Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Día de los Muertos 2015

This is my annual post, taking a moment to remember people impactful in my life who have passed away in the last 12 months. I enjoy this seasonal ritual far more than an orgy of candy consumption.

Mildred Gordon (Jan 4)
While I wrote a eulogy to Mildred when she died 10 months ago (Mildred Gordon Crosses the Bar at 92), I'm happy to salute her again here. She was one of my two main mentors in my work as a process consultant, and special to me for her efforts to integrate the rational and the emotional—something this culture tends to do badly.

Mildred worked with others in one of two ways:

a) One-on-one (or one-on-two in the case of couples), where she'd be more flexible and patient in helping people find their way through conflicted thoughts and feelings. She was adept at saying things in multiple ways, so if her first approach didn't work, she'd simply try another. For example, if a direct exploration didn't land she might try a role play. Her door was always open for community members seeking advice.

b) In open group discussion, where she was the facilitator and impresario. In this role she was more directive, and would often pause to make a teaching point. While anyone could speak and raise a concern, she would never relinquish control of the conversation. It was a weakness that she couldn't share the center spotlight.

Her stamina was legendary, willing the group to remain with her through the examination of dynamics—sometimes for hours.

One the things I admired most in Mildred was her ability to speak plainly and to convey difficult concepts in easily understood words and metaphors.

Though Mildred tended to be obsessed with the possibility of dying young (as many others in her bloodline had), she reached the exalted age of 92 and enjoyed life in full measure.

Marshall Rosenberg (Feb 7)
While I never met the man, I read his book and listened to his audio tapes, and his seminal work on Nonviolent Communication (NVC) pervades the field of cooperative group dynamics. 

One of my consistent messages to groups is that they need a way to recognize and work constructively with conflict—that not having any agreements in this regard doesn't work. Once groups recognize the need, NVC is one of the most common choices made about how to proceed. Partly its appeal is its gentle language; partly it's because trainers are everywhere, so it's easy to get support.

While I approach conflict somewhat differently than Marshall, you have to tip your hat to someone who's body of work has become so widely known.

Bigger than life, Marshall's work was successful enough that it suffered from getting codified and ossified (which is probably an inevitable consequence of success), with practitioners latching onto the structure instead of the underlying compassion, with the unintended result that "certified" teachers were applying an NVC formula regardless of the audience or the application—to the point where sometimes expressions of anguish were being discounted because they we're not delivered as proper "I" statements. I can only imagine that this was painful for Marshall to observe.

Still, you have to love a man who devoted his life to the active pursuit of peace, and who sought out conflicted dynamics in which to insert the balm of his approach.

Marshall was 80 when he died.

Alma Hildebrand (Feb 13)
Alma was the mother of my friend and long-time fellow Sandhill member, Stan Hildebrand. In all the 40 years I lived at Sandhill, Stan was the person who lived there with me the longest: 34 years.

Over those decades, his parents, Jake and Alma, came to visit a number of times. When Jake's health failed to the point where he could no longer travel, they stopped coming. Yet Stan would religiously head north to Manitoba in early Dec, both to miss the Xmas craziness and to celebrate Alma's birthday, Dec 4.

Alma and Jake were Mennonites and Stan was their eldest son. They were farmers in the Red River Valley (that forms the border between Minnesota and North Dakota, and flows north into Lake Winnipeg). The homemade meat grinder that Sandhill uses during deer season was donated to us by Jake and Alma, and we always enjoyed the connection of both being farm families: there's was traditional and ours was new age, but the carrots and chickens couldn't tell the difference.

After Jake died, Alma moved to an assisted living facility in nearby Altona. Fun loving and social, Alma always had a jigsaw puzzle going or wanted to play cards (canasta and Uno were equally big).

I can only imagine that they have multiple deck cards games in heaven, too, and that Alma is playing still. She was 92.

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