Tag Archives | Connectedness

Hallway Angel

It had been a long week, and it was only Wednesday.

A week of highs and lows. Of time spent with the horses, of wonderful, uplifting, encouraging conversations.

And. A week of conversations that made me think, If I am ever in another Relationship I have so much to learn, so much work to do on myself, so much I want to do differently.

A week of looking in the mirror and thinking, I’m not young anymore. I have lines on my face I didn’t have before. And they’re not laugh lines. I’m not pretty. No one will ever love me again.

(I’ve gotten pretty good, over the years, at not indulging in negative self-talk. But I succumbed. And I noticed.)

Like I said. It had been a long week. And it was only Wednesday.

But on this Wednesday I had gone into The City for the monthly meeting of coaches and, as always, it filled me up.

I was standing in the hallway outside the hotel’s restrooms, waiting for a friend to come out so we could walk together to the train station. Standing, not thinking, just basking in the afterglow of a really good meeting with friends and colleagues and a speaker who had given me a lot to ponder.

I looked up from my pondering, and there was a man standing in front of me.

“Excuse me,” he said, “but I just had to tell you. Even from across the room. You’re beautiful.”

I gaped at him.

“Really,” he went on. “Stunning.”

I’m talking to an angel, I thought.

“This isn’t a pick-up,” he hurried to add. “I’m here with a date. I just had to tell you.”

“Thank you,” I managed to say. “I appreciate that.”

“You are, you know. Really. Beautiful.” I could smell alcohol, he had clearly come out of the bar, not out of our meeting, and was headed for the restrooms. I’d never seen him before. Maybe the angel took on the smell of alcohol to make himself seem real, I thought. Or maybe the alcohol made it easy for the angel to nudge him to action. Either way, it was exactly what I needed to hear.

“Thank you,” I said again. “I really appreciate that.”

Thank you, Angel. Whoever you are.

Take notice, the next time one of your angels whispers in your ear and nudges you to be an angel for someone else.
Are you willing to let yourself be nudged?

Image courtesy of papaija2008 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


It has been one of the most humbling yet uplifting times of my life.

And the word that keeps coming up?


It is a word with several meanings.

One is connected to being “graceful,” the opposite of being clumsy.

Another is related to being “gracious,” which I think of as being kind, polite, warm.

Yet another is the blessing that is said before a meal, sometimes recited from memory, sometimes made up in the moment.

There is also the mystical idea of grace. Growing up in a fairly religious family, and taking theology classes in college, I heard phrases like “state of grace” and “grace is a gift.”

But what does that mean?

Well, two times in my life I have (consciously) experienced it. And, in my experience, grace is laced with irony. And it is, like the song says, amazing.

Ironic because it is humbling without being humiliating. Humbling, yet exalting. And amazing because… well, you’ll see.

The Story

My path began shifting earlier this year, in many ways. Most were delightful. Others, not so much. After a breakthrough year with my business, I suddenly found myself at the end of this summer not being able to “close” any new clients and not being able to support myself. A humbling – humiliating – admission for a business coach.

I had been planning to move as part of the shift in direction that has been growing over the last six months, but being forced to move – for financial reasons – was not part of my plan.

My Plan.

Sigh. “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon


I fought the situation for as long as I could, until I finally surrendered and put out the call for help. And when I did surrender and put out the call, I was amazed. (I told this story to a friend, and he said, “Because no one responded?” No.)

Amazed because people came out of the woodwork in response. To help.

I received four offers of places to live. People showed up to help me prepare for a Moving Sale. They showed up to run the moving sale. They showed up to buy things. They brought food, they brought coffee. They brought boxes. They showed up to help me pack. They showed up to help me move. They took me to lunch, they took me to dinner, and they plied me with margaritas. And every time I was about to dissolve into a puddle of tears (like when I sold my plants and the fountain I built), someone was there with a hug.

Some people showed up for a couple of hours. Some people showed up over and over. Some people sent emails of encouragement, or cards. Prayers were offered on my behalf. People did what they could do, even if it was just send love. And that was enough.


I surrendered, and asked for help, and help appeared.

It wasn’t the help I originally wanted.

It was better.


The day of the Big Move, ten people came just to help me move! That night, four of those friends took me to dinner. One of them looked at me and said, “A lot of people showed up to help you.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You have a lot of Friends,” he said.”

“Yes, I do,” I whispered.

“You’re very lucky,” he said.*

“Yes, I am,” I whispered with tears in my eyes. (*Actually, I don’t remember exactly what he said, because I was crying. But it was something to that effect.)

Help appeared.

So much help I could never have imagined it. And no one said, “You should have,” or “You ought to…” They did ask questions about my plans, and make suggestions, but there was no judgment, no looking down on me.

They just showed up. To Help. They lifted me up and carried me through. And what could have been a messy dropped motorcycle on the highway of life, with a bad case of road rash, turned into… a gift.

But I had to surrender first. And ask for help.

And help arrived. Help that was unexpected, and unearned. Help that reminded me that we are all connected.

That is Grace.

It would be easy to say that help was undeserved, but I believe we all deserve it. We are not entitled to it, and we don’t earn it. But we are deserving.

Help that is unearned, yet deserved. We all deserve it. Because we are all One.

Humbling and uplifting.

That is Grace.

Grace is a gift. A gift is not an exchange, as someone recently said to me. Grace delivers gifts that are not earned, even if we have worked hard, and for which the only payment we can make is to Pay It Forward.


Many doors have been opened to me, so many that I get to choose which are most true to the new path I am on. I don’t know where this path is taking me, exactly, but that’s OK. I get to make choices that strengthen good choice-making muscles. I now have two jobs in addition to my coaching, jewelry making, photography, and writing. I am living with a generous and delightful host. I am being introduced to people who can open additional doors.

I had to surrender and allow the decks to be cleared for something new to come in.

And for a new appreciation of something I already had to come in.

Saying Grace

Today when I say Grace, it has a whole new meaning.

Thank you for the many people who have blessed my life. Thank you for the opportunity keep learning and not be stuck, and not be trainwrecked. Thank you for adventure. Thank you for a roof over my head, for health, for laughter, for Connection. Thank you for music, and for play, and the opportunity to work, and for people to share all of this with. Thank you for all the blessings in my life, those I have worked hard for and for those I did not earn but came to me anyway. Thank you for opportunities to pay it forward, for awareness to see those opportunities. Thank you for memories, and for clean slates. May I have the opportunity to be a blessing for others as others have blessed my life.

Thank you all. May you enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving, and may you have the opportunity to say Grace every day.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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?

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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Image: xedos4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Captains Curious: The Curiousity Revolution

“Let’s just say I was testing the bounds of reality. I was curious to see what would happen. That’s all it was: Curiosity.” ~ Jim Morrison

Princeton’s WordNet defines curious as “eager to investigate and learn or learn more.” It’s a pleasant word, provoking images of a child’s wondering at butterflies or a puppy peeking into a barn door. It means we want to know more, learn more, see more and experience more.

Curiosity was not always a desirable trait

However, curiosity was not always a desirable or even forgivable trait.

  • Its roots lie in words such as Latin’s curiosus meaning “inquiring eagerly, meddlesome” and the Old French word curios meaning “solicitous, anxious, inquisitive.”
  • Some circles used the word curious to mean “pornographic, vulgar, indecent.” Not necessarily a bad thing in my book but safe to assume they did not intend it as a compliment.
  • Phrases such as “Curiosity killed the cat” were designed to discourage a child’s natural state of being.

Breaking down walls

As a modern culture, we began to break down these walls to curiosity in the 1960s. People no longer accepted being spoon-fed information. They wanted to learn more, to know more.

Parents began teaching their children to ask more questions and discover different truths. New spiritual beliefs and grass-roots politics sprung up all around.

Snooze button

This was a temporary blip, a brief awakening before hitting the snooze button in the 80’s and 90’s. But our fifteen minutes now seem to be up.

All around us, people are finally beginning to rub their eyes, let out a good yawn and stretch. We are reawakening our curiosity. We’re looking to each other, trying to recollect our interconnectedness and truer purposes.

A quiet revolution

There is a quiet revolution happening today. It’s not political. It’s not religious. It’s not trying to save the environment, fight drugs or obliterate disease. It’s not going to start wars or take down authority.

It is simply a revolution of curiosity.

  • What can I create?
  • How can I help people?
  • Can I make this a better place?
  • How can I have an impact on the world?

These are the questions I see people asking themselves. Everyday and everywhere I look I see people reviving their curiosity…not just about their worlds but, more importantly, about themselves.

Instead of accepting the limitations they’ve been told exist, people are starting to ask real questions about what they are truly capable of achieving.

And it’s these simple questions, and this simple curiosity, that have the power to change our world forever.


As an afterthought, Susan asked me to discuss what I am curious about and how this “curiosity revolution” I wrote about has affected me. While I’m hard-pressed to think of anything I’m not curious about, most of all I think it is to see where this new train of consciousness is heading.

This curiosity revolution has inspired me to create new businesses, to learn and write about new topics and meet new people. It has motivated me to strive harder towards making a positive impact with everything I do. There is a sense not of urgency but of great importance right now. I find it extremely exciting and invigorating.

And it has also made me madly curious about you! I want to know what your dreams are. How you hope to change the world. What you want to learn more about, know more about and experience more. Will you share these things with me?

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I’m Jenny B, proud owner, operator and resident goddess of Up Your Impact Factor where we uncover how to use our words to change our world.

Tweet up with me on Twitter, subscribe to the Spice Up Your Shite newsletter or just stop by to say hi!

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Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

A Novel Approach to Diversity

I just finished devouring the latest novel by one of my favorite authors, Robin McKinley (Beauty, Sunshine, The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword, Chalice, Dragonhaven, etc.). She writes primarily in the “fantasy” and “young adult” genres and this novel, Pegasus, is no exception to her marvelous track record.

I enjoy McKinley’s novels on several levels – so much so that there are a few I go back to repeatedly and re-read (specifically Sunshine and The Blue Sword). She creates different worlds in which we are immersed, with galleries of important characters. I never want her books to come to an end, ejecting me back into my own world, and I find myself having flashbacks to certain moments and events and wondering what is behind the curtain of reality in this world. (If those aren’t signs of a good novel, I don’t know what is.)

Her stories are not just adventures filled with mythical creatures, magic and battles (usually involving swords), they are psychological novels with emotional voyages of discovery.

It occurred to me as I was reading Pegasus that there is a common theme that runs through my favorite McKinley tales: Her heroes often find themselves thrown into situations with a Mysterious Other that is either misunderstood or demonized by the hero’s culture. The hero, through the unfolding of a relationship with a particular individual, begins to realize that there is more to the Others than originally believed and that at least some of the Conventional Wisdom about those Others is either incomplete, dead wrong, or simply cannot be applied to all individuals. Through curiosity and being willing to set aside natural revulsion to (or fear of) what is different, the hero begins to see the Other in a new light (and often ends up being changed in the process). Of course, this is done at the risk of being ostracized by the hero’s own culture.

McKinley’s heroes are repeatedly confronted by individual Others who do not match the portraits that have been painted of them as a group, and the hero comes to the question, “If this is not true about them, then what else is different than I’ve been told? What IS true?” And they are faced with a choice between retreating into comfortable myths and exploring for themselves.

At the same time, the heroes often find that there are Bad Guys among their own kind, further blurring the previously simple structures of right and wrong, safe and dangerous.

It takes courage for McKinley’s characters to follow their curiosity. Even though they are thrust into situations they did not choose, they do face choices throughout their stories, and it is their struggles with those choices that really are the stories.

We are not faced with dragons, vampires, Beasts, or flying horses, or even desert nomads with magical powers. But we do face the same choices every day: Am I willing to question the Conventional Wisdom about those who are different from me? Am I willing to question the stories I make up myself? Am I willing to acknowledge but not blindly accept the danger signals from my lizard brain? Am I willing to rock the safe and secure boat of unquestioned “knowledge?”

Our dragons, vampires and pegasi are all human. But they are of different colors, cultures, and economic strata. They are the younger – or older – co-workers and family members who just look at the world differently. They are those departments down the hall that make it difficult to get our work done.

It takes courage to connect with the Other, to be curious and step out of our comfort zones and into the unknown. This is the edge of chaos, where things change, where our worldviews change, where we change.

McKinley’s heroes may not acquire riches as a result of their choices, but they do discover richness beyond their wildest dreams.

As can we all.

Who are the dragons, vampires and Beasts you have faced – or face? How does curiosity help? Please leave a comment (and give me something to read while I wait for Pegasus II).

A Modern-Day Barn Raising

I recently had a remarkable experience.

A dear friend of mine is going through a significant life change, and she sent out the call for friends to come and help her reorganize her home. So a handful of her friends and relations gathered to divide and conquer the task of helping her create a new home life.

As she explained when she showed us her project list – from which we got to pick what was most interesting or best fit our skills – when she made her list, she looked at it and realized it would take forever to do it alone. She felt overwhelmed. So she called for help. Which was, as one of her friends said, a brave (and wise) thing to do.

So each of us picked a project. The kitchen was reorganized, the office/guestroom/dumping-ground became a meditation room/guestroom/office, the living room and dining room were reorganized. Furniture was redistributed or repurposed, art was hung, and electronics were hooked up.

Sometimes we worked alone, and sometimes we teamed up. There was a lot of collaborating – What if we moved this over there? Could this go in the other room? Could you hold this level while I mark the wall? – and a lot of laughter.

Part of what was so remarkable was that people brought themselves and their skills, but left their egos at home. Another was the unspoken idea that if you were a friend of hers, you must be OK. I felt quite honored to be included in that. Everyone was interesting, and everyone was interested. I only knew two people when I arrived, but I felt like I had several new friends when I left.

The idea of the “barn raising” is an old one, rooted in the fabric of what makes communities work. We go with a primary purpose in mind but, as so often happens in life, we often end up receiving as well as giving.

What did I receive? Aside from the new friends that I met, and the sense of pleasure and satisfaction I get when I think of my friend looking happily around her “new” home, my sense of wonder was refreshed. Wonder at the openness, generosity and curiosity of her friends. Wonder at this little community (one of my favorite subjects) of which I am a part – a community whose uniting factor was our friend, as well as the values we share.

I’m sitting here thinking about this story, and my recent posts, wondering about the threads that connect them. The threads that jump out at me are not only the way the people that day were curious about each other, but also the unexpected gifts I received by showing up and being open. Back to Martin Buber and his quote that I love: “Every journey has secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

Do you practice noticing things like that?

Can Webinars Ever Replace In-Person Training?

Although the technology and platforms for teleconferences, webinars and online meetings have improved dramatically in the recent past (Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, and Facilitate.com are just a few examples), the question still comes up: Can virtual training and meetings ever replace the in-person experience?

The answer is, of course, “No.” Before you proponents of virtual meetings begin howling, however, let me say that I also support and use these new technologies. These tools have made it possible for people from around the globe connect and participate in meetings and training that they would otherwise not have access to, and they have allowed me to build relationships with colleagues whom I have never met – in person, that is. I have colleagues with whom I have formed virtual relationships in Pakistan, Spain, Belgium, and Switzerland, not to mention Maryland and South Carolina. I marvel – and am grateful – that this is even possible.

Granted, virtual meeting rooms present certain challenges: It can be difficult to obtain visual clues about how event participants are feeling, their level of engagement, or even who is speaking or wants to speak. It is not only difficult but impossible to engage in the physical actions that contribute to relationship building: Signs of respect such as a handshake, a bow, a kiss on both cheeks, and signs of support and affection such as a hug or even a pat on the shoulder or back. It is also far more challenging to sit on a conference call for eight hours than to sit in a room with a group of people for eight hours.

These gaps can make not only participation and facilitation challenging but can also inhibit valuable bonding and expressions of respect. These challenges require new processes to bridge those gaps and even new etiquette.

It has been very interesting for me to participate in and to help plan a variety of webinars in the last year, and I have observed a lot of creative uses of technology to replace in-person interactions, such as:

  • Using “chat” features to give participants the opportunity to introduce themselves;
  • Using those same “chat” features and “raise hand” features to allow participants to submit questions;
  • Using polling to gather feedback and test knowledge; and
  • Using discussion forums to provide participants with an opportunity to interact with one other between and after sessions while digging into and reinforcing the material presented.

A prime example is the new series of courses being presented by Michael F. Broom of The Center for Human Systems. Michael and his colleague, Edie Seashore, have for years been presenting a variety of in-person programs ranging from short workshops to their multi-session Triple Impact Practitioners Program. These programs have been very popular with their participants, but even these in-person programs have a downside: It is challenging for people in all but a few locations to get to them, and it is challenging for the presenters to get to all of the locations where there are people who want to attend.

For this reason, Michael is launching “Making OD Work[1], a new series of courses that will be conducted virtually using a combination of technologies. The webinars will be conducted using conferencing software that allows for visual presencing by participants with web cams, presentation of audio-visual aids by the presenter(s), dialogue between the presenter and participants, chat between the presenter, the participants, and subgroups, and small-group breakout sessions. Between webinars, participants will have in-depth discussions via private discussion group software – making possible the deeper exploration of topics, enhanced learning, and relationship building that are hallmarks of in-person events.

Are such events the same as the in-person experience? Of course not. Do they allow for the same duration and intensity as the in-person experience? No. But in this age where the world is getting smaller and smaller and yet we are still often thousands of miles apart, these technologies are making meeting, learning and bonding possible in ways that we could only dream of a few years ago.

What new processes and etiquette would you like to propose to enhance effectiveness and engagement in virtual events?

[1] In the interest of full disclosure, I am a part of the team that has been developing and promoting this program.

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