Hiya, friends! There’s a lot going on right now and my relationship with this blog is evolving… transforming? Not sure when I’ll be back with anything of my own that’s worth sharing. I’m confident it will all come in its own time.
Meanwhile, please enjoy Elizabeth Lesser’s Facebook post from today, which speaks directly to my soul. Maybe you’ll resonate as well, and it can bring you comfort and peace as it does to me.
I still have abiding hope for our times. I have it because I am a student of history and I know that human communities have struggled through other desperate times: famines, disasters, droughts, floods, and plagues; the fires of war, genocide, slavery, despots, and dictators. Like the mythical phoenix bird, we have risen from the ashes many times before. Eras of destruction have been followed by those of recovery and peace, creativity and great leaps of ingenuity.
I was born in the 1950s, an era that came out of the global brokenness of World War II. To many, the 50s were a time of healing and rebuilding and stability. But to others, they were a time of racism, sexism, and stifling conformity. The 50s gave birth to the 60s which, on the one hand, brought freedom, justice, and liberating creativity, and on the other hand went too far and too fast for many. It has always been thus—cultures swinging back and forth between brokenness and breakthrough. Humanity winding its way through growth spurts and amnesia, destruction and advancement, but always moving, always changing, and, from my point of view, always being offered a choice: to languish or to rise, to perish or to mature into a more magnificent expression of life.
Can we rise? I am eternally optimistic that we can. I have seen people change; I have changed myself. I know it is possible. Even neuroscience is confirming this. Brain scientists once believed that by early adulthood the physical structure of the human brain was fixed. But newer research has revealed that our brains never stop changing—that from childhood on, new neural pathways are formed when we learn new information, change old patterns, or confront physical and emotional trauma. This is called neuroplasticity, and it confirms for me that we are equipped to respond creatively and constructively to stressful and difficult times—that it is possible for all of us, as a species, to create new pathways in our collective brain.
Sometimes it feels way too exhausting to keep carving those new pathways! But I like the way the poet Rumi gently chides me to keep on going, to stay optimistic, to head toward what’s possible:
I believe the current vector of collective human action points squarely toward self-induced extinction. I’m also convinced we’ll take a good many other species with us before we’re through. But Earth herself will outlive us, and thrive in our absence. …Unless we figure out a better balance with nature, within and around us, as individuals and as intersecting collectives, before our spectacular self-destruction.
So assuming and accepting that our taxonomic lifespan is finite, I propose to embrace a beautiful and exhilarating paradox: As individuals at any given time, in any given place or situation, none of what we do may matter at all, and it all matters like life or death. Everything about our survival depends on how we relate—to ourselves, one another, our environment, our times—everything! How can I, myself, bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice? I grab it when it swings my way, and hang on with all my might—in all that I do. I call on my friends to grab on, too. Iterative, incremental change, a fraction of a degree at a time, nudges the vector’s direction toward something better. As I imagine sailors know: a small shift in tack here and now translates to a very different destination over a long enough distance and time. What might it look like? I think it has to be better polar reconciliation–letting go either/or and embracing both/all/and: Purpose and profit, humility and recognition, freedom and responsibility, diversity and inclusion, individual and collective health and well-being.
Every day we live is another day closer to our eventual demise. And every day we wake, we have so many breaths, encounters, and opportunities with which to shift the vector, to bend that arc.
Until such time as humanity actually succeeds in killing ourselves, and I really think we will, we still have a chance. We can still work to be our best, most creative, generative, communal, and symbiotic selves.
What things—books, movies, songs, mementos, prayers—do you return to often? Why?
Here at the end of another shockingly abnormal year, what calls you to return, beseeches you to center, to ground, to focus, and prepare to engage hereafter from a deeper, more authentic place?
When you look back at 2021, how do you assess intensity, complexity, and relationships? It’s a bit mind-bending for me! For so long now the learning feels as if from a fire hose, and I’m grateful beyond measure for it all. This week I made a feeble effort at assessing my net experience of 2021—positive or negative? How does one even go about measuring this? I quickly settled with satisfaction that it has simply been a year of challenge, learning, and growth. Good enough.
Four blog posts left for the year. I’ll include books consumed below, rather than as a separate post, and I offer the titles without comment. This year I also include content in other media that resonated, in case you want to check them out. Reviewing the list brings me back to the places and times where I consumed the works, and I’m a little surprised to feel comfort, more than anything else. Huh. What story do I tell about that? Maybe learning is my safe and happy place? Maybe as long as I feel like I’m gaining something—information, knowledge, connection, expertise, wisdom—then I can feel secure and confident to handle whatever comes next?
After outputting for 31 days in a row, and then a 6 day GI illness that knocked me down in a big way (be careful out there, friends, there are some nasty bugs going around!), this weekend I felt a deep longing for familiar voices and lessons. I listened again to The Art of Possibility, and I’m halfway through Start With Why. How funny, after all these years, I still manage to come back to the same books annually. They refill my tank, somehow; they comfort me, inspire me. They welcome me like a big, warm, floofy arm chair. With and in them, I relax and breathe easier. Then I feel refreshed, ready to tackle challenges, learning, and growth with renewed enthusiasm.
In my copy of AoP, a picture of me with Ben Zander marks the page that describes Giving the A:
(This practice) is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them. It is a shift in attitude that makes it possible for you to speak freely about your own thoughts and feelings while, at the same time, you support others to be all they dream of being. The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibility.
An A can be given to anyone in any walk of life—to a waitress, to your employer, to your mother-in-law, to the members of the opposite team, and to other drivers in traffic. When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.
An A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.
A photo of Hubs and me marks the page that lists the distinctions of a vision that frames possibility:
A vision articulates a possibility
A vision fulfills a desire fundamental to humankind, a desire with which any human being can resonate. It is an idea to which no one could logically respond, “What about me?”
A vision makes no reference to morality or ethics, it is not about a right way of doing things. It cannot imply that anyone is wrong.
A vision is stated as a picture for all time, using no numbers, measures or comparatives. It contains no specifics of time, place, audience, or product.
A vision is free-standing—it points to neither a rosier future, nor to a past in need of improvement. It gives over its bounty now. If the vision is “peace on earth,” peace comes with its utterance. When “the possibility of ideas making a difference” is spoken, at that moment ideas do make a difference.
A vision is a long line of possibility radiating outward. It invites infinite expression, development, and proliferation within its definitional framework.
Speaking a vision transforms the speaker. For that moment the “real world” becomes a universe of possibility and the barriers to realization of the vision disappear.
Listening to these passages prompted me to wonder about my own vision. What shining light do I see on and beyond the horizon, toward which I march with conviction and joy? It took no time. For my patients, my children, my trainees, people I work with—for everybody—my vision is for us all/each to realize our potential and make our best contribution. We get to define these words and their meaning for ourselves, whenever and however we want—they are intersecting, metamorphosing. The vision’s expression is fluid, and certainly evolves over time. And like a Why and a Just Cause, this vision grounds me in core values, while inspiring me to reach with cheerful, optimistic audacity for possibility. I think it fulfills the vision criteria, and anyway it’s mine and I’m keeping it—for now, at least.
My favorite books always bring me back to my center, my raison d’etre, my Why—to optimize relationships between all people.
What a fantastic time of year to revel in them yet again, to refuel and recharge for the long winter ahead.
Books and Media 2021
Books [Titles in brackets have yet to be finished]
Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson
Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
[Own Your Present by Candace Good, MD]
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Think Again by Adam Grant
Change by Damon Centola
Who You Are by Michael Spivey
Persist by Elizabeth Warren
Managing Transitions by William Bridges and Susan Bridges
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
[Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam]
[The Secret Lives of ChurchLadies by Deesha Philyaw]
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
The Culture Puzzle by Mario Moussa, Derek Newberry, and Greg Urban
Tribes by Seth Godin
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
Together by Vivek Murthy
Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Eat a Peach by David Chang
Becoming by Michelle Obama
[A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell]
A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
[Navigating Polarities by Brian Emerson and Kelly Lewis]
Cooked by Michael Pollan
Radical Compassion by Tara Brach
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Caffeine by Michael Pollan (Audible exclusive)
This Is Your Mind On Plants by Michael Pollan
The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderson (Audible exclusive)
Men’s Health by Daniel Goldfarb (Audible exclusive)
The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell, In Conversation with Michael Toms
[Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker]
Stop Walking On Eggshells by Paul T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger
This Is Not the End by Tabetha Martin, ed (Audible exclusive)
In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor
The Power of Us by Jay J. Van Bavel PhD, and Dominic J. Packer PhD
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander