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.

28 March 2014

The Warp and Woof of Meaning

In more stable times, we educed meaning in our lives from well-established communities and traditional cultural norms. Today, we can't count on those things. We have to create meaning for ourselves. John W. Gardner, HEW Secretary in the Johnson administration, and founder of Common Cause, explained in a speech at McKinsey & Company, November 10, 1990:
"Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account."
The process of building meaning into our lives is dynamic. We live. We Learn. We make new meaning. We do it all again. To do this purposefully, Gardner suggests we consider the following questions on a regular basis. This is best done in conversation with others who understand the importance of doing so. One possibility is your life partner. Another is your family. Still another is your colleagues at work. In fact, you and your co-workers can use the questions to talk about the meaning you are deriving from your work.

  • What things are forgotten in the heat of battle?
  • What values get pushed aside in the rough-and-tumble of everyday living?
  • What are the goals we ought to be thinking about and never do?
  • What are the facts we don’t like to face?
  • What are the questions we lack the courage to ask?
"The sailor cannot see the North, but knows the needle can." - Emily Dickinson
"Life is tumultuous - an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory. We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face those realities and still strive with every ounce of energy to prevail. You may wonder if such a struggle - endless and of uncertain outcome - isn't more than humans can bear. But all of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of world." - John W. Gardner
"First we must understand that there can be no life without risk - and when our center is strong, everything else is secondary, even the risks. Thus, we best prepare by building our inner strength by sound philosophy, by reaching out to others, by asking ourselves what matters most." - Elie Wiesel
"Work is about a search too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than stupor; in short for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality, too, is part of the quest." - Studs Terkel

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