About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

08 December 2009

And then . . . Jesus Wept

Near the beginning of The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth ....
Jesus was delivering the sermon to His disciples, and a large crowd. He was in the role of teacher. They were students. What you just read is part of the Beattitudes. The rest of His sermon covered: the metaphors of Salt and Light; the reinterpretation of the Ten Commandments; a discourse on ostentation; the Lord's Prayer; a discourse on judgementalism; and a discourse on holiness.

That's a lot to learn in one sitting. The disciples did it, though, and spent the rest of their lives carrying the Word to world.

For a moment, imagine the disciples responding to Jesus' teaching in a slightly different way that day on Mt. Zion.
Simon Peter: "Do we have to write this down?"
Andrew: "Are we supposed to know this?"
James: "Will this be on the test?"
Philip: "What if we don't remember this?"
John: "The other disciples didn't have to learn this."
Matthew: "When do we get out of here?"
Judas: "What does this have to do with the real world?"
Jesus wept.

Many years ago, I was trying to figure out why people listening to the same presentation could react so differently. I was perplexed because the feedback we collected from the audience after each of our Masters Forum sessions varied so much. For example, some would say a particular session was valuable. Others would say it was not. Some would say the ideas could be easily applied. Others would say they could not. And, even if the lion's share of the audience gave the session the highest rating possible, there would still be a few that gave it near the lowest. Jim Collins was a speaker in our series at the time I was scratching my head over this, so I took him aside just before he went onstage and asked him what he thought. He said:
"It doesn't matter so much where the speaker is speaking from. What really matters is where the audience is listening from."
Why didn't I think of that? I guess that's why he's one of the shining stars in the guru universe, and I'm not. There are many other reasons for this, of course.

Jim's answer cleared up some other things as well. For example, once in awhile we would a get comment like, "The room was too cold." Another was, "The speaker struck me as sexist, so I didn't listen to a word he said." Still another, "The speaker didn't say how I could apply her ideas to my specific situation."

Another star in the guru universe is Peter Block. He says that this type of feedback indicates that there are members of the audience who show up with the notion that they can simply sit and listen; that the speaker is responsible for their learning. As a result, they fail to engage. And, as a result of that, they fail to learn. Peter has devised an antidote to deal with this sort of attitude and behavior. At the beginning of almost every presentation he gives, he asks each member of the audience to answer the four questions that follow, and then share their answers with two or three people sitting near them:
  • How valuable an experience do you plan to have over the next hour or few hours? Rate it from lousy to great.
  • How engaged and active do you plan to be?
  • How much risk are you willing to take?
  • How much do you care about the quality of the experience of those around you?
Peter says that even if some people respond negatively to all of these questions, at least they go forward with their eyes open. And, in all fairness to the speaker, must assume responsibility for not learning as much as they might have.

  • How do you typically show up for meetings? Are there any exceptions to your habitual ways of being in the room? What is it about those meetings that create the aberration in your behavior?
  • Which of Peter's four conditions for showing up are you least likely to meet? Expecting to receive value? Being active and engaged? Taking risks? Helping others learn? Explain.
  • Do you see a reason to show up differently at meetings you attend in the future? If so, what will you do and how will you do it?
  • How would you like people to show up for meetings you are conducting? Is there a way you can make it happen?
"That same day, Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him so that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: 'A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where there was very little soil, and they sprang up right away, since there was no depth to the soil. But when the sun arose, they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds yet fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.' " - Matthew 13: 1-9

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