Gentle Transitions

Birch Bay

I love a gentle transition. Or, should I say, a deliberate transition.

I was talking with a friend on the weekend. She asked me how I was getting from the airport to where I am staying. I explained I was taking light rail, followed by a bus. It would take me 75-90 minutes.

She then commented, “sometimes it’s nice to sit on a bus and stare out the window; it makes for a gentle transition, doesn’t it?” I agreed immediately. It’s a bit of time for the psyche to catch up to where the body is.

I’m in one of those transitions now. A different one. Riding the train from Everett, Washington to Vancouver, BC. It’s a three hour ride. With Wifi. With power outlets. With great views — the above is from Birch Bay, near which I saw hawks, heron, and bald eagles. And from Vancouver, this trip will involve a water taxi to get to my actual meeting space.

This is not an arrival, a transition that happens with immediateness. It’s not zero to 60 mph in 4 seconds. It’s got some gradualness to it. Slow moving train for some good staring.


Cumulative Blame

Most of us know a bit about cumulation. It is the building up of something that gives it more strength or volume that if it had been left alone or ignored. Laundry, if left undone for a month, is no longer a simple load. Weeding the garden once a year is, well, likely to be a garden of weeds rather than vegetables in my area.

I’ve been in many environments in which there appears to be a cumulative blame. It hasn’t been easy to put my finger on it, but I recently got a new insight to understand this. It’s not regular blame for one instance or another. It’s not isolated blame. It’s cumulative in that the pile of “perceived wrongs” is so high that blame becomes the operating system. It’s harsh, right. And needs interruption.

This is one of the reasons that I like Appreciative Inquiry as a methodology and way of being. Appreciative Inquiry is one of the best ways I know to breakthrough the harshness that is blame. When shaped with the right question, it can move that operating system from blame to learning. That’s the essential interruption that helps a group reclaim what it is all about. I use questions like, “What are you learning about what is difficult here?” “What are you learning about yourself in this challenging time?”

Brene Brown, though I don’t know her personally, has been a kind of teacher for me about blame. In one of her talks she tells a great story that concludes, “Blame is simply discharge of discomfort and pain.”

And there is a lot of pain in many systems today, isn’t there. Pain of complexity. Pain of being overworked. Pain of shortage of funding. Pain of management systems that command and control. Pain of needing to disassociate work from life. Pain of feeling you shouldn’t take a day off, even though you are sick. Pain of larger systems in collapse. That can be a big list.

I’ve written before about not blaming each other for complexity. That kind of not blaming, that not contributing to a cumulative blame, requires discipline. I continue to learn about this.

Another teacher and friend, Margaret Wheatley once shared three things about being in complexity that have remained with me. First, stay awake. Second, dwell in complexity. Third, pay exquisite attention to relationships. Again, nothing about blame there. Just staying awake and in relationship. Even to discomfort. So that weeding the garden, which does need to happen, is twenty minutes here and there rather than a whole weekend.