Where do you draw the line?

Freedom of Expression

My feet wait there listening, and when
they dislike what happens they begin
to press on the floor. They know when
it is time to walk out on a program. Pretty soon
they are moving, and as the program fades
you can hear the sound of my feet on gravel.
If you have feet with standards, you too
may be reminded—you need not
accept what’s given. You gamblers,
pimps, braggarts, oppressive people:—
“Not here,” my feet are saying, “no thanks;
let me out of this.” And I’m gone.

 – from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems by William Stafford


When the “San Diego Chargers” became the “Los Angeles Chargers” my neighbor was having none of it. Offended and mistreated he decided to openly revolt against the change.

That very day, he purchased the team flag of every LA Chargers opponent for the 2017 season and took turns flying them in his front yard on game days. His revolt continues this year.
My neighbor has “feet with standards.”
There’s plenty we should put up with – mature, professional people understand that tradeoffs must be made – and plenty that we shouldn’t. Each of us has to decide where to draw that line.
I believe and practice forgiveness as well as second chances. I also believe that if you tolerate the “gamblers, pimps, braggarts and oppressive people” in your life – especially those in positions of influence – out of a belief that sooner or later they will have an epiphany, figure it out and grow up, you will be disappointed and you will remain stuck.
Draw the line and say these words: “Not here. No thanks. I’m gone.”

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 to Choose

Freedom

– William Stafford, from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems

I have to choose my freedom. It is not given to me by role or position. It is not taken from me by oppression or circumstance. My freedom is exercised in the present moment when I choose how to respond to what’s happening rather than to let’s what’s happening make the choice for me.

I am reminded of a quote of unknown origin: “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.”

I imagine what would be different if I learned to take the pause in that space…to consider the options before me and to then make the most positive, constructive choice possible. I imagine that because so many days…so many times per day…I cannot see the space and so I cannot make the choice. I just react.

I am called – as all leaders, all parents, all spouses, all colleagues – are called, to dedicate and rededicate myself to personal responsibility; the responsibility to remember that my freedom is a choice.


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.

 

 

Consolation

I keep a book by the bedside called “The Way It Is: New and Collected Poems” by William Stafford.

I pick it up when I want to feel more grounded. I pick it up when I need the consolation of plainspoken sensibility.

More often than not that consolation comes from a return visit to this simple meditation on the progression of the day. Like a thread tied to a fingertip it tugs me into the recognition that every day is an entire life. I need not wonder or worry about then and there because here and now holds everything.

The Light By The Barn

The light by the barn that shines all night

pales at dawn when a little breeze comes.

A little breeze comes breathing the fields

from their sleep and waking the slow windmill.

The slow windmill sings the long day

about anguish and loss to the chickens at work.

The little breeze follows the slow windmill

and the chickens at work till the sun goes down—

Then the light by the barn again.


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.

You Have To Explain About the Thread

“The Way It Is”

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

– William Stafford –

I was captivated this week by the most recent episode of the podcast, This American Life. Specifically, a segment featuring the magicians Penn and Teller describing their process of developing a new trick. Teller, the conspicuously silent partner, has fallen in love with the idea of recreating a classic floating ball and hoop routine. Penn is less enthusiastic, as in not at all. As Teller works and works to make the trick worthy of their show by the standard they have agreed to over 40 years of collaboration he falls short time and again.

A breakthrough comes when they agree that the way to make the trick compelling to both themselves and their audience is to let the audience in on it from the very beginning. The trick begins with Penn’s announcement: “The next trick is done with just a piece of thread.”  And off goes Teller, beautifully and brilliantly manipulating a ball with nothing more than a piece of thread.

What Penn and Teller understood and acted upon – after years of work on one specific illusion – is what William Stafford implores us to do in the poem above: “You have to explain about the thread.” 

I am often in a position to do exactly that. In the classroom or at a speaking engagement I am frequently asked about my own thread. Why do I do what I do? How did I get started? What are the steps I took from there to here? I always respond in the same way, that I knew exactly what I was supposed to do with my life when I was 17 years old. A bright red thread emerged through my experiences in musical performance and student leadership. I was intuitively aware that the abilities developed and practiced in those early settings were the strengths I would call on throughout my adult life. I held onto the thread through the first few years of college but lost it completely once I had to marry my intuitive sense of it to the harshly practical world of “knowing what you want to do with your life.” I didn’t know how to manifest my nascent understanding of my thread into a next step. And I was too afraid to explain about the thread. I wasn’t willing to say, “This is my thread. I don’t know much about it but I do know a few important things, not least of which is that it’s mine. Will you please help me figure out where it leads?”

Instead, I let it slip away. As it turns out, it did not let go of me. We played peekaboo on occasion, a flirtation here and there, but it took over 10 years and an extraordinary confluence (aka, the thread working hard behind the scenes) of people and events to land me in front of a classroom of aspirational leaders. The specifics of that first class are hazy because my memory is dominated by the aliveness I felt at having my hands on the thread once again.

Most recently, my thread has led me to the college classroom and the opportunity to teach and mentor undergraduate students. The thread has a solid sense of humor. It says, “You struggled to claim me as your own. Others struggle, too. Here is your chance to help a few people struggle a little less, to find the thread a little earlier, and to gain the confidence and declare their commitment to hang on.”

There is no “magic.” There is finding your thread and there is holding onto your thread because “while you hold it you can’t get lost.” There is demonstrating to all who cannot see it that what looks like magic is just your commitment to trust where it will lead. Sometimes, like Teller performing for a full house, we hang on with artistry and elegance. Sometimes, like Teller in the early days of practice, we hang on in spite of our fumbling because our curiosity compels us to learn where it wants to go.  And sometimes we don’t hang on at all. But it is there, waiting to dispel the illusion that we can find our way without it.

What is your thread? Where is it leading?
Who have you explained it to? Who have you asked for help?
What makes it hard to hang on?
Is there someone whose thread confuses you?
Will you listen to them explain about the thread?

For further reading, here’s another reflection on “The Way It Is” by 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.