This is my final post for 2012, and I'm going to use it the same way I did last year: to review where I've lain my weary head this calendar year [see Bedlam 2011 for my prior entry in what now appears to be an annual event, and refer to Sleeping in the Bed I Made for my inaugural posting on this obscure topic].
I like referring to this as bedlam because: a) I'm on the road a lot and have a chaotic and confusing distribution of sleeping arrangements; b) some think that my travel schedule is prima facie evidence of mental illness; and c) I have a congenital weakness for word play.
So here's the summary of where I was when the lights went out each night:
o I slept in my own bed at Sandhill 85 times, down by nearly half from last year, largely due to my having spent the first three months of the year at Dancing Rabbit, experimenting in cohabitation with my wife. That represents 23% of my nights.
o I spent 98 nights with Ma'ikwe at Moon Lodge, her house at Dancing Rabbit. That's an additional 27%. Plus there were 30 nights we spent together on the road, and five nights together at Sandhill. Taken all together, we were in the same bed—wherever it was—36% of the time, up 10% from the year before, so that's progress.
o It's amusing to note that if you add up my nights at Sandhill and my nights at Moon Lodge, 85+98=183, which is exactly half of the 366 nights available this year. I've been telling people I'm on the road 60% of the time but I reckon I'm more of a home body than I thought.
o I slept at clients' homes (usually in guest rooms) 14 times for 47 nights in total—pretty close to the same as last year.
o I slept at the house of family members seven different times, for a total of 28 nights.
o I slept at 21 different friends' homes for a total of 45 nights.
o I slept 11 times at places associated with FIC meetings or events, totaling 36 nights.
o Only once did I end up in a hotel (when the Empire Builder arrived too late into Chicago to make my connection home and I inadvertently woke up Thanksgiving morning in downtown Chicago).
o I was on overnight trains 24 times and once took a red eye from the West Coast to the East Coast.
o Most nights I was in an actual bed. Only two nights were spent in tents, four on couches, and 15 on air mattresses. (I'm noticing as I get older that my hosts are more solicitous of finding me a bed—and I'm not complaining.)
o All together, I slept in 52 different locations outside of Rutledge (up sharply from 39 last year), which placed me in 20 states and every continental time zone—and that's only counting the beds that weren't moving across state lines while I slept.
While I've always wanted a life that was full of moving experiences, it was not always clear to me that I'd be moving around so much to accumulate them. As an ardent fan of whimsy it amuses me to realize that my life has become an enactment of a Dr Seuss title: Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Sunday, December 30, 2012
This is my final post for 2012, and I'm going to use it the same way I did last year: to review where I've lain my weary head this calendar year [see Bedlam 2011 for my prior entry in what now appears to be an annual event, and refer to Sleeping in the Bed I Made for my inaugural posting on this obscure topic].
Thursday, December 27, 2012
The title for this essay was inspired by The Starship and the Canoe, Ken Brower’s 1978 biography of scientist Freeman Dyson and his rebellious son, George: a study in contrasting values and lifestyles.
Sandhill’s founding group was two couples: Ed & Wendy plus Annie & me. When we first arrived in 1974, our property had one small livable house that featured one bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, plus a back pantry and a tiny bathroom. We arrived in May, and the couples took turns: one month in the bedroom, and the next in a tent. Meanwhile, we committed ourselves to a 16’x30’ expansion of the house so that by the time it was too cold to sleep outdoors we’d have two more bedrooms (plus a house that was better insulated, rewired, reroofed, and with an expanded bathroom).
How much difference does having a chain saw make? Chain saws last us about five years. Given that we didn’t start using two until the ‘90s, we’ve owned 10 in our history. At an average purchase price of $300 a pop, plus annual operating and maintenance costs of $100 per machine, we’ve sunk around $8000 in that technology. Have we gotten our money’s worth?
While the impact of that adaptation may be profound, I've no worry about whether we'll figure it out. It will merely be another chapter in our experiment with simple living and self-reliance.
Monday, December 24, 2012
It's Christmas Eve. And I'm back home with Ma'ikwe after a quick weekend visit to the suburbs of St Louis to see my son, Ceilee, my daughter-in-law, Tosca, my granddaughter, Taivyn, my grandson, Connor—AKA Bobo, my eldest granddog, Zeus, and my ex-partner and dear friend, Annie (who doubles as Ceilee's mother). It was the first time that particular configuration had been together in more than a year, and it was delightful to see everyone in good health. (A year ago Taivyn was battling a serious C diff infection that made for a more cautious and exhausting holiday season. See my blog of Nov 16, 2011, Granddaughter Down, for more on that.)
Starting two days ago, pretty much all semblance of work has ceased. Now is the time for relationships; for suspending our regularly scheduled lives to be with loved ones. As such, it's one of my favorite times of the year.
After experiencing balmy weather yesterday in St Louis (nice enough that I needed neither hat nor coat on a 1.5-mile late morning walk in the neighborhood), today I witnessed winter's return as I drove north. In the process of gaining about 150 miles in latitude I started out with no snow on the ground whatsoever, and ended up on rock roads that were 100% snow packed. While I left Ceilee's with temperatures hovering near freezing, it was 20 degrees and dropping by the time I got back to Rutledge midday, and rendezvoused with Ma'ikwe for a final foray into town for last-minute gift purchases, festively accompanied by snow flurries. In northeast Missouri it will definitely be a white Christmas.
Ma'ikwe and I were pleased to have the car unloaded and all of our driving done by 6:30 pm, so that we could turn our attention to hearth work (which, interestingly, also turned out to include heart work and health work): cranking up the wood stove, taking an infrared sauna, cooking for tomorrow morning's Christmas potluck brunch at the Milkweed Mercantile, and wrapping presents.
This year, the Moon Lodge Christmas contingent includes Ma'ikwe, Jibran, Marqis (an ex-partner of Ma'ikwe's & Jibran's dad), Adam (the visiting 17-year-old son of a different ex-partner of Ma'ikwe's), and me. As I compose this holiday paean to seasonal traditions and the primacy of relationships, Ma'ikwe is taking her turn in the wrapping room and Marqis sits next to me grinding pan-roasted fenugreek and black mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle—to be added to the mixture of turmeric, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, yielding a distinctive home-made curry for the chicken salad dish we're bringing to tomorrow's potluck. The aromas are wonderfully aromatic!
While the curried chicken salad is a new recipe, we are also bringing with us a Schaub family tradition: Famous Wafers and Whipped Cream (see my May 17, 2011 blog for more on that). With a dessert that essentially features cream, chocolate, and vanilla it's hard to go wrong. (If Santa ever got into one of those logs while dallying during a delivery he'd never got back up the chimney—this is not a low-cal concoction.)
While Ma'ikwe, Jibran, and I are rather casual about hiding presents from one another and don't insist on having everything wrapped, it's too much fun to bah-humbug the whole thing, and we carefully reserve a portion of Christmas Eve for the wrapping ritual. Now that Ma'ikwe has finished with hers, it's time for me to wrap up this blog, and to get more present with my presents.
With apologies to Clement Moore (who more famously wrote about the night before Christmas 190 years ago), I want you to hear me exclaim (before I disappear from your sight): Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Friday, December 21, 2012
Most mornings I'm the last one to get their first cup of Sandhill coffee. Sometimes I miss the first pot all together. Not because I sleep so much, but because I often work past midnight—long after more sensible communitarians have danced a round or two with the Sandman. When I awoke
yesterday, sure enough everyone else was already in the kitchen, huddled around the coffee thermos, nattering away about the day ahead.
Two days ago the weather had turned rainy—alternating between drizzling and showering since the afternoon—and I felt fortunate to have safely completed a trip to Quincy IL (60 miles away) to accomplish marathon photocopying at the cheapest place around (I did over 8,000 impressions for $200, taking more than four hours to orchestrate, tying up two machines). That evening I happily collated and stapled my output from the copiers, glad that I didn't need to venture out into the bad weather any more. By the time I turned out the lights it was 1 am, and the outdoor temperatures were sliding toward freezing.
In the morning, I could tell that something special was happening from the excited timbre in the voices that floated into my bedroom from the kitchen. Though I couldn't make out the words, something was in the air.
It turned out that something was snow! Our first storm of the season was roaring across northeast Missouri, pushed by plenty of arctic wind. We got perhaps four inches of wet snow, sculpted into drifts of more than a foot at strategic points along our half mile of gravel access road.
While some Sandhill members couldn't wait to get out and play in the white stuff—led by the boisterous enthusiasm of Emory, our four-year-old, who was itching to build snowpeople—others were more measured in their excitement, thinking of wet firewood, icy paths, and the general orneriness of navigating bumpy terrain where solid ground is hidden from view.
As it happens, Thursday is one of the two days each week when Mae Ferber from Dancing Rabbit does a regular order fulfillment shift in the FIC Office. Despite the weather she arrived on time, delivered by Kurt Kessner, who dropped her off on his way to town in the DR diesel pickup. While Kurt did slide off the road at one point he was able to horse his way out of the ditch (with only minor damage to our mail boxes). It takes a much bigger storm to scare off a Minnesotan like Kurt from meeting the weekly beer truck for resupplying the Milkweed Mercantile.
My plan yesterday was to linger at home long enough to hand over the photocopies to Mae (who needed them to fill orders for out-of-print back issues of Communities magazine) and attend the weekly Sandhill meeting. Afterwards I was going to mosey over to DR, where I had an afternoon date with Rachel to transfer files from my old laptop to my spiffy new MacBook Pro Retina, followed by pizza at the Milkweed Mercantile (a Thursday night tradition that would give me a chance to quaff some of that fresh micro-brewery malted beverage that Kurt had ventured out to collect), and a cozy evening with Ma'ikwe at Moon Lodge, at first near the wood stove, and later under the covers. Yum.
While all of that looked good on paper, our Hyundai Elantra sedan (nicknamed Ruthie, after Joe's grandmother, who bequeathed it to us) was not as stout as the DR pickup and we (Mae was trying to hitch a ride home with me) were not able to blast through the drifts blocking the last 100 yards to the blacktop. Sigh. While Mae got out and completed her journey by foot, I walked back half a mile to our homestead to bring Kathy, our D-17 Allis Chalmers tractor, to bear on the problem.
While Kathy had no trouble with the drifts and I was easily able to extract the Elantra with a log chain, 90 minutes after I'd begun I was right back home with Ruthie in her parking spot, Kathy in the barn, and no prospects for pizza or faster computing with a backlit keyboard. Discouraged, I figured I could at least schlep the box of master copies that I used for photocopying back to the FIC office trailer (before someone inadvertently drove them to St Louis for the holidays, while they rested quietly into Ruthie's trunk).
Balancing the box precariously as I entered the trailer, I needed to negotiate a narrow hallway to get to the room where the back issues are stored. Wanting to set the box down as soon as possible, I didn't take time to knock the snow from my feet—which turned out to be a big mistake.
To get to the magazine room you have to pass through the main work space, in the midst of which there's a floor covering transition from carpet to linoleum tile. Blithely walking across the room my snow packed footwear did fine on the carpet yet offered no traction whatsoever on the linoleum and down I went in a heap, with arms, legs, and envelopes of master copies akimbo. I'll be damned if I didn't wrench my damaged right knee, again. [See my blog of Sept 12, Wounded Knee, for the story of the original injury.]
Sitting in my bedroom typing this (on my old laptop), I am reflecting on how yesterday afternoon didn't go the way I thought it would at all. I'd have been better off if I had taken a snow day, and simply stayed indoors.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me.
These opening lines from a poem entitled "Warning" by Jenny Joseph has inspired a slew of OOWs (outrageous older women) to adorn themselves in eye-catching raiment and even to establish the Red Hat Society for spunky women over 50. I recall sitting across from a pair of these gals in the dining car on the Sunset Limited back in 2004 as we rumbled across Texas. From where I sat there didn't seem to be anything limited about their sunset years.
Now I'm wondering what older guys should wear. Maybe indigo. Plumage that's a bit more subdued and midway between the entitled purple of kings and Garth Brooks...
In any event, indigo is on my mind today. Over the past decade there's been a fair amount of attention given to the New Age concept of Indigo Children (which, like the offspring in Lake Wobegon, are all above average) and the Indigo Girls. While I may have raised a couple of the former and have certainly listened plenty to the latter, today I'm making my first foray into crowd funding, with Indiegogo.
FIC has launched an Indiegogo campaign that will endeavor to raise $45,000 in 45 days, representing half the money needed to construct a new 800 sq ft office for our Missouri headquarters. This will replace a funky '70s-era house trailer that's only green if you count mold.
The new office will be green in the sense that we're committed to energy efficient construction that emphasizes renewable materials. While it will take a substantial amount of long green to build this baby, and FIC is relatively green when it comes to capital campaigns, I am hopeful that we'll succeed, giving us the green light to break ground this spring. Two years from now, when we're able to move into our new digs, I expect nonprofits everywhere to be green with envy.
While we're already making headway with major donors and foundations en route to manifesting the first half of our construction budget, the concept with Indiegogo is that we'll try to raise the second half by aggregating small donations from many people—$10 here, $25 there, and occasionally a splurge of $100 or more.
Over the course of the last 25 years more than 50,000 people have contacted FIC looking for information about community living. If each of those folks gave us as little as $1, we'd surpass our goal. We'd also fill the pot if we received a $10 donation from 4500 supporters—less than 10% of those who have looked to us to keep the candle of cooperation burning in the window.
As we head toward winter solstice and the time of short days and long nights, now is an excellent time to remember the light. Please visit our Indiegogo campaign, watch our video clip, and tell your friends. Every donation—no matter how small—effectively pushes back the dark, and keeps FIC's flame burning brightly!
And now for my concluding hue and cry. The upcoming holiday season is brought to us by the colors red and green. When you see red, I invite you to recall the festiveness and spunk of the Red Hat Society. When you see green, I hope it will evoke the vibrancy and growing reach of FIC in a world hungry for community.
Together we are making a difference.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
- Water, water, every where,
- And all the boards did shrink;
- Water, water, every where,
- Nor any drop to drink.
- —from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Coleridge (1798)
- It was a rainy winter morning in northeast Missouri today. With outdoor temperatures in the 40s, it was lovely sitting snug inside, next to the wood stove at Moon Lodge—Ma'ikwe's house at Dancing Rabbit—drinking coffee, and visiting with Ma'ikwe's brother, Mark, who's visiting from Fennville MI for three days.
- I was reminded of Coleridge this morning because outside there was water running everywhere, and inside there was none. Though Ma'ikwe has been living at Moon Lodge since Halloween 2009, all the water in the house has been hauled in buckets and jugs (in a stretch, you could say we regularly run to get it, but it's really more like walking).
- Today, however, all that changed. Ma'ikwe, Mark, and I conspired to devote the last three days to eliminating the final barriers standing in the way of being able to manifest running water when you turn the faucet at the kitchen sink. The picture tells it all.
- Ma'ikwe and I think of it as an early Xmas present to ourselves. While there's
still tile work to complete the work surface and back splash around the kitchen sink (which means
we'll have to disconnect the water and pull the sink), that's not very
difficult. With any luck, we'll have that wrapped up before it's time
to plant broccoli seedlings (in February).
- Here's why the hot water tortoise is going to be so far behind the haring cold. Ma'ikwe shares with neighbors Bear & Alyssa a plot of land (called a "warren" in DR argot, extending the rabbit theme) that they lease from the community. Both have homes on the warren and both are designed to be principally heated with hydronics—radiant floor heating. As it's cheaper (and more communitarian) to share utilities, they've conceived of building a separate Power House on the warren that will include:
- o A wood-fired boiler to supply hot water both for domestic use and for the hydronic systems.
- o The batteries and master panel for their solar photovoltaic power system.
- o A washing machine.
- o A small rental housing unit, the income from which will cover their warren fees. As the ecovillage is growing at a steady clip, housing is always at a premium and they anticipate an easy time finding renters.
- The main drawback to this plan is that they don't expect Power House construction to start sooner than 2014. Of course, the good side of such incremental improvements is that they get to savor each one as it comes along. (Think of how many people miss the chance for that particular pleasure by moving into a house that's completed built!)
- As the electrician on the team, it was a somewhat embarrassing and anticlimactic moment this afternoon when we finally had everything hooked up and I had everyone pause while I dramatically flipped the switch… and blew a breaker. Hmm. My nightmare thought (which flashed in my brain in a nanosecond) was that I'd failed to make a watertight connection when wiring the submersible pump and I was going that have to wade into four feet of 42-degree water to fish that sucker out. Ugh.
- However, there were other things to try first, and my spirits were buoyed when I isolated the pump from the circuit via an outdoor cut-off switch, reset the breakers, and tried again—only to blew the breakers a second time. Aha! That meant the problem was before the pump, and by studying how I'd wired the pressure relief box I realized that I'd done it wrong. Whew. That was an easy fix, and after reconfiguring the wires, the next time we actually got water (and no blown breakers). Eureka!
- Like many things in life, plumbing and electrical work are both quite easy when you do them right. The corollary to that adage is that plumbing and electrical work can be quote humbling when you mess them up. Today we got a bit of both. But the main thing we got today was running water.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
I just spent a delightful 24 hours visiting Ananda Village in Nevada City CA, a well-established intentional community of more than 200 folks (counting kids) that started in 1969, and has been influenced throughout by the teachings and spiritual guidance of Donald Walters, who goes by the spiritual name Kriyananda, and is still plugging away at age 86.
While Ananda Village is the original residential enclave for Kriyananda followers, and has the largest population, their network has expanded over the years to include eight other residential communities (two in India, one in Italy, and five more in the US—all on the West Coast), with a combined population of about 1000, plus a hundred meditation and teaching centers distributed all over the world.
Though it's now well into the rainy season in Nevada City (they average about 50 inches annually, all of it coming in the eight-month stretch of October to May), my visit was blessed by magical weather: sunny skies and daytime temperatures well into the 60s. Kriyananda wrote a short book last year, Cities of Light, that offers an overview of his thinking about what intentional communities can accomplish in the new age, and it was easy to appreciate Ananda's light with everything bathed in sunshine.
[Cities of Light, the book, is not to be confused with Paris, the City of Light, nor with Cities of Light, the 2007 documentary film that explores the rise and fall of Islamic Spain in the first millennium after Christ.]
Of course, Kriyananda was using light as a metaphor. He was thinking of the way that communities can illuminate a better way to live—one that emphasizes personal integrity and operates from a place of higher purpose.
As someone who has been a community networker for more than 30 years, it's a bit embarrassing that it's taken me this long to visit such a well-known community, but better late than never. The main impetus for my visit is that FIC is casting about for a different venue in which to hold our Art of Community gathering in 2013 and Expanding Light—Ananda's conference/retreat facility—is our most promising option. As I was already on the West Coast to conduct a facilitation training, it was a relatively minor deal to shoehorn into my travel itinerary a stopover in Nevada City en route home (the California Zephyr stops in Colfax, which is less than an hour's drive from Ananda), to see their facilities first hand and to meet the people we'd be partnering with (email and skype will only get you so far).
What I experienced during my whirlwind stay was highly promising on an energetic level, yet we still need to see if we can make the numbers work. FIC loves to put on events, and we have a great Event Coordinator in Susan Frank, yet we can't do it if we lose money. Last September's Art of Community was an overwhelmingly positive experience for participants yet we finished $15,000 below water, so something has to shift.
In partnering with a living community interested in expanding its outreach activities, we are asking Ananda to accept that part of their compensation come in the form of delivering on their mission and the opportunity for its members to participate easily in an event that both showcases what they have to offer and makes available to them what's being learned in other communities. We think of it as cross-pollination, and they're interested in the concept.
The past two years FIC held Art of Community gatherings at Westminster Woods in Occidental CA. While we were happy with their facility and the quality of experience we were able to create there, we were just another client to them. With Ananda, we are hoping that what we feel comfortable committing to (in the way of compensation) is high enough that they'll feel fairly treated, where significant portions of what they receive in exchange are non-monetary benefits.
Because of the lead time needed for marketing and program development, FIC is committed to making a decision about this no later than mid-January (for an event next September). That gives us a month to sort it out.
During my 24 hours on site, I was easily able to establish that Ananda would be a suitable partner in that they share FIC's ecumenical spirit and are wholly supportive of others sharing their wisdom about community living, not just Kriyananda devotees. Even better, there appears to be a good match with FIC's mission to make available the lessons of intentional community to those desiring a greater sense of community where they are. (We figure a lot more people want more connection, neighborliness, and civility in their life than are open to jointly owning property with others.)
In nine days we'll reach the winter solstice, when the length of night is longest. Even as the light slowly returns to the northern hemisphere, FIC and Ananda will be trying to figure out a way to combine energies and thereby become a brighter beacon for cooperative living than either of us can be shining alone. While the outcome has not yet been illuminated, it's a thoroughly agreeable task to explore the possibilities fro collaboration.
While it's understandably appealing to stand as close to the flame of right livelihood as possible, we need to keep in view the dual imperatives that we want no one to be burned, nor anyone blinded by the light. Whatever the outcome, I'm confident we'll all be fine.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
I have two adults children: a son, Ceilee, who is 31, and a daughter, Jo, who is 25. Both essentially left home in the fall of 1999 and excepting for Jo returning to Sandhill for the 2006 growing season (after getting what she wanted out of culinary school), they've been on their own ever since. While they'll always be my kids and have a special place in my heart, they're adults now and my parenting role is mainly a memory.
Nonetheless I was reminded of that this weekend while conducting a facilitation training in Santa Cruz because I got into a conversation with someone about the value of consistency when holding people accountable for community agreements. While I had no trouble understanding the argument in favor of consistency (and its two sidekicks, fairness and predictability) over the course of the nearly four decades I've lived in community I've gradually come to a more nuanced understanding of group dynamics, to the point where I now pay greater homage to authenticity, and have relegated consistency to lesser god status.
Thus, when Member A gets irritated that Member B isn't doing their fair share of group work, I'm more interested in the strength of A's reaction (and what it means) than I am about scrutinizing B's work log. I've discovered that, at the end of the day, what matters most is clear energy among group members, not consistency. While there needs to be some sense of balance, that does not necessarily equate to everyone being treated equally (mainly because people are never actually equal).
That said, it tends to matter a lot that people know why they're being treated the way they are, and that they're being treated honestly. While the laws of physics may be consistent, it turns out that people rarely are.
I learned this lesson through parenting in community, where many adults interact regularly with each child. While at first we were very concerned with developing a uniform response to certain kid behaviors (such as refusing to clean up after they'd made a mess), it ultimately dawned on us that the kids would need to be able to function in a world where adults were not consistent at all (and not just one adult compared with another; adults are often maddeningly inconsistent themselves), and that it would be more useful for them to get consistently heartfelt interactions than the same response to the same dynamic. Thus, we shifted to asking adults to use their best judgment in any given situation with a child—and be straight with them about why—rather than to memorize a code book of responses. If you're mailing it in for the sake of following the party line, kids sniff that out in a blink and get mistrustful. Not good.
(If you think about it, even three-year-olds know which parent to go to for an extra helping of dessert without eating their carrots. After observing how easily they puzzle out how to navigate subtle differences among adults, you realize that consistency is overrated.)
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that consistency has no value. I'm only saying that authenticity has a greater value. When you realize that relationships are the core building blocks of community, and that authentic inconsistency better serves relationship than insincere consistency, you can grok the essence of how I came to this conclusion.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
I recently concluded a weekend with a group I was working with for the first time, and the comment I cherished most from the ending evaluation was an appreciation that "I could work with whatever anyone said: there was no 'correct' language." I loved it!
There is a considerable body of literature about group dynamics that encourages readers to be as self-aware as possible and circumspect about how they express themselves in the interest of being minimally triggering for others. While there's nothing wrong with this advice—I'm all in favor of self-awareness—it doesn't help much when someone is really pissed or scared. Especially if you're straining to not be triggering, which tends to come across as deliberate, rather than authentic.
In a culture that generally doesn't know how to communicate emotions cleanly (either giving and receiving), there is both the upset itself and the added nervousness about how the expression of feelings will land. People in distress tend to be hypersensitive to the energy with which they're met (or avoided) and when there's uncertainty about how to do that well it tends to be a perfect storm. The person in distress is uncertain what to share or how to share it, and the receivers are uncertain what they're open to hearing or how to respond in a way that's not an accelerant. Ugh. In the absence of agreements about what to try or what people prefer, our default is to offer what we'd like in return, and it's a crap shoot whether that will work for the other parties.
Fortunately, there's a way out that's relatively simple to remember: you can ask someone what they want. In my experience, what people want most in the moment of distress is to be heard. They do not want to be managed. While they probably also want sympathy and perhaps to be agreed with, they'll settle (mostly) for being accurately held and understood.
I think of it this way:
If there's no bridge between people, then there's no traffic;
If there's no exchange of information, then there's no collaborative agreement;
If there's no collaborative agreement, then there's no buy-in with implementation;
If there's no buy-in with the implementation, then problems aren't solved.
You have to start with a bridge.
With this in mind, I try hard to work with people where they are (rather than expecting them to come to me, or to learn a certain way of expressing themselves as a precondition for communication to happen). I tell people to simply give me what they have, in their own words. If there's a problem I'll clean it up.
As a facilitator, my nightmare is people not speaking. If they're talking, I can figure out what's happening; if they clam up I have to guess. (To be clear, I'm not claiming that I get it right the first time every time. I'm saying that if someone is talking, then they give me something to bridge to. If my first attempt falls short, they'll let me know and I can try again.) At the end of the day, it's not about being brilliant; it's about connecting, and people—even upset people—will forgive your getting it wrong at first so long as you get it right in the end. Connection trumps all, and the less constrictions you place on how people express themselves, the easier it is for them to be willing to share what's going on.
Truth as a Weapon
While there is no doubt that a lot of good can come from people being dedicated to seeking and speaking the truth, there are times when doing so can come at the expense of relationship, and then it's not so good. For example, I question the wisdom of saying something that you know will overwhelm or devastate your listener, and then defending your decision with, "It's my truth." I think the prime directive in communication is to establish or strengthen a channel of information between people (rather than to run your truth up their ass).
If you make the choice to share something (note that this can be about how and when you say a thing, as much as about what you say) that you might reasonably expect will overload someone's motherboard, how is that helping? Sometimes the truth can be used to punish, embarrass, or shock. These are hardly noble motivations and indulging in them comes at the expense of relationship and trust. It damages the bridge.
Looking People in the I
There is a lot of support these days for people owning their own statements and not attempting to speak for others. While I think that's excellent advice, I try to not be too picky when someone is in distress. I can work with "you" statements just as well. I only have to listen for the feelings and use that as a bridge to their experience (thereby neutralizing the poison from the "you" statement).
Sometimes groups that are nervous about the possibility of inadvertently encouraging too much aggression (read personal attacks) when allowing the expression of strong feelings will insist on members using "I" statements. Unfortunately, that can backfire. Either because: a) upset people can become so tied in knots over how to access language orthodoxy when agitated that they shut down; or b) when someone is straining to use an "I" statement the clever listener will automatically translate it back into the "you" statement they suspect underlays it.
It works like this. Jan is furious with Kelly and thinks Kelly is a dickhead. Knowing that the group doesn't want to hear that, Jan sits with it until the upset comes out translated into "I'm furious with you, Kelly—your behavior seems grossly unmindful!" In turn, Kelly, witnessing the unnaturalness of Jan's vocabulary, translates the statement into the mind bubble, "Whoa, Jan thinks I'm a dickhead." So what's to be gained by insisting on "correct" language? If everyone is thinking "dickhead," let's quit dicking around and speaking in tongues!
One of the most powerful tools in deescalating tension is getting people to demonstrate that they've heard what another has said by reflecting the essence of it back to them. While this is an excellent practice, it's depressing how often people signal the attempt to do so with the banal and superfluous opening phrase, "What I hear you saying is… " which adds nothing.
Better, in my view, is to cut to the chase with, "Wow, Jan, you're really pissed about how unmindful Kelly was." My mantra is: keep it simple; keep it direct; and get the affect right.
The main point here is that good communication is not about learning the right rules of the road, so much as it's about speaking from the heart and being able to capture the essence—both the content and the energy—of what another has said. It doesn't have to be more complicated than that.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Saturday morning my daughter Jo & son-in-law Peter took me to breakfast at Hash House a Go Go—voted the best breakfast in Las Vegas multiple times.
What you see in the photo is me five minutes into my gargantuan serving of their signature dish: Andy's Sage Fried Chicken Benedict. Note the robust 12-inch sprig of rosemary whose Kundalini is rising right out of the middle.
While I was sorely tempted to also order the house bloody mary, I played it safe with strong coffee. Here it is 14 hours later and I'm still not hungry.
This over-the-top offering features boneless fried chicken breasts (that's right, plural) sitting atop scrambled eggs, balanced on a stout cross-hatch of thick bacon strips, nestled into a foundational base of biscuits and mashed potatoes. Interspersed in the middle are artfully placed slices of fresh tomato and pockets of raw spinach. After slathering the whole thing in a house recipe chipotle hollandaise sauce, they gild the lily by sprinkling this concoction with a handful of deep-fried angel hair pasta, fat wedges of cantaloupe and orange (which serve both as garnish and buttress), and the aforementioned rosemary flagpole. Going home hungry was not an option.
Jo & Peter were sure I needed this culinary experience (if nothing else, to cross it off my bucket list) and they were right. As it happens, this particular dish was featured on the Travel Channel's hit television program, Man Versus Food, where host Adam Richman made the same pass at Andy's extravaganza as I did. I'm telling you it was a monster—though thoroughly delicious.
I knew right off that the restaurant (a chain that's growing as steadily as the waistlines of its clientele) includes additional locations in Reno, San Diego, Chicago, and one about to open in Montville CT) must be special when we arrived for Saturday breakfast around 10:30 am and there were about 20 folks in line ahead of us. Amazingly, the wait list evaporated rapidly and we were seated less than 20 minutes after we arrived. Having been there before, Jo judiciously ordered "only" a side of biscuits & gravy, and was thus able to pick up a bit of the slack when I couldn't eat the whole thing (you have to wonder about anyone who can).
As a father/daughter duo that self-identifies as foodies, Jo & I try to be strategic when it comes to eating. Though I typically limit my consumption to a single meal a day when visiting Vegas, it tends to be a whopper (and I'm not referring to anything from Burger King). Today, for example, Jo & I will prepare a mult-course meal for about a dozen of her friends, and I'm determined to stick with a liquid diet until dinner is ready circa 5 pm.
The menu we've crafted includes a crown roast of lamb (with homemade mint jelly on the side), scalloped potatoes, stir-fried green beans with crimini mushrooms and pearl onions, creamed spinach, pear strudel, and bananas foster. Craftily, we shopped for ingredients right after we went went to Hash House a Go Go, which helped suppress our natural impulse to buy buy. With any luck we'll have minimal leftovers and I won't be enticed to eat again until Wednesday.
Somewhere you have to draw the line—even if it's only one eye-popping meal a day.