Stone Circle

At the Earth Sanctuary on Whidbey Island there is a stone circle. It is a modern interpretation of the ancient structures that dot the northern European landscape, about which little of certainty is known. It’s safe to say they were communal structures that served to bind groups together as central gathering places for social rituals, funerary and other wise. 

I took this photograph in May of 2019. I wanted to capture the shadowed “reflection” of the basalt columns in contrast to the columns themselves. Those bold straight lines were intoxicating to my amateur perspective; rectangular pillars arranged in a perfect circle, holding their defined space while the sunlight provided an alternative point of view for anyone willing to appreciate the slowly shifting contrast.

We are living through a period of social deprivation; it pains me to acknowledge. Our communal spaces are no longer safe, the foundational columns of our society threatened by charlatans and their highest bidders. There is no patience for the “slowly shifting contrast” of differing perspectives, there is only the rush to the simplistic, the banal and the grotesque expressions of the worst we have to offer. 

Worse than that is the systemic abuse of the central principle of any highly functioning society: the common good, the care and concern for all, especially the “least of these.”

It has become exceedingly difficult to imagine, in the fall of 2020, a gathering of diverse voices within a communal structure designed to bind and unite us, that would not immediately disintegrate into a battle of hateful rhetoric and harmful aggression.

I am not hopeful. 

And, and…I am just naïve enough, just old enough, just desperate enough to choose to believe that the strong, straight columns of our historical inheritance will bear the weight of our collective mass once we have spent all our rage, and find that the only consolation left to us is to lean against them, cooling in their shadows, waiting for the slow and shifting sun to come again.

Burn the Boats!

It is said that Cortez ordered his men to burn their boats so that they had no choice but to conquer or die.

This is not true. He ordered that the ships be sunk, not burned, to prevent a second mutiny of soldiers who were still loyal to their Cuban home (and conceivably wanted to return there).

Isn’t it fascinating how a major historical event has been romanticized and mythologized to the point that to “burn the boats” represents the ultimate metaphor for negative motivation to change?

And it’s a seductive one, too. “Burn the boats!” is so much easier than providing substantive, thoughtful, clear and consistent explanations for the necessity of change.

Maybe when you’re leading the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, or parenting unruly children, negative reinforcement is the best way to go. Maybe.

I am comfortable asserting that professional adults who come to work each day hoping to engage their hard-won skills in support of something worthwhile deserve better than “burn the boats.”

Don’t you think?

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.