ParadoxEdge™


Since either paradox or edge alone can provide more fun than anyone can stand (see November 2 and October 26 posts), the opportunities they might provide together may border on the sublime. Or the ridiculous.

Every paradox carries with it an edge—the tensions that arise when holding apparent contradictions simultaneously.  Working on, at or with a particular edge inevitably brings us to, and requires us to work with, some paradox—an often disconcerting, frustrating and apparently irreconcilable set of facts or opinions.

Holding the paradox at our personal or professional edge requires the move from “either/or to both/and” perspectives. I believe those quoted words are overused and that they’re appropriate here. Your particular worldview and state of mind will determine how you respond to them along the continuum from, “du-uh, tell me something I don’t already know,” to “the prospect of ‘both/and’ simply can’t apply to what I’m dealing with right now.” Either response can be appropriate. Both are valid. And both are incomplete.

Half a lifetime ago I heard a gifted educator say publicly that he was both “pro-choice and pro-life” regarding abortion. My immediate inner response was that I aspired to what he said, but didn’t know how or if it was possible—I felt a powerful tension. His statement made sense to me, and in the moment I heard it, I did not know and was unable to feel how to manifest that sense. I was unable to hold the paradox.

I could, and won’t, write pages here about intention, language, meaning-making, context, and the respective blessings and curses of the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” positions. What I will say is that holding the “pro-choice/pro-life” paradox, once an apparently impossible task for me, is now a “comfortable” and essential worldview that embraces and transcends the dug-in positions on both sides of the issue and honors the underlying intentions of each—for me.

Holding paradox does not necessarily (and usually won’t) resolve an issue. What it does is open us up to a broader, deeper and more complex view of some person, issue, the world and/or ourselves—from which we are able to see and feel into more perspectives than we previously thought we could, behave in ways that had not previously occurred to us, and produce truly inspired outcomes.

Edge

What is your current edge? What is that border you’re not sure you can or should cross, or that place, circumstance, issue or event that arouses in you a palpable sense of discomfort? Whether you’re on edge, on the edge, at the edge, trying to avoid going over the edge, or trying take the edge off, the edge is inevitably intense—where things, and you, can truly change. It’s where you can feel simultaneously stuck, passionate, scared, smart, depressed, stupid, exhilarated and lost because the status quo is no longer effective. It’s both the point at which the flowing river becomes the roaring waterfall and your horizontal boat turns vertical, and where you’re through the worst rapids and enter the calm, tranquil waters that will finally bring your journey to fruition.

You, your team, your organization and your industry each has its own edge, the demarcation between today and tomorrow—this moment and the next. Some individuals and groups seek, and thrive at, their respective edges—willing to risk what’s familiar for what’s neither certain nor known, and others avoid their edges at all costs—more comfortable with the devil they know than with the greener grass in their neighbor’s yard. Still others teeter on the edge of horribly mixed metaphors.

The edge is unavoidable, present in every developmental move through infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood and the defining events therein: new families, jobs, promotions and initiatives, new homes, cities and cultures. The essential, foundational edge that accompanies every turning point, dividing line, and border is that edge, the crossing of which both allows and requires you to experience yourself and the world through broader, deeper and more complex lenses than you previously thought possible, and to do this again and again.

At ParadoxEdge™, Steve Benson, Kent Frazier and I explore our respective edges, and we’re ready to learn with you how to explore yours. Our coaching and training programs are designed to learn how your current worldview both serves and limits you, and work with you at your edge to develop in a way that keeps what serves, transcends what limits and allows you to adapt to increasingly complex circumstances.

If that sounds worthwhile, contact us. We’ll explore how you function and if we’re a fit.

Paradox

It’s just a matter of time until your network is up to 400G and cutting edge capsules, geltabs and podpads will have sent your current iPad or other over-the-counter tablet the way of rotary phones and wars to end all wars. The volume of information, the speed at which you can access it, and the amount of work you’re expected to do with it continue to increase exponentially. Leadership gurus and self-proclaimed sanity savers of every ilk appear armed with the antidote to all this speed and information: slow down, be present to other human beings, do one thing at a time – the mythic, 20th-century multitasking god has fallen from the sky. Huh?

Speed up more effectively by slowing down? Get more done by doing one thing at a time? What’s next, trying to optimize the bottom line by actually caring about colleagues, clients and customers rather than using their deeply held desires and dilemmas as leverage points to get your way or close the deal?

We believe that the ability to hold paradox—to simultaneously understand, honor and act on apparently contradictory information, goals and strategies—is an essential tool, among others, for successful adults in the 21st century. We act on that belief every day, and it works.

Oh, you say, your situation is unique—no one really understands the level of contradiction that renders resolution of your current dilemma impossible to imagine, much less enact. Well, prior to 2000 you couldn’t carry thousands of songs and photos in your pocket; prior to 1969 no one had walked on the moon (as far as we know); and prior to 1920 women were ineligible to vote in the land of the free. There are more examples, but you get the idea.

What is impossible is holding paradox within the framework of a worldview that believes holding paradox is impossible. It’s okay to reread that.

Our coaching and training programs are designed to learn how your current worldview both serves and limits you, and work with you to develop a new one that keeps what serves, transcends what limits, and allows you to adapt to increasingly complex circumstances.

Steve Benson, Kent Frazier and I are pleased to introduce our partnership. Click on the logo below or above to visit our temporary web page.

Familiarity, Timing and the Art of Teaching

Charles M. Blow’s September 2 Op-ed column in the New York Times, In Honor of Teachers,” brought back memories and motivated me to revisit a piece of writing that has appeared, most recently, I believe, in 2005, in various iterations on opinion pages since 1978.

Here it is, again—new and improved for 2011:

How have members of a noble profession found themselves so maligned, and, when compared with many other professions, so poorly paid? The complex answer is at least partially rooted in familiarity, timing and the art of teaching.

Teaching is the most familiar profession. Everyone deals with teachers in elementary, middle and high school.

If familiarity breeds contempt, it’s easier to find fault with and criticize teachers after 12 years of ongoing contact than it is after only occasional dealings with other professionals.

Teachers affect us while we’re going through the challenges of childhood and trials of adolescence, when we think we know it all, but when we know very little – at most, less than we ever will again. They give us work to do when we would rather be doing something else.

Most other professionals provide services that help us with specific, limited problems. We go to them for help when we think we need their expertise; we go to teachers when we’re told to in order to learn everything our culture and society believe we need to know in our early years.

Our perception of the student-teacher relationship is often one of forced compliance. Teachers require that we read, write essays, solve equations, interpret history, experiment with science, learn to think for ourselves, speak in public, and behave appropriately whether we want to or not (feel free to add anything I left out of that list).

The salary issue is a direct result of the perception that some adults, many of whom still rely on basic skills developed during those first 12 years of formal schooling, have of teachers’ worth and importance. This perception results directly from the above-mentioned familiarity and timing.

We create a cycle: Teachers “harass” us while we’re young. We perceive them as necessary evils rather than the door openers they are. Who cares if they’re respected or well paid?

“What about the lousy teachers?” you ask. “We have to admit there are lousy teachers.”

Absolutely. They’re out there with the lousy doctors, lawyers, accountants and nurses, and with the second-, third-, and cut-rate politicians, police officers, plumbers, cashiers, truck drivers, salespeople and telemarketers.

You name it, and someone, somewhere is doing it poorly. That’s humanity, not teachers.

Although, if we consistently gave them the compensation and respect they deserve, rather than leave to take jobs that pay more in order to feed their families, more good teachers would stay in the classroom.

Who knows? Children might grow up with healthier minds, bodies and value systems, thus lessening the crime, broken families and war that result from unbalanced beings. Law enforcement officers, soldiers, therapists and doctors might get to do more preventive and less remedial work, encouraging positive behavior and health, rather than “repairing” negative.

Of course, many excellent teachers choose to stay in education despite the money and the misconceptions. While they know the science behind learning, they recognize the art of teaching as well.

Their palettes, in addition to the subject matter, include a heart of humor, a mound of morality, an abundance of ethics, a canister of communication, an understanding of understanding, a dose of discipline, an order of authority, a lot of love and a genuine interest in civilization and the responsibility that all children shoulder as they grow in their attempts to continue it.

That’s a tall order, but every teacher who understands the true meaning of his or her title believes that the children are worth it.

Still not convinced? Walk into a room of 25 first-, seventh- or twelfth-graders. Teach them for a year (sorry, a one- or two-day visit without any responsibility won’t cut it).

Some of the students you meet are academically gifted, some have severe learning difficulties, some love school, some abhor it, some are abused or ignored at home, some are loved, some horribly spoiled.

Some first-graders can read a bit and write some words or sentences. Others cannot read at all, and a few have no concept of the alphabet.

The seventh-graders are caught, physically, emotionally and intellectually, between childhood and young adulthood. Their bodies, minds and hearts are in flux and often on fire.

The twelfth-graders are facing work, war or college in a year, some lack basic literacy and mathematical skills, and most can argue at least as well as you can, regardless of who’s right or wrong.

In varying degrees among the grades, some are atheists, some agnostic, some nominally religious, and some guided strongly by religion. Some hunger to learn, and some see no value in school.

Some embrace their parents’ conservative, moderate or liberal views, and some are rebelling against their parents and everything else that crosses their paths.

Some smell bad, and some are impeccable. Some dress in such a way that you’d like to fail their parents for letting them out of the house—but you recognize that that’s as much about your taste and values as theirs.

Some will be easy to like, and some, it seems, will be impossible to tolerate. Some have drinking or drug problems. One has had an abortion and another may soon, but you don’t know who they are yet. Either one of them might open up to you if she feels safe.

You must provide all of them what they need to learn within their respective learning needs and styles, at their current developmental levels across multiple intelligences. You might have once believed that everyone learns the way you do, but you were wrong, so you have to do whatever it takes to reach each kid, not where you wish he or she were, but where he or she actually is.

You go home frustrated at times when you do your best and come up short; guilty at times when you feel you haven’t done your best; and elated at times—when hard work, luck, grace, and openness intersect in the moment.

Some observers will judge your competence based on standardized tests that assume the individual children you teach are identical assembly-line products. Some parents support you wholeheartedly, especially with the first-graders; some show a passing interest; some you never see; and some treat you with disdain.

You work 45-60 hours a week (if you have to ask, ask a teacher), you have papers to grade and lessons to plan over Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring breaks, and you enrich your own skills and knowledge over the summer across both specific content and developmental issues.

You understand fully what you do, and you won’t complain. But you won’t be a doormat either.

You teach.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Everything.

That’s the short answer. Of course, you’re probably wondering what the antecedent to that final, ambiguous “It” is, and the answer is, well, everything.

See if you can find yourself in one, two or all three of these views of love:

From M.Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled: Love is: “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

From Brother David Steindl-Rast, in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: Love is “the joyful acceptance of” or, stated differently, “a wholehearted ‘yes’ to” belonging.

And from A Course in Miracles: “Love is the absence of fear.”

So whether you’re currently paying attention to personal, familial, local, national and/or global issues, and whether you believe the weather, the economy, the government, the collective unconscious and/or the local cable TV programming is where the essential action of your life is, the question remains: What’s love got to do with it?

Imagine joyfully accepting—saying a wholehearted “yes” to yourself—your body, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, values, behaviors…all of you. And then imagine clearly seeing any emotions, thoughts, beliefs, values and behaviors that are grounded in fear, and exploring that fear in its most subtle, nuanced manifestations, seeing it for what it is and is not, and gradually, when it feels okay to do so, letting it go.

Imagine next that you have the will to, and actually do, act courageously, take some risk—extend yourself so that you may continue to develop, evolve and emerge into an increasingly comprehensive, inclusive and balanced view of the world.

Can you stand it? You feel as though you belong in a larger, deeper, more complex way than ever before. Your past fears are transformed and clarified—perhaps even reduced or eliminated. And you’re willing to commit to doing the work required for an ever-deepening sense of belonging, an ever-clarifying relationship with fear, and an awe-inspiring intention to do what has to be done for your own spiritual growth.*

Now imagine extending this sense of belonging, letting go of fear, and willingness to act courageously beyond yourself, first to the familiar, and then to perceived strangers, competitors, opponents, scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells—not in the sense of agreeing with or endorsing every agenda and worldview, but with the intention and ability to accept it as it is in this moment.

Love is something like that—albeit both infinitely simpler and extraordinarily more complex.

Stay tuned.

*As I use it here, “spiritual growth” refers to increasing clarity into true identity—who you think you are.

Immunity to Change Washington Rules

In their most recent book, Immunity to Change (2009), Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey demonstrate that each of us has a psychological and behavioral “immune system” that resists specific change—even and especially change we feel committed to—much the same way our physiological immune systems resist specific change in our bodies. Briefly, we behave in ways that obstruct our conscious commitments to change because we have hidden competing commitments that are deeply important to our sense of safety. If we’re willing to do some work, we can uncover some big assumptions we hold (also hidden) that underlie the hidden commitments that lead to the bewildering behaviors that thwart our attempts change.

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In “Slow Learner,” the introduction to his most recent book, Washington Rules (2010), Andrew Bacevich shares with us his own two-decade-plus assumption-testing journey.  No small act, and while not overtly engaged in Kegan and Lahey’s process, Professor Bacevich’s courageous disclosures evince a level of deepening self-awareness and complexity that speak to his own, each of our, and our country’s immunity to, and prospects for, change.

Bacevich, a West Point and Princeton educated, retired U.S. Army Colonel, Vietnam veteran, Boston University professor, author, and father of four—including First Lieutenant Andrew John Bacevich, killed in action in Iraq, May 13, 2007, begins: “Worldly ambition inhibits true learning. Ask me, I know. A young man in a hurry is nearly uneducable….Only as ambition wanes does education become a possibility” (1).

He continues:
By temperament and upbringing, I had always taken comfort in orthodoxy. In a life spent subject to authority, deference had become a deeply ingrained habit. I found assurance in conventional wisdom. Now I started, however hesitantly, to suspect that orthodoxy might be a sham. I began to appreciate that authentic truth is never simple…. The powerful, I came to see, reveal truth only to the extent that it suits them….

I came to these obvious points embarrassingly late in life….And so, at age forty-one, I set out, in halting and haphazard fashion, to acquire a genuine education.

Twenty years later I’ve made only modest progress. (3-4)

My reading is that the author’s “genuine education” calls for a relentless and inevitably discomfiting examination of current worldview (i.e. assumptions) and consequent behaviors; holding them up alongside observable events in the manifest world; discerning among worldviews that are factual, ideological, and assumptive; and doing the ongoing work required to bring and keep one’s way of seeing and being in the world into alignment with “authentic truth”—observable events in any given moment and set of circumstances. No easy task, but an invaluable one.

Bacevich’s writing, in this volume and in his earlier work, embodies an evenhanded, fierce wisdom, a continually deepening self-awareness, and an increasingly comprehensive perspective that exposes and deconstructs the foreign, military and economic policy posturings of both political parties in the United States since the end of World War II.

As he continues to challenge assumptions—his own, his government’s, and ours, his personal story is an exemplar for change, and his historical-political voice is essential in the national and global conversations on sustainability.  

Hostage, Solution and Field of View

Often, when we’re stuck, our current field of view may be limiting what we can see, and therefore, what we can do. At other times, what we currently (habitually) do limits our field of view.

When we’re held hostage by our worldview and our behavior, it’s sometimes tempting and occasionally appropriate to learn a new set of skills or technical competencies. More often, we need to develop a new way of seeing and behaving–we need to develop ourselves in a way that expands what we’re aware of and consequently able to do, rather than adding to our technical skills. Instead of our inventory getting larger, our field of view does.

I am currently working with leaders who are committed to working with a sense of “stuckness” as a developmental opportunity.

For another way to express this, see the poem immediately below.

The Sniper

THE SNIPER
-for Anne Marie Marra, 1953-2009, and for the
promise of ever-deepening and broadening fields
of view for the hostage taker, hostage, sniper and
solution each of us is from moment to moment.

breathes deep,
slow,
squints through the
scope,
truth
in the cross-hairs,
the solution,
precisely committed
to freeing the hostage.

Last resort,
attainable horizon, not
a solution, but

the

solution when
negotiation or
hard work             fails
or        takes
too
long.

If only it were that easy,
held hostage as we are—
bliss and rage, reason
and myth,
memory,

all of them,
always them, without
which
we might see
clearly
find freedom.

Who was the
sniper for the pain
that held you hostage?

What did she see,
or not, through
that narrow scope
before she squeezed the
trigger—

another option
perhaps, just outside
her field of view,
a hair away from
your final
solution.

We all
play each role—
taker, hostage, sniper—
moment-to moment holding,
held, setting free.
Problem and solution.

We love the
scope, the crosshair’s
promise, at times
too          slow,
or quick
to squeeze
the trigger,

release

the solution’s
allure and
terror.

Copyright © 2011 by Reggie Marra

Your Authentic Game: Fairways, Hazards and Lies

Despite your formidable drive and iron will, rough spots and late-day fades are par for the course. You get hooked, find yourself wedged in traps and often left holding the bag.

Decades ago your family, along with the community, marketplace and culture-at-large, replaced your authentic game with a substitute so you’d play their game on the course they built. They did this with the best of intentions—to protect you and help you succeed in the way that they knew. They broke down every nuance of your stance, grip, swing and attitude, and influenced everything from your shoes and clubs to your rain gear and balls. You responded by repressing or acting out your emotions—or both, closing down parts of your game, building barriers, and enacting strategies to defend the little authenticity you had left.

You now excel at the substitute game and yearn for what you lost. The good news is that though your authentic game is hidden, it’s not lost, and you can reclaim it. It’s buried amid a maze of words, images, secrets, opinions, habits, worldviews, lists, best practices, only-things, how-to’s, to-do’s, videos and voodoos that promise to iron out every wrinkle and eliminate every bogey man in your particular slice of life. As you know, nothing in the maze ever truly makes the final cut. 

It is your responsibility alone to recover your authentic game. No one can do this for you. You’ll have to work skillfully, drop conditioned defenses, remove barriers, and see the substitute game for what it is—someone else’s. Recovering your authenticity requires rigorous, gentle attention to every course and hole you play, every club you choose and every shot you take—as well as your deepest response to each of these, on and off the course, in each and every moment.

Recovery may call you to explore your spirituality or a deeper awareness of your physical body. It might inquire into your core beliefs and values, your emotions, moral strategies, or relationships. Rigorous, gentle attention will guide and serve you well wherever you are—within the realms of art, business, teaching, service, laughter, nature, family, and governance, among many, many others.  Who knows where your authentic game might emerge? It’s yours: no one-size-fits-all is available.

You play your authentic game in that space in which you unconditionally accept every shot you take, while wholeheartedly and deeply immersed within each shot’s every nuance. You play in the paradox of letting the ball land where it lands—completely free from any desire for it to be elsewhere, while your mind and heart break wide open—with joy as it drops into the cup, or with disbelief when it sinks to sleep with Luca Brasi and the fishes. Neither of these—wisdom’s infinite freedom nor compassion’s deep fullness—suffices. You need both. Your authentic game requires that you play every hole with and as this paradox—wisdom and compassion, freedom and fullness.

Integral Coaching® and the programs I offer provide a framework that will help you see your current game. We’ll honor and keep what works, release what no longer serves, and develop the muscles you need for sustainable growth. You’ll practice accountability and forgiveness, especially with yourself. You’ll engage your stance, grip, swing and shot with fierce gentleness. You’ll embrace paradox and catch yourself in both games—substitute and authentic—especially with those you love. You’ll definitely laugh and probably cry. You’ll keep paying attention. You’ll expand your awareness and transform your intentions.

Copyright © 2011 by Reggie Marra
All rights reserved.

Integral Coaching® is a registered trade-mark in Canada owned by Integral Coaching Canada, Inc. and licensed to Reggie Marra.

Integral Coaching®

This past Thursday, February 24th, I completed a training begun in June 2009 and received certification as an Integral Coach™ with Integral Coaching Canada (ICC).

I am deeply grateful to Laura Divine and Joanne Hunt, founders of ICC, and my instructors for the final 9 months of the program, and to Leslie Williams and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, who led me through the first 5 months back in 2009.

Deep bows as well to Kevin Snorf and James Baye, who coached me during the initial and final training modules, respectively. Their insights, support and leading by example remain invaluable sources of both inspiration and motivation.

Thanks too to the 19 souls who moved through these last 9 months with me, especially my estimable study group, Steve, Almu and Erich, and our courageous and patient mentor, Jill Malleck. I’m tempted here to start naming everyone else, but won’t–I love you all, you know that, so stop your whining and get to work.

Almost finally, thanks to RO, LA, DP, JL and RG for their courage working with me for months as official volunteer clients during this training, especially RO, who was first in 2009 and survived, and to MM, MT, MS, and MS who helped me hone my skills as unofficial volunteers. What’s up with the M’s?

To my eight “speed coaching” friends–MM, JC, SD, BB.1, DD,  BB.2, FV and KO, who helped me prepare for certification week’s live coaching session, I’m glad the windburn and whiplash have subsided, and to PW in Ottawa, for your courage in a room full of strangers.

Finally, as always, deepest love and thanks to the incomparable  Marianela Medrano-Marraesposa, compañera, amante y amiga.

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Integral Coaching® is a registered trade-mark in Canada owned by Integral Coaching Canada, Inc. and licensed to Reggie Marra.