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.

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