years ago we set up a site for a theatre company, complete with ticket service, database and newsletter capacity all in one easy-to-use app. It cost them almost nothing and any fool could adjust and make changes to it.

People who only a few short years ago considered themselves voiceless can now say any old thing they want to an audience no less than world-wide. Patti once asked a conference attendee, “If you had a voice, what would you say?” If I could go back in time I’d beg her to retract that question.

We live in a time of high anxiety. There are few substantial anchors to moor our reality. I’m about to make the ultimate old guy statement: I remember when…a few limited news channels actually attempted to broadcast the news. They had a limited window of time to tell the news so they made their information count. We now have hundreds of information and misinformation sources that can rattle at us 24/7 and from multiple devices. The challenge is not editing-down-to what-matters, it is filling too much time with loads of spin that mostly has limited substance.

Information spreading – for me, too – has become easy-peasy. I can lob an opinion as easily and as readily as the next person. But, as Marshall McLuhan said – and I whole-heartily concur, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.” In other words, (don’t tell Kerri) I am sometime reactive. Sometimes, I think I know more than I do. Sometimes, I make mistakes. Slowing down seems to be the only cure. Thinking things through. Researching before spouting. Breathe and breathe again. Consider what matters. Really matters.

I’ve walked a complete circle in my life. Now, in all it’s shiny capacity, within the amazing miracles of technology, I find much of what people say and do and assert with this glorious ability – to be crude. Without thought. It’s too easy so it doesn’t much matter. The stream will quickly carry away even the most offensive opinions and endlessly wash in some more. I wonder how considerate people might become if their easy voices were less easily shared? If saying something actually took some time and effort – let’s say, as much time as it took to design, transfer and cut a silkscreen – what might they say? If it was less easy to “like” or “dislike.” If one slip would send the thought back to the arduous start? Maybe we’d be more considerate because we’d take the time to consider what we were expressing – to think about what we were saying and why we were saying it.

I suspect most of our “whys” would get our knuckles rapped by grandmothers who held decorum and polite communication as a high virtue. Saying stuff so-as-to-belong-or-pile-on…or to hear ourselves talk, certainly wouldn’t spare the rod.

That whole thought stream came from taking a walk, looking down, and finding a rock smiling back at me. Someone took some time. Chose a rock. They chose what to paint and had a grandma-approved-reason-why. And, they did a good job of it. “Ahhhhh,” Kerri said, smiling back at the rock. “How considerate,” I added to her awe.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROCKS THAT SMILE


Be Indeterminate [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Through the good graces of our tomato plants, I’ve learned a few new concepts this summer. Determinate and indeterminate. Bush and vine. Determinate tomato plants (bushes) are bred to stop growing. Indeterminate tomato plants (vines) will grow indefinitely or until the weather conditions “are no longer favorable.”

Our plants are indeterminate. Each morning, Kerri visits our planting bench and checks her tomatoes. 20 taught her a few simple tending-rules and now, each morning, there are more and more little indeterminate miracles moving backward along the color spectrum, finally arriving at a brilliant red.

Life is indeterminate.

My new tomato-terms come just in time. My current project has me revisiting my past life as a teacher and facilitator. If I apply my new terminology to people I can’t help but think it is the lucky few who survive so much dedicated energy to stop the learning-mind in the name of education. The natural output of a system designed on manufacturing principles is to truncate the questioning mind by patterning the notion that there is a predetermined answer. It becomes a game of finding the answer that teacher wants – a closed loop – instead of an incitement of curiosity. Children are excellent game players and translate the gaming pattern into their now-dulled-adulthood.

There is a cycle apparent in all genuine learning processes. It begins with discontent. Curiosity is a movement born from some form of discontent. It leads to questioning. Questioning always leads to disturbance (the interruption of the known). And, just like that, out of the disturbance something new is seen, call it a breakthrough, call it an insight, call it new learning…Many classrooms – certainly the systems – are designed and organized to keep disturbances to a minimum. The mantra is ‘control’ rather than ‘inspire curiosity.’ Business has the same dedication.

We’re taught that disturbance is the sign of something wrong rather than the crusty earth breaking to reveal new verdant life.

Discontent leads to questioning, leads to disturbance, which leads to breakthrough. And, an insight will always lead to discontent. It’s a story cycle, where yearning meets obstacle. Learning is by definition uncomfortable and at its best when it is uncontrollable.

Last week I attended a meeting. My two companions and I brought our homework back to the team. One was content. The other two of us were filled with discontent. The leader of the session, at first, was angry. He did not get the result he’d anticipated from his exercise. “So, you two are telling me this process was worthless!” he raged. We’d spent our week questioning instead of answering. Discontent. Questioning.

“No! It was great!” we chimed in chorus. “Look at all the good information we uncovered!” It was a mess. Big disturbance. We cycled through our misalignment a few times, wrangling over perception and usefulness. More rage. And then…an insight. The breakthrough. All of the rage, all of the appeasing, began to flow in a single direction. A possibility took shape. A target materialized that was much better than the prescribed pursuit. Energy filled our zoom-osphere. Laughter. Excitement.

Learning. Indeterminate. Open questions. Hot pursuits.

I am drawn to and surrounded by the dedicated indeterminates; those who refuse to stop learning: David, Mike, Horatio, MM, Bruce, 20, Judy, and yes, Kerri…I am a very fortunate man to be surrounded by so many tomatoes moving their way backward along the color spectrum, not afraid to walk through their discontent toward bigger and bigger questions.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Let The Outside In [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Civilization excels at manufacturing anesthetics.” ~Declan Donnellan

“What are you waiting for? Snow?” 20 was sweating. It was July, hot and humid, and he wondered why we had yet to put the air conditioner units in the windows. Our house was built in 1928 and central air is something we can only imagine. In truth, we’d been asking ourselves the same question all summer. Why are we suffering the heat and, yet, so resistant to putting the ac units in the windows?

Finally, the penny dropped. We realized why we had no desire to plug up the windows, shut the door, and manufacture cold air. Last summer, as the pandemic numbers soared, as our city burned with civil unrest, we shut the world out. We isolated. We turned on the cold air and made certain we felt as little of the heat as possible. This summer, even though we are still keeping our circle small, we want to feel the summer. We want to breathe the real air, not the manufactured stuff.

The real air is hot. Humid. Uncomfortable.

I made breakfast after reading the news. Poor Kerri had to listen to my epiphany-rant: While cracking eggs I realized that the horror story of the GOP wouldn’t be able to perpetuate their pandemic-denial-march if the people listening to them wanted to hear truth. “If I was born in 1700,” I said, “I’d have an excuse for being ignorant. I’d be illiterate and have very limited access to information. I’d be easily led because I wouldn’t have the capacity to check the story that I was being fed. That’s not true today.” We have, unlike any time in human history, immediate access to information. I rarely participate in a conversation that doesn’t involve someone pulling up information on their phone, checking a fact or the veracity of a story being shared. How then, in the middle of the national pandemic hot spot, can the governor of Florida block every science-based mitigation measure and whip up a fruit smoothie of fear – how can he manufacture so much empty air – without his constituents crying foul? The answer is easy: they would rather not feel or know what’s really going on outside their comfort-bubble. They are choosing fluff over fact, anger over curiosity.

In our day and age, ignorance is a choice. Denial is a choice. Plugging the windows is a choice. Insular is a choice. The device carried in every pocket could, in a heartbeat, puncture the gasbag-foolishness.

Reading this post, MM will be compelled to once again send me this quote, so I will preemptively include it: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.” E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology.

I know. I know.

Belief, like sugar, is easy to consume. Knowledge takes some effort and self-reflection. Anger and fear and division are easy, too, especially when the target audience of the fearmongers has no desire to challenge the narrative. It is the great paradox of our times that those waving their flags and screaming the loudest about their freedoms are so ready and willing to abdicate their freedom of thought. They parrot the fox. They inhale the anesthetic, the manufactured air.

Last night we watched a great short documentary, Lessons From The Water: Diving With A Purpose. Black divers searching for the shipwrecks of slave ships. One of the founders of the projected said,“Here in the US, our (African American) history has been ignored,” he adds. “They don’t really teach anything about slavery in schools. And I think if you don’t teach your history, you’re bound to repeat it.”

They dive to find the artifacts, to tell a fuller story. They dive. They look for artifacts. Facts. A complete narrative.

It made me think about the enormous resistance to critical race theory, the intense counter-narrative to climate change, the ferocious dedication to perpetuating The Big Lie, the ubiquitous conspiracy theories and global rise of authoritarian voices…all of it an appeal to an insular story. Close your eyes. Trust without question what you are told.

The real story is uncomfortable. It is hot. It needs telling. Fingers out of ears, eyes wide open. Forward movement, growth, health, is never the result of suppression, distraction or numbness. Health, equilibrium, always follows the revelation and acceptance of the full story. It’s open windows. It’s letting the outside in.

read Kerri’s blog post about LET THE OUTSIDE IN