Break Apart or Build Bridges

john a. powell, professor of Law, African American and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, made the astute observation that in times of stress, societies either break apart or build bridges. In addition to the stress from accelerating changes in globalization, technology, environment, and demographics, we now add a global pandemic and an economic free fall. All of this is hard for the human brain to process. Because the brain evolved to keep us safe, it … Read more…

Will It Have Been for Nothing?

Browsing our bookshelves, my eyes landed on “An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum.” She wrote these diaries in eight exercise books in Amsterdam during the Holocaust years. She died in 1943 at Auschwitz at the age of 29. I first read her diaries when they were published in 1983. My mother had died recently and my engagement with life was half-hearted at best. Her words opened my eyes to what is possible within … Read more…

The Dream of My Life

I have loved Mary Oliver’s poetry since college. Her poems speak to me in deep and surprising ways, particularly the stanza above. It came to mind this morning and brought the fragrance of rivers and forests along with a sense of calm and hope for our world during this perilous time. Oliver’s words invite a slowing down and expanding of awareness. When I do this, it helps me find meaning in all I have been … Read more…

Courageous Communication

Picture about seventy people crowded into a dimly lit room with a creaking, wooden floor of an old building at the edge of San Francisco Bay. It was the home of the Dolphin Club, a legendary swim club founded in 1877, and their board of directors called a meeting to propose a series of upgrades to its aging facilities. I was standing at the back of the room with a swim buddy listening to two … Read more…

Taking a Stand

Decades ago, I took a stand for “meaningful conversations about things that matter so we can do good things for the world, together.”* This stand has been the primary thread weaving through my decades-long career and it was the inspiration for my book, Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time. As I approach the third anniversary of its publication and the end of 2019, I am revisiting this stand. Many underestimate the … Read more…

Giving Away Power

Recently, I was talking with a small group of women about difficult situations and the impact they have on us. By “difficult” we meant anything that triggers us emotionally and diminishes our ability to handle circumstances effectively and constructively. One aspect that we had in common is that in these situations, we tended to give our power away and lose access to our equanimity and skills. By “power” I mean the ability to stay grounded, … Read more…

Spaciousness of “Negative Capability”

John Keats, English Romantic Poet, wrote about “negative capability” in a letter to his brothers George and Thomas in 1871 when he was 22 years old. I read this letter nearly a century later when I was 22, an undergraduate majoring in English literature. I understand this oxymoronically-named ability today in ways I could not have then. As circumstances at work and in our lives become ever more complex, negative capability might be one of … Read more…

Shifting from Pieces and Parts to Wholes

When tackling a problem, it’s easier to analyze its pieces and parts and try to solve them one by one than it is to try and understand the whole situation or system. However, this approach rarely works because analyzing the parts does not help us understand how the system in which the problem is embedded works nor how it keeps the problem you want to solve in place. Systems thinking, on the other hand, seeks … Read more…

Systems Thinking for an Interconnected World

Are you trying to tackle a problem that, despite everyone’s best efforts, does not go away? Are you trying to optimize your part of an organization without considering the impact on the system as a whole because it seems too complicated or too effortful to do otherwise? Are you afraid your short-term efforts might undermine your intention to solve a problem in the long-term? Are a number of groups working on the same issue at … Read more…

Are We Stuck at a Cognitive Threshold?

The complexity of issues facing us is outstripping our ability to understand and solve them. Governmental institutions spin on gerbil wheels of outmoded, linear processes and procedures, attempting to tackle issues with multiple, inter-connected parts one part at a time. This is as true in the United States Congress as it is in state legislatures and city councils. In the world of business, economic considerations (i.e., profit), trumps all other criteria in determining whether or … Read more…