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!

Call Her Anguish [on DR Thursday]

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It was a long night. We’ve spent the last few evenings listening to a police scanner and watching live-stream reporting of the violence in our streets. We sit on our back deck and follow the swirl of helicopters, listen to the explosions, the angry voices in the street. We have a “go” bag packed by the door. We sleep with one eye open.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde pattern of our national protests has come to roost in our city, the epicenter a few blocks from our home. Peaceful protests by day; violent destruction by night. And, each night it gets worse. Each day I scan the heart-sickening savage call-and-response of an ugly divided citizenry, a crumbling society incapable of civil discourse.

I am haunted by an article written by Wade Davis. I’ve reread it a dozen times. I will read it a dozen more. Each day new quotes arise. After watching an armed militia strut up and down the boulevards of Kenosha under the pretense/delusion of protecting the city, stand cock-guard over a dry cleaning shop, and ultimately, one young militia member [too young to drink a beer in Wisconsin but not too young to sport an automatic weapon] murdered two and maimed one of the unarmed citizens they proclaimed to protect. Alice’s wonderland makes more sense than America’s implosion. This young man was not a citizen of our town or of our state. He brought his big gun across state lines to feed his white nationalist fantasy and ended the evening a murderer who will spend the days of his life in prison. What did he imagine might happen? Waste upon waste. These are the quotes from the article that today bobbed to the top:

“The measure of wealth in a civilized nation is not the currency accumulated by the lucky few, but rather the strength and resonance of social relations and the bonds of reciprocity that connect all people in common purpose.”

“The American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society. No one owes anything to anyone. All must be prepared to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights — universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed — America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness.”

By his measure, we are a very poor nation indeed. Violent to the core because we eschew shared responsibility, shun a common center and refuse to deal with our issues.

I asked Kerri to choose a piece for the Melange today. I was surprised because she selected a snippet from my painting, Three Graces. She’s not fond of this painting. Traditionally the Graces represent Muses: Brightness, Joyfulness, Bloom. Beauty, Charm, Creativity. It’s ironic.

Were I to name this fragment, this lonely Muse culled from her sisters, I think I’d call her Anguish. What else?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ANGUISH

 

 

Three Graces

 

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three graces ©️ 2012 david robinson

See It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Systems do what systems are designed to do. For instance, this seawall is a simple system designed to protect one element (land) from the other (water). Left unchecked they come together and change occurs. This wall is a system built to prevent significant changes to the coastline.

Our system, relative to black and white Americans, as stated in the colonial records and enacted through legislation, was designed to keep the two groups from uniting. Division by design.

The law [the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705] was devised to establish a greater level of control over the rising African slave population of Virginia. It also served to socially segregate white colonists from black slaves making them disparate groups hindering their ability to unite. A unity of the commoners was a perceived fear of the Virginia aristocracy which had to be addressed, and who wished to prevent a repeat of events such asBacon’s Rebellion, occurring 29 years prior.” [Wikipedia, An act concerning Servants & Slaves]

A unity of commoners is to be feared. To that end, African Americans were determined through legislation to be less-than-human, three-fifths to be exact. No other group in our history have been institutionalized, bills debated and passed into colonial law, as sub-human.  When we see signs that read “Black Lives Matter” it speaks to a systemic definition, a system that to this day is doing what it was designed to do. African Americans simply want their two-fifths recognized and returned.

To match the denigration of black Americans, poor (non-land-owning) whites were given a promotion, new rights and status. “Many of the European-descended poor whites began to identify themselves, if not directly with the rich whites, certainly with being white. And here you get the emergence of this idea of a white race as a way to distinguish themselves from those dark-skinned people who they associate with perpetual slavery.” [Facing History & Ourselves]

The system only works if pushing the black head down is the mechanism that elevates the white head. The police are merely servants of the system. To redefine the police, through funding changes or otherwise, will not address the root of the pattern. The system will reinvent itself in another form because that is what systems do.

America has a pronoun problem. As I write this I am sitting in my smoke-filled house in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Downtown is burning in reaction to Jacob Blake’s shooting. A quick scroll through the Kenosha Facebook page and I read again and again this question, “What do they want?” THEY. Not a hint of WE to be found. The system is working perfectly to prevent the unity of commoners.

Yesterday, I wrote to my pal David that nothing has changed. I was in Los Angeles in 1991 during the Rodney King riots. I watched Los Angeles burn. Today I am watching the destruction of downtown Kenosha. To understand the violence of the response you need look no further than the violence present in the two videos. In a routine traffic stop, Rodney King was pulled from his car and beaten nearly to death. Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, was shot seven times in the back. In a situation where no club was necessary, a black man was brutally beaten. In a situation where no gun was necessary, a black man was shot seven time in the back. Is the burning of the city more or less repugnant and out-of-proportion than the violence that incited the flames?

My point: The violence is already present. It is the seawall erected through law to prevent the two groups, black and white, from coming together. Slavery was violent. Jim Crow was violent. This latest iteration is, not surprisingly, violent. It’s how the system maintains itself. The form changes but they system remains constant. The violence prevents the unity of commoners.

Finally, consider this: “With the COVID crisis, 40 million Americans lost their jobs, and 3.3 million businesses shut down, including 41 percent of all black-owned enterprises. Black Americans, who significantly outnumber whites in federal prisons despite being but 13 percent of the population, are suffering shockingly high rates of morbidity and mortality, dying at nearly three times the rate of white Americans. The cardinal rule of American social policy — don’t let any ethnic group get below the blacks, or allow anyone to suffer more indignities — rang true even in a pandemic, as if the virus was taking its cues from American history.” [Wade Davis, The Unraveling Of America, RollingStone Magazine, 8.6.2020]

So, if you are one of the legion asking this question, “How can this be happening?” I suggest you ponder this: how could it not be happening. It’s by design.

If you are one of the many wondering what can be done, begin by paying attention to how YOU are participating in the design. And then, perhaps, all us can begin the difficult search to find a path to WE.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the SEAWALL

 

 

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Compose Your Differences [on Flawed Wednesday]

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A quick glance at recorded human history and it’s not a stretch to suggest that we’ve done everything BUT give peace a chance. Peace, I imagine, is buried beneath the stacks of untouched gun control legislation towering on Mitch McConnell’s desk.

The centerfold of the June, 2020 National Geographic Magazine is a color-coded chart of the roots of violence across time with corresponding estimates of lives lost. Religious conflicts, wars of conquest, colonial exploitation and revolt, despots, dynastic disputes, wars of dominance, and internal clashes make up some of the variations of the theme. The two most relevant to our current struggle are internal clash and collapse of state.

In an us-and-them world, resources are worth fighting for. There’s not enough pie to go around apparently so taking other people’s pie is reason enough to kill. Defending pie is also reason to kill. It follows.

In 2011 Steven Pinker published a book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. He argues that violence has declined over time and provides a mountain of data and theories to support his contention. He suggests that we are not inherently violent. I find that hopeful.

Of course, the decline in violence can only be seen by stepping far enough away. These days it feels like the necessary step is into outer space. Up close and personal, and according to the narrative-of-the-day, we’re a bloody fighting mess. It’s the story we tell. Startlingly, we are living proof that data, fact, and science can’t hold a candle to conspiracy theory and narcissistic fantasy. Gullibility, thy name is human.

Here’s my two cents: war is profitable and peace is not. Make peace profitable and we’d give it more than a passing chance, we’d insist upon it. That sounds jaded but keep in mind that our lexicon includes the phrase “military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower warned us against this unholy alliance, the marriage of defense contractors and the armed forces. It would become, he foretold, a threat to our democracy. “We must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”

Decent purpose.

The second of my two cents goes like this: we’ve built our castle on a bedrock economy of war. It’s a complex system and systems do not go gentle into that good night, they fight to the death to sustain themselves. Peace will have a chance when we decide to embrace a decent purpose and, ironically, that will probably require a fight.

In the meantime, we’ll see multiple conflicts fueled around the globe, military budgets that dwarf every other line item to fund the fighting. Locally, our leaders will douse us in endless thoughts and prayers as the next elementary school is shot up, we’ll see small differences of opinion settled by guns and not intellect, conversation, or simply agreeing to disagree [on a very sad and revealing note: the people at our local grocery store are timid to reinforce their mask policy for fear of being killed. And so, we see up close and personal the threat to our democracy that Eisenhower cried out to no one listening].

As for me, I do not wish to be covered by anyone with an assault rifle. I do not wish to have one pointed at me either. I do not think citizens in a civilized society need military grade weapons unless they are confined to the shooting range. I think a civilized society should operate on the principles it espouses, principles of civility and, yes, intellect and the most decent of purposes: peace.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE

 

 

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instrument of peace ©️ 2015 david robinson

 

 

See Beyond Yourself [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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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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Look To Each Other

my latest work-in-progress

my latest work-in-progress

Josh laughed from the back seat of the car. He read aloud the text that made him laugh: I’m in MoMA (the museum of modern art) and someone dropped a glove. Now, people are walking around it because they don’t know whether it is art or not!

I’ve spent a goodly amount of my time on the planet in museums of contemporary art and know that most folks passing through the museum have the same confusion about the pieces on the walls. What makes something art and something else not-art?

Almost a century ago Marcel Duchamp entered a urinal in an exhibition and gave it the title, “Fountain.” At the time it was scandalous and now represents a major milestone in art history. Today, a urinal in a museum exhibition would get the same treatment as the glove on the floor: confused consideration. Is it or is it not art? The beauty of the glove moment, the thing that binds it to the urinal moment, is that, in both cases, the gallery goers looked to others, perfect strangers, to ascertain a proper response: it is art if they say it is. Art, in this case, is an agreement.

This agreement, looking for approval about how to behave when confronted with the art-or-not-art question may seem superficial until you consider that recently people in Paris lost their lives over a disagreement of what was art and what was not. In recent history (2001), the Taliban destroyed centuries old giant statues of the Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley. They considered the statues idols (not art) and dynamited them off of the face of the earth (I will leave you to discover and ponder the irony between my Paris and Bamiyan Valley examples).

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a close-up: the words written into my work-in-progress

Art is meant to open our perspective, to make us question, to help us see. A society that is capable of seeing is also a society that is capable of questioning; they go hand-in-hand. Questioning is always present when people are growing – so is art. Questioning also begets tolerance – it requires us to doubt our perspective and consider the view from someone else’s shoes. In these times when I hear someone bemoan the end of civility and the horrors in the world, I wonder if they’ve argued to cut art from the schools or  recently attended a concert to hear music to move their soul. Art is dangerous to leaders who like their people blind. Art is offensive to people who want their community thought-less. I delighted that somewhere in the world, in a museum of modern art, a group of people walked around a lost glove and looked to each other for guidance.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

For all manner of digital SEER copies, go here

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Change Your Story

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

I just finished reading Thom Hartmann’s book, The Last Hours Of Ancient Sunlight. It’s now on the top of my, “If you want to understand the forces that are shaping our world and thought, you have to read this book” list. Turn off the television and get this book. It’s that relevant; it’s that important. I’ve been diddling around these past few years with my observations and beliefs about power-over and power-with cultures and his book has slapped me into immediacy.

On the front page of my website is the banner, “Change yourself, change the world.” I work with people to change their personal story and it follows that they will then inhabit and create a different world. In reading Thom Hartmann’s book, my words are coming back at me with a force that takes my breath away. It’s not just a good idea to change your story and change your world; it is a necessity. It’s the second time in as many weeks that I’ve been smacked with a call to urgency. Kevin Honeycutt said, “Our kids are dying in our schools. What are we waiting for?” His call to action was a few days before New Town. He meant it metaphorically and the literal horror happened yet again. It is not that we do not know what to do; it is that we do not believe that we have the power to do it. The wall between our political will and the corporate dollar, something our forefathers warned us to keep distinct and well maintained, has disappeared. Is anyone truly in doubt about what force drives our national debate?

I realized this morning that my previous two posts have been about bullying. In a power-over culture like ours there are predictable and horrible impacts on the community. These things, bullies, school shootings, gun violence, disenfranchisement, gang warfare, stupidly high teen suicide rates, etc., are expressions of a power-over culture not anomalies of that culture. Manifest Destiny is a story of violence visited upon others. The narrative of a chosen people is a story of violence perpetrated against others. Power-over cultures wreak havoc on others but ultimately the sword cuts both ways: it is a cancer that eats the communal body from the inside out. Haves must have have-nots. It will always create a resource gap and separation that collapses the center, luxuries are confused as values, money with morality, and resources are exhausted in the insane pursuit of perpetual growth (consumption). Historians will surely write of us that yet another power-over culture relegated itself to the trash heap. We are playing the story perfectly.

I used to teach that there was a radical difference between self-help and self-knowledge: the difference, of course, is where you seek your answers. In a self-help world we look for our answers in other people; we want to be saved (savior stories are big in dominator cultures). In the pursuit of self-knowledge the answer is sought and found within your self. You don’t need saving because you are not broken or separate from the nature that surrounds you. In a power-with culture, your nature is not corrupt so there is nothing to tame or suppress or deny or control. These stories are fundamentally different; they are fundamentally different orientations into life. Cultures of power-over breed stories of self-help as a power-over culture is comprised of people who seek power from others. A power-with culture necessitates seekers of self-knowledge and is comprised of people who know that power is something that is created with others; all are powerful or no one is.

Our challenge is not about guns or violent video games or Hollywood movies; these are expressions of the story we tell and nothing will change, no matter the laws we pass or fingers we point until we decide to tell a different story. It begins with you and me. No one is going to save us. Change your story, change our world.