Category Archives: Conflict transformation

Remembering our Roots

A mere thirty years ago, I spent a semester at El Tecnológico de Monterrey as an exchange student. I lived in the dorm with a wonderful roommate from Chihuahua, watched telenovelas (Mexican soap operas) and even was a college athlete. “El Tec” was probably one of the few locations in North America where the coach wouldn’t double over in giggles while clocking my splits. They needed another female willing to run the 3K event back then so I fit the bill!

El Tecnológico en Torreón

This past weekend, I reran this memory lane while getting to teach dialogue to Tec students in the town of Torreón during their annual leadership conference. I was transported back as I overheard students talking of movies and majors and hearing cheers as students represented proudly their respective states. I basked in typically fabulous Mexican hospitality and was young again.

But all was not the same. My husband will not be pleased to know that as I jogged around campus for old times sake while black-clad police men with machine guns watched me and fellow runners from a nearby hospital rooftop. We learned that a gang-related altercation had criminals in recovering in that building and a dozen police, some in face masks, were stationed there on high alert. And Monterrey of the state Nuevo Leon, a once sleepy town where I safely ran in its surrounding hills with my fellow track mates, is now nicknamed “Monterror de Nuevo Miedo (Fear).”

While waiting for buses loaded with 130+ students in the vineyard-rich town of Parras, I stared out a car window at a lush grove surrounded by a concrete wall. Suddenly a single thirty-foot tall tree you see on the corner in the photo below began to quickly shake making the leaves blur. Is there a wind storm? No, it was completely calm and just one tree moved. Earthquake? That didn’t make sense, and I felt that disorienting feeling that came on most clearly when I watched the smoke coming out of the World Trade Tower after the first plane had entered. I couldn’t find a contextual framework. “Can not process…can not process,” my brain stuttered watching that tree.

Trees in Parras

A fellow passenger came to my aid – “That’s a nut tree. To harvest nuts, they have attached a band around the tree’s base, attach a motor that shakes the fruit free.”

The tree incident became a metaphor through the weekend. As we dialogued informally and with the students in groups, we all seemed to be wrestling with how the country could have been shaken so quickly and thoroughly. I heard stories of friends who now dive under tables in restaurants when hearing loud noises. 19 and 20 year olds lamented how children now can’t play outside as they had. This is not the Mexico of my young adulthood, or even the one I last visited five years ago.

Like my fellow car mate who gave me a nut harvest tutorial, leaders often appear to reorient us. They can provide a great service as they provide a greater context. However, these are vulnerable times when we are hungry for answers and thus willing to abdicate personal agency – e.g. post WWI Germany and Hitler’s success.

The leadership’s responsibility is at its heaviest when called to reorient others, whatever the circumstances. We must consider in these circumstances, how can I be careful with my communications when in care of another’s reality? Are the statistics I am using are truly facts? Is my answer empowering or enslaving another?

Dialogue in action

At the end of the conference, we listened to a well-known Mexican political analyst Dr. Denise Dresser. I hear “call to action” speeches often as a professor and consultant, and hers was one of the best I have witnessed.

As she “called things by their true names,” she described a country controlled by monopolies and oligopolies. She provided data on the lack of consumer choice in basic areas of phone, energy, food and media. The facts were bleak and at times overwhelming.

After her compelling painting of Mexico’s present, Dr. Dresser had a choice. Once described, Dresser had the opportunity to call forth more fear and hopelessness and for us to follow her advice. But instead, she took a positive assets-based approach and used three leadership techniques. (You can read an article similar to the given presentation here)

1) Share what is workingDresser reminded her audience of the enduring Mexican culture is with a litany of its unique gifts. This is a country of riches that are not just found in natural resources. She had me at “los libros de Elena Poniatowska” and “mangos con chile,” and, teary with nostalgia by “visiting any town’s central plaza on a Sunday afternoon.” Mexico snuggled into a corner of my heart when I was a teenager and has never left.

2) Articulate an empowering vision – In a call to action, Dresser developed a future of possibility. She spoke of Mexico containing options for both a consumer and the voter. Dresser then shared how the government is paid for by the people and each can call for transparency and accountability.

3) Believe in the Whole — When asked why she didn’t run for office, Dr. Dresser, who preferred to be called Denise, responded she wanted to stand at the side of the people. She didn’t want to leave that position, and encouraged us to look for creative solutions to resolve these issues. She believes in the whole. The organizers of the Tec leadership conference mirrored this belief as they trained the students in dialogue. They then encouraged the  participants to create circles of interested students across the country to consider deeply the tough issues confronting not only Mexico but also the world.

I left Mexico heartened by those I met and the dialogue I witnessed. These are tough times, but after meeting the students and staff, these are also outstanding individuals empowered to look for solutions. It was a call for me to keep asking: How are my words stopping fear’s motor and reminding others of their healthy roots? How can I keep aligning with the best and the greater whole to bring innovative solutions into form? And to keep cheering…Go Tec!

 

TEDxBozeman Video is Available

Per your many requests, please find my March 23rd Tedx Talk below! It is also available on YouTube under the Tedx Channel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEAzWD3038Y .

Thank you for your kind and enduring support, Deidre

Cruel to be Kind?

I was asked to speak on the subject of kindness this week.  To do so, I realized I had to first wrestle with the meaning of kindness. How can it be applied not just to those easy moments when a friend calls in need of compassion, but when you are maneuvering through a working day? 

I used to see kindness as simple and fun. It was bringing soup to the neighbor with the cold or buying lottery tickets from the 8th grader raising money for a school trip.  As I dig deeper, I realize that kindness requires courage and often a ferocity that feels antithetical to a trait that seems soft and sweet.

Here’s a common example, a business colleague makes continued interpersonal errors. What’s the kindest action? By keeping noble silence, am I being kind? Or, telling him what I am witnessing, would that be kinder? Kindness in this instance is not simple and it may not be remotely fun especially if there can be negative repercussions for whatever action you take.

To ferret out an answer to this polemic question, I look to the practices of full-court empathy, looking for the bigger picture and how to tell the truth.

Finding the kindest action is clearer when I can drop into another’s shoes while standing at the same time in my own. An act of kindness needs to support both the other person and me. If I forget either of us in the equation, I am being unkind.  Kindness is the resolution of what appears to be irreconcilable opposites of competing needs. What will truly support us both…not to make everyone smile, but truly improve our situations?

Focusing on the bigger picture also creates clarity. I see this with parenting. Teaching our children to be responsible citizens may involve some tough feedback as they grow. Is it kind to discipline a child after she have been caught trying to steal candy? For the whole, the tears and internal struggles are ultimately compassionate as the child learns how to navigate society’s rules.  So, to find the answer to “what’s the kindest action?” also involves thinking of our larger context.

Last, counsel on how to tell the truth cuts a path through my brain thicket. Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien says to “tell the truth without blame or judgment.” Another cross-cultural rule of thumb is to tell the truth from a place of “I.”  So, “You are offensive and cause problems with your peers,” in the above example is not fully true nor very kind. That’s just my opinion.  Using a non-judgmental I statement like “I am picking up discord in our interactions and am not sure how to proceed,” could be kinder and more truthful.

Kindness is not easy, yet when it comes my way it is a balm for the soul. How can we each bring more kindness into the weeks ahead?

 

 

The Opposite of Beauty is Indifference

As a continuing theme of this blog, I want to share the work of two artists who bring both beauty from and insight about our oceans’ treasures. Richard and Judy Lang have collected plastic debris since 1999 from 1000 yards of Kehoe Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore and create museum-worthy art.

In one year they easily gather 4000 pounds of plastic. Meanwhile, as Judith says, “We are not cleaning the beach, we are curating the beach,” as they select only plastic in the colors and shapes for which they are searching. What could be a depressing or overwhelming issue to face, the Langs appear to address it with interest and careful observation.  “The opposite of beauty is really not ugliness,” says Richard, “The opposite of beauty is indifference. We are trying not to be indifferent about this and about the world.”

Please enjoy another example of artists as leaders:

You gotta be flexible

My mother-in-law Jinny Combs taught me many things.

As one of my most formative bosses, I probably model my leadership style off of hers more than I recognize. I know that I rely on two pieces of constant Jinny advice, “Look for people with good attitudes, you can teach them everything else,” and “You gotta be flexible!”

After running a guest ranch in southwestern Montana for fifty years, Jinny could have easily written a long book on leadership, but instead she penned three cookbooks and a collection of funny stories about life at the Diamond J.

Jinny taught that you could use writing to foster flexibility. When we would lose a pet or a person, my mother-in-law would write a poem. Sometimes a haiku composed at 4 am fit the bill and in other cases, a prose poem was right. Really anytime life surprised her, Jinny took pen to paper and reframed the situation into one that had value and, most often, a whole lot of humor.

These poems were never just for her. Once the story was captured in verse, it was typed, copied and sent out to a large distribution list of friends and family.  An envelope with Jinny’s distinctive writing was a harbinger of news that although it may contains some sadness would always have us giggling.

Each piece would also end with an “ole!” Since my in laws spent their winters in Mexico that felt fitting, but this now feels like a constant call to get back on your feet and cheer that you are still here. Jinny was never one for focusing on loss or grieving, at least around us. There were guests to meet in the summer, or to correspond with off season, and more fun to be found.

Jinny read whatever I wrote loyally, including this blog. The videos were her favorite and, before she got sick last spring, they always engendered calls and emails.  It should be no surprise to me that I have been putting off composing a post after losing her last August.  I would like to chalk it up to too much work, but if I am honest, I have been avoiding the pain of writing without her reading.

But, you gotta be flexible — is not following our mentors’ advice is one of the ways that we can honor them? Jinny often said that her mother-in-law created the most brilliant sunsets. Following her tradition, maybe it’s time to believe that Jinny is out there watching in the vast worldwide web. She’s sending along her favorite emails full of animal photos and waiting for me to get back on my feet. And so, I send this far and wide, just as she would have, and end this post with a rousing, but I must admit teary “OLE!”