Turn Around And Look [on Merely A Thought Monday]

A few years ago, while swimming in the world of entrepreneurs, I wrote a short book entitled The Seer. It was in many ways a process summary of the work of my life to that point. All of my work – whether in the visual arts, the theatre, diversity and intercultural facilitation, systems change, teaching…driving a bread truck, shoveling dirt…all of it, has in one way or another orbited the moon we call ‘story.’ Occasionally, I pull my little book from the shelf and read what I once knew because it seems more relevant now than when I wrote it.

For instance, the white house recently pulled the plug on all diversity training in government agencies. The reason is simple and explicitly stated: they do not like the story it tells of these-once-united-states. The story, they claim, is “anti-American.”

I structured my book around 9 Recognitions. The first is this: You do not have a problem. You have a pattern. We don’t have a problem. We have a pattern.

Our pattern, generation after generation, is the lengths we will go, the violence we will suffer, to ensure that we exclude a significant part of our story from the national telling. It is untenable to maintain a nation-story built on the ideal of equality that began with, among other things, the institution of slavery and the annihilation of native peoples. To avoid the full story guarantees a schizophrenic national persona. It perpetuates division. Ours is a pattern of adamant story avoidance.

The story works well for the white aristocracy that created it. It’s an exercise in celebrating Doctor Jekyll while denying the existence of Mr. Hyde. Those good guy settlers had to eliminate those pesky “Indians” because they stood in the way of a destiny that was manifest. What is the story as told from the Native American point of view? Or from the point of view of the black American that, to this day, everyday, navigates institutions designed to repress them? They have lived this history – this story of slavery, Jim Crow, and new forms of institutional violence. They are located in the story as the obstacle or the bad guy. The less-than-human.

Diversity training is nothing more than an attempt to tell the full story from all points of view. It is only made necessary because we have a deeply ingrained pattern of either dismissing the full story or pretending that our inequality is in the past.

We cannot become whole until we look in the mirror and reflect on the full picture. It is as ruthless as it is hopeful. It is as dark as it is bright. The path to health for any individual is to first admit that they have a dis-ease. The same is true of a nation.

In the recent actions of the white house, the response to the BLM movement, we are witnessing the latest in our pattern to severely edit our story made the more violent because diversity is percolating its way into the halls of power.

The slogans “Keep America Great” and “Make America Great” only make sense or have appeal to those committed to the Jekyll part of the story. They are the pattern. They are a rally cry to those who feel that in real equality they have something to lose. It’s an “all hands on deck” siren that will tolerate all manner of violence, ugly rhetoric, shaming, dereliction of duty, undermining of judicial integrity to avoid admitting the full story entrance into the American narrative.

The good news is that it is possible, once the full story is realized and the pattern is seen and told, to change the story. The tension is, after all, between conserving what was and progressing toward the ideal.

America may one day become great.

First, we must tire of our schizophrenia, our commitment to division and a system that works for the few. Doctor Jekyll must turn and take a good honest look at Mr. Hyde and stop pretending that the horror that follows him isn’t really there.

read Kerri’s blog post about GRRRREAT!

See The Opportunity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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In the past few days, two phrases have been injected into the common parlance in such a way as to be interchangeable: cancellation culture and replacement theory. Here we go!

Cancellation theory is a pop culture phrase – the withdrawal of support for a company or person after they say or do something offensive in the media-sphere. For instance, right now many advertisers are cancelling ads with Facebook until Facebook does a better job policing hate speech on its platform.

Replacement theory is a far-right conspiracy theory. It is scaremongering and asserts that, with the help of the “liberal elite,” the white population (and history) is being replaced with “non-Europeans.”

Conflate the two phrases, as was done with great intention at the foot of Mount Rushmore and again the next day at the national Independence Day celebration, and the fear-message is clear: them is out to cancel us. It’s a win/lose game and the dividing line runs along multiple fault lines but mostly racial and political. We’ve gone so far down the division-rabbit-hole that we turn our bile on ourselves. If successful, it is the tried and true fascist checkmate move.

Good heavens. It’s as if this nation is either short on brain cells, has no memory for history, or we are simply gullible to the point of believing almost anything. Sadly, Issac Asimov comes [again] to mind: There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Don’t we see this quote play out everyday in these United States? A cult of ignorance.

There is a vast difference between replacing a story and telling the full story. Communities and individuals are alike in this aspect: they cannot become whole until they deal with their shadow side. They cannot realize their promise until they have the courage to turn and deal with rather than deny the totality of their path.

In this moment we stand at a rare opportunity. The full story of our nation has some seriously ugly truths. Slavery is the original wound in the national psyche. Our rhetoric is and always has been out of alignment with our actions. And, because we have yet to fully face the gap between who we are and who we say we are, we continue re-creating the shadow, tearing open the wound. Systemic racism. Police brutality.

How do we know that we stand at this opportunity crossroads? The fearmongers are in full voice. The fox hole is working overtime to scare the ignorant to death. To the usual screeches of, “They’ll take away your second amendment right!” or “Socialism!” or ‘Protestors are thugs!”  add, “They’re trying to rewrite history!” or “The radical left, the marxists, the anarchists, the agitators,…the angry mob…is out to take away your freedoms” [insert eye roll].

The other night, having drinks at social distance across the driveway, John pondered how we would ever cross this gaping chasm, this canyon between the red and blue. I speculated that we really weren’t that far apart. Division is the tool of a weak leader and the propaganda machine that profits from his poverty of thought. We are being made to think our teams are irreconcilable. We are being force-fed a finite game, a world view of limited pie.

I suggested that, if people could pull their heads out of their propaganda-narrative, we might find that we are much closer in belief than we think. We might, at this crossroad of history, be able to step into our ideal rather than pander to the politics of identity. Ignorance is a choice, as is knowledge.  Somewhere beyond knowledge, wisdom is possible, but only if we have the courage to live what we espouse, to face the full truth of the wound. Then, maybe, just maybe, we might be able to live as if all are created equal. Embrace equal opportunity under the law. One nation bubbling with diverse people made strong with respect for diverse perspectives. Our story is, and always has been, multi-cultural. Apples AND oranges.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about APPLES AND ORANGES

 

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Ask The Essential Question [on KS Friday]

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Quinn told me that there are really only three questions: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do? All other questions can be boiled down to one of these essences. All stories can be reduced to one of these questions. And, the real kicker? There is never a single answer to these three essential questions. Life is always moving so, the moment you think you have an answer-by-the-tail, you’ve moved to a different place. You’ve changed. You will change again. And again. The story evolves. The long body of a life is rich in transition. Life is transition.

Change the pronoun. Who are we? Where are we going? What is ours to do? These are the questions beating at the heart of the American experiment. Our rhetoric is out of alignment with our reality. It turns out that our hero tale has a matching anti-hero story. We know it but do not deal with it. The shining city on the hill was built on the backs of slaves and sustains itself on a rolling subjugation of the latest arrivals. We revel in inequality while proudly pronouncing that all are created equal.

As master Shakespeare reminds us, “…but at length truth will out.” Our truth is out. We are a festival of inequity. There is a yawning maw between the haves and the have-nots. It is by design and not by accident. It is not our problem as much as it is our pattern. And so, we  ask one of the essential questions: Who are we? And, in asking it, we must first look at how we define the pronoun ‘we.’ WE. The people. Who are WE? White male land owners? The one percent? Or, many diverse and rich origin stories come together in a promise of one nation, a nation of equal opportunity for all devoid of exploitation? It is the ideal. Is it the intention? Who do we want to be?

WE, as I understand it, is all inclusive. Multi-cultural as one. Both/And.

I take heart. Every caterpillar has a melt down phase en route to becoming a butterfly. The mush phase is necessary to fulfilling the mature promise, the expression of the ideal. In transition.

 

IN TRANSITION is on Kerri’s album RELEASED FROM THE HEART

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IN TRANSITION

 

 

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in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

waiting and knowing ©️ 2015 david robinson

Contrast [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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It is the ultimate cliche’: we only know light because of dark. 20 calls this the contrast principle. Images juxtaposed illuminate. It’s how stories are told in film. Once. Upon. A. Time. It is how images pop off the canvas, blue next to orange, green meets purple. Contrast makes the eye move. Contrast makes shapes emerge. Movement has no meaning without stillness.

It’s relative. Related. Relationship. Without relativity, without contrast, nothing makes sense. Or, more to the point, nothing is sensed. Difference, in fact, is the secret sauce necessary for knowing anything. Category. Class. Classification. Group. What is like what? What is related? What is unrelated? Cubicle. Caste. Lines on a map.

Contrast can be wielded like a sword. They are not us. Division.

Or, contrast can be used to unify. A crossroads of diverse perspectives, innovation.

Nature is dynamic at its edges. Water meets beach. Earth meets water. Air breathes fire. Hot meets cold. Convection current. Contrast. Changing energies. Creative movement.

Kerri stopped during our walk. “Look!” she exclaimed. Her eye was drawn to the lone daisy in the midst of the sea of black-eyed susans. “Beautiful,” she whispered as she approached with her camera. “Look at the contrast.”

So similar. So different. Yellow meets white. Black meets yellow.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CONTRAST

 

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daisy in the black-eyed susans ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

Coexist and Thrive [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Kerri told me that this was an image of coexistence. Cultivated plants sharing space with the wild ones. What-has-been holding court with what-just-popped-up. Intention linking fingers with the spontaneous. Stop me before I over-analogize myself!

Diversity is what makes nature tick. Googling biodiversity, I came across this phrase-that-says-it-all: greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms. Nothing, truly nothing, is independent. No thought, no being, no creative impulse is without precedent or ancestry. Great sites of innovation are – and have always been – found at the crossroads of culture. Life feeds life.

Picasso stepped onto the shoulders of Cezanne and painted his first cubist masterpiece in the same year that Einstein published his theory of relativity. These are not accidental statements.

Great artists, like great scientists, know that they are more discoverer than originator. They carry forward traditions, explore variations, rather than invent entirely new paths. Curators like to propel the story of ‘original’ because it makes a better story. Being the first to step on the moon is a better story than being the second but it is always wise to keep in mind that neither invented the moon.

Cultures that isolate are doomed to wither. Fear of otherness forges nationalist and moralists alike. Purity is a nice word, an abstract that may exist in a laboratory but is not found anywhere in nature.  Innovation, growth..all of life, yes, even economies, need rich diversity in order to thrive. Just like dandelions in a cornfield.  The evidence is all around us and all we need do is open our eyes.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COEXISTENCE

 

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Live Without Fear [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Last week we met my niece and her husband in Lake Geneva for a glass of wine. They’ve been living overseas and were gobsmacked at the recent changes in our nation. “How do you have conversations?” she asked, adding, “Everyone is so angry. It’s impossible to talk about anything important. It’s impossible to discuss or debate ideas or points of view.”

“It’s a minefield,” I said, not really knowing what else to say. There is so much anger which can only mean there is so much fear. The only thing that makes sense to me is that our nation, an ongoing experiment, is cutting through the weeds of our central question: can people of diverse backgrounds come together and live united in a single narrative? If the past two years was your only evidence the answer would be a resounding NO. Thankfully, there is a broader sample. We are a work in progress.

No one can see clearly the times in which they live. And, since the conversation last week has been much on my mind, and an answer to the pervasive fear is no where to be found [and would be a ruse at best], for insight I can only offer A Two Artist Tuesday Quote Collision:

“The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that aren’t so.” ~ Mark Twain

“The idea of a causal universe and a social order built on universal moral laws is toppled by the uncertainty principle. The absolute is replaced by the relative…. Reality becomes a matter of highly variable conventions, rather than a set of fixed and eternal facts.”  ~Jamake Highwater [Jamake gets the award for consecutive quotes. He also made an appearance yesterday!]

“A lot of lip service gets paid to being honest, but no one really wants to hear it unless what’s being said is the party line.”~ Colin Quinn

It is not an accident that our science, our art, and our politics are roiling in relativity. It IS our current common narrative. Contemporary art, like modern science, began with breaking down the idea of absolutes. Politics and public opinion do not lead but they follow.

The experiment is no longer confined to our shores: in a global economy, in the age of 24 hour news cycles, Facebook, Twitter and Google, in our age-and-stage of relativity, can people of diverse backgrounds come together and live united in a single narrative called relativity? Can we transcend our fear of otherness and step outside of our echo chambers? Can we listen as passionately as we proclaim? It seems that it will require a great deal of respect for otherness with a high degree of empathy and low investment in self-righteousness.

Well, we’ll see.

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read Kerri’s blog post about LIVING WITHOUT FEAR

 

www.kerrianddavid.com

 

living without fear ©️ 2006/2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson

Protect Our Diversity

Many years ago, sitting in a Starbucks, my brother told me that I should be careful because not everyone wanted the diversity I was promoting. His warning struck me as odd. At the time I was partners in a business that facilitated diversity training and change dynamics. I was traveling to many places in this nation, north, south, east, west, and places in the middle, to work with people in corporations and schools and communities who’d come up against the startling reality that all people do not share the same reality, that equality is an ideal not yet realized, that we are a nation defined by our other-ness.

When I was in school I was taught that the USA was a melting pot, a hot crucible into which people of many backgrounds, creeds, and colors were transformed into something stronger. I was taught that we were a nation of immigrants. It is printed on our currency: e pluribus unum. Out of the many, one. Why, then, would I need to be careful? Diversity was not something I was promoting, it was (and is) our circumstance. It was an identity I was helping people navigate in their workplaces and communities.

I read somewhere that the real challenge of the American Experiment is that we have to reinvent ourselves everyday. Because we are not (and never have been) able to share a common ethnic-religious-origin story, we must strive everyday to create a shared story. We create our story. We were, at our inception, an experiment in other-ness. To insist that we were meant to be singular – white and Christian – is a concoction. Our shared story begins with the single common thread that runs through most of our ancestral paths: we came from some other place seeking freedom in one form or another: religious freedom, freedom from persecution, the freedom to pursue opportunities. What binds us, the single story-blanket under which we can all crawl, is our diversity. Out of the many, one.

There is and always has been a tension in our story creation. Each new wave of others is resisted and often persecuted by the previous wave. When, in a nation of diverse backgrounds, in a country made strong by its multiplicity, does one actually become an American? And, what does an American look like? And, how far are we from living the ideal of all being created equally? With liberty and justice for all? It’s a moving target at best. It is a worthy ideal and worth the struggle.

The Experiment, like all experiments, has had some miserable failures. It has taken some giant strides forward. It is riddled with paradoxes and often runs into a hard wall of hypocrisy. We’ve torn ourselves in half and pasted ourselves back together. We’ve had our share of hate-mongers and xenophobes. We have one now. And, we always transcend them because we do not run on fear or anger but on promise and opportunity. The conservative impulse is always at odds with the progressive desire. It provides the heat for the crucible. It provides the tension for creativity and growth.

The greatest centers of innovation and entrepreneurship in the history of humankind have all been crossroads, places where many cultures cross paths and come together. Difference is a great opener of eyes and minds. We are an intentional crossroads, a meeting place by design. Our make-up of differences might be the single reason why we have grown as a nation of invention, advancement, and possibility.

In one aspect my brother was right: I should be careful, we should be careful to protect and keep the ideal in the center. It is worth marching for, it is worth challenging the fear-mongering and stepping in the way of a leader who plays on anger to create division. We should be careful to honor and steward The Experiment forward to the next generation of diverse Americans.

 

 

 

Take A Peak Beyond Appearances

483. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Pal is a taxi driver. He was the driver at the head of the cue so he gave Lora and me a lift from the airport to our apartment. It’s a twenty-minute ride, no time at all yet enough for the story of a life. In 20 minutes we learned that Pal is from the Pujab region in India. He has lived and worked in the US for 25 years. With the exception of his father, his family now lives in the United States. He was mugged during one of his graveyard shifts at the 7-Eleven because he would not buy stolen property from a man who wandered in one night. He is a Sikh though he no longer wears his turban; he’s cut his hair and his beard. To a Sikh, cutting the hair and the beard are not done without good reason. Pal’s reason is safety. In the United States he has been beaten for his appearance. It’s better to fit in than to be beaten.

Central to the Sikh’s belief are radical notions like the equality of humankind and universal brotherhood. In my twenty minutes with Pal I learned that he was generous, gentle, bright, present, and open-hearted. He was not in a hurry. He loved his family. He worked hard. We unloaded our bags from the taxi and stood with Pal to continue our conversation. He showed us a picture of what he looked like before he went into hiding by cutting his hair and beard.

When Pal drove away I was awash with conflicting feelings. I was so grateful for our magic taxi conversation and his generosity – and equally saddened that in a country that prides itself on individualism, this man, this good man, does not feel safe being an individual. He was not beaten for his actions; he was beaten for his looks.

Once, someone I love but do not understand told me that, “not all Americans want this diversity thing;” an odd sentiment in a country comprised of immigrants. Evidently the diversity in his neighborhood made him uncomfortable and rather than walk toward it and meet his neighbors he chose to close his front door and fear. I wonder if he would have recognized Pal’s kindness or held him suspect because he looked different.

Of this I am certain: those who do not want this “diversity thing” are missing out. This “diversity thing” is a human thing and there are extraordinary treasures (human beings who do not look like you) all around. It only takes a moment to peak beyond the appearance, ask a question, and find the riches.