With this issue, The Porch turns 21. Coming of age, some might say. In some ways, twenty-one years is a fair amount of measured time, yet when cast amid billions of years of history it doesn’t even register. Unless, of course, it is 21 years in your own lifetime.
Then again, not all 21-year segments of history are equal.
Nor, perhaps, is there any reason to compare them. So, I won’t try. Yet, I will suggest that these last few years seem to have had a unique potency. They have been rich for learning, growing, expanding — all the while deepening, if we dare have the courage to go there. The twenty-one year mark – and for that matter, the start of any New Year – does give reasonable pause for reflection.
When I left my career at Arthur Andersen, now just over 26 years ago, I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want any of my work (whether it was through presentations, books, interviews, or social media) to be about telling someone what they “should” do or what they “need” to do. Not a “list” of this or a “program” for that. There is a plethora of those lists and programs for individuals seeking quick answers or immediate direction. And some bring great value. Yet the essence of what I felt called to do seemed to beg a different approach. No doubt I have, at times, blatantly or subtly failed at that approach – sometimes pushed by someone wanting a concrete or practical answer or my own ego wanting to dance in the spotlight of showing some sense of knowing – unfortunately when I didn’t call to mind the right question that would have been far more valuable than any single point of view.
My intent, in any of my work, has been simply to stir someone’s thinking.
It was to create an experience to get someone not only thinking, but perhaps thinking about something all too familiar – in an unfamiliar way. Yet perhaps it was the wrong approach from the very beginning. Not totally, but a least partially. Thinking, itself, has its own limits – especially when my thinking is triggered as a means to confirm if I agree or disagree with something that has just been shared.
I’ve noticed recently, that if the cognitive go-to filter amongst participants in a discussion is to assess agreement or disagreement, then each have already limited possibility and opened the door of their mind to more confirmative type of thinking and more importantly closed the door to the potential of a new or expanded way of understanding.
My intent of this Porch newsletter has been to create a place to sit and ponder the issues of business and life in fresh and unpredictable ways. I selected a porch as an intentional metaphor – a place that lends itself to pausing, pondering and open-minded discussions. A place that yearns for one or a few to listen, learn, share, question, and grow. Not to convince, dominate, or win – but to wander and leave the interaction with more questions than answers. More wonder.
I write this reflection on-the-road in Savannah GA where my wife Cindy and I decided to take a somewhat random 3-day getaway for a refreshing start to the New Year. If you have been to Savannah, you will know it holds both its charm and mystery. The massive trees, that fill the numerous neighborhood squares, make home to the Spanish Moss gently hanging from their branches. That alone holds its own feel of mystery.
We decided to take a trolly tour to get the lay of the land. The tour guide was a wealth of information that no doubt got me thinking – especially as we passed the large Colonial Park Cemetery and she nonchalantly announced that you would certainly want to return there as it makes for a lovely place to stroll.
With numerous other parks and squares, I was thinking that there were plentiful other options. Oddly enough, later in the afternoon as we set out on foot to aimlessly stroll the neighborhoods and squares, we found ourselves stumbling upon the Colonial Park Cemetery. It is huge, and in its own way, would be hard to miss. My initial reaction to the trolley driver’s passing comment, could have easily justified substituting my own preferred options for strolling and missed the experience altogether.
But we were there, and the momentum of one foot in front of the other soon found me standing at the foot of a gravesite approaching 300 years old. A sense of humility and respect fell upon me. A presence that you don’t choose, yet one that you naturally respond to. Unless, of course, you are trying to avoid it. Or you realize there is no way to avoid it – and so you join it, immerse in it and let the experience start to hold you. It wasn’t long before I realized that I was no longer moving from grave-to-grave.
I was moving from story-to-story.
The deteriorating cement gravestones that marked each of the numerous graves only retained part of the narrative – as if a stone could ever hold or do justice to the story initially contained below it. Before, we knew it, Cindy and I had strolled in different directions as if such an experience required you to move to a place of solitude.
Oddly enough, there was soon a deep and comforting peace that seemed to have engulfed the entire cemetery park and beyond. There was no division, no differences of opinion, no right or wrong, nor any boundaries limited by the wall that surrounded the huge cemetery. And frankly before I realized it, there was no more thinking. Just being. A sense of being “with” something much bigger than thinking.
Perhaps, it would serve us well, instead of digging more graves with our thinking, to stroll amongst the ones that already exist to perhaps change the perspective that informs how we think in the first place.
There is something wise in the paradox of realizing that the more I experience, the more comfortably I can realize how little I know. I suppose this paradox is what tils and fertilizes the soil into which seeds of both humility and possibility can be planted. This is what makes any porch upon which you pause, a place of opportunity – even though it may not always initially feel that way.
Although time is an illusion, every New Year comes with a reality of new beginnings if we don’t hold too tightly to what has passed, what is familiar, or what is comfortable.
Yet, it seems to be human nature to want to grab onto something as change accelerates. As I have shared many times, we are in slow motion compared to where we’re headed. Scientific discoveries and technological advances will only thrust the human experience into high gear – possibly to a point where it will become harder to even know what to hold onto.
What appears to be the obstacle is often the threshold to a new understanding.
More depth may be the one thing that makes all endurable – and wonderful. For some, that depth just might begin by strolling amongst those 6-feet under. It could very well take you a good bit deeper inside your own soul. What a treasure you are most likely to find there – a sense of presence that invites you into a deeper awareness.
Maybe that, instead of time, best defines what it means to come-of-age!
As always, I would love for you to share your insights and stirrings below.