Look At You Look At Me [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s taken me this long to discover the source of all cartoon characters: orchids. I’m not kidding. At a recent field trip to the Chicago Botanical Garden’s Orchid Exhibit, I was surrounded by brightly colored fantastic faces, playful and chuckling. “Look at this one!” Kerri exclaimed. “It’s the Imperial Margarine guy!” I thought it was a whacky Pope or funny Cardinal, but the idea was the same.

“The earth laughs in flowers.” Emerson’s quote was stenciled on the wall as we exited the exhibit. And the laughing flowers made me laugh. Truly. I felt like a little kid at Christmas. Surrounded by color and delight and whimsy, I found myself more than once pointing, “Look at this one! Oh My God!” And, I felt like the colorful faces were staring back at me, thrilled to tears by the odd looking human standing before them. I-look-at-you-look-at-me. “Look at that face!” they snickered.

The thought stopped me in my tracks and filled me with wonder. We personify everything, projecting our humanness into everything. The art of animation, the world of Disney, is rooted in our desire to project ourselves onto and into the world. Talking mice. Dancing candlesticks. Humpty Dumpty. Wise old trees. Wouldn’t it be lovely, and isn’t it hopeful, to think the world projects itself into us? I want the orchids to fill me with color and awe. To project themselves into me. I know the forests I walk through infuse me with quiet. I know Dogga pulls love from my deepest soul.

Participants. Relationship, rather than controllers. Dancers rather than dominators. Would we be so invested in killing each other for imagined supremacy if we allowed ourselves to laugh the laugh of the flowers? If we actually understood that nothing is forever, that our warmongering was at best delusional? That the single trait that makes us human is to turn and help someone in need? The very capacity that allows us to project ourselves into the orchids is the same capacity that makes it possible to stand in the shoes of the other. Empathy is a two-way street.

If the earth laughs in flowers, these days it certainly cries in humans. Yet, standing amidst the orchids, I looked at all the human faces, hundreds of people wide-eyed with wonder and alive with astonishment. The laughing orchids looking back at the astonished faces, open and vulnerable, and they were evoking those qualities from the crowd. Earth’s tears. So hopeful, these faces, drinking in each other’s beauty.

read Kerri’s blog post about FACES

Dial Three Numbers [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Last month, when the car across the street blew up, there was general pandemonium until the fire department arrived. In a few moments, order was restored. People, myself included, who only moments before had been running around in panic, gathered at the end of our driveway and watched the methodical dousing of the fire. Tragedy turned to block party the minute the men and women of the fire and police departments took charge. We transitioned from unsafe to secure, in a heartbeat, from “I don’t know what to do,” to, “I’m so glad they know what to do”. Neighbors chatted. Speculated. We shared tales of the explosion. We compared notes while the people who know what to do put out the fire and cleaned up the mess.

We take for granted the security we enjoy. In the back of my mind, I know that dialing three simple numbers into the phone will summon people who know what to do.

We awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of our basement carbon monoxide alarms blaring. We turned on the lights but something was dreadfully wrong. It was as if the entire house was on a dimmer switch: there was light but it was very dim. And then we heard a buzzing sound in the ceiling. And then the smell of hot electric wires filled the room.

We dialed three simple numbers. In a panic, we put the dog, our bag with important papers, and the computers into the car.

And then, the people who know what to do arrived with their red lights ablaze. They calmly came in the house. They searched every square inch of our home with heat sensing technology. They pinpointed the source of the buzz and the burning smell. It was not yet dire but could have been bad had we not been awakened by the alarms. Within minutes of their arrival, our fear dissipated. Problems were identified. Safety was secured. Advice given.

We were safe. We dialed three simple numbers and help was on the way.

read Kerri’s blog post about FIRE ENGINES

Look Down [on DR Thursday]

To all the rugged individualists out there living under the grand illusion that you are blazing a new trail, I have only one thing to say: look down. Someone has been there before you. It’s why there’s a path. And, more to the point, someone – a crew of someones – worked very hard to make and maintain the trail you now tread. It’s true in the forest. It’s true in the big-bad city. Every time we flick a switch and the lights come on it might not be a bad idea to recognize how many people were – and are – involved in the maintenance of our comfort and our self-reliance-fantasies.

On the Pink Bed trail there’s a boardwalk that elevates hikers over the swampy sections. I stopped in utter admiration at the section that took a hard left. Someone – a crew of someones – spent a long time making my corner not only easy to walk but beautiful. Certainly there are more efficient ways to build a turn in a boardwalk and they could have chosen any number of simpler solutions but they didn’t. They took the time to make their work functional, sturdy, AND aesthetic.

Daniel was building a house on the lake. He only builds one a year these days, mostly for fun. He invited us in. Far from being finished, the craftsmanship was exposed. The joints were meticulous. The lumber he chose was solid. The materials mattered. There was beauty in the structure and he was proud to point out the love taken in every step, even the roughest stage of the build. The eventual buyers would never see or know the care alive behind the drywall. They might never fathom the depth of effort and design involved in making their comfort – their triumphant lake home – a possibility.

Horatio and I talk often of the deep philosophical divide in these un-united-united-states. The every-man/woman-for-him/herself camp is at odds with the I-am-my-brother/sisters-keeper folks. I understand the appeal of the self-made-man/woman story but I also recognize it to be mostly a fantasy. Sir Edmund Hillary understood that standing atop Everest, celebrated as the first, was only made possible by the efforts of hundreds of Sherpa, months of expedition planning by John Hunt and team, financing, travel arrangements, government officials, 8 previous unsuccessful expeditions, and the good graces and guidance of Tensing Norgay.

We’d be better off if periodically we stopped and simply looked down.

read Kerri’s blog post about the BOARDWALK

prayer of opposites © 2003-4 david robinson

Know Why [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I’m working with a software start-up company. Upon returning from travels I found our conversation has shifted into articulating mission and vision and purpose. None of us are keen about writing these kinds of statements but the exercise is useful and necessary. Why do we do what we do? What, exactly, do we do? In that order. Why. What.

Why? It seems as if this should be an easy answer. To support other people. To support other people in doing what they need to do.

I couldn’t help but think of our experience last week. We shared our story of breaking down in Hays, Kansas. It was late in the afternoon. It was the day before my dad’s funeral in Denver. We hobbled into the dealership. They were jammed with customers and couldn’t help us. There wasn’t a rental car to be found. It looked bleak. The dealer recommended a garage on the other side of town. Davis Automotive. We limped into their parking lot. We told our tale. They moved heaven and earth to help. Why?

It was nearing the end of their day. They, too, were jammed. Yet, they helped. They took the time. They made our problem theirs to solve. They took to heart my need to make it to my dad’s funeral. My need became their personal mission.

I returned to work with a new view on mission statements. They need not be lofty or abstract. In fact, they should be visceral. Tangible. Everyday. Support other people in doing what they need to do. Why? Because they need it. Just like I need it. Or you need it. These good mechanics fix cars. That is their “what.” Their “why”: help people get where they need to go. Help people do what they need to do.

Help people.

It’s how interconnection works. My mission is, in a real way, to make your path easier just as your mission is to make my path easier. I need mechanics because I do not have that mind or skill set. They need software designers because cars are computers and they can no longer diagnose problems without them. I am an artist, a teller-of-stories. Mechanics and software designers need my mind and skill set to remind them that, beyond their role, their mission, their job, they are human beings living a universal story. Nothing they do will matter, nothing I do will matter – ever – if it is not in service to the support of others’ growth, or need, or desire or fulfillment. I cannot be fulfilled if my work does not support you. And vice versa.

So, why are these good men and women, these software engineers and entrepreneurs creating their software? They see a real need. They see people struggling. And, like good mechanics who encounter a brokenhearted son en route to his dad’s funeral in a truck that will not run, they know exactly what to do. And, they know why.

read Kerri’s blog post about SERVICE

Just Ask

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

The snippet of paper on the desk in my hotel room states, “Help is available.” Help with what, I wonder? I’m sure I must need help or will need help at some point in my life. I usually need help with technology though today I have no intention of wading into the i.jungle so at the moment help is wasted on me. I’m glad that help is generally available and I find it comforting that there is a notice on my desk incase I find myself perplexed. And, since the snippet is without a phone number or reference point I’m left to assume that help will simply know when I need it and will magically appear.

Perhaps help will come with 3 wishes or wand or magic dust. Or, maybe there is a secret door in my room. I’ll not confess to trying to move furniture or peak behind the mirror. The thought never crossed my mind. Really. The question remains: how will help know when I need it?

If I were adrift in a rubber raft in shark-infested waters my paper snippet implies that the coast guard will automatically know and find me. An avalanche is certainly scary but since help is available, I’m comforted knowing that the ski patrol will somehow know of my predicament and dig me out before I run out of air.

My snippet of paper might have carried the message, “Have Faith” and I would be much less comforted. The blanket statement, “Help is available” implies readiness of action. Help is standing by. Faith is amorphous when help is required.

Of course, help might also be available to me in less extreme circumstances. I am easily lost in new cities and I find that help is always available if I ask. Today I facilitated a workshop in organizational culture change and I needed markers and paper and help was available – it was almost immediate, too. However, when driving and lost, help is certainly always available but for some reason when behind the wheel I become male-stubborn and I am reticent to ask for help; I’d rather figure it out for myself so help obliges me and is noticeably unavailable.

Once, while walking the lake country in England, Roger was delirious with fever and it was pouring rain. We were miles from the next village. I was scared and thought, “I don’t know what to do. I need help.” And, out of nowhere a Winnebago emerged from the mist and stopped. A nice couple picked us up, wrapped us in towels and warmed us with hot cocoa. Then, they drove us to the next village where we found a nice place to stay and medicine. Help knew and was waiting for me to ask.

So, my mystery is solved. I just modified the paper snippet on my desk to assist the next guest. It now reads, “Help is available. Just ask.”