On Change and Context II, “13th”

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution states,

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

This Netflix Documentary, narrates rather nefarious adaptations of this amendment in practice — the reduction / abolition of slavery replaced by increased definition of criminality (that dressed slavery in another form). “Criminality” as support to a bereft economic system in the US South in particular, now that slaves were no longer legal.

Ripple. Ripple. Ripple.

The documentary pulls the story into 21st century, exposing further roots of race injustice. It insists on the heavy work of questioning morality then, and now.

Context matters. Including what is far, far upstream. Waking matters. In any day.

Thx Zoe McGinn for pointing me to this documentary, for which I encouraged her add to her materials, I Am Not Your Negro.



September has always marked a significant moment for me in the calendar of changes. It’s close in impact to a new year change. The why of September’s impact, like it is for many, is having grown up in a school system in which the new grade started in September. Yup, end of summer, and back to school. My mom made it a tradition to take a picture of my sister and I on the first day of school. Before we would walk to Braemar Elementary. In the picture, often holding up the number of fingers to indicate what grade we were now entering.

I remember as a kid, and into my teen and young adult years, liking the transition. Sure, I also remember a fair amount of sadness that summer was over. Because summer was the time when we got to go on holiday with parents, with grandparents. Summer was being with cousins. And summer, where I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, was also, somewhat jokingly, three weeks long. I was the kind of kid / teen / young adult that appreciated the shift. I was glad for the school year to end. But I was also glad for a new one to begin. New friends. New subjects. New teachers. I liked it when summer started — there is undeniable “schools out” fever. I liked the shift to a summer job. And then, in late August and early September, I like the shift from that summer job back to classmates and a part-time job.

Well, September doesn’t actually sneak up on anything, but it does feel like a rather abrupt turn. “How did it get to be September already?” The brain will catch up.

This morning I find myself reflecting on that old narrative of change from summer to September. Because that shift also included some regrets — did I do enough in the summer? Because now it’s time to get back to work. Did I do enough of what people are supposed to do in the summer, before getting back to work (no, I don’t know what that means — I just remember feeling it)? It’s a bit of a weird story line, isn’t it. It’s got a fair amount of trying to assure or assuage some fear of “not enough.” Oh dear, now there’s and old and pervasive story line from my life, and I know, for many of us.

With adult life, often comes the ability to change the way we think about change. Or to re-narrate, and sometimes release, the old stories of what was supposed to be. If we are lucky, we find ourselves into more conscious choice of what a season of life meant. Or what it meant in memory that is now available as another choice.

Well, those are a few thoughts on a Monday, Labor Day, where I live, the start of the first “work week” of September, 2019. With little pangs of sadness that summer is shifting, but with grown desire to be in a joy of what is more permanent, and a joy in what shifts. And with appreciation for the simple, far-less-calendared reality of things like these Black-Eyed Susans growing in my front yard, that have been astonishingly plentiful this year.


Fear — Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran was a Lebanese poet, writer, and visual artist of the late 1800s and early 1900s. He’s quite well known for his book, The Prophet.

Recently a friend shared this poem by Gibran, FEAR. I suppose one of the things about learning about fear, is that there is always more. I’ve known some of this in my life. The kind of fear that tenses my body. The kind of fear that locks in lizard brain of rather mass contraction.

Gibran’s imagery of the irreversibility of water from stream to ocean, and of becoming ocean — these both inspire me deeply. I would suggest we are all on quite a journey of becoming. Some of that journey is becoming aware of our fears, and if we are lucky, becoming that which we seek. Some of that becoming is individual (I think…, I’m starting to wonder if there is such a thing as “individual”). Some of that becoming is communal — irrepressibly communal, even in the smallest levels of being witnessed by one good friend and listener.

I don’t feel that life is meant to be lived without fear. The appearance of fear isn’t a failure. But like it is for so many complex emotions, our job as humans is often about coming into more awareness and conscious relationship with ourselves, each other, and what we stir in each other.

Enjoy the poem. And the journey, whatever version of it you find yourself on, on a day like today.


Khalil Gibran

It is said that before entering the sea
a river trembles with fear.

She looks back at the path she has traveled,
from the peaks of the mountains,
the long winding road crossing forests and villages.

And in front of her,
she sees an ocean so vast,
that to enter
there seems nothing more than to disappear forever.

But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.

Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

Story For Change

A story has the capacity to sustain action. A story changes obligatory todo lists to acts of purpose. A story adds life.

In the field of organizational and leadership development, this principle of story remains accurate to me. I’m glad for many colleagues and friends and organizations who contribute story and narrative to rather involved efforts.

One of these organizations is the Human Systems Dynamics Institute. That’s Glenda Eoyang who has been contributing theory and practice to applied complexity for a long time now. I get HSDI emails, one of which recently offered a few foundational aspects needed for change and creating futures together.

  1. An understanding about complex systems and how they change — and why they don’t.
  2. Tools to see the transformative energy that is locked inside the system — and how to get it unblocked.
  3. A change method that generates hope, rather then sucking energy out of people and processes.

From this story, here’s a few bits that I lean in to.

Complex Systems — It was my early learning with Margaret Wheatley that taught me that groups of people, systems, have properties that none of the parts of the system have. It’s the interaction that produces an emergent phenomenon. This is tricky — we humans are so accustomed to dissecting the whole into parts. I think we can learn a lot about water by looking at a drop, but a drop isn’t the same as an lake.

Tools for Transformative Energy — I’m glad for a suite of methodologies that help with this. Open Space Technology, for the way it creates simple but clear format for people to take responsibility for what they love. World Cafe, for the way it connects people in web of conversation. Circle, for the way that in invites so much more realness into how we are together. Realness transforms.

Generates Hope — I would suggest that the work, the thing behind the thing behind the thing, is to generate hope. Not the hope that Santa Clause is real. But the hope that comes naturally as human beings congeal their energy for the things that they care about. It is my learning that people everywhere seek learning and connection. Not just as head space, but also as heart space. We humans seem to have instinct that reminds us that we are more together. Or that we, individually, become more, when congealed by a hope together.

I’m glad to continue learning. And to continue simplifying. And to feel the gift of operational story from Glenda Eoyang and others like her. In a story of change.