My attempt to interpret this poem

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

By William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

We have to get our act together on this self-knowledge thing or else we’re going to get lost chasing someone else’s ideas about who and what we are.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

All that old stuff we haven’t dealt with, all those old ways we are used to being, aren’t much good for us anymore.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

We can keep going in the circles of our ignorance or we can finally break the cycle and be brave enough, kind enough to name what is true.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

Even though I don’t and can’t fully understand it I am asking for help to be real, to be open, so that I have the best chance of being found, of being seen, as I am.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

I desperately want to shut down, to go away, to go to sleep…but I know that if I help you and you help me we can stay awake right until dawn, and maybe even a little after, and that by doing so we can avoid the easy deceptions, the counterfeit connections that keep us from being who we really are, alone and together.


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.

Tourist or Explorer?

I took a risk with a client the other day and did not stick the landing. It got a little messy because I was unclear, following a hunch in the moment and sowing confusion from a place of good intention.

The saving grace is that my client is gracious and understanding, willing to stay with me as I hobbled through an effort to take the work to a new place. Our ensuing conversations brought forth a new level of candor which resulted in a new level of understanding and learning. I’m thankful for the way it worked out. I’m glad I followed my hunch and I will be better for it the next time I am inclined to take that risk.

There are times I’ve been a tourist in my work, painting each interaction by number and “meeting expectations” as so many performance review forms blithely state.

There are also times when I’ve been an explorer, attempting to reach unknown places with no map, a hunch and a flashlight.

I will keep pushing myself to explore because every time I do, no matter how dark or stormy or uncertain, something better comes of it. And because good people are always there to help me find my way back home.


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.

What I Learned Today

Everyone I know who trusts me enough to be honest with me is a little bit crazy.

Everyone I know who trusts me enough to be honest with me also feels at least a little bit vulnerable about being a little bit crazy.

There seems to be an opportunity in there somewhere.

The nexus of trust, honesty, crazy and vulnerable is a powerful, scary and liberating place to be.

I’ll hold the light so you can find it. Will you please hold the light for me?


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 Getaway Car

I meet my friend Jeff Gibbons once a month for breakfast. Today’s encounter got off to a funny start.

As I turned left on the street of our regular spot, I noticed plenty of parking on both the left and right sides of the street. Knowing that I would be headed back the way I came, I passed up the spots on the right, flipped a u-turn and took one of the spots on the other side of the street, making sure I was headed in the direction I would be going next.

Since I was early, I sat in the car for a few minutes to finish up a radio interview. And then in my side view mirror I noticed Jeff’s car approaching on the same side of the street I was on. I assumed he would pull in to the open spot behind me.

And just as I was sure he was about to do so, he flipped a u-turn and took a spot on the other side of the street, headed back from where he had come. Like me, he had planned his exit strategy.

I emerged from my car laughing, approaching Jeff and saying, “Apparently there’s a masculine need to make sure we have a getaway!” and explained to him that I had done the same thing just 10 minutes earlier.

We shared a knowing laugh and then proceeded to talk it over. I am grateful to say that when Jeff and I meet we don’t spend a lot of time on the surface. We get into stuff that we don’t talk about in many, if any, other places. It is an open, honest, thoughtful and candid discussion of manhood, fatherhood, marriage, faith, politics and anything else we might throw in.

We talked about the fact that men are always looking for a way out, regardless of the threat level. We have inherited the bias for action and reaction and, as such, equip ourselves for a ready response. This is painting with a broad brush, I know, but seeing the two of us act this way in quick succession made me think that it might not just be me, or Jeff, but that maybe lots of us operate in this mode.

We men need other men in our lives. The science backs up the health benefits of long-term male friendship and it doesn’t hurt to have the occasional reminder that we’re not the only one dealing with, working on, trying to get better at…whatever it is.

I appreciate male friendships that provide the space for intimate and vulnerable conversations. I also recognize that it can be tough for us to stay in those conversations for too long. We dive below the surface for a little while and then bob back up to the surface for some fresh air and a check of the weather, often literally. We use that moment to pinpoint the location of our car, confirming that it it’s still pointed in the right direction.

Just in case.


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.

Timing is Everything

Not Here

There’s courage involved if you want
to become truth.  There is a broken-

open place in a lover.  Where are
those qualities of bravery and sharp

compassion in this group?  What’s the
use of old and frozen thought?  I want

a howling hurt.  This is not a treasury
where gold is stored; this is for copper.

We alchemists look for talent that
can heat up and change.  Lukewarm

won’t do. Halfhearted holding back,
well-enough getting by?  Not here.

– From Soul of Rumiby Coleman Barks


The adamancy of this poem is startling, when I stop to think about it. Rumi gives no quarter. “It’s all or nothing,” he seems to say. And a huge part of me agrees with him, trained as I’ve been in, and inclined as I am, to the practice of disclosure for the purpose of developing greater intimacy and deeper connections.

But, not so fast.

Not so fast for everyone, that is.

My urgency to “go deep” is not always aligned with your willingness to enter those waters. And there are times when I catch myself in a judgmental state for your lack of willingness to meet me there. This is the truth as I know how to tell it.

It is not a stretch to say that where my family is expressive, my in-laws are not. I am not suggesting that we ritually descend to the absolute depths at every possible opportunity, but we are practiced at getting to the heart of things in a very emotional way, productively or otherwise. It’s who we are and what we do.

My in-laws are the other sort. Lots of fun, lots of laughter, but a rather certain sort of even keel prevents the kind of emotional verisimilitude that pervades so many of my family’s gatherings.

Until this past weekend, that is.

In the very best way and in a manner, thanks to my wife’s genius, perfectly appropriate to her brood, there was an outpouring of expression on the occasion of her father’s 90th birthday.

We are blessed that Bob, at 90, is a healthy and happy man. This is quite a gift, for him and for us. Appropriate to that good fortune, Theresa invited all of those assembled (and many from afar) to write a letter to him of both congratulations and appreciation. Documents in hand, and immediately following a glorious prime rib dinner just two days removed from the Thanksgiving feast (I married well!) we sat around the dinner table and read to Bob our expressions of love.

The tears flowed. Generously, genuinely they flowed. From sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and this son-in-law, they flowed freely and well. It was a beautiful and sacred space made possible by Theresa’s initiative and the willing participation of the assembled clan.

My point is only this: we dare not assume what is present in the hearts of those near us. We dare not assume their willingness or ability to express it. What we can only assume is that if we, if I, am patient and thoughtful and lovingly present, that the right amount of expression, in the right way, and in the right time will find its way to the surface and become a blessing that will never be forgotten.


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.

Earning the Delight of Solitude

“Solitude is painful when one is young but delightful when one is more mature” — Albert Einstein


It feels good to have more in common with Dr. Einstein than I realized.

For years now I’ve been contemplating why it is that I am increasingly comfortable with and even possessive of my time alone.

For a long time, more or less between the ages of 18 and 35, I could fairly be described as an “insecure extrovert.” I didn’t want to be around other people, I needed it in an unhealthy way.

I didn’t know how to be alone and it made me restless, anxious and uncertain when I had to be. Since this was still the pre-Smartphone era I didn’t have an easy form of escapism to dull the pain. I just had to feel it. And I hated it.

Other people served as a distraction from the unresolved questions in my heart and mind and the difficult feelings that accompanied them. In many cases I used other people to escape those feelings leading to unhealthy and short-lived relationships. It was a pattern broken by marriage but not resolved by it. In fact, had I not sought help in reconciling my inner life I’m sure my marriage would have suffered great damage, becoming an even more painful casualty.

Doing the work on myself not only made me a better friend, colleague, husband and father but it gave me the peace of mind and heart to be better with and to myself. That made it easier to be with myself and allowed me to transform from an “insecure extrovert” to a thoughtful and even loving one.

This is possible now because the time I spend in solitude refreshes me and heals me. It equips me to be more positive with and more generous to those I care about, instead of requiring them to feed my insatiable insecurity.

Increased comfort with solitude as we age makes sense because our experience of life is simplified. We’ve found our place and way in the world and the comfort of that leads to a quiet sense of security within the known certainties of change.

In my personal experience that increased comfort is also the equity earned from an investment in reconciliation; binding old wounds and enlarging my heart.


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.

Worth the Wait

If you want to ice skate on a frozen pond it’s best not to attempt it after the first frost.

A reliable surface, one you can trust to sustain your weight and the carving of your skates, needs time and consistently low temperatures to get to a solid state.

The same is true for new relationships or those that are recovering from a difficult passage.

We want to believe that our initial best efforts to repair the damage will be sufficient. But it takes time and consistency for someone to believe that we are worthy of their trust, once again.

Do not ask me to skate with you on the early, brittle ice. Invite me, deep into winter, to join you on the solid ice that will hold us both.


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.

Something funny

One afternoon last spring, while waiting for class to begin, I clicked on a list of “stupid clean jokes.”  Somewhere mid-list I came across one – see below – that made me laugh out loud, and which kept me laughing for a while. I was so taken with it that I sent it to my wife, Theresa. The ensuing text exchange, in which I attempt to build the joke while she makes clear her disinterest, is one of my all time favorite exchanges with her, text or otherwise. It captures who we are individually and our relationship so precisely, so specifically, that I took a screen shot so I wouldn’t forget it.

I could make some interesting connection here about the necessity of surrounding ourselves with people who challenge us, push us and help us to grow. I could further discuss the benefits of “difference” vs. “same” or explore the needs and wants we all carry around, waiting for others to notice and satisfy.

Or I could just let you know that today I needed something funny, remembered this screen shot, and took a quick dip in its refreshing waters.

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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.

 

Change Your Mind About Someone

We’re quick to judge. And those judgments form a narrative that can prove very difficult to change. Those snap judgments rarely tell the whole story of what someone is capable of. Those judgments keep people stuck in a place that is comfortable for us, confining for them.

A thought experiment: think of someone – a colleague, team member, boss, sibling, neighbor – about whom you have a clear, strongly held and negative opinion. Consider how you came to hold that opinion. Consider what allows the opinion to persist. Separate fact from story, truth from fiction and see, if only for a moment, if there is something else that may be true.

I don’t suggest that every one deserves a second chance. But most people do, especially when our judgment of them is based more on perception than reality.

It takes courage to reassess our long-held perspectives. It takes courage to be vulnerable enough to admit that while there was a time and place where this belief made sense, it is no longer that time and it is no longer that place.

Most people, most of the time are worthy of our reconsideration. When we make room for surprise, it just might happen.


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.