Thursday, October 08, 2009

October Potpourri

Friends, Rivals, Wheat, Politicians, Butlers and Bacon

Potpourri (noun) mixture, assortment, collection, selection,

assemblage, medley, miscellany, mix, mélange, variety, mixed bag,

patchwork, bricolage; ragbag, mishmash, salmagundi,

jumble, farrago, hodgepodge, gallimaufry.

What’s nice about creating is the unanticipated and seemingly unrelated collaboration involved. In the midst of pondering what to write, often my writing presents itself as a mixture of offers and gifts received. I look, listen, feel and ask: What’s going on? What’s happening within? What’s coming my way? What’s being sent this direction? The task then is organizing, synthesizing and recording. Here’s this month’s potpourri.

Ingredient #1. John Pace and Nelson Mandela.

A few weeks ago John Pace of Bothell, Washington, an engineer and pilot and friend (we’ve known each other since the late 1970’s), emailed me a link to “Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership”, a 2008 Time magazine article by Richard Stengel,8816,1821467,00.html . John was particularly struck by Lesson #5 (Keep Your Friends Close and Your Rivals Even Closer) and how that item related to the aikido wonderfully demonstrated by Susan Hammond and Lisa Ludwigsen during the last Leaders’ Retreat - and presented as an applied metaphor for effectiveness in relationship, communication and business.

Two nights ago on the aikido mat here in Petaluma, my teacher, Richard Strozzi Heckler, spent an hour walking sixteen of us through a series of scenarios wherein we practiced receiving physical grabs and strikes, some directed at our faces and throats. As this proceeded he instructed us to draw the attackers, and their grabs and strikes, closer to our bodies. Counterintuitive? Yes, and extremely effective! My personal reflection: There are times when I want to embrace only my friends; and at those times I find myself wanting to deny my rivals or push them away or pretend they don’t exist. Yet, it might be both prudent and wise to fully embrace both friends and rivals.

Combining John Pace’s email link, Susan’s and Lisa’s demonstrations, and Richard’s instruction, Mandela’s Lesson #5 applies not solely to friends and rivals that exist in the form of people and situations that surround me, but to the friends and rivals that exist within me. Internal friends are the dreams, aspirations, worthwhile qualities, strengths, values, principles and ideals that I smile about and consider positive or constructive. Internal rivals are the nightmares, worries, faults, weaknesses and shadows that I frown and grumble about, and consider negative or destructive. Consider yourself in my shoes. What do you find?

Ingredient #2. Mark Twain and Minnesota Wheat.

This morning I flipped open Mark Twain’s Library of Humor to a short piece called “Minnesota Wheat” and there I read:

“Let’s see: they raise some wheat in Minnesota, don’t they?”

asked a Schoharie granger of a Michigander.

“Raise wheat! Who raises wheat? No, sir; decidedly no, sir.

It [wheat] raises itself.”

Like wheat, we raise (or lower) ourselves. What matters in any concern reveals itself from within as well as from without. No news here. That is, unless and until we forget and have to be forced by the conditions we are in to remember.

Ingredient #3. The Butler and William Wilberforce.

Amazing Grace, a screenplay written by Steven Knight and released as a major motion picture in 2007, is one of my favorite movies. Its online tagline is, “Behind the song you love is a story you will never forget.” The film is based upon the life of William Wilberforce (1759 –1833), the British politician and Member of Parliament who led England to abolish the slave trade, an effort that consumed most of his external life, and most of his internal energy. Packed with powerful and sometimes haunting scenes, Amazing Grace unfolds the dramatic interplay of Wilberforce’s friends and rivals, external and internal, and shows the completeness and complexity of his achievements and struggles to accept and come to terms with all four - external friends, external rivals, internal friends, and internal rivals.

An important and poignant scene arises when Wilberforce, portrayed as a mixture of pragmatic and eccentric, worldly and spiritual, finds himself alone in his weed-strewn garden, laying on his back and having a chat with God. Here, he is embarrassingly overheard by his butler. At this point, the following discussion unfolds:

Wilberforce: “I know that lying down in the wet grass is not a normal thing to do.”

Butler: “None of my business, sir.”

Wilberforce: Truth is, ah, I’ve been even more strange than usual lately, haven’t I?

The butler shrugs and raises his eyebrows in non-verbal agreement.

Wilberforce: “It’s God!” (his shoulders lower and he continues) “I have ten thousand engagements of State today. But I would prefer to spend the day out here getting a wet ass, and studying dandelions and marveling at bloody spiders’ webs.”

Butler: “You’re found God, sir?!?”

Wilberforce: “I think He found me.” (he plops down onto the grass and disgustingly relates) “Do you have any idea how inconvenient this is? How idiotic it would sound? I have a political career glittering ahead of me, but in my heart I want spiders’ webs!”

Butler. (hops the fence, walks over to his boss and, now as a friend and equal, sits ass-down in the wet grass and offers) “It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else and still unknown to himself.”

Wilberforce, taken aback at this utterance, looks straight into the butler’s eyes.

Butler continues: “Francis Bacon. I don’t just dust your books, sir.” (then the butler gazes off into the distance of his own life and mind and admits) “When I was 15, I almost ran away with the circus. They said I could have been an acrobat.”

(Wilberforce would be a powerful study, particularly in light of our national potpourri re: leadership and influence; politics and business and religion; the media; and what it means today to be progressive, liberal or conservative vs. how that puzzle of words was acted out during his life. The discourse and difference? Stunning.)

Ingredient #4. Bacon (not necessarily synonymous with pork).

The screen play exchange between nineteenth century MP William Wilberforce and his butler enticed: (1) examining Francis Bacon’s quote as it applies to myself, and (2) researching more of what he had to say. To the first point, this is (and I am) a work in progress. To the second, here’s a short sampling:

- “Natural abilities are like natural plants; they need pruning by study.” (Richard Strozzi Heckler just stopped by as I was writing this. On his mind: that encountering defeat in one’s life is foundational to one’s ability to move forward. Hmmm.)

- “Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes.” (The stock market was down this morning. Orders for US manufactured goods is up for the second month in a row. Which bit of info will most people focus on? And you?)

- “[Persons] of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.” (A colleague recently cancelled a project out of concern that it might fail, a full three weeks before the project was due. By all measures in his industry it would have – come to fruit.)

- “If a [person] be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows that [he or she] is a citizen of the world.” (Strangers are not just people. Strangers are those things and ideas that are unknown, unfamiliar, unconventional or new. How are you at showing up as a citizen of the world?)

- “Custom is the principle magistrate of a [person’s] life. (Our customs are the result of our practices – with or without awareness – for good or for bad. My long ago mentor used to say, “We live in prisons of our own manufacturing.” What do you practice every day?)

- “Philosophy when superficially studied, excites doubt, when thoroughly explored, dispels it.” (George Leonard illuminates this in his distinctions between the Dabbler, the Hacker, the Obsessive and the Master in his book “Mastery.”)

- “There is as much difference between the counsel that a friend giveth, and that a man giveth himself, as there is between the counsel of a friend and a flatterer.” (M. Scott Peck’s book “The Road Less Traveled” addresses the need for personal rigor if we are to grow, succeed and thrive, as does Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival”.)

- “The folly (rival) of one man is the fortune (friend) of another.” (The Japanese word for crisis is Ki Ki. It is composed of two kanji: danger and opportunity.)

- “The tragedy of life is not that it ends too soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” (Our lives just got shorter between the time you began reading this and right now. What’cha gonna do with what’s left of your life’s dream and purpose today?)

Ingredient #5. Add a dash more of Ingredient #1 - Mandela’s Lesson #5. Keep friends close and rivals even closer. In some fashion you always respond to both in your external world. You are responsible for both in your internal world. Stay alert, present to and conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of who you are and who you are becoming!

Potpourri (noun) denoting a stew made of

different kinds of meat: from French, literally ‘rotten pot.’


Potpourri (noun) a mixture of dried petals and spices placed in a bowl

or small sack to perfume clothing or a room or space

(Perfume and rotten pot. Smells like friends and rivals, huh?)

© Lance Giroux, October 2009


Clare said...

Lance, thank you for this deeply thought provoking entry. My gut most responded to "“We live in prisons of our own manufacturing.” What do you practice every day?" and I realize the grumpiness with me today is more to do with the underlying fear and shame than the obvious anger. Thanks for today's wake-up call! Looking forward to the weekend with you.

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