Unify

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

Stay with me. I actually have a point.

If ever I teach actors again, or coach people in any endeavor, or communities/businesses seeking betterment, I will only have two things to teach: 1) Grounded-ness and 2) Focus placement on the unifiers. These two concepts are really  one looping concept but for ease and the sake of being understood, I will offer them independent of one another.

As focus placement goes, an actor on the stage has two options and depending on the focus placement they choose, they will either create the play or destroy it. A focus on how they look or sound or feel destroys the play. It is a self-focus in an art form of relationship (all art forms are made vital in relationship). A self-focus breaks the relationships and effectively locks the audience out of participating in the story. It makes the actor giddy with fear, easily distracted, alone. Conversely, the actor can focus outside of themselves, on the other actors on the stage, on the energy between, on their pursuit. An outer-focus creates relationships and serves as a magnet that pulls audiences into the story. It facilitates participation, creates relationship, and shared experiences. It unifies. Literally.

The actor who listens to him/herself pulls up their root. They unground themselves. The actor whose focus is outward, who is actively pursuing relationship, creates grounding. In fact, they must be grounded to create vital relationships. It is a first principle. Grounded-ness begets grounded-ness; it unifies. It strengthens. It invites. It clarifies truth.

The same principles apply off the stage or out of the studio. It is, however, more complex off the stage. It is much, much, more sticky.

And here’s the point: It has been said that nothing is better at uniting a community than having an enemy. It’s true. A common enemy provides an outer focus. It provides another team to defeat. It works so well that leaders across the ages, leaders who would otherwise look insipid, leaders who, like a bad actor, have a self-focus, a control need, have concocted all manner of enemies. It is a deflection. It works for a short while but what starts as false unity strips a community of its true binder. It separates and splits. It diminishes. It destroys.

Here’s the sticky part. One of the oldest tricks in the book for controlling a community is to split them, to locate the enemy within the community. And then, for good measure, magnify the split. In the early colonies – that ultimately became The United States of America – it was a strategy known as The Giddy Masses (see Ronald Takaki’s excellent book A Different Mirror). Make the people giddy with a false enemy. Uproot them. Deflect them so they cannot join in relationship and be strong as a community. Self-focused leaders cannot survive a unified, healthy populace. It is a strategy: separate the people so they cannot see the movement of power.

Today I started to read the news but stopped after only a minute. Building walls. Expelling Muslims. Enemy creation everywhere! Fox news and MSNBC are great giddy creators. It’s a bad story poorly told. It weakens all players. The primary actors do harm to their audience. Grounded-ness, a first principle, can only come to all when the actors choose to focus on the relationships, see the unifiers, to create rather than destroy. Groundedness comes when the audience engages, questions what they are being told and open (rather than close) their minds.

Grounded-ness. Focus placement on the unity. The principles that make great art also make great society. Fear, the province of the bad actor, the lot of a passive audience, although temporarily effective, can only destroy the play.

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Put Down The Hammer

photo-3[continued from BE WE]

The woman behind the counter at Starbucks, someone I’d never seen before, leaned forward, and chirped, “David! I loved your wedding!” She laughed at the look of confusion that must have crossed my face and added, “No, you don’t know me.” One of our invited guests brought her as a date. “Best wedding ever!” she exclaimed as Kerri joined us. Because the day is a blur, Kerri and I enjoy hearing people’s accounts of our wedding day and she enthusiastically told us of her experiences. It was nice. It was personal.

We took our coffee to a table and joined some friends. After a few moments, the woman behind the counter came to our table. She brought some samples, some health supplements and cosmetic products, “I only do this Starbucks job for the health insurance,” she said, “This is really my business,” she said, sliding the tiny packages in front of Kerri. “You never know who might be interested,” she chirped and blushed before making an exit. It was awkward. It felt awful. We went from personal to prospect in one inelegant step.

There is an old saying that came to mind: When the only tool you have in your box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Many years ago, in a time of great financial desperation, I worked with some financial folks who recruited me to sell their stuff. I learned their processes, got my licenses in record time, and for a few horrid months, tried to sell their wares. I hated it. The work was highly profitable but the cost was highly destructive. Everyone looked like a prospect. To every social encounter, every friendship, every casual meeting, I brought an agenda. For a few months I looked through a lens that made every person, every circumstance, a commodity-opportunity. It reduced life (my life) to an ugly basic. It was toxic. Anna taught me the very appropriate word for what I felt: vampiring. It was a great lesson. It made me pay attention to the intention I bring to my life.

It’s what the woman at Starbucks felt, too. She was desperate. She, like a former version of me, sold the greater need to satisfy the lesser. Vampires are insatiable and stuck in an untenable lifeless-lens: everyone looks like a food source. Desperation is like that. It is easy when desperate to sacrifice friendships for prospecting. No one likes to be a food source.

As I perused this years bountiful crop of ugly images of Americans fighting and crushing each other for cheap toys and electronics, the annual product-stampede/people-crush-and-fist-fight on Black Friday (formerly known as Thanksgiving), I couldn’t help but think about the Starbucks lady. Desperation wears many masks but always makes others look less-than-human. Communities thrive when they feed each other and die when they feed on each other. This is not a mystery.

Commodity is supposed to service community, not the other way around. Vampiring is the only visible path when community loses itself to commodity; it inadvertently tosses away its many tools and leaves itself with only a hammer. It’s a question of order as much as a question of values. There is nothing wrong with commodity when the order of value is respected. Without a WE there can only be a very confused, desperate, and lonely I. It should not come as a surprise that desperate and lonely people do desperate and lonely things.

This is the season of the return of the light. We need do nothing more to create the miracle than put down the hammer and look at others as if they are more than nails.

[to be continued]

Stop Your Rant In Its Track

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

Stop your rant in its track

I come from a long line of ranters and am famous for ranting. Through a life of ranting I’ve learned that rants are mostly a useless exercise. They serve as a pressure release, which is say, energy that is misdirected. Miracles happen when misdirected energy is focused and released toward an intention. Rants are essentially an admission of helplessness, a scream of, “Why is this happening to me?” Redirected, the energy becomes a focused stream of, “I am going to make this happen.”

FOR TODAY’S FEATURED ENCOURAGEMENT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Study Your Study

the next iteration. it's coming along now.

the next iteration. it’s coming along now.

Ontology = the study of existence.

When I was in graduate school the word “ontology” was bandied about regularly. I tossed it around a few times myself, checking it for style and elegance, prancing about to see if it suited me in my degree pursuit. It always felt a bit clumsy and left me with two questions:

1) What isn’t ontology? When I lived in Los Angeles I learned that people chose their houses relative to the direction of their commute. The rule was to find a place that afforded them the capacity to go against the commute otherwise they’d be stuck in traffic all day, everyday. It was essentially a quality-of-life consideration. Aren’t the reasons we locate ourselves, how and why we place our selves in space and time, an ontological question? Aren’t we surrounded by eternity whether we sit in traffic or by the swimming pool? When rolling ontology around my vocabulary I always wondered what was the difference between being fully aware of your existence and studying your existence. Now, that’s an ontological question! I have recently made it my ontological study to sit in the backyard drinking in the sun watching the Dog-Dog race around in delight barking at birds – and not wanting to be anywhere else, not wanting to do anything else. And, that brings me to question number 2:

the previous iteration

the previous iteration

2) Isn’t it improper for the subject of the study to be the studier? Ontology is a metaphysical study of human existence, not all of existence, and humans are conducting the study. I I were teaching this course I’d have to flunk myself for proposing such an ill constructed proposal! I’m fairly certain the birds are not interested in the greater question of their existence. Frogs and bees, disappearing from the earth at an alarming rate, might be interested in the question: What’s the real point of the study of existence if the studiers are so cavalier about existence? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here? It seems our study is the existential equivalent of a blind date that says, “Let’s talk about me!”

Are you being or are you becoming and – truly – is there ever a moment when you are not both (are you a particle or a wave)? Religion. Science. History. Art. Stars. Insects. Shadows. Waking to the sound of the morning dove. Knowing that the water of the lake is so cold that your feet will go numb in seconds – and stepping in anyway. A walk in the rain. Planting an herb garden. A warm bed on a cold night. Reaching out to a friend when you need to talk. The smell of good coffee. A song that makes you remember. Just because. Ontology?

Find The Riches

an illustration from Beaky's book, SHAYNE.

one of my illustrations from Beaky’s book, SHAYNE.

During my call with Jim I told him that my projects this year have been the most satisfying of my life. Certainly they have been the most important. And, they have also been, as I laughingly used the term, “negatively lucrative.” He didn’t yet know of Beaky’s books, of her website, of her book signing, so I sent him a few of my favorite photos from the event. Later, he sent me this text:

It is wonderful to be able to eat and pay the bills but there are for a fact things money can never buy. That famous authors obvious joy being one.

Isn’t that the truth? What price could we possibly place on joy? What price would we pay for true love? What price do we place on personal truth? What is the price tag on fulfillment?

I suspect that the great disease of our time – something future history professors and archaeologists will investigate – is that we’ve managed to place a value on our values; morality has somehow enmeshed with money, the purpose of education has somehow become the achievement of a bigger paycheck. In this never-ending political season, count the number of times and ways our candidates tell us that we must weigh our interests against our values.

What is the price of a value? What is the purpose of a value if it has a price?

All my life I’ve been told by people who love me, that, as an artist, I need to make a distinction between the work I do for food and the work I do for love. Most artists, myself included, feel their work is a kind of call. It is an imperative, a necessity. It is food. It is love. Most artists, myself included, do their work-for-love whether they are paid for it or not. They have to. I have to. It is a call. It is nourishment. There is no way in a culture that has placed a value on its values to recognize the real value of food-for-the-soul and food-from-the soul (the purpose of artists in a culture); a market cannot make sense of soul nourishment. This line of distinction, work-for-food or work-for-love, is at best a wonky value statement. It is a line that only makes sense to a people versed and rehearsed in trading their soul-requirements for a better retirement.

what is the price of joy?

what is the price of joy?

Last night I finished reading aloud to Kerri Tuesdays With Morrie. Jim’s text and Morrie’s messages are in beautiful alignment: there are, for a fact, things that money can never buy. And, those things are where the riches of this life can be found.

Ponder The Pieces

Kerri's head exploding.

Kerri’s head exploding.

My beautiful Kerri’s head just exploded. I am currently surrounded by exploded head-bits and a dog-dog running loops around the house from the thrill of experiencing his first head explosion. Baby cat had the good sense to hide. There’s nothing for me to do but drink wine and write this post. And drink more wine.

Heads explode when the world ceases making sense. Beaky, Kerri’s mom, 93 years old, is no longer capable of crossing the room with her walker. Mobility is a problem and the source of Beaky’s despair. For months Kerri has been working to get Beaky an electronic wheelchair. Her doctor prescribed it. A physical therapist diagnosed it. A bevy of nurses recommended it. A mountain of paperwork was filled out and filed for it. Medicare did the expected and requisite thrice denial before begrudgingly approving a lesser model (apparently, Beaky looks like a reckless driver and can’t be trusted with too much speed). At long last, after hours of phone calls, pleading, cajoling and begging, the chair was ordered and scheduled for delivery. And then there was Jose. The man who measures aging bottoms to make sure the chair is a perfect fit decided that, while measuring Beaky, she was not yet ready, at 93 years of age, to have an electronic wheelchair. His reason: Beaky is too mobile.

Kerri playing for her mom and the other ladies.

Kerri playing for her mom and the other ladies.

I wish I had filmed Kerri’s head explosion. I’d send it to Jose, the man with the measuring tape and the power to explode heads. As I watched the pieces of her mind drift back toward the earth I couldn’t help but remember the statistic – relative to the rest of the developed world – of how much Americans pay for their health care and how little they actually receive. Our costs are astronomical. Jose just showed me why. I wondered how many man/woman hours of work that Jose just annihilated. As Kerri said to the electric wheel chair supply company representative, every day of Beaky’s life is an extra inning or like a dog year. It is a gift. To tell this woman that it will only be a few more months before she will be approved is cruel. It need not make sense. It is merely cruel.

On another related note, today was Josh’s first day of work as a nurse in an emergency room. He wrote that he had a very good first day. The highlight was extracting a penny from a young boy’s nose. Apparently, the boy tried unsuccessfully to swallow the penny and coughed it up and into his nose. A hole in one! What are the odds of such a perfect shot? If I ever have a penny up my nose I want Josh to do the extraction. He cares for people. He is kind. Mostly, I want Jose, the man with the tape measure, to meet Josh, the man who helped a kid with a penny problem, so that Josh can explain to Jose how to recognize a person in need and what it means to serve. Service often requires dropping the tape measure and looking at the person being measured.

I suppose this is yet another tribute to Doug whose wisdom is worth repeating: “Your problem,” he said to me, “is that you want it all to make sense.” The path to happiness, according to Doug, is to cease the expectation of sense. No mother can make sense of a penny lodged up the nose of her son and Kerri will never be able to make sense of the man with the tape measure. It was her attempt at sense making that caused her head to detonate. I’ll keep that bit of information to myself until all the pieces find their way back to earth. In the meantime, let’s have more wine!

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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Speak Out Of Turn

From my book, Lucy & The Waterfox. The waterfox is shunned for deviating from the norm.

From my book, Lucy & The Waterfox. The waterfox is shunned for deviating from the norm.

I’m not supposed to be writing about the system of education in America. It is a topic that I made off limits for myself because I was ranting too much. I finally allowed myself to admit what I’ve known for years but refused to accept. Our system of education is not broken and never has been; it was designed to create maximum docility and is succeeding magnificently. I decided to open the off-limits file because I just posted a question concerning education inspired by my friend and retired superintendent, Arnie Glassberg, and then this morning the same news story featuring the resignation letter of a teacher came across my screen three times. It is tragic to read and resonated with me: after a career playing in the fields of innovation and change in education, I now have a hard time driving by a public school without shuddering.

For grins I googled “origins of education in America (it was the subject of Arnie’s comment to me),” and came up with more than a few options but was struck by how many of the links topping the list concerned the reprehensible origins and intentions behind this thing we continue to call school. Several were articles, speeches, and youtube clips of John Taylor Gatto, a former New York state Teacher of the Year and most well known for his book, Dumbing Us Down. Here’s a bit from a speech he gave several years ago to a home schooling conference in Vermont:

The secret of American schooling is that it doesn’t teach the way children learn — nor is it supposed to. Schools were conceived to serve the economy and the social order rather than kids and families — that is why it is compulsory. As a consequence, the school cannot help anybody grow up, because its prime directive is to retard maturity. It does that by teaching that everything is difficult, that other people run our lives, that our neighbors are untrustworthy even dangerous. School is the first impression children get of society. Because first impressions are often the decisive ones, school imprints kids with fear, suspicion of one another, and certain addictions for life. It ambushes natural intuition, faith, and love of adventure, wiping these out in favor of a gospel of rational procedure and rational management.

Compare this quote (or read the text of his speech) with the teacher’s resignation letter making the news today. I’ve read a similar letter each spring for the past several years; a teacher – probably a great teacher – can no longer participate in the creation of docility in children and in themselves. They admit what they’ve known for years: the intention of they system they serve is the opposite of what it purports: they can no longer wipe out their natural intuition with the gospel of rational procedure (standardized tests).

John Taylor Gatto’s quote reminded me of the first few pages of one of my favorite books, Teaching As A Subversive Activity, by Neil Postman. It was published in 1969. Here’s a snippet from page 2:

In our society, as in others, we find that there are influential men at the head of important institutions who cannot afford to be found wrong, who find change inconvenient, perhaps intolerable, and who have financial or political interests they must conserve at any cost. Such men are, therefore, threatened in many respects by the theory of the democratic process and the concept of an ever-renewing society…Such men as these would prefer that the schools do little or nothing to encourage youth to question, doubt, or challenge and part of the society in which they live, especially those parts that are most vulnerable.

Retarding maturity has long term consequences: a population that is 1) incapable of the necessary self-awareness that comes with maturity cannot recognize how far it has drifted from it’s center and, 2) even if it did see the tower tipping, it is incapable of meaningful action as the conjoined twins of passivity (born of fear of speaking up) and divisiveness (do you really think the red state/blue state nonsense has no origin or implication?) have been so thoroughly thrummed into the national anthem.

To loop back a few posts to Master Marsh’s quote that keeps on giving: I’ve come to believe this is less about can and can’t than about the challenge of doing. And not doing is always easier.

Complaining is no substitute for doing. Neither is ranting, which is why education is off limits for me. I do not know what to do and have no belief that a butterfly will come from a system directed by a few small minds so hell-bent on remaining a caterpillar.

The only thing I can think to do is echo a sentiment offered by John Taylor Gatto in this short clip: the system is great at hammering the individual deviant but is incapable of handling a mass of deviants. To the teacher who resigned in frustration and all those who have, will, want to, or do not yet know they can, join hands. Become a mass and deviate. Do the thing that you’ve been so trained not to do: speak out of turn. Stop raising your hand and join hands. The kids can’t resign and they need you to, as Neil Postman writes, become a “shockproof crap detector.”

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies.