Be Different [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Inadvertently, 20 did me a great favor. On the day Kerri and I married, he carried a concealed camera and captured conversations and special moments of our ceremony. In his footage is a short exchange he had with my dad. My dad said of me, “He’s his own man.”

To that point in my life I’d wondered what he thought of me, my winding career path, my free-form seeming-feral existence. “He’s his own man,” brought me peace.

Once, during a conference that we led, Alan told me I should dress differently. “People would have more respect for you,” he said. Once, trying to fit in, I wore a suit to a facilitation and Rich told me I should dump the suit and dress as myself. I’ve awarded him the blue ribbon for best advice.

In my consulting life I wore clogs. I hated shoes with strings. The first thing I did at every job was kick off my clogs. You’d be surprised how invested people in power suits are in their footwear. You’d be heartened how human they become when they unlace and kick off their shoes. It’s like removing a mask.

People hire me because I am different. Because I see differently. My difference is my gift, the epicenter of what I bring to the world – and that is true of all people.

In a culture that prides itself on its individualism, it’s always been amusing to me how invested we are to “fit in.” Shopping at the right store, wearing the right clothes, we gush about our wild nature while synching tight the corporate tie. To “dress for success” means to fit a prescription, to NOT stand out. Business casual. The real real. All houses must look the same. Revealing behavior betrays the swaggering rhetoric.

Our individualism is at best a thin veneer. In truth, we fear difference. I dare the court of Supremes to uphold a coach’s right to pray before the big game on the 50 yard line if he’s Sikh. Or Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Buddhist. My son is gay. He lives a constant, never-ending battle to defend his difference. Why?

“But the truth is, I am different,” I said to Kerri who was red-faced with anger at the email from the concrete sub-contractor. He turned down the job to replace our bit of sidewalk, broken out during the waterline repair. Among his reasons, “…and he seems a little different.” He was referring to me.

“I’ve dealt with that my whole life,” I said as she furiously typed a reply. “It’s not a big deal. I’m an artist.”

“It is a big deal,” she snarled, typing harder, faster.

Listening to her ferocious key-pounding, I had a sweet wave of appreciation for her. In a lifetime of “different”, it is a rare and precious moment that someone vigorously defends your difference. Rather than hammer you into creased dockers, lace-up shoes or the right haircut, a furious defender was unfamiliar. She, too, is different and knows the bruise of the shame-hammer. I suspect we’ve all experienced its sting.

In my head, I heard my dad say, “He’s his own man.” Peace. I am what I am and the people who love me wouldn’t have me any other way. That makes a difference. All the difference.

This I know: it’s nice – so nice – not to be alone in my difference.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DIFFERENCE

Go It Together [on Flawed Wednesday]

“The problem is that this fluidity is not a choice we are free to make. Despite the unifying patriotic rhetoric that permeates the United States, on some level Americans are not really fooled: at bottom, each person knows he or she must continually “reinvent themselves,” which is to say, go it alone. America is the ultimate anticommunity.” ~ Morris Berman, Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire

I laughed aloud when I read this quote. It reduced to a simple phrase what I believe is the collective experience of being an American (U.S.) in the 21st century. Together, we go it alone.

“Going it alone” is, of course a delusion shared by cowboys, republicans, and guys that put big tires on their trucks. After all, someone had to make the tires. And the truck. And pave the road. Using tax dollars since the roads are public and maintained by the collective. All of the chest-thumping expressions of individuality are, after all, firmly rooted in the lives and labors of others.

It only takes a minute to tease apart the loose fibers of the go-it-alone mythos. The problem is that one must want to think it through and, in our current spiral into stupidity, thought is shunned. So is history. At the core of anti-community is the absence of critical thought and a bucket of denial.

[Sidebar: this reminds me of a favorite phrase that, one day, popped out of Jim’s mouth: because you think it, does not make it so. Because you believe it, does not make it so.]

In my current state of residence, the governor, a democrat, asked the legislature, a randy band of republicans, to meet for a special session to discuss the ills that currently plague our community. The randy band gaveled open the session and then, as is its custom, immediately gaveled it closed. Legislators that refuse to discuss issues or policy. Sitting in the people’s house, obstruction is the only card in their deck. Not a single idea or impulse to serve the public in the randy band and their lock-step rugged individualism.

It is the sign of our times. Going it alone together is an ugly race to the supremacist bottom.

The cure for what ails us lives in the space between the gavels. Genuine discussion of the real challenges that face the community. An acknowledgement that driving the big cowboy truck adorned with big cowboy tires is only possible on the public road made viable by the shared effort of hundreds of fellow citizens. All of the Fox-driven drivel and religious right propaganda is never going to change the fact that we are all in this together. We can choose to be a failed state in a dedicated anti-community or we can thrive in the post colonial-era by bringing all ideas, all points-of-view, all people, to the common table for a wee-bit of collaboration, compromise, and long-needed-real-live-bona-fide-communal-reinvention.

read Kerri’s blogpost about MASKS OPTIONAL

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

Sing Red! [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We were awake much of the night so we ate bananas and talked. Our conversation rambled over miles and covered acres of territory. In the wee-hours, Kerri explained to me the compositional elements of a symphony, the placement of a solo in a piece, and the foundational support offered by the other instruments. In other words, it takes a village to raise a solo.

There’s a famous story of Leonardo Da Vinci, paintbrush in hand, staring all day at his mural-in-progress. Finally, after hours of staring, he approached the wall and added to his composition a single brushstroke. If you are a painter you understand that the story is not about the single brushstroke but where it was placed. Color lives or dies relative to other color. Leonardo spent his day assessing relationships.

We are new gardeners. It may seem silly to expert growers, those who’ve been around the farm a time or two, that through the fall, we jumped out of bed every morning, ran to the kitchen, to see our cherry tomatoes. When we pulled the plants at the frost, the vines were laden with green tomatoes. Not to worry, Kerri told me; put the little green orbs together in a sack (ours landed in Tupperware and never left because we delighted in watching them) and they will make the journey to red. They’d help each other to ripen. And so it was. Each day the palette changed until, one day, the entire tomato choir sang red. I am filled with wonder.

It is a cliche’ that every great journey begins with a single step. A single step and lots of encouragement. A single step and a team of support. Explorers need financing. Too often we place the accent on the single player and ignore the symphony. We get a big kick out of the crowds of individuals standing in line to stand atop of Mt. Everest, thrusting their hands like Rocky Balboa in the very-thin-air, playing conquerer of the mountain, forgetting that a Sherpa carried their gear, set up their tent, cooked their food, set their ropes, tended their wounds, warmed their tea, hauled away their waste and sometimes carried their bodies back down when they couldn’t make the round trip.

No one walks this walk alone. Individualism is like Leonardo’s brushstroke: it only works if it furthers community, when it makes life better for all. How’s that for a paradox!

We are tomatoes, all. Green and small by ourselves. But when brought together in our little Tupperware crossroads, red, red, red, red, red!

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES!

Ask The Real Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Through a lack of love everything hardens. There is nothing as lonely in the world as that which has hardened or grown cold. Bitterness and coldness are the ultimate defeat.” ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

We just watched a news segment about Taiwan’s successful response to COVID-19. At the heart of their response, the reporter said, is a sense of social solidarity. Social solidarity; we are all in this together.

American’s celebrate their independent spirit which leads them to the delusion that they can go-it-alone. Watching documentaries and television shows of people living remotely in the great Alaskan frontier, I’m always aware of the manufactured rifles and bullets, the chain saws, clothes and coats from the store, boots and knives and rope and gas…participation in an economy. There is an entire web of support, hundreds of human beings making possible even the most dedicated illusion of the cowboy spirit.

It’s where we get it wrong. We are blind to our reliance on each other. An economy is more than the production and consumption of goods and services. It is a living, breathing web of interconnection.

Income gaps are descriptors of belief. Terms like “consumer behavior” are scrubbed, antiseptic descriptions of relationship, ethics, communal participation. The story is told in the economics. How the money flows defines the legislation: who starves, who prospers, how we support each other or not. Who has access to power and who does not.

Every-man-for-himself is not only a cold and bitter road, it is also a fantasy. The isolation of every hermit is made possible by the production of others. The existence of a leisure class is not possible without a successful working class. Prosperity is a team sport, especially in a capitalist economy.

No one walks this life alone so the real question is how we want to walk it?

These once-united-states have grown cold. We are hardened. We are divided. Fewer and fewer feel the wealth. There are no rules that apply, no ethic to the game of governance. Fearful and angry people are easily led into wild tales of deep states. Neighbors become enemies. Economies teeter and fall when balance is ignored. No one thrives for long in a bitter divide.

The ultimate defeat is ours. No garden grows in hard soil. We will have required no enemy invasion, no conqueror breaking down the gate or overrunning the ramparts. All that was required was to turn our backs on each other. To think we are two distinct teams, and need to win over the other at all cost, no-holds-barred and no rules apply, go it alone, protect the freedom of the individual with nary an understanding that no individual survives in a vacuum.

It is a lonely supper, indeed, at a table for one.

read Kerri’s blog post about CARING

See Beyond Yourself [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

pray for our nation copy

Rounding the bend en route to Fort Atkinson we passed this billboard. It stands, not in church yard, but in a small grassy patch, a teeny tiny park.

prayer [noun]: a solemn request for help or an expression of thanks addressed to a deity or other object of worship.

This morning as I pondered what to write I was struck by this: I took the sign to be a solemn request for help. It never occurred to me that the sign might be an entreaty for thanks giving.

The United States is by far the single most individualistic country on the planet. We place the accent on the individual over the communal. Our hyper-focus on the individual has a nasty side effect. It makes us a bit more than narcissistic. We over-worry about how we  look. We create things like Facebook so we can talk about ourselves. We define success as climbing over the bodies of others to reach the top. We extend to corporations the rights of the individual.  Dog eat dog. Every man/woman for themselves. We’ve created a long-running “reality tv” show called Survivor. We relate to it.

These are expressions of who we are. Manifest Destiny and all of that…

And then we wonder why our elected representatives act [or do not act] based on their re-election chances rather than on the real needs of their constituents. We wonder why we fight to the death over ideas like universal health care or placing limits on guns. We wonder why conservatives pundits routinely scream “Socialism!” to frighten their listeners. “They will take away your rights!”

We wonder why we lack empathy. We wonder why our streets are violent.

Empathy requires a look to the other. A consideration beyond the limits of the self. A larger relationship with the other people in the neighborhood. A consideration of an opposing point of view. ‘Nation’ is, after all, a communal word.

Perhaps our ‘nation’ requires something simpler than an appeal for help from a deity: a consideration that what we do impacts others. What we say and how we say it matters. Maybe we should stop asking a deity to do for us what we need to do for ourselves.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAY FOR OUR NATION

 

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