Words of EnCOURAGEment #16
Hope and Possibility
by Executive Director Terry Chadsey
“Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts” -- Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
Deeply encoded in being human within our own hearts is the capacity to see hope and possibility even when faced with unimaginable challenge. If this were not true, if this were not carried through tens of thousands of human generations, we would not be here today.
As spring arrives at my home after what’s felt like a very long and dreary winter, I’m struck by broader evidence of this. Looking out my bedroom window the other morning, I was captivated by a pair of house sparrows building a nest under the eaves with apparent irrepressible abandon. Within a few days the cherry tree in my front yard went from bare branches to an explosion of thickly-placed white blossoms. Evidently these “neighbors” share the same deeply encoded capacity for acting on hope and possibility.
So how do we cultivate this generative capacity within us and among us?
Politics and the Alchemy of the Heart
Personal Notes on Writing Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
by Parker J. Palmer
Back in 2004, I was deep in the dumps about American politics and the future of our democracy. A friend said, “Cheer up! Things could be worse.” So I cheered up and, sure enough, things got worse.
I know that’s an old joke and you know that my friend is fictional. But as I look back on my personal and political journey over the past seven years, that joke has a lot of truth in it. The political despair I felt in 2004 eventually gave way to hope, but hope soon gave way to another round of political despondency. As the great Kurt Vonnegut was fond of saying, “So it goes.”
As we move through these endless cycles of hope and despair, how do we hang on so we can hang in for the long haul in our personal, professional, and public lives? For me, one of the best answers is to use our despair as fuel for some sort of creative act. Creativity is the alchemy that can take a spirit-killing experience and transform it into something that gives life: planting a garden, reaching out to someone in need, creating a project, becoming a change agent, or whatever one is gifted and called to do.
For me, creativity often involves writing. My first attempt to turn my political despair into energy for re-engagement was a 2005 pamphlet that you can download here. In it, I began exploring the possibility that what is often called “the politics of rage” is, in fact, “the politics of the brokenhearted,” a phrase that became the title of the pamphlet. There’s a lot to break our hearts these days: the threat of terrorism; the reality of losing one’s job or home; the undermining of public education and our children’s futures; the persistence of racism, sexism, homophobia, and animosities bred by ideological differences. And all of that heartbreak has political consequences.
To Look At Any Thing
by Senior Fellow Marcy Jackson
To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
‘I have seen spring in these
Woods,’ will not do—you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between the leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.
—John Moffitt from the Living Seed
“To look at any thing” in the way the poet suggests—to really look—is something we rarely do in our personal lives, not to mention in our work or organizational lives. How many of us have participated in exciting, often arduous, and sometimes downright painful processes of developing and articulating (wrestling to the ground?!) an organizational mission statement, set of core values, or some other statement of purpose? And after engaging in these difficult negotiations, how often do we re-visit the fruits of our labors? “Rarely” or “never” is probably the typical response.
The Power of Heart and Soul
by Courage to Lead® participant Linda Strohmeyer
I first learned about the Center For Courage & Renewal while evaluating training programs for teachers. I was intrigued by the approach of "reconnecting soul and role" and how impactful this focus could be for a teacher and the children he/she serves. It was not until I had a chance to read Parker Palmer's book Let Your Life Speak and meet Parker in person that I began to understand the depth and essence of the Center’s work.
At the time I decided to attend a Courage To Lead® retreat, it was five years after leaving my career at Goldman Sachs to raise my daughter Ava, who now is 8 years old. I was feeling unsure about my role in the world, having lost all the labels my successful career had given me. I felt disconnected and off balance and yet had a calling to serve our world in some way. Upon arrival at the retreat, I was immediately put at ease by the setting as we were surrounded by nature and the facilities were warm and inviting. As I sat in the circle for the first time, I instantly knew it would be a safe and sacred place to explore my truths. And that it was...
What I found most remarkable about the experience was being with people who opened their hearts, who together created a community of trust and acceptance that allowed each of us to hear and experience our own (and each other’s) soul speak. This was powerful. It was profound and humbling to see the magnificence in each participant and recognize the oneness that runs through us all. It was in this circle that I learned that everything I needed, I already possessed – that patience, stillness, love and compassion are fuel for the soul and living a divided life (mind over heart) was no longer possible for me.
Stones of Change
by Circle of Trust® Facilitator Paul Michelac
Have you ever tried to catalogue the various forms that spring can take as it ushers out the winter season of deep inner reflection and welcomes in a time of growth? In my experience, spring is never a one size fits all season. It can be cold, hot, dry, wet, brown, and green; sometimes all at the same time. And like the natural world, the springs in my life are all very different, each with its unique qualities and characteristics. Sometimes winter lingers on, even as spring begins to move across the landscape. What are the forms that spring takes in the world around you? Is the enfolding of spring in both settings (natural and personal) following a similar path with similar characteristics? Or do they differ from each other?
I find myself waiting and watching for the winter of my life to break into the spring of new beginnings. I know from years of nature study that winter will eventually yield to the bulb’s impulse to push through the cold hard ground into the light of new beginnings. And that eventually winter will dissipate when the redwing blackbirds fly north and reoccupy their recently icebound marshes. Spring, for me, is a many faceted show of nature’s potential for turning the contemplative inner quality of winter into an exuberant outward statement of life on the move. But spring’s persistence is not always as evident in my life. If it were only so easy to have one season of inner life regularly transition into the next season as the pages of my calendar turn from one month to the next.
One of the many gifts associated with the role of Circle of Trust® Facilitator is the opportunity to gather with colleagues, on retreat, to renew and refresh our personal and professional inner life. At a recent gathering I experienced a new awareness of spring in winter, a form of inner knowing, that I invite you to consider as well. During the retreat we were graced with the healing spirit and live music of Carrie Newcomer. One of the last songs she sang for our closing circle, “Stones in the River,” spoke to me of hope for a new spring, even as my personal and professional winter continued to hold me frozen in place.
Leadership: Integrity, Authenticity, and Courage
by Senior Fellow Rick Jackson
In March, Rick spoke to a conference of 80 foundation CEOs hosted by the National Center for Family Philanthropy. This article includes excerpts from his keynote address about supporting integrity and courage in leaders.
The Center’s Courage to Lead® retreat programs build on this premise: Every day those we lead ask themselves, does this person walk their talk? Are both their head and their heart in the game? Are they worthy of my trust? And of course, we ask the same questions of those we follow.
The foundation of trust is a leader’s integrity, authenticity and courage. It cannot be reduced to technique. Human dimensions show up in every act of leadership—small and large—from our daily exchanges in organizational life to the complex decision-making that guides fair process and forms sound policy.
Trustworthy leaders understand the impact of their presence on those they serve. They are awake and tuned into the world around them. They consciously strive to project light, hope, and coherent vision to their colleagues, while managing the inevitable tensions that accompany all collective endeavors.
In fact, listening to and holding the tensions of competing forces—so that all persons within the organization can engage, learn and grow—may be the most important work of leadership.
As CEOs of family philanthropies, you know firsthand that holding such tensions is both rewarding and demanding work. It requires knowing yourself, and the capacity to form and maintain trustworthy relationships with others.
This leads me to the first of four core practices of trustworthy leadership: