Tag Archives: Bozeman

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.

Where are we?

Last weekend I added another way to describe the importance of seeking another’s perspective when you find disagreement. Being a soccer parent in Montana has its challenges. When your children “travel,” you don’t head across town as do my friends in Minneapolis or Washington, DC, instead you hit the road at 5 am to drive across the state. The older the kid, the farther you must venture and the earlier in the year they start playing. Thus, the season began in earnest on Saturday for our teenaged daughter with games scheduled in Billings, about 2 ½ hours east.

April 4, 2009

April 4, 2009

Yet between Friday and Saturday morning we received about 18 inches of snow in our neighborhood outside of Bozeman. It drifted across the roads and without a snowplow, I wasn’t going to make it out of my driveway.  There was also a winter storm alert for our destination. Games had been cancelled all over the state. So, the three fellow soccer team families in our neighborhood decided at midnight to forgo 4 AM snow blowing and possible dangerous driving conditions since it seemed impossible that the games wouldn’t be cancelled. There are limits.

We awoke the next morning to even more snow and emails that the games were scheduled as planned! Weather.com continued to report winter storm alerts and the transportation department tough road conditions, yet all the other team members were on their way to Billings. How could that be?

This situation then began to remind me of watching a mediation. There’s usually a time during a dispute where one party insinuates that the other must be a little crazy or irresponsible. But for a mediator, this moment should be a sign that everyone might be missing critical information.

Thankfully, after shaking my head in disbelief, I recognized I must be missing something. After making some calls, I learned that downtown Bozeman had received a few inches not feet of snow and the farther east you drove the less white stuff you’d see. Ringing a friend already cheering on the sidelines, I learned that the fields were completely dry. “Winter storm alert” in Billings meant only cloudy skies, not dumping two feet as it did south of Bozeman. The same term was used for both cities with very different results. From our winter wonderland it had seemed impossible that there would be relatively warm and dry weather 60 miles away until I spoke with someone who had just made the journey.

After my faithful spouse dug us out, the girls and I headed east to make a second game. Arriving at the fields, it was my turn to explain to the other soccer parents why our late arrival had not been…well, lazy or irresponsible! With a dusting of snow on their vehicles before leaving, they were as confused that we hadn’t made the trip as I had been that they had. From Billings we had seemed a bit crazy…just as they seemed from home!

I now hope to mumble, “they must be in Billings” when I reach that tough spot in a mediation when perspectives diverge, or in my own disputes, so I will ask more clarifying questions. I’m guessing those who know Billings, Bozeman, or Butte for that matter, are smiling as they read this since these towns sport not only unique ecosystems, but also very distinctive, and sometimes opposing, personalities…yet, don’t we all?

Working together

To explain not posting for the last ten days, I noticed that I was reluctant to admit that we just returned from a California vacation. That reaction seems strange considering in our small town it is an annual communal practice to head south or to the mountains when Montana State University closes its doors for spring break. Go to Moab, Costa Rica and Whistler the third week of March and you will be sure to cross paths with a Bozemanite. Vacation plans have always been standard small talk here where nine months of the year yield snow.

Yet, standing in the grocery check out line earlier this month an acquaintance shared how she was driving two hours away to ski this year to “be good.”  I receive a weekly email that broadcasts queries from reporters and I’d say a good dozen of these requests have been on the theme of “Are you still going on vacation, or should you, during an economic downturn?” After watching the attached TED video, I’m wondering if my vacation sharing reticence comes from trying to fly with the flock!



I have been long fascinated with how groups move in unison without apparent choreography. What makes a team rally behind a particular leader? How do organizations suddenly coalesce around a creative solution? What creates a new industry trend? Mathematician Steven Strogatz explains that the synchronized movements of flocks of birds or schools of fish are easily modeled using three basic principles:

  • A member watches those next to him
  • Group members tend to line up
  • Group members are attracted to one another

When a predator attacks, a fourth principle is added:

  • In danger, get out of the way!

Birds scatter and then flock once more as they respond to external attacks; are we attempting to do the same as we adjust to global or regional surprises?  I must be applying the first principle as it pertains to discretionary spending, yet recognize, as Strogatz explains, that too much synchronized movement can be detrimental to the whole.  Following the presented theory, it might be interesting to consider how we can  “fly right” in these times. I welcome your thoughts!

Adjusting to Unwelcome Changes


March 9, 2009

March 9, 2009 -- After Gas Line Explosion

It was a tough week in Bozeman, Montana. Start with a worsening financial picture and then add a major gas line explosion on downtown Main Street Thursday morning. Five historic buildings burned to the ground, two others sustained major fire damage and dozens of windows were shattered in the surrounding blocks. All of the five-block downtown bore scars from the blast.

Main Street Before

Main Street Before






By Sunday, one casualty was officially reported, although the town grapevine could have told you within hours that Tara Bowman, the director of Montana Trails Gallery had gone to work early that day.  Given the extent of the discharge and the damage, the town is still in awe that there was no other loss of life or injuries. Up to a mile away, friends reported thinking a truck had plowed into their house. Others watched debris propelled 300 feet in the air from their offices. In a federal building four blocks away, the force had Forest Service employees convinced that an elevator cable had broken and sent a car crashing four floors.

Though impossible to surmise how a town feels, let alone a single individual, I keep running into confusion, sadness and frustration at the grocery store and the coffee shop. Yesterday, a friend returning from a non-profit board meeting exclaimed, “Folks are really worn out. The stress is getting to them. I haven’t seen so many people biting one another’s heads off.”  Attempting to answer, “How did this happen?” “What does this mean?” and “How do I process loss and relief at the same time?” is a draining process.  The past weeks have tapped internal reserves, which helps me understand why reactions of anger or even rage naturally accompany any major adjustment.

Shortly before she passed away in 2004, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross brought together three decades of pioneering death and dying work in On Grief and Grieving, “Anger is a necessary stage of grief. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.”

The destructive power anger can emit scares us. People kill each other out of anger. They beat their loved ones.  They say terrible things that they should later regret. The heartless torture and murders in civil wars around the globe are much too similar to ancient descriptions of grief’s rage to interpret them as simply demonic. For example, in The Iliad Achilles is overcome when Hector kills his beloved friend Patroclus in the battle of Troy. Achilles refuses to eat or sleep before returning to battle to avenge the death, “You talk of food? I have no taste for food – what I really crave is slaughter and blood and the choking groans of men!”

 Yet, feeling anger is a whole lot different than using that passion to hurt another. I really appreciate the Biblical character Job’s authenticity as he grieved. Frustrated at God, he tells three friends why it is highly unfair that he has been treated so poorly. Translator Stephen Mitchell notes in The Book of Job that it appears Biblical scribes over the centuries tried to mitigate what seemed like blasphemy by tweaking Job’s words. Regardless, Job’s rage still shines through; he’s livid and he doesn’t care if he knows it. Yet, Job doesn’t strike his wife, insult his friends or kick his dog, he simply externalizes his anger.

How can we surface and safely release fury? Many cultures ritualize externalization of anger to move the grief process along. For example, in the Dagara tribe of Berkana Fasu communal water rituals are used to transform anger, rage, frustration and sadness. An angry person is seen simply as someone “on the road to tears.” In the Nyakyusa tribe of South Africa, the burial ceremonies include a war dance. An elderly tribesman explained, “We dance because there is war in our hearts. A passion of grief and fear exasperates us…Death is a fearful and grievous event that exasperates those men nearly concerned and makes them want to fight.” In America, Kubler-Ross ritualized the expression of anger by having grief workshop participants beat on mattresses and pillows until they felt relief.

The Buddhist tradition consistently counsels to just allow tough emotions instead of taking them out on others. Teacher Phillip Moffitt suggests in Dancing with Life  that we see tough emotion as a waterfall. By allowing anger, we stand underneath the torrent and let it wash over us. We allow ourselves to “be” in the struggle for a bit. Moffitt explains that in accepting the emotions of grief, we are better able to bear them and they can pass through us. During tough times, I try to schedule “waterfall time” where I give myself to being with the emotion and instead of trying to fix the problem. “Waterfall days” beat out “fixing days” in actually moving me through my struggles, but they aren’t easy. Facing emotional pain, can be well, painful!  

Like others around the world who have experienced similar events, sometimes weekly, I expect we will adjust. Meanwhile, my thoughts go out to the friends and family of Ms. Bowman and to those who lost their livelihoods or residences last Thursday.  I hope this finds you adjusting and fairing well wherever you call home. 

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.