Monday, April 25, 2011

Seating Capacity 79

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable

Mary Oliver

A February Friday evening at 7:15 p.m. I am standing inside the William J Geery Theater on Sacramento's "I Street". It's slightly warmer here than on the street, and it's definitely not warm out there. Fortunate. Nick, my son, has access and is able to get us in well before the show. He's only twenty-three, yet quite an accomplished musician - great on trumpet, sousaphone and tuba, xylophone, accordion, guitar and base, vocals and a bit of sax. But the piano and keys - he's unreal! His talents years ago opened a door to his leadership - Tonight's performance, "Personals", is just one on his growing resume' as an orchestra leader.

Nick promised me the best seat in the house - front row, second chair from the left. I don't know what the deal is, but he grinned wide as he told me that. So, I have a feeling there's a risk involved. But when is life not. I've thrice been to his performances of "The Rocky Horror Show". Those of you who've been to a live "Rocky" can appreciate what it's like to be in the audience - especially when cast, crew or orchestra tell you they are giving you something special.

Tonight's doors open in thirty minutes. A few folks are beginning to gather outside. Soon they'll be in here with me and help warm up this place. Like I said, I'm fortunate. At the rear of the theater a posted a sign declares, "Seating Capacity 79". Full House here is relative term. It depends on your point of view. How full is full?

This "Seating Capacity 79" gets me thinking and I find myself wondering about my internal "seating capacity"? When it comes to my willingness to let other in and understand and learn from them. How many "seats" inside me do I have before I become "full"? Within the "theater of my mind" who is actually plays the part - the roles that are unfolding? When I speak is it really me who is doing the talking? Or my father or mother? And, for what purpose? How about you? Your maximum capacities? Who and how many are allows to get in with you, and what about your internal role plays, etc.? When it comes to having, holding and examining perspectives - and dealing with conflicts or inflexibilities that perspectives and perceptions can generate - how much room do you have? How much room do you make? How much room do you give others? Before the door closes.

I look at my watch. Weird, it's actually been about seventy-nine hours (coincidence?) from my arrival back after four weeks of travel that carried me from Northern California to the Puyallup Nation of Washington State; to Brisbane and the Gold Coast and Bond University of Australia; to Malaca and Kuala Lumpur and Sepang of Malaysia; then back to Australia and the international airport of Sydney ... and finally to this front row seat inside of a tiny theater buried deep within Sacramento. What's happened since I left? Gas has gone from $3.20 to $4 per gallon. One of my dearest friends and has undergone brain surgery. The streets I familiarized five months ago in Cairo have been filled and bloodied and transformed beyond my wildest imaginings. Colleagues there have gone silent. Governments across North Africa are teetering or have toppled. Christchurch, New Zealand has been slammed to the earth by the earth. I listened to it unfold over lunch at the Sydney airport. The Academy Awards have come and (yawn) gone. And Charlie Sheen has been - well - Charlie Sheen. Wonder what Britney is up to? (no I don't)

Some years ago, Dr. Kathleen Kane introduced me to a practice called "Dialogue". We all know that word, yes? "di·a·logue (noun) a conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie" [Oxford American Dictionaries]. But this thing she introduced me to went way beyond that -- it captured me into a skill building process of listening and self-examination. Capture? Yep - I'm still there. Kathy uses Dialogue as a key teaching/learning methodology in MBA management and leadership courses at the University of San Francisco. In a way Dialogue incorporates the most basic and elemental principles of the martial art aikido, that I grapple with four days a week. Those principles being: (1) full presence; (2) gracefully moving around a center point; (3) being always willing to enter into a risky situations; (4) blending, blending, blending no matter the cost; (5) adherence to respectful interrupting; (6) maintenance of comportment, integrity and dignity; (7) proper distance and boundaries; (9) proper timing; and (10) knowing when to stop, i.e. shut up!

Here then for your use, is Dialogue - A Method for Enhancing Capacities for Effective Communication, exactly as it was given to me by Dr. Kane. Take it on this month. You just might expand your internal "seating capacity". But you can survive without it. You can always have your old self to hang around with and be right about what you've been right about all along. And things can be (or seem to be) just the way you want them.



Rather than a set of rules, these are reminders of the level of attention that lies at the core of Dialogue. They are aids to enhance the capacity of awareness of our thoughts, feelings, communications, assumptions and judgments - all of which help attend to the meaning unfolding within relationships, groups, teams and organizations.

Building Blocks to Dialogue. These involve learning a new way of being together and interacting. They involve skills that overlap and interweave.

Suspension of Judgment. Because our normal way of thinking divides, distinguishes and creates "ultimate truths" from limited data, it is often difficult for us to stay open to new and alternative views of reality. When we learn to "suspend judgment", we are able to see other points of view, and we hold our own positions "lightly". It is not that we do away with judgments, rather we learn to suspend them to become open to other perspectives and build a more holistic view of our world.

Assumption Identification. The opinions and judgments we hold are usually based on layers of assumptions, inferences and generalizations. Failure to look at the belief systems behind important decisions is often a cause of disappointing results. As we learn to identify our assumptions, we are able to correct incoherencies, explore our differences with others, and build common ground; these are useful skills when working with learning new concepts and ideas, sharing diverse perspectives, and conflict resolution.

Listening. The focus here is on how the way we listen impacts our ability to learn and our effectiveness in building quality relationships. We develop our capacity to stay present and open to the meaning arising at both individual and collective levels.

Inquiry and Reflection. Einstein said, "Our problems cannot be solved at the same level at which they were created." By learning how to ask questions that lead to new levels of understanding, we accelerate our collective learning and gain greater awareness of our own and others' thinking. Through this building block, we reach what David Bohm called the "subtle state of mind" and gain the sensitivity to perceive the thinking process itself and the subtler levels of collective meaning.

Guidelines for Dialogue. Each time a group (or two people) comes together to Dialogue they commit to agreed upon guidelines, the primary function of which is to act as a reminder of an alternate way of being and communicating and of the need for heightened awareness and attention. Some useful guidelines are:

· Listen and speak without judgment

· Speak only for yourself, truthfully

· Acknowledge each speaker

· Respect differences (suspend certainties)

· Suspend role and status importance

· Balance inquiry and advocacy

· Avoid cross-talk

· Focus on learning

· Seek the next level of understanding in order to expand the inquiry

· Balance speaking and listening

Held lightly, the guidelines and building blocks will help groups enter into Dialogue. Held too firmly, they will trap the group in just one more structure and limiting system. Above all else, Dialogue is a living process that requires us to be open to letting go of the known in order to discover new perspectives and understanding.

A Shorthand To Dialogue - The Power of Collective Thinking

· Speak only for yourself, truthfully

· Include what has already been said

· Operate in a more of inquiry - Expand it - Slow it down

· Be aware of internal reactions, motivations, thoughts and feelings

· Be aware of the external conditions of the group

A February Friday. It's 8 p.m. We're all seated and about to watch from individual perspectives our evening of "Personals" unfold. I know I have the best seat in the house. Nick told me so. I'll need to wait to discover just how come. Meanwhile - I look up - his face grows intense. His hands steady above the piano keys. His head takes up a nodding rhythm, and on one of his particular nods the orchestra explodes. I glace around. The house is about 80% full (or 20% empty depending on perspective). Four actors well into their alternative realities rock the stage. I drift into another world for a while just to let all sink in.

Wild Geese (a poem by Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebble of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -

over and over announcing your place

in the family.

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