Category Archives: Play

Screen Invasion

Perhaps no meeting is as good a use of our time as sitting alone in silence, letting go of fear and allowing the wisdom of the universe to emerge with the guidance that will help us take the next healthy action. – Steve Roberts, “Cool Mind, Warm Heart”

I am noticing that other consultants I respect, like Steve Roberts above, have been often writing this year about the need to slow down, get quiet and listen. They speak to my soul.

A few weeks ago, I was working in Puerto Rico and took a bathroom break to find this.

Watching Thor while washing my hands

Watching Thor while washing my hands

Really, we need screens in the bathroom now too? When I am mediating or facilitating tough disputes, bathroom breaks provide needed moments of quiet and space to re-center. Last week, I refueled the car to find that the local station had added TVs above every gas pump. Then, walking down Main Street in Bozeman, and I found that they have installed screens on lampposts. Oh my. I’m sure you can add three more crazy locations you have found screens installed in your daily life, but this is rough news for this gal.

Ever since I was little when a television is on, my eyes are glued to the screen. If you want me to complete a sentence, don’t take me to a sports bar, or even a sushi bar if they happen to need to play Japan-amation. My students giggle at how easily I am distracted by shiny objects in whatever form; that dancing screen light seduces me away in seconds.

Selling screens and Big Sky on the street

Selling screens and Big Sky on the street

So, how can we call for silence and time without stimulus when the screens have become an invasive species? I don’t have an answer to share. This is probably just an end-of-year a plea for no screen zones. How might I advocate for places where I can keep my observation skills turned on without having them co-oped by CNN, ESPN or Fox? How might we demand that some parts of our world are preserved for re-centering, quiet and clarity?

In meantime, I am trying to find humor in all the strange places that screens are sneaking in like these naughty pets who are so proud of what they have accomplished! I will also admit that seeing Thor leap around on that screen while washing my hands wasn’t the worst part of my day.

May you find joy, humor and a bit of quiet during this holiday season.

Giving Back to Come Back Again and Again

When researching Thriving Through Tough Times, I learned that to fully recover from difficult circumstances we are counseled to give. Giving creates meaning out of rough situations, moves us out of ourselves and generally makes us feel better. Andy Mackie’s example as you’ll watch below, adds a whole new level of promise to the “give back to come back” maxim.

After nine heart operations and drugs that sickened him, Mackie decided to use the money he had been spending on prescriptions to buy harmonicas for school age children. With little time to live, according to the physicians, Mackie wanted to finish well by doing what he loved. But, Mackie didn’t finish his time on earth as quickly as predicted, and month after month he bought more harmonicas and taught kids how to play. Eleven years and some 16000 harmonicas later, Andy Mackie left behind a strong musical and ethical legacy when he passed away at 73.

I hope you enjoy this video.

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!”

Humus Perfume

At 21, I was given a gift. Calling to make plane reservation for my then-fiancé and me, I gave the ticket agent our names.

She began laughing and replied, “That’s so funny. Do you two travel together often?”

Punch line – my maiden name is Barber.

So, twenty-five years later, thanks to Northwest Airlines, I am Deidre B. Combs. The agent taught me that I clearly couldn’t hyphenate my name…that would not only be silly, but distracting. But, she also helped me realize that keeping my maiden name in my married mix would be a great symbolic gesture.

Not only, as one of four girls, was there no one to carry on my primary family name, but also, how can you take yourself too seriously when you have a last name like “Barber Combs”? The “B.” reminds me that our children could easily garner nicknames like “Scissors” and “Perm” and that I am a victim of the same game of Life that everyone else is playing. Honestly, just think about the likelihood of falling in love with someone whose name does that to yours? Like the Northwest agent, my name makes me giggle.

I adore the intricate connection between humor and humility. They come from the same root word of humus, or “earth.” Both humor and humility ground us; connect us to the planet and to each other. I find humor and sincere humility magnetizing. I like myself most when I am employing these two well; thus I wanted to keep that “B.” close at hand.

Watch in the attached TED video how really funny and humble connect.

Our son Cameron is a master in the sport of  humble humor — he’ll appropriately deny it. To prove my point, Exhibit A is a recent blog post from his travels in Brazil entitled “Bonbon Disaster.” Click here to read!

Observing my leadership students employing humility this week, I noticed that humor is usually always close by. For example, one young man on the MSU track team remarked how he is trying to make sense of why he gets scholarships for throwing hammers and weights in the air. “I can’t believe they give me money for that,” he explained with a wry smile. He had us all giggling as he thoughtfully considered the relevance of this pursuit and his future athletic goals. His humble assessment and humorous descriptions of his daily practices had us all captivated. By the end we were trying to convince him that his focus on excellence and discipline was leadership in action. He had us all cheering him on, although that didn’t appear to remotely be his intent.

Humility exposes our vulnerability, mostly to ourselves. We might think that we somehow need to have it all together, but our community usually sees through that façade. They know that we are flawed. We all were born, we are all clumsily trying to figure out how this world works, and we are all going to die. That you can’t overcome. Our community seems more interested in when we realize this truth.

Personally, I’m not as interested in following a leader who is perfect, but one who despite imperfections wants to give. Isn’t it strange, when our “ugly” bumps and bruises are exposed that others often find us at our most beautiful?