The Heart, The List, and The Circle

In a regular old conversation recently, on zoom, having coffee together, a friend and I experienced a regular old moment of emergent learning. That’s sounds fancy to say it that way. But it is the gold. People turned to one another. Sharing a bit of story. Asking a few questions. Trying to be good noticers together. But not trying too hard. Being serious. But definitely not forcing it. Stuff shows up that leaves me feeling like there is some kind of flow of awareness happening and I’m getting to participate in it.

The learning this time was about these three shapes. The heart. The list, which I’ve created above as the rectangle. And the circle that links them together.

Our conversation was about the importance of the heart. People everywhere (teams, committees, families, friends, task forces…) must be in connection, deep connection, with self, with each other, and with the broader purpose of things. It matters that we have big questions together. Why are you here? What does our work matter in the world? In what way are we contributing to a growing good? There are a bunch of these questions that have at their core, an orientation to consciousness, to kindness, and to flow with life itself. The heart is the domain that, particularly in business contexts, has too long been characterized as inappropriate and to be left at the door. Well, that’s just not very good thinking — if you want peoples’ talents and long-term sustainability, heart matters.

Yet, heart is not enough. All heart and no list means it’s really hard to get things done. The list of sometimes very mundane things also matters immensely. Chop wood. Carry water. Do the dishes. Pay the utility bill. Order the supplies. Print the reports. We need to not be afraid of welcoming lists and tasks to what we are up to. It’s OK to be crisp. The flaw here is as you would expect. Too much of even a good thing becomes a problem. All list turns even the best of teams robotic. It’s just too much task. It’s like too much flour in the recipe that render the cake as thick as a brick. This orientation to the revered list has been well-intended and noble procedure for years. However, let’s be clear — too much list has emphasized and privileged management and administration over leadership and vision and humane ways.

What we need is something to connect the heart to the list. To connect the importance of meaning making, wonder, and curiosity with the importance of task, accomplishment, and coordination. It is my experience that circle creates the overlap. It’s not that we meet in slow circle all of the time, but some of the time, that’s all that matters. So that we can link the heart to the list. So that we can welcome the heart of the engineer and the list-maker of the social worker. I often say about circle what a couple of key friends, Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, taught me long ago — that circle is a light structure to help correct what goes awry in most forms of contemporary meeting. It acts as the ultimate form for connection, of bridging so that we can celebrate the heart and the list, as we humans attempt to move ourselves in good ways, in rather complex and changing times.

I’m glad for regular old conversations. With wonderful friends and colleagues. I’m glad for these moments of noticing ideas and learning that I believe want to come forward to help evolve who we are as humans, and as teams, and how we go together.

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