Standing in the Tragic Gap

By the tragic gap I mean the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible — not because we wish it were so, but because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.” —Parker J. Palmer

This week, more destruction, loss and pain. More reminders of the frailty of the human condition, of the terrible pain we are capable of inflicting on one another. I am tired of swinging from exhausted cynicism to unrealistic idealism. I continue to challenge myself to stand in the middle of the uncertainty, to learn to pause in the ‘tragic gap.’ That challenge and that searching have led me back, once again, to the teaching of Parker Palmer.

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.


The Stream Becomes a River

When I wrote about love a few weeks ago I wrote from a place of inspiration. I witnessed love in an unexpected time and place and expressed my hope that the expansiveness of love could be normalized within the more sterile landscapes of organizational life.

Today as I write about love, I write from a much different place. It’s mired rather than inspired in feelings of loss; loss of control, loss of solutions, loss of the familiar.

Some of that loss is about my son’s impending departure for college and wondering if I’ve done enough, been a good enough father.

Some of that loss is connected to a current family crisis that has resurfaced old hurts, bringing a sense of childlike helplessness.

Poet David Whyte says it is a delusion to believe that we can “take a sincere path in life without having our hearts broken.” That is, anything we wholeheartedly devote ourselves to – marriage, career, children – will undoubtedly, inevitably pull us apart at the seams.

It takes resilience to stitch those seams of sincerity back together, and resilience like that only comes from a more expansive heart.

Each of us is moving along a continuum of pulling apart and stitching together. For some it’s conscious and deliberate work. For others, it’s beyond awareness but present in corrupting behaviors. Some are inspired, others are mired. This is in the marketplace, in our homes and in our workplaces where we spend so much precious time and energy.

Which is why we must – especially as leaders – cultivate a presence that not only accepts this truth but also helps us learn how to work with it.

We can do this – I can do this – if I remain open to experience instead of turning away; if I remain open to learning from the wisdom of others instead of struggling alone.

Here is one example of that wisdom:

“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”

 – Thich Nhat Hanh –

I know that the feelings of loss that come with change are temporary. I know that the seams can be stitched back together. What I must learn, and what I remain hopeful we all will learn, is that the garment itself can not be repaired to what it was. That in fact, with time and faith, it will be even more beautiful than before.

Though I feel like a stream, I seek to become a river. And streams become rivers as long as they continue to flow.

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.

Freedom from Fear

If not now, when?

To speak up? To stand up? To take a chance? To risk? To love? To discover? To explore? To learn? To lead? To follow? To be known? To know others? To investigate? To stretch? To get dirty, messy, uncomfortable? To live with hopeful realism?

We are living in an age of relentless trauma. I’m not saying that hope is lost, that good won’t win over evil or that the sky is falling. I don’t know. None of us know. And I am not an alarmist. I am paying attention. The trauma is real. And if you have the freedom to act there is no better time than now.

The arc of my personal development has long bent toward learning how to freely express my feelings. I adapted to my own set of childhood experiences by learning not to risk abandonment or loss. A good way to do that is to not say things that might upset people.

The learning has been steep and treacherous but I have found that good people, thoughtful people…close friends in particular, many of my clients, my girlfriend/fiancée/wife of 28 years, my children…appreciate my kind and thoughtful candor. There was a time that seemed impossible. And that has happened as I have learned to receive their kind and thoughtful candor in return.

As far as I’ve come, I have to do better. The moment demands it and I choose to meet the moment. There will never be a more important time in my lifetime to practice being better at what I find is the hardest thing to do: to live into a more authentic version of the freedom I so cherish; the freedom to speak up, to speak with integrity, to speak with love. The freedom to both express and receive the painful, unpleasant and hard to acknowledge real stuff of this time and place.

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.


Stranger in a Strange Land

“Traveller, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road
Only wakes in the sea.”

Antonio Machado

Being in transition feels weird. It feels incredibly odd to be in a completely new situation professionally and yet have all of my surroundings remain familiar. This is still my house; these are still my children; these are still my clothes; that is still my dog. And, yet it all looks and feels so different. Different because that is NOT still my job. That place I made tracks to and from every day for nearly eight years is no longer my place. Those responsibilities are no longer my responsibilities. Those politics are no longer my politics. Those victories, those losses; those aspirations and those complexities; no longer mine.

I am out of my body just a little bit. Just enough to feel the disequilibrium of the change. I walked away willingly and with purpose, but that doesn’t mean I am clear, confident or confirmed in my new venture. I am in progress. I am discovering that everything that is the same no longer looks the same because I am seeing it with new eyes. The eyes of someone who must see the world anew if I am to be in it in a new way.

I am in the world in a new way. I am a stranger to it and it to me. It is stunning to me how much possibility there is in a new beginning. That must be why I feel stunned.

I am a traveller on a new path. This is my path. These are my tracks.

Here I go.

Here I come.