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The Defeat of Our Intuition

This morning I watched John Bohannon’s TED talk, “Dance vs. powerpoint, a modest proposal.” It’s pretty fabulous. You can watch it here:

Cool, huh?

I don’t know if you caught it, but in the middle of his talk, one statement in particular caught my attention:

“This is the great pleasure of science: the defeat of our intuition through experimentation.”

I don’t know about you, but I hate it when my intuition is proved wrong. For a second, at least. And then…

That moment is a choice point. A choice between clinging to Being Right, and learning something. Exploring.

It can be really hard to let go of the security of Being Right, of that Beautiful Idea, and be willing to accept that there might be an even more beautiful idea. Or a less beautiful idea that is right.

I hate that.

And I love it.

We are Learners, as well as Teachers. Which means not only adding new knowledge, but often replacing knowledge. And it isn’t adding new knowledge that can be hard, but allowing the replacing of knowledge, allowing for the possibility of being wrong. The beauty of that is that once we (I) allow for the possibility of being wrong, we (I) allow the entry of the new idea.

Brene Brown talks about vulnerability and shame and it is those, the fear of them, that can keep us (me) from allowing the possibility of being wrong, allowing the defeat of our intuition. The desire to protect our (my) ego.

Which is where Curiosity comes in. “Hmm, what could work better?” I ask myself. “If this thing I was sure was true isn’t working, then what will work better?”

Sigh. It’s hard to know when to keep trying, and when to shift to a new approach. How long does one keep trying, applying persistence, before remembering “If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you always got?”

Perhaps we (I) have to trust our (my) intuition.

Ha! ‘Tis a puzzlement.

OK, I was just about to hit Publish when I had another thought.

It requires both. Trusting our (my) intuition and being open to new evidence. And this is where Community is important – having people to listen to, to bounce ideas off of. Which requires vulnerability (again), being willing to let my community see me be wrong, and change.

Maybe that’s an important part of the definition of Community: The people with whom it is safe to learn, to be wrong, to grow. And to be a part of that Community, I have to offer that safe place to them, too.

Anyone feel like dancing?

Being With

Yesterday I went to the wedding celebration of a friend of mine. A friend whom I hold dear, although we don’t spend that much time together.

I almost didn’t go.

I looked forward to it all week, but when the day came I was reluctant.

I would be going alone, and I didn’t think to call anyone to carpool. Would there be anyone there I knew? I feared going and being surrounded by others but feeling isolated. Would my little gift be good enough? They wouldn’t miss me if I didn’t go…

Wait a minute. I would miss them if I didn’t go. And, I said to myself, there were a lot of people she could have invited, and didn’t. She invited me.

I wrapped up my little hand-made gift, with something for each them, something personal, far more personal (aka Vulnerable) than something I might have gotten from Pottery Barn or wherever, and wrote in my hand-made card with one of my own photographs on the front. And off I went.

I arrived at the wedding party and, as soon as I arrived, a friend I hadn’t seen in months waved at me and said, “Come sit by me!” We chatted and caught up while we ate plates of Mexican food and drank margaritas, watching as party-goers learned salsa dancing. Other friends came and went from our little group, dear friends, new friends, acquaintances I hadn’t seen in several years.

Then a man appeared in front of me and held out his hand, inviting me to dance.

I have never salsa danced. Ever.

And I feel very awkward when it comes to any dance that requires Following.


Remember the movie, “Risky Business?”

Sometimes you just have to say, “What the fuck.”

I put down my plate and got up. And danced. And it worked! “It’s just like walking,” my teacher said. “You’re doing great!”

How funny, I thought, not long ago I needed help walking after a horse stepped on my foot, and my walking partner said, “We’re just dancing, and you get to lead.” “That’s good,” I remember thinking, “I suck at following when I dance.” Now I was dancing, and my partner was telling me it was just like walking, and I was doing great at following. Hmmm.

We danced, and I danced several times throughout the afternoon between conversations and hugs and laughs. Ultimately I ended up in a corner with three other friends (two old, one new), just talking and Being With. It was lovely.

As we were helping our friend load up her car with gifts and leftovers, one of her friends, with whom I had danced, handed me one of the last flower arrangements to be given away and said,

“Here, Wild Thing, you need some flowers.”

Wild Thing? Me?

I laughed, and accepted. The flowers, and the name.

This morning I got up and drank my coffee and caught up on blogs I follow, and I noticed a distinct theme. The first, What We All Need, was about the importance of just being with. The second was about belonging, and how it is a distinctly 21st Century Challenge that requires stepping outside of our comfort zones. The third was about belonging to ourselves, receiving what is here and receiving the sacred. Through just being with it. Hmmm.

Belonging. Comfort Zones. Accepting. Showing Up. The truth is that if I am willing to step out of my comfort zone, I sometimes find greater comfort. I’m glad the voice that says, “I do belong” is louder than the voice that says, “I don’t belong.”

Which voice do you listen to? Which voice do you encourage others to listen to?

Want to Make a Difference?

In a recent post I told the stories of three friends who have either recently embarked or are getting ready to embark on Great Adventures. I’d like to say more about one of them.

LaVonne Ellis – Complete Flake, Voice Coach, Customer Lover, Writer, Adventurer

I first met LaVonne Ellis soon after I started blogging. I joined a couple of online communities for bloggers and people wanting to promote their businesses ethically and responsibly online, and LaVonne showed up in both of them.

LaVonne didn’t just show up, she welcomed me. And in the faceless, potentially anonymous world of virtual “communities,” that meant a lot. Then she started following me on Twitter. So I started following her blogs and Tweets. (Two years and one week ago today, in fact!)

As it turned out, part of LaVonne’s fascinating story is that she used to work in radio. Which, of course, means she has developed (or was born with) a wonderful Radio Voice. And one of her businesses was providing services as a Voice Coach.

Well at about this time, my frustration with my voice was reaching critical mass. For ten years my speaking voice had been deteriorating, making telephone work, public speaking and online presentations well, difficult. To say the least. And my frustration hit its last nerve when I was interviewing someone over the phone and she said, “I think we have a bad connection, can I call you back?”

Sigh. “No,” I said, “It’s just my goofy voice. It’s not the connection.” *hungheadinshame*

So I reached out to LaVonne, who was offering promotional half-off half-hour voice coaching sessions. I ponied up the money and sent her my pre-session questionnaire with a recording of me interviewing someone. I was so excited to get started!

She turned me down.

LaVonne Lives By Her Ethics

LaVonne read my description of my voice problem, and listened to my recording, and declined to work with me: She said it appeared to be a medical condition which had not been confirmed and could be serious, and said her strategies wouldn’t be effective for me. She encouraged me to see a medical specialist, and she immediately refunded my money.

I was crushed.

I had finally worked up the nerve to do something – again, after being disappointed by multiple doctors who couldn’t solve my issue and brushed me off to others – and she turned me down.

She did The Right Thing.

LaVonne could have taken my money and coached me and then said, “Hmm, too bad, so sad.” But she didn’t.

And it kicked my ass into trying one more time to get my voice diagnosed – this time successfully. Which has led to a two-year process of discovery, which is still going on.

I later reached out to LaVonne to thank her, and she told me how bad she had felt about saying no and disappointing me. But she did it anyway. The right thing.

Tough love.

Customer Love

Not long after that, LaVonne and much of the online world read a post by Naomi Dunford, “Make Them Love You. THEN Ask For Money.” Like many others, LaVonne was inspired. Unlike everyone else, LaVonne decided to do something.

And she invited us to come along.

And the Customer Love Challenge was born.

I won’t go into all the details about the Customer Love Challenge – you can read the backstory here.

What I will tell you is why it matters to me, and why I hope it matters to you.

Why It Matters

The Customer Love Challenge quickly grew into a Phenomenon. A website was born. Tweetchats were held. A community formed. A free ebook was published. 28-day Customer Love Challenges were launched. Formats were experimented with. Budding business people who really didn’t have a clue – or an audience – found support and encouragement.

Nearly all for Free.

For Love.

LaVonne provided a catalyst that helped people (us) focus their (my) attention on their (my) customers rather than exclusively on making money. She helped people (me) put the horse where it belonged, before the cart. Love your customers, she taught, and the rest will follow. And she led by example.

She provided a platform, a forum, for people to connect and support each other in figuring this stuff out. Guest posts were solicited and published. Ideas were incubated and loved into life.

Ironically enough, LaVonne helped me find my voice – as a writer. I wrote four guest posts for Customer Love Challenges in less than a year and a half. I am not alone when I say the opportunity she provided me to develop my thoughts in this area and be exposed to a wider audience meant a LOT to me. And I met a TON of fascinating, inspiring, hilarious, creative, dedicated people, many of whom have become friends and some of whom have become colleagues. Several of my Customer Love confreres, including LaVonne, went on to write Captains Curious guest posts for my blog – what an honor for me! And that is just an example of another of the lovely benefits that grew out of Customer Love – members found people with complementary skills who could help each other out.

In other words, LaVonne helped me see the positive power of the internet for Good.


As time went on, LaVonne noticed that many of the Customer Lovers, as we called ourselves, needed technical help with their websites and making all of the bits of online business work. So she branched out, and launched Trust Wanda. Since LaVonne had figured out how to do all this online WordPress, shopping cart, hosting, eeek, stuff for herself, she began offering that as a service. First to Customer Lovers, then to a broader audience.

And something interesting began to happen.

Just as many of the Customer Love peeps grew in confidence and began to stand in our abilities and plant flags on the tops of the mountains of our dreams – or at least make progress up the sides of those mountains – LaVonne grew in confidence too.

First, it became clear that the Complete Flake identity behind which LaVonne had been masquerading was, in fact, obsolete. A Complete Flake she clearly was not. So that website – and alter ego – was retired.

Then, LaVonne launched One Blue Berry and had us all hanging on the edges of our chairs, waiting for the next installments of her Green Card story.

And then, LaVonne knocked us out with her announcement about deciding to pull up stakes and set out on her Road Trip. Charles-Kuralt-style, LaVonne intends to set out and roam the continent (or at least a big chunk of it) and write about her adventures.

I, for one, can’t wait to read about them!

But first, she has to leave. Set out. Make it so.

LaVonne has helped so many of us make our dreams come true and find our voices (literally and figuratively). I want to help her make this dream come true.

How? Well, Moral Support is important and, I’m sure, always welcome. But there are other ways we can help.

  • Although the Customer Love challenges have run their course, you can still have access to three of the Customer Love tools to help you love up your customers and build your business on a firm foundation:
  • Hire Wanda – I mean LaVonne – to build or maintain a WordPress website. She’ll even help you with recording and editing audio files to post on your website. Interviews? Webinars? Piece of cake. With coffee.
  • And, of course, you can Chip In and provide direct financial support to the Road Trip in the amount of your choice.

LaVonne is someone who has made a difference in the lives of many, although she’ll probably blush to read that. Let’s make a difference in her life.

Please join me in supporting LaVonne on her Road Trip! I’m so curious about what adventures she will have, the people she will meet, the tales she will tell, and how she will be changed by it all. Are you curious? Let’s make it happen, and make LaVonne’s voice heard.

(My thanks to Jenny Thomas of DesisisterJen for inspiring this blog post. Thanks Jen!)


Playing Chicken Part 2

The other day I met a chicken. And wrote about it here.

It still prickles me, though, because of the difference between her people’s assumption that it’s OK (safe) to let her range the entire neighborhood and my assumption that it is not.

Perhaps that is at the heart of cultural conflict. Not only the difference between those assumptions but how we act on and navigate them. Was KF (the chicken) bothering me or impinging on my rights? No. I was just concerned for her, and her family. They were not. OK, she’s not my chicken. When we fail to respect those differences, there is conflict.

If she were in great danger, or causing damage, would I have the right to do more?

What if she were a child?

KF (the chicken) is a living metaphor for the delicate balances we must navigate when we live in community.

This is a different aspect of community than I have thought of before, and rather than identifying the thing that binds a community together – the thing we have in common – it is a thing we have in uncommon. But the respect for that uncommonness is another important ingredient.

It is even another thing we have in common.


PS – I kind of like the idea that there is a Free Range Chicken in the neighborhood.

Photo Credit: “Australorp Pullet In The Henhouse” by Paul L. Nettles

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Playing Chicken

Today I was folding laundry, absent-mindedly looking out the window. A movement caught my eye, and I saw…

…a chicken.

I live in a fairly busy residential neighborhood and, even though we’re only two blocks from the county fairgrounds and we are almost out in the country, we are also one block from Main Street and this is a bustling neighborhood. Even so, I’ve seen raccoons, possum and all manner of birds – but no chickens.

Until now.

I shouldn’t be surprised; backyard chicken-keeping is becoming more and more popular. I have even considered it.

What to do?

Hmmm. I had seen the man who lives across the street outside a few minutes before, looking at his house. Maybe he was looking for a lost chicken.

So I went outside and starting talking, clucking and chirping to the chicken, slowly getting closer and herding it away from the street. It – she – spooked a couple of times but not too badly, and after a couple minutes I was able to pick her up, clamping her wings to her sides so she couldn’t start a flap (so to speak).

I took her across the street to the house on the corner. As I got to the gate, a woman and her little girl were walking down the street toward me.

“That’s a chicken!” the little girl said.

“It’s a pretty one, too,” the mother said. (She was, too: A very pretty black chicken with green highlights in the feathers. “Does it live here?”

“I hope so,” I said. “I just found it across the street, and I saw the man who lives here a few minutes ago walking around; maybe he was looking for it.”

“Let me open the gate for you,” the mother said (since my hands were full).

She did, and I went up onto the porch. Dilemma: How to ring the bell? I tried to poke it with one finger, then leaned on it with my elbow. The chicken just clucked.

No response.

Sigh. Now what?

Well, I figured, if it’s their chicken, I should just leave it. If it’s not their chicken, at least it will be safe behind their white picket fence. (Yes, a white picket fence.) So I put her down and said goodbye and let myself out, and went back to my laundry.

I couldn’t just leave it there

It didn’t feel right, though, and I was curious. Was it their chicken? What if it wasn’t?

So I finished folding my laundry, while peeking periodically out the window. She was still in the yard across the street, happily foraging in the lawn, eating seeds and bugs. When I was done, I went back across the street.

This time, without my hands full of chicken, I was able to open the screen door and knock on the door. The Man of the House opened it.

“Hi,” I said, “I live across the street. Do you keep chickens?”

“No,” he said, “but there’s one in my yard.”

“I know, I put it there,” I replied. (He must think I’m nuts, I thought.) “I found it across the street, and I saw you outside looking around a little while ago so I hoped it was yours.”

“No,” he said, “it’s not mine, but I have a dog that would probably like it.”

At this point his wife and little girl came out to see what was happening. “We saw that chicken a few days ago,” they told us. “It was almost dark, and I thought, ‘Is that a chicken?’” the mother said. They went on to tell me they had seen it a few houses up, so I thanked them and turned to retrieve the chicken and leave.

“So, we meet again,” I said to the chicken, and started to herd her toward the fence, clucking and chirping at her. She clucked back. I tried not to think about the family peeking through the curtains, watching me. This time I tucked her under one arm and lifted the latch on the gate, let myself out and pulled the gate closed.

Not so fast…

Well, the hen didn’t like being tucked under my arm, so she started to scratch with her legs and got one wing loose. I dropped her on the parking strip.

She wasn’t a particularly ambitious chicken; happy to be set down, she contentedly started scratching and pecking at the parking strip. I slowly herded her away from the street and toward the fence, and soon picked her back up, wings clamped to her sides, and started walking up the street.

She just clucked.

“I must look pretty funny,” I thought to myself, “walking down the street with a chicken.” Oh well. It certainly wasn’t the first time I had looked silly and certainly wouldn’t be the last.

What if I couldn’t find her home? I wondered. She was a really nice chicken, pretty, well cared for, no bald spots, gentle. Someone must certainly miss her. If all else failed, I decided, I would take her back to my apartment. (Although I didn’t know how I would navigate opening the front door and opening the slider to my patio with both hands full of chicken. And I couldn’t imagine what my cats would think when I set down a bird bigger than either of them to open the door.) Anyway, I figured I could let her roam on my big patio, which is enclosed by a tall privacy fence. (Which hasn’t kept raccoons and possums from visiting and eating the goldfish in my fountain, but at least she’d be safe from dogs and traffic until I could get a coop built.) But I would put up signs before committing to keeping her permanently.

Next stop

I walked down the block past a few houses, bird in hand. At about house three, there was a young man outside putting something in his truck.

“Excuse me,” I called. “Does anyone around here keep chickens?”

“Yeah,” he said. “She lives across the street.” He paused, then added, “She’s free range.”

Apparently, I thought. “Thanks,” I said, and crossed the street (thinking, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” “Because I carried her…”) to a pair of duplexes. As I walked toward the buildings, wondering what to do next, a woman opened her apartment door.

Going home to roost

“Hi,” I said. “Is this your chicken?”

“No,” she replied, “It’s theirs,” and pointed at the other building. I turned around and saw a teenage boy looking at me through the window. Then a woman in her forties opened the door and came out with two young children.

“Hi,” I said. “Is she yours? I found her wandering around.”

“Yes, she belongs to my fourteen year old son,” she said, looking at me like she couldn’t decide whether to be friendly or suspicious. “She has a coop in the back and she just wanders around during the day.”

“OK,” I said, and put her down in the driveway, where she happily started poking around. “She’s a nice chicken, I figured someone would miss her.”

The mom decided on being friendly. “Yes, we’ve had her for about six months. She just started laying eggs. Her name is Kentucky Fried.”


“I’m surprised she let you pick her up,” the mom continued.

“Birds like me,” I said. “I used to keep ducks.” That sounded weird, even to me, but it was relevant – that’s how I knew how to pick her up.

Anyway. I said goodbye and went home to put away the laundry. (After washing my hands.)

The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story is this: I was curious about finding a chicken roaming a street I wouldn’t let my cats out on. And I had to choose between a) the risk of looking silly while attempting to solve the mystery and b) doing nothing. I didn’t want her to get run over, or to have her people miss her, even more than I didn’t want to look silly or (worse) like a busy-body neighbor. Sometimes the fear of looking silly can keep us from being curious and taking risks, but we get to choose whether or not to let it stop us. And it’s usually not as bad as we fear.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. I met a chicken today. And several neighbors. I wonder what my encounter with a chicken portends for 2012?

Maybe I’ll get a chicken…

Photo Credit: “Australorp Pullet In The Henhouse” by Paul L. Nettles

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We’re All in This Together

A Woman on a Mission

The other day I went to the local hardware store buy a broom.

Specifically, a good old-fashioned corn broom. I’ve been using a blue plastic broom for several years, but over time it has started to disintegrate, and it’s leaving little bits of blue stuff all over. And since I suspect it will never degrade, I decided to go for a “greener” solution.

At the grocery store, that purveyor of all things useful and necessary, I had two choices: Another blue plastic broom for $10.99, or a green plastic broom with a dustpan for $7.97. (I know, that seems backwards. Go figure.)

Sigh. Both were plastic, and I don’t need another dustpan.

So I went to the hardware store.

I Love a Good Hardware Store!

This is a good old-fashioned hardware store, even if it is a franchise. They have a little bit of everything, including nails in a big revolving bin. I love a good hardware store – my late husband used to tease me that this was why he fell in love with me.

And I love this particular hardware store, because the guys who work there are great. Not just helpful, they’re cool.

Story Time

One day, I went in looking for a particular type of light bulb. I stood in front of the rack that went up about eight feet, displaying 3-way bulbs, appliance bulbs, natural light bulbs, fluorescent energy-saver bulbs, night-light bulbs, chandelier bulbs. Where were the ceiling fan bulbs that could be used base-up? Ah, way up there. When I finally saw it, I pointed at it in delight.

“It won’t come to you if you just point at it, you know,” a voice behind me said. I jumped, and turned around to see a short man with white hair behind me. He pointed at the bulb, and said, “Accio, light bulb!”

The old guy at the hardware store reads Harry Potter! I love that!

The light bulb didn’t come to him either, though, so he went to retrieve a footstool and then got it down for me. I have long since used up the light bulbs, but a good story will last forever.


This time I went in search of a broom, and I walked in and paused just long enough to look around and let my eyes adjust. Where would the brooms be? This wasn’t something I had shopped for here before. Before I could take another look around, a man appeared and asked if he could help me.

“I’m looking for a nice old-fashioned corn broom,” I told him. “Right this way,” he replied, and led me to the center aisle.

He took down a broom and, before he handed it to me, looked back at the rack where there was another broom next to the empty slot of the one he had just removed. The two brooms looked the same, but they had slightly different labels.

“I wonder what the difference is between these two,” he thought aloud. Price was one difference; the second broom cost three dollars more. We looked at them side by side.

“That one says it’s a Premium broom,” I said.

“Ah, it has an extra row of string holding it together,” he pointed out.

“And it’s bilingual,” I said, pointing to the English/Spanish label.

“That explains it,” he said.

Then we noticed a third broom on the rack. This one claimed to be a Professional model – it was slightly larger, had yet another row of string binding it together, and it had a soft rubber grip on the handle. We were very impressed. He said it was the Presidential model.

It cost another three dollars more than the Premium broom.

“You know, I really only need the Regular model,” I said, “and the Professional model is definitely not in my budget.”

“Yeah, I understand,” he said. “Even I don’t have a Professional budget.”

So, for $10.99, I got a plain old-fashioned corn broom to sweep my patio. And another story.

The Importance of the Corner Store

Throughout my adult life certain small businesses have endeared themselves to me with their familial feel and personal treatment. There was Sam from Jordan who ran the corner store at 9th and Irving in San Francisco in the early 80’s, Jack and Barbara who ran the kosher deli in Portland, Maine, in the early 90’s, the sushi chef at the sushi bar in the early 00’s. Now some of our local businesses know me by name – and I know them: Dave the dry cleaner, Matt and Jim at the butcher shop (yes, a real butcher!), Steve at the wine store, Kim at the art gallery. Others just recognize my face. At others, like the hardware store, I don’t go often enough for them to know me, but they always treat me like they do.

This aspect of belonging to my local community has long been important to me, but it has become even more important since the economy began to shift three years ago. I am more grateful than ever for local businesses and I go out of my way to give them as much of my business as I can. These small businesses are run by people like me, and they are a vital part of the fabric of my community.

I Wonder…

I wrote on September 11 this year about the importance of community and connectedness and my sense of “We’re All In This Together.” Now I’m curious:

Do you shop locally? How do you support and show your love to the small businesses in your community? Do you have a small business? How do you love your customers?

What about your virtual community? Who are the members of your virtual community that you support through blog comments, retweets, promoting their businesses to others, and purchasing their books, music or webinars?

We’re all in this together. What stories do you have? How do you live it?

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Never Forget – That We Are One

After a two-night rest at a relatively quiet hotel/casino in Elko, NV, far from the glitz and glamour of Vegas or Reno but still with all the amenities, we were ready to start driving the last leg of our move from Minneapolis to San Francisco.

We had gotten up, had our coffee, and were showering and preparing for the rest of the trip. Bruce was in the bathroom, and I was in the bedroom watching the news and packing.

I must have gasped or said something, because from the bathroom Bruce said, “What?”

“They’re saying a small plane just flew into the World Trade Center,” I told him.

“That’s not possible,” he said. “They don’t allow airplanes in that airspace.”

“Well, somebody hit one of the towers,” I told him.

We spent the next couple of hours watching in horror as the events of the morning unfolded. I will never forget watching Aaron Brown on CNN holding it together as he reported live throughout the morning. I will never forget sitting on the bench at the foot of the bed, glued to the TV, my packing forgotten.

It was horrible enough by itself, but the uncertainty compounded the horror. We had friends in New York, were they ok? What was happening, were the tallest buildings in every major city under attack? I had friends working in the tallest building in Minneapolis, were they targeted? Would they be ok?

Finally we could watch no more, and we had to hit the road. We had to be in San Francisco to start my new job on a certain day, and it didn’t make sense to stay where we were. Our next stop was to be Reno, and then on to San Francisco. I went to the front desk to check out and asked them to help me make a reservation at a sister-hotel in Reno. I couldn’t get a reservation anywhere, though, because all flights out of Reno were grounded. No one was checking out.

We debated, what should we do? Ultimately we decided to take our chances and drive across Nevada to Reno and hope we would be able to get a room when we arrived.

I will never forget the surreal nature of that day, driving across the Nevada desert with my husband and our cat, listening to Peter Jennings on the radio. That was a fitting sign of how the world had turned upside down – Peter Jennings on the radio. We set out not knowing for sure what was happening, and what shape the world would be in when we got to San Francisco. And I remember thinking at that moment that we were probably in one of the safest places on earth, in the middle of the desert. And there was nowhere on earth I would rather be at that moment than in the middle of the Nevada desert with my little family.

We arrived in Reno and had no trouble getting a room. We went out to a sumptuous dinner at one of the casinos, and it seemed anti-climactic: Everything had changed forever, yet nothing looked different.

We drove on the next day, our last day on the road. I took a picture of the row of newspaper stands in front of our hotel, all filled with headlines and pictures of the horror of the day before.

The next weeks were unlike any we had ever spent. I started my new job, and co-workers who were in the military reserves were called in for briefings about their status. For several weeks they were unsure whether they would be called up for active duty, and we made contingency plans. I was used to living in places where we had Disaster Kits for tornadoes and blizzards, but for the first time we worried about the safety of our water supply. Bruce gave me an American flag lapel pin, which I wore to work – and my coworkers were jealous because those pins were in high demand but short supply.

I will never forget driving around our little suburb in the evening, seeing people standing on street corners waving American flags, and drivers honking in support as they went by.

I will also never forget how my multi-cultural office pulled together – coworkers who had come to the U.S. were so supportive of the United States, and they were appalled that someone would attack the U.S. in this way. The rest of us pulled together to support and protect our colleagues from abroad who might suffer angry backlash against “foreigners,” especially Muslims.

Everywhere we went people were kind to each other. People were gentler with each other. People were curious about each other and were willing to learn about and support those where were different – especially since we knew this wasn’t the case everywhere. People were united by their awareness of the fragility of life and how we depend on one another.

Slowly things calmed down, and we found a “new normal,” one that included new building security, new airport security, alerts, and wars on two fronts. It includes colleagues’ children going off to join the military, and new coworkers coming out of the military.

I will never forget the horror of that day. More than anything, though, I will never forget the sense of community and connectedness that blossomed during that time. But in many ways we forgot the heightened sensitivity of those days and how, for a time, we all felt closer. Many of us regained that sense of We’re All In This Together as a result of the economic challenges we are facing, and I am motivated by hope that we can maintain that sense of community without a disaster to drive it.

What Makes a Successful Community?

The Backstory

In a few days you will get to read the next installment in the Captains Curious series, which was written by creativity expert Connie Harryman. Connie and I became friends through our mutual involvement in an online community for Organization Development professionals, and we both serve on the Operations Team (the board) for this community.

Last night in our semi-monthly board meeting, Connie mentioned to the group that she had written a guest post for my blog, and she told the group that this was really a success for the community. It demonstrates the benefits of being an active participant in a community: We would never have met, much less become colleagues and friends, were it not for our active involvement with this group.

The Question

This got me thinking about communities (one of my favorite subjects). In particular, it got me thinking about them in a new way, with a question: What is “success” for a community?

I started thinking about the communities of which I am a part: Various online communities, two Master Mind groups, two business networking groups, a local community of coaches, the community of people who volunteer for the Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation, the community in which I live, various circles of friends, and my extended family. How would I gauge the “success” of each of those?

The Real Question
This raises a core question: How do we define “community?” This is a question I have been investigating for a couple of years.[1] Different people define “community” differently, but one consistent thread is that community members have something in common. In addition, communities often have a shared purpose.

So a Community Is Successful When…

So, it seems to me, one could assert that a community is “successful” to the extent that it achieves the goals that arise from that purpose, to the extent that it is true to its purpose.

In the case of the Global Brain Trust (see the first paragraph), part of its purpose is to help organization development professionals to connect, share knowledge and collaborate. Since it was the platform that allowed Connie and I to do that, her guest post for my blog is indeed a success for the community.

Surprise Benefits

This has me thinking about my other communities, and their purposes, and the extent to which they are “successful.” Which also has me thinking about the benefits of membership in a community, and how sometimes those benefits aren’t part of the stated purpose.

For example, the purpose of the Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation is to provide financial grants to cancer patients who are going through traditional treatments, so that they can pay for healing therapies that help them cope with the effects of those treatments (therapies that usually are not covered by insurance). Those of us who are part of the community of volunteers know that we are helping to achieve this purpose, and the higher purpose of making life better for cancer patients and their families. But there is another benefit, which I can’t really say is part of the purpose, but it certainly contributes to my desire to be a part of this community: I get to hang around and work with some of the most amazing, extraordinary people. And I have to say that is true for most of the other communities I choose to be a part of.

The surprise benefits, like that one, that come out of my participation in my various communities are the “secret destinations” in one of my favorite quotes:

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

The Purpose May Change

Sometimes the purpose may expand, or it may shift.

For example, one of the mastermind groups I participate in was formed by local people who had attended Marcia Wieder’s Become an Inspiring Speaker[2] program last fall. The initial purpose was to give us a forum to support one another in continuing to expand our skills as Speakers. Over time, the number of members shrank but the purpose expanded to include supporting one another in a variety of ways as we build our businesses. (And we have become very close.)

Although we tend to think of communities as being stable and grounded, they are not; they evolve, people come and go, and we are all fellow travelers in the best sense of the word.

Which leads me to another thought: Perhaps one higher purpose of all communities is to provide support of one kind or another to its members, and to facilitate support between members. It is this that makes it a community, not just a demographic.

Our Role

All of this has me thinking about my role in helping my communities to be successful. While some communities provide a safety net to members who cannot contribute, it is the mutual support and support of the community by its members that makes it possible for the community to support its members. A community is not a one-way channel to which its members are entitled.

So that’s what’s on my mind this morning: Gratitude to the people in the communities of which I am a part, and a reminder of the responsibility I share to help my communities – and the individuals in them – to thrive.

Questions for You

What communities are you a part of? What are their purposes? What benefits to do you receive – whether expected or unexpected? And how do you contribute to the health and success of your communities?

Back to Post [1] I have been interviewing people on this exact subject, so stay tuned. If you would like to help with the transcriptions, please contact me in the comments below or at susan at susantblake dot com.

Back to Post [2] Affiliate Link

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Two Old Women – A Parable

Once Upon a Time, two old women were abandoned by their tribe during a horribly long, bitter winter when the tribe did not have enough to eat. Members of the tribe did not want to do it, but they saw no other way to survive. There was not enough food to go around, and the old women slowed them down as they moved from place to place. There was much fear among tribe members – fear of the winter, fear of doing wrong, fear of starving, fear of cannibalism, fear of being left behind with the old women if they spoke up.

So no one spoke up.

The old women were aghast, and hurt, and angry. They could easily have given up, succumbed to self-pity and the cold.

But they did not.

The tribe did leave them their tent, the daughter of one of the women left strips of animal hide, and the grandson of one surreptitiously left them his hatchet. The old women decided to use these things, and the skills they had forgotten but once used regularly, to catch rabbits, build shelters and keep the coals of their fire alive. Despite their aches and pains and broken hearts, they moved to a new campsite and survived through to the next spring. They proceeded to build a comfortable shelter and stockpile dried fish, meat, and clothing made from the skins of the animals they had caught.

The two old women made a comfortable life for themselves, but they were quite wary of their former tribe members. They made sure that the place they chose for their winter home would be difficult to find, as they were afraid that the tribe would come back and steal what they had so carefully built over the summer.

The following winter, the tribe returned to the place where they had left the two old women. It was another difficult winter, and the tribe was nearly in as difficult a situation as they had been the previous year. They expected to find some evidence that the old women had died there, and were amazed – and hopeful – when they did not find that evidence. The chief, who had wrestled hard with the decision to abandon the old women, decided to do the right thing and sent his best scout and three hunters to search for the old women.

After a long search, the wise scout found the area where the two old women had established their camp. He smelled the faint smoke of their fire and called out to them.

Terrified, the two old women debated whether they should respond. They decided to face their fear and called back to the scout. The two old women shared some food with the four men, and they exchanged stories, warily.

The scout told the old women that the chief regretted leaving them behind and had sent him to find them, and that they meant them no harm. He also told them that the tribe was, once again, in dire straits and suffering great hardship.

The two old women again debated – what should they do? This was the tribe that had left them to die. Although they had more food than they could use by themselves, should they share?

The two old women recognized that they had the chance to do the right thing. Yet they also recognized that they were not ready for things to go back to the way they were.

They decided upon a compromise: They would share their wealth with the tribe, but they would maintain their separate camp. They had come to value their independence and relished the success they had made from reawakening and building upon their old skills.

In time, there were reconciliations and the two old women spent time with the young ones, teaching them the skills they had once forgotten, sharing their wisdom and enjoying new respect within the tribe.

*    *    *    *    *

I recently re-read this legend of the Athabascan Indians of the upper Yukon, which is movingly told by Athabascan writer Velma Wallis in the little book, Two Old Women. I was moved again by the many lessons this story has for us, lessons about fear, courage, perseverance, confidence, humility, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

But this time the story offered me another meaning. The last time I had read this story was long before the economic troubles that began in 2007, long before thousands of companies faced starvation and fear in the coming economic winter.

Two Old Women, I realized, is a parable for this time. It carries much food for thought: Millions of people were abandoned by their tribes during this winter, left to fend for themselves with only a hatchet and a few supplies – and their wits. For many there have been unexpected benefits – new skills, rediscovered skills, opportunities for independence. For many there has been malnutrition and frostbite on many levels. For some there has been reconciliation. For most things will never be the same.

What lessons do you take from this parable? What role would be yours in this story?

I was one of the tribe members, until I became one of the old women. I am pleased to say that I have survived – and thrived. I will also never be the same, and I am glad.

What about you? The story is not over; what role do you play, and do you wish to change it? Is reconciliation possible? If so, what shape should it take?

Note: I do not tell the story of the two old women and their people nearly as well as Velma Wallis. I encourage you to get a copy of Two Old Women and let this fine storyteller weave her tale for you.

Photo Credit: Ian Britton,

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