“I, too, am America.”

I, Too
{Langston Hughes}

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

(Langston Hughes, “I, Too” from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Copyright © 2002 by Langston Hughes.)


The United States of America was born with three-fifths of the capacity it needed to live up to its stated ideals.

We have not closed the gap.

A child is expected to hit certain developmental milestones. We expect it to roll over, to crawl, to walk and to speak within a generally accepted timeline. If these milestones are not reached, well-intentioned caregivers seek the advice of professionals to investigate the cause and to prescribe a course of treatment to remedy any underlying condition.

None of this is taken lightly since it is understood that reaching the milestones “on time” is positively correlated to healthy development.

America is a child that has failed to achieve its first, most essential milestone, the one that unlocks all of the rest:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We have failed to achieve it because at the time it was written “all men” (all people) were not considered equal. In the 244 years since, we have failed to adequately address that underlying condition.

Unlike Germany after World War II and South Africa following apartheid, we have not faced up to the past in order to write a different future. We have hidden behind productivity, technology, armament and mythology (“the land of the free and the home of the brave”) to avoid the pain of reconciliation with our past. We have done so because of the false belief that vulnerability equals weakness. It does not.

America is a child whose underlying condition requires a more robust, honest and aggressive form of treatment. We will not meet four, much less five-fifths of our potential, we will not see our black citizens as human beings worthy of full dignity and respect, if we do not get it. This past week, I heard someone say that America is a construct, one that had to be conceived and built. That means that it is possible – if enough of us are willing – for it to be both re-conceived and re-built.

It is not too late for us to roll over, to crawl, to speak, to walk and perhaps even to run. But it is getting dark and too many of us, including me, have failed black Americans by believing it would get better on its own, that the child that is the American ideal would “grow out of it” and get back to normal.

It cannot and will not do so on its own, that’s the hard, grown-up truth. We have to act.

We have to act now.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

blessing the boats
{Lucille Clifton}

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence

sail through this to that


It’s been a hard week.

Everyone I spoke to said the same thing, this week was tough.

Nerves frayed, emotions running high, sluggish, out of sorts and the continuing weight of uncertainty.

Maybe it has to do with the turn of the calendar, the stark reality of April becoming May a reminder that an entire month – over 6 weeks in total now – has been “lost” to this experience.

And maybe it’s this new thing we know as “Zoom fatigue.” So many people, including myself, have described these virtual interactions as more intimate and purposeful and because of that, more taxing also.

But there were highlights, too. Beautiful and revelatory conversations, generous invitations for future points of connection, hard-won insights born of mistakes. And ideas, fresh ideas only noticed because of the stopping.

I choose not to have another “tough” week but to just have a week. I choose to have a week in which I allow all of it to mix together, concentrated though it may feel, into something teachable and generative.

Because the “tide…is entering even now” and once I have sailed “through this to that” how will I account for the journey?


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50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

I am happy to share the complete list of my “50 Ideas Fighting For,” that concluded today. I trust that these perspectives will be a valuable resource for you – a spark to inquiry and to conversation – and that you will pass them along to others who might benefit. I am thankful for your readership and very much look forward to remaining connected with you through this format and others as we work together to navigate this extraordinary and very challenging shared experience. 

With deepest gratitude,
David


50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

#1 – Read poetry

#2 – Change starts from within

#3 – Know Your Values

#4 – Know Your Strengths

#5 – Be courageous enough to name your aspirations

#6 – You Are Creative

#7 – Get Moving

#8 – Take a Break

#9 – You Don’t Fit in a Box

#10 – Development is a Verb

#11 – There is no “there”

#12 – Never Be Afraid to Reinvent Yourself

#13 – “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer

#14 – Tell the truth as fast as you can

#15 – You are the one you’ve been waiting for

#16 – You’ve got it better than you think

#17 – Root for other people’s success

#18 – Build Capability Before You Need It

#19 – Assume They Didn’t Understand You the First Time

#20 – It’s Ok to be “Good Enough”

#21 – Simplify

#22 – Time Alone

#23 – Get Closer

#24 – Empathy

#25 – Take Responsibility for Your Learning

#26 – Show Up

#27 – Mature Idealism

#28 – Leap

#29 – Little Things are Big Things

#30 – You Can Adjust your Default Setting

#31 – Satisfaction ≠ Engagement

#32 – What Power Is For

#33 – Originality

#34 – The Next Smallest Thing

#35 – Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

#36 – Look to Nature

#37 – Eat What You Want (It’s your birthday)

#38 – Competence

#39 – The Real Conversation

#40 – Explain About the Thread

#41 – Be Change Ready

#42 – Common Sense

#43 – Compassion

#44 – The Greater Good

#45 – Integrity

#46 – A Living System is a Learning System

#47 – Readiness

#48 – Letting Go

#49 – Vote

#50 – Forgiveness



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#46 – A Living System is a Learning System

“In biology, living and learning are synonyms, indistinguishable processes that keep life growing and moving forward. A living system is a learning system.”

 – Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be?”


Living and learning are inextricably linked. You can’t live if you can’t learn. You can’t grow, you can’t fulfill, you can’t become, you can’t materialize, you can’t evolve. You can’t be.

What is so challenging and so frustrating about this interconnection is that we need to be reminded that it’s true. Not at the biological level, of course, but at the rational, executive-mindset level of being. We get stuck, entranced, entrenched, enchanted, enamored, beguiled, bewitched, completely consumed by what we’ve done before. And so we do it again. Even though it doesn’t work. Even though we know better. Learning something new simply overwhelms our distracted, safety seeking selves.

This week, in the midst of these extraordinary circumstances, we find ourselves forced out of our denial of the living/learning connection and into new ways of working, relating and providing. It is a strange and discomfiting reality, one that has so much to teach us if only we will allow it to do so.

Many have said, including myself, “How frustrating!”

But another response is also available to us. In the words of Ben Zander we could say instead, “How fascinating!” Instead of leaning away from learning, this response leans toward it. It leans toward and into an opening to curiosity, the deepening of empathy, the commitment to new forms of connection and compassion.

This time has so much to teach us. We will know we are learning when we replace our yearning to “get back to normal” with a yearning to carry forward the hard-won lessons of our shared experience.

“When thinking falters, a living system is at risk. If it continues unchecked, the organism dies. Think about it. Now you know what to do.”

 – Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be?”


This is #46 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another piece you might find valuable today.

PS: If you are reading this on Facebook, I would like to invite you to go to my website to sign-up for direct delivery of my blog posts. I will be de-activating my FB account at the end of the month. Thank you!


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#40 – Explain About the Thread

“The Way It Is”

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

– William Stafford –


I was captivated this week by an episode of the podcast, This American Life. Specifically, this segment featuring the magicians Penn and Teller describing their process for developing a new trick. Teller, the conspicuously silent partner, has fallen in love with the idea of recreating a classic floating ball and hoop routine. Penn is less enthusiastic, as in not at all. As Teller works and works to make the trick worthy of their show by the standard they have agreed to over 40 years of collaboration he falls short time and again.

A breakthrough comes when they agree that the way to make the trick compelling to both themselves and their audience is to let the audience in on it from the very beginning. The trick begins with Penn’s announcement: “The next trick is done with just a piece of thread.”  And off goes Teller, beautifully and brilliantly manipulating a ball with nothing more than a piece of thread.

What Penn and Teller understood and acted upon – after years of work on one specific illusion – is what William Stafford implores us to do in the poem above: “You have to explain about the thread.” 

I am often in a position to do exactly that. In the classroom or at a speaking engagement I am frequently asked about my own thread. Why do I do what I do? How did I get started? What are the steps I took from there to here?

I always respond in the same way, that I knew exactly what I was supposed to do with my life when I was 17 years old. A bright red thread emerged through my experiences in musical performance and student leadership. I was intuitively aware that the abilities developed and practiced in those early settings were the strengths I would call on throughout my adult life. I held onto my thread through the first few years of college but lost it completely once I had to marry my intuitive sense of it to the harshly practical world of “knowing what you want to do with your life.” I didn’t know how to manifest my nascent understanding of my thread into a next step. And I was too afraid to explain about the thread. I wasn’t willing to say, “This is my thread. I don’t know much about it but I do know a few important things, not least of which is that it’s mine. Will you please help me figure out where it leads?”

Instead, I let it slip away. As it turns out, it did not let go of me. We played peekaboo on occasion, a flirtation here and there, but it took over 10 years and an extraordinary confluence (aka, the thread working hard behind the scenes) of people and events to land me in front of a classroom of aspirational leaders. The specifics of that first class are hazy because my memory is dominated by the aliveness I felt at having my hands on the thread once again.

A few years ago my thread led me to the college classroom and the opportunity to teach and mentor undergraduate students. The thread has a solid sense of humor. It says, “You struggled to claim me as your own. Others struggle, too. Here is your chance to help a few people struggle a little less, to find the thread a little earlier, and to gain the confidence and declare their commitment to hang on.”

There is no “magic.” There is finding your thread and there is holding onto your thread because “while you hold it you can’t get lost.” There is demonstrating to all who cannot see it that what looks like magic is just your commitment to trust where it will lead. Sometimes, like Teller performing for a full house, we hang on with artistry and elegance. Sometimes, like Teller in the early days of practice, we hang on in spite of our fumbling because our curiosity compels us to learn where it wants to go.  And sometimes we don’t hang on at all. But it is there, waiting to dispel the illusion that we can find our way without it.

What is your thread? Where is it leading?
Who have you explained it to? Who have you asked for help?
What makes it hard to hang on?
Is there someone whose thread confuses you?
Will you listen to them explain about the thread?

For further reading, here’s another reflection on “The Way It Is” by Parker Palmer.


This is #40 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” You’re one click away from reading another!

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#34 – The Next Smallest Thing

At the conclusion of a speech last October, on my way out of the conference hall, the organizer of the  event said that he would be more than happy to provide a written reference for me to include on my web site.

This week, I finally followed up with him and asked if the offer was still good. He replied right away (and with enthusiasm!) that it still is.

I thought to reach out to him because since that talk in October the speaking part of my business has been nonexistent. In my transition to a new, full time internal role I stopped seeking opportunities to do one of the things I most love to do.

This week I decided to change that by doing the next smallest thing I could do to bring this part of my professional life back in line with my aspirations. I finally asked for that reference.

The next smallest thing I did was to send an email to someone in my network who invited me to speak at his organization many years ago to ask if he’d be willing to have me back. 

The next smallest thing I did was to research organizations in my community who need speakers on a regular basis. I found three that I think would be a good fit and completing a speaker proposal for each of them is on the list of the next smallest things I will do in the coming week.

The next smallest thing I did was to write this blog post, because until you let people know what you’re looking for, they can’t help you find it.

(HT Carl Richards)

This is #34 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Learning is another great topic to explore.


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#27 – Mature Idealism

This is #27 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another, just for fun.


The summer after my sophomore year of college I stayed on campus to work on the conferences and events team. We made beds, hauled supplies and were continuously “on call” for the many groups who used the university’s facilities between May and August.

One large group proved to be especially challenging for our team. Between their ever-increasing demands and our inability to meet them, frustration mounted quickly on both sides. As we approached the boiling point our boss called an emergency meeting to determine next steps. We were worn out, frustrated and short on ideas about how to meet this client’s demands.

The boss asked us for our ideas and I blurted out, “They just never should have come.”

I’ve seen some withering stares in my life but the one I received that day tops them all. Incredulous, he moved on to someone else, someone with something useful to say.

The danger of youthful idealism is that when things don’t work out as you believe they should, an immature response seems all there is to offer. It’s a place of victimization rather than agency, one of stagnation rather than creativity.

A mature idealism suggests that our highest aspirations are always tempered with the acceptance of reality, with respect for the vicissitudes of change. From that place we can responsibly say, “We knew this was possible. It’s not what we wanted, but we knew it was possible. What’s the best we can do in this moment?”

That perspective allows us to open up to what the moment has to teach us and gives us a chance to practice the resilience necessary to make the most of it.

As the saying goes, the only way to survive keeping your head in the clouds is to have your feet firmly planted on the ground.


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#17 – Root for other people’s success

This is #17 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one that I like a lot.


Have you felt the twinge, maybe even the jolt of resentment, jealousy, frustration, or anger when someone else, usually a close friend or family member, breaks through to a new level of success?

Have you slunk into the rut of envy, wondering why they got so “lucky” and you’re just as unlucky as ever? Have you ever asked yourself, “After all the work I’ve done, and all of the ways I’ve been there for them, who are they to get this exciting, career defining, life-altering opportunity??”

Some version of that, perhaps?

I know I have. And it tastes like poison dripping down the back of my throat.

The antidote to this toxin, I finally learned, is a two-part cocktail: (1) Cheer them on, root for them, offer support, vigorously and consistently. And not just them but anyone you encounter who catches a break, gets a new chance, or makes a big move. Be their biggest fan. (2) Get to work on what you care about. Put in the hours and the sacrifice to create the momentum that often, though not always, generates it’s own “luck.”

This is what my “lucky” friends have in common: they care about other’s success and they put in the work. The two feed off of one another, creating a virtuous cycle of positive energy and opportunity.

It’s too easy to be the victim, the unlucky one. That’s a hiding place and a crowded one at that. Far better to step into the light of day, a source of energy for others and a source of inspiration for yourself.


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#5 – Speak Your Aspirations

This is #5 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For”



Declaring what you want requires courage.

It takes a lot of vulnerability to name a goal, especially a big one. Once you do so, you’re on the hook to follow through, and that is the moment that separates fantasy from reality.

And no one can help you until you do.

And the thing it took me a very long time to learn is that people want to help. People will and do help once they know what you are hoping/trying to accomplish.  

Do you aspire to write a book? You can suffer in silence or you can spread the word. Telling people about it doesn’t free you from the responsibility to sit down and write, but it may unlock a community of support, a wealth of resources, a path through the maze of a difficult process.

And it’s the same for starting a company, turning pro, leading a team, running a marathon, inventing a product. The courage to name a goal like that is the courage to trust that once you do so, “mighty forces will come to your aid.” (Basil King)

But what if you let them down? What if you fail? What if change your mind? I can only offer what experience has taught me about that: you pick yourself up and move on.

You name your next aspiration, tell the world about it, and get to work.


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