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Coercion

Coercion. 

Look at that word. It’s like you tried to spell “co-creation” but your own malicious intent betrayed you on the way to your fingertips.

Say it out loud. It’s got that ugly, brakes-on sound built into it: “Errrrch,” a squealing to a halt.

Imagine that long, pointy finger of the type-cast villain, beckoning you with a tell-tale tendril of evil fog, attempting to seduce, hoping you won’t notice, promising you a reward when all that follows is truly only your own destruction.

It’s the tool of the powerful to assert their will. When giving an order doesn’t work (because you’re not listening), they’re resorting to corrupt, dishonourable means of persuasion, manipulation and trickery.

What happens if it doesn’t work? Beware: the only pathway left for them is violence. They will enforce their desires. Power knows the Right Answer, and is intent making it happen.

It got here because power was, at one point, not powerful at all. Power was merely prowess. Realizing it was brilliant, it sniffed out opportunity, and became power. Hungry ambition smelled a chance to show off its prodigious talent. Like a preening Sherlock, a sly Slytherin, a diagnosing Dr. House, this raw genius sought the answers. And upon discovering them, it latched onto them with a tight, locked jaw. With knowledge, comes power, it thought, and clung to it fiercely.

But not all of us watching this game were grateful. Some of us hung back, watching these antics unfold: the deductions didn’t impress, nor did that grasping gamesmanship for a dictator’s grip on the throne. We were left wanting. Our exclusion became our own sense of hungry desire. We banded together. We were the 99%. We chanted in the streets: The people, united, will never be defeated. We were the resistance. And those in power don’t yet recognize it, we’re not done yet. We will go to our graves before we allow you to continue to eradicate our rights, and keep us oppressed. We do not have power. But we know the answer: give it to us. We know what to do with it.

Have we not worked hard to get here?

Do we not know what it feels like to be on the underside of Power, and are equipped to led wisely?

After all, this this win was righteous. We are For The People.

We may not even wish to release our grips.

We may wish to hold on tighter.

And yet, we look around, and see that the only Answers we’ve seen modelled are the ones we don’t want.

We’ve seen people Holding Power, and Knowing the Answer: A power-hungry 1% dominate the landscape and issue orders that leave us out in the cold. Their coercion persuades us to comply with them without our true consent. Force and might and violence and enforcement and imprisonment and death are the final answer to dissent.

We’ve seen Holding Power, and Seeking the Answer: The ladder-climbing genius arrives at a conclusion through their intelligence and strength and cunning, and becomes entrenched as the permanent leader.

We’ve seen Sharing the Power, and Knowing the Answer: The rebelling public launch a successful protest, but lack the tools to generate a new way of being that resists the above stereotypes. Those stereotypes have the potential to become us.

Is there another way?

Is there a way to Share the Power, and Seek the Answer?

When we say Share the Power, can it be that the people and their leaders can find a way to not see each other as enemies?

When we say Seek the Answer, would it be possible to stay open enough to imagine there might be new ways of organizing, new ways of being, that nobody has thought of yet?

If so, we may have to dream together of the future we want. We may have to listen. It may be true that we have never before actually heard the voices of all participants in the system. Perhaps we have never emptied all our playing pieces onto the same table to see what can be constructed, together.

We’ve seen leaders lead from the top.
We’ve seen resistance rise up from below.
We’ve seen rogue agents act in their own interests.
But have we ever seen a middle way, where each of us collaborate together on the creation of a new way?

We are unaccustomed to these ways.

Our parliaments and city halls are not designed to facilitate co-creative sessions between leadership and citizens.

Our courts are not designed to facilitate constructive dialogue between enemies.

Our schools are only starting to be designed around project-based learning to create net-new outcomes.

Our world is steeped in Old Stories, and very few stories have emerged that show us what it might look like to work together, across traditional divides, between leadership and people, between righteous and unrighteous, enemy and ally.

In today’s economy,  we either “lead, follow or get out of the way.”

In tomorrow’s world, we become familiar with working together to generate an abundant, shared, future.

Co-Cr

Beyond holding power, beyond having the right answer, is an always-on sense of seeking new perspectives, and of doing it in community.

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Restless Soul Syndrome

Between snow and sickness, I haven’t left my house in two days. Cabin fever. Restlessness. Inside me it sounds and feels like this:

 

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Four warnings

Sickness swirls around us today, like the thrashing snow that beats against our windows. The wind, normally unseen, is highlighted like blankets and bedsheets on top of a hide-and-seeker. It chases white flecks like a dog yapping at a lazy flock of birds. And these phantom viruses, they have slithered through those tiny bodies and cast our children aside like dirty laundry every surface of our house.

Four Environment Canada warnings are posted for tonight: a blowing snow warning, a snowfall warning, a cold temperature warning, and a highways warning. And inside, four children’s bodies experience their own inner storms.

Our house shakes with the wild howls of wind that come crashing at our walls. Punches of arctic air pound into our home. Cresting waves of snow pile up against our front door. We’re going nowhere tonight, hearing the storming.

Not that we would be leaving anyway. The wind of a humidifier thrums from our children’s bedrooms. Raspy coughs punctuate the air inside. Wilted bodies in pajamas get lifted into bunk beds and cribs. We have nowhere to be but here, healing and warming.

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A humble heresy

Scripture isn’t meant to be memorized and recited and performed. It’s meant to be lived. You’re living in the “third testament.” The bible is a Facebook feed, with posts other people wrote, and yours is next.

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A long winter walk

This week, winter arrived: heavy, thick, constant snowfall. Huge flakes cannonballing down from the sky, streaking down one after another. The result is piles and piles of fresh snow. After spending multiple days cooped up indoors, I decide it is time to get into it: time to take a good, long walk, in which to think, pray and be utterly silent.

I start off down familiar roads. The whispering winter wind is aiming all of the falling snow straight ahead. I listen to it, and keep striding straight.

When it’s time to choose between left or right, I notice a ringing sound in my right ear, and I hear an airplane landing and a dog barking, in that same direction. I choose left, and continue walking up a hill, past a roadside cluster of trees.

The deciduous trees are entirely naked now. Their spindly fingerlike branches reach to the sky in permanent supplication. They are absolutely vulnerable, totally and authentically themselves, exposed to these harsh winter conditions with no protection. Foolishly, they stay in this position, unprotected, unclothed, while snow falls. Like idiots, they raise their hands to the sky, and they wait. They anticipate. And yet, this posture is entirely reasonable. They are completely within-reason to wait for absolute and total renewal. They are right. After this period of time, they will be overcome again with life. The only task for them now is to stay exposed, remain patient, and wait for the bloom of spring.

I wonder, do I have the patience to stay authentic and the reasonable-ness to expect things to bloom?

My boots scrape along the ground. For reasons of cost saving, I am wearing my mother-in-law’s old snowboots. They are furry and flourishy. They scuff along the gravel-and-snow covered roads, and a line appears in my head: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

I wonder, how might my own feet be part of carrying good news?

“Vision limited,” says a road sign, advising drivers to slow to 30. The hill is blind. I remove my hat so my ears can hear better: traffic, yes, and then I hear the birds I had been missing. I have to walk through snowdrifts to avoid drivers in the snow. Drivers wave at me as they passed me wading in the winter piles.

I wonder, how long must we go slow? When will have unlimited vision?

Into the driving snow. Hat on, hood up, gloves on, head down, glasses speckled with snow. It’s hard to be attentive when the conditions aren’t friendly. It’s time to simply march onward.

By this time, I’m thinking the route I’ve taken is too long. Getting back home will be too time consuming. I start wondering about shortcuts.

I plot the roads I’m on, and realize that if I were to cut through some neighbour’s property, I could end up on the backside of ours. I make a choice, and scramble down a snowy bank at the right time, to cut through the forest, and find the creek that will lead me to home.

The snow here is deeper than I could have imagined. It’s up to my knees, and getting inside my boots. I am able to follow animal tracks down an abandoned logging road. It’s downhill, and yet it’s quickly making me out of breath.

I choose a pathway that takes me into an unclear forest, with no animal tracks. The snow is deep here. So deep it feels like one of those slow-moving dreams where your body can’t function as your brain tells it to move. The snow is up to my waist, and I’m crawling over these mountainous drifts in my jeans. This has not been a shortcut. This is an adventure. This is much harder work, but this is better.

The only way forward is through the forest. Animal tracks scatter. This is a forest that hasn’t been visited by humans in many years. It is a space in between neighbour’s properties; the current occupants never come down here. And yet signs show it was all once one cohesive whole: I know it belonged to a settler named George Whelan. Without these property lines and fences, the road I followed would still connect from one end to the other. It was the throughline I was following.

I kept close to the creek, and just when it seems the giant piles of snow won’t abate, the snow solidifies. I can walk on it without dropping to my knees. Surreally, I see a small bridge up ahead, covered in snow. A footbridge, as if it were a relic from the realm of Narnia. I see blue ribbons tied to silver birch trees.

When I leave this semi-civilized area, the snow resumes its sinking-sand tricks. I march and slog and lift and huff, I swamp and trudge and push and slomp through the endless snow. My legs are soaking, my furry boots full. I am still only halfway to home.

The next part, the forest gets denser. I find another mysterious, abandoned footbridge. I leap across the creek in another spot. Until finally, I arrive at the fence that marks the beginning of our own property. I step up onto it, avoid the barbed wire, and land on two feet in the snow below. Home.

Almost.

The walk back up to my house seems longer than the path I had taken to get here so far. Though the house is in sight, the snow is no less deep. My legs are colder now, and more tired. The journey still has to continue. Is it true that sometimes the times we are most tired are when we are closest to home?

Partway up the last hill, Kendra calls my phone to see where I am. I huff and pant as I tell her the story of my adventures, until we can finally wave to each other through the windows.

So much was seen and learned during this unplanned excursion. My body was grateful for the push and the slog. The eyes delighted in the sights I had taken in.

This backwoods Narnia had once been one land, integrated and connected. A sliver of exposed, rusty irrigation pipe on one neighbour’s property is clearly of the same shape and design as the one I can see buried on our own land. Those two footbridges once helped connect a walking trail. The logging road helped criss-cross the large acreage. The creek was the waterline for it all. If seen in a new light, all these fences are arbitrary, and the whole area is one, connected greenspace. An unofficial regional park in our own backyard, unvisited and unacknowledged by any of its occupants.

I wonder, what would it mean to erase dividing lines and reclaim shared spaces? What is waiting for us to discover in the un-explored spaces between our neighbours?

The pivot off the paved road and into the forest proved not to be a quick way home, but rather, a clear plunge into rediscovering a sort of pioneering way. What does it look like to take adventures, not shortcuts?

It leaves me with this wish for us all after that long winter walk:

May we listen to the whispers of winter. May we wait in authentic anticipation for total renewal — and find it to be reasonable. May we carry good news, persisting though our vision is limited. May we veer off course and find adventurous new paths, through forgotten roads, forging new ways. We may bring new harmony to divided lands, and return home exhausted from having taken worthy roads.

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Empathy bridge

To hold someone else suspended in your consciousness.

Holding them up to the light, not to inspect them, but to imagine on their behalf, their own possible goodness.

To assess their needs, to wonder about their hopes, to spend time wishing for what they wish.

Like a shopkeeper inspecting precious, life-like figurines, one by one, picking them off the shelf, dusting them off, lifting them up, turning them around, imagining their story, then putting them back on the shelf.

To become acquainted with their trajectory and become their champion and advocate.

To choose to align yourself with their best interests, not just in fantasy and recollection, but in real-life action.

I don’t do that enough with my own family members: the act of holding them in mental suspension, frozen in neural carbonate, locked in logical liquid, long enough to attain an empathy-bridge.

I tried that while folding laundry tonight. It was easier with an artefact. Person by person, holding up a sock, a shirt, a pair of undies, a pair of pants, and considering where they find themselves today. Considering the growth curve they’re on. Considering the relationship we are in. Considering what goodness I hope for, for them.

That, I think, is what prayer is for. To develop the mental habits and neural pathways of caring for other people enough to know what they’ll need, so acting to care for them becomes instinctive, and their will becomes our own.

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Elly the Elephant (for when you’re experiencing stress from work)

Benjamin was thrilled when I opened my Christmas present from him this year. It was a tiny stuffed animal — a Squeezamal, to be exact. This five-inch round children’s toy is some kind of denim elephant, with pink-and-silver polka dot ears, and sparkly eyes, flappy little feet and a curly denim tale. It squeezes softly like a memory-foam stress ball. It emits a faint scent like raspberry rainbows. Its name is Elly.

Ben was jumping up and and down as I ripped the wrapping paper off and exclaimed, “It’s for when you’re experiencing stress from work!!”

Kendra and I burst out laughing, at this six-year-old’s precocious vocabulary. His thoughtfulness was adorable, trying to think of something practical for his dad. And the fact that I don’t tend to have a job with a lot stress in it.

Today, I had a couple of different conversations at work that I really wanted to bring my best to. They were on matters I really cared about, and I wanted to be able to make a clear point, while staying open and sensitive to what other possibilities might need to be heard. It was the type of moment that would constitute my version of stress — enough for me to make some space to clear my head before the day started, to work on letting go of my insistence, and on getting ready to listen well.

When the conversation was finally happening, my hands reached out to find something to fidget with off-screen, and they clutched around that denim-covered polka-dotted Squeezamal.

I compressed it and let it reinflate. The scent wafted up, of some strange chemical mix of fantastical fruits. The elephant stayed off-screen and helped anchor me into intentional presence until it was all over — and it had gone even better than I had hoped.

During my next meeting for the day, I heard a scuffing and knocking at my door as the meeting was going on, which was a little distracting. It was one of my kids — eventually I realized it was Ben. He was trying to whisper something under the door to me, but this was in the middle of a client-facing video call. I muted my end and said, “Ben, I can’t help you right now, I’m in a meeting!”

When the call ended, I went to the door and was surprised to find Benjamin lying face-down on the floor outside my office. He had fallen asleep waiting for me.

In his hands was the elephant. He jerked awake at the sound of the door.

“You forgot your Squeezamal,” he mumbled.

He tossed it into my office and flopped his face back down on the carpet. I could see from his face that he had been sad.

I knelt down and apologized that I’d had to shush him. I thanked him for the Squeezamal, and explained how helpful it had been for me. He asked me if I had named it yet, or if I was going to keep the original name.

“What’s the name it came with?” I asked.

“Elly,” he said. “Elly the elephant.”

“I think I’ll keep that one,” I said.

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Viral cramping

Today was another Tuesday morning with Rosie.

As she played on the trampoline, my mind couldn’t shake the restless ambition inside me that there is something more beyond our current moment. It’s the frenetic sense of needing to prove myself, be seen. I call it “viral cramping” — a sense of physical discomfort caused from the frustration at not being recognized.

How sad. In that moment, what I wanted was to issue a call to every parent alive: what you are doing now is meaningful and valuable. These are the front lines. This is as intense and demanding as any aspect of your career or training. This is as valuable to the thriving and flourishing of our civilization as as any other task you may choose to pursue: don’t relent. You offering your presence to the next generation through genuine love and care will have an extraordinary impact beyond today. Keep doing what you are doing. Don’t back down or give up. Don’t walk away or imagine that purpose lies elsewhere. You are where you are meant to be. Double-down, invest, get connected with this exact moment; it is a profound and powerful experience that will last a lifetime.

And so I saw the snow breaking apart on the trampoline like shattered glass. The fog settled in over the deep snow over the white valley on this glowing day. I was simply there, not elsewhere.

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Week 8, Monday: Day 2

In a war, the most hated side is neither us nor them. It’s the pacifist. This role calls attention to the ludicrous, unnecessary nature of the conflict. We feel it threatens our identity as participants in a “just cause.” It takes away our sense of belonging, our belief that we are right.

This concept is credited to Charles Eisenstein. I’m participating in his Unlearning course right now, and within the first session, he was advocating to go on a news fast. I accidentally ended up reading an article that was describing military action overseas — you know what I’m referring to. And then, in related conversation in a different part of the day, I heard the phrase “world war three” in a less-than-joking way.

If it’s the end of the world as we know it, then let it be an end to the world that we know: the world where violence is any answer at all, where exploitation is justified, where we alienate each other. Let’s instead build a world together where we choose to risk ourselves in the pursuit of peace.

Tonight in putting my son to bed, we were wearing the same pyjamas. I was jarred by the sense that he was a younger me. I wondered, does it change how I treat this boy if I imagine I am parenting myself?

It was still hard to rise above the petty frustrations and choose kindness, but us both clad in same-same jammies was sure interesting.

Today I heard from a publisher that they’re interested in a version of the book I’ve been pitching. It’s the first time I’ve received this kind of response. I feel clear-eyed, excited and ready. Ready to listen, collaborate and respond to this opportunity by doing what comes next with as much play + seriousness, intention + whimsy, clarity + poetry as possible.

The kids were stoked after their first day of school.

The pursuit of “love-based systems” at work was intense and intentional, and yet I also found myself fading away from the spotlight. I didn’t want to speak up in meetings; my shyness overtook me.

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Week 8, Sunday: Start of the one-week mega-post experiment

I asked readers to shout-out after my last email update, to let me know if they were reading. I’m hearing a common thread: “Got the email! Couldn’t read all the things, but read a bit, love that you’re doing this!”

Which makes sense: I’m devoting a lot of time to writing, but you can’t exactly make a similarly-sized commitment to consuming all these bits!

In the current workflow, I create one thing a day. On Saturday, I create three things: an original post for the day, plus the email update, plus all the edits and fix-ups of the week’s posts. Saturday evenings have ended up being 3-4 hours in length!

The result, like today, was a great deal of exhaustion. In bed by midnight, but with all the night wake-ups that come from being a parent of four. Ben and Addie were up at 5:30 searching for Ben’s lost tooth (his first ever! And it was somewhere under his dresser. And it was imperative to find right away).

I am learning so much through this, and finding it so valuable to explore and express things, but the time investment is significant.

I had two lovely conversations tonight which inspired me to see this project a little differently…

This week, I’m going to try something new. I’m going to write a post that is the *same* post all week, and that by Saturday is also going to be the actual body of the email. I’ll work from this same text I’m writing right now, but I’ll paste it into a new post so we can follow edits as a behind-the-scenes feature for anybody who wants to “track changes.”

It means that right now, I am simply curious. It’s Sunday night. Where will the week go? What am I expecting? And what will Saturday’s final post end up centering on?

  • The kids are back to school tomorrow. Addie is stoked, Ben is dreading things. Will the emotion and drama of kid realities become a key thread of the week?
  • Back to work tomorrow. I plan to pursue the “Love-based systems” thread, as well starting some planning for the year. Will themes there emerge that are catching interest?
  • Today I experienced dreadful tiredness and body-consuming grumps. The second day in a row where I’ve felt a hard-to-shake impatience and frustration. Will processing the week’s emotions be a consistent thread?
  • I’ve had some notions today of letters to the internet, letters to the church, letters to my younger self. I was inspired by this Auld Lang Syne reimagining I heard today. I heard our lead pastor challenging our community to think differently about church this year, and talked with my seat-neighbour about what role we could play in better addressing homelessness this year. I wonder if any of these threads will become more prominent as the week progresses.
  • I want to get to bed early and catch up from last night’s overexertion. But first, time for some wine, salted caramel brownies and Jack Ryan with Kendra.

I will be saving this post here, cloning it tomorrow, and continuing to edit and revise to see how the one-week mega-post experiment goes.

End of the week update: It didn’t work. Not at all. I had no desire to clone, revisit and edit the same post. Not even one extra day.

Update 2: Jack Ryan in Amazon Prime, in season 1, is a storyline that happens to include some storytelling with vulnerability and authenticity. Season 2 digresses into a generic, macho, cliche, snoozefest. You can’t spare yourself.