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.

Again, and again, and again

It is not because you do not know the truth that I write to you, but because you know it already.
– 1 John 2:21

People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.
– 
Samuel Johnson


I am not writing this piece for you, I am writing it for me.

I am not trying – though it often sounds that way, I’m sure – to convince you of anything, to make you change anything, to swing your vote to my side.

It is through writing that I remember what I care about, why I care about it and what I need to do every day to live out those beliefs.

I care about self-knowledge and personal accountability for acting on that self-knowledge as consistently as possible.

I care about building relationships that are based on love more than fear, respect more than intimidation, and open-hearted vulnerability.

I care about learning, the relentless exploration of the frontiers to which each of us is called.

Every time I write I am inviting myself back to those three themes, checking on my integrity, exploring my commitment. Every day I bake a new cake of those beliefs, combining the ingredients once more to find out if I have them in the right proportion, to see again if I am living out what I so easily espouse.

If what I put down moves or shifts your point of view in any way, that’s the frosting, but I am not concerned with that.

I am concerned with the cake. If it’s not right, nothing else matters.


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.

Regularly, Deeply Embarrassed

“Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun.”

– Alain de Botton


The post office was a mess today. Because, well, December 14.

I knew it as soon as I entered the parking lot and someone swooped into the spot that was clearly mine. That’s right! Mine!

The line for counter service was out the door and the line for self-service was shorter but disorganized and chaotic. A man leaving the store started blathering about how even though he’s a proud liberal democrat he still hates the government, his post office experience wringing out the last of his tolerance.

I didn’t even need to be there. Not really. The post office is located next to the library, a place I did need to go today and since I was close by I stopped in to mail an oversized envelope and buy some stamps. Nothing urgent and a big mistake.

One of the things that defines my own craziness is my flat refusal to bail out on lost cause situations like this one. I finish things, even when it makes no sense to do so (from a common sense, maintaining sanity perspective,  that is). The thought of having wasted the trip, the time, the energy…to park, to walk, to wait…it annoys me so much that I just don’t and won’t.

And the recorder in my head plays out the same call and response soundtrack every time: What is everyone’s problem? Why are you doing this to yourself? Why is everyone so awkward, slow and unprepared? Take a breath, welcome the opportunity for patience and understanding. I would happily be patient and understanding if this place weren’t a complete mess. I should just go. I’m not leaving until I get what I came for, etc.

This stubborn “stick it out at all cost” attitude isn’t my only brand of crazy, of course. I’ve written recently about my compulsion to make sure my car is pointed in the direction I’ll be going next; I must have the dishwasher loaded a certain way, my shirts folded a certain way; and for all of that anal retentiveness I will regularly complete things so quickly (so efficiently I tell myself) that I make and miss easily correctable mistakes. Yes, “regularly and deeply embarrassed.”

This is a great time of year to get in touch with your own crazy. Every anxiety is heightened, every situation more compressed, every responsibility hard up against the clock that tells us that the year is done. It’s a perfect time to take stock, feel a little embarrassed by our self-importance (not ashamed, mind you, but embarrassed) and have a self-deprecating laugh at it all.

I know that self-knowledge comes at a steep price. It is never found in the discount bin or the holiday close-out pile. It is always marked at full MSRP and it never, ever, includes free shipping or free returns. That’s the bad news.

The good news it that it’s always a perfect fit and is worth every penny you pay for it.


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.