Tag Archives: playing well with others

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.   



Playing Well when We Don’t Know (1)

I’m just home from walking in the fog.

Although I am writing literally, my walk in the fog could have been equally metaphoric. The future seems pretty fuzzy on Sunday, November 2nd with presidential elections in two days, volatile financial markets and heightening tensions in Syria, Pakistan and…and…and…

Fog rarely appears in Bozeman, MT so the weather’s novelty caught my attention. It reminded me how, according to cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien, some parts of Africa call times like the ones we are navigating “walking in the land of gray clouds.”

Today it feels impossible to fully predict what our economic, political and social landscape will look like a year from now. While I visited our eldest son at college a few weeks ago, I wondered, “How many of these students will be able to return next quarter, let alone next fall?” I try to guess what’s next and envision positive results, but I don’t really know. 

If my thoughts run wild, I can move to a panicked state pretty easily these days and I’m noticing I’m far from alone. Clients, family, and even strangers all want to talk about the candidates and stock market. The old adage, “don’t talk politics or religion,” somehow has been ignored at every dinner table I’ve visited over the past month.  Friends aren’t sleeping and madly canvassing homes with “get out to vote” brochures. We seem to be in a bit of a state.

So, how does one play well in the fog? 

1. Watching our attitude

As I mentioned in my previous post, “Why is it playing well?” when in doubt every culture I researched suggests you should  “count your blessings.”  Make it a habit. For example, Native cultures, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam prescribe professing gratitude for what is working in your life at least once if not multiple times per day. When we don’t know what’s next, remind yourself what is.

Recent psychological studies show that we are happier and more able to recover from traumatic events if we foster an “attitude of gratitude.” University of North Carolina researcher Barbara Fredrickson’s “broaden and build” theory suggests that using positive emotions broadens our attention and ability to perceive a bigger picture. When in a state of appreciation, we are more able to think creatively and gather information on the situation at hand. Her research also suggests that we are more resilient when fostering appreciation, optimism and joy. 

So, taking my own advice as I walked, I thought how cool it is to get to witness such a historic election. I was happy that I get to be alive during these unique times. I went on to enjoy the mist and the temperate afternoon. And my list of my “blessings” continued to grow the more I focused on appreciating my circumstances. I came home calm and more objective than I was when setting out.

When times get really rough,  all I can muster is “I can walk” or “I’m still breathing” to begin my “happy list.” But, starting with those, others appear. Priming the pump with blessings I can’t deny help to move me from my most miserable into a productive mind set. 

So, over the next week, ask yourself daily, “what’s working?”  I welcome your thoughts and results!

In my next post, I will continue with another technique for playing in the fog  – “Watching our actions.”