Category: miscellanea



Two days, two more videos of two more police officers shooting black men. There has been and will continue to be all kinds of reactions. Injustice. Lament. Anger. We can only hope that some day there will be repentance and forgiveness. Nothing short of a miracle is needed for grace to find its way into these tragedies.

My feeling is one of emptiness. Particularly, we in the United States experience leadership emptiness. As injustice rolls on, leadership is empty. Missing. It is as if there are two games happening. The country is playing the game of the century, struggling to win with blood, sweat and tears. The national leadership is not playing down on the same field or coaching from the sidelines or even cheering in the stands; the national leadership is far away in a smokey room playing strip poker, betting with hedged fortunes in a high-stakes game for media coverage and power grabs.

Game on. Syria and much of the Middle East are coming apart. Millions of humans are suffering. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying. Europe is breaking at the seams. Russia is opportunistic. Meanwhile, Paul Ryan has only his boxer briefs left on. Donald Trump just doubled down, defending his use of the Star of David in an attack ad against Hillary Clinton. Ryan folds, in attempt to protect his last chip, unwinding Obamacare, because that’s winning the game. Right?

I fully recognize my naiveté. Yet for the life of me, I cannot understand why in the United States there is no leader on the order of Lincoln or Roosevelt or Eisenhower or Kennedy willing to set up right now.

That is my gripe. But I want to end on a more positive note.

Humans flourish. Even in the bad times, people are remarkable. Grief is remarkable. Forgiveness is remarkable. Like the numbers of stars in the night sky, everywhere we look on earth there are lights shining in human acts of kindness and celebration and creativity. I confess I do not look at the marvel of the night sky as often as I want to and should. Neither do I turn my attention enough to the bright lights of human flourishing.

My sense is not so much that we need new things. New stuff. New legislation. New programs. New bureaucracies. New technologies. Rather, we need to amplify the flourishing already happening all around us.

When we respond to challenges by first assuming the fix involves adding something new, we miss an opportunity to amplify an existing solution. We live in a time of muted answers, quieted flourishing. I will have more to say about this soon.


Clarity and Judgment

There are reasons a person might be unclear. For example: Subtlety might be in order to be sensitive to eavesdroppers. A person might be vague in an effort to hide a secret. Though, the secret might be that the person does not know what he is talking about. His lack of clarity actually might be obfuscation. Or maybe there is no secret at all. Maybe the person just cannot string together coherent sentences. There are many reasons for being unclear.

Another one of those reasons is this: A person might know exactly what he is talking about and how to say it clearly, but clarity would open him up to judgment. It is hard to judge what is not clear. It might be good. It might not. Who would know? After all, it is not clear.

The propensity to be unclear for fear of negative judgment is accentuated by a natural human reaction to confusion. The receiver of unclear communication regularly blames himself but keeps quiet about it for fear of being perceived as ignorant.

“Is that guy chewing on marbles or am I an ignoramus? Surely the reason I don’t understand him must be that I’m stupid.” That is a common reaction when listening to someone who sounds confusing.

Thus, being unclear is doubly rewarded. Not only does it avoid negative judgment, but it regularly elicits hushed insecurity. Being unclear is a safe way to communicate.

But lack of clarity will never inspire people. Better to speak clearly and risk the possibility of negative judgment. Be transparent and give people something to react to.


A Small Reflection On Effort

Think about a platform. Go ahead and think of the platform as a physical object. Make it as big as you would like. Perhaps it is floating above the earth, like one of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Now think about what happens on that platform and think about how you influence what happens on it. Think about the effort you are going to put into influencing what happens on the platform.

We can push, tug, cajole, and scheme things into place so that whatever happens on the platform happens the way we want it to happen by our efforts. This kind of effort is determinative effort. We exert determinative effort when we want to decide what is going to happen on the platform. It can feel powerful to exert this kind of effort, because it is controlling and usually it feels good to be in control. If we determine, for example, that the platform is going to be injury free, we can establish rules and erect safety measures to ensure no one on the platform gets hurt. By the sheer force of our effort in enforcing rules and constructing precautions, no one comes to harm. We have controlled the platform and the outcome is to our satisfaction.

But of course, that kind of determinative effort comes not just with feelings of power but also with burdens. If someone on the platform gets injured, it is our fault. One of our rules was insufficient or inadequately enforced. One of our safety measures failed or was constructed faulty from the start. Our efforts are responsible for what happens on the platform, the good and the bad. By our efforts we are satisfied. By our efforts we are judged. (It is not the point of this small reflection, but notice that the satisfaction and the judgment both come from ourselves.)

We put no effort into trying to control what others do with our craftsmanship.There is another way to put effort into influencing what happens on the platform. By our efforts we can make the platform as good as it possibly can be. Create an amazing platform with as much talent and gusto as we have got. And that is it. What happens on the platform is not a matter of our efforts. Perhaps the efforts of our craftsmanship influences what others choose to do on the platform, but we put no effort into trying to control what others do with our craftsmanship. In fact, we exert some of our own effort observing what others do with our craftsmanship by their own efforts. And because we have not attempted to be in control, we might see others using our creation in ways we did not anticipate. We can then return to our creation and adjust the platform in ways beyond our original imagination, making it even better than we thought it could possibly be.

If we do, something incredible happens. Our efforts are no longer our efforts alone. This shared effort, I am prone to believe, is the truest form of power and does the most good.