Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sandboxes, Coloring, and Boundaries: A Challenge to Go Outside the Lines

When I was young, Dad built a sandbox for my brothers and sisters.  The boundaries of this box were traditional: square!  For these early years within these borders, we learned how to share; how to imagine; how to create.

Boundaries of our early learning
Can you guess my reaction when I went to a friend's house and found out that not all sandboxes were square?  The boundaries had changed!  But, my friend and I could still share, imagine and create!
Shifting boundaries: different perspectives
Recently, in a fit of restless creativity I found a couple of phone apps that allowed "adult coloring" opportunities.  As I played with these new sandboxes, I remembered the many hours that Mom and Dad would sit with us, helping us to color.  Dad would remind us to "stay in the lines" whereas Mom would encourage us to explore our creativity.

New tools to expand boundaries and skills (Recolor)
Eventually, the 64-color Crayola box, Light Brite, and Spirograph were added to our toy box.  I am not sure who had more fun with these toys: my sisters and brothers... or my parents!

New tools to expand creativity (RotoDoodle)
As I practice the Dialogue Skills proposed by Chris Argris and his colleagues, I notice how the inner tapes of "stay in the lines" and "be creative" influence how I respond.  I have translated "stay in the lines" as a way to do it the right way and conform, and "be creative" as an invitation to explore other ways of hearing and listening.

This doesn't mean that one parent was right and the other wrong.  Instead, I am finding that there is a balance between discovering the Both-And of each truth.  To practice the dialogue skills allows us to notice the tapes that limit the boundaries of who we might become, to stretch those boundaries to attract others into our sandboxes of learning, and to move into their sandboxes upon their invitation.

Coloring Outside the Lines (John Hebree)
In essence, there is truth and creativity in each person.  The questions to explore this week:
  • How will you open yourself to share, to imagine, and to create?
  • What inner tapes play for you as you engage others?
  • By retelling these tapes/stories, are you limiting who you are?
  • Are you ready to expand the boundaries by the way that you color the relationships around you?
To touch others requires expanding the boundaries
Whether you "stay in the lines," "be creative," or find your own way, have fun as you practice the Dialogue Skills!

Larry Gardepie

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Practice: Condition Arrived at by Experience or Exercise

Have you ever picked up a self-help book, skimmed through it, thought the ideas were wonderful... and then went on with your life, nothing changed?  Or, have you ever thought you could alter an undesirable behavior... NOW?  If you answered "Yes" to either of these questions, thank you for your honesty!

There have been many times when I have wanted to change aspects of my behavior or thought processes... IMMEDIATELY... without any hard work or practiceUsually, I don't succeed in changing!  I am amazed at my naiveté (or, maybe it's should be called stubbornness!) when I come against the truth that practice is needed to change or improve!

Repetition can bring about great beauty!
The "skills for dialogue" proposed by Chris Argyris and his colleagues invite repetition and practice in order to become competent in these skills.  It isn't a matter of reading or memorizing the skills.  Instead, to seek and to understand how the skills move us toward a nondefended way of being, it is important to notice how we resist learning, change, and our professed outcomes. 

After all, we are not meant to be cast in concrete, unchanging but with the weathering of time.  We are living beings who impact and alter one another.  Whether our beliefs are influenced by culture, religion, politics, family, personal values or a myriad of other aspects of this complex world, practicing the dialogue skills opens us to how another person thinks and feels.

We are not meant to be cast in stone...
As I explore the dialogue skills, I am learning that the word PRACTICE is key to my learning process.  At times the path is challenging; at other times, the discovery is exciting and fun!  But I have noticed that when we work and practice together, I learn so much more!  I am encouraged to practice because of you! 
We are living and breathing beings seeking connection!
Recently, I went to the San Diego Zoo with another dialogue practitioner.  We were catching up on our lives, talking about our struggles to learn, understand, and live out our dialogue lessons.  When we came upon the flamingos standing on one leg, necks folded and contorted around their bodies, I wondered how much comes natural to them and how much is learned.  Do we as humans make our world more complicated than it needs to be?

As we move into the next few weeks, maybe we can encourage one another to focus and practice one of the seven Dialogue Skills each day.  A suggested plan could be:

MondaysCombine advocacy and inquiry.
Tuesdays:  Illustrate your abstract interpretations with concrete information.
WednesdaysShare your thought process; check for agreement at each "ladder of inference."
Thursdays:  Look for contradicting data and alternative explanations.
Fridays:  Support making mistakes in the service of learning.
Saturdays:  Notice your impact on a situation.
Sundays:  Experiment to test different views.

Even with this proposed game plan, I am not suggesting that dialogue is a formula.  Rather, the focus is on discipline, setting practice goals to begin the integration of these thoughts and skills into our daily structure.  With time and practice, flowing between the skills will become more natural.  We are working towards awareness and compassion - for ourselves and others.  We are practicing for a new familiarity, not perfection.

Happy practicing! 

Larry Gardepie

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tug of War: Is It Time to Let Go of the Rope?

At many of the picnics I attended as a child, the adults and children would create teams to determine who was the strongest and fastest.  One of the games we played was Tug-of-War (TOW), each group trying to pull the opposing team across a marker on the ground. 

Tug of War: a challenge of strength
I often reflect on these games when encountering other people.  I wonder if we hold onto these games and are still playing or seeking the same results: Who is stronger?  Who is better?  Who is right?  Don't cross this line!  This dualistic and combative way of seeing the world is no longer a picnic game.  In fact, it leads to conclusions that one of us is weaker, not as good, or is wrong.

The dialogue skills reviewed over the last several week's invite us to let go of the TOW rope.  Instead of towing - or dragging - another person to our side or view, these skills allow us to listen with both heart and mind to another person.

(The first six Dialogue Skills may be found in the April 4 - May 8 postings. Click here to return to the first skill, and review the subsequent posts.)

Do we experience a Tug-of-War between Heart and Mind?
A seventh dialogue skill proposed by Chris Argyris and his colleagues is: Experiment to test different views.  Instead of a rope pulled between opposing views, what would it be like if the rope was rolled into a ball, or if it was entangled?  Instead of a straight line that invites a start and an end or a competition,  an entangled ball may provide us an opportunity to unravel and discover.

Maybe our differences are entangled...
The ability to untangle our different ideas and views provides a freedom to observe, identify and unleash outcomes unimagined in a binary-focused world.  Together, we are searching for a Pattern of Truth.
and maybe, instead of tugging, we experiment together!
If you remember Spirograph (1965), a geometric drawing toy enjoyed by countless children and adults, beautiful designs were created by experimenting with simple instruments of colored pens, tooth-edged circles and oblongs, imagination and patience.

Adopting an attitude that cherishes entanglement -- and accepting the invitation to unravel and discover the unknown about ourself and others will draw forth fascinating new results: dialogue patterns of awareness, compassion, interdependence, and creative freedom.  We become interconnected with no start and no end, a continuity of new designs.

Can we seek beauty in the entanglements?
As we move through this new week, let us summon the courage to drop the TOW ropes and gently experiment and test different views.

Let the new dialogue patterns emerge!

Larry Gardepie

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Impact Happens - Whether Meteoric or Feather-like

Close your eyes.  Picture in your mind people who have influenced you.  Who comes to mind: ParentsSisters and brothers?  Teachers?  Coaches?  Religious?  Friends?  Work colleagues?  Supervisors?  Public figures?  

How do you remember themwhat was it that they said or did which has made a lasting impression?  Notice your feelings as you recall these people.  What emotions surface?

How strong is their impact?  (Meteor Crater, Winslow, Arizona)
Another of Chris Argyris' dialogue skills is about impact.  Whether the impact is strong or gentle, long-lasting or fleeting, impact happens.  I don't know about you, but I seem to notice another person's impact on a situation much more readily than I do my own... especially if it is a negative impact!  It takes me awhile to slow down and appreciate the positive influences of others... let alone what I contribute!

The skill to practice this week begins with noticing, and the focal point is my impact on the situation.  That is, slowing down and realizing that we too leave an imprint on what is happening!

For instance:
  • Observe the various roles you play throughout the day and the interactions you have with other people.
    Does your role influence how people respond to you?  Is your communication style producing a different effect than expected?  

  • Check out your observations and assumptions by asking questions or sharing what you are noticing with the other person.
    What are you noticing about your impact?  Are the results intentional or accidental? 
    How are people perceiving what you say or do?
Observe the floating feathers (Amanda and Christopher Ewell)
How would you describe your impact?  Is it similar to the images you have of others who have touched your live?  Does it gently drift on the currents of your daily encounters like feathers that dance on air or water?

Does your impact bring light into the world?
Our impact on others can be very subtle and awe-inspiring, drawing forth the beauty of Self and Other.  It also can be painfully provocative.  This dialogue skill leads us into new insights about who we are in the world.

What beauty when we impact one another!
Now, imagine the interconnected ripples of our lives.  On this Mother's Day, I am reminded of how Mom -- and Dad -- influenced who I became.  As I meet you and learn from you, our familial impact-filled moments live on in us, overlap into our time together, and change the course of who we will become together.  Isn't this exciting?!

The month of May is packed with impactful invitationsto celebrate our mothers on Mother's Day and El Día de las Madres; our teachers, faculty, and students at the end of the academic year; our graduates with their accomplishments and dreams at Commencement ceremonies; our service men, women and veterans on Memorial Day; and each other as we celebrate how we gently "collide" into one anotherI hope to notice more fully your impact on me, and me on you!

Blessings to our mothers this Mother's Day!

Larry Gardepie

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Boo-Boos: Having Fun and Learning from Our Mistakes

What do you think of when you hear the word, MISTAKE?  Or what was it like for you if school assignments or exams were returned with red ink all over?  Is there an image or a story that comes to mind of a past error made at work, with friends, or in public?

One story that I recall is when an employee I supervised in a higher education environment (higher ed = learning) made an error on one paycheck, overpaying one law school professor who had an atypical sabbatical.  We caught the error, notified the person, and came to an arrangement with the employee on how to pay back the overage.  Afterwards, I was called into the provost's office to explain what happened.  I reviewed the situation, the unusual circumstances, and how safeguards were set up not to make that error in the futureThe provost emphasized that my employees could not make mistakes.  I responded by noting the HR-Payroll process safeguards and that this error would not occur again.  The VP's final statement: "you will not make a mistake again."

We had reached an impasse!  I had been raised knowing that mistakes occurred, to be honest and own them, and to learn from them.  But after this conversation, I wondered what would happen next time a mistake would occur?

Some mistakes cannot be hidden
I don't know about you, but as a young child, I recall crying at my "boo-boos," and oftentimes my parents would console me and try to get me to laugh.  What has happened since then?  Have the "boo-boos" become much more serious and life-threatening?  Or have we learned to "not make any mistakes" -- or to hide them?

Maybe it is time to notice how we outwardly -- or inwardly -- flinch when a mistake occurs.  What have we brought forwardHow do we currently look at these situations?  Where can we let go -- and learn?

Let us consider a few definitions:
  • Take: to get into one's hold or possession; to grip
  • Mis-take: an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong; a misunderstanding
    (synonyms: error, omission, misconception, blooper, boo-boo)
  • Re-take: to take back; to capture

A fifth dialogue skill that Chris Argyris proposes is Support making mistakes in the service of learning (The first four Dialogue Skills may be found in April's blog postings. Click here to return to the first skill, and review the subsequent posts.)  It seems that in order to tie together the concepts of supporting and learning, it is important to reflect on the depth by which mistakes are defined.

Think Titanic: we must see what is hidden below the surface
To uncover the Hidden-Within, ponder the following questions:
  • What tapes or stories define how you respond to or learn from mistakes?
  • How deep do these stories influence your psyche? 
  • Do these tapes keep you from exploring new opportunities for learning?

Sometimes good plans and intentions go awry
The Panama Canal story spans the late 1800s to the present day.  It is a story of learning from and improving on the hardships, misjudgments and lessons from French, American, and Panamanian endeavors.  From catastrophe and bankruptcy rose the indomitable human spirit to learn and succeed.

Survival requires that we learn from our mistakes (Click, The Martian)
Many recent movies portray this spirit of discovery, renewal, and progress.  Released last fall, The Martian is a minute-by-minute cliffhanger about an astronaut mistakenly abandoned on Mars.  We see Mark Watney struggle to survive on an inhospitable planet.  It is the coming together of Mark, the Hermes spacecraft crew, NASA and JPL teams, American and Chinese relations, and people throughout the world that characterized how learning from mistakes draws us together and expands our horizons.

Learning draws us together (Click, MacFarland, USA)
And in the Disney movie, MacFarland, USA, Coach Jim White and his 1987 cross country team learn what it is like in a world -- our world -- that is inhospitable to the marginalizedCoach White did make mistakes along the way, but he learned by working in the fields with his students and eating with their families that the world he and his students experience is not the same.  Eventually, his team became his family, and his family adopted his team.

As mentioned last week: dialogue is about paradox.  When we make mistakes at work or with loved ones, there may be a perception that we are weak.  This weakness, though, is when we focus only on the mistake and our story, what is visible to ourselves or others.  Being human and learning from our mistakes draws on the depth of character that is solid and strong.  Let us celebrate both the mistake and the lesson!

Have fun this week by watching the MacFarland USA music video, Juntos (Together), (click on link).  Re-take the wonder of discovery, recapturing and taking control of the blunder or "boo-boo" that was experienced, and looking for and supporting the lessons we are able to learn... juntos!

Larry Gardepie