Life Lessons

Knowing They’re There

img_1333I heard them before I saw them, heard them almost the whole time I was there, the cacophony reaching over the trees, across the marsh, elbowing against the wind.

Only a small flock of the snow geese floated in Gordon’s Pond where I was walking, but hundreds (thousands?) flew overhead, making their way to somewhere just west of me.

I was a little disappointed. I wanted to see their glistening white plumage with its striking black underside. But I knew they were there, took pleasure in hearing them until the wind and the surf and the distance between us finally erased their clamor but not their imprint.

~ ~ ~

prideHe gazed at the flags with a kind of longing. “Look at them….” he murmured in amazement. The bright rainbow stripes wrapped around young shoulders, heads of multi-hued hair above them, warm laughter bouncing across the grass. He’d never been so close to such a public display of pride.

“Let’s go talk to them,” I suggested, “maybe get a picture.”

A grin cracked open his practiced, hardened face, all white teeth, vulnerability and validation. I can still feel the glow coming off him, days later. He had found his people.

~ ~ ~

with-my-friendsWalking back, we guessed at the impact, wondered at our place in history.

At nineteen, he hadn’t needed his parents’ permission to come to the march. New to the States, they had been worried and feared for his safety. But he came anyway, wanting–needing, really–to be there, to feel seen and heard.

“What do you want to tell your parents when you get home?” I asked.

“I want them to know how much support we have,” he said. “Not just from Latinos, but everyone. So much support...

He lapsed into quiet as the insight sank in.

~ ~ ~

Post Script 1/29/2017: I drafted this post before the insanity of the last 48 hours had begun to unfold. Lacking anecdote but not appreciation, I’ll add national park rangers, scientists and lawyers to my list. For all of those who are staying up nights, finding ways to use the justice system and knowledge and wisdom and common sense to combat what Trump hath wrought: thank you. It is not just good to know you are there, it is important you are there.

Choose to be Curious

“Be curious…and be curious again.”

Curiosity, especially intellectual inquisitiveness, is what separates the truly alive from those who are merely going through the motions.   ~ Tom Robbins

What’s something you’ve never questioned? What if you did?

Evie and Sarah Priestman join me for a conversation about choosing to be curious about gender identity.

I first saw Evie at TEDxArlington, when he shared a talk called It Takes A Village to Transition.  It was almost a year before our paths crossed again. I think you will agree: it was worth the wait.

Listen to Choose to be Curious #20: Curiosity and Gender Identity – with Evie and Sarah Priestman.

Life Lessons

What You Can Do is Often Simply a Matter of What You Will Do

cfyouthEvery fiber of my being is exhausted, but my heart is singing. The youth have come and gone, but their impact lingers on. Five-hundred thousand marchers, forty kids, one amazing mobilization.

They came with hope and left empowered. They left behind for the rest of us a renewed belief in what is possible.

I found myself returning the great wisdom of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

As the cheering continued, Rhyme leaned forward and touched Milo gently on the arm.

“They’re shouting for you,” she said with a smile.

“But I couldn’t have done it,” he objected, “without everyone else’s help.”

“That may be true,” said Reason gravely, “but you had the courage to try; and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do.”

“That’s why,” said Azaz, “there was one very important thing about your quest that we couldn’t discuss until you returned.”

“I remember,” said Milo eagerly, “Tell me now.”

“It was impossible,” said the king, looking at the Mathemagician.

“Completely impossible,” said the Mathemagician, looking at the king.

“Do you mean —-” stammered the bug, who suddenly felt a bit faint.

“Yes, indeed,” they repeated together; “but if we’d told you then, you might not have gone — and, as you’ve discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they are impossible.”

Life Lessons

Beloved Child


We no longer walk before dawn, K. and I, having decided that one morning need (walking) ought not compromise another (sleeping), but sometimes I miss the soft shroud of darkness that made the time all the more intimate.

This week, K. speaks of the power of believing oneself to be a “beloved child [of god]” even when faith is shaken, even in the face of tremendous loss. I believe, if not in god, certainly in the beloved. My uncle is gravely ill, dying; a favorite cousin, a family friend and an old colleague have all recently passed. Barack Obama departs the White House today.

I feel the soft shroud of mourning, heavy on my shoulders, as I step into the dim day, remembering my beloved.


It Takes A Village

I’ve lost track of the number of people who have stepped up, in ways large and small, to support the New England youths coming to DC for the march. People are

  • contributing online to cover bus, Metro and other direct costs
  • printing beautiful big banners
  • providing card games and entertainment for the long bus ride down
  • opening their homes and community rooms to host
  • dropping off sleeping bags, cots and camping mats
  • jostling for the opportunity serve as chaperones on the ground
  • donating warm outer wear, hand warmers and rain gear — just in case
  • offering to cook and deliver hot breakfasts in Saturday’s wee hours
  • stuffing clear, approved-size Ziplock bags with lunches and water
  • cooking up delicious pot luck dishes to share for dinner
  • handing over gift certificates, gift cards and boxes of donuts
  • making signs, souvenirs and commemorative hats
  • asking for the privilege of working with the students once they are home
  • wondering what more they can do.

All of which reminds me of two important things:waterlogue-2017-01-15-18-39-09

  1. It takes a village.
  2. The future is in good hands.
Choose to be Curious

Liabilities and Assets

photo-kate-and-michaelI have always loved anything that turns something on its head, re-framing what was once seen as a liability as an asset instead. These perspectives are all other-imposed – nothing about the thing itself changes, just our ability to see its potential, to regard it through a different lens. I find that possibility very compelling – and tremendously encouraging. I look for those opportunities.

No surprise, then, that I was tickled when Kate McCauley and Michael Swisher brought that perspective to our conversation about curiosity in adolescence.

That, and catch these parenting tidbits and more ~~

Four Tasks for Teenagers: fit in, stand out, measure up, take hold.

Two Questions for all of Us: Who am I? What is my role in life?

One Big Lesson: Listen. 

Listen to Choose to be Curious #19: Curiosity and Adolescence – with Kate McCauley and Michael Swisher

Life Lessons

Level 4 Listening

Listening is hard work, at least it is if you do it right. I am reminded of this as I struggle to listen well these days. So easy to tune out the unwanted, the ugly, the other. So difficult to hear some things said out loud and believe they are believed. Empathy is tough sledding.

Theory U emphasizes deep listening – “Level 4 Listening” – in which the circle of our attention widens and new possibilities open up. At Level 4, listening comes from outside of our personal and preconceived notions and we feel profoundly connected to others. Time seems to slow down, space seems to open up, and our focus shifts from ourselves to something much larger. Level 4 listening is all about the empathy — and then some.

It sounds awfully woo-woo until it happens. And then you feel it and you don’t ever want to go back to lesser listening. But it’s hard, and it requires practice, and it takes time.

The coaching circle is the space within Theory U’s ULab where we get to practice this deep listening. Through a specific protocol, small groups (“coaching circles”) share their challenges and aspirations (“cases”) and tap into the power of deep listening. Each member has a turn to share her/his case; others listen intently, sit for a few minutes in silent reflection and then share what comes up for them. No problem solving, no sage advice, just reflection.

What comes up in those moments is fascinating and deeply moving. Having taken the course once already, I knew the power of the process. But I didn’t anticipate what F. would do with it. He showed up in my coaching circle this time with a whole new language. Instead of speaking his reflections, he improvised them on an electric keyboard somewhere out of view of our international video conferences. From across an ocean, his music wrapped itself around us, speaking volumes, giving voice.

We were mesmerized. We begged him to share his gift with others.

And, since ULab is all about  listening to the future that is trying to emerge and taking the leap into doing and trying and prototyping into that future, he has. He has!

He’s experimenting, collaborating with other musicians, exploring venues for sharing. A big part of prototyping is tapping into others’ insights – more listening. In that spirit, he asked our circle to help him articulate what he does. This was the best I could do. It is barely sufficient, but F. says it “resonates truth” and that is enough:

The coaching circle protocol asks us to listen, deeply, while the case giver speaks, then sit in silent reflection for a few minutes and share what came up for us. Each time, your music has felt like a completely  uncensored reflection both of the case and of you. It feels deeply genuine, and profoundly respectful. There is no doubt that you have been listening. I can’t know this, of course, but it feels that way. And it has felt that way whether it was my own case or someone else’s. In terms of Theory U: this modeled Level 4 listening in a way that was exciting and new to me.

For example, your own reflection this week: I heard what sounded to me like a fascinating interplay between (1) an almost mechanical beat that suggested steady work-a-day work and reminded me of Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” and (2) a bright, chiming sound like a bell that was equally persistent but infinitely more hopeful. The music moved back and forth between darker moments and lighter, with, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have said, “an arc toward justice”. It felt emergent, cautious but determined, full of a longing that seemed to believe in its own fulfillment.  I don’t know that any of us could have said all of that – but your music did. Again, in terms of Theory U: each time you play feels like making that leap across the bottom of the U – you move us into a future that is trying to emerge by offering us a sound track to go with it. Your willingness to prototype music right then is wonderful.

As someone who can’t really conceive of being able to compose music, this all seems quite magical to me. You do something I can’t even begin to know how to do.  And, yet, while I think of myself as not knowing how to “speak” the language of music, I certainly know how to hear it. And this is what is so remarkable: you give expression, in a language I don’t think I speak, to thoughts and feelings that I understand immediately through that expression. I find that tremendously powerful – and hopeful. If we can actually understand how others feel, even if we “don’t speak the language” then there is hope for us as a species across nations and tribes and all our other divides.  If that isn’t the essence of Theory U, then I don’t know what is.

You heard it here first, folks. Mark my words, more than our little coaching circle will be cheering F. on soon enough. Makes me smile.

Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand

~ Stevie Wonder, Sir Duke

Choose to be Curious, Curiosity Journal, Life Lessons, Making a List


red : fire truck :: blue : ___________

A friend recently shared an article about diagramming sentences, a lost art we both loved in adolescence, a place where we found comfort in the orderliness and structure of language that was lacking elsewhere. It got me thinking about my love affair with language in general and analogies in particular.

I may have been alone in my mourning, but I was sorry to see analogies go from the SATs. I loved parsing the comparisons, playing out the options. I didn’t always agree with the “right” answer. Who were those College Board writers, anyway?

Analogy is in the eye of the beholder. 

And therein lies the charm. We see the connections we see. Facets of an idea reflect back the light from others in ways that vary based entirely on our perspective. And analogies create relationships that might not otherwise be there. They encourage us to play, to expand our understanding of a thing, to rethink. Embracing someone else’s analogy feels especially intimate, a channel straight to the soul.

bjaw2At the end of each “Choose to be Curious” show, I ask my guests to make an analogy to curiosity. We draw words from an enormous mason jar, my Big Jar of Wannabe Analogies. There is no way to prepare and — unlike (ahem) the SATs — there are no wrong answers. I warn everyone this is coming, but there’s nothing quite like the moment you pull out a neatly folded slip of paper, read “ukulele” and face the mic in front of you.

No one disappoints. People come up with the most amazing insights. That, like jellyfish, curiosity can sting; that, like embers, curiosity bursts into fire when given just a little air. That popsicles require the same attention, rain offers similar cleansing power,  salt water taffy benefits from comparable patient savoring.

So the new year turned and I tried to think of an analogy for 2016, a year many of us were happy to see in the rear view mirror, even as we regarded 2017 with deep trepidation. I came up with this:  Curiosity is like 2016 because they have both taken me places I didn’t expect.

May 2017 be like curiosity as well: savor-worthy, playful like puppies, full of connecting like staplers, helpful as a spork!

Curiosity Journal, Making a List

Best Laid Plans

New year, new resolve. I thought I was going to get a blog post out yesterday today. I’ve got one percolating, slowly, on analogies. Loyal readers will understand.

With the grey skies and cold drizzle, I wasn’t the least tempted outside. I have sat at the computer most of today. But the Blog Fairy must have a hangover: a total no-show. Instead, I’ve spent the day playing with graphics, creating a virtual scavenger hunt around Rehoboth Beach. I’ll rationalize it as part of my campaign to make people more intentionally curious about their surroundings; a way to engage, learn and build new skills; an entertaining way to sort through photos and fantasize about balmy weather; an amazing time suck. Bystanders, beware.

Happy New Year friends, may the year take you on many wonderful and rewarding scavenger hunts!

Click on any image to start a slide show.