Consider The Circumstance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Easy Way Down. We laughed. The sign only makes sense in the context of winter and deep, ski-able snow. Just out of the frame of this photograph is a chair lift. There is an easy way down because there is an easy way up. Later, as we knew we would have to do, we matched our easy walk down with a breathless slog back to the top.

Circumstance is everything. Sense-making requires a context. Stories only make sense within a specific context. Plunk a choice or a story line into an unrelated context and it seems like madness. Or stupidity. Yank Romeo and Juliet from the context of a society deeply divided by conflict and there is no story. There is no obstacle. It becomes the story of two delusional self-absorbed teenagers. Their choices would seem ridiculous without their circumstance.

I’m certain that Captain Obvious is yawning at my pedestrian observation. Circumstance is everything to sense-making. “So what!” the good Captain sighs.

Well, stop for a moment and consider this: we are in the grips of a worldwide pandemic. That is our circumstance. On this day in these once-united-states, roughly 8 months into our pandemic circumstance, over 220,000 of our citizens have perished from the virus. More than 8 million Americans have been infected. There are 42 million cases world-wide with more than 1 million deaths.

I might agree that a mask mandate – absent the circumstance of a global pandemic – might seem like an infringement on my personal liberties. It would make no sense. However, within the context of a global pandemic, railing against simple public protective measures – mask-wearing, social-distancing, washing hands – seems like so-much-lunacy.

The pandemic is our circumstance. Despite whatever noise and misdirection is being circulated within the fox-bubble, the pandemic is our circumstance. Denying the existence of a pandemic while the rates of infection break records daily is the madhouse equivalent of dumping Frodo and his mission into a Hallmark movie [a Hobbit with a mission finds himself in Christmas town where nice looking citizens offer him hot cocoa and the opportunity to find love in a tree farm]. It makes those within the fox-bubble crying “HOAX!” seem angry, petulant, delusional, and self-absorbed. It makes their dedicated resistance to mask-wearing and social-distancing infantile. It makes their gun-toting, testosterone-riddled protestations puerile.

The pandemic is our circumstance. It is the circumstance of the world. Denying it does not make it go away. As Doug might have said, “Wow! Every goddamn country in the world is pretending to have a deadly pandemic just to throw an election in the USA! I’ll bet that took some serious diplomacy!” [note: his language would have been much more salty]. Denying our circumstance creates worldwide incredulity at our utter stupidity and, above all, facilitates the spread of the virus.

I’m certain that theatre companies across this land are planning productions of Romeo and Juliet set in America 2020. Romeo is a child of the Blues, Juliet is the child of the Reds. The two youngsters, for a moment, with hearts full of new love, transcend their circumstance. Their society’s dedication to division will, of course, kill them both. Remember, too, that other cherished family members die along the way. Mercutio. Paris. It’s an old story asking a current question: how many will have to die, what [or who] is the loss so great that it/they will finally and at last open our eyes?

The pandemic is our circumstance.

read Kerri’s blog post about EASY WAY DOWN

See The Pattern [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“The United States, virtually a demilitarized nation on the eve of the Second World War, never stood down in the wake of victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.”’ ~ Wade Davis, The Unraveling of America

The most remarkable thing about these toy soldiers on a dish, is that a child did not place them in the garden. The adults did. People regularly place statues in their gardens, a Buddha or the Virgin Mary or gnomes or fairies. They are statements of value. They are statements of identity. Little guardians with powers no bigger than their guns.

In the words of Captain Obvious, the United States is rife with contradictions. In our sacred founding documents we wrote that “All men are created equal,” while simultaneously legislating that black men (and women) were less than human. It’s the crevasse we fall into again and again, our metaphoric original sin. The people currently protesting on the streets across this land simply want the rhetoric of the nation to align with the actions of the nation. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Today in Kenosha we await the unwelcome arrival of the commander-in-chief, a leader whose has only one note to pluck: division. The white nationalists are taking to the streets, waving their flags and chanting, “Four more years.”  For a nation comprised of immigrants from all over the planet, the world’s greatest crossroads, it seems more-than-absurd that anyone in this nation could or would revel in xenophobia. It’s astounding that the leader of a nation so rich in diversity would throw gasoline on the fires of racism. Contradiction upon contradiction. It’s farcical.

Or, perhaps it’s not contradiction at all. As Shakespeare wrote, “The truth will out.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that “the most warlike nation in the history of the world” is habitually at war with itself. The battle lines are as clear as the vast difference in the photographs comparing the Republican and Democrat members of the 116th Congress Members-Elect [scroll the article to see the photographs]. Ours is a war of identity and the dividing line runs along the color line. More Captain Obvious, I know [my apologies].

We do not have a problem, we have a pattern. And, to change our pattern of division and internal war, we need only take an honest look at the story we tell ourselves. The story we continue to tell ourselves about ourselves. We need to take a good honest look at who fits into the definition of “ourselves.” Right now we have two working definitions. And, that is our pattern. A pattern of conflicting definitions (inclusion vs. exclusion) works for some but is misery for most. Division by design.

Taking an honest look at ourselves is easily said. Even Captain Obvious is rolling his eyes!

The truth will out. It’s in our gardens. It’s in our statues. It’s in our streets. It’s on the images of brutality we capture on our iPhones. It’s in our tax codes and how we fund our schools and the children killed by guns while at school. It’s in our COVID-19 morbidity data and the populations of our prisons. The truth will out again and again and again until we decide to look at it with honesty, until we learn that our words matter, until we resolve to tell a different story, a story that lines up with our professed ideals. Until we decide that perpetual war is not a pattern that leads to social harmony and peace.

And, it’s a choice. Nothing more, Nothing less. Obviously.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TOYS IN THE GARDEN

 

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Care Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is my broken record moment: a system will do what it was designed to do. Sitting as I am in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the latest national flashpoint, I feel I have a front row seat to the system activating in response to a challenge.

Our system was designed to prevent “the unity of the commoner” in order to keep the focus off of the ruling aristocracy. This morning I read this sentence in the news: The president is fanning the flames of violence and dividing the country for political gain. The implication of Trump’s attacks is that there is a binary choice between law and order, and offering understanding and a path to justice for Black Americans.

A binary choice. A false choice. The commoners can EITHER have law and order OR they can stand for equal justice for all Americans. With equality comes the possibility of unity and unity is a threat to the system. In other news, just as you might suspect, vigilantism is on the rise. The system is responding exactly as designed.

Here’s the conundrum: we believe that protest and civil unrest are the path to real systems change and yet protest and civil unrest always split the community (prevent the unity of commoners). The path to social change in the USA cannot come from division. It might start there but it has to transcend the designed divide.

While the pandemic rages and the commoners are fighting each other on the streets, the stock market has soared. The United States has the highest level of income inequality among the countries in the G-7 and the gap is growing. It is not an accident that Fox News has its Henny Penny followers running around screaming “Socialism!” at the very time that America boldly steps toward an oligarchy.

My dad used to tell me that I’d educated myself into stupidity and I’d shake my head. Why would anyone choose to be uninformed? An ignorant populace is easily swung by the nose. An ignorant populace might have guns but they are unarmed where the real danger lurks.  It seems a good many of us are happily manipulated, hungrily eating anger and hate rather than asking a question or bothering to scratching the paint to discover if what we’re being sold is true or a con. It’s easy to check a fact or a source but you first must want to do it. That is where we fall down. We simply do not care. We opt for tribal division and easy blame over communal health – again, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Caring enough to question. That, too is an option. Caring enough to question is a possible path forward but requires us to look beyond the spoon-fed-rhetoric, the misinformation campaigns, and the intentionally stoked fires of division. It requires us in our questioning to shift our focus from the fight to the workings of “the ruling aristocracy.”

There’s also this: the businesses in downtown Kenosha and beyond are boarded up. The people of the community came out to paint them with messages of hope and support. Stamped on the hood of a burned out car is an appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans.

The impulse for change and a better world is there. A river of hope is there. The voices from the angry fringe will always shout loudest but I have to believe the vast majority, the quiet people who come out to paint, are looking for a common ground. There is hope, lots of hope, if we can take a look in our national mirror and see that we are doing exactly what the system is determining that we do. If we see it, we might be able to care enough to question, to deny the divide. We might be able to come together. We might be able to find a way to do better, to be better humans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

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Know And Share [on Merely A Thought Monday]

 

If you were alive in the 1980’s you’ll remember Robert Fulgrum’s book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.  It is a festival of simple-yet-clear-advice for living well. Play fair. Share everything. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone. Each bit of advice is a nod to our inter-connectivity. No one walks this path alone. Hold hands. Stick together.

Visit Robert Fulgrum’s homepage and you’ll read this: “Often, without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives.” Mutual influence. We impact each other everyday in ways that we remain mostly unaware.

If this pandemic has done anything illuminating it has proven beyond doubt how utterly interconnected we actually are. My breath and your breath are intimate exchanges. My choices and your choices will either harm or help each other. It’s a choice. Your story and my story may be diametrically opposed and warring but they both must adhere to the force of gravity, the nature of time, the spread of virus. This virus actually thrives when we shout at each other. It rides our aerosols in a rodeo of mutual influence and cares not for the political color of the lungs it inhabits. After all. truth and misinformation share the same airspace, touch the same doorknobs, are broadcast over the same technology, are paid for and brought to us by the same commercial sponsors.

One of the things Robert Fulgrum learned in kindergarten and wrote about is this: goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

This virus cares not whether we love or hate each other in the precious bit of life that we share. About us, its host, it is utterly agnostic. On the other hand, we have the choice. It’s a choice and seems so simple. Play fair. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Like it our not, recognize it our not, our lives are in each other’s hands.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ELEMENTARY SCHOOL RULES

 

 

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in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

Learn to Look [on KS Friday]

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“At the heart of beauty must be a huge care and affection for creation, for nowhere is beauty an accidental presence.” John O’Dononue, Beauty, The Invisible Embrace

I read yesterday in my Brain Pickings that Georgia O’Keeffe believed her close-up paintings were “a magnifying lens for paying attention.” I read and appreciated this phrase: Painting these close-ups was a way of learning to look, a way of removing the blinders with which we gallop through the world, slowing down, shedding our notions and concepts of things, and taking things in as they really are.

It is the astonishing miracle of a human being: we can choose to see or choose to not see. Also, we can choose what we see or we can choose to deny what is right in front of us. In any case, seeing is predicated on slowing down, on taking the time to “shed our notions and concepts of things.”

Seeing is an intentional act or perhaps it is a creation-in-the-moment – which implies it is an intentional relationship. In this way, as I understand it, seeing the beauty of this life is a decision, it is a lens. It is a dance.

I’ve never been in a hot-air balloon. Kerri had the experience once, it is the source of this composition. Hovering in a basket above the earth, moving with the wind, very few controls. It was, I imagine, an exercise of giving over, of letting go. I think seeing is like the experience she describes of hanging in the basket of a hot-air balloon. All concepts of hurry-up or getting-things-done drop away. Hard time dissolves. There is nowhere else to be. And, in that space, beauty makes known her presence. She opens your eyes.

 

PART OF THE WIND is on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PART OF THE WIND

 

 

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part of the wind/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

  blanket of blue sky ©️ 2004 david robinson

Face Them [on KS Friday]

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The dream was vivid. I was being chased by a pack of very large demons. Terrified, I was becoming exhausted when I saw a door into a warehouse. I quickly jumped through the door, looking for a place to hide. To my chagrin, the warehouse was empty. Swept clean. No walls. A vast, open and exposed floor. The demons came through the door behind me. There was no other door. No way out. My only option was to turn and face them. So, I did.

They rushed me. But, to my surprise, as I stood my ground, facing them, as they raced snarling toward me, they began to shrink. The closer they came, the smaller they got. By the time they reached me they were no larger than ants. They had no power over me at all.

All along, all I needed to do was stop running from them. All I ever needed to do was to turn and face them. To see what they were, not what I feared they were.

This dream – so many years ago – helped me understand hope – a word that is both a verb and a noun, a thing and an action. A wish and a want. Hope, like happiness, ensues. It is not found up front, it follows. It is meaning that becomes available when a choice is made.

This nation, running so long from its demons, is once again, standing in a vast empty warehouse. There is no place to hide. When we recognize that all we can do is turn and face our demons, our racially divided path, the inequity-demons plaguing us may grow smaller. They may lose their power over us entirely.

The choice to stop running and turn. The choice to face the demons. In that moment, hope will arise.

 

HOPE on the album THIS SEASON is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

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hope/this season ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

pray now ©️ 2010 david robinson

See The Whole [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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The joke from my master’s program was that you couldn’t graduate until you could explain in a sentence what the degree meant. Whole Systems Design with an emphasis on Cultural Mythology and Transformational Art. I designed an individual track so I named the emphasis myself. Just don’t ask me what it means. I’ll kill the party going on and on and on. You’ll never get to the snack table. Really. Don’t ask.

Whole systems is the study of how everything – everything – is interrelated. It is only a trick of our brains and the limitations of language that anything can be compartmentalized and understood as separate. Everything interacts as a single system. Roger used to say, “When people hurt their toe they say that it is only their toe that is injured. NO! It’s their whole body that is injured.” Walking funny with a broken toe always gets you in the back and then becomes a pain in the neck. And then you become a whiny pain in the neck and create headaches for everyone in the family. The family complains to their friends and the broken toe spreads discord throughout the land.

Roger’s statement is a whole system’s statement. It highlights the illusion language places on our interrelated world. Language necessarily reduces. It provides the funny fantasy that we are separate, individuals, having little or no impact on the world with our individual actions. If you want an example of the fantasy in full force you need look no further than doubters of humanity’s impact on climate.  All you need do is breathe and you are interacting with the environment. 7.6 billion people driving 1.4 billion cars, not to mention the over 100,000 planes in the air each day, the deforestation of the Amazon…and it is gob-smacking that we require science to state what should be obvious with every breath we take.

I found that the real challenge of defining whole systems design to people at dinner parties was not the reality of inter-relatedness. The notion evokes the inner Mother Teresa in everyone at the table. We all matter and can have an impact. No, the real challenge was that the concept places us – humans – within the system and not sitting atop the creation pyramid. It makes us participants and not landlords. It makes us responsible to the system.  We matter. We have impact.

There is no greater teacher of interrelation than this pandemic. There can be no denying that our actions matter, we are intimately connected, that the smallest choice impacts the whole. Stay at home. Wear a mask. All you need do is breathe and you are interacting with the rest of the world. Literally. Everyday is a master class in interconnection. The polluted air is clearing, the animals are reveling in our quarantine.

And, we’re experiencing the magic language-compartmentalization-game in full force: words like “economy” are being placed against words like “health” as if we need to choose between one and the other. Who lives. Who dies. We’re hearing a ridiculous (and dangerous) framing of reality: the cure can’t be worse than the disease. There is no separation. The system is whole, dynamic and supports the actions and choices of all members in the system.

The toe is pandemic-broken. The whole body is hurting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TO BEE

 

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knowing and waiting, mixed media, 48 x 48IN

Tickle Open The Closed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It used to be one of my favorite exercises to facilitate. Ask one person in a small group to tell a story of blame. Ask the rest of the group to invest in the story. In no time the small groups would be indignant, talking over each other in disgruntlement. A klatch of agitated victims, howling.  They’d laugh in their aggravated frenzy. They’d devise clever revenge or ways to torment the object of their blame story. They’d grow a monster.

Blame stories are like sugar. They are easy to eat and highly addictive. There’s rarely any real substance, so much gossip-cotton-candy, but there is an odd pleasure in playing the role of  “the injured party.” The groups would always reflect that the exercise was fun. So much so that they’d often forget it was an exercise. Commiseration and validation, after all, are the point of a blame story. That, and making someone else responsible for how we feel.

Ask the same groups to tell a story of choice or opportunity and most times, after only a minute or two, they’d sit in silence. Their, “Great. That’s really great,” support would dwindle. Feeding an idea is not nearly as easy as feeding a story of blame.

Quinn used to tell me that creativity is not for the faint of heart.

The groups were always shocked to discover how much of their lives were spent chewing the gristle of discontent, of feeding the notion that someone else was to blame for their choices or their circumstance. They’d generally comment on how easy it was to commiserate and how difficult it is to question, challenge or stop the blame-game. Mostly, they were shocked to discover how little of their time they dedicated to feeding ideas, theirs or another persons.

Blame stories are easy because they are reductive. They engender tight little balls of closed minds and closed circles. They close hearts. They take almost no energy at all to spark but, once burning, like a wildfire, they are capable of consuming entire forests.

Idea exploration is expansive. Seeing possibilities requires eyes that look up and out.  It takes much more energy to imagine, to question, to ponder. To try. To experiment. To ask. To challenge what you think you know. Opening minds, opening circles and hearts requires a deep sense of self-responsibility. It requires an even deeper sense of responsibility to others.

One of the purposes of the artist is to open closed circles, to tickle open closed minds. To help their community see anew and entertain never-before-imagined possibilities.

It takes more effort and courage to sail to the edges of the known world than it does to hang out around the water cooler and complain about others. Great minds do not have more capacity than any other mind, but they do require a very different focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GREAT MINDS & IDEAS

 

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FaceTheRain

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Stand On Any Street Corner [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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For reasons that are beyond my pay-grade to comprehend, human beings are obsessed with seeing conflict and division. The news of the day is generally antagonistic and despair-inducing – and that is not unique to our day. Ancient temples and modern televisions alike are overrun with images of war and hostility.

One of the greatest powers a human being can achieve is the power of focus placement. ‘Seeing’ is, after all, a matter of choice.  It is not passive. In any given moment there are multiple points of focus, there are multiple stories, there are many interpretations to choose from.

Stand on any street corner and watch the world happen. Watch the overwhelming number of acts of kindness and generosity. The small moments of simple kindness and consideration. They are everywhere. People giving way, making way, helping. You will be surprised to find that the kindnesses by far outnumber the rudeness, the antagonism.

Stand on any street corner and watch where your focus goes. In the midst of a tsunami of kindness, if you are human and like all other humans, your focus will be captured by the angry guy honking his horn, the commuter shouting at the bus driver. “Such an angry world,” you think and close your eyes, despairing. Anger is so much louder than kindness.

Tell a story of discord, see a story of discord. Practice a story of discord, live a story of discord. Discord is easily leveraged. Division is easily sold. It is like selling candy to a kid. It is readily chiseled into pillars and hungrily read into teleprompters.  It is so easy to see.

Tell a story of kindness, see a story of kindness. Practice a story of kindness, live a story of kindness. Although it is more readily available it is, somehow, more difficult to see. It is less sell-able and, so, is discarded as trite. It requires choice and discernment rather than default. It requires opening your eyes and your story to what is actual, what lives beyond the thundering chorus of conflict-peddlers.

The angry shooters and tweet-happy presidents live on the far margins yet they garner the majority of the attention. Stand on any street corner and open your eyes. There is a sweeping quiet kindness that permeates the vast majority, that defines the middle ground. You can see it if you so choose.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

 

 

 

 

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Appreciate The Garbage [on Merely A Thought Monday]

your past copyWe saw this phrase on a Baptist church signboard en route to the Des Plaines river trail: your past should not dictate your future.

I read somewhere that we spend the first half of our life stuffing a bag full of garbage and the second half of our life unpacking and sorting through it. If it is true that we must make mistakes in order to learn, then much of what we judge as garbage must also be the necessary ingredient for growth. Context is everything.

When we first met, Kerri introduced me to a song by Rascal Flatts called Bless The Broken Road. Our conversation was a shared soul searching about all things we’d done in the past and labeled as ‘mistakes’. These ‘mistakes’ set off chains of events that led to the really good things in our lives. One of them led to our meeting. “You have to listen to this song,” she said. God bless the broken road.

Forgiveness seems hard to extend to others but almost impossible to extend to ourselves. Mistakes. Garbage. Broken roads. Who really knows where a path leads? Who really knows the impact of any decision or choice? It is easy to look back on a choice and criticize it because it is also easy to forget the pressures-of-the-moment and future-blindness that factor into our choices. Hindsight is not as clear as advertised.

When we were young Roger told me that he didn’t want to have any regrets when he looked back on his life. At the time I agreed. Now, I know that a life void of regret is a life lived on a too narrow spectrum, a protected life. A life free of risk. And, that life, inevitably comes with one single but whopping regret: it wasn’t really lived.

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAST DICTATES

 

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