Monday, 24 December 2012

The Day Before Christmas, Dec 24, 2012

T’was the day before Christmas and all through the land
No one was playing, not even the band.
People were traveling from near and far
Some by airplane and others by car.

Many were troubled by visions in their head
Of children so beautiful and now they are dead.
Mothers and fathers with tears in their eyes
Thousands of prayers lifted to the skies.

In the halls of Congress there was so much chatter
But without big change it just wouldn’t matter.
There must be a way to touch peoples’ hearts
So all will stop arguing, and quit flinging the darts

There is much you can do to help all mankind
Believe in the goodness that each of us can find
And kindle that spark of wonder and joy
And share it generously with every girl and boy.

To every neighbor, relative and friend you know
Reach out and touch them with spirits aglow.
Give them reasons to love and share with another
A brother or a sister, a father and a mother.

Leaving the past and so much grief behind
Memories can endure loss so we shall find
New life like new leaves on a now empty tree
Will come this Spring for everyone to see.

Open your eyes, your ears and your heart
For this is the time and the place to start.
There is only this moment we have in time
Don’t miss it, don’t miss it, t’would be such a crime.

Look into the face of a child who is near
Precious and sacred, even more so this year
You will see in that child pure joy and delight
Ever so true on this very special night.

This season gives us reason to dance and to sing
Carols and presents and ourselves we bring
To this holiday gathering of family and clan
May yours be blessed by every woman and man

Let us take time out for moments of quiet
Amidst the noise and message to buy it.
Silent night, holy night, that is the song
For those who believe and those who belong.

Join a chorus regardless large or small
Let your voices be heard in every hall
Tell the world what you know and believe
And help those others your kindness receive.

This is the day we can all come together
Regardless of storms or lousy weather
And so we will say without any fright
Happy Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!

Gary Gruber  © 2012

Saturday, 22 December 2012

First Day of Winter, First Light

Today is the first full day of winter when the sun starts moving ever slightly north along the horizon.  It's all about the light, the return of the light on the shortest, darkest day of the year, at least in this northern hemisphere.  It gives me renewed hope every year, that we will see the light, understand the meaning of light, appreciate and be grateful for it and thus be enlightened.

First light, as the horizon lightens with the light that comes ahead of the sunrise, often has a glow that is enough to see what can be done without any artificial light.  I remember saying on occasion, we will sail at first light.  There was enough light to see to either cast off or pull the anchor and be on our way.  Now, as we travel in our land yacht, what we call our home on wheels, I can see enough to unhook the water and electric connections, if we're in such a campground, or even hook up the toad (car that is towed) if that's necessary.

Winter for most people in these northern climes may not represent days of light or growth but each day there is just a little more, encouraging, pushing on toward Spring.  There is underground activity as well.  That is why fall planting is recommended for bulbs, trees and bushes.  Roots have time to establish before spring when active top growth begins.  There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

From the top of a mountain, at 10,000 feet yesterday, to celebrate solstice (and to go skiing) I looked out at what looked like a frozen, snow-covered landscape.  I thought about the events of the past week in Newtown, Connecticut (and elsewhere) when people faced some of the darkest, coldest, most chilling days of their lives.  I hoped and prayed for some way for them and for all of us, to see the light, to have hope for the days ahead.  I remembered Bill Coffin, former chaplain at Yale, saying it was always darkest just before light.

May this winter of our discontent, the title of John Steinbeck's last novel and from Shakespeare's Richard III recede into the past such that we know this awful time of unhappiness is truly in the past and we can find the way forward toward the light, the light of hope, the light of Spring and something more eternal than transient, more renewing and encouraging.

The eastern sky now looks like it is on fire, brilliant orange suggesting warmth in the midst of cold temperatures, truly a paradox.  And soon, the sun will rise once more to present the gift of a new day, in the light.  Let's live as fully as we can in the light, this day and all the rest that we are given.
7:05 AM Mountain Time, December 22, 2012, Abiquiu, New Mexico

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


According to various calculations, standards and clocks, Winter solstice in the northern hemisphere will occur this year at 11:12 AM UTC, on December 21, which is 4:12 AM  Mountain Standard Time, 6:12 AM Eastern Time and 3:12 AM Pacific Time.  While it happens technically at a moment in time, the recognition and celebration may occur at any convenient time, or period of time, that is near to this point when the sun reaches it farthest journey south along the horizon and starts back on it’s northward trek toward Spring and Summer.
UTC or coordinated universal time or the world clock computed by atomic clocks in 70 different laboratories around the world is one of the successors to GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time, based in the UK.  Both are used and does it really matter to most people which clock is used? Also why isn’t UTC the abbreviation for Universal Time Clock instead of Coordinated Universal Time.  This is really quite trivial, of little consequence and in the larger scheme of things rather unimportant to most of us.   The earth continues its movements regardless who is measuring it, how and why.
It is the earth’s rotation around the sun that brings us day and night in the 24 hour cycles that we call a day and it’s the tilt of the earth that provides the various times for observing different seasons and their accompanying changes.  The differing amounts of light and dark vary according to those times in the calendar year.  Two solstices, Winter and Summer, are when we observe the days with the least or greatest amount of sunlight and two equinoxes, Spring and Fall, are when night and day are approximately equal lengths of time. These are times to celebrate our relationship with Panchamama and find ways to celebrate wherever we are.
Because I have the privilege and blessing of watching the sunrise almost every morning from my desk facing east, I feel very connected to the sun and it’s movements across the sky.  Each new day is a gift, open to tremendous possibilities. One comment, attributed to Mark Twain, is “there is nothing that cannot happen today.”  That means we have the unparalleled opportunity to create something new this day or to revisit those things that add meaning, value and purpose to our lives. 
The Romans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a weeklong period of lawless celebration between December 17-25.   Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year. Catullus (XIV) describes it as "the best of days," and Seneca complains that the "whole mob has let itself go in pleasures" Pliny the Younger writes that he retired to his room while the rest of the household celebrated.  It was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly wax candles, perhaps to signify the returning light after the solstice. Aulus Gellius relates that he and his Roman compatriots would gather at the baths in Athens, where they were studying, and pose difficult questions to one another on the ancient poets, a crown of laurel being dedicated to Saturn if no one could answer them.

Winter solstice in this hemisphere celebrates the return of the light from the longer hours of darkness, thus we have Midwinter celebrations that range from Christmas to the pagan rituals celebrated before the Christians adopted the December 25 date set by Julius Caesar and the Julian calendar.
However we choose to celebrate Winter solstice, it can be a time of increasing our “circle of illumination” which is the edge of the sunlit hemisphere. That phenomenon forms a circular boundary separating the earth into a light half and a dark half.   As the hours of daylight begin to increase, we can expand our awareness of the essential connection between us earthlings and that other force that makes our world such a fascinating place in which to be fully alive and an active participant. 

We have an opportunity to make a connection between our minds and that which we can observe in our natural world and our spirits and that which we can sense in the ethereal realm.  Let that be our personal “circle of illumination” this season, increasing the light and appreciation for these wonder-filled celebrations during the holidays.  May your holidays be full of the richness of renewal, the energy of enthusiasm and the brilliance of beauty.   Such are the gifts laid before us.  Joy to the world!

Saturday, 15 December 2012


To understand some of the effects of video games, we need to go back to debriefings conducted by the U.S. Army after WWII.  Interviewing soldiers returning from battle, researchers discovered a disturbing fact. A significant number of soldiers had been face to face with an enemy soldier, rifle in hand, enemy in their sights, gun not jammed, and had not fired. Something deep in their being, some sort of innate humanity, or values instilled early on, had prevented them from actually pulling the trigger.
This was very disturbing to the military. They began a research effort to figure out what to do about this problem. They discovered that in the heat of battle, under the incredible physical and psychological stress of being faced with another human being you were supposed to kill, the higher mental functions were largely absent. Under such conditions, the mind reverts to much simpler modes of operation, to deeply wired, almost instinctive behaviors. In other words, no amount of target practice and classroom lectures about how you're supposed to kill the enemy had much effect when it counted.
Over the following decades and wars, the Army learned that the way to get soldiers to reliably pull the trigger was to use very basic, repetitive, operant conditioning, along the lines of standard behaviorist theory. Behaviorism provides a poor model for how humans act in everyday life, but it turns out to be a fairly good model for how humans act when they are under stress and have to act quickly, and are responding primarily to fear. Under stress, fearful people do what they have been conditioned to do.  That is one reason we have repetitive fire drills, so that we know how to react in an urgent situation.  It's the same with evacuation drills without the fire component.
The Army's solution was to replace dry target practice with realistic training grounds, complete with pop-up targets, loud noises, smoke, stress, the works. The goal was to condition the soldiers: if it moves, shoot it now, don't think about it. Repetition, repetition, repetition: Target pops up, you shoot. Target pops up, you shoot. Do that often enough, and, research shows, next time you see something pop up, you are more likely to shoot it, even if it's a real human in a real battle. Sometimes it’s called “friendly fire” when it is a mistake.  This is not just a theory, it is documented by exit interviews from soldiers in later wars: The Army got what it wanted.

What does this have to do with video games? The answer should be obvious. The whole point is, if it moves, shoot it. Again and again and again.  The military uses all kinds of expensive simulators, basically high powered video games, similar to what kids use every day, to train its recruits and to overcome the aversion to killing.   And there is evidence to suggest that those who are expert at gaming are some of the best and most effective fighter pilots and soldiers.  In the end, if you believe in war, maybe video gaming is a good thing for survival!  The downside is that, in most cases, the enemy is also trained in shoot to kill.  Is it that he who presses the right buttons faster wins?
The cost for soldiers who survive, as witnessed by the increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating.   As many as one-third of the homeless men in the U.S. are Viet Nam veterans, most of them suffering from PTSD and we are only beginning to count the cost from the years of human destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
What can we learn from this?  Whether or not violent video games contributes to aggressive behavior may not be the real issue.  Perhaps the real question that needs to be explored is whether violent video games might contribute to an acceptance of the need to destroy the “enemy” without any need to feel anger or anything that can be consciously identified as aggressive behavior.   After all, it’s just a game.

Here is a sample:
“Hunched with his troops in a dusty, wind-swept courtyard, the squad leader signals the soldiers to line up against a wall. Clasping automatic weapons, they inch single-file toward a sandy road lined with swaying palm trees.
The squad leader orders a point man to peer around the corner, his quick glance revealing several foes lying in wait behind a smoldering car. A few hand signals, a quick flash of gunfire, and it's over.  The enemy is defeated, but no blood is spilled, no bullet casings spent: All the action is in an Xbox-based training simulator for the military, called Full Spectrum Warrior.”   (Associated Press 10/03)

Finally, here is something which should also concern all of us.  When many people see a real video, shot live, they think that because it’s seen on a screen, that it’s not real when it is.  It’s just like a video game or worse, a television program with a script and actors and made up in a studio or on a set somewhere like a movie.  If you want to test that out on yourself, take a look at some of the current, live, very real, military videos and register your own cognitive and emotional response.  This is somewhat the flip side of the video gaming issue and equally important because it is very real and not a game.
Not every child playing violent video games will develop aggressive behaviors and only a small percentage will become soldiers who are trained to do what soldiers have to do.  The point is that both children and adults can be easily influenced by the media and high powered, well- conceived video games.  What the short and long term results are will continue to be debated but there is compelling evidence to suggest we better take a hard look at what is happening as a result of violent video games.  Research suggests that these video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies because they are interactive, very engrossing and require the player to identify with the aggressor.

"Top Ten Serious Afflictions Among Educators"

10. MABS - Myopic, Apathetic, Blame Syndrome - This disease is characterized by lack of vision, indifference and the attempt to shift responsibility to other people. (see following ailment).

9. PEST - Plasmapheretic Educational System Transference - A condition recognized in those who drain the organism and then because of inactivity offer bureacracy as a reason for the illness.

8. CRUD - Cholangitis Reoccurence Under Duress - Inflammation of bile ducts marked by pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen and caused by infection or obstruction, it is often treated by drugs or surgery.  Obstruction is a condition often occurring when progress is blocked or when one wishes to block progress.

7. DEAD - Deeply Entrenched Atrophic Dementia - Often seen in those who mistake the edge of the rut for the horizon, this condition is a progressive state of mental decline, especially in memory and judgment, often accompanied by disorientation and disintegration of the personality.  If caused by a metabolic diseases, it may be reversed.  If due to brain injury or degeneration due to aging, change may be irreversible.   This is often not recognized by those who have it.

6. PAIN - Psychogenic Aphakic Intestinal Nonsense - Persons afflicted with this cannot swallow pride or much else but is mostly a mental condition accompanied by blurred vision and there is no biological basis for the condition.  Those suffering from this disease are very uncomfortable with change and often fearful, insecure and have a weak stomach.  May be heard to whine to colleagues.  Radical and aggressive treatment often consists of removal to a new location and job.

5. BORE - Big Opthalmic Rectal Enteritis - Sometimes a crossing of certain ocular and rectal functions ause diarrhea, verbal or otherwise and this can adversely affect one's outlook; in extreme cases it can lead to fecal impaction; the reverse condition renders one filled to capacity.  Treatment is most often accompanied by a change in attitude.

4. LAME - Loud Aching Martyred Epicondylitis - This characterizes those who complain about carrying a heavy load while wishing others would work as hard as they do.  This can be very contagious so caution is recommended for those in proximity.

3. GRIPE - Glottic Repetition Instead of Pitching in Energetically - This is self-explanatory and recognizable because those so afflicted would rather talk about the problem than do something creative to solve it.  They also seem to enjoy hearing themselves more than listening to others.

2. ARUMP - Arteriosclerosis Revealing Union Mentality Proliferation - A condition that reflects a hardening of the institutional arteries which in turn prevents the open flow of communication and it can spread if not kept in check through a healthy exercise of mental and physical renewal.  (This is sometimes used as a prefix to meetings)

1. SOSOB - Same Old Same Old Beliefs or in medical terminology Systemic Osteolysis/Schizophrenic Obsessive Burnout -  Those fearing change become stuck, hard and fast in their way of acting and refuse to consider new paradigms. The result if finally just giving up and giving in rather than trying to learn something new and improve both self and system.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Most Recent Decade

At the conclusion of the most recent decade (2000-2010) I have learned what works and what the critical variables are in the education/learning equation.  And it has taken me back to the beginning.  I call it the full circle of success - common vision, common values, and common purpose.  If we are to succeed in our schools and elsewhere in our country, we must learn how to build collaborative energy, how to listen carefully to what is and what is not being said, how to ask questions that are penetrating and honest, how to discern the real from the superficial, and how to help a group move forward with a purposeful, shared vision.  That group could be your school or college, your company, your division, your task force or wherever you find yourself at work, hopefully following your passion and purpose beyond yourself.   That is what has worked for me.  I commend it to you for your careful consideration as you continue on your own journey of lifelong learning.

In June of 2000, there were 97 million mobile phone subscribers in the United States; by the middle of 2010, the number had increased to 290 million. There are WiFi connections everywhere, even at your local Starbucks and McDonald’s, airports, shopping malls, and in some cities as well.

The web site with the most traffic in 2010 was Facebook with the number of subscribers in 2000 at zero and in 2010 it was 116 million.   Social media now includes many sites like Twitter, Linked-In, MySpace, Google+, Ning, and numerous others. Rather than replacing embodied connections between real people, our devices supplemented and extended them, an electromagnetic nervous system to match the physical infrastructure of transport built in the twentieth century, a network of connections, intersections, and switches.  The big difference, of course, is speed.  An email can travel 10,200 miles in less than .2 of a second, .012 to be precise.  That’s equivalent to 85,000 Miles per second, 5.1 million miles per minute or 306 million miles per hour!

Oddly enough, after a decade of wild growth in invisible telecommunications, where one lived and worked mattered more in 2010 than it did in 2000. Travel and transport remained basically flat throughout the decade. Total vehicle miles driven, while an impressive 3 billion miles in 2010, were only up from 2.7 billion miles in 2000, a period during which the population increased from 288 to 318 million—meaning the average American drove less in 2010 than in 2000.   However, for me that was not true as for the past seven years I have lived 110 miles from the airport and needed to fly frequently for work.  I drove many more miles in the past 10 years than in the previous decade.  For me personally, at this stage in my life, highway and byway travel is much to be preferred over air travel these days as many others who are frequent flyers can also attest.  Air travel in many instances is cumbersome, crowded, uncomfortable and fraught with lines, an inept TSA, and unhealthy, re-circulated air in the steel cocoon aloft.
At 9:45 tomorrow morning there will be roughly 4,500 commercial flights in the air, just as there were on 9:45 the morning of September 11, 2001—no change despite a decade of economic and population growth.  And mobility, the hallmark of twentieth-century United States culture, declined throughout the decade and reached a post-war low in 2010, with less than 10% of American households changing their address.   That is still a fairly large number.  We have changed our own address four or five times in the past ten years.

At a Q gathering in 2010 (events that explore the common good in a pluralistic society), urbanologist Richard Florida observed that young adults meeting one another no longer ask, “What do you do?” They ask, “Where do you live?” More and more people will change careers in order to stay in the place where they are, connected to family, friends, and local culture, than will change residence to stay in a career. The 20th-century American dream was to move out and move up; the 21st-century dream seems to be to put down deeper roots. This quest for local, embodied, physical presence may well be driven by the omnipresence of the virtual and a dawning awareness of the thinness of disembodied life.  My own preference reflects this trend as I came to New Mexico in 1994 and have stayed in the same region for the past 18 years, far surpassing any other location in my previous life, except perhaps the first 18 years of my life when I lived in one town and three different houses.

I moved from New Jersey to Albuquerque in 1994, then to Santa Fe in 1996 and 7 years ago we moved to the country to enjoy a spacious and beautiful 6 acres on a river overlooking a mountain.   Regardless of our preference for somewhat rural living, cities, the places where both connection and local presence can thrive simultaneously had an extraordinary renaissance in the first decade of the 21st century. The revival of American cities was underway in 2000, but it reached its full flowering by 2010. Of course not every single American city flourished in the last decade, but those of us old enough to remember New York, Chicago, Atlanta, or Houston circa 1990, and others, including but not limited to Portland, Columbus, or Phoenix, can only be astonished at the way economically fading and often crime-ridden city centers have revived as centers of commerce and creativity.

The challenges often associated with urban life, meanwhile, had ignited a movement to the suburbs that may well accelerate in the 2010s. The frontiers of justice, mercy, compassion, and reconciliation are now in the suburbs, places where connections are harder to sustain and local culture is thinner and less appealing than the cities. Some suburban environments will reinvent themselves, but multi-generational poverty, crime, and gangs that provide a substitute social network where others have failed are already as common in Westchester County as in the Bronx, in the San Fernando Valley as in Compton. The most radical and difficult place to raise a family by 2020?  It may well be the suburbs, regarded by some as being their own ghettos of separation and isolation.  A recent market study by a group in Philadelphia revealed a continuing shift in population as young families with young children are again seeking urban environments.  This has significant meaning for those who live and work there and what I have learned is that these young families would rather help create a sustainable community rather than spend an enormous amount of time commuting and transporting children along grassy, tree-lined streets from one place to another.
[See Tim Keller's Q talk on "Grace and the City" and Joel Kotkin's on "The Future of the Suburbs."]

Almost everywhere in the most recent decade, cultural majorities collapsed.   We learned that predominantly black neighborhoods became half Hispanic. White rural communities saw dramatic immigration from Asia and Latin America. City centers became internationalized. Mercados and Asian food markets sprung up in suburbia and in exurbia. Drive down a thoroughfare well beyond the 285 beltway in Atlanta, and you will see shop signs in a dozen different languages. White Americans were still a bare majority of the population by the end of the decade, but in delivery rooms they were already only a plurality, the largest of many minorities.
We are all minorities now. Evangelical Christians are a minority, as are liberal Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists. The establishment of Will Herberg’s 1955 book Protestant—Catholic—Jew is now a minority. Barack Obama is a minority, but so was Sarah Palin. Republicans are a minority—so are Democrats, and so are independents.  We now live in a country defined by its minorities many of whom feel marginalized and no longer capable of wielding influence and power but it doesn’t keep them from trying.  The most recent Presidential election was a testimony to the vitality and importance of minorities and how some leaders connect better than others

There may never have been a society in history that was as culturally, religiously, and politically diverse as the United States is today—except perhaps the Roman Empire. There are few models for how such a diverse community can sustain itself, and plenty of models for failure. Perhaps the most hopeful model is a community that arose at the edges of that Empire and eventually spread to its heart, among whom there was “neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.”     This community, in case you don’t know, was the Christian church.
That religious and spiritual community has survived but its ongoing existence will continue to be a minority in a largely secular society, much as it has been throughout its history from the first century onward.   I was part of that community in a professional role for at least ten years and while withdrawing from it officially, I still find meaningful points of connection that inform, inspire and sustain me personally.

I have watched the technologies of connection and the commitment to place define ourselves into more and more tightly homogenous subcultures, refuges both virtual and real from the heterogeneity of our society. Republicans became more Republican; Democrats became more Democratic and the divisions became so fractious that any forward movement was paralyzed. Many people turned from traditional sources of news to the Huffington Post—CNN lost ground to Fox News. A president elected on the premise of unity presided over two years of ever-sharper rhetoric of division and seemed unable to change the game. And then we hit the skids in 2008, yet to recover.  It was not at all clear, as polarization accelerated, that anyone could convince any large number of Americans that they had anything crucial in common.  My earlier vision of common or shared vision, values and purpose seemed only to disintegrate further into oblivion.

When people in the next decade are trying to convey a picture of the this most recent decade, they will use the self-portrait shot from a digital camera or cell phone held by one hand extended away from the subject. We look out at our own hand, perhaps squeezing another friend into the frame, composing our face in a smile or a laugh. We are shooting each other and more recently ourselves as well, as witnessed by weekly gun-toters totally out of control.
I watched the visual presentation of the self accelerate in this most recent decade. We see ourselves most often in mirrors. But mirrors do not show us what others see—they show us a mirror image with right and left reversed. The difference is subtle but real, and symbolic of a deeper reality. Now most 20-year-olds have seen thousands of images of themselves as others see them.  They simply hold up their cell phone and click.   In this recent decade people learned to shape and groom their image for public consumption. Body modification, augmentation, reduction, smoothing, straightening, whitening, and tanning, not to mention tattooing, became normative. The closing years of the decade gave us the word “manscaping” which means shaving, waxing and making smooth to the point of unreal.  That says a lot.

I witnessed another culture shift from more formal to what we regarded as professional appearances that are definitely informal and casual.  Men untucked their shirts, women wore pants, actually they have for a long time, billionaires wore jeans. The most powerful CEO in America was universally known as “Steve.” Indeed, informality was now a sign of privilege, only low-status workers wore uniforms. And the ubiquity of the camera meant that everyone, including celebrities, politicians, business leaders, people who in past decades would have been insulated by privilege, were caught off guard, meaning that status now accrued to those who could be most artfully informal, rather than those who could protect themselves from view.

Most of the institutions where I have worked over the past 50 years had years of tradition and they often struggled to stay relevant to an informal culture. Cable-channel comedians with open collars overshadowed tie-wearing network news anchors.  Think of the differences between Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings and Jon Stewart and Bill Maher.   Journalistic codes of integrity and objectivity gave way to entertainment and sensationalism. 
 Marriage, with its vows and formal attire, became for many young people a distant aspiration far on the horizon, while cohabitation became the accepted gateway to adult relationships. Even among some of us in the older generation, an LTA (living together arrangement) with an S.O. (significant other) was more than merely acceptable, it was desirable.  In our own case it was our own children who encouraged us to make our commitment to each other in public which we did through a ceremony on a beach in San Diego with all of them present.  We did that without benefit or burden of any governmental involvement and it wasn’t until we went to London that we had to make it “legal and official” with a piece of paper and a civil ceremony in a municipal court.  Otherwise my wife would be limited in how long she could stay in another country but as my “dependent” she could be granted a visa accompanying my own work visa.  I continue to learn the benefits and burdens of government regulations that impinge on my life much more than is comfortable and it certainly does not inspire confidence in the system.  Quite the contrary!
Wealth was ever more disconnected from real assets. Countries that pumped black gold from the ground acquired vast resources of sovereign wealth that went looking for high returns.  One of the most amusing and telling bumper stickers that I saw after our invasion of Iraq was “How Did Our Oil Get Under Their Sand?” 
The most storied and prominent financial firm, Goldman Sachs, ended its century-long system of limited partnership and became a publicly traded company. Hedge funds made billions by trading not shares, but shares of bets on the future price of shares, and derivatives far more exotic. Our mortgages, once the most boring and staid of financial instruments, were sliced and diced, traded and sold and the housing market tanked in many places making all that borrowed money subject to recall but rendering the price of the house significantly less than what was owed.  The term became quickly, “under water” or “upside down.”
As one Wall Street executive said, as long as the music was playing you had to keep dancing. As money swirled, prices of oil, food, housing, and labor spiked, then collapsed, then threatened to spike again. Those who could trade on volatility often made untold fortunes; those actually needing to buy and sell real goods often suffered.  What I learned during this period was that greed, corruption and power could easily take us down the toilet while we sat helpless watching the swirl in the toilet bowl.   I preferred Ghandi’s quote that “there is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.”

I learned that there was a shift in this most recent decade in that one of the greatest challenges for leaders, such as CEO’s of corporate and non-profit entities, was managing complexity.  Heretofore, the challenge was designing, implementing and managing change.  And change is still very present as a chief concern.  However, we were now dealing with multiple, complex systems that required enormous investments of human capital to stay either on top or ahead of what is coming down the road.
One prime example is within the field of medicine where there are at least 16,000 things that can go wrong with the human body.   There are over 6,000 drugs that can be prescribed to deal with these issues and over 4,000 surgical procedures.  To get it exactly right, at the right time, with a correct diagnosis, the precise and most appropriate treatment and accurate prognosis is nothing short of miraculous and amazing that it works as well as it does and often as it does.  That requires an immense amount of intelligence, understanding, and application of procedures all working together for the benefit of the patient.  Similar concerns exist within other disciplines and fields as well including my own field of education although I believe we are woefully lacking in significant measures of reform and updating our methods and practices.

Yet all this complexity also contains the seeds of hope for a better outcome. The human brain, after all, is also complex, interconnected, embodied, improvisational, constantly being rewired—simply put, the most complex system known in our universe. The culture of North America in the 2000s took several not inconsiderable steps toward having those same qualities as the brain. It is not without risks, not without loss, and with every expectation of grave difficulty ahead. And yet in the most surprising places what was emerging could be called intelligence. Of course, intelligence needs to be married to wisdom—and in surveying the history of that most elusive of all cultural goods, wisdom, we can only conclude that the 2000s left us neither worse nor better off than human beings have ever been.
So what have seven decades of learning taught me to understand and to appreciate, to celebrate and enjoy and to use most readily in my profession and my work?  I have learned most of all that it is about who I am, not simply about what I do.  I learned that there is an important distinction between my work and a job.  My work is what I care about the most and my job is what I have to do in order to get to my work. My work has been with people, organizations and communities, helping them to also learn about who they are and how they can get closer to their dreams of what can be.  And it’s about becoming, that we are always in process of becoming more of a human being, not a human doing.  What I do is about who I am.  That means developing and growing our humanity, our human spirits and being in touch and in tune with the natural world such that we not only know who we are and what we’re about but that we place the highest premium on the sacredness of each human being, starting with ourselves.  That yields tremendous results.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas and Stuff

A funny thing happened last week on the way to Best Buy.  I was listening to NPR and an interview with Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff.  If you know the book, then nothing more need be said but if you don't, the sub-title is "How our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health - and a Vision for Change."   Annie, along with some enlightened economists, believe that our current model of capitalism is not sustainable.  And there is increasing evidence to support that position.  Regardless of your values and beliefs about what might or might not be "sustainable" consider this quote from Gus Speth in his book, The Bridge at the End of the World: "Inherent in the dynamics of capitalism is a powerful drive to earn profits, invest them, innovate, and thus grow the economy, typically at exponential rates....My conclusion, after much searching and considerable reluctance, is that most environmental deterioration is a result of systemic failures of the capitalism that we have today, and that long-term solutions must seek transformative change in the key features of this contemporary capitalism."

So I walk into Best Buy in a state of conflict and resolve it by going ahead and purchasing a 40" wide screen TV which we rationalized by saying it's our Christmas present to each other.   And ever since I continue to wonder about a lot of different things including the impact of so many new televisions, computers, phones, pads, pods and other electronic devices purportedly designed, manufactured and distributed in order to make our lives easier, better, happier, more fulfilled?  We already had five other TV's, three smaller ones in our house on wheels and two 23" models in our permanent residence.   Overkill, perhaps?  At least we gave away one of the smaller ones!  And these thoughts and musings took me back to an earlier piece I had revised last August called Economic Imperatives:   That brief essay reflects over 40 years and more about my personal experience and conflicts with materialism and over consumption, not necessarily consumerism since we're all consumers, all the time.

I reached a point some years ago where I believed we are not asking the right question. Think about how much is invested in advertising which is designed mostly to make us think we need something better, bigger, newer or maybe even that we haven't acquired yet.  We already have too much stuff and it really is time to start some serious downsizing.  My promise to myself, at least privately, and perhaps to others, will not be  a mere resolution for a new year.  I would rather make a life resolution to see what difference I can make personally and perhaps with others as well in terms of lessening our carbon footprint, of walking more lightly upon the earth, the only life source that we and future generations have.  It is indeed a fragile planet and Annie Leonard quotes Joseph Guth, a lawyer, biochemist and legal director of the Science and Environmental Health Network:  "Nothing is more important to human beings than an ecologically functioning, life sustaining biosphere on the Earth.  It is the only habitable place we know of in a forbidding universe.  We all depend on it to live and we are compelled to share it; it is our only home.  The Earth's biosphere seems almost magically suited to human beings and indeed it is, for we evolved through eons of intimate immersion within it.   We cannot live long or well without a functioning biosphere, and so it is worth everything we have."
The question is whether each of us is doing something that contributes or whether what we are doing is taking away from the earth and its resources on which we depend totally.

We have some land next door, 6 acres to be exact.  It sits there waiting for what we will do there, perhaps in partnership with others and the place itself. A conversation this morning about aquaponics was encouraging, even exciting to contemplate.  Maybe this would be the better Christmas gift, a commitment based on gratitude for what we already have and ignore the stuff in the stores and online. If we can help figure out a way to help people to feed themselves and others, wouldn't that be a most wonderful gift.  Yes, it may take a little "stuff" to make it happen but that sounds like stuff worth investing in for the future return on the investment - for people and for the planet itself. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Celebrating Veterans' Day

With November 11 approaching and knowing that at least one of my colleagues has a holiday on Monday, my thoughts turned to the occasion of the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 that marked the end of World War I.   I wonder if perhaps we should do even more to celebrate the end of wars, at least the 7 or 8 that I recall in my own lifetime.  I recall a number of people, including MLK, Jr. saying that if we want peace we should work for justice. 

Laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery is a symbolic but meaningful gesture as it is a visual reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by so many on our behalf so that we can continue to live in a country that continues to assert its freedoms upon which it was founded.  What are we to make of the most recent 4400 deaths and 32,000 wounded in Iraq, the 2000 deaths and 18,000 wounded in Afghanistan?   How do we honor those lives? 

Our nephew has been deployed to Afghanistan twice and is probably going back a third time to help clean it all up as he rides in one of those advance mine-sweepers that look for APD's (Anti-Personnel Device) or an IED (Improvised Explosive Device).  Just this past Thursday, 20 people were killed by such devices in Afghanistan.  (  When will it end and what can be done to stop the mayhem and man's inhumanity to his own kind?   We must truly be one of the few species who set about intentionally to destroy ourselves.

As an 8-year old child, I was convinced that the end of World War II was the end of all world wars and then discovered later how absolutely wrong I was.  I felt deceived, betrayed and misled. I wondered then what the veterans thought and felt that I knew, those who had returned alive and who had watched their friends die in battle.  Had they all fought in vain to end a war only to see it all start up again too soon afterwards?  

Here is the list of those in which we have been involved and I won't even try to enumerate the cost.  Let's just agree that it's simply way too much and you have to love some of the names, even calling the Korean conflict at one point a police action! And then wars became Operations?
For the US: Korean War (1950-1953); Vietnam War (1961-1975):
1. Operation Urgent Fury-Grenada (1983)
2. Operation Just Cause-Panama (1989)
3. Operaton Desert Storm-Iraq (January and Febuary 1991)
4. Operation Restore Hope-Somalia (1993)
5. Operations in Europe-Bosnia (1990's)
6. Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan (2001-present)
7. Operation Iraqi Freedom-Iraq (2003-present)

Find a way to pause on Sunday and give thanks, perhaps with a moment of silence at 11 AM and remember those who have served and sacrificed.  And maybe do it on Monday too!  Lest we forget.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

PEST - Post Election Stress Thoughts

Waking up this morning to yesterday's election results shows what we all know, that this is a country that is polarized, divided and fractured.   The political divisions are significant because they are along race, class and ethnic lines, they are clearly socio-economic, and these differences must be bridged somehow if we are to become what we call euphemistically these United States.  Red and blue should perhaps be changed to green and yellow, since white isn't a color but the lack of same.  Otherwise from some perspectives, the colors might be black and white.  Let's forget colors and find a way to put the divisions that separate us behind us so that we can find the common ground to move forward.

We endured an obscenely expensive campaign, some estimates just over 2 billion dollars spent, hundreds of thousands of ads that were negative, discouraging, and far more against rather than for anything.  And the cost was not merely in dollars.  There was also a price paid for human dignity.  Now is the time to restore our faith in the principles on which this country was built and on which it can stand in the future - these self-evident truths, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

We need a shift in attitudes and behaviors from negative to positive, from intentions to destroy to designs to create, from verbiage to constructive action.  Too much rhetoric, too little reality, too much theater of the absurd, too little rational and logical action.  It is time for a paradigm shift in many areas instead of continuing the same behaviors and expecting different results, the definition of insanity.

Etched in stone on the F.D.R. Memorial in Washington, D.C. are these words: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to those who have much; it is whether we provide for those who have too little."   That is true globally as well as nationally and locally.  Perhaps we could come together around the most pressing priorities facing all of us and take constructive, creative and responsible actions to solve those most troublesome issues.  Then we would be much more united and stand together, with bonds that strengthen rather than divisions that separate.  Maybe and hopefully, the next four years will see a positive change in the will and ability to work together for the common good, not merely partisan interests.  This is the message that each of us needs to send to those who represent us at every level.

In the meantime, we must take every opportunity we have to help heal the divisions that separate us, to share the visions that can unite us and to exert whatever influence we have to demonstrate that we can and will work toward a common purpose with common goals.  All of this is for the commonwealth of our future that can be so much better than it is.  If you believe that, today marks a new beginning for what lies ahead.

Thursday, 1 November 2012


Some passing thoughts on creativity, innovation......


We all operate in two contrasting modes, which might be called open and closed. The open mode is more relaxed, more receptive, more exploratory, more democratic, more playful and more humorous. The closed mode is the tighter, more rigid, more hierarchical, more tunnel-visioned. Most people, unfortunately spend most of their time in the closed mode. Not that the closed mode cannot be helpful. If you are leaping a ravine, the moment of takeoff is a bad time for considering alternative strategies… But the moment the action is over, try to return to the "open" mode—to open your mind again to all the feedback from our action that enables us to tell whether the action has been successful, or whether further action is needed to improve on what we have done. In other words, we must return to the open mode, because in that mode we are the most aware, most receptive, most creative, and therefore at our most intelligent."    John  Cleese



Of course, you will know once you have crossed the chasm whether or not you made it successfully.  And if you have, you can review how it went, whether or not it could have been better, easier, more efficient, and this is why feedback is so valuable.  There will be a next time and what we can learn from having an open mind set (see Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset) may well lead to a more innovative and creative approach, whether solving problems or introducing something new.   

Photographers know that one way to get a good picture is to take a lot of pictures.   It is the same with ideas.  One way to get a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.  This is why brainstorming can be a productive activity, especially if you value the thoughts, ideas and experiences of others in your department or group.  Rearranging the chairs, or the schedule, is unlikely to have a major impact.


Here are several questions that you might contemplate that could help clarify your understanding and potential application of innovation and creativity.  I am not even sure they belong together but that’s another discussion.


1.  What are the roles of innovation and creativity in your work with your colleagues?    Are they the same?  Does one lead to the other?  Are they merely complimentary?


2.  How open (or closed) is your organization’s culture to innovation?  Who are the innovators?  What are their characteristics?  How has it worked previously?   What are the obstacles to new ideas?


3.  If you had a blank sheet and were given the opportunity, how might you create or re-create your department or dividion?  What would you look for in the people whom you want to hire?  What methods would you use to deliver the optimum experience for both colleagues and customers?    How would you measure or assess your effectiveness overall?


Sunday, 14 October 2012

A Personal Reflection

$1749.20 per ounce – The Price of Gold and My Priceless Golden Girl

7:30 AM, October 14, Abiquiu, New Mexico

The sun is streaming through the cottonwood trees and it is as if this brilliant sunlight is making them shine like gold.  I look out my three office windows into a veritable forest of gold, spectacular against a clear, deep blue New Mexico sky.  I consider how fortunate and blessed we are to be in this place at this time, this time of this year, this month, this early morning time of day, another beginning.
The love of my life sits down the hall, pure gold in her own unique way, precious, rare and extremely valuable.  She is worth more than anything material that comes from the earth whether diamonds, rubies, emeralds, silver or gold or any other “thing” which we might dare think we could own.
So, we shall make the best of whatever time we have, a brave and new adventure and make this gift of time the most it can be. I thought of these verses from Robert Browning and offer it up for consideration.

"Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!''

And I shall thereupon
Take rest, ere I be gone
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
Fearless and unperplexed,
When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armour to indue.

Youth ended, I shall try
My gain or loss thereby;
Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
And I shall weigh the same,
Give life its praise or blame:
Young, all lay in dispute; I shall know, being old."

Friday, 12 October 2012

LEARNING from ASINTMAH (earth/nature goddess, Native American)

Fall Colors!
Photosynthesis is as natural to plants as eating is to humans.  In fact, there are some similarities with several significant exceptions.  One is that plants seldom overeat.  They take what they need, water from the ground through their roots, CO2 from the air and sunlight to turn water and CO2 into oxygen and glucose.  The way they do this is called photosynthesis which means literally “putting together with light.”   
Chlorophyll helps make it all happen and is what gives deciduous tree leaves their green color in the summer.  During winter, there is not enough light or water and the trees will rest and live off the food they stored during the summer.  As they begin the transition, as one who lives where I see this magnificent color change into yellow and orange, I am amazed and delighted every year, this year just as much as ever.
Plants and trees are very smart.  As plants grow, they shed older leaves and grow new ones. This is important because the leaves become damaged over time by insects, disease and weather. The shedding and replacement continues all the time.  We do the same, we let go of the old and grow something new for that which we leave behind.
Right now the leaves on our hundreds of cottonwoods are brilliant orange. The brightest colors are seen when late summer is dry, and these Fall days are bright, sunny, and cool (low 40's Fahrenheit) nights. Then trees make a lot of anthocyanin pigments.  The coming frost and freeze will hasten this process, the daylight diminishes, the leaves will turn brown, fall off the trees and most of the plant activity we will not see for it is going on underground.

Lessons from nature abound.  The rhythm and dance continue in their annual display in a riot of color.  Here are some lessons to consider.

1      Eat what you need to sustain your vitality.
2      Save resources for leaner times.
3      Add some color to your life.
4      Figure out what you don’t need and let it go.
5      Prepare well for the next season.
6      Wait and don’t try to rush the process.  Let it work.
7      Embrace and celebrate inevitable change.
8   Know that what is not seen is often more important than what is seen.
9   Stay warm, dry and safe.

Friday, 28 September 2012


I was called recently by a school head to see if I would be interested in helping him and a few others look at their most recent strategic plan and explore ways that it might be renewed, revitalized and given some new life and energy.  At least that is what I heard in his question.   The next step was that he and I were joined by a trustee who chairs that committee and we talked through the objectives and possible outcomes.  Some of the previous action steps had been taken, others were still a work in progress and a few had become dormant.    
Many of the 22 strategies in the old strategic plan were still valid and useful and the "sustainable 10-year financial model", contains essential information for responsible management.  These documents, along with a current self-study for accreditation, have most of the background information and details necessary for the future of the school.  However, in order to jump-start and accelerate any forward movement, a few top priorities that merit attention and action may help realize some desirable results in a timely manner.
There seemed to be at least three big issues the school was facing in the immediate and short-term future, thus the need to address the challenges and figure out what options might be viable.
The three most important priorities, not necessarily in order, were financial sustainability which was related to enrollment and marketing; appropriate staffing and infrastructure; and current support of the internal and external communities.   In order to assemble a group of people who might understand and appreciate these issues, and be willing to commit to working on them, the head and his trustee hand-picked a group of 12 people who came to be known as the Strategic Design Task Force.  We met for a day-long session to identify and analyze these issues, create some design and direction for the road ahead and to assign specific tasks to each of the people present to be joined by a few others not in attendance.

The Strategic Design Task Force considered the six constituent groups that composed the school and in the end came up with actions that could begin immediately with people assigned to manage and direct the activities required for each group.  There was an agreement to meet again in two months to review the progress in each area based on what emerged from the day-long discussions and deliberations.  It was clear that each constituent group has an important role to play and it would be the mission of the task force to direct and manage the activity in each of the groups.
The six sub-groups, together with the actions required can connect the pieces and parts into one unified vision of a newly revised and updated plan for the school.  It is also important that this activity itself be communicated to the entire school community following these precepts. This is what we are doing, this is why we are doing it, this is how we are doing it and this is what we need from each part of this school community.  
There is no magic formula or recipe that will guarantee the results but being  specific and concrete in each of the areas for action will have a greater likelihood of success.  Each member of the task force needs to understand the objectives of the mission and what is needed in each case for the desired result and then work toward that end keeping in mind how critical it is to communicate clearly in each instance.  There is no room nor time for ambiguity, vagueness or maybe.  The people on the Strategic Design Task Force are making a commitment, both individually and collectively, to get this work done in the year ahead with a timeline that includes updates and revisions as the work gets done.  It seems time to not merely survive but find the ways and means to breathe new life into the community, thus revise and revive! Stay tuned for the outcomes!