Lubans’ Tom the Turkey’s Tale

Posted by jlubans on July 31, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Tom’s mates no more. Photo by author.

First published in late 2017, this fable seems more apt today. Here it is again.

Once in winter, a flock of wild turkeys made its circuitous way across farmlands and through forests. There were two dozen, young and old.
One of the older turkeys, Tom by name, somehow mangled his foot and could not keep up.
He called to the flock and asked them to slow down, but no one responded. When the group stopped to graze, Tom caught up, only to be shunned, now a persona non grata.
Several of the healthy turkeys ganged up, surrounding Tom – wings outspread - and sought to peck him to death.
Tom escaped by flying into the branches of a sheltering tree.
A kindly Farmer saw this and put out corn and water.
Whenever the flock returned – eating up all of Tom’s food - Tom would drop down from the tree and limp over to the flock, only to be viciously pecked at.
Thanks to the Farmer and time (and the sheltering tree), Tom’s foot got better; he limped less. Then, one day, he disappeared.

Moral for the workplace: When you see something like what happened to Tom do you participate in the shunning or are you like the Farmer?
When a workmate is ostracized do you lend a helping hand or look the other way?
The flock not only wants to spurn and shame Tom, they want him dead.
Now, in the “Woke, Dox, and Cancel” era some of us daily appear as mean-spirited as Tom’s turkeys. Those atavistic turkey neurons driving the elimination of a weak member of a flock – all for the greater good, of course - seem to be coursing freely in some human brains.
Where’s it lead?
Take a guess.
If your answer includes words like re-education, concentration camps, or gulags you’re getting warm.
A few of my internet friends want people with differing (“misinformed”) opinions silenced and in a few cases, better dead than read. And, preferably, they’d like to see them well “spindled, bent and mutilated” prior to death.
To mangle a phrase, what turkeys these mortals be!
Whence the Golden Rule, Kindness, and Cooperation? Those qualities have helped us evolve and prosper – they still can.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2021

“We can do it” (Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga)*

Posted by jlubans on July 27, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Prague, Czech Republic by Olbram Zoubek 2002. Photo by author.

A Latvian news article caught my eye: “Historian: Latvians see themselves victims, but there are heroes to discover”.
The historian, Markus Meckl, is a professor at Iceland’s University of Akureyri. No stranger to Latvia, he lived and taught in Rīga for two and a half years. Now he teaches annually at Rīga Stradiņš University in their media department.
Meckl’s interview – the one I assigned to my students - is based on his "Latvia's Vanished National Heroes" (2016) paper which suggests that after Latvia regained independence (1991), the ideal of the national hero "simply disappeared and no heroic image emerged. On the contrary, it was now the victim that became the emblem of Latvia’s regained independence."
It reminded me of my family’s flight from Communism after WWII and how my father would rehash the awfulness of communism and how he and his family had long suffered.
There was property seized by the Commissars. There were family members dispatched to Siberia never to return, among other atrocities. And, Latvians were treated as second class citizens by an imported Russian minority in efforts to erase Latvian culture and language.
My father, like many Latvians (and Czechs – see the illustration), did not want the world to forget Stalin’s depredations.
While my father spoke of Latvians as victims, he did not suffer from a full case of “victim syndrome”.
Remarkably, he and my mother in their late 30s with three kids, made a new and successful life in America.
I can recall, with horror, a suicide in our barracks at a German Displaced Persons camp. There were others. Some people just gave up. My father and mother did not; after 4 years as DPs we found a sponsor in Massachusetts.
I do wonder, if his dwelling at times on the awfulness he’d left behind, hindered his American acculturation.
Then, we hear of “cultures of complaint” in workplaces, large and small.
Yesterday my lady barber unloaded a jeremiad on my unsuspecting hairy head:
“I do 30 haircuts a day and I get tired. I’ve never had a vacation or time off. I’ve no money to do anything.”
As an afterthought, she asked if I wanted my eyebrows trimmed, I said no, but would like her to pay extra attention to my ears.
“Well, I’ve done them and that’s all I can do.”
When I paid her, she asked if I wanted a receipt. I guessed this would be a hardship, so I declined.
In a gesture of sympathy (“I feel your pain”) I told her that I had worked for 40 years but would not like to do it again.
She, like most workplace Jeremiahs, ignored me and went on about her miserable life. This all from someone who appeared healthy into middle-age, was well dressed, and remained not un-attractive!
Was this a practical joke? Could have been!
In my career in libraries, I’ve encountered staff who, like victims, “believe they have no control over the way events unfold, they don't feel a sense of responsibility for them.” Instead of “Can Do!” it’s “No Can Do”.
When outside consultants came in and listed out changes, these were rejected by the entrenched staff – they’d say the consultants did not understand the work and that the recommendations were foolish.
All that was needed was for the parent organization to supply money for increased staff and resources. Those were not forthcoming, and the aggrieved staff simply grew more so.
It became a several years-long stalemate which was not broken until a new leader appeared. With the full backing of his boss, he dismissed the pessimism of the past.
Perhaps amazingly, without any additional funding and the smart use of existing resources we made great strides toward becoming a “best practices” workplace.

*Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, the sixth President of free Latvia from 1999 to 2007, said this in her speech in the outdoor arena of the Song and Dance festival in Riga. The live audience numbered multiple thousands and, simultaneously, her speech was televised all over Latvia.
“We are a strong nation! (say, please, all together – we're strong!) We are sublime! We're productive! We're beautiful! We know what we want! And what we want, we can! And what we can, that's what we do!”
“We are strong. We are great. We are productive. We are beautiful. We know what we want. And what we want, we can do it. And what we can, we do it!”
What inspirational words!
My Latvian cousin says these words were meant to inspire Latvians that they have “an inner strength, and that everybody should aim to develop that strength - this you can put together with the other people's strengths, and then big things can happen. Improve for the best, get over that sense of feeling as a victim (what has been throughout the years historically - pressed under Germans, then Russians) - and do not feel as a nation of servants.”

Like this blog? Buy my latest book of workplace fables

And, don’t forget my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2021

Going Down With the Ship

Posted by jlubans on July 21, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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I seem to be stuck on this question:
How is it that some groups (at work or at a training event) speak up and offer insights vs. those that offer little and hardly speak.
Is it just the luck of the draw?
In my workshop experience, I prayed for an active participant or two. I called them my spark plugs.
Invariably, their visible engagement sparked the involvement of the more cautious.
Or, are there some groupings predictably ripe for failure?
In the latest episode of my training soap operas, I was one of a team of facilitators working with first year Engineering students.
We were on the lake shore with several teams of 4 or 5 students. Their timed challenge was to construct a raft out of supplied materials: wooden poles, ropes, barrels and their ingenuity.
At the bell, they were to float out into the lake and race around a pylon. First one around the pylon wins the day!
Obviously, we were hoping for a display of teamwork and skills like effective communication, idea-sharing, listening, accommodating different styles, and negotiating.
Once these students graduated, they would be expected to collaborate, to work in teams, and to engage with others. The design rationale for the rafting event was to give each student an opportunity to try out and build his or her group work skills.
At least that’s what I was looking for.
If those skills were on display, I missed them in the construction phase. My group was hesitant with no one taking the lead.
Regardless, they managed to construct what looked like a navigable raft and lined up with several others on the lakeshore to sail off toward the beckoning pylon.
What’s the worst scenario? They all sink. You got it!
Can it get worse? Yes.
In the debrief, when asked about take-aways from this activity, there was little apparent reflection.
Debriefing provides a valuable opportunity for teams to assess possible problems in execution. Was the failure caused by one person dropping the ball or more widespread dysfunction? Was the deadline impractical? Were the objectives unclear and nebulous? Was there a lack of planning? Those are a few of the topics that could come up, but they were not mentioned.
I asked, What would you do differently? No comment.
What did you learn about yourself as a team member? No comment.
What worked? What did not work? A few mumbles.
Now, 20 years later, the lead facilitator (by the way, the most personable of persons) told me: “No raft performed as I might have expected; the 'winner' swam their failed raft around the pylon and brought it 'home to victory' towed behind their swimming members.”
But, he made a proviso: “We did not, prior to the event, experiment ourselves to testify that 'it could be done' but that is really not the point, is it?
A highly functional cohort could have failed miserably to 'get round the pylon' but still come away with several, if not many, applicable learnings.”
Were these students too worried about failing?
No doubt they’d been told that “Failure is a great teacher”, probably even by the Engineering faculty. Yet here was failure staring them in the face with nothing (it seemed) learned.
One teamwork researcher has found “that better teams … (are) simply more able and willing to discuss mistakes. High functioning teams “create a climate of openness, which allows them to report on mistakes, get to the bottom of problems and streamline processes.”
So, had we not provided them with a psychologically safe space in which one “will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes?” Possibly not.
These students had gained entry to a highly selective school so they probably had good thinking skills, along with an ability to communicate ideas. Their silence in the debrief remains a puzzle.
Were they not used to working in teams?
If not, then this was a prelude to the engineering workplace, where no engineer gets to sit in a corner and work by himself or herself.
Did we contribute to the day’s failure? Maybe.
I could have asked the students what could I could have done differently?
Perhaps that nod toward vulnerability would have broken the dam of pent-up thoughts.
They might even suggest that it was our fault not theirs – that we’d set them up for failure.
Could be.
As noted, we’d failed to test the ship worthiness (albeit the design was commonly used with success by many others).
What does this have to do with the workplace and problem solving?
Well, everything.
What do you, as a manager, do when your subordinates say nothing about a work problem? When they stay silent even while you strongly believe they have ideas to offer? How do you get them to unleash their good ideas? If there’s an elephant in the room how do you get your direct reports to talk about that elephant?
Now, it is about here where most management writers make out a list of must do’s. I will skip that!
Unlike a one-day trainer, a manager has time on her side. With time and sincere effort many of the silent can be brought around to speak up and to frankly talk about that elephant. (Bear in mind, that elephant may be you!)
In any case, your listening to others can’t be fake.
Insincerity will reveal itself immediately after a listening meeting. If you ask for ideas and use none -without explanation - what do you think that says to your staff?

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Siren’s Call

Posted by jlubans on July 08, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: A future eagle scout on a “postman’s walk”.

It was a Walden-like day in the forest.
A conference center bus had dropped off a dozen or so corporate leaders – middle managers and supervisors - including the boss, all from the same corporation, a plastics company.
They’d contracted with a management school’s MBA training program.
I was one of a group of trainers and this was a truncated version of a “day in the woods”, the experiential segment of the multi-day executive training.
With no time for trust falls or group hugs or zip lines, we’d scaled the adventure down to crossing a river on a “postman’s walk” followed by a two mile hike along a creek bank.
So, there we were, at the trailhead under the tree canopy in the dappled sunshine explaining what was in store.
I was getting mixed signals from the group.
For one thing, the bus stayed parked at the trail head. It would await their return.
For another, a few commented that their tee time was but two hours away. (They were staying in a golf course hotel.)
With some urgency then, we set off into the forest and arrived at the postman’s walk – a wire bridge – across a wide creek.
Not exactly a babbling brook with clear and sparking water. More a muddy stream, slowly meandering between two slick and muddy banks.
One by one, the group got across, even with a little good-natured banter supportive of each other. (I glimpsed a ray of hope, maybe the enticements of the out of doors were having an effect after all?)
The boss was last to cross. He made it but, as he stepped off the wire, he slipped on the muddy bank and slid down, most inelegantly, into the waist-high water.
Instead of capitalizing on his mis-adventure and showing that he was a good sport and that even CEOs screw up some of the time, he appeared angry and embarrassed – indeed mortified that he – the LEADER - was the only one to fall in.
As we moved along, each of the CEOs soggy and squishy steps seemed to admonish those who had crossed over successfully.
Still, I clung to the notion that we were out there in glorious nature and that at least a few, if not all, would relish this break from the office.
I stopped the group on the sandy trail and asked them to listen.
“What do you hear?”
Silence.
Not a one picked up on the rustling sounds in the tall grass, (no one jokingly suggested snakes – very likely resentful of man’s intrusion) nor the sound of the white water from the creek’s running over boulders. And, the bees buzzing industriously and the bluebirds sweetly singing were missed by all.
Nor did anyone comment on the play of the sun in the foliage, changing the light from shade to a spring-like green.
It was as if they did not want to say anything that might lead to a time-consuming discussion about things relevant to leadership – like the boss’s slide into the creek - and team work.
Usually women – there was one in this group - are more open, intuitive, and willing to consider abstract meanings, but not this time.
She was one of the guys and no way was she going to strut the feminine brain and be blamed for missing tee time.
They made it back to the bus in plenty of time for their golf game.

Bottom Line: Never get between an avid golfer and his tee time.

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

‘Riting and Paintin’*

Posted by jlubans on July 05, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: My friend John’s exuberant water color from Galveston, Texas.

When we set out to create something, be it a painting, or an essay, or a musical composition, we strive to offer something fresh, something new and something pleasing to the eye or ear of the beholder.
When I write, I sometimes compare it to composing a musical piece.
While I have zero musical talent I do appreciate a composer’s creative effort; at times I can hear my written words, the sound the sentences make – it’s a bit like music.
One of my editing techniques is to read a manuscript out loud so I can hear how it sounds.
Just like the composer, when the music fails to flow, or like when my words come in dribs and drabs, we both share in the creative frustration.
And, we both know we have to persevere if we are to get something worth reading or listening to.
My friend John struggled with writing his dissertation. The topic and his research were fascinating, but he found the academic writing a slog.
Yet, when he shared his research subjects’ stories (case studies) with me, his retelling drew me in; this was something I really wanted to hear.
However, when he had to follow a strict formula, when he had to make it erudite, he labored.
The literature search is a forced, mandatory exercise for all doctoral candidates. Adding to this wooden exercise, the dissertation committee’s insisted that John acknowledge Marxist philosophers like Derrida and Foucalt, While John was like-minded, his having to include them – somehow to work them into the text - resulted in stilted reading.
I offered feedback on his manuscript, but I ran the other way when it came to helping with the mandatory literature search and review of research. Ditto for my reaction to the gobbledygook he offered up to the deconstruction gods.
Now, I knew John painted – indeed I have two dozen of his paintings. More than once, when I was reviewing his writing, I wondered, “If only John could write like he paints”.
His paintings were lyrical compared to his attempts at the didactic scholarly writing.
Where the one was awkward and uneasy, the other was graceful and evocative.
Where the one was obtuse, his water colors were lively compositions, pleasing and endearing to the eye.
How much better if the dissertation committee had freed up John and allowed him to say things in his own way.
Would getting away from the academic rules and regs really be a bad thing?
Here are two more paintings and a bonus:
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Caption: A warmly colored, intriguing villa, perhaps in Morocco.

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Caption: Pallets in a warehouse yard, a complex composition unpretentiously presented, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Caption: Possibly my favorite, this highly evocative water color done while John was in Morocco on a Peace Corps mission.

* From the facetiously used 3 Rs phrase, reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic

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© Copyright John Lubans 2021

Krylov’s THE COMB*

Posted by jlubans on July 01, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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A LOVING mother bought a good strong Comb to keep her boy's hair in order.
The child never let his new present go out of his hands.
Whether playing or learning his alphabet, he was always lovingly passing his Comb through the twining curls of his waving golden hair, soft as fine flax.
And what a Comb it was!
Not only did it not pull out his hair, but it never even got caught in it; so smoothly and easily did it glide through his locks.
It was a priceless Comb in the eyes of the child.
But at last it happened, one day, that the Comb was mislaid.
Our boy went playing and romping about, until he got his hair into a regular tangle.
Scarcely had the nurse touched it, when he began to howl,
"Where is my Comb?"
At last it was found; but when they tried to pass it through his locks, it could not be moved either backwards or forwards: all it did was to pull his hair out by the roots, so as to bring the tears into his eyes.
"How wicked you are, you bad Comb!" cries the boy.
But the Comb replies,
"My dear, I am what I always was; only your hair has become tangled."
Whereupon our young friend, giving way to rage and vexation, flings his Comb into the river. And now the Naiads comb their hair with it.
In my time (says Krylov) I have often seen men behave in a like manner towards the truth.
As long as we have a clear conscience, truth is agreeable to us, we hold it sacred, we listen to it and obey it; but as soon as a man has begun to do violence to his conscience, the truth becomes alien to his ears.
Then everyone resembles the boy who did not like to have his hair combed after it had got into a tangle.
_____________
Imagine what Krylov
would observe were he time-transported from 18th century St. Petersburg to today’s America and her political clashes.
There’s a whole lot of “tangled hair” out there and too few combs willing to do the untangling, willing to speak the truth.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2021

Ernest Griset’s THE OWLS, THE BATS, AND THE SUN*

Posted by jlubans on June 26, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration by Griset, 1874

The Owls, Bats, and several ether birds of night were on a certain day got together in a thick shade, where they abused their neighbours in a very sociable manner.
Their satire at last fell upon the Sun, whom they all agreed to be very troublesome, impertinent, and inquisitive.
After which the Sun, who overheard them, spoke to them after this manner:
"Gentlemen, I wonder how you dare abuse one that you know could in an instant scorch you up, and consume every mother's son of you;
but the only answer I shall give you, or the revenge I shall take of you, is to shine on."

___________
Whence the sunny disposition
, the sun’s magnanimity?
Aye, that be the question.
Why do some people smile at personal assaults, slings and arrows and go on, while others Fizzle, Bubble & Pop? In other words, suffer fools not gladly?
Is a forgiving personality from nature or nurture?
Once when playing the fool, as I was wont to do when things got dull at work, one of my colleagues grabbed me by the head and exasperatedly implored me to “think”. I never did get an apology for that tantrum.
Then again, I never sought one.

*Source: Aesop's fables by Aesop; Griset, Ernest Henry, 1844-1907
London ; New York : Cassell, Petter, and Galpin 1874

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© Copyright John Lubans 2021

Phaedrus’ THE BEES AND THE DRONES, THE WASP SITTING AS JUDGE.

Posted by jlubans on June 21, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Pooh Bear gets dealt vigilante justice; no day in court!

Some Bees had made their combs in a lofty oak.
Some lazy Drones asserted that these belonged to them.
The cause was brought into court, the Wasp sitting as judge; who, being perfectly acquainted with either race, proposed to the two parties these terms: “Your shape is not unlike, and your colour is similar; so that the affair clearly and fairly becomes a matter of doubt.
But that my sacred duty may not be at fault through insufficiency of knowledge, each of you take hives, and pour your productions into the waxen cells; that from the flavour of the honey and the shape of the comb, the maker of them, about which the present dispute exists, may be evident.”
The Drones decline; the proposal pleases the Bees.
Upon this, the Wasp pronounces sentence to the following effect: “It is evident who cannot, and who did, make them; wherefore, to the Bees I restore the fruits of their labours.”
This Fable I should have passed by in silence, if the Drones had not refused the proposed stipulation.

With this “proposed stipulation”, we are told, Phædrus alluded to some who had laid claim to the authorship of his Fables, and had refused a challenge given by him, such as that here given to the Drones, to test the correctness of their assertions.
________________
We are told “Ability proves itself by deeds.” No question but only if you get a fair hearing. I think of the political writing of the past few years and how accomplished deeds go unrecognized. When someone you despise does a good job give him or her credit. Don’t be a shmuck.
When I look back on my contrarian career and am reminded of some who sought to undermine good progress, it would have been nice to have a Missouri Wasp judge with the challenge, “If you can do it better, show me.”

*Source: The Fables of Phaedrus Translated into English Verse. Phaedrus. Christopher Smart, A. M. London. G. Bell and Sons, Ltd. 1913.

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“Serene in glory”

Posted by jlubans on May 22, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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This sets forth how an idea about “ambiverts” turned into a story about serenity by way of sublimity.
My first step in this story was perusing a taxonomy of ambivertism.
Perhaps you don’t know this term? (I didn’t)
We all know about the loud extrovert and the quiet introvert. But that’s a pretty wide span from braggadocios-ness to self-effacement.
We can’t all be at one end or the other, can we?
You can guess that the ambivert is someone – perhaps you - who can swing with the “life of the party” types and also feel at home amidst the wallflowers.
The ambivert, we are told, moves along a personality scale and has the ability to combine the best from both extremes.
Neither an absolute extrovert nor a pre-eminent introvert, ambivertism got me thinking about my own personality.
Now, permit me to stray some more.
Down the highway east from where I live you’ll see a sign for the town of Sublimity.
Named in 1852, it was so baptized because of its "fine vista and sublime scenery".
Located not far from Oregon’s capital, I’d guess most Sublimites (?) work in Salem or in agriculture.
Also, the town is a gateway to Silver Falls State Park
with its cascading waterfalls. And, the town features a gem of an Italian restaurant – best pizza and bread sticks this side of Chicago – Panezanellie.
OK, Why am I going on about this town?
Well because whenever I drive past it, I recall what a Latvian friend and colleague noted about my persona as a teacher.
She used the word “serene”.
No doubt, she had other words to choose from: deadpan, impassive, and inexpressive, but she chose a much nicer term.
How would my friend know?
Well, as my translator, she’s observed me in a professional capacity more closely than just about anyone.
Here’s how I lead workshops in Latvia: I talk briefly and stop and she translates what I’ve said. Then I start up again.
Obviously, she has to pay attention to what I am saying and how I am saying it.
Alexander Pope used the word:
“shining bright and steady
the moon, serene in glory”
It suggests an unperturbed, unruffled, and lofty something.
I can see why she chose the term. It may well be the persona I project in my workshops.
I am no evangelist hoping to salvage and re-direct lost workers. I do not regard myself as a savior, even if one or two change for the better.
Nor do I make much effort in entertaining workshop participants. I have a sense of humor, but to have them “rolling in the aisles” is not what makes a good workshop.
Nor am I the hard-nose expert who knows the answer to any and all leadership scenarios – “just follow (if you have the ability) my lead and you’ll be A-OK. Any questions?”
Much of nature is serene. Trees are serene.
A sunrise is serene and sublime. A sunset likewise.
How you respond to that serenity, is up to you. You can do something or nothing.
For example, I’ve been part of an outdoor personal development workshop in which participants go off in nature and literally hug a tree.
A short while later, we reconvene and do a go around about the experience. The tree does not speak; but what do you sense in that private moment?
What enters your mind as you cling to the tree?
Some participants are moved, others not so much. A pity, but don’t blame the silent tree.
Look deeper and puzzle over what you don’t hear and why that may be.
What’s retarding your imagination, creativity?
There’s the parable of the sower whose seeds do not grow until they fall onto “good soil”.
Some participants are prepared better, they are more open and ready, than others to receive and nourish whatever seeds I may be serenely sowing.
Alas, I am not always serene.
I am not serene when traveling – it’s high anxiety all the way.
Nor am I serene when talking to customer service.
Or, doing my taxes. Or, just about anything else in life!

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

"A Pleasant Sensation"

Posted by jlubans on May 17, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Now and then in my addiction to early detective fiction I come across a knock-out quote.
This one from 1913, apropos of today’s wokeness, is by Edgar Wallace*.

“It is a pleasant sensation, this of superiority. It enables one to mix freely with inferior humanity and take no hurt.”

*Excerpt From: Edgar Wallace in his horse racing and crime novel, “Grey Timothy.” 1913.