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.

“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.


climate sign outside blur

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

A Small Needful Fact
{Ross Gay}

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.


It’s not enough to say that I am not a racist.

It’s not enough to say that I am uncomfortable talking about racism, that I haven’t tried, that I don’t know how.

It’s not enough to feel sad, disgusted, demoralized and ashamed.

It’s not enough to say that I live “here” and because I live “here” it’s not an issue for me, for us.

It’s not enough to pay attention.

It’s not enough to say that I’ll use my vote.

It’s not enough to visit the monuments, to read the words, to know the history.

It’s not enough to claim the moral high ground.

It’s not enough to say, “give it time, it will change.”

It’s not enough to be a “good guy,” a “good friend,” a “good” colleague, father, husband, citizen.

It’s not enough to share a smile and a wave, to hold the door, to say “thank you,” to say “no problem.”

It’s not enough to not know how.

It’s not enough.

It’s not nearly enough.


person holding white cotton candy

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Beware the False Dichotomy

I read an article today that talked about the leadership challenge of navigating the difference between “wartime” and “peacetime” leadership.

It’s not a valid question because it’s based on a false dichotomy.

The distinction between “wartime” and “peacetime” suggests a dualistic, either/or approach to leadership. The discussion centered on working with the intersection of these divergent approaches – “What do I do when both are required? – but that only confirms the dualism of “two” approaches and that under “normal” circumstances you would practice one or the other which is, to put it mildly, hogwash.

Allow me to suggest that we think about this another way:

A leader’s impact, regardless of stability or crisis, is directly proportional to his or her dedication to the truth that leadership exists for the betterment of the human experience. Leadership is the moral responsibility to help other human beings work together to create extraordinary outcomes in the face of change.

When a leader is committed to this definition, dualism must go out the window. There is not “wartime” or “peacetime” leadership. There is, rather, human being leadership that always requires a few fundamental things: the preservation of dignity and respect; the vulnerability to have one real conversation after another; treating employees like adults; investing in their well-being as well as their achievement; clear goals and the resources to achieve them; the eradication of fear and the elevation of love.

With human being leadership, outside conditions are irrelevant. You’ve heard the wedding vow, “In good times and in bad.” Should I love my wife differently in the good times than I do in the bad times? Of course not. Leading a team is no different.

Lead them now, love them now, exactly how you would lead and love them at any other time. If you have to make a radical shift in your leadership practice because the wind has suddenly changed direction, you are doing it wrong.


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‘Essential’ is a Choice

Most of us don’t meet the government’s definition of “essential” when it comes to working the front lines of the response to the novel corona virus.

Most of us, that is, are deemed “non-essential.”

And we who are “non-essential” have been given a very short and manageable to-do list: wash your hands, stay at home and/or stay six feet apart.

But none of the “non-essentials” I’ve talked to feel like that’s “enough.” Most of them want to and are doing more.

You’re seeing it everywhere: acts of service, compassion, creativity, problem-solving, and helping hands. Educators, musicians, civil servants, service workers, neighbors, kids, from all walks of life, giving of themselves in innumerable ways and with epic levels of generosity.

These acts and these efforts, in all of their forms, are essential because they lift us up, give us hope, and remind us in tangible ways that we are all connected.

When we get through the worst of this crisis, it will be because the first wave of essential workers fought heroic battles to stem the tide of a terrible virus. It will also be because a second wave of people, those who chose to be essential, contributed their best selves to the effort, reminding all of us just how remarkable and just how powerful it is to be human.

This is the time to be essential.

Being essential is a choice.

Please do what you can.


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#49 – Vote

A little more than fifty days ago I decided to bring my daily blogging practice to an end. I decided to do so by using the final fifty days to write about “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I had 50 Ideas to write about but then I started making my list and they came easily. As the days went along, many from that initial list made the cut and many did not, as current events – personal, national and global – challenged me to think harder and harder about what I really believe in and what should be fought for.

In just seven short weeks the world has shifted so dramatically that it cannot and will not be the same again. Many of us haven’t felt the comfort of “normalcy” since the 2016 election. Our efforts to make peace with that outcome (with the rationale that the system will allow us to expunge the anomaly in four years) have been challenging at best, but here in year four the light at the end of the tunnel was finally coming into view.

And then the coronavirus changed everything. Not just because it is a once-in-a-century pandemic but because the ineptitude – perhaps even the criminality – of those sworn to protect the citizens of this country have led us into a crisis beyond description, the full scope of which will not be known for some time. We are needlessly stressing the entire infrastructure of the country, not to mention putting our most vulnerable citizens at risk, because of the greed and callousness of our failed leaders.

Does leadership matter? Ask your kids who won’t return to school this year. Ask the person just laid off from her job. Ask those confined to nursing homes who live each day in fear of infection without the comfort and care of family members not allowed to visit them.

Competent, compassionate leadership matters more than ever. And we see that kind of leadership at the local and state levels, as qualified people work tirelessly to respond to a crisis that their federal peers could have alerted them to much earlier and far more effectively. We see neighbors, co-workers, and complete strangers doing what they can to ease the burden of those within their reach because that’s the best of humanity coming through when those in power fail us.

I wasn’t planning to write about this today, but I have built an entire career on helping leaders become more effective in the face of change and we are witnessing the slow-motion train wreck of what happens when ineffective leaders have to face a level of responsibility for which they are tactically and morally unprepared.

What else could I write about, then?

I am disgusted, I am angry and I am so, so sad.

But what I feel even more strongly is the weight of my responsibility to do the following:

  1. Remain positive
  2. Control what I can control
  3. Be of service
  4. Show compassion
  5. Take care of myself
  6. Love my family
  7. Continue my work to build better leaders
  8. Vote

That’s it. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

What are you going to do?


i voted sticker lot

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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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#45 – Integrity

“The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more one fully enters into the communion of all creatures.”
{Wendell Berry}


When my daughter was in elementary school one of her classrooms had the following sign over the door:

THE DOOR OF INTEGRITY:
I am responsible for everything I think, say, do and feel.

In my memory of it I cannot help but recall Viktor Frankl’s challenge to us when he writes, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

And, I would add, in our response lies our integrity, the evidence of our more or less cohesive self.

How incredible that we get to choose! That we, alone among creatures, have the opportunity to reflect on our impulses and find even more effective ways to interact with the world. Wendell Berry reminds us that this effort is never for its own sake but that the deepening of personal understanding is at once the strengthening of connection with everyone and everything around us.

In these days of uncertainty, anxiety, simplicity and grounding may you access your deepest possible expression of integrity. And, however difficult it may be to swallow in the moment, may the aftertaste of personal responsibility be a savory accompaniment to the freedom you will have so rightly earned.

The best thing about the “Door of Integrity” is that however small it may seem, there is just enough room for all of us to squeeze through.

I look forward to greeting you on the other side.


This is #45 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s a piece on organizational culture you might mind 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!


white concrete structure

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#44 – The Greater Good

“Social distancing”

“Hunker down”

“Self-isolate”

“Flatten the curve”

I did not plan to include “The Greater Good” on my list of “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For” but it’s never been made more real or more important to fight for it than right now.

Yes, it’s possible that we are already too late, that a surge of cases will overwhelm the system, but we cannot afford to think like that. We have to choose new actions out of a deep sense of responsibility to ourselves, our families and our communities.

In the age of the selfie we have to do the well-being equivalent of asking a stranger to take our picture. And when asked, we have to be willing to say, “yes.” Not a perfect analogy, I know.

Those of us living privileged lives with plenty of resources (toilet paper included), are morally obligated to take these steps in order to ensure we limit the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are morally obligated to honor the vital truth that we are all connected and that, by and through our connection, we wield the power to enliven and enable as well as the power to neglect and to harm.

We must choose the former and we must do it now. 


flattening-the-curve

#42 – Common Sense

Common sense leadership practices in times of crisis:

  1. Take care of yourself.
  2. Take care of your team.
  3. Trust your values.
  4. Trust your strengths.
  5. Ask for help.
  6. Learn.
  7. Share your learning.

Today is a good day to turn each of these into a question and to assess how you’re doing:

  1. How have I taken care of myself today?
  2. How have I taken care of the team?
  3. How have I lived from my values?
  4. How have I employed my strengths?
  5. Who did I ask for help?
  6. What did I learn?
  7. How did I share my learning ?

If this seems like a lot of unnecessary “navel gazing” under the circumstances, please consider this: how you lead right now is the model for how everyone around you will behave. It is the model for how you and your team will respond to this crisis and the one that comes next.

Surely, you can spare a few minutes of reflection to help you stay on a path that is worthy of your well-being and that of the people you are privileged to lead.


person washing his hand

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