Truth and Consolation

Everything in the first list is true.

Everything in the second list is also true.

TRUTH

  1. Life is hard.*
  2. You are not important.
  3. Your life is not about you.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. You are going to die

CONSOLATION

  1. Yes, it’s hard. It’s also joyful and magnificent. Which do you choose to focus on?
  2. Except to those who love and rely on you. Except to those whom you serve.
  3. Until you humbly discover who you really are.
  4. You never were. The sooner you let go, the sooner you will be free.
  5. When you accept this, you can stop being a hero and start being a human.

*this list (and the strong influence to write this post) comes from Adam’s Return (Crossroad Publishing, 2004) by Richard Rohr.


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I Don’t Know

“The human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. ‘Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,’ it invariably says. Most people who think they are fully conscious or ‘smart’ and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.”

– Richard Rohr


If you want to encourage more compassion, start with “I don’t know.” Your vulnerability will signal to others that their vulnerability is ok, and normal. The other day, not knowing what to say to a sick friend, I somewhat shamefully Googled, “what to say to a sick friend.” It turns out that there are some very compassionate people in the world with more practice than me in being in those tough situations. My “I don’t know” led me to the help I needed.

If you want to establish a stronger community, start with “I don’t know.” You will become an invitation for others to share what they have to offer. The best leaders I know consistently and sincerely ask for their team’s ideas on how to address the endless supply of opportunities and challenges they face. This may sound obvious but the need to be the smartest person in the room drives many leaders to disconnection and isolation, the opposite of community.

If you want to discover more wisdom, start with “I don’t know.” A momentary pause leaves space for more thoughtful consideration, for a deeper learning to take place. Early in my work as a leadership coach, I felt self-conscious pressure to fill in any gaps in the conversation. I have learned to pause and allow brief silences to serve as catalysts for my client’s inherent wisdom to emerge.

It’s tough to remove the manhole cover. There are lots of days when it’s just too darn heavy. But I do have many encouraging examples of ways I have learned to let go of being right, to let go of being in control, and I am at my best when I let those examples help me to rise above myself.

I am reminded, again and again, that they all start with “I don’t know.”


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Do you dare?

It was above the timber line. The steady march of the forest had stopped as if some invisible barrier had been erected beyond which no trees dared move in a single file. Beyond was barrenness, sheer rocks, snow patches and strong untrammeled winds. Here and there were short tufts of evergreen bushes that had somehow managed to survive despite the severe pressures under which they had to live. They were not lush, they lacked the kind of grace of the vegetation below the timber line, but they were alive and hardy. Upon close investigation, however, it was found that these were not ordinary shrubs. The formation of the needles, etc., was identical with that of the trees further down; as a matter of fact, they looked like branches of the other trees. When one actually examined them, the astounding revelation was that they were branches. For, hugging the ground, following the shape of the terrain, were trees that could not grow upright, following the pattern of their kind. Instead, they were growing as vines grow along the ground, and what seemed to be patches of stunted shrubs were rows of branches of growing, developing trees. What must have been the torturous frustration and the stubborn battle that had finally resulted in this strange phenomenon! It is as if the tree had said, “I am destined to reach for the skies and embrace in my arms the wind, the rain, the snow and the sun, singing my song of joy to all the heavens. But this I cannot do. I have taken root beyond the timber line, and yet I do not want to die; I must not die. I shall make a careful survey of my situation and work out a method, a way of life, that will yield growth and development for me despite the contradictions under which I must eke out my days. In the end I may not look like the other trees, I may not be what all that is within me cries out to be. But I will not give up. I will use to the full every resource in me and about me to answer life with life. In so doing I shall affirm that this is the kind of universe that sustains, upon demand, the life that is in it.”

I wonder if I dare to act even as the tree acts. I wonder! I wonder! Do you?

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1999), 123-124.


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My Daily Bread

“Your output depends on your input.”
{Austin Kleon}


My morning ritual consists of coffee, reading and exercise, in that order. I have found that each is an ideal partner and precursor to the one that follows. Coffee keeps me alert to my reading, reading exercises my mind, opening it to new ideas and questions, and exercise awakens my body, providing time and space to process those questions and form new insights.

Each day I create space to do two kinds of reading. The first is to focus on the short form writing that arrives in my inbox each day. These pieces come from writers who, like me, publish daily content. I value their consistency and the rhythm that emerges from their commitment to a daily offering. Here are the ones I have come to depend on:

Author and teacher, Molly Davis, is a keen observer of herself in relationship to the world around her. She deftly uses her personal experience to reveal what is fragile and fundamental to our shared human existence.

Bishop Robert Barron provides insight on the gospel reading of the day. These reflections deepen both my understanding and my faith. They keep me grounded in the “here and now” truth that the gospels are a call to action.

Seth Godin is a “leading voice on everything from effective marketing and leadership, to the spread of ideas and changing everything.” I value his diverse perspectives and his care for the realization of human potential.

Richard Rohr is an extraordinary voice of applicable spiritual wisdom. He teaches me each day to live “on the edge of the inside” which means that if you are to bring meaningful change to any institution you must know it deeply before you can shepherd it to a better version of itself.

The second kind of reading I work into my morning is more traditional, those long form pieces we call books! More on that later. For now, I hope that you will choose to discover these daily authors for yourself or perhaps take a moment to share some of your own sources of daily insight and wisdom.


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Threefold

The following passage is by Dr. Barbara Holmes from her book, Joy Unspeakable. I read it earlier this week in Richard Rohr’s daily email and its precision brought me to a full stop. I offer a few comments and reflections in bold italics. 

“The human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. (If “God” is too specific for you, think of this as our collective need to connect to and strive for something larger than ourselves. We are made to imagine, to create, to connect and to belong in ways much larger than our ability to understand. To say ‘yes’ to that is to express our yearning.)

Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. (Know yourself, know all of it, and use that knowledge to become a more humble and empathetic student of all that will transpire in your life. When you do that, you are a better person for others.) 

Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. (This is the call to learning, to an extension beyond the comfort of our place and point of view and out into a world that includes all of those we would rather not, on a given day, have to encounter. This is the only way that any semblance of ‘peace’, within ourselves and in the company of others can become real.)


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Earth Wall (detail), Andy Goldsworthy

 

Choose to Make it Better

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
{Richard Rohr}


If you’re struggling in a poor work environment – not a toxic one, mind you but one that is marked by ineffectual leadership and uninspired co-workers – you can do one of three things:

  1. Leave
  2. Stay and join in the misery
  3. Make it better

Important to note that choosing #3 does not require you to make the whole thing better, just the three foot circle of it that surrounds you everywhere you go.

You could choose to have a radically positive and affirming attitude. You could choose to be on time in the morning, for all appointments and meetings and with your work as well. You could choose to compliment and recognize other’s contributions. You could choose to offer support when someone needs help. You could choose to abstain from complaining about what can’t be controlled and begin conversations about what can.

Your efforts may not yield the ripple effects necessary to shift the environment in a more favorable direction, but they might. And in the process, for as long as you choose to stay, you will feel better about yourself, most likely do better work, and be a light for others who are also trying to find a better way.


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.

Safety, Dignity and Love

The only people who change, who are transformed, are people who feel safe, who feel their dignity, and who feel loved. When you feel loved, when you feel safe, and when you know your dignity, you just keep growing! That’s what we do for one another as loving people—offer safe relationships in which we can change. This kind of love is far from sentimental; it has real power. In general, we need a judicious combination of safety and necessary conflict to keep moving forward in life.
– Richard Rohr


It’s bold to say “only,” don’t you think?

“The only people who change, who are transformed, are people who feel safe, who feel their dignity, and who feel loved.”

Yes, it’s bold. But, is it right? Is it true?

Ask yourself, when did you change – when were you transformed – when you felt threatened, worthless and hated?

You didn’t. You weren’t. Because all of your energy was focused on protection, defense and preservation of a status quo that made more sense than an even more uncertain future.

Leadership is best described as holding a vision for a better future and making it possible for others to work towards and fulfill that vision.

That is impossible to do without safety, dignity and love.

Leaders, your mission is clear: create safe environments; uphold the dignity of all people; and love, love, love like you’ve never loved before.


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.

Do the Work

“If we do not transform our pain we will most certainly transmit it.”

Richard Rohr


There’s a line from the poem “Out on the Ocean” by David Whyte that conveys Rohr’s meaning with visceral urgency:

“Always this energy smoulders inside, when it remains unlit the body fills with dense smoke.”

That unlit energy is the potential and possibility within each of us to transform ourselves from who we are to who we want to be.

If it is not activated it turns into acrid smoke that at first only chokes us, but in time finds its way to others in the form of resentment, jealousy, harshness, impatience and intolerance.

It can be grueling to bear our own pain, the wounded, unrealized or unfinished parts of ourselves. So we either keep allowing it to spill over onto loved ones and colleagues or we decide to do the work to transform it from an anchor to a sail.


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.