Tag Archives: Dialogue

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!


Moving through the word

I have been thinking a lot about perspective. Last Thursday I participated in a “salon” hosted by The Ecce Gallery in Bozeman. Each month, a theme is selected and five brave souls provide a response. Well, I saw us as brave souls since we were required to either read a corresponding essay or to tell a story free form. 

The evening’s organizers had selected “Audacity of Adventure” as our theme. It’s a great choice for the mountain town that houses some of the world’s top alpinists, river runners, travel writers and NGO’s like Central Asia Institute. Some of our residents have to sew extra pages into their passports to handle all the visas. Knowing the biographies of some of my neighbors, I was surprised to be asked to be part of the presentation.

Meanwhile, about twenty of us gathered in the Emerson Cultural Center for wine, appetizers and conversation. Lori Lawson, who had organized the event, began by sharing a piece called “First Date” describing when she and a college boyfriend hopped a freight train in southern California. Author Alan Kesselheimadded an essay on being chased by a polar bear while on a month-long canoe trip in northern Canada. International journalist Michael Finkel provided extraordinary stories from border crossings including one into Tehran.  Ecce’s owner Robin Chopus closed out the salon by describing an African odyssey at eighteen where she witnessed a Masai male and female circumcision ceremony.

 And me? The external adventures I painted were tamer than those of my compatriots, telling about eighteen year old travels with two fellow exchange students around Mexico and a snippet from a visit to India. But, I also shared a journey through tough times where I ventured through “flat land,” or what John of Cross might have called a trek through “the dark night of the soul.”

 All adventures, yes, but listening to one another it was clear how different a perspective we each brought to our response. While we all equated adventure with travel, what was audacious was clearly unique. Alan’s edges live in the outdoors, while Mike’s are found in his choice of country. Lori played on the edges of the law and Robin dove into an outlying culture. My frontier lay within my interior.

 At the evening’s end, I had a richer understanding of what adventure and audacity could mean.  While alone we each provided a window onto the world of “The Audacity of Adventure,” together we created a composite view that left us all moved.

 The fuller picture is what continues to draw me to fostering any sincere dialogue whether at work or beyond. Dialogue derived from Greek means “moving through the word.” Dialogue occurs when we use conversation to move our understanding forward. It is those times when we seek more to learn from one another than to convince.

Dialogue needs multiple perspectives to be successful. I need to hear reports from as many viewpoints as possible to gather a sense of the true landscape. For example, if through my window I see sunny projections, and you meanwhile spot a financial tornado approaching, it behooves me to listen to your perspective. Thus, we want to invite those whose perspectives we might find wrong, crazy or strange to the conversation.

 Dialogue can be played well by following a few simple rules:

  1. Listen as intently and carefully as possible.
  2. Create ground rules that assure everyone is given ample time and quiet to speak.
  3. Welcome all viewpoints as simply “windows onto the situation.”
  4. Whoever can articulate a viewpoint that incorporates all the opposing perspectives wins the game.

 With some topics, like “the audacity of adventure” learning will be easy. I welcomed the opportunity to deepen my understanding of the topic. However, with topics like capital punishment, abortion or, say, drilling in ANWR, playing well takes practice. How can I open myself to perspectives from those I believe threaten my survival? Difficult, yes, but, practice we must.