Blink Open Your Eyes [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In an interview, Thomas Friedman called what we now face in this nation a “slow erosion.” Societies do not collapse all at once. They slow boil, frog in a pot.

Timothy Snyder said, ‘Ideas matter.” After all, ideas become action. Ideals matter, too. Democracy is an idea. It is not a given. Those who erode its foundation must believe it is inevitable, otherwise they would think twice before perpetuating The Big Lie, brazenly participating in sedition. Make no mistake, justifying an assault on the succession principle is to turn against the fundamental idea. Democracy is nothing more or less than a succession principle. Ideas matter.

Slow erosion. Slow boil.

Watching the news, reading the streams, there’s not much more that can be said after the court’s assault on a woman’s right to choose what happens with her body. Equality is an ideal. It is not a given. We not only have to choose it, we have to choose it again and again and again. Equality is a kind of power structure. It is the rhetorical central idea of our society.

And, so, we work on and on to make our central ideal more than rhetoric. We fought a war over inequality. We actively chose our central ideal with equal rights amendments. Early in our history, we chose it when we extended the vote beyond white male land owners. We chose it again when we prevented government from dictating what a woman could and could not do with her body. Equal rights.

Equality scares those who stand atop the hierarchy, who believe their privilege is their power. Ask Ginni Thomas what drives her sedition? Ask her husband Clarence why, now that the nation has rendered women second-class citizens, we now must revisit the rules of contraception and same-sex marriage? Ask Mitch McConnell about his life-long mission to pack the courts. What, exactly, might they be afraid of? Why are they working so hard to undermine rather than further democratic ideals? Why are they choosing to restrict equal rights while pushing forward autocratic candidates with authoritarian ideals?

My grandfather told me it was wiser to listen to a person’s actions and not their words.

Ideas, ideals – like equality – are powerful and made visible in chosen actions. Tom used to say that you can see the power of an idea by “the size of the tide that rises against it.” Right now there is a mighty tide rising against the democratic ideal of equality and the core principle of succession. It’s not a given. We are seeing what happens when the guardians of the principle turn against it. Slow erosion. Robbed nest.

The good news is that Tom’s phrase works both ways: you know the power of an idea by the size of the tide that rises to defend the idea.

Timothy Snyder also said that we have recently been a nation of sleepwalkers. Democracy is not inevitable. It is a choice made again and again and again. We create it on a daily basis through our choices and actions – or we lose it. Perhaps this latest assault on the ideal will wake us up? Perhaps we might blink open our eyes and realize that, as the stewards of the democratic ideal, we’d best start choosing to walk toward it rather than allow this minority, that so fears the power of equality, to continue their assault on the right to choose.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROBBING ROBIN’S EGGS

Fulfill The Promise [on KS Friday]

Look up the word “suffrage” in the dictionary and you’ll discover it means, “the right to vote.” Synonyms include “voice,” “enfranchisement,” and “choice.” It took a hundred years of protest for women to secure the right to vote in these un-united United States. As we prepare to take a giant step backwards it should not be lost on us that the battle for a woman’s voice to be heard continues to this day.

The size of the tide rising against a woman’s right to choose has a long root in suffrage. A woman’s choice. The crusty old ideal: “The Cult of True Womanhood, that is, the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother concerned exclusively with home and family.” is yet again rearing its ugly head.

I’ve written before of my experience in a jury pool. I was in the third group of 50 to be called into the courtroom. The judge gave us a single instruction: “Raise your hand if you either have been or know someone who’s been the victim of sexual assault.” Every member of my group raised their hands. The same had happened with the previous two groups. Out of 150 potential jurors, 150 had either been or knew intimately someone who had been the victim of sexual assault. “How am I ever going to seat an impartial jury,” the judge said to us and to himself.

It was a great question. Here’s a better question: why is sexual assault so prevalent in our nation?

The cult of true womanhood is, of course, a man’s idea. What about a powerful woman, with full protected rights and choice over her body, makes (a minority in) this nation froth and scream? What exactly are these few trying to control?

Equality. Actual equality. A promise unfulfilled for so many.

To my long ago judge I would say that we cannot seat an impartial jury until we experience an impartial court and a governing body willing and able to protect the rights of all citizens equally. It’s the ideal, the organizing principle of this nation-of-promise. Or is it?

A woman with an equal voice and equal pay, with the same protections a man enjoys, will, of course, express fully her equality. It begs the rhetorical question: What exactly are these few afraid of?

Suffrage. Enfranchisement. Choice. Equality.

Kerri’s music is available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about MADE FOR WOMEN

silent days/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

Walk With Samuel [on DR Thursday]

“The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.” ~ Samuel Beckett, Endgame

When is something finished? Beckett wrote Waiting For Godot in 1953; characters waiting for what will never arrive. A finish. A completion. Beckett’s life spanned both wars-to-end-all-wars, Korea, Vietnam. He wrote about humanity’s dedication to nonsense. His work has been called bleak and dark. His work is shelved with the canon of The Theatre of the Absurd. And, yet, given the news of the day, these days, who doesn’t feel as if they are living in a Beckett play?

What is often missed in his absurdist plays is the beautiful human capacity to keep walking, to keep trying. Waiting and walking through tragedy, mostly of our own making, with unwavering hope. We story ourselves with nobility even when wrapping ourselves in a lie. We make rules and laws that apply to some but not to all and then we set about to justify the inequality. Money and morality are not the same thing though there’s plenty of storytelling meant to have us believe that wealth only flows to the worthy.

Art is not supposed to make sense because life doesn’t make sense. We make sense of life through the stories we concoct. Emperor’s buried with thousands of statues to keep them company in the afterlife, an artist painting the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel, gods and angels and saints. How many people died building the great pyramids, tomb for a pharaoh? Who would possibly spend their life in abject poverty smearing color on canvas? Van Gogh. A legion of others not known. Are we better for it? I cried the day the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, 6th century statues that I had not seen in person and was likely to never see. Were my tears more or less absurd than the Taliban’s animosity toward carved stone?

Matters of the heart. When are they finished? Where do they begin?

It was a gorgeous day, perhaps the last warm day of the season. We met our pals at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. Throughout the gardens, preparations were being made for the annual holiday light exhibit. A tree of shiny stars. Giant flowers. Faux candles floating in the waterway. Strings of colored lights were being placed along the walkways. Even during the light of day it was impressive.

In this time of transition, many of the gardens were being prepped for the winter, the pathways were packed with people cooing at the wave of the grasses, the shape of the trees in the Japanese garden. I was gobsmacked by the color of the moss on trees, the shock of red leaves against vivid green. No matter which direction I looked, someone, some special gardener and designer, had crafted beauty. They knew that their work would stop me in my tracks and allow me to whisper, “Unbelievable.”

Winding our way back to the Visitor’s Center, I told Brad that, seeing so many people out enjoying the gardens, excited to walk in beauty, filled me with hope.

To walk in beauty. Dollars and cents can’t reach the reason. Data can’t touch the impulse. There is so much light in this theatre of the absurd. Beckett knew it, writing about the stories we tell, the relationships we create, waiting for something – a beauty – that by definition, will never arrive because we are surrounded by it each and every day.

read Kerri’s blog post about RED SCULPTURE

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Ask The Simple Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Simplicities are enormously complex. Consider the sentence “I love you”.” ~Richard O. Moore, Writing The Silences

I’ve been told again and again that, at the heart of every complexity, there is a simplicity. And, of course, at the heart of every simplicity, there is a complexity. So, either way you go, there you are.

I find that I am yearning for greater and greater simplicity. I appreciate quiet. I avoid crowds, not “like the plague” but because of it. I’d rather be in my studio or on a trail than almost anywhere else. I wish I could go sit in a museum all by myself, in the quiet for an hour or two, with a Chagall or Picasso. Intentional beauty. I feel like the world is so full of extraneous noise and dedicated bloviating that I’m having trouble hearing the simple essentials.

And, perhaps because my desire is for simplicity, I find that I am, like Frankie, projecting simple solutions on to everything. Yes, 9 million dollars in my bank account would solve everything!

Almost.

Do you remember Rodney King? I was in Los Angeles when he was beaten, when the city was aflame after the acquittal of the officers who beat him. Do you remember what he asked? It was the ultimate simplicity: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I think it would take something more than 9 million dollars to solve the complexity to which Rodney King spoke. There probably isn’t enough money in the world. But, here in my dedicated simplicity, I think the opposite should be true. Rather than cost anything, getting along would probably save all of us a lot of money, and time, and heart ache. Getting along would profit all of us.

It costs nothing to open a door for someone. Put a price on gratitude. I can’t. How much does it cost to tell the truth? What about making sure everyone is safe and well fed, that everyone can walk safely down the street, that people are paid fairly, that the rules apply equally to all, that, if you’re injured or become sick, you will be treated and not lose your house in the process?

It doesn’t seem like that should be so far out of reach.

There I go again. At the heart of every simplicity…

read Kerri’s blog post about 9 MILLION DOLLARS

Turn And Take A Hard Look [on Flawed Wednesday]

Systems are living things and like all living things will fight to the death when threatened. It is, I believe, what is at play in these un-united-united-states.

I love the irreverence of the questions taken from a mock conference agenda, published in the October 2017 issue of Real Simple Magazine. Who bears the bulk of moral responsibility and what’s the appropriate punishment? Beneath the humor, the real question is made clear: why are women expected to mold their bodies, often in torturous ways, to fit an impossible ideal? It is a centuries old phenomenon.

There is a very telling photograph from 2017 of an all male White House task force discussing health benefits that included women’s health issues. This photograph is nothing new. The ideal represented within it, is ubiquitous. A headline from The Guardian reads “These 25 Republicans -All White Men – Just Voted To Ban Abortion In Alabama.”

A system is a living thing. It will fight to the death when threatened.

This paragraph from Rolling Stone Magazine [May 17, 2019] captures the essence of the fight, the core of the system that is under threat: The Republican movement behind forced-birth bills is truly ignorance allied with power, as James Baldwin once warned us about. The rhetoric may be more vociferous and reckless now than it was when the religious right was first revving up, but it is no less cynical. Even if it escapes the lips or is written or signed into law by women like Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, the primary goal of that revanchist talk has always been to take America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned.

“The unquestioned word of white men.” The system as designed is now being questioned. And so, ignorance allies with power. The Big Lie. The Republican party is afraid to investigate-and-talk-about what happened on January 6th because of what an investigation will reveal. Ignore-ance.

Taking America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned. We never actually left that time but had certainly broached the subject of progress toward the promise of equality for all. And so, the system is fighting. It is threatened like never before so it is fighting like never before. Voter suppression laws. The legal assault being mounted on a woman’s right to choose. Fearmongering BLM rhetoric like Ron Johnson’s inanity.

Black Lives Matter. Women’s Rights. Voters’ Rights, Civil Rights…all embodiment of the ideals that we espouse and yet, all are threats to the system. All ask questions of the unquestioned white men.

In a speech yesterday, President Joe Biden said that America is based on an idea. “It’s the greatest idea in the long history of humankind. An idea that we’re all created equal in the image of Almighty God. That we’re all entitled to dignity, as my father would say, and respect, decency, and honor. Love of neighbor. They’re not empty words, but the vital, beating heart of our nation.

Division is the control-mechanism designed into the system to keep the word of the white men unquestioned. Colonists everywhere installed the same mechanism in their colonies. Powerful women, powerful citizens of all colors and sexual orientation, united, are a threat to the system. And so it fights. It lies. It blocks scrutiny. It screams that Black Lives are a more dangerous threat than a white insurrection on the capitol. Antifa! Socialism! Fear! Divide the people. Keep them fighting each other. It’s a strategy that’s worked for centuries.

It is more than time that the idea of America, at long last, punch through the wall of the system and fulfill its promise, its highest ideal. What is there to fear in equality?

Pre-torn jeans made of elastic. Who bears the bulk of the moral responsibility? Beneath the humor, the real question comes clear: do we have the capacity, at long last, to stop molding ourselves in tortuous ways to fit an impossibly conflicted system? Can we turn and take a hard look at our empty words and fill them with the promise, the beating heart of the idea? Equality. United.

read Kerri’s blog post about Pretorn Jeans

Practice Inner Hospitality [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“What you separate, the soul joins.” ~ John O’Donohue

A few years ago, when we went to Hippy Tom’s farm, Kerri said, “It feels like we’re inside this man’s sickness.” There was stuff everywhere. A hoarder with a farm. Her comment about the farm has become a code-phrase for us. “Hippy Tom,” she says, and I know we are talking about these-un-united-states under the influence of the outgoing president. A nation living inside of one man’s sickness. The hater-in-chief.

The Bidens’ messages of unity and perseverance are akin to a doorway, an exit from the crazy farm. Although we are running for the door, not yet free of the madness, we can see it from here. We can catch breaths of air free of delusion and division.

“When you decide to practice inner hospitality,” John O’Donohue writes, “the torment ceases. The abandoned, neglected, and negative selves come into seamless unity.”

Practice inner hospitality. The rules that apply to individuals also apply to organizations as well as nations. Practice inner hospitality and the negative selves will come into seamless unity. “The soul adores unity.”

Although our systemic root belies this, soul of this nation has never been isolationism or white supremacy. The soul of this nation has always been our diversity, our willingness to embrace the new, to find a northwest passage, to step foot on the moon, to embrace, to invent and reinvent, to reach. To improve. To challenge a fossilized belief.

Perhaps it is now time for us to review, renew, to at-long-last turn and face what we have not yet faced in “this beautiful, brave, complicated nation.” To look with honesty and clarity at all of our history, our negative and ideal selves. To balance what has been too long unequal, ugly, denied.

There is great space in our national divide. The flaw, as the Amish remind us, is there to let in the grace. The soul joins. It can show us a path, once and for all, out of the sickness of the farm.

read Kerri’s blog post about AMBER WAVES

Pop A Cork And Ponder [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It is, at long last, election day in these-once-united-states. If I had a wine cellar it would be stocked to the top with election night libation and reality-numbing assistance.

Through Kerri, I received a loving and gentle push back against my use of the phrase these-once-united-states. Our reader reminded me that these-states-were-never-united. Not really. Of course, there is the very real possibility that division IS what identifies us. In a stroke of planned obsolescence or perhaps a nod to the absurd, our forefathers wrote that all men are created equal while participating in and promoting slavery as the driver of the economic engine. They certainly knew what they were doing. It might be that division is what unites us.

Who would we be if we actually practiced equality and made sure that our institutions were not only the guardians but promoters of our central ideal?

Mostly, those wacky forefathers kicked the can down the road. They understood that the nation would one day have to reconcile its split-intention. We’ve made a run at it more than a few times and, like every good fractal, rather than deal with our shadow pattern, we manage to repeat it. Slavery becomes Jim Crow…and here we are. BLM meets The Proud Boys.

We are so far away from dealing with the can kicked-down-the-road to us that the mostly-men-on-the-red-team deny the very existence of systemic racism. That, too, is part of the fractal. Take note of how much energy has been spent making it hard for black Americans to vote. Right here in the year 2020. Some things never change. Some things need to change.

So, today we line up to cast our ballots. In this seemingly endless and ugly election season, we’ve been witness to an undermining of the postal service, the removal of ballot boxes, the stuffing of the supreme court, a president casting doubt on the very system he was sworn to support.

So much energy spent to ensure the continuation of the divide! Another squirt of glue? An organizing principle of negative and positive charges? Opposite charges attracting?

We need a new organizing principle. Division is a threadbare story and, as we know, can only run in a vicious circle. I hold little hope for it but wonder what might come about if we attended to a simple basic, just like the sign says. “Be Nice. Say Hi!”

In the absence of general kindness and courtesy, something every mother teaches and every grandmother upholds, I will pop a cork and ponder what we might have been if the system had been set up and penned by our foremothers. I suspect we’d all know how to play nice by now.

read Kerri’s blog post on BE NICE. SAY HI!

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!

Ask The Essential Question [on KS Friday]

in transition copy

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

 

 

? website box copy

 

 

in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

waiting and knowing ©️ 2015 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.