I am becoming more and more patient with my impatience,
and more and more tolerant of my intolerance,
more and more forgiving of my unforgiving ways….

not sure what that means.
is this self compassion finally breaking through?
Am I finally gaining wisdom?
Or is it I am just too tired to care anymore.

Maybe its me, maybe I am getting older, but when you have lots of time, being patient comes easy. But getting older means you know your time is limited and less and less are you willing to sit around to endure endless meetings or hollow events or pursue concerns that seem frivolous or irrelevant to the main concern. We realize at some point that we have to make the main thing the main thing.

What does that board meeting matter in the final wrap up of eternity. Will the eternal auditor in the sky be asking you- what was that $113.46 cents spent on in September? Do you have a receipt and was it in the budget? Why didn’t you use the generic brand?

At some later point, we come to understand that its not lack of money or lack of friends or lack of opportunity that casts the greatest shadow over our lives, its the lack of time- the one thing we know infallibly that we will run out of, and the one thing we seem to so be so profligate in wasting- on so many concerns that don’t matter and perhaps will never matter.

Then somehow  a fiercer force arises from deep within us, not out of impatience or boredom but out of the singular defense of time, my time, your time, everyone’s time. No one has a right to waste anyone else’s time. To show up late, to come unprepared, to indulge in distracting side conversations, perhaps at one point in our lives are unavoidable irritations but at some point, they becomes crimes against humanity, because what they take away can never be won back.

When you die, OK, we have eternity, God’s time and he took 14 billions years to make life on earth. He can relax, but us poor humans, all we get if we are lucky is 50 or 70 or 90 years. No time to shake a galaxy loose or have a big bang- No, yet enough time to know what time is for and to live so that we are not merely marking time, but making sure it counts.

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WHO DID YOU LOSE? A VIETNAM MEMORIAL ENCOUNTERWe were showing the NSL team the Vietnam Memorial, this week and explaining how this site of memory had morphed from a place of nation-splitting controversy to a place of healing, a place to mourn and heal.
We were walking out when a thin older woman appeared, with long blond hair and glasses. She was clutching a crumpled white piece of paper with a name and a number E63. Her pleading eyes caught mine and she asked me, “How can I find someone?” I looked at the note and told her that the A- Z register was at the other end, but she said she had the panel, it was E63.

Mo, my Palestinian friend on NSL who was at my side, also tried to help. She said, I think I can find it, and as she turned away, I went forward to suggest she check the register, but Mo pulled me back. He whispered, ” She is really upset- let her go.” and thankful that he could see her tears more than I could, I retreated, but not before asking her, “Was it a friend or relative?” She said, “We were engaged.”

We walked with the NSL team to the Womens’ Vietnam statue and I watched as this lady walked to E63 and with her fingers felt for the name, When she found it, she collapsed at the foot of the panel, and her body seemed to disappear into the depths of her loss, even after so many years.

As i showed my NSL team the Pieta of the nurse holding the body of the dying soldier, I was hiding my tears for this lone women who finally found the name of her lost love. How many futures had she lost? I thought of my mum, an RAF nurse, who loved a dashing Canadian pilot in World War Two and how she wrote poetry to console herself when his plane disappeared over Berlin.

We were finishing the tour, time to go home, and as we walked back past the memorial out to Constitution Avenue, there she was again. I went down to her and she recognized me, and I embraced her and said,” I am heartbroken for your loss.” And she said “Thank you for your help.” and then she asked me, “Who did you lose?” I heard myself say, “My Mum and Dad fought in World War Two, and each lost their closest friends in battle and I lost what they lost- Even if I never went to war, like they did, we all had to grow up in their war. ”

Her question haunts me still, “Who did you lose?”

If the true cost of war was ever weighed, it would be the story reflected in the sorrowful women at that Vietnam Nurses Memorial who remind us that in war, we are all losers, we lose our loved ones, we lose our sanity and our humanity, we lose those futures we sacrifice for the sake of some unresolved past. Yes, she was engaged to be married and war tore her love away. And 40 years later, the tears have still not dried.

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No Surprise, No Story!!!!

No Surprise, No Story!!!!“When you over-prescribe, you under-surprise.”

When I think about the core of storywise work, I try to remember not to use the formulaic goal-path formula.  You know the script: What is your goal? What is real? What are your options? What will you willingly do. The old GROW model. Or its variations of   Find your Purpose and Start with Why!  Blah Blah…

But Why start with Why? And what is the Purpose of Purpose? Why are we so obsessed with GOALS. As if they are ever so clear that all we have to do is act to achieve them.  As if life was as simple as changing a tire.

What if your Goal is to find your GOAL? What  if your purpose is to find your purpose? What if the next urgent step is not to find your way but to get lost, and interrupt  this logical lock step which tries to make sense of  a system that at its core is a contradiction. Think Global markets, foreign relations, military threats, presidential elections, Wall Street. We impose our need for sense on the world, and we have not the patience for sense to emerge.  Our  obsessive need for an answer often leads to us asking nonsensical questions. We want Yes or No but what if both are wrong?  Watch a Presidential Candidate debate to see how many questions are asked for the benefit of who is asking.

When we as coaches get too prescriptive, where we ask people to tell us a story of an obstacle they overcame, or their greatest success,  we get what we asked for- its the story we want.  But Is it the story they want? There is no surprise. It is dead on arrival. Appreciative Inquiry is already leading the witness.  Don’t tell us the bad news. We must be positive.

But if I ask,

-Tell me a story that contains the burning issue for you,

-Tell me the story that is dying to get a safe space to be told,

- Tell me a story that you had never dreamed of sharing till now.

Then you get sparks,  surprise, amazement. You as a coach are drawn into a mystery of revelation. The teller gets even more interested in their own story. How on earth did I tell that story? they say. Why that story now?  They amaze themselves.

Cultural and Political and Religious Stories soon  grow stale, become cliches, sound like dogma, and then they suddenly resurrect when their predictability dies on the altar of surprise. Jesus is a sexual being? Lincoln was a stand up comedian?  Obama enjoys basketball far more than politics? Donald Trump isn’t bald? When a story has no room for surprise, it is dead.

When you under- prescribe, you leave room for over-surprise.

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Can you Live from a Deeper place in your Story?

Last night, Ahmed,  the newest member of my international family told me about“What he really, really, really wanted.” and referenced an earlier conversation we had had when we were discussing his career and study plans. It made me think back to how that exercise arose out of what we considered to be the engine of a story.

At we describe a story as something whose engine is DESIRE and whose Fuel is both DREAM and MEMORY. We use this as a way of getting a handle on different kinds of stories and how they measure up.  Inspired by Ahmed, lets have some fun applying it.


If the engine of story is DESIRE, then one can immediately see how some stories fall apart  even before they start, because they have no engine, or their engine is way too small to carry the load of their dreams and ambitions. We live from the surface, and our desire never gets attached to anything bigger than the daily pleasures, or the desire to avoid any pain. Its a low risk life, and .one that perhaps is committed to the status quo. How then can we break through the surface and discover that every life entertains the possibility of greater desires? A bigger and richer story?

What I do is keep asking the question. “What do you want?” and after the first answer, treat it as a first draft, and ask again, “What do you really want?” and take the second answer as an exploration, and ask again, “What do you really really want?” and then, regardless of what comes out, to finally go for ground zero, “OK, sure, but come on, what do you really, really, really want?” When I do it for others or try it on myself when I feel my story is stuck, I am always surprised at what I knew all the time, but didn’t bother to tell myself.

Try it for yourself.

What do you really want? If you have not discovered your deeper desires, you can hardly discover your bigger story.

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Re-interpreting Karl Marx’s Interpretation- Memo to Presidential Candidates

It is one of those quotable quotes- “that philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.” It looks good on a T-shirt and a bumper sticker, and its too clever by half. The irony of course, is that this interpretation of philosophers interpreting the world is also an interpretation.

The sleight of hand is to make you think that changing the world is different from changing what the world means. Yet, what great minds like Marx or Freud or Darwin do is not that much in terms of  heroic action. Take a voyage to the Galapagos Islands  and come home and write a book- see women with various forms of hysteria and write a case study, study the economies of the industrializing world at the British Library, and write a few hefty tomes- Yes, Marx does change the world but he changes it by seeing it through a different lens, understanding it as a hidden process of consciousness and liberation, and therefore ripe for revolution. He did what any good philosopher does, reinterpret the world, and thereby he changed it. He makes his own saying into a lie.

Nothing helps change more than the story that we invent that tells us that we are on the brink of it, or that  it is urgent because things are broken and desperate. Sound familiar? Washington is broken. Wall Street is running the show. Government is corrupt and bloated. Its what narrative practitioners so enjoy about any election year- that the headlines of any or all of the candidates echo the cliches that are as old as Plato and as hackneyed as Jefferson and Hamilton. Imagine a candidate saying, “Nothing needs to change, that we are changing too much, that we need to get back to what we used to do in the 1950′s.”   Won’t happen.

To change the world is the reverse of what Marx said because it means changing how we interpret it, just as he did.  If we, like him, interpret it as  ripe for change, and we convince people that we are reading history right, we too can muster the masses to our cause.

Finally, this might make a good memo to the Presidential Candidates for 2016- if you want to change the world, help us change the way we see it. Don’t pander to our lazy habits of mind that don’t want to think too hard about the hard issues. Stop feeding our messianic delusions  by promising that you and only you can save us from Mexicans, Martians and Marxists. You might not change our hearts, but why not at least try changing our minds.

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Courage is a Soul Force


Is it any wonder that Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior decided early on that the battle for peace and justice was always primarily a soul battle, a spiritual conflict about conversion of heart, not about massing weapons or common interests, designing road maps or negotiating concessions?

Those who want to map the path to peace as a set of techniques have been seduced into confusing means for ends- because tools by themselves don’t build a house or plough a field. The diplomats whose careers have spanned multiple attempts at agreement have the credentials and the experience- its not lack of know-how that gets in the way. its the lack of will. And not just political will. It has more to do with what others have called moral courage, a courage that summons us all to get back in touch with our core human values. It is a courage that asks- Is what we most value in life worth living for, worth striving for, even worth failing for, more than worth dying and killing for? Courage cuts to the core, gets to the “coeur” of things, the heart. You can’t fake it.

Expediency sets a different agenda. You are forever watching tomorrow’s poll numbers, worrying what issues are too risky to take a stand on, You play it safe and yet, that can lead to even greater danger. Playing it safe when the house is on fire means you huddle in a room hoping the smoke will abate and an angel will rescue you. Not smart. Where did playing it safe ever get you? No one is safe if everyone chooses safety first. No, our safety resides in a quality of audacity,

That firefighter who breaks the door down to get you out of the fiery room or the smoke-filled train, the whistle blower who risks her career to call out the injustices of the surveillance state, the teenage marcher at Selma who peacefully faces the dogs and the tear gas, or that lone figure facing the tanks in Tiananmen Square: It is courage that keeps us safe.

We might try to do radical change on the cheap, but history is not on our side. Can there ever be a shift from oppression to freedom or war to peace or cruelty to compassion without someone daring to say No, daring to put his body on the wheel of fortune to stop the killing machine?

Courage I believe is at the heart of every lasting human change, and while many think it is rare, it is not. Every commander in battle who has had to lead his troops through the barrage knows- Courage is even more infectious than fear.

Lets have a Conference about that.

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My colleague, Madelyn Blair, is the expert in the Stories inside Words, and here is one I fund fascinating. “Interest” comes from inter and esse, the Latin means- between and being. What is interesting is of interest because it is in between being, being this and being that. That makes a lot of sense in the geography of change around placement and timing and even finances. Interest grows on the deposit over the time you invest and the time you pull it out.

What anything means depends on what it is in between? A Middle means that which it is in the Middle of. Are we in the middle of a storm or a hurricane? Are we in the middle of a headache or a heart attack? It certainly matters to know, it is of interest, inter esse.

This period of time could be the end of the affair or the beginning of a new phase of a relationship. It earns interest because of what it is in between. Hence stories that grab our attention are those that plunge us into the middle of something that is still being worked out. What are you in the middle of right now? What makes it interesting to you?

If you name a B- as beginning and an E-as ending, you better notice the species of the middle you name yourself to be in. The trick is to swap them around-play with meaning and see how it moves. Yes, this could be the middle of the end of a marriage or a career, or it could be the middle of a transformation. To name it the second creates a different field of energy than the first. Or it could be the middle of Time Out when you badly need a holiday.Occams Razor reminds us that every headline does not have to be a deadline- simple is usually better than complicated. Interest resides in that space in-between.

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Where are we when we ask WHY? What direction in time are we drawn to? Not the future normally. “Why” is not found up ahead, though it might well be that we did what we did because of what we hoped would happen. But ‘why’ tells a different story. Its the story of behind or before. Even our dream of a future was in the past- where the WHY happened. WHY happens in a place, which is where we go looking for it -in The Territory of Why.

Why the recession?? This question points us to look at what comes before the financial crash, not after. Why did we have the wars? Because of what happened leading up to it. Why did she leave her family? Because she hated her life. It is the present interrogating the past. When we are obsessed with Why, why 9-11 or why the recession, or why war, or even Why me- we tend to be facing backwards,even if what we find might help us next time face more fiercely forward. WHY has us looking in a certain direction. It is positional.

Where are we when we we ask HOW? How did she manage to win the gold medal? How did Obama win the nomination? What direction in time are we looking at? We are focusing on the unfolding process, not the reason or motive behind or before. HOW wants to grip the workings of the plot within and go back to the present of that past- what was happening and what led to what. It has us looking with a certain focus which is also positional. HOW is also not normally found in the future, but in the territory of HOW.

Where are we when we ask WHEN? We want to mark the time, to put an event into some sort of sequence, or chain of events. When did he say he was leaving the company, before or after you wanted to fire him? When did you see the accused, before he left the nightclub or after? ‘When’ is a significant marker to be able to deduce what came before and what came after. In other words, its one more locative question. It gets asked for and asks from a position in time which is the territory of WHEN.

When we start to think of specific questions as markers of a certain territory, we start to see differences in the way meaning gets shaped, and how borders are drawn around knowledge. It might even help us understand the conflict between those asking WHY and those asking HOW and those asking WHEN.

They who ask WHY are going back to the past, for understanding or vindication. Fair enough. But a nation that is always asking Why tends to be always facing backwards until they flip the question to Why Not? In my own nation Australia, there seem to be so many commissions of inquiry into what happened and why that one fears that there is little oxygen or appetite left for the future. We get so upset at how we treated the refugees or aborigines back in the 1950′s that we don’t see that we are not doing much better now. If you want to stop a focus on the future dead, ask a WHY question about a tragic past. It happens in the Middle East all the time.

Those who ask HOW are the ones obsessed with the present, pragmatists who get it done and don’t worry why. HOW people address the task, not the telos. As Americans, we used to being problem solvers who didn’t waste time on WHY when clearly, what mattered was How. What is the problem? Lets solve it. We have seen it in Washington these past 5 years. The question has been: How do we reform health care, not WHY do we need health care reform. The HOW’s soon run out of patience with the WHYs. Why versus How tends to become the Past versus the Present.

Those who want to know WHEN are the ones who want to know the times, not why or how. At what point did it or will it occur.They are about what came next or what comes next, the future, as in WHEN will it be done by? When can we expect an answer? WHEN is another positional move directing our gaze to the stream of time- before, during, after. It sees events as contemporary, “with time” and wants an answer that relates what happened to when it happened. When did women get the vote? is probably as informative a question as Why and How. The Times, they are a changing, which means that WHEN picks up on that more than the WHY or the HOW.

If we map this on to Washington politics, we see more clearly into the impasse. It might be because of partisan rancor, but what if its because people are asking different questions-The Why’s
(Republicans) are fed up with the How’s (Democrats) while the When’s (we the People) are impatient with both because nothing is happening, for lack of know why and know how.

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Before one dives into an answer, sometimes it helps to explore the question behind the question.Otherwise the answer behind the answer is not the real answer because the question was not the real question. When we ask “Why don’t people do X?” we are presuming they don’t do X whereas they might do x in a way not seen but the question immunizes us against going and taking a deeper look.

Or such a question emphasizes “people” in a general way, whereas it might be specific people, or it may be a system of non-acceptance of systems thinking, and have little to do with people per se. But our question has singled out people.

And then the verb is adopt, which is strong, as against entertain, or be inspired by, or use in some way, or are influenced by, or provoked by. The question of “Why don’t the people adopt X?” where X is recycling, climate change, tooth brushing, seems to imply that X is more than worthy of adopting. it is the question that has the tone of the enthusiast, the convert, the disciple, Why don’t more people come to Jesus, why don’t more people join the Republican Party etc etc. sounds like “why don’t more people see the world the way I see it.” It’s an insider question that is looking out.

Perhaps the answer is to begin to ask the question differently. Turn the why into a how- or a where- Where do people or organizations entertain and use the systems way and where do they not use it or find it helpful? And what is the difference?

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(Letter to the participants of NSL 2014)

The famous poet John Keats used the term “Negative Capability” to describe human beings capacity to step outside their boundaries and embrace new contexts for their learning. That is what we need from you as you all get ready for NSL, an experience of a lifetime.

Each of you bring your own set of expectations and assumptions, which is only natural. And we too as program founders and board members and staff arrive to the summer of 2014 with our own set ideas of what we expect. But by the time we are half way through, we hope that all of you and all of us will have moved way beyond that starting point.

What always happens is the golden surprise, the unexpected bonus, the thing that we could not possibly have planned for. That is not necessarily easy, or comfortable. It may the thing we all have to struggle with. But it is what stretches us. And when you think of the program in terms of stories, a story always needs a surprise to be interesting. NSL is a lot of things but it is definitely NOT boring.

That means that our firm set of expectations- of what the work place will be, the training, the host family, the team, all give way to a wider sense of anticipation- an openness to seize those opportunities that you and we discover together. Expectations are made to be disappointed, one way or another, but you replace them with something much better. An agile mind a generous spirit, and a courageous heart- to seize the moment, “carpe diem”, they call it. ( Watch the movie Dead Poets Society) What can the ten of you create this summer? We can’t wait to find out.

We can never promise that surprise, and you can never describe it in a program brochure, but its why we selected you- to create a unique chemistry to create something new, to start and live a new story of possibility. Now, that is hard to do. To let go of what you want NSL to mean for you, and what we hope NSL will mean for you, and to let you take the drivers seat- explore, get lost, find a new road together. You will make it meaningful by your own energy, your investment, your honest commitment. But you make meaning for you, we don’t make meaning for you. That’s what being a citizen means. That is what the narrative approach is essentially about.

Every year, I hear a few complain that NSL is not clear about its goals, what it wants to achieve. And I respond, yes, you get it. Our goal is for you to name and discover your own goals- to find what stories hold you back, (like always complaining, or feeling you have to ask permission, or have all your goals all spelled out for you by someone else.)

Your job is to find your voice in a powerful enough way to tell your own compelling story, and take back other areas of your life that you have given away to others to do your thinking or acting for you. You are here to discover parts of your self that have never been woken up. You are not here to talk incessantly about the conflict. We often state it thus :We refuse to let war be the defining story of your identity project. Life is so much more than than the sum of its hurts and hates. It is the sum of your hopes.

Change can only happen when people decide that they have a contribution to make that no one else can make, and decide to take responsibilities for their gifts. (hence the PFC) A wise man-spiritual adviser to Martin Luther King Jnr. in fact, was asked by a young activist, “How do we save the world?” And he answered, “Son-Stop trying to save the world, Find the things that make you come alive. Do them, and that is enough because the world needs more people to come alive than it needs people to save it.”

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