Words of EnCOURAGEment #5
Words of EnCOURAGEment #5
We hope you enjoy this abbreviated Spring issue of Words of EnCOURAGEment. Look forward to a Summer issue that is packed full of our regular features: New writing from Parker Palmer, features about Courage & Renewal around the globe, and fresh ways to reconnect who you are with what you do.
Spring’s Promise and Possibilities
By Associate Director Terry Chadsey
As long as the Earth can make a spring every year, I can. As long as the Earth can flower and produce nurturing fruit, I can, because I'm the Earth. I won't give up until the Earth gives up. -Alice Walker
Spring arrived reluctantly here in the Northwest. Crocuses, daffodils and swelling buds have persisted with the encouragement of an occasional sunny day amidst unseasonable cold, sleet and snow. This is proof again of the truth I first found articulated in Parker Palmer's writings and in the wisdom of the seasonal retreat series: that spring is a time rich in paradox.
I will wax romantic about spring and its splendors in a moment, but first there is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created. (Parker J. Palmer, Seasons Essays)
This spring I feel an unusual convergence of factors that perhaps, just perhaps, presage hopeful new growth relating to the essential dilemma of American Society-that this richest nation in the history of the world and the pioneer of democratic polity has, for over two hundred years, failed to resolve the devastation wrought by the "color line," as named in 1903 by W.E.B. DuBois as "the problem of the Twentieth Century." Sadly, as an entitled white guy, it is all too easy for me to wander through life continuing to ignore both that the Twentieth Century failed miserably to lay this dilemma to rest and that deeply entrenched racial inequities loom as our problem for the Twenty First Century as well.
So what is this stirring that leads me to this topic this spring and what does this have to do with Courage & Renewal?
First, I think the Presidential Campaign has stirred up issues of race, as it always does, but this year the old race-based charges and innuendos crafted by political operatives are falling flat and failing to subtly move the polls as they have in the past. Instead, I sense that Americans, of all races and political persuasions, are increasingly incensed by such manipulation and yearn for politics and discourse of a different kind. Senator Barack Obama's recent speech on race named this:
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. ...No matter what one's political persuasion, I find it hard to imagine that many Americans, deep down inside, would fail to see that he is naming a "plug ugly" truth about America that we can no longer ignore. Buried in that ugly truth is a hope of new growth and new life. In fact, such new growth likely is inevitable, as Parker continues in his essay,
We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change. (New York Times, March 18, 2008)
Though spring begins slowly and tentatively, it grows with a tenacity that never fails to touch me. The smallest and most tender shoots insist on having their way, coming up through ground that looked, only a few weeks earlier, as if it would never grow anything again. (Parker J. Palmer, Seasons Essays)
Second, in the seven years that I've been a Courage & Renewal facilitator, I find myself increasingly energized by the radical, three-fold promise offered in our Circles of Trust:
- that it is possible to create safe spaces for the soul;
- that such safe spaces allow us to listen to ourselves and to one another in new ways; and
- that such spaces allow us to cross the lines of human difference that so easily sort and separate us.
I believe this promise has a unique potential to create opportunities to explore ourselves in the context of this deeply compromised society in which power and privilege have been distributed primarily by race. I believe that out of such deeply personal exploration, we will forge the next steps toward resolution of this most fundamental social dilemma.
I am reminded of an experience I shared several years ago with my colleague, Anita Morales. We were leading a series of sessions exploring racial identity with a diverse group of school principals. After a few sessions, we invited participants to bring to the group a work experience that had left them feeling unsettled and in which they believed race to be a factor. They sat in small groups and told their stories. These were stories of collision across the race lines involving the principal and parents, teachers, students, or colleagues. I remember that everyone had such stories and that all the stories conveyed a palpable, unsettling feeling.
After each story, the small group simply posed open, honest questions with the sole intent of allowing the storyteller to explore her own experience. No fixing, no advice giving, no setting straight. I recall a rare and precious opportunity for busy professional leaders to reflect on themselves in a world scarred by racial inequities that are seldom acknowledged. I believe we need more such opportunities.
The Center for Courage & Renewal is but one of many organizations contributing to a larger movement toward revitalizing personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it. I believe that our principles and practices have a contribution to make to this next evolution of American society and issues of race. Indeed, we have many facilitators and colleagues already exploring this arena AND so much more work to be done. Perhaps, just perhaps, the new growth of spring is ready to burst forth.
From autumn's profligate seedings to the great spring giveaway, nature teaches a steady lesson: if we want to save our lives, we cannot cling to them but must spend them with abandon. When we are obsessed with bottom lines and productivity, with efficiency of time and motion, with projecting reasonable goals and making a beeline toward them, it seems unlikely that our work will ever bear full fruit, unlikely that we will ever know the fullness of spring in our lives. (Parker J. Palmer, Seasons Essays)