Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Back from the Potawatomis

Last Thursday was the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, and it was fitting that I was reading Braiding Sweetgrass (2013), the collected essays of Robin Wall Kimmerer, a native Potawatomi, about ecology and right relationship to the land, inspired by her dual life as a Native American and as a university professor in botany.

She writes with passion and poignancy about how the nature-based wisdom of Indigenous People—who figured out over the course of centuries how humans could fit into the rhythms of Nature, rather than how we could control it for our implacable greed—has been systematically discounted and ignored by the dominating white, European-centric culture. As the realities of Climate Change and the limits of Earth's resources come into greater focus, this is tender stuff to read. We could have done so much better.

Especially powerful for me was the chapter entitled "People of Corn, People of Light," which relates the Mayan cosmology, taken from their ancient text, the Popul Vuh. It's a creation play in four acts:

I. The gods made the first humans from mud, but they were ugly and ill-formed. They were crumbly, could not reproduce, and melted in the rain.

II. Next they tried carving a man from wood and a woman from the pith of a reed. These were beautiful, lithe, and strong. They could talk, sing, and dance. They learned to use and make things. They had fine minds and bodies, and could reproduce, but their hearts were empty of compassion and love. All of the mis-used members of Creation rallied together and destroyed the people made of wood in self-defense.

III. The third time the gods made people out of pure light, the sacred energy of the Sun. These humans were dazzling to behold—beautiful, smart, and very powerful. They knew so much they thought they knew everything. Instead of being grateful, they believed themselves to be the gods' equals. Understanding the danger this posed, once again the gods arranged for their demise.

IV. On the fourth try, the gods fashioned people out of corn. From two baskets—one white and one yellow—they ground a fine meal, mixed it with water, and shaped a people made of corn. They could dance and sing, and they had words to tell stories and offer up prayers. Their hearts were filled with compassion for the rest of Creation. They were wise enough to be grateful.  To protect the corn people from arrogance, the gods passed a veil over their eyes, clouding their vision as breath clouds a mirror. These people of corn are the ones who were grateful and respectful for the world that sustained them—so they were the ones who were sustained upon the earth.

Kimmerer goes on to challenge the reader with these paraphrased paragraphs:

Creation is an ongoing process and the story is not history alone—it is also prophecy. Have we become people of corn? Or are we still people made of wood? Are we people of light, in thrall to our own power? Are we not yet transformed by relationship to earth?

How can science, art, and story give us a new lens to understand the relationship that people of corn represent? Only when people understand the symbiotic relationships that sustain them can they become people of corn, capable of gratitude and reciprocity.

Science lets us see the dance of chromosomes, the leaves of moss, and the farthest galaxy. But is it a scared lens like the Popul Vuh? Does science allow us to perceive the sacred in the world, or does does it bend light in such a way as to obscure it? A lens that brings the material world into focus but blurs the spiritual is the lens of a people made of wood. It is not more data that we need for our transformation to people of corn, but more wisdom.

I dream of a world guided by the lens of stories rooted in the revelations of science and framed with an Indigenous worldview—stories in which matter and spirit are both given voice.

While scientists are among those who are privy to the intelligence of other species, many seem to believe that the intelligence they access is only their own. They lack the fundamental ingredient: humility. After the gods experimented with arrogance, they gave the people of corn humility, and it takes humility to learn from other species.

We may not have wings or leaves, but we humans do have words. Language is our gift and our responsibility. I think of writing as an act of reciprocity with the living land. Words to remember old stories, words to tell new ones, stories that bring science and spirit back together to nurture our becoming people of corn.

• • •

Inspired by what Kimmerer wrote, let me tell you a story. 

I grew up in northern Illinois, which is territory that was home to the Potawatomi before the Europeans pushed them aside. While I had no contact with Native Americans growing up, I gradually developed a sense of place, and connection with the living land—which happened to coincide with Indigenous beliefs, as described in Braiding Sweetgrass. It started with my mother's sister, with whom I shared a birthday (albeit 42 years apart). She lived in the two-story homestead house that her grandparent's built on the windswept plains west of Chicago in 1899. Today that house is smack in the midst of Elmhurst, a well-established suburb, but when it was constructed more than a dozen decades ago there wasn't another house in sight.

Growing up in the 50s, it was always a treat to visit Aunt Hennie, and stroll through her well-tended backyard gardens, which included a well-tended birdbath, grape trellises, and an amazing mix of flowers and small fruits—especially raspberries and currants. I took cuttings of her black currants to establish a patch when I moved to northeast Missouri in 1974 and started Sandhill Farm.

Years later, the entire 2006 crop of those currants were consigned to fermentation, which was the featured adult libation at my wedding the following spring. In fact, there's are still a few bottles of that vintage in the basement of Susan's and my house in Duluth. I use it mainly as a secret ingredient when the recipe (or my inspiration) calls for cooking wine, and every time I pull the cork I think of Aunt Hennie and my ties to her homesteading roots.

I grew up as one of five children—a typical number in the 50s—and it happened that when my father was horsing around with us young 'uns he would (for reasons that are obscure to me) often threaten to send us "back to the Potawatomis" if we didn't straighten out. To be sure, this was done in jest and only when he was in a jocular mood. While I had no idea where that came from (or why it was a bad thing to have come from the Potawatomis, much less to go back there), here I am reading the wisdom of an actual Potawatomi, and it has all come back to me.

While my father was a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist and was never seen with his hands in the soil, I am pleased to recall that I grew up in the land of the Potawatomis, and have come—over the course of my 71 years—to understand the power of a respectful relationship to the earth, and the need to curb the acquisitive lifestyle that my father so uncritically embraced. 

Sixty-five years after my father was tossing my sisters and me around on his double bed and threatening us with transportation—not to Australia, mind you, but back to the local Native Americans—I am humbled to take my inspiration for the way forward in these troubled times from a Potawatomi.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Reflections on the Day

I awoke this morning with a completely unscheduled day—something of a rarity. (I had a Zoom session slated for this afternoon, but it got canceled.) Thus, it's a perfect time for some reflection. 

Today is noteworthy in two special ways:

First, my youngest sister, Alison, turns 65 today. It's a marker that all my siblings (we are five) are still alive and all are now eligible for Medicare. What a journey! Having recently retired from a part-time job she held these last years working in the library of an elementary school in suburban Chicago, she has been volunteering there this winter because she loves the work so much (isn't it great when that happens?). The drive into work each day provides her with a rotating opportunity to have a phone chat (thank you, Bluetooth) with her brothers and sisters, and I've been enjoying those 10-15 min chats that roll my way every two or three weeks.

Unquestionably, staying connected is a lifeline in the days of pandemic and social isolation, and I honor Al's diligence in seeing to it that we Schaubs stay in touch. She has been the social hub of the family in our generation and we all have benefitted. Notably this includes maintaining and updating the family address book as a Google spreadsheet, covering a whopping 51 Schauberjobbers—our "official" nickname—spread over three generations, as well taking the lead in organizing family reunions. Thanks, Al.

Second, today marks the one-year anniversary of my return from my last business trip. As this was something I was doing once or twice a month (with social visits piled on top of that), "normal" life screeched to a halt. Of course, normal got redefined for us all. I'm only saying that in my case, I have suddenly been home a great deal more. 

Mind you, my work hasn't stopped (if anything, the stresses of the pandemic have led to more work with cooperative groups) and I've successfully made the transition to working remotely (we're all Baby Zoomers now). Like many of us, I've adapted—a process that never really stops, but the need for which has been accelerated during the last year.

While it's a blessing that I'm in the same boat as Al with respect to work—we both love what we do and are appreciative of the opportunity to continue to serve after getting our Medicare cards—I am also dismayed at that state of the body politic, and wondering what role, if any, I can play in turning that ship around. It is staggering to reflect that not a single Republican in either the House or Senate voted for the latest Covid relief plan just passed by Congress, despite it's being supported by 70% of the voting public.

What are they thinking? They claim it's fiscally irresponsible, yet this is essentially the same group that crowed about a 2017 tax cut bill for the rich that blew a hole in the national debt of a comparable size. Hard to argue both sides of that coin without looking foolish. 

Republicans argue that this additional stimulus is unneeded because the economy is on the road to recovery without it (I watched Mitch McConnell look right in the camera and say that last night on PBS), blithely sidestepping how the recovery is glaringly mixed. The rich are doing just fine—in fact the stock market is at record highs. Yet service industries are in sore need, and individuals mired in the lower third of the economy—which disproportionately includes BIPOC—are still struggling and were close to the end of benefits when this relief bill arrived in the nick of time. Are Republicans only interested in the impact on the owning class? It certainly appears that way.

To be fair, this battle is now behind us. The relief package succeeded without GOP support. The next test will be whether progress can be made on immigration reform, infrastructure, and voting reform with Democrats and Republicans actually collaborating. I suppose much will depend on whether the Republican Party awakes from the fantasy that an outvoted, disgraced, divisive, vindictive, and demonstrably unfit ex-President can lead them to returned glory going forward. How long can you retain power through viciousness, anger, a steady diet of misinformation, and cult of personality? A President who threatens primary challenges to any Republican who questions his actions or offers to talk across the aisle.

I guess we'll find out.

Going the other way it was a breath of fresh air to hear Biden last night, speaking on the eve of signing the relief bill. He spoke with sobriety and compassion (527 thousand dead in the US and counting!), he didn't bash Republicans, he's over-performed on his promises to distribute vaccines, and he tells the truth. I could get used to a President like that—one who tries to hold the whole, rather than one who is hellbent on poking holes.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

An Offer to Sleep in Mama Bear's Bed

As most readers of this blog know, I am professional facilitator and have been offering an intensive two-year program in that skill since 2003. I currently have three of these trainings in progress simultaneously—which I consider a full slate. (It means that in 2021 I'll be, on average, conducting one three-day training weekend every month.)

However, that's not the only way I package this information. In addition to myriad posts about facilitation in this blog, I have been offering introductory workshops on facilitation at a variety of community events for three decades. These are typically 90-minutes long, occasionally two hours. They are a taste, an hors d'oeuvre. In contrast, the two-year training is a commitment of 24 days. Think of that as a banquet series.

This year the Foundation for Intentional Community has given me a platform for providing something in between: a 10-hour webinar series on two subjects near and dear to the heart of my work: one on Facilitation, and another on Conflict. Each will consist of two-hour Zoom sessions running for five consecutive Thursdays. Each will be offered twice:

The first Art of Facilitation for Cooperative Groups will start March 11 and run through April 8. The second (identical to the first) will start July 15 and run through Aug 12. If you click on the title of the course you'll be able to see a more detailed description of what will be offered, as well as an opportunity to sign up.

The first Working Constructively with Conflict in Community will start April 22 and run through May 20. The second will start Aug 26 and run through Sept 23. Just as above, if you click on the title you'll be able to see a more detailed description of what will be offered, as well as a chance to enroll.

If you conceive of an event workshop as the Goldilocks version, and the two-year training as the full-deal Papa Bear meal—then the FIC webinar series is the Mama Bear entrée—something midway, in the range of a hearty soup and sandwich. Far more nuanced than an introductory workshop, but still only 5 percent of what is delivered in the two-year training.

If this webinar opportunity intrigues you (and I hope it does), here is a link to an introductory one-hour session where I'll answer questions about what you'll get from the Facilitation webinar. This will happen this coming Tuesday, March 2, at 4 pm Eastern. While you'll be asked to make a donation to attend this, you'll be allowed to participate at no cost.

While I always advocate for the two-year training, I am fully aware that 24 days and $3200 can be too large a hurdle for many to jump. This webinar series asks only 10 hours and $300—a much smaller amount of scratch to satisfy an itch. FIC and I are hoping that will make it a good deal more accessible. Attendance for each course will be limited to the first 40 who sign up, so don't be shy.

I'm intrigued to see what kind of attendance this generates.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Patterns Versus Stereotypes

I've now been home quarantining since March 12, closing in on a year. While I still have plenty of work as a cooperative process consultant and trainer (in fact, I've never been busier) I do it all via Zoom and email, and there's no travel—which ordinarily consumes about two months annually. So that's quite a shift.

There are serendipitous benefits of all this unexpected time at home: the increased opportunity to indulge in my voracious appetite for reading and my recreational passion for duplicate bridge are two. In addition, and it's given me time to participate in an antiracism study group that meets weekly for an hour via Zoom. In a normal year (remember what that was like?) my travel schedule would make this impossible. We've been at it for nine months now and some precious insights have gestated in that incubator.

The study group has relied on White Fragility by Robin Diangelo and Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad is inspirational texts for our exploration. We take turns reading, and then pause and share reflections or questions. We are in no hurry. It's all about the journey and what we discover along the way. The group is about a dozen, mostly north of 60, but not all; mostly white, but not all. The one thing we all have in common is that we're past the initial white trap that most of us fall into—I can't be a racist because I don't engage in it overtly. So it's a process of digging out our reactions and how we've all been inadvertently complicit with systemic racism—the water we've swum in all our life and become inured to. We've learned to not see it, and now we're doing the poignant and often embarrassing work of unblinding ourselves.

Last week we focused for a time on stereotypes and the ways in which they can be damaging to BIPOC. I had no trouble understanding the dangers of stereotyping (broad brush categorizing certain groups in defining ways, based on race, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, class, you name it). We especially took time to see the insidiousness of stereotypes that are ostensibly positive (Blacks are better at basketball; Latinos are better are baseball; Asians are better at math; gays have more fashion sense) as they tend to be limiting and grossly homogenizing. Putting people in boxes inherently has a dehumanizing quality.

I admitted to the group that a stereotype that I've struggled with is a knee-jerk tendency to assume that when I hear a heavy non-English accent that that the person will not be fluent in English idioms or humor. My dear friend and process peer, María, is an Argentinian national and retains a strong accent from her upbringing, and her professional work as a court translator (Spanish/English). That said, she has been in the US for more than 20 years and is completely fluent in English (and very funny). I love being brought up short like that, pointing out how stereotypes can take you down a path that reality will require you to retrace your steps. Oops!

Then I started thinking about my relationship to patterns in group dynamics. Understanding tendencies in groups is enormously beneficial to me in diagnosing what's happening and how to respond (where have I seen this, or something like this before?; what do I know about what's effective as a response?; what constitutes a sound structural response for shifting into a healthier system?) As someone who has been in the field for 30+ years (and been to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of cooperative group meetings) one of the valuable things that clients and students get when they work with me is access to my pattern library. In fact, I tell clients (only half in jest) that it's hard to show my something I've never seen before.

But the antiracism focus on stereotypes got me thinking. Aren't patterns just a less pejorative name for stereotypes? How can one be OK and the other bad? Excepting the despicable practice of promulgating stereotypes maliciously for the purpose of justifying racism, I think that most stereotypes contain at least a germ of truth, or they wouldn't have been created in the first place. How do we discern signal from noise; what is useful from what is damaging and limiting? 

Patterns allow me to sort quickly in messy situations, and to perceive a pathway through a forest where others see only a dense stand of trees. I believe the key is understanding that patterns are tendencies, not facts, and I must always remain vigilant to how emerging information is converging or diverging with the pattern, telling me that it's OK to continue, or it's time to adjust. The pattern is a just a tool, and when events tell me it's not the right tool, it's my job to put that one down and select another (or modify the one in hand appropriately).

I also need to be on guard against the seductive ego-stroking trap of wanting to be the hero; having my initial analysis be deemed correct and to be seen as the savior in the situation. Thus, I might fight for my pattern when it's no longer serving, and I may be a bit slower to let it go and adjust (but it was such a nice pattern)—which doesn't serve my prime objective: what best serves the client. (Instead is serves my hidden agenda: what best strokes Laird's ego. Yuck.)

One of the most interesting aspects of my group practice is working with outliers—people who don't fit in easily and are often experienced as difficult and labeled "the problem." In recent years I've come to focus more on helping groups understand that people come in incredible rainbow of varieties and that a group's overall health is directly related to its ability to understand that variety and discover ways to embrace it as normal (an opportunity to benefit from hybrid vigor), rather than pathologize it and turn it into us/them dynamics. This is the heavy lifting of diversity.

Ironically, patterns are both an aid in that work and a potential blind spot. On the plus side, I am aware of patterns in how people are different, and that helps me unpack the issue. Further, I am aware of how groups are susceptible to ostracizing someone who doesn't easily fit in (culling them from the herd). It can be brutal, and often the majority (those accepted in the herd) are oblivious to the ways in which they have closed their minds to what they're doing. Where they see it as the outlier's problem; I see it as system failure.

On the not-so-plus side, pattern recognition can lead me to missing nuance that doesn't fit the pattern (which only happens all the time). While patterns allow me to work quickly (I'm good at it) it leads to mistakes. At my best, I learn from those mistakes and my patterns get adjusted (or I learn to go slower). But how can I be sure I'm catching all my mistakes? That question haunts me at night.

I observe other group dynamic practitioners and I notice the patterns they rely on. If I have a problem with their patterns (because I don't think their approach or solution works well in the field) I tend to see that as a blind spot they have. Surely I suffer from the same disease.

One of the reasons I like working in teams (of two or three) is that it's invaluable to have peers seeing me in action and letting me know when they sense that I'm off or have missed something important. I dare not rely solely on my own senses. 

At the end of the day, I see stereotypes as bad to the extent that people rely on them without reflection—where people are too lazy to see nuance, or are blind to their damage. I see patterns as good to the extent that they are living tools and I remain open to adjusting them in light of what's actually happening. It's a dance, and the music never stops.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Ceilee Turns 40

Yesterday my son tuned 40, and it was a time for both of us to reflect. Happily, I caught him by phone last evening, just as he and his partner were waiting for a table at one of their favorite restaurants. I was sorry I wasn't there to celebrate with him, but appreciated having time for a chat.

Long Time No See

The first, obvious reflection was that I had not been in the same room with him the entirety of his 39th year—by the far the longest we'd ever been separated, and that hurts. (I also have been separated from my daughter, Jo, the same length of time and that hurts just as much.) While I understand that the pandemic has made this necessary and it's no one's fault, my heart aches nonetheless.

Child as Father to the Man

Ceilee was able to report that he is now old enough to have clear memories of me and us when I was the age he is now. That was trippy. Both of us had our first child at age 31, and both of us had a son and daughter at age 40. While he will always be my son, he is also now my peer. The wheel turns.

I didn't ask him what those memories were (of the 40-year-old Laird), but understood that they were generally precious. It simultaneously helped me feel a deeper connection, and stimulated a reflection about the cycle of life. It was sobering, for instance, to recall that my father died a month after I turned 40—which understandably adds impatience to my desire to get vaccinated and safely past the Covid travel restrictions. I have an incurable cancer and the sands are inexorably running through my hourglass. While I'm a battler with a strong will to live, and my doctors are whizzes at keeping me alive, I chafe at losing 18 months or so in quarantine, barred from the possibility of holding my children.

What Happens in Vegas

Thursdays are when I visit St Luke's (my local hospital in Duluth) for my weekly dose of chemotherapy in their outpatient Infusion Center. It's a relatively routine affair, and I generally enjoy chatting with whichever nurse gets assigned to me (after five years I've come to know most of them, and they me). Today, interestingly, Heather was tossed my paperwork and we got talking about Covid. She shared that her closest personal loss was an uncle in his mid-50s. While overweight, he was otherwise not identified as at-risk and it was a shock when he and his wife took a trip in August to celebrate their wedding anniversary, he caught the virus and didn't make it home. The kicker was that all this happened in Las Vegas—which is where Ceilee, Jo, and my two grandkids live. Gulp.

While I know that people are dying everywhere, and I have no reason to think that Las Vegas is less safe than anywhere else, per se, Heather's story hit pretty close to home, and I worry about the judgment of people who travel to Vegas these days—the people who are willing to take the risk and roll snake eyes. I get it about wanting to gin up the economy again, but at what cost? What price may my kids be asked to pay because Las Vegas, in particular, draws risk takers? It's scary.

The Bigger Pictures

Susan's kids live in Denver and St Paul. All our children have partners. There are currently three grandchildren among them, with a fourth on the way, and we ache to be with them. (And don't get me started about the dogs, which all five households among us have.) 

The next ring out are my siblings and their children. My very next trip last March—when the lockdown hit and everything got shuttered—was see to family in Florida and Alabama. Understandably, that trip got canceled. When will I see them again?

Stepping back another ring, however, I realize how blessed I am. Not only are Susan and I doing well in a safe house in a safe neighborhood, but all of the people I mentioned above are in good health and OK financially. There are way too many folks in this country who are struggling with loss of health, loss of income, and/or isolation. So my final reflection is that I have led an incredibly fortunate life overall—even if it's taken the current restrictions to bring that more sharply into focus.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Bedlam 2020

For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, since 2010 I've gotten in the habit of posting a tongue-in-cheek summary and analysis based on where I slept the previous year. As an itinerant process consultant and community networker, that generally turns out to be a fair number of places.

I've chosen the header Bedlam, both because my meanderings are somewhat chaotic, and as an acronym: Bed—Laird's Actual Mattress. OK, it's a bit strained, but you get the point.

In this year of quarantine, I thought about taking a break from this report (what do I have to say?), but then I changed my mind. Although my general pattern of being on the road once or twice a month to visit client groups abruptly came to a halt March 12, I have reflections on my adaptations, and the uncertainties (bedlam?) surrounding them. Let me walk you through the progression…

I. At first, everything was on hold. Two facilitation trainings were halted midstream (one was interrupted with two of eight sessions completed in person; the other had gotten through three). Work lined up with clients was postponed or canceled. It was not at all clear how long the hiatus would last, but my oncologist made it clear that I was at high risk of dying if I contracted Covid, so I hunkered down at home, wore a mask when out (which wasn't much), and we went through gobs of alcohol wipes when anything new came into the house.

This initial phase was characterized by uncertainty. I, as well as everyone else, was in uncharted water, and it was hard to see through the fog. 

II. Next it occurred to me how lucky I was. I was safe, we were financially secure, and I had a loving partner—we were not alone.

The level of disruption that Susan and I were facing was small potatoes compared with many others: think primary care workers, wait staff in restaurants and bars; staff in stores that sell non-essential goods; beauticians, tourist industry employees, people who work in food packing plants, etc. I was shocked to understand how many at the lower end of the economic food chain (which disproportionately means BIPOC—Black, Indigenous, People of Color) were a single paycheck away from having to choose between food, rent, childcare, or medicine, none of which are luxuries.

The economic pandemic was falling most heavily of those least able to cushion themselves from its impact—a problem poignantly exacerbated by the double whammy that Covid is killing BIPOCs at higher rates than whites. (Take a moment to digest that stock indexes today are higher than they were before the pandemic. Shed no tears for the rich.)

In March, Breonna Taylor was killed by white police officers in a no-knock drug raid on her house, even though the suspect the police was looking for had already been apprehended. In May, George Floyd was choked to death by a white police officer on the streets of Minneapolis. These atrocities (and too many others) helped the nation focus on the issues of police brutality and systemic racism. 

The convergence of police violence and how the pandemic has exposed inequalities in employment and health care among BIPOC, has helped place and keep systemic racism in the spotlight. In the spring I was inspired to join a weekly discussion group that meets via Zoom for one hour weekly to explore white privilege and the work we need to do to no longer be complicit in maintaining the status quo. It's been humbling to discover what I wasn't looking at, wasn't educating myself about, and wasn't objecting to around me.

III. I went through a phase of impatience. I have an incurable cancer (multiple myeloma) that I've been successfully managing since its discovery five years ago, but there's no telling how much time I have left, and I chafed having to forego special trips with Susan, visiting family, and work with clients (if I'm not on this Earth to help others why am I here?) I resented losing precious opportunities to do what I love and which means the most.

IV. Then I started experimenting with Zoom (along with almost everyone else). Gradually I discovered I was able to deliver solid work, even on complex topics, over a virtual platform. Previously I was highly skeptical of this outcome, but experiments have proved me wrong. To be sure, there are complications and I still think in-person work is richer and superior, but in these times when groups are suffering and in-person isn't an option, Zoom has turned out to be surprisingly robust. The acid test for me is working with conflict, which requires my paying close attention to energy and nonverbal clues. While it's not clear how much of that is supported by the medium, and how much I am able to rely on patterns that I can accurately identify with fewer cues to go by, it's nonetheless working, and that's the bottom line. 

Gradually, I was back in business. It's not as if groups have stopped struggling. In fact, the pandemic has led to increased pressure on many communities and the need for assistance has risen—especially for someone like myself who specializes in defusing tension.

V. Over the summer, my facilitation training partners and I started offering free Zoom sessions with our students that were part check-in and part instruction, These typically ran for two-three hours every 4-6 weeks. These went well, and ultimately led to an experiment with conducting a full-blown three-day training weekend via Zoom. Amazingly that went well also, so we've restarted both groups where we left off, the pandemic be damned.

Further, we're excited enough about what we can deliver to offer an entirely Zoom-based two-year facilitation training to new students. Not only does this keep the ball rolling, but it frees us up from needing a concentration of students in a given area to support a class, and obviates the need for host groups to feed and house the class for three days. With Zoom students can be anywhere, so long as they have motivation and high-speed internet. (If this opportunity interests you, let me know and I'll send you information about it: laird@ic.org).

VI. With the arrival of effective vaccines, it appears likely that I'll get my turn for a couple of arm pokes sometime in the first quarter (given my age and immunocompromised status, I'm in line right after primary care workers and people in nursing homes). Once it's been determined that enough of the population has been vaccinated to provide herd immunity, I expect to resume travel, and that has buoyed my spirits. Among other hardships, I haven't seen my kids or grandkids (or granddogs for that matter) since November of last year. To be sure electronic connections have been a lifeline and that has helped, but it's not the same as a hug.

VII. I've been a process consultant since 1987. Over the years I've learned I could regularly count on slow times in the year: the three weeks from mid-December through Epiphany, and the summer doldrums (mid-June through August), when too many people are on vacation to justify bringing in a consultant. Now that's out the window. I have never been busier than I am this holiday season. In addition to prep work for my two training classes (and promoting the new one), I am juggling active work with 10 client groups at present (today, for example, I have three interviews scheduled). My cup overfloweth. While I'm keeping up, and enjoy the work, I'm wondering what happened to slowing down for the holidays. I lay awake at night not thinking of sugar plums; I'm thinking about what to say to clients in distress who don't think they're part of the problem.

Talk about chaos at the end of the year! This is a lesson in being careful what you ask for (see point III above). Regardless of whether we want it, we definitely live in interesting times.

In any event, happy New Year to all! I'm an inveterate optimist, and believe good things are ahead in 2021, despite the bedlam.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Failing to Pick Up on the Need to Defund Consumption

I was shocked to hear on the radio today that the top three selling vehicle models in the US are all pickups.

Think about that. 

I lived on a farm for 40 years and there is definitely a place for pickups as part of a vehicle fleet in rural life. At Sandhill Farm (where I did the bulk of my community living) we always had a pickup. There were times when we needed to haul heavy or bulky things and that's what a pickup is good for (by extension you can make a reasonable argument that pickups are darn near essential at industrial job sites as well). That said, we only used our pickup about 10% as much as we used our regular vehicles—because even on a working farm, the overwhelming majority of the time you simply use vehicles to move one or two people, and pickups are grossly inefficient.

What do I mean by "grossly"? The gas mileage for this year's pickup models is in the 15-20 mpg range. The mileage for this year's sedans is typically 30 mpg and up. The US Dept of Transportation figures that the average American drives 13,500 miles annually. If you do that in a pickup that gets 16 mpg, you'll buy 843 gallons of gas. If you do it in sedan that gets 32 mpg, you'll need only half of that, or 421 gallons (not to mention hundreds of hours in better seats). If gas costs around $2.50/gallon that's roughly $1000 difference in what you'll pay for gas.

When you take in the sales data, it's obvious that most of those hot-selling pickups are not being bought by farmers worrying about schlepping hay bales to cows in the back 40, or by oil drillers running extra pipe to a wellhead. So what's going on? As near as I can tell, owning and driving a pickup has become a status symbol. Think about how ridiculous that is—all the more so in light of folks complaining about economic strain right now. (I know, it may not be the bottom third of the economic pyramid who is buying his and hers F-150s, but you get my point.)

We're living in a world that desperately needs to reduce its carbon footprint, and with spectacular inequalities in how resources are distributed among the nations of the world. As a developed country that uses way more than its share of the world's resources, how do we sleep at night buying all those pickups? With the brick wall of limited resources right in front of us, in what reality does it make sense to increase consumption to make a fashion statement? This is developing conspicuous consumption into an art form—on the order of sport killing buffalos from moving train and letting the meat rot (yeah, we did that, too).

Instead of focusing on car pooling, we're focused on car fooling—as in fooling ourselves that we're taking the consequences of over population into account. Instead of car sharing, we're indulging in car foreswearing—in favor of gas-guzzling trucks. 

Surely we can do better.