Why Stories Matter

“In the particular is contained the universal.”
{James Joyce}


We tell stories to create connection. We create connection because it builds trust. We build trust so that we can rely on one another. We rely on one another because we don’t – even on our most selfish, ego-bound days – want to go it alone.

Most of all, we tell stories because they remind us that our humanity is not only shared, but bound up together, inextricably linked for all time.


silhouette of person holding glass mason jar

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

Poem for a Sunday Morning

The Seven of Pentacles
{Marge Piercy}

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.


With thanks to my dear friend, Alia, for sharing this poem with me.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue


There’s a moment early in the film, “The Way” in which Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) is driving his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez) to the airport. Daniel is setting off to see the world after dropping out of grad school and Tom is having none of it. Daniel suggests that his dad join him in the adventure but Tom can only offer a lecture in return:

“My life here might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.”

Daniel replies, “You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.”

Daniel’s longing to be surprised by the unfolding of his life is perfectly and painfully contradicted by his dad’s singular vision for how that life should unfold.

Tom has forgotten what it feels like to flow like a river and Daniel is fighting hard against his own potential for the same forgetting. The life he pursues, the living he chooses, becomes the source of his father’s redemption.

None of us has wandered too far from the river. The trail back is well-marked and there is still plenty of daylight.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Circular Logic

The more I learn about myself, the more empathy I have for others.

The more empathy I have for others, the stronger my relationships will be.

The stronger my relationships are, the more risks I am willing to take.

The more risks I am willing to take, the more I learn about myself.

The more I learn about myself, the more empathy I have for others.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

I chose this poem because it reminds me of singing in my college choir. Our director always challenged us to stay energized in the rests, in the silences that occur between every phrase of music. Each of those moments was an opportunity to be present – for just a beat or maybe for many measures – and in that presence to anticipate what was coming next. It was an active participation, even in the silence. It made us better listeners and, as better listeners, even better singers.

He trained us to sing into the silence, to be active in our rest, to create anticipation – even possibility – out of nothing.


Extremes Are Easy

Two buckets were easier carried than one.
I grew up in between.
– Seamus Heaney, “Terminus”

Where one finishes,
the other begins.

Extremes are easy. Only
the middle is a puzzle. Midsummer –
the middle way,
shades of gray,
no absolutes,
only choices.

There,
in-between two notes,
in the pause,
in the silent space between two waves,
in the breath between breaths,
everything is possible.

{W. Craig Gilliam, Where Wild Things Grow}


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Playful Responsibility

I see my life as the gradual integration of two separate selves. There’s the playful, joking, attention-seeking, naive, risk-taking, laughing, entertaining youngest of six children. And there’s the serious, controlling, responsible, (hyper)sensitive, brooding, melancholic man who always seems like the oldest guy in the room.

Neither of those is a person I’d like to take a long road trip with. The combination, however, has some enduring appeal.

I think that each of us intuits a “native” self that is in a lifelong conversation with our adaptive self. Our job is to tune into that ongoing conversation, like the way we once could lift the handset of a landline and secretly listen in, only this time we make our presence known.

That conversation is the work of my life, and maybe the best work any of us can do. It is to become a whole person, to consciously and continuously uncover and piece together an integrated self.

I don’t imagine there’s an ultimate destination or place of arrival. Rather, there seems to be a maturation, through attentive stewardship, into a greater sense of ease; a belonging to myself in a way that fits like a favorite jacket, inspiring both comfort and confidence.

I see myself practicing “playful responsibility” in my work and at home, and I like what happens when I do. I also see myself revert to one or the other of my separate selves and it’s a splash of cold water to the face when I recognize the regression.

It is and always will be an imperfect conversation. And it goes on.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

 

Becoming a Person

I don’t want to start a philosophical or theological debate about this so let me offer a caveat at the outset: when I distinguish between a human being and a person I am distinguishing between the common accident of birth all Homo sapiens share and how some turn that accident into an intentional, conscious life. In my experience there is a vast difference between the two.

In my case, I don’t think that I became a person until I was 35 years old, because up until that age, even though I had done so many wonderful, beautiful things and faced so many deeply challenging circumstances, I had not honestly confronted my lack of consciousness about my self…my person.

You could argue that what I’m getting at here is more a question of maturity than personhood but I don’t find that word satisfying since it implies that if you live long enough you’ll get to self-awareness; again, the accident argument.

To become a person then, requires a conscious choice to venture out and away from the self in order to fully and wholly return to it. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey, which begins:

“One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –“

That bad advice?

“Don’t do it! Don’t go! Stay here in the pleasantly familiar, entirely predictable pattern of a semi-conscious life. Don’t realize how you have allowed your circumstances to rob you of your freedom to choose how you will live.”

And (even more desperately now),

“Don’t remind me of my own fear, my own shame, my own self-satisfied stuckness by confronting your own!”

To become a person is to leave behind the relationships that hold you down – including the one with yourself – and take on the ones that build you up.

What is it, though, that gets you to the place where “you knew what you had to do and began.”?

For some, it’s tragedy; surviving an illness or a disaster, or grieving someone who did not.

For some, it’s the advent of anger that persists in unexpected, irrational ways. This can emerge in a new marriage or at the arrival of children, deep tears in the fabric of the familiar.

For others, it’s meeting a person of considerable influence who will not be bound by our rules of engagement, who hits us right between the eyes with the feedback we always knew was true but could never willingly hear.

And for others, it’s the revelation of childhood trauma, the awareness that their vulnerability was victimized by someone who knew better but still succumbed to their worst inclinations.

Whatever the source, our inner dynamics always find a way to emerge and provide us with a choice: will I remain constructed in this way (human) or will I set out to reconstruct myself into a person, by stepping into “…a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.” (again, The Journey.)

There is no path to becoming a person that is not littered with risk, real or imagined, which is why many people choose not to walk towards transformation.

Once again, I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian. Rather, I am a student of the human experience, as practiced through executive coaching and organizational consulting. My domain of interest and influence is organizational life and how it can be made richer, more positive and more productive for every human, indeed, for every person who participates in it.

This is, then, a request to all leaders to take the steps necessary to become a person. Until you do, your human leadership is a roadblock to the positive, productive richness that your people both deserve and crave. For yourself, for them, please walk out into that wild night, leaving the voices behind and “save the only life you can save.”

Here’s the poem in full:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

– Mary Oliver


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Whatever moves you

Our neighbor’s house sits below street level. They put lights on it this year, on the side facing away from the street.

The neighbor below them, on a flag lot down a long drive, put lights on their home, also.

We live on the corner lot of a quiet street; Main Street compared to our neighbors but a very quiet street compared to most.

We put lights on our house, too.

What moves us to do this? We know that few if any people will see our lights yet we put them up just the same.

It must be that we do it for ourselves. It must be that as much as we want our neighbors and those few passers-by to delight in our offerings, it is our internal desires that are most satisfied by these displays.

It must be that we do it for ourselves. We do it because it moves us.

I’m not sure, but I think this has something to do with the true self; that hidden, best part of us only seen by the precious few who also understand the risk and opportunity of being known.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

#500

On May 14, 2007 I uploaded my first blog post. It was this poem – The Journey – by Mary Oliver:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Today, over eleven short years later, you are reading post #500.

As the poem concludes, I started writing in this space “determined to do the only thing I could do – determined to save the only life I could save.”

What that meant then is that I was desperate to unlock my capacity to express myself on the issues, ideas and opportunities that matter to me most. To that point and for a long time after, it felt like too big a risk to be thought of as a fraud or a phony; a poor writer with poor ideas and a poor ability to share them. That’s what my merciless voice in the head had to say about it, anyway.

These days I write less to conquer demons and more to help me think. As a daily discipline it has both a meditative quality as well as a purposeful intent. The discipline is to stop long enough to germinate a thought and turn that thought into something I want to say. The meditative quality is that I don’t know where it will lead but I trust that it will be somewhere good, or at least good enough. And the purpose is that I want to be a catalyst; that I have a responsibility to push myself and others to start and sustain conversations that matter about leadership, change and the rough road to self-awareness.

Of course, there’s an ego component as well. I wonder who is reading or not; why or why not. I relish the thoughtful comments, questions and encouragement that come my way, brief reminders that something has landed, a nudge to keep going.

But even that satisfaction has taken a back seat to the value I gain, personally and intimately, from simply thinking onto the page.

I am no longer vexed by the inner demons. I no longer feel a sense of “should” or “have to.” Today, I write because it makes me a better person, in the way that any daily practice of stopping, thinking, and expressing will do.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, whose encouragement inspires me to continue, we will never have more freedom – to express, to create, to build, to disrupt, to connect – than we do right now. Might as well take advantage of it.

And so I will. Thank you for reading.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Put Out Into Deep Water

Casting-Net-Maintenance

Each one of us has a net in which we capture an understanding of ourselves. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net in the shallow end of our experience, catching and re-catching what we have long known about ourselves, hoping that this time the limitations of our understanding won’t hold us back, won’t prevent us from getting closer to our heart’s desire.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who you are. Only then will you be equipped to determine what serves you and what must be thrown back. 

Each one of us has a net in which we gather the collective force of our connection to others. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net on the surface of our experience, keeping our relationships at a safe distance, rarely risking bringing them closer and almost never including someone new. We falsely believe that this distance protects us, reducing the risk of being known for who we truly are.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who loves you, just as you are. Only then will you be equipped to close the difficult distance between the fear of loss and the exponential truth of full relationship.  

Each one of us has a net in which we collect all the learning of our adult life. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do so very often, if ever. Instead, we toss our net in the shallow waters of what is known, comforted by the embrace of the status quo, keeping a wide territory between us and the edge of the new with its persistent threat of exposure, embarrassment and failure.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of new learning. Only then will you be equipped to say “I am, and always have been a beginner.” 

Each one of us has a net. It is large and strong. It works fine along the shore but it is built for deeper water.

It cannot throw itself.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.