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.

09 April 2010

The Drunkard Disciple

In a recent Warrior of the Light newsletter Paulo Coehlo, author of The Alchemist, tells the following story which is titled The Drunkard Disciple:
A Zen master had hundreds of disciples. They all prayed at the right time, except one, who was always drunk.

The master was growing old. Some of the more virtuous pupils began to wonder who would be the new leader of the group, the one who would receive the important secrets of the Tradition.

On the eve of his death, however, the master called the drunkard disciple and revealed the hidden secrets to him.

A veritable revolt broke out among the others.

"How shameful!" they cried in the streets, "We have sacrificed ourselves for the wrong master, one who can’t see our qualities."

Hearing the commotion outside, the dying master remarked, "I had to pass on these secrets to a man that I knew well. All my pupils are very virtuous, and showed only their good qualities. That is dangerous, for virtue often serves to hide vanity, pride and intolerance. That is why I chose the only disciple whom I know really well, since I can see his defect: drunkenness."
Please don't jump to the conclusion that this is a story about whether you can trust "drunkards" or not; that's a whole different conversation. This is a story that asks the question, "How can I trust you, if I don't really know you?" And that question begs another, "How can you come to really know another person?"

The answer to the first question is "You can't." The answer to the second is you can never really know another person - not even those closest to you - but you can come to know most of the people in your life well enough to know whether you can trust them or not.

The notion that it’s important to be able to build trust with others is one of the latest “silver bullets” ricocheting off the walls of corporate America. As a result, books on trust, seminars on trust, and consultants that say they can help a company create a high trust culture in ten easy steps are in high demand. This is hogwash!

There is no formula or set of skills that you can master to help you build trust with others. Trust building is a raw, organic process that consists of spending whatever time it takes to tell our stories to others and listen to theirs. And, I don’t just mean stories that flesh out our resumes. I mean stories that tell where we came from, and where we dream of ending up; stories that shed light on the paths we’ve traveled - triumphs and tragedies alike; stories that reveal not only what’s on our mind but also what’s in our heart.

Then, at the end of the storytelling, or when we’ve gotten to know each other from as many different angles as possible, we get to decide whether we trust each other or not. And, if we’ve been really truthful with each other, a genuine trust relationship is almost always the result.

  • What is trust?
  • How is it created?
  • In what, or whom, do you trust?
  • How freely do you extend trust to others?
  • How can others earn your trust?
  • How do you react if someone violates your trust?
  • Will you ever be able to trust that person again? Why or why not?
"Let us approach our friend with an audacious trust in the truth of his heart." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Freedom is about being vulnerable to one another, realizing that our ability to connect is more important than feeling secure, in control and alone." - Eve Ensler
"If you are to judge a man, you must know his secret thoughts, sorrows, and feelings; to know merely the outward events of a man’s life would only serve to make a chronological table — a fool’s notion of history." - HonorĂ© de Balzac
"Conversations are efforts toward good relations. They are an elementary form of reciprocity. They are the exercise of our love for each other. They are the enemies of our loneliness, our doubt, our anxiety, our tendencies to abdicate. To continue to be in good conversation over our enormous and terrifying problems is to be calling out to each other in the night. If we attend with imagination and devotion to our conversations, we will find what we need; and someone among us will act—it does not matter whom—and we will survive." - Barry Lopez - Eden Is a Conversation (closing remarks at Quest for Global Healing, Ubud, Bali, Portland Magazine Autumn, 2006)
"We are not as near each other as we would like to imagine. Words create the bridges between us. Without them we would be lost islands. Affection, recognition and understanding travel across these fragile bridges and enable us to discover each other and awaken friendship and intimacy. Words are never just words. The range and depth of a person's soul is inevitably revealed in the quality of words she uses. When chosen with reverence and care, words not only describe what they say but also suggest what can never be said." - John O'Donohue, Beauty

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