Give Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Viktor Frankel

We walked downtown a few days after the fires. We decided it was time to go see for ourselves what had happened in our town only a few blocks from our home. In truth, the sound of speeches ringing through the neighborhood drew us. We were already walking when we first heard them. We couldn’t understand what they were saying or where exactly they were coming from so we followed the sound. The amplified voices and cheering bounced off the buildings and sometimes seemed to be coming from all directions.

We followed the echo to the street that runs by the civic center. From a distance we could see the crowd. ACLU observers wearing blue vests roamed the area. There was a first aid center. Tables were manned to distribute water to the crowd. When we saw the burned out car lot Kerri took out her camera and began taking pictures. “Why did they burn this?” she asked. Yes. Why?

It is uniquely human to ask why. To need an explanation. We attempt to record and document. To gather evidence. All in the pursuit of sense-making. To find meaning. And, if no meaning is easily found, no readily graspable answer to “Why?” is available, it is among our greatest human powers to make it.

To make meaning. To find meaning.

Viktor Frankel, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, asked “Why did some people survive and some not? He looked for an attribute that favored survival in such extreme, random and deadly conditions. He concluded that, after sheer luck, survival in the camps favored people who made meaning from their circumstance. The people who sought meaning from their circumstance soon lost hope. He wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

On the hood of one of the burned out cars someone had stenciled this appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans. What might it take for us to be better humans?

When I was in elementary school great pains were taken to teach me how to be a good human and function in a civilized society. Wait for my turn. Open the door for someone with their hands full. Help where you can. Listen to others. Raise my hand before speaking. All of these simple lessons shared one thing in common, a specific organizing principle: consider others. Be considerate to others. Good humans are mindful and cooperative.

All of these simple lessons ran contrary to the rules I was taught about succeeding in the world: it’s dog-eat-dog. It’s a fierce competition. Do whatever it takes. In other words, it’s every man and woman for themselves. It’s just business.

So, like all of us, I’ve wrestled with the national schizophrenia: I can either be a good human and consider others or I can succeed. Not both. Said another way: in order to succeed I have to abandon my goodness.

As is the case with most either/or framing, it is a false choice. Money need not be absent of morality. Success can be the blossom of compassion.

It is important as we stand at this national crossroad, this opportunity for reckoning with our past, that we look at this polarity, that we step into the gaps between all of the false choices, black and white. Our troubles will not go away until we attempt to live our rhetoric, until we unpin white success from black subjugation. Equality of opportunity, equal justice, equal (fill in the blank) has not been afforded all members of our community. To be better humans we need to challenge our either/or false choices and instead walk toward a center that includes a full spectrum of color, choices and opportunities for all.

If we can find our center, if we can challenge our rhetoric, we just might find our path to being better humans living in healthy inclusive society. In the end, we may even come to the same conclusion as did Viktor Frankel: “I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BE BETTER HUMANS

Give It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Janus is a Roman god with two faces. He looks to the future and peers into the past. He is the god of beginnings and endings, transitions, doorways, and passages. He is the god of gateways, the liminal spaces, the between.

Janus must certainly be the god that we dance with on this island, a community defined by divisions, married to its conflicts but also, at least rhetorically, desiring peace.

Kerri and I are the stewards of a performing arts center that is, as Julian Dawson said, punching above its weight. It is the symbol of division in the community, the epicenter of discord, the rope in a very ugly tug-of-war. All of the fault lines run through it. Yet, as Janus would remind us, it then must also hold the path to unity, the potential for common ground.

All in the community want the doors to be wide open; none want the responsibility that comes with access. They want the center, the art, to serve them. They do not yet comprehend that any alive and vital art space is, in fact, the opposite: a place of service to others. Arts spaces and the artists the enliven them are keepers of the commons, the stewards of the stories that unite.

In another life I ran an educational theatre company. It boomed into life the day that the artists, the students, grocked that art was in fact a gift given to others, something they brought to people, not something (like attention or fame or a spotlight) that they got from people.

This island, this center, will someday boom into life. They will discover that the rope in the tug of war goes slack when they walk toward each other. Pulling in opposition exhausts everyone. They will come alive when they cease asking, “What do we get?” and start asking, “What do we bring?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EDGES

 

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Expand Your Bubble [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Everyone has their insurmountable mountain to climb. Everyone has their fear to face. Everyone bumps against the edges of their comfort zone. Everyone.

And, the beauty of this life is that the insurmountable mountain is different for everyone. What seems easy to you might be impossibly scary to me. You show me it is possible. I show you it can be done. We inspire another look at what’s possible.

In the film, FREE SOLO, Alex Honnold says that, for him, fear is not something to be conquered. Comfort is something to be expanded. And, comfort is expanded through exploration and practice. Through experiences and reaching. Testing and discovery. Trying again and again until what once looked like a monster becomes known. It’s remarkably practical. It is what education is supposed to be.

How we ask the question determines the paths we see or don’t see. It’s all in the language we use. “Facing a fear” is oh, so, warrior-esque. We are inundated with “going to battle” metaphors. Defeating a part of myself in a battle against myself seems…contrary to the bigger picture. Win by losing. Division as the only available route? Armor, armor everywhere.

There is wisdom in putting down the swordplay. There is hope in choosing cooperation instead of conflict. Instead of picking a fight, instead of perpetuating the power of the fear, how much better might it be to turn and look. Really look. Study. To reach and test. To take a step. To try and fall down so that you might try again with a little bit more experience. Study. Open to possibilities.

It’s a pattern. Focusing on the obstacle, fighting the fear, is learned. It’s a great strategy for keeping yourself afraid and encased in armor. Other patterns are available and far more productive. It’s possible to climb like Alex: study your mountain, learn the terrain, practice the difficult moves over and over, internalize safety, and one day, when you are ready, when you have a relationship with something other than fear, climb your once insurmountable mountain.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on COMFORT ZONES

 

 

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Root In Love [on Chicken Marsala Monday]

from studio melange, a quiet suggestion for the start of the new week.

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For me, this Chicken Nugget falls into the category of what-more-needs-to-be-said. And then I hear the chorus of voices blaring from my past work-life that would call this Nugget idealistic pie-in-the-sky blather.  “We live in a dog-eat-dog world!” they cry. “It’s survival of the fittest!” To that chorus I need to say more. Dog-eat-dog is a belief system, not an inevitability.  Survival of the fittest is a harsh lens and there are, in fact, other lenses available. It’s possible to learn the distinction between human nature and acculturation. Through a different lens all of life is cooperative.

The noise of our airwaves, the chatter of our day is most certainly rooted in fear. It may not seem like a choice but the fear-root is an unnatural selection. People have to work hard to hate. Sadly, I admit, division sells, so the hard work of fear is routinely justified and rabidly defended.

Human nature rises through the noise and becomes visible when disaster strikes. Love is what we see when the hurricanes hit, when the forest fires rage. People running into fire to help. People risking their lives to save others because, in those moments, the truth is out: there is no separation. The political blather drops away. The moralistic chiming rings hollow. It is human nature to reach, not reject. To help, not to hurt.

It’s obvious and all around us if we take off the fear lens and look. Root in love. What-more-needs-to-be-said.

ROOT IN LOVE gifts & reminders

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read kerri’s blog post about ROOT IN LOVE

www.kerrianddavid.com

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