The last few weeks have been startling. Shootings. Killings. A rogue truck in a crowd, intent to kill. Murder of a small child and her father. Racism. Hatred. And a political campaigns in the United States that feel like they either fuel hatred or somehow pretend that it is all going to be ok. I am sensitive to the fact that whatever happens anywhere affects everywhere.
I’m worried about things and yet I find a way to trust that all that is happening is to teach us about ourselves. It is in us to be mean–and good. It is in us to be full of hatred–and love. It is in us to be numb–and pay attention.
What is happening in the world right now is a reminder that if asleep or distracted we miss out on what our choices are, which is in itself a choice. We may well be–collectively–in a place where a jolt is exactly what we need so we pay attention to the world we are creating for ourselves.
When not paying attention we may find ourselves exercising hatred. We may find ourselves oblivious to others’ hatred. We may find ourselves condoning hatred. This can happen at any scale–in myself and my family, in my workplace or neighbourhood, in my city, in my country and across the planet. But it all comes down to me and how I choose to show up.
It all comes down to me and how I choose to show up.
From time to time, I find myself playing a game on my phone, dragged into a place where time no longer matters and I return to my life drained and deadened. I have no idea what’s going on around me. For a while it felt good, but when I come out I am completely disconnected, numbed. Writ large, I see this as Pokemon Go. It can be fun and healthy, or it can be a dangerous distraction from reality–not augmented reality at all. It can get people out getting exercise and meeting each other AND it has the potential to lure them–and all of us–off a cliff, to death. Maybe it is augmented reality in that it demonstrates the lengths we will go to ignore the world around us.
We need distractions that are healthy, that allow us to take in what we need to take in without destroying ourselves by seeing too much. When we each pay attention to what we are called to pay attention to we can find a place of trust where collectively we pay attention to everything. “Distractions” like Facebook can be constructive ways to let each other know what we are paying attention to, or what we are not paying attention to, in that it allows us to see a hint of where our collective attention is placed.
It is not possible for all of us to pay attention to everything. There is too much to pay attention to and we have limits to how much we can take in without harming ourselves. As citizens we each have a responsibility to explore what we care about, to pay attention to what has our attention. I don’t have to pay attention to everything, and neither do you. That’s not how this works. What you do have to notice is what wants to be noticed–by you. That’s what you pay attention to.
I don’t have to pay attention to everything, and neither do you. That’s not how this works. What you do have to do is notice what wants to be noticed–by you.
I choose to notice and witness the world around me. I step in in ways that are true to my heart, and in doing this I play my part. I numb myself from time to time, but mostly I choose to look at the things that upset and scare me so I can learn about myself and so I can learn about the world around me. Often, there is nothing for me to do but simply watch and witness, without turning away. It might look like I pretend everything is ok, but that’s not what’s happening. I carry make my way by looking for what I care about and contributing there.
I’ve also recognized this: if I tune into everything, I can’t tune into the things that matter most to me. and then I can’t do the work I want to be doing. So there’s a fine balance here. It is different for each of us, too. We are not all the same. What is too much for me is insufficient for others, and what is insufficient for me is too much for others.
What do you tune into?
What has your attention that you can’t turn away from?
I resisted, then eventually accepted, an invitation. A friend asked me to come to a meeting to share a bit of a story of some work I’ve ben doing, but I didn’t want to go. I knew ahead of time I would be frustrated, but since it would help my friend in their work, I accepted.
My dread: I knew they would not be listening well.
In the middle of this meeting I started to squirm. I couldn’t sit. Icouldn’t listen. It was exactly as I predicted either because it was my own self-created self-fulfilling prophecy, or I saw only what I wanted to see. I noticed this and took a few deep breaths. As I calmed, this realization came to me:
There is something here for me to learn. Hang in there.
I witnessed people who are really into their jobs, stepping into the difficult work of connecting people with each other, yet they were stuck in the it’s my job to connect you trap. It was our responsibility to name what we wanted to connect with others about and there was one person in the room whose explicit job is to connect us.
The purpose of this meeting was for people across the city doing similar work to meet each other, but since we sat and listened to a handful of stories, hand-picked ahead of time, we didn’t meet each other. We heard great stories (it wasn’t all bad at all) and we left without having met each other. And meeting is an essential part of connecting.
The it’s my job to connect you trap is hard to spot because it’s business as usual, which reinforces our separateness. We did not meet each other because most of the talking was done by the meeting hosts, plus a handful of others identified ahead of time. We did not meet each other because the meeting was not design for us to meet; if we wanted to meet other people with similar interests, we were to connect with the hosts, who would do the connecting.
I realized that they were missing out on the real innovation in their work: to set us up so we connect ourselves. They didn’t need to set themselves up as the critical structure, they need simply to set us up to be the structure.
As hosts, they have a choice: be the connector or create environments where we are the connectors. Create habitats in which we find each other.
Simple processes, now well established with wonderful resources easily available, work wonderfully for this kind of meeting:
World Cafe–founded by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs–is a process that invites participants to explore ideas together and meet each other in far more than superficial ways in a short amount of time.
Open Space Technology–founded by Harrison Owen–is a process that allows a diverse group of people and their diverse ideas to build an agenda together and find people with similar interests.
Both of these process are the heart of what my Art of Hosting colleagues and I call participatory leadership, where we use processes that harness the wisdom of the collective. We do not put ourselves in the hub of the wheel, for that is the I connect you trap. Instead, we create the conditions for self-organizing, so we connect, and then organize ourselves.
The trap tricks you into thinking you need to be at the center of the work, the hub of the wheel. It tricks you into thinking that this is how to connect people and it does this by making your ego think that YOU need to be at the center. In reality, if you are in the center you are in the way of connecting people. There are way more connections possible than you can possibly keep track of or maintain. It’s not your job.
Here’s what I ask myself, to test if the trap is tricking me:
Is the work about me being the connector (in the center)? or
Is the work about as many people and ideas as possible connecting, with or without me?
Setting ourselves up to connect with each other is counter-cultural. There is a lot of inertia in everything we do to keep us separate, even when our work is about connecting with each other. Even my friend, whose work is about connecting people in spectacular ways, is caught in the trap. Are you?
We signed a 30-page contract with a client last week, full of legal details and formalities. It took about 10 minutes to sign it all. As I was getting the corporate seal and my fancy blue pen all ready to do their work, I realized that this formal contract is not as important as the contracts behind the contract. Continue reading Learning journey contracts
This time last week I was licking my wounds. I did not pass a weekend course in advanced wilderness and remote first aid. It might have been the early morning starts. It might have been the impersonal feedback from the instructors. It might have been that I was “off” those days. It might have been the conflicting feedback I felt I was receiving. But the bottom line is the same, whatever the reason.
When I spend time out on the land, and I listen, it has things to tell me. Last month, while hosting Soul Spark with my friend and colleague Katharine Weinmann, I ventured outside to be on the land a bit before we got started. Continue reading A writer inside and out
The usual plans for Michael’s annual three-week visit with his mom fell through. The decades old routine, while well entrenched, still needed her attention for it to come to pass. Tickets to buy, reservations to make, dates to set. But she didn’t do it. Continue reading Sacred window
The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.
Yann Martel, The Life of Pi
As I started to clean off a shelf in my office, these words on a scruffy page of notes leapt out at me. I’ve been struggling with the location of the battlefield for good. It seems this statement comes at a time when I am ready to take it in. Continue reading When I hear the world, it changes me
I didn’t know it, but this time nine years ago, I was almost ready to leave my dream job. While full of adrenaline and ambition, it was no longer nourishing me, but I wasn’t ready to let go. Little did I know I was putting the psychological pieces in place to set out on my own. Continue reading Follow what resonates and sparks
Over the holidays, my neighbour Bob told me about the January Minimalist Challenge he and his family are taking on to remove from their home the things they don’t need. On January 1, one thing goes. On January 2, two things. On January 3, three things, all the way to 31 things on January 31, for a grand total of 496. Continue reading The target is not the direction