Say no to this

Staying true to who I am — and figuring out who I am — means choosing what to say yes to and what to say no to. My choices shape everything.

Alexander Hamilton, protagonist in the Broadway hit Hamilton (and founding father of the United States), finds himself in a tricky situation:

I hadn’t slept in a week.

I was weak, I was awake.

You’ve never seen a bastard orphan

More in need of a break.

Longing for Angelica.

Missing my wife.

That’s when Miss Maria Reynolds walked into my life…

And he slept with her, over and over, when he knew he should “say no to this”:

I wish I could say that was the last time.

I said that the last time. It became as pastime. 

A month into this endeavour I received a letter

From a Mr. James Reynolds, even better…

And so the blackmail begins and eventually the truth must come out. When accused of embezzling government funds he has to come clean to Jefferson, Madison and Burr:

She courted me. 

Excorted me to bed and when she had me in a corner 

That’s when Reynolds extorted me

For a sordid fee. 

I paid him quarterly.

I may have mortally wounded my prospects but my papers are orderly!

Jefferson and Madison are clear: “The people won’t know what we know.” His confidence will not be betrayed. Burr teases him: “Alexander, rumors only grow. And we both know what we know.”

Yet Hamilton makes the decision to sabotage his dream of being president of the United states–he comes clean and writes the Reynolds Pamphlet, making his torrid affair explicit. He destroys his dream, his wife and his mistress. And, of course, Jefferson, Madison and Burr celebrate:

He’s never gon’ be present now.

Never gon’ be president now.

That’s one less thing to worry about…

And they are stunned:

Did you ever see somebody ruin their own life?

I, too, am stunned, by the contrast in his behaviour: this inability to say no to Maria Reynolds and his ability to say yes to coming clean. And he comes clean not only with his rivals Jefferson, Madison and Burr (and their gentlemen’s agreement to keep it secret), but he makes the whole affair public.

He couldn’t say no — and it reshaped everything. And then he said yes — and that reshaped everything. What we say yes to and no to shapes our personal and professional lives, and the endless intertwining of our personal and professional lives

I’ve said yes to figuring out what compels me to dig into Hamilton over and over again. I’ve said yes to writing about it to see the possibilities for my work and life. This time, I receive the gift of noticing what I say yes to, and what I say no to. It shines a light on the choices I make that make me the kind of person I am. I am of my own making.

Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

What did you say no to that changed your life?  

This is the third post in a series that touch on the Broadway hit Hamilton. It started with Room where it happens, followed by Stay in it.

Choice: go forward or turn away


Scott Turow, in Innocent, writes the following:

We are curled together, each trying to determine which loss could be worse – going forward or turning away. I still have no idea what will happen. But in this moment I learn one thing: I have been lying to myself for months. Because I am fully willing.

Going forward or turning away articulates a threshold and the choice faced with standing at that threshold. And the essential questions that emerge from this piece:

What are we going toward that we should turn away from?

What are we turning away from that we should continue to move into?

What am I fully willing to lie to myself about?


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This post forms part of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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Explore inner struggle

One of the ways I know I have reached a threshold, whether clear or not, is that I feel an inner struggle. Geraldine Brooks, in the afterword of People of the Book, articulates it well:

I knew it in that deep place where one hides knowledge that is inconvenient, or too painful to admit, even to oneself.

There is great intelligence in an inner struggle; it is instruction from self to self. It is often inconvenient or painful to explore because that means acknowledging the status quo is not good enough. The inner struggle is a sign that there is improvement needed, and sometimes it is hard to admit that what I have, or what I am doing, or done, is not good enough.

I get caught in a trap of my own creation when I allow myself to be threatened by what could be, allowing myself to believe that what I have been doing is bad. Instead, I can focus on the potential of what could be, if I make the choice. I can recognize that much of what I have done was appropriate for the context of the time. I can be honest with myself about what could have been better, for this is healthy reflection, but I don’t need to beat myself up. I need to learn and improve.

My aim is to constantly, endlessly, shift and adjust and improve. To do this, I have to consciously explore my inner struggles to see how I undermine improvement, how I sabotage myself and my dreams. When I move into a mindset of being threatened, I choose to sabotage myself by defending my earlier actions, blaming anything else for why something didn’t work. It is hard to admit that I could have made a different choice, but I have a choice about how to handle that very choice.

The inner struggle can happen at any scale of time, over a few minutes, hours, years or a lifetime. As awful as it feels, for Bruce Grierson, it is what powers our way over a threshold into a new way of being:

To have reached that spot is to be standing over the proverbial frozen sea with an ax…  It’s genuinely wanting something different for yourself…  The internal struggle that will ultimately power the turnaround has been set in motion…  there is no struggle…

The struggle as I approach a threshold can be huge, just as I imaging approaching a cliff, and taking a first look at the chasm in front of me. As the need to leap grows, I will find the inner strength to cross and one I have made that choice, the struggle disappears.

This inner struggle takes place in each of us as individuals, and also as collectives. As families, neighbourhoods, organizations, cities, nations and as a species, we struggle with how to deliver health care, organize economic systems, feed and shelter everyone, and ensure our planet habitat is healthy for us to live on. For our cities to be well, we need to deeply explore our struggles as individuals and as collectives.  When we do, we will see what we really need to do to improve the quality of life of citizens and cities.

The struggles we feel individually and collectively are powering us up to be better citizens to create better cities.

What are you struggling with?

What is your city struggling with?

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This post forms part of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book, p. 310 (Afterword – reference to Mira Papo, a young Jewish Partisan in Sarajevo and which is in the collection of Yad Vashem.)