Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another Day. Another Leader.

November 1, 2008, sitting at Pete’s Coffee on South Petaluma Boulevard, in Petaluma, California. Three days to go in a contest, a process, that started two years ago, and arguably for some long before that. And it will continue past Tuesday. You can bet on it. The headlines of our local newspaper, The Argus Courier, read “Record number of Petaluma voters” – and indicates that more than 90% of those registered may cast ballots. That’s good news.

The plea for leadership is strong and loud. Yet, unfortunately it’s also numbing. That’s sad news. I wish that weren’t so – the numbing part. But it is, as evidenced by a medium complaining how long this process has been underway, and how wonderful it will be when it’s over. How come that’s sad? Because we cry out for leadership when our times are bemoaned, or when we feel victimized by the economy or stressed because of a war or the downslide of the stock market or global warming or based on whatever situation we’re in. But when things are cushy and pleasant and easy and there’s no perceived threat, either internally or externally, leadership as a topic is at best either something reserved for an MBA semester elective; or a slogan in some mission statement that isn’t really a mission statement but actually an advertisement some focus group spent a couple of hours playing with (man am I tired of slogans). At worst leadership as a study in practice is something left as a discretionary spending budget line item when our organizations can afford a management retreat which really isn’t a retreat nor does it have much at all to do with leadership but rather is a sit-around-the-bar-session-knocking-back-cocktails-and-beer-while-discussing-blends-grapes-the-pour-and-nuances-of-the-day’s-last-putt. Have another cigar? Think I will, thank you very much.

Truman as quoted by Miller was often short and to the point, e.g. “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.” (p. 69, Plain Speaking). He understood the need for average persons to wake up to how much they matter in life. I imagine this was so for him because he understood that he was an average man. FYI, 1973 a lowly second lieutenant in the Army, married with dependents (me at that time) was making about $550 per month. A four star general with 30 years of service, married with dependents was making about $2800 per month. Kind of makes one think, especially in light of the roller coaster of the past months. And all of us, 2nd Lt’s and Generals alike, sat in hour-long lines waiting to fill our cars with gas.

So at this moment and for this month’s newsletter and blog, I think I’ll rant a bit.

First. Leadership isn’t academic, though it definitely should be a topic in every school from grade one through all doctoral levels. It should be included in dialogue in all extracurricular activities such as music, sports, art, home economics, etc. Why? Because those activities really aren’t extracurricular. They are educating half of the brain, the right half, the activities that enhance full mental capacity and they are just as important as the left-brain activities commonly referred to as curricular, i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic. Someone, somewhere should be asking the following questions in our schools all the time: who and what is influencing you; who and what are you influencing; how is what we have been doing and studying going to be of influence in life when you step outside this room or off this playing field? We don’t need to tell our kids the answers to these questions, because the answers will change.

Second. Leadership isn’t about having the right slogan. It’s about everyday reality. It’s not reserved for some time when some person or some team occupies some office or position or has some kind of title affixed to some name or has amassed some certain level of fortune and is then entitled to be called Leader. Leadership is as present and as simple as the average person making coffee, taking time for shampoo, washing hands or the dog or the car, raking leaves, saying something simple to your son or daughter, putting gas in the truck or changing the oil. [Maybe changing oil should be left off the list because some folks have forgotten that lubricants, like old ideas, need changing; and yet lubricants, like old ideas, are universally necessary!]

Third. Leadership should never, ever, ever be attended to only when we have set aside enough discretionary funds to attend a retreat. In fact attending a retreat should not be hinged to discretionary funds. Refreshing the mind (i.e. going on retreat) ought be thought of as something necessary for good mental, emotional and spiritual regularity. We don’t consider the respective parentheses associated with refreshing physical regularity (i.e. meal time and toilet time) as things reserved for when our pockets are flush with cash. We get it about that – bodily inflow and outflow are essential to physical health. But when it comes to the digestive processes of the mind, the heart and the soul – ahhhh, some-a-day when there’s enough money and time, maybe we’ll attend to the inflow and outflow of that. In case you haven’t noticed, our yesterdays are quickly becoming the some-a-days that we should have been attending to. [I said this was going to be a rant]

Fourth. Let’s be straight. You and I are being influenced all the time by someone or something. Additionally, we’re influencing someone else and/or some situation all the time. Influence surrounds and binds us and it flows through us. Influence is the essence of what it means to lead. I realize this may sound rather Yoda-ish. Alas, some have either forgotten the lessons of Star Wars Episode IV or they have never seen the movie.

We grow blind the fact that, regardless of station or age or title or whatever else we want to call it, we are always leading and being led all of the time. We get so used to the influences that press on us daily (or the influence that we have on others) that we numb out to them. It doesn’t mean that they (we) are no longer of influence. It merely means that we are no longer conscious of this influence at work.

Some influences that touch us (or that we are) are attractive: beautiful music, vivid colors, sweet odors and tones and textures, supportive voices and the like. Some are repulsive: yellow tarps over spread next to overturned smoldering cars; hateful graffiti splashed across walls or doors; anguished faces viewing the remains of cherished children or parents suddenly gone; the homeless one passed out late at night inside a post office; spittle on the sidewalk; the roll of untrusting eyes or the sneer of disgusted lips; sharp unforgiving comments; raw vulgarities of racial, ethnic or sexist slurs; the dull dazed look of a drugged kid sitting on a curb. Either way, pleasant or ugly, we don’t notice or we pretend we don’t notice or we walk quickly on by or we soon forget. We become, as Marshall McLuhan put forth in a 1969 Playboy magazine interview, so used to the environment we’re living in that we no longer see, feel or hear it talking to us or about us or from us. (“I don’t know who first discovered water, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t the fish,” McLuhan.)

Today is November 1st. By the time these words are delivered and posted in e-newsletter form or at either a McCain or an Obama will be the President-elect of the United States. As I write these words that outcome is a mystery. By the time these words get posted and delivered online that outcome will be history. Both Obama and McCain are leaders. So are you.

US citizens are involved in a grand experiment, an experiment rooted 2,500 years ago in the ground of ancient Athens. An experiment that Abe Lincoln wrote of as being “of the people, by the people and for the people.” We are not separate from government, no more than we are separate from nature. True, we can think of ourselves as separate. But thinking that we are separate does not change the fact that we are connected, no more than thinking the world is flat changes the fact that it is round. We are the government. Some may reply, “How naïve!” OK, but where does that kind of cynicism lead? There are people alive today by trainloads wishing they could get here or wanting their own land to change so that could enjoy the freedom to actually exercise this kind of naivety at home. Last month’s newsletter addressed some lessons learned by viewing the US from outside our borders. Add to that this thought: the things you and I do here over the next few days either through action or inaction may be small, but in time they make a difference. On Election Day or on any other day millions, actually billions, of human beings living elsewhere see the truth of this and wonder why we have such difficulty seeing it for ourselves.

When you read this whether you voted or didn’t vote in the election of November 4, 2008 – you voted. And your vote was counted. You contributed somehow to the outcome.

Bringing it back to everyday stuff of the average person. Like the man sitting on the bale of hay and the boy in his arms in the photo above - we’re all influencing and being influenced all the time by someone or something. What influence does the boy have on his father? What influence does the father have on the boy? You can’t see either of their eyes. Yet it’s clear that on that day they were each looking in different directions, existing simultaneously in the same place yet holding vastly different perspectives. You may not be the boss. You may not be the manager. You may not be the person in charge. You may not be the employee. You may not be office temp. You may not be the father or the mother. You may not be the son or the daughter. You may be big. You may be small. But somehow right now you are a leader. You’re affecting an outcome.

Who and what are you influencing? Who or what is influencing you? Stay alert!

Thursday, November 06, 2008


November 5, 2008 at Majestic Hotel, Guangzhou, China. Travel here, long. A thirty-hour day.

Sitting in economy class window seat not my ideal way spending hours and hours inside one plane, San Francisco to Tokyo. But tracking gps progress and noticing when we were above Aleutian Islands led to a magnificent view that otherwise wouldn’t have been afforded. Mountains. Snow. Volcanic craters. Glaciers. Ocean. Blue sky. Clouds. Un-real!

Flight from Tokyo to Guangzhou on Northwest Airlines, US owned and staffed. Safety announcements done in English. Flight departs from Japan and lands in China. Hmmmm. Go figure.

Guangzhou and I was one of first off the plane. But was almost last of a plane load going through PRC immigration. Why? The inspecting officer needing no glasses to see, sat very still studying and contemplating my passport. My passport, like me, has successfully passed PRC scrutiny many, many times the past four years. Not certain she, the immigration officer, was seeing what she wanted, she, who didn’t wear glasses, had me remove mine (glasses always worn and pictured on my passport) so she could get a better gander at me. Look hard she did, again and again. I passed her test and walked on. Go figure again.

Midnight checked into the Majestic Hotel. My associates let me know they were hungry, and suggested I eat. OK. They thought perhaps best if we could go to a nice restaurant, after all I’m guest in their country. I suggested we dine at all-night-eat-where-only-locals-do-at-a-small-one-room mom and pop shop that we walked past down an adjacent alley. Perfect. Our over bowls of pork soup, dumplings, won ton soup conversation? McDonnald’s in America vs. China.

Go figure some more.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Getting Beyond Prejudice Today

It’s been a busy time at Allied Ronin the past month as the maples and elms make their annual change of color turning hillsides across Sonoma County amber, orange, yellow and an occasional red. As I write these words I feel rather Garrison Keillor-ish ( Part of me that lives within a fantasy, a nostalgic journey that starts with the words, “It’s been an interesting time in my hometown.” But unlike Keillor my last month and a half has been everywhere but at home while fall colors emerge across county landscapes.

Aug 31 to Sept 3 involved travel to Mexico City with an overland trip west into the mountains near Valle de Bravo for leadership training and Samurai Game® delivery to the CEO and senior execs of Walt Disney Mexico. Sept 5-7 was an aikido seminar at Incline Village, Nevada (Lake Tahoe) hosted by Truckee Aikido and conducted by Richard Strozzi-Heckler ( and Linda Holiday Sept 11 - 19 were two leadership trainings in China: the first, a public offering in Yongkang (small town”of 300,000); and the second, a corporate program for the owner and the eighty senior managers of QSRY Manufacturing Company in Hangzhou (small city of 3 million). Both trainings were co-ventured with Vision Consulting (Hangzhou) and involved the Warrior Game™, as the Samurai Game® referred to for political reasons inside China. Brighton, UK, was the next stop (October 1 – 3) for visit with Mark Walsh ( and a meeting he arranged with interested individuals there. Thank you Mark!

The next eight days I ventured east to Krakow, Poland, to work with Pawel Olesiak and Pawel Bernas and conduct a team effectiveness training in Krosno (minutes north of Slovakia and minutes west of the Ukraine) under their umbrella of Aiki-Management. Again involving the Samurai Game®, this time for BN Office Solutions. Attending the Krosno program were the CEO and senior managers of BN’s Krosno operation, plus German and Russian teams. The entire journey closed with a special aikido class I was asked to instruct in Krakow on Oct 8, before dashing across country to Warsaw for a series of flights back to the US.

Over the last forty-five days I’ve met a few hundred interesting folks. No Pastor Inkfist of Lake Wobegon’s Lutheran congregation. No Lefty or Dusty of “The Lives of the Cowboys” fame. And, certainly not one private eye named Guy Noir searching for “the answers to life’s persistent questions.” But interesting people none-the-less and real. I’m amazed at just how similar to us in the US other peoples of the world actually are. Yes, there are differences, but the differences are minor when compared to the overwhelming same-nesses when you get below the surface. An unwillingness to make mistakes causes some people of Hangzhou to get extra quiet. I’ve seen the same thing on college campuses across America. Uncertainty causes some Germans to get strangely boisterous while sitting in a mostly Polish speaking audience. To me, a boisterousness very similar to some experiences I’ve had in the Washington, DC area. High levels of interaction aligned with significant personal discovery makes for soaring spirits in Mexico. Could have been a Las Vegas, Nevada, crowd as far as I’m concerned.

The more I experience the world firsthand the more I wish others could too. Maybe our planet would be a bit more peaceful and trusting and at ease with itself if people around the globe got to know each other face-to-face. This was the underlying theme of my July 1st newsletter and blog ( True, there will always be problems, greed, liars, thieves and some very dangerous people walking in and out of our lives. But in general the majority of people are most likely regular folks trying their best to live, raise families, move forward and get along with others. If we could see past our prejudices and self righteous viewpoints we might be actually be able to see people for who they are – which is pretty good for the most part. At least, that’s the way I see it.

A symbolic example of prejudice (mine) happened in Krakow on October 7th. Driving the three hour drive from Krosno returning to Krakow, Pawel Olesiak asked me if I’d like to visit “a famous salt mine”. Trying to be a good diplomatic American I said, “Yes.” But internally I felt the opposite. I grew up in a mining community. I know mines. I remember tales of the salt mines of Siberia. My imagination carries images of Aleksandr Solshenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, and I read his book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” When I was cadet at West Point and later assigned to a regular army outfit as a junior officer, Poland was very much a part of the Soviet regime – a regime that remained entrenched in Eastern Europe until Mikhail Gorbachev proposed “perestroika” and allowed for the emergent voice one Lech Walesna, culminating with a final exit of Soviet forces from Poland in 1993 and ushering the demise of the USSR over the next few years. That was not long ago. These things are very vivid real memories of Pawel’s Olesiak and Bernas, my associates who were born into that system – but who in no way ever want it back.

So on October 8th I went along with Pawel Olesiak’s suggestion and visited the salt mine at Wieliczka ( The story and picture of that visit are at my October 1st blog entry. The short version for today’s newsletter posting – I had (based on my imaginings and my personal history , my limited vision and my thinking about what I believed to be true about mines) incorrectly judged what I would find deep under the ground just outside Krakow. What I thought I would find was dull. What I actually found was vivid and beautiful. What I thought I would find was mundane. What I actually found was magnificent. What I originally felt in agreeing to the visist was compliance. What I resultantly felt upon making the visit was gratitude. My visit to the salt mine a few miles outside of Krakow on October 8, 2008, was one of the most incredible things I have witnessed in my life. It is something I’m glad I saw; something I will remember for a lifetime. It’s a good thing my prejudice did not over rule a decision to be a “diplomatic American”- a gracious guest in someone else’s territory. If it (my prejudice) had won, I would have lost.

Here are some questions to ponder this October and going forward into November and on into 2009. Given the news of the day; given the enormous economic, political and ecological crises and choices facing our nation and our world right now – not figuratively, but in reality – what will we do? Not for some future consideration or buck-passing or kicking a can down the street past Pastor Inkfist’s church or Left’s and Dusty’s ranch or along the sidewalk in some dark city that knows how to keep its secrets, but is safe because of an office light that shines on the 12th floor of the Acme Building – an office belonging to some Guy Noir. No. Choices that live in the reality of our time - right now and right here – this day and over the next few weeks. My tutor of many years ago used to say, “If you’re not part of the solution you’re still part of the problem.”

How many of our choices will be made from looking scantly and only at the surface – the way I looked at the salt mines outside of Krakow before taking the time and action to venture down beneath the ground? Will we take the time to look beyond the rhetoric, beyond any misinformation, beyond the surface? Will we dig deeply now when it actually matters? Will we examine the truth and invest for the long haul? These are questions leaders must ask. And because from my perspective we are all leaders (influencing something or someone all the time no matter our age, title, gender, education, etc.) – these are questions that we (you and I) must ask and answer, not once in a while but on a continual basis. In this regard we are all responsible and had best make informed choices. If we err then we need be willing to accept our errors and chose anew. If we do not err then we need to remain vigilant because tomorrow, next month, next year or forty years from now there will be new challenges, new choices, new crises and we’d best practice for that now while we can.

Friday, October 10, 2008

October 9, 2008 - Heathrow Airport - London

It's been a grand time in the UK and Eastern Europe this past week. First - Brighton, England on October 2-3 - very calm fall weather - beautiful city, lots of energy - vibrant people and sights. Like Santa Cruz (the people are) multiplied by factor of 10- far out clothes, shops, coffee houses, etc. I took the "coach" there from Heathrow and visited friend and aikidoka Mark Walsh. We spent hours & hours walking around and linked up with Peter Hamill of Roffey Park Institute and a few other folks for dinner on Friday. One of them being John Whitmore who was introduced through a connection with my friend and associate Lisa Ludwigsen . Actually it's "Sir" John Whitmore ... he's a knight, and author of Coaching for Performance. His book bio acclaims: "Sir John Whitmore began his career as a professional racing driver, driving for the highly successful Ford team at Le Mans and won both the British and European Saloon Car championships in the 1960s."

Friday after dinner was spent two hours of training at the dojo where Mark trains in Brighton. First hour was kashima, which I've seen but not practiced before. Three visiting senseis - all Brits - who study in France under Jaff Raji and were visiting and one of them led the hour kashima before open hand aikido ... my good luck. I'm also wanting to learn the "soft" high fall - and one gave me a few minutes of time after class on that - enough for a sense, but lots of instruction & practice is needed. I'll (hopefully) get a bit more tomorrow night on the "soft" highs here in Krakow - but no guarantee on that and you'll understand as you read on. Falling softly has been something I've wanted to know for over 10 years ... and as it any embodied practice will help me "fall softly" in all areas of life - a talent needed during turbulent times.

Arrived in Krakow Saturday, and Sunday drove to Krosno where led a Samurai Game workshop for BN Office Systems (Monday & today) hosted by Aiki-Management - organized by my associates Pawel (pronounce "pah-vel") Olesiak and Pawel Bernas (who run A-M and are senseis in Krokow). It was three hours of narrow curvy roads through what could have passed for a mix between southern Oregon and the hills/valleys around Gettysburg on first a clear then turned cloudy leaf changing fall day -- very green grasses and pastures, a cow or and crops in many people's yards - owner-built very sturdy homes, but the farther we got towards the Ukraine border the more there were family built wood homes - some log other plank - about 100 to 200 years old still comfortably lived in. It's extremely beautiful country.

On the drive to Krosno we're comparing notes about what they require on shodan exams and what's on ours . When I explained the tanto kata that Richard Strozzi-Heckler teaches - Pawel Olesiak got very curious because he had never heard of it. I explained that it's a "Richard thing" and probably makes sense it's relatively unknown. We're driving these countryside back roads (two cars wide - cars passing and headed straight on to cars coming our way) we're talking and moving thru it. At breakfast on Monday he says, "You have to teach Wednesday's aikido class at our dojo in Krakow so everyone can get whole hour on this kata. You have to do this!" (imagine a forceful Polish accent and you'll get the picture) I start to object, and Olesiak says, "No ... you have to do this." Bernas (pronounced burnah-sh) just sat silently (which is his usual MO) and grinned and shook his head "yes, yes, yes". Thursday morning at breakfast before we completed the program for BN Office Solutions Olesiak says, "We're telling you - word's already on website and email already sent so more students will come tomorrow night's class. So you got to do this thing."

Soooooooo my thoughts were ... "Tomorrow's going to be an interesting day" - visit a famous salt mine outside of Krakow in the morning, teach aikido, rush to train station to catch an all-night train Krakow to Warsaw in time for 6:30 am flight to UK & arrive Gatwick, grab another bus for hour and half ride to Heathrow, fly to LAX, hop a plane to SFO ... and on back home an all day Thursday excursion.

And that's almost what happened ... but things different when then happen than when planned. As a good tourist I agreed to visit the mine but with the prejudiced thought "salt mine?" I was wrong - it was incredible - a must for anyone who visits the Krakow area, the Wieliczk Salt Mine - see and the photo taken hundreds of feet underground of the church carved inside a cavern. Seven hundred years old, and 1000 feet underground now no longer in operation as a mine, but one of UNESCO most favored places of interest in the world. I took lots of pictures of this most historical and interesting place - beyond description. A reminder to me of how easy it is to prejudge things ... and how unaware we are when limited to our own history contained by our borders.

Wednesday night began with an hour of "basics" at the Krakow dojo ... with about 40 others I was a student. Then I immediately led the advanced class with 17ish or so. It went great. The "Pawel's" couldn't have been happier with the knife kata.

Was supposed to transit Krakow to Warsaw by train to catch my plane, but last minute changes were underway because as Olesiak said, "Polish trains - you can't depend on them. If you're even thirty minutes late it'll be bad." So they hired a guy to drive ensuring me timely journey from Krakow to Warsaw.

Timely it was ... more like something from James Bond. Spiriting away from the dojo at 10pm to a dimly lit parking lot across town in Krakow. Jumping from one car to another - handshakes all around with "dobrydania" (good bye). The driver, a guy named Peter (friend of theirs who they described as "professional driver" spoke only Polish) raced me out of the city. What was supposed to be a 5 hour drive was accomplished in 3 and 1/2 hours. Several near misses on the drive with two being extremely wild. It was better than a movie!

Life's never what you expect it to be - and it can be a blast. It's all in the attitude.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

It's Never Too Late To Make a Difference - Will You?

In the mid-1980's I had the fortune to meet John Fogg and Eliza Bird, both attorneys, a married couple. Eliza was in private practice. John was working for the California State Insurance Commissioner's office. In 1998 they attended a public seminar offering of mine which included The Samurai Game® ( and loved the experience and learning. Shortly thereafter a box appeared on my doorstep. In it a real (not decorative) samurai sword - old, pitted and minus its handle. Beneath where the tsuba (hand guard) would have been was the traditionally steel base etched in kanji with the sword maker's name and a statement attesting, "Completed on a good day 1816". To this day their gift has occupied a place of honor in my home.

John and Eliza retired and ventured off to travel around the world. Now and then email would arrive ...."Fogg/Bird-grams" I call them .... each, like the sword, numbered and dated, bringing tales of high adventure and humor and learning as they cut their way across continents. Midst their journeys they kept residences in northern California and North Carolina.
The summer of 2006 began my two-year transition from brown to black belt rank in aikido, a Japanese martial art To symbolically honor the transition I began polishing the blade, but determined to leave pits and blemishes in place. This as a reminder that any journey in life is a process of refinement, sharpening and creating new luster, as well as something which sincerely acknowledges ownership of past blemishes and scars .... things not pretty, yet honestly part of life. By December 2007 the blade, still pitted and scared, was beautiful. The black belt exam was set for five months later and by then I'd be 58.

In the second week of May 2008 a "Fogg/Bird-gram" arrived. Reflecting on their gift I sent John and Eliza an email saying how much the sword meant to me, including the cleaning process and the soul searching my upcoming test had created. The next day a reply arrived from them giving notice they were coming to watch. May 24th was a beautiful day for a test at Two Rock Aikido dojo ( especially with them present. We didn't have time to talk and agreed to dine a few days later at my home and catch up on years gone by.

A week later. The three of us sat down in my dining room table to enjoy my one-and-only-I-can-cook-this-wait-till-you-taste-it-bacon covered-broiled salmon-asparagus-meal. "Tell us about your kids," they asked. I did. "Tell us about where you've been traveling." I did. "What's become of old so and so?" I answered. "And the old red Ford truck?", they inquired. "It's right outside the front door; you walked by it on the way in", I replied.

Then it was my turn, "What have you been up to?", I asked and that's about as far as I got. They looked at each other. They grinned and laughed .... and for the next two hours out came a story almost unbelievable. I listened to a flow of words and my imagination went wild as though I was watching some kind of Indiana Jones film staring two retired lawyers who had touched and returned to what matters in their life. The theme: it's never too late to take on something important, something big, something .... impossible .... especially if it's of service to others.

But as I strained to listen my brain jolted and grasped pictures and sound bytes. Here's about the way it went:

John: "I had a dream to make a for real difference putting dent in world starvation while I'm still alive. " --- "I remembered I died in that Game we played with you. That was the best part of it because I realized that in reality I was still alive so I could still do something about my dream even if I didn't know exactly what it was I was going to do - so might as well take a step and see what happens."

Eliza (giggling): "Renting, no borrowing, ahhhh ... hmmm, cars ... we'll whatever - we didn't steal 'em .... anyway they're usually mostly old and beat up." --- "We'll truth is we drive what ever it takes." --- "When we are in Africa it's kind of like ....-" "Then there's the times in South America when ...." --- "The maps are often old. Well actually some times there's no maps." -- "Strange directions, too." --- "No air conditioning. No gas. Flat tires. Lost luggage."

John (piping in): "Actually the project is a bit large, but it's just a few old Peace Corps types like me." --- "There's this guy who's invented a peanut sheller. There's another guy ... a college professor ... who improved on the design." --- "Did you know that peanuts are a staple food for much of the planet? People actually live on the peanuts." --- "It's tough work to shell peanuts, cuz they're not like you what get at a baseball game here." --- "Women in the villages are the ones doing the work, the shelling, and if they're lucky it takes them all day to produce only as much food as can sustain their family for one day."

I recalled saying to myself: "Peanut sheller ... what the (bleep) is John talking about? Is he off his meds or what?? Maybe there's something in the salmon they're hallucinating on?"

John (continuing and not really stopping to notice I have an incredulous expression on my face): "Here's what it kind of looks like" (he made a sketch on napkin)" --- "One person can vastly increase their production over what can be done by hand." --- "The machine - concrete and whatever nuts, bolts, pieces of steel you can get for a few dollars at store like Lowe's or Home Depot - and it can be made very quickly."

So many mental scenes later I felt like asking (and maybe I did, I just don't remember the words coming out of my mouth), "Is this for real or are you guys pulling my leg?"

Together they laughed, "This is for real. This is what we've been doing and what we are doing. We actually drive around the world into villages and help people make these things. And it is literally right now helping millions of people worldwide. And we're going to keep at it."

John (adds): "I'm in northern California to visit Silicon Valley. I've been setting up meetings anywhere I can get in a door, and I don't care who I talk to. I don't care if they say "yes" or "no". I go for the top person. I'm going to keep at it, because it's important and it's big. We're actually doing it."
A week later my phone rang. John and Eliza: "We're leaving for Wilmington and we want to have breakfast." I asked - When? They answered - "Tomorrow, because the plane leaves tomorrow night. We're on the run and we're coming for breakfast in the morning!"

Next morning. We walked down Petaluma's Walnut Street and across East Washington Street to Hallie's Diner. Nice place. Good food. We talked more about our prior conversation. They handed me a DVD, hand written on it the words "The Full Belly Project". We finished our breakfast, walked back to my home. They said, "Watch this and you'll understand." We said goodbye. They left. I went inside and put the disc into my DVD player.

Twenty minutes later. I opened AOL and prepared an email to - "I want to interview you and Eliza for my newsletter. We have to let people know about this. Will you?"

Next day. John replied, "YES."

The Interview with John Fogg and Eliza Bird

Allied Ronin: Tell us about yourselves. Start with when we first met.
John: We were both attorneys working in San Francisco when we met in 1992. I was working for a consumer protection agency, the California Department of Insurance.

Eliza: I had my own law firm specializing in estates, trusts, wills. We were introduced by a friend who had worked with both of us at different times. We later convinced our friend that now was the time to fulfill a life-long dream and join the Peace Corps. She was in the first group ever to serve Russia. We both stayed at those jobs until we retired in 2001.

Allied Ronin: When were you in the Peace Corps, where were you serving, what did you do and why?

John: I served as a Volunteer in the Amazon side of Bolivia from 1966 to 1968. My job involved village banks. This was an early micro finance project in that the village banks raised their own capital and managed their own affairs without outside help. They had an accounting system that could be kept by someone who couldn't read or write. My job was simply to support their formation and to help with any problems that arose. I was doing this because this was the Viet Nam era and I thought I could better serve my country in the Peace Corps than fighting in a war I didn't believe in.

Allied Ronin: In a nutshell (excuse the pun) what is the Full Belly Project? Tell us part of your actual story.

J&E: Full Belly started with someone by the name of Jock Brandis who observed the need for a simple peanut sheller while in Africa, helping a friend in the Peace Corps there. He promised to send a peanut sheller to them, only to find that there was no such hand operated machine. In fact, it was considered to by the "Holy Grail" of agricultural machines for developing countries as no one had ever been able to make one that actually worked. Not daunted by this, he simply invented one. Realizing that he needed an organization to develop and distribute this sheller, he went to the local association of returned Peace Corps Volunteers. A non-profit corporation called Full Belly Project was formed, and that was the beginning.

My (John) involvement started with my observing that the returned Peace Corps Volunteers were marching in a local parade. I showed up with my Bolivian flag and asked what that "concrete beehive" (the peanut sheller) was. It took off from there. I'm now the Co-President of the Board of Directors which only means I get to do whatever needs to be done and is not done by someone else. For a long time the Board of Directors did all the work of Full Belly just because there was nobody else. When we decided we needed employees, we found we had no means to pay them. Despite this, we had three people who believed so strongly in our mission that they worked full time for free. We have made some progress on the employee front since then, but we still don't pay them nearly what they are worth.

I am (Eliza) on the Advisory Board probably because they thought it might look good to have an attorney on there. That did not stop them from asking if I could drop everything and go to Guatemala with John to help set up a sheller factory there. John still remembers his Spanish from living in South America, and I studied Spanish whenever we traveled to Spanish-speaking countries. We spent almost a month in Guatemala and were gratified to have the factory up and running, as it still in today.

Allied Ronin: Give us a picture as to the size of the problem - world hunger - at least what you are involved with - what are we talking about?
J&E: Peanuts in American are considered a snack that is easily shelled. Neither is true in developing countries. Peanuts are a staple crop, so much so that over half a billion people, that's 500,000,000 people world-wide have peanuts as their primary protein source. Peanuts aren't roasted as in the U.S. Because of a lack of roasting facilities in the developing world, they are sun dried. That makes them tough and leathery. Subsistence farmers, people who can only eat what they can grow, only grow as many peanuts as they can tolerated to shell. With a simple. hand operated peanut sheller people can process peanuts so easily that they can increase the amount planted so they have more than enough to feed their families. The surplus can then be sold, taking a subsistence farmer into a market economy. That's a huge developmental step. Earnings can be used to educate children, including girls, improve living standards and be reinvested.

Allied Ronin: What is the machine you are talking about?
J&E: What originally looked like a "concrete beehive" is a seemingly simple machine made of concrete which is available world wide and metal parts that could be duplicated in any machine shop in the developing world. The concrete is poured into fiberglass molds which we supply and formed into two cones, one of which fits inside the other. The outer cone is fixed while the inner cone rotates, grinding the nut between them. It can be adjust to shell almost any sort of nut or other agricultural product. What would take a person a day to shell goes though this machine in less than an hour. The motive force is a hand crank, no electricity or diesel needed. The tests that the University of Georgia ran for us indicated that the working life of a sheller is about 25 years. Costs vary depending on the country where the sheller are produced, but $45 is the average price that the user pays. The usual situation is that the buyer is a cooperative or less formally, a village or a business man as the average farmer can't afford the $45. Many, many people, maybe a majority of people in the world, live on one dollar a day. $45 is simply out of sight for them as individuals.
We've been referring to the machine as a peanut sheller because it is easiest to explain how it works as that. In reality, it is a universal nut sheller (UNS) that can and does shell coffee, shea nuts (an ingredient in cosmetics), neem nuts (also a cosmetic ingredient, especially in Europe) and many other types of agricultural products. One of the most exciting is jatropha which is a source for bio-diesel. Jatropha grows where nothing else will so it does not compete with food crops, and it helps stabilize the soil. It is thought that it may push back the Sahara which has been expanding for years, while providing a cheap fuel source for vehicles, generators and other machinery.

Allied Ronin: Over dinner you addressed the whole idea of sustainability ... the peanut, what happens to the shells, the growing capacity of the ground and the nutrients, etc. Then there's the economic impact on a small village. Can you talk a bit about these things?

J&E: Our concept of sustainability is tied into our distribution concepts. Through trial and error, we have found that the best way for us to get our shellers into the hands of those who need them is to establish local entrepreneurs who set up a factory as an ordinary profit making business. That system has local business owners employing local labor to make shellers for local consumption. The ordinary market forces sustain the system, and we develop other such factories nearby so that competition keeps prices down.

Sustainability takes other forms when the peanuts, which are a legume, put nitrogen back in the soil that other crops, such as cotton, have taken out. We are working on making the peanut shells into briquettes that prevent deforestation by allowing the shells to be used as cooking fuel instead of cutting down trees. In the Philippines, a local cement manufacturer buys the shellers for the farmers. The farmers pay for the shellers by selling the peanut shells back to the cement factory which burns them to create the cement, thereby getting Kyoto carbon credits.

Allied Ronin: Former US President Jimmy Carter has put his weight behind helping you with this. How did this come about. What is Jimmy Carter adding to your efforts?
J&E: President Carter does not endorse products or projects, but he allowed Full Belly to come to the Carter Center in Plains, GA to demonstrate our sheller and to film that demonstration. He has also kindly allowed us the use that film as we like. In viewing the DVD, it apparent that President Carter who was a peanut farmer before becoming President immediately grasps the concept and the workings of the sheller. President Carter has done extensive work in Africa and appreciates what a simple hand operated machine like this means to the African farmer.

Allied Ronin: What can the average person - the person reading this interview - do that can help make the kind of difference that The Full Belly Project is seeking to make?
J&E: Our main need is money. We are struggling to develop corporate requirements such as audited financial statements so that we can make application to large contributors, but we need to sustain ourselves in the meantime. If we could have a substantial number of ordinary people who would be willing to donate what it costs a farmer in the developing world to buy a sheller, namely $45, that would go a long way toward getting us the funds we need to establish ourselves. Contributions in any amount can be made by pushing the "Donate" button on our Web site, Another option is to make a monthly donation. Sustaining donations of this sort are extremely helpful in planning and budgeting.

Allied Ronin: You gave me a video to watch. Is the video online and easy to view? If so, where can a person go to view it?
J&E: That same web site, has a video of one of our trips to Uganda and another video of our efforts in the Philippines. Just click on the heading "Video". We plan on expanding our Web site in the near future.

Allied Ronin: How can people contact The Full Belly Project? John: Anyone can contact us through our Web site or at Full Belly Project, 1020 Chestnut Street, Wilmington, NC 28401 or by phoning us at 910-452-0975 or by email at

Allied Ronin: is there anything else that you would like to say about the Full Belly Project and/or anything else?
John : Before Fully Belly came along, at one point I was asked what I would like to work on. I said I would like to work on world hunger. Later I though how arrogant to think any one person could have an effect on world hunger. Then my opportunity came with Full Belly. I invite your friend and associates to create their own opportunities by supporting our efforts. Thank you, Lance, for giving us this opportunity to communicate with people who could make all the difference in a world where it sometimes seems that no one cares.

Allied Ronin: Thanks so very much for taking time to let us know about The Full Belly Project and what you are doing - and most importantly, for doing it.

AFTERMATH - and continuing
Today is Friday, September 12. I am sitting in my room at the Longhill Hotel in Hangzhou China resting and getting ready to deliver two leadership trainings with the Samurai Game® (here for cultural and political reasons we call it The Warrior Game™). I am jetlagged, having arrived late last night after over twenty-four hours of driving and flying. I opened my email -and - there's message from John Fogg. I'll cut and paste the entire text for you:

From foggbird@yahoo.comLance, we just have been named an Awards Laureate by the Tech Museum in San Jose, CA. See This is a huge honor and may give us needed access to Silicon Valley. Meanwhile we are trying to put together a promotional video to use for our fund raising. And as they say, it takes money to make money. We figure that the video will cost us $10,000. While that is a lot of money, it will multiple itself by acting as a promotional video for our fund raising. I wonder if you could consider putting our request on your Web site. It would be possible that one of your friends, students, associates would be willing to help us with this. As you taught us, you have to put it out there in the universe if you want the universe to respond.
Thanks, John
John M. Fogg

My reply:3:10am - Sept 12 - Hangzhou, China (just got here -- working w/jetlag) Hi John -- I'll be happy to! I'll add it to the interview that will go out, plus have it added to "home page" of -- Congratulations! and love/respect to you - lance
Support The Full Belly Project

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chronicle from China - Sept 13, 2008

The people are as they always have been all my past trips - very gracious. You wouldn't believe the smog tho. Worse than what I remembered in Beijing. Today I'm southeast (pretty sure) of Shanghai many miles (don't know how many but it's hundreds). Flew into Hangzhou two days ago ( I know that's southeast of Shanghai) stayed the night there. Then yesterday drove about 3 hours to get here to Yongkang ... no sun, 'cept glimpses I got of it was over my right shoulder therefore I say I was driving south ... could not make out hills that were over mile away during the drive. Everywhere brick smokestacks, tho you can only see smoke coming out of some. I didn't know if that's because what's coming out is same color as the surrounding sky OR if those were just not operating at the moment. Shame, cuz many hills are the "typical" high cone verdant shapes that come out of the rivers areas ... types that you see in travel agent posters advertising China. This morning (I just got up) it's the same. Air you wear and taste. I imagine where this will put the people health-wise in about 20 years and the magnitude of problems they will face personally and eco nomically.

Their economy is being hit also. We in the US hear that China's "growth has slowed but that it's still double digits each year" which in the US would be good news, i.e. double digits. But the talk for average person here is in terms of thousands of factories that have closed. Hard to imagine "thousands of factories" but that's what I heard. A factory could be small ... plus were talking 1.4ish billion people in the same relative land mass (+ 10k sq miles = not much) as the US and nestled between mountains except for the vastness of the Golbe Dessert.

A lot (I mean a lot) of the land that comprises the hills and in between them that I saw on the way here is terraced for ag purposes. If there's soil, something's most likely growing on it that can serve people. Very green, very pretty. I kept asking myself on the drive, "Where's the sun?" I would be magnificent if there was blue sky and sunshine.

The town I'm in, Yongkang, is very very small - only 300,000 people. Hangzhou - which I'll return to tomorrow late after noon for another program there on 17-18 (16-17 your time) - is referred to as a small city = only 3 million people (kinda redefines Petaluma and Santa Rosa!!). I thought both programs would be in Hangzhou but plans changed due to an=2 0annual "autumn festival" ... kind of like our "harvest moon" or "blue moon" because (I was told) the moon is now full tomorrow and closest this moment to earth than any time in the year ... and people come back to their families for feast this weekend, especially this Sunday. A full moon it may be ... but no one will see. People from here (Yongkang) that were interested in the class were not too keen about traveling to Hangzhou to take a seminar cuz they want to party after the class with family. But they were A-OK about me coming here. So here I am.

If I can find cable linking camera to computer I'll download pix then will send. Guess I left that cable in haste to get out the door for trip here.
As usual I tap into KGO Radio 810 via the internet, so I can have "traffic on the 8's" throughout the day... hear the weather reports, listen to Ronn Owens in the morning your time (1am my time) and Gene Burns in the evening your time ... I'd be on way home from dojo at that hour (11am here). Now if I can just get KNBR Sports Radio 680 I'll be able to listen to the Giants play baseball. So much for "being here now" ... but I gotta have at least one vice.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Walls, Boundaries, Barriers and the Like

Fixed fortifications, huh? Monuments to the stupidity of man.

When mountain ranges and oceans could be crossed anything

built by man can be overcome.

- George C. Scott (as George Patton in the film "Patton")

Robert Frost penned Mending Wall in 1914. For nearly a century now five of its most quoted words often remain misused. "Something there is," begins Frost, "that doesn't love a wall, that sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, and spills the upper boulders in the sun; and makes gaps even two can pass abreast." Frost places himself and a neighbor making their annual walk to repair the stone division between their properties after nature has completed her winter handiwork. In the midst of his share of rock laying Frost ponders aloud the need for a wall's existence. His neighbor hears this and replies with memorized certainty, "'Good fences make good neighbors.'" A reflective mood descends on him and he wonders, "Why do they make good neighbors?... Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offence." Those five words were arguably meant to cause us to think and consider other possibilities, possibilities that could make walls unnecessary. Sadly, many have used those five words to justify isolation.

Ironically the year Frost contemplated the rifts between and within people and completed that poem the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo. The result: The War That Would End All Wars raged for four years, split at world, created more walls, more fear and distrust, the remains of which stand to this day, not only in a physical sense, in that part of the world ... and here.

Today is June 30, 2008. A stark image (and its accompanying title, "The Great Wall of America") rips across the cover of Time Magazine and catches my attention. I buy a copy. A solitary black line cuts the white desert sand that joins (or divides depending on your viewpoint) the United States of America and los Estados Unidos de Mexico. Unrelated and juxtaposed (my opinion) another image appears in the magazine cover's upper left hand corner: the image of a gazing down Tim Russert. A man dedicated, at least the latter years of his life, to questioning lines drawn by people... lines sometimes based on inaccuracy or dishonestly or greed or without merit (again, my opinion) fashioned by people wielding huge amounts of social, political and/or economic power.

Time's cover urges my own reflection and I recall the small mining communities of my youth: Ray, Sonora, Barcelona and Kearny, all just a few miles north of the Gila River, which also cuts - though not as unforgivingly as the fence on Time's cover - across southern Arizona. The Gila constituted the U.S.-Mexican border until 1853 when James Gadsden and Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana signed a controversial deal that moved the border dramatically south and added about thirty thousand square miles to the U.S. Given the nature the deal, had it occurred last year (2007), Gadsden and Santa Ana would likely have been invited by Russert onto Meet the Press for a good grilling. Santa Ana (President of Mexico) squandered the money received... money badly needed by his citizens; and Gadsden, our Minister to Mexico who brokered the purchase did so to make possible a rail link between Texas and the Pacific, and in the process personally acquired corporate shares of the railroad involved. Then there's the little known case of Tennessee-born William Walker. A lawyer turned filibuster and businessman, Walker's righteous outrage and zeal to secure more land for America than the Gadsden Purchase allowed, led him and his band of mercenaries into Mexico in 1853. There he established the short-lived independent Republics of Lower California and Sonora. Of course this all happened one hundred fifty-five years ago. Shenanigans of this sort involving obscure deals at high government levels, blurred lines between public service and corporate (or personal) interest, and privatized armed incursions led by American civilians onto foreign soil establishing supposed sovereignties are impossible today. Correct?

Twenty years following Gadsden's deal and Walker's incursion, copper oar was discovered in an area north of the Gila River and Aravaipa Creek confluence. In the 1870's the small towns of Ray, Sonora and Barcelona came into being and from then until the mid-1960's they circumscribed the mine that sought the copper. This mine still exists, and is today one of the world's largest. Ray, Sonora and Barcelona, on the other hand, are dead. Were you to look where they once stood you would find no evidence of their existence. Their memory literally hangs in the air.

Initially an underground operation, the Ray Mine created opportunity. Different cultures came together for work. The communities these cultures formed, however, were separated by a subjective wall. We had no name for it. It was simply "just that way." Of course no one called it segregation; because segregation was something that existed in Georgia and Mississippi and Alabama... not Arizona. For six decades the residents of Ray greeted one another with, "Good morning." In Sonora and Barcelona, both only a mile distant, the salutation was, "Buenos dias." And, unless going to or from work or church, it was unwise to cross the invisible wall, especially after dark. On foot, in a car, on a mule or horse, on a date with your girlfriend or boyfriend, to school and certainly by marriage you stayed where you were expected to stay. Then something shifted.

By the late 1940's high-grade veins of copper were being mined out. Only low-grade ore remained in the rock, rock that could neither safely or economically be taken using underground shafts. The shafts and the small compressed air locomotives needed to haul the booty were abandoned. Large treaded earth scooping "shovels" and mammoth trucks replaced them to strip and move the ground off and into the milling/smelting process. A small open pit emerged and became a symbol of progress. As the symbol (the pit) grew it forced cultures to adjust. Of necessity, people were uprooted, moved from one town to another and began living next door to each other. The pit, a physical wall of sorts, grew into and overcame the towns. The transformation ushered the demise of separation. Once kept apart by a mile-wide hole, the people (actually we, because I lived there then) were obliged to join and live with each other.

In the mid-1950's the mine pushed west. Barcelona disappeared. Sonora began to shrink. It's swimming pool vanished as did some businesses. People with names like Contreras, Mercado, Abril, Escalante and Campos ventured across the divide and found homes next door to the Smoots, Hatfields, Warrens, Tafts and the Bishops. Schools consolidated. Kids with different lineages, languages and religions had to sit next to each other in Ray's one-building high school and one-building elementary school. Not everyone liked it. Knives were common at school. Chains were carried on the streets at night. Crossing any barrier, any wall, requires not just physical action, it is often an act of the heart made in the face of fear.

People rarely abandon their fears. Even if they espouse the opposite, change of this nature takes work, effort and practice. We try, we fall down, we get up and go at it again. Life is a journey not a destination. Yes, that is cliché. That's why it's so valid! Our fears are our greatest walls and potentially our greatest anchors. In times of challenge and change it is human nature to slip back into the past even if the future is better. This is homeostasis. In Mastery, George Leonard urges an understanding of the power and the effect of homeostasis, and reminds us that every self-regulating system (we certainly are that, individually and collectively) will resist change even if the change we seek is good for the system. On pages 149 and 150 of Mastery he addresses a key tool for progress in the face of homeostasis, which he calls The Edge. He writes: "The path of mastery is built on unrelenting practice, but it's also a place of adventure. A couple on the path stays open to experience and is willing to play new games, dance new dances together. Perhaps the greatest adventure of all is intimacy: the willingness to strip away one layer of reticence after another, and on certain occasions to live entirely in the moment, revealing everything and expecting nothing in return."

America's post-war economy rushed to greet the 1960's. Industries and families were spreading across the country along with an increased press for inexpensive goods and services. Copper was in high demand so that the electricity this growth required could be transported. Similar demands rested on European nations re-emerging from WWII and united with the U.S. as NATO - racing against a Soviet Warsaw Pact living behind an Iron Curtain. The pit mine near the Gila River quickened its expansion - now spreading north and east. The backyards of Ray's inhabitants (time-honored as well as those more newly arrived from Sonora and Barcelona) were threatened and devoured - and became dumping grounds. Raw earth, we were told, would soon cover Ray's ball fields and parks. Even the graveyard was not immune. Families were informed that their departed loved ones' remains would need to be relocated. It was all hard to imagine when we were first told. But it all happened. Knowing that growth would continue and that people working and living together were essential to sustain the growth, the mining company built a new town "just down the road a bit" from Ray and Sonora and empty Barcelona. Kearny was born. A place where everyone would live together, not because we were in search of something from one another, but rather because we had to.

In 1961 while a one-upon-a-time barrier pressed different peoples of our communities to live and communicate together, a barrier of a different nature, an actual wall, was under construction 5,636 miles to the east. Berlin. And its purpose: separate a single city populated by like peoples; force them to part and communicate no more.

Walls. They seemed to be everywhere.

The morphing of Ray and Sonora into a singular Kearny gave rise to new challenges and opportunities, e.g. the five structures housing differing religious perspectives now had to co-exist in closer proximity. The volume of weekend rhetoric espousing each one's separate, yet correct TRUTH got louder on certain street corners. Distinct divisions were drawn in verbal sand. Righteousness (in whatever form) was no longer contained within the structures that housed the pulpits and pews; it found its way into cafés and bars, playgrounds and schools. Everyone knew who to hang out with and who to avoid, who was right and who was wrong, and who was and wasn't going to make it to the Other Side.

As I read the main article "A New Line In the Sand" in today's Time, I am particularly struck by a paragraph near its end and find myself looking beyond these words as a strict application to a border between two countries. David Von Drehle writes:

"What the fence tells us, then, is that marking the border and aggressively patrolling it can reduce illegal activity. The fence also carries a lesson about limits, for it is only as effective as the force that backs it up. Even the Great Wall of China was not impermeable. Osmosis explains why concentrations of water seek equilibrium across a barrier. Something similar applies to money. The difference in per capita income between the U.S. and Mexico is among the greatest cross-border contrasts in the world, according to David Kennedy, a noted historian at Stanford. As long as that remains true, the border fence will be under extreme pressure. People will climb over it; they'll tunnel under it" they'll hack through it; they'll float around it." (p 35, Time, VOL. 171, No. 26 / 2008)

Boundaries are important especially with regards respect, dignity, understanding and learning to live with others. But walls can also become hard, steadfast and rigid. They can eliminate the potential and possibility for future communication. There is a serious problem, I suggest, when the statement that a barrier or wall makes becomes more important than the potential for future constructive communication that the wall blocks; communication that honorably could come through to find common ground and understanding for a harmonious future. Harmony is not static tolerance. It is a dynamic dance of separate tones. It evokes grace, ease, joy, spontaneity and moments of playful surprise.

I look at the cover of today's Time again and find myself thinking about boundaries: personal and group. Walls are not single-functioned, one-sided structures. I gaze again and think, "Hmmmm, what if someone - a U.S. citizen - standing near that border saw an oncoming brush fire, or a swarm of hornets, or an angry mob or gang approaching from the north, or an unjust sheriff or a body of government officials (when did we start referring to public servants as government officials?), or a bully, or a deranged person carrying a club, or a despot - or a system clever enough to successfully scam people out of their voice (its responsibility, authority and freedom) and into a comfortable cloak called security - woven by threads comprised of promises. (Have you ever seen anything in nature that is actually static and therefore secure?) And suppose that that person needed to move... to walk or quickly flee south ... in order to avoid the fire or the disease or the bully, etc., for the sake of health or preservation or freedom for himself or herself or the family. Well then, the wall wouldn't be keeping anyone out... it would be keeping that person in. We have to understand that walls are impersonal and those with little or no doors, or doors that are controlled by the few can house prisons. For eighteen months I weekly visited a prison doing volunteer work. It always struck me that in many ways that the inmates were not the only prisoners who lived there. The inmates were the prisoners that stayed overnight. Ahhhh... but this is all kind of far-fetched imagining when considered within the context of "The Great Wall of America" on Time's cover. Isn't it?

This past Friday and Saturday I delivered a program for Run Rhino , a Santa Cruz, California consulting firm. The program included an interactive aikido demonstration, which when completed opened to a reflective dialogue for participants who translated lessons the demonstration provided into issues relevant to relationship and communication. Aikido is a martial art dedicated to promote harmonious resolution to all conflicts. One of the participants, a woman from Canada, offered, "I saw simultaneous acts of leading and following, and it made me think of the possible agreements and solutions that could rise out of conflict, agreements and solutions that could come into being - but only if people are willing to look for, create, and share a common language... not just words, but a language based on understanding."

Today is Monday, June 30th. I'm sitting at my desk looking out onto Prospect Street here in Petaluma, California. Having these thoughts and writing these words and wondering if the underlying fabric of the notion of walls and barriers and boundaries really matters in any way to anyone in particular. This is my nineteenth year in Petaluma; I've lived here longer than anywhere else in my life... including the communities of Ray, Sonora, Barcelona and Kearny. I've been (and am) a Petaluma west-side resident. Hail to the Trojans! - Petaluma High School's mascot (this side of town). I've been an east-side Petaluma resident, too. Hurray for the Gouchos! The mascot for Casa Grande High School (the other side of town). Petaluma's a nice place: fifty-five thousand people divided right down the middle by a freeway; old farms, heritage homes and chicken houses to the west; stucco and high-tech buildings to the east. Friendly competition.

I look out the window this morning. A man walks down the north side of the street. He's walked this way everyday since I moved into my house. His motion breaks my concentration. He passes #510 Prospect across the way and enters more of my field of vision. I find myself wondering, "What will he do today?" Each morning he shuffles by here wearing a cap and an oversized black windbreaker. His shoes, sneakers, look out of place for his age. He has a bushy mustache. He's headed east (as usual) to the corner of Prospect and Walnut Streets where a yellow fire hydrant adjacent to a stop sign stands like a silent sentry guarding the neighborhood. In the past this fellow has always stopped at the hydrant, gazed east ... then south... then west from whence he came ... then east and south again. It's obvious he's pondering. Something inside him is talking. It's as if he's listening for someone to say, "It's OK. You can go across Walnut Street today and continue walking two blocks to Liberty Street, or wherever else you want to go." But I've never seen him take a step to cross over Walnut Street. In fact, I've never seen his foot depart the sidewalk and touch the pavement. He always turns north after his pattern of gazing and shuffles up the road away from where I look. He always disappears into the shadows until the morrow when he comes back - again from the west and headed east. I don't judge him, but I am curious. I wonder about him. He looks like a nice guy. I think someone probably cares a lot about him. Today I find myself quietly rooting, "Go ahead ... take the step ... it's OK... it really is." Then I go still and watch. He stops, considers the hydrant, gazes east, gazes south ... turns back to look west, then to the east and south again. Interestingly, now, he moves diagonally to the storm drain right at the edge of the walkway and looks down. And then ...

      Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

      That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

      And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

      And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.


      And on a day we meet to walk the line

      And set the wall between us once again.

      We keep the wall between us as we go.

      To each the boulders that have fallen to each.


      Before I build a wall I'd ask to know

      What I was walling in or walling out,

      And to whom I was like to give offence.

      Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

      That wants it down. I could say, 'Elves' to him,

      But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather

      He said it for himself.


      He will not go behind his father's saying,

      And he likes having thought of it so well

      He says it again, 'Good fences make good neighbours.'

... he turns and proceeds north, as he has each day for quite a long time.

What are the walls we, you and I, live by? The ones between us? The ones within us?

What do they serve? What don't they serve? What do they cost?

What do they wall in? What do they wall out?

Are they worth it? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

if not, then what can be done about this ... if only in some small measure ... today?

Do it.

The Afterward. It's early Thursday morning, July 3rd, 2008. Tomorrow is Independence Day. I'm at Starbucks. I walked across Petaluma a little while ago, over the freeway to the east side, to shop and have a cup of coffee where my youngest son works. In a little while I'll walk back to my home office. No one's permission needed for the journey, except mine. It's a long way to walk for a cup of coffee, but that's OK because I can combine exercise with errands, and errands with breakfast, and breakfast with the possibility of seeing a young man at his first real job. I can save gas, too. No car needed, just a good pair of sneakers. Above my head the sound system is piping out music. I strain a bit to hear the tune. Starbucks sells good CDs in addition to good coffee. They play their music low so that customers are enveloped by subtle background sounds. Similarly, the background aroma of fresh coffee heightens the possibility that some in the store will be influenced into buying another cup. Smart marketing. It helps drive sales. Lord knows Starbucks needs help. Yesterday's headlines included news that the mega-chain will soon close six hundred U.S. stores. I hope my son keeps his job. But, there is no such thing as stability, and there are no guarantees. It's out of his (and my) hands. A job lost won't be the end of the world, just an opportunity to deal with change. A learning experience. I strain a bit more to hear the music. I think I recognize the duo, but it sounds like a live recording, not the studio version that was one of my favorites at Ray District High School back in Kearny. Sure enough it's them - Paul & Art - live! I listen ... and I hear:

      A winters day

      In a deep and dark December;

      I am alone,

      Gazing from my window to the streets below

      On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.

      I am a rock,

      I am an island.

      I've built these walls,

      A fortress deep and mighty,

      That none may penetrate.

      I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.

      Its laughter and its loving I disdain.

      I am a rock,

      I am an island.

      Don't talk of love,

      I've heard that word before;

      It's sleeping in my memory.

      I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.

      If I never loved I never would have cried.

      I am a rock,

      I am an island.

      I have my books

      And my poetry to protect me;

      I am shielded in my armor,

      Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.

      I touch no one and no one touches me.

      I am a rock,

      I am an island.

      And a rock feels no pain;

      And an island never cries.

On the recording the crowd cheers wildly. Sitting at Starbucks I mist up and almost cry. But I stop. Someone might not understand or think I'm weird, so I keep my feelings inside. I'm caught ... still learning ... still practicing. Walls, they seem to be everywhere.

© Lance Giroux,

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Case for Long Term Purposeful Practice

“I will tell you what I am talking about,” he [Malcolm] said. “Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can’t be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.”
- Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park – p. 306

May 28, 2008
I found myself yesterday sitting in a small boardroom on a local university campus. Asked there by the Dean of Students, I attended a meeting with senior administrators. Their interest was (and remains) the potential that experiential education in general, and the Samurai Game® in particular, might hold for incoming freshmen - The Class of 2012. The school seeks engaging ways to deepen one’s understanding of the need for sincere commitment and an investment of self in the educational process - something that is life-long. “Young people today, especially in our country, have grown up believing they deserve an A,” said one of the administrators. “We have a generation that has never really faced loss. Many arrive on our campus believing that an education is something they are entitled to rather than something they have to earn.”

As much as I attempted to remain in the “here and now” at the meeting, I found a part of me reflecting on: (1) the news of the day, and (2) a meeting I had had just prior to this one, a meeting filled with lessons - seemingly timeless – for anyone, any organization, and any culture.

First - The News of The Day (that really isn’t “news”). They come, as they have for quite some years, in sound bites, and I can hear them in the recesses of my mind while the three administrators talk. Sound bites of the day -- • The market is up … the market is down. • Countrywide Financial is sinking, Oh my … what will become of us now? • Scott McClellan’s new book tells all about the current administration • Average price of gas is now $4.20/gal in northern California. -- As this all runs through my mind I recall a scene from the film, Good Night and Good Luck, in which Edward R. Morrow (David Strathairn) advises us to pay attention, remain vigilant and keep sharp our thinking skills lest we, individually and collectively, slip into a lazy mental fog; a fog created by information, mis-information and news (not really news) offered up by a medium that has become more connected to the products (and ideas) marketed than to the people it was designed to serve. Hence, news and information becomes neither news or information, rather a series of sales pitches wherein the national psyche, the marketplace and individual thought merge into a consciousness demanding quick fixes- and we believe that there is one way things are destined to (or should) be and we’ve got to get there fast, and with this (whatever it is) solution we will remain there and that way into the hereafter. My memory flashes on a recent radio program and I hear the commentator’s words as he discusses the geographical shape of our planet’s continents, “ … and when the continental plates stopped drifting …. “ When I heard those words on the radio I recall saying to myself, “Stopped drifting? Say’s who? When did Earth’s plates stop drifting? Aren’t they drifting still?” Language is a powerful thing and creates foundations that hold current reality. But what happens when a foundation is full of holes?

Are we (you and I) living in a national consciousness that honestly thinks we can (or should) arrive at a place and time (or that maybe we already have) wherein change and challenge and chaos, responsibility and accountability, effort and study and investment are no longer the order of the day? In other words, in which we and/or our children are entitled to a great life that is pre-ordained or chosen simply because we (or they) are, after all, special? Says who? Thinking of the many months spent outside the US the past five years and a lot of that in China, I recall a proverb – “Life is hard, then you die.” Dr. M. Scott Peck’s words come to mind, words that form the opening lines of his book The Road Less Traveled - “Life is difficult. This is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no long difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

At the January 2008 Allied Ronin Leaders’ Retreat we viewed the film “Enron- The Smartest Guys in the Room”. If you haven’t seen this film, you may want to. If you have seen it, watch it again. It contains more than one sitting can digest. You and I lived through the Enron debacle, but do we understand its lessons? If so, are we vigorously applying them today? Enron, its rise and fall, still affects us dramatically. There is strong argument that the mentality and practices that fostered the ill effects of Enron’s collapse remain alive and well and in force throughout much of our social, political and corporate cultures - right now. Think! What attitudes, ideas and ideals drove this organization, its partners, leaders, managers, agents, proponents and investors to act as they did? How is this reflected in our schools and institutions? And how is this then reflected in the sub-prime mortgage crisis that is gripping our world today? Most importantly - where and how are similar attitudes, ideas and ideals showing up on a micro scale, i.e. around town and in the neighborhoods in which you live? What can you do about this on a practiced and practical basis?

Next – The Meeting (that really was “a meeting”). Just prior to arriving on the campus I had the good fortune to spend some time with George and Annie Leonard. We met for tea at their Mill Valley home and talked for an hour about a test of mine that occurred the preceding weekend … a test that on one hand culminated an eight-year phase of training, and on the other hand begins of a phase of training that hopefully will last the rest of my life. At some point Annie had to go to an appointment, leaving George and I alone, and he turned to me and asked, “Would you like to come to my study and see a few things?” On the walk up the stairs he offered, “You know, I never thought I would be an old person.” George Leonard, the life-long teacher, one more time saying something to me … giving me (following him up an incline of stairs reminiscent of “the master’s path” outlined in his book) a lesson to remember as I too add years to my life.

In his study sat a model of an A-20 aircraft – the attack fighter/bomber he flew in combat. Adjacent to the model were pictures from his youth - the cockpit, the uniform, the comrades. On the wall more pictures: him with his clarinet alongside a friend holding a flute; a photo with one of the other co-founders of Esalen Institute “Pull up that chair,” he said, “and let’s take a look at some of this stuff.” And we did. First edition copies of his books, including those that have been translated into foreign languages. Pictures taken in flight (by him) during wartime missions. Awards from Look Magazine acknowledging his enormous contribution. Scrapbooks with his original articles scooping the Civil Rights movement in America’s Deep South, a South into which he was born and a South that was transformed in part by his writing. I had no idea of the personal contact and relationship he had had with Martin Luther King, Jr., or Bobby Kennedy. But there it all was in black and white and color. Another section held the complete chronicle of the work he had done, along with one photographer, probing the Iron Curtain … actually traveling and approaching a 6,000 mile expanse of territory to see what it (and the then Soviet Block forces who guarded it) were made of. Just before I left he pointed to his current book-in-progress and invited a look there too. Yes, he’s still at it, or as he said earlier that day as we talked about the tests one faces in life and about continuing to write about them, “As long as there’s a spark in here (tapping his chest) I’m going to continue.” As I departed he said, “I’ll see you later.” George Leonard, the life-long learner reminding me (and you) of the need to grow, study, contribute … and practice … no matter what.

As I left Mill Valley and headed over to the university campus my overwhelming thoughts were of times we had spent together, in person and on the phone, talking about values and the need for long- term purposeful practices. Today, as I write these words, in front of me sits a copy of his 1991 book, Mastery – still in print, still in bookstores, still in demand seventeen years after its first publication. I flip to page twenty-seven and the chapter titled, America’s War Against Mastery. Words written almost two decades ago jump out at me:

“Our society is now organized around an economic system that seemingly demands a continuing high level of consumer spending.”
[Sound familiar?]
“Try paying close attention to television commercials. What values do they espouse? …. Some … to fear. Some to logic. Some to snobbery. Some to pure hedonism (on a miserable winter day in a city a young couple chances upon a travel agency; their eyes focus on a replica of a credit card on the window and they are instantly transported to a dreamy tropical paradise).”
[I chuckle to think what Leonard would have written had ED and Viagra or Ciealis commercials been on TV when he wrote the book; advertisements encouraging us to be always ready for when the mood is right; advertisements with disclaimers that of necessity must accompany when offered to a litigious and entitled society - in case, after four hours, we find ourselves still highly engaged in (and physically unable to get out of) the mood!]

“And the sitcoms (etc.) … on the same hyped-up schedule: (1) If you make smart –assed one-liners for a half hour, everything will work out fine in time for the closing commercials. (2) People are quite nasty, don’t work hard, and get rich quickly. (3) No problem is so serious that it can’t be resolved in the wink of an eye as soon as the gleaming barrel of a handgun appears. (4) The weirdest fantasy you can think of can be realized instantly and without effort.”
Do these words from Mastery apply today? They sure do. We know that our lives and pocketbooks will soon adjust to HDTV – becoming not only be the norm, but the necessity. And what is popular on the tube (actually the flat screen) these days? The Apprentice, Survivor, Dancing With The Stars, Crime Scene Investigation, Dog the Bounty Hunter, The Biggest Loser and American Idol.

Go back to those four items cited above relating to: one-liners, everything will work out, nasty people, get-rich-quick thinking, gleaming gun barrels, and weird fantasies. Then think of today’s TV shows, so popular that the episodes are discussed in detail on talk radio the day following as if their significance really matters to the world at large. Two generations are being fed Britney and Paris for breakfast, lunch and supper – yet know not the location of Myanmar nor the kind of the international backlash facing nations that dare to host privatized military forces, e.g. Blackwater. We were warned about this kind of indulgence by Eisenhower, Morrow and others. Alas, ask on the street who they were and you’ll get blank stares by bucket loads.

Questions Worth Reflecting Upon And Worth Answering. What are your practices? Are you aware of them? For what purpose are you practicing these things? What results will your practices produce … short term and long term? Beyond yourself, who else is attending to your practices? Are you sure? Who is following in your footsteps … the examples you are setting? Do you know? Who and what is being influenced by the practices you live by?

“Now, what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone [e.g. the black belt in karate] has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won’t use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control. The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won’t abuse it.

But [the kind of power your chase] is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. --– There is no mastery: old [masters] are ignored. --– There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy. …
And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don’t even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity. The buyer doesn’t even conceive that any discipline might be necessary.”

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park – p. 306 - 307