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.

03 September 2010

I've Got a Secret. You've Got a Secret.

I don't know Penelope Trunk, but I'm sure I'd like her if I ever got the chance to sit down and talk with her a bit. I discovered her when I listened to a presentation she gave a couple of years ago at The Executive Forum, a business lecture series based in Denver, Colorado, and run by my friend Margie Mauldin. What I liked best about Penelope was her candor; it was a real breath of fresh air to hear someone talk in such a plain way about things that really matter, but are rarely - if ever - discussed around the water coolers or in the rest of the nooks and crannies of corporate America.

Ms. Trunk is even more candid in her blog Brazen Careerist, which has nearly 35,000 subscribers. I'm a semi-regular reader, and happened on a post a short while ago I really liked: I Hate David Dellifield. The One from Ada, Ohio. Here's the crux of it. The help she normally has to watch her kids while she works was not available during Spring Break, so she spent most of that time being a stay-at-home mom. She had figured out earlier in her life that this wasn't something she seemed to be genetically coded to do, so toward the end of her time at home with the kids - and in what she says was a moment of innocent desperation - she Twittered:
"No school today and the nanny's on vacation. A whole day with the kids gets so boring: all intergalactic battles and no intellectual banter."
In seconds, men from all over cyberspace started firing shot across her bow; they were telling her she was a bad mom. One of those shots - in particular - really ticked her off. It was fired by - you guessed it - David Dellifield of Ada, Ohio:
"@penelopetrunk sorry your kids are a burden, send them to OH, we'll enjoy them for who they are"
You can read the rest of her post for yourself. And, you should; the tap dance she does on his head is really well choreographed. What I want to pick up on here, though, is something she said about a third of the way through her riff:
"Parents need to be able to say that parenting is not fun."
She's right, of course. Parenting is not all grins and giggles. Kids are cute - but not 24/7 cute - when they're young; largely a pain-in-the-butt when they're teenagers; and who knows what after that. And, we parents should be able to say so without having some self-appointed referee toss a penalty flag.

An even larger point is there are way too many things we don't get to say these days without being derided, shunned, or cast out of our tribes. This is especially true in the workplace; it's true in most of the other places we habituate as well.

Secrets. Paul Tournier says:
"Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets."
And sick. I think much of the fear and sadness we experience in our lives is rooted in keeping things we really need to talk about hidden behind a facade of good cheer. How sick can we get trying to suck it up? Watch this YouTube video; it answers that question very directly. It was produced and uploaded by a young girl who wanted to share her story of self-immolation, self-injury, and redemption in hopes it might be of help to others who find themselves in the same boat.

If you watched all the way to the end, you were surely struck in some way, shape, or form. Perhaps you wondered why she didn't cry out for help sooner; it's the logical thing to do, after all. Maybe you thought she was weak or lacking willpower, that all she needed to do was "Just say no!" And, why not? Lots of people have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Another possibility is that you breathed a sigh of relief when you found she entered a treatment program, because you know they work. Don't they? Most likely, though, your heart went out to her, and you wish you had been there to help. But, how? She tells us at the end:
"Don't judge me by the scars on my arms, instead help me to throw away the blade."
It shouldn't have to get that far. If we - individuals, families, communities, the world at large - could develop a less judgmental and more understanding ethos, people in trouble would be willing to step forward and ask for our help much sooner. And, if that were to happen, fewer people would put their hands on the blade in the first place. This is an extreme case, of course, but not uncommon. We all most certainly have family members, friends, co-workers, close acquaintances, and others we know suffering in a private hell we don't have a clue about. And, most of us are living in one of our own as well.

Secrets. Accept them as gifts when they are offered. Give them as gifts when you can.

  • What are some things that just aren't discussed at work? Which of the things you named do you think should be open for discussion? Why? Which do you think are better left unsaid? Why? How about at home?
  • What is your personal experience with secrets? How readily to disclose them to others? Have you found confiding in others to be helpful or hurtful? Is there a story you can tell to illustrate? How are you receptive or not receptive to having others confide in you? How do respond when someone really opens up to you? Is there a story you can tell about helping someone who took the risk of being vulnerable with you?
  • Have you ever been stunned to learn something about another person that you could never have guessed? How could you have known sooner?
  • Do you have a deep, dark secret? If you were willing to share it at all, who would you share it with and why?
"A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know." - Diane Arbus
"All secrets are deep. All secrets become dark. That’s in the nature of secrets." - Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town, 2005
"The shadow is the long bag that we drag behind us in which we've stuffed all the dark parts of ourselves that we would like to keep secret." - Robert Bly
"The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them - words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than than, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried when you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for the want of a teller but for the want of an understanding ear." - Stephen King
"Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don't want it. What appears conceit, cynicism or bad manners is always a sign of things no ears have heard no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone." - Miller Williams, The Ways We Touch
"The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire." - Teilhard de Chardin

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