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.

24 December 2009

The Touch of the Master's Hand

Myra Brooks Welch was born in 1877 in La Verne, California, a little city not too far from Anaheim. She was born into a large Christian family. All the children in the family sang and played instruments; Myra learned to play the organ by age 7.

By 1921, she was married and had her own family. She was also so crippled with arthritis that she was confined to a wheelchair and could could barely use her hands.

After attending a church conference one Sunday, she was inspired to write a poem. And, as difficult as it was, she finally managed to write the words down with a pencil on a pad of lined paper. When she was finished, she submitted it anonymously to be printed in her church's news bulletin. She felt it was a gift from God and didn't need her name on it.

From there its fame spread far and wide, though no one knew the name of the person who had written it. Then, one day, the poem was read at an international religious convention; the speaker - as usual - said that the author was unknown. But, when the speaker finished, something unusual happened: a young man in the audience stood up and said, "I know the author, and it's time the world did too. It was written by my mother, Myra Brooks Welch." The rest, as they say, is history. The poem is titled The Touch of the Masters Hand.
Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it barely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But he held it up with a smile.
'What am I bidden good people,' he cried.
'Who'll start the bidding for me?
One dollar. One dollar. Do I hear two?
Two dollars, who makes it three?
Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three ...'
But no,
From the room far back a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said 'What am I bid for the old violin?'
And he held it up with the bow.
'A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two?
Two thousand! And, who'll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice
And going, and gone,' said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
'We do not quite understand
What changed its worth?' The man replied:
'The touch of a master's hand.'

And many a man with a life out of tune,
and battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
much like the old violin.
A 'mess of pottage,' a glass of wine
A game, and he travels on.
He's 'going' once, and 'going' twice,
He's 'going' and almost 'gone.'
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that's wrought
By the touch of the Master's hand.
  • Can you tell a story about a person who helped you discover a gift or strength you didn't know you had?
  • Can you tell another one about a person who helped you believe in yourself again after you had lost faith?
  • Is there a person in your life that has a gift that you can see, but he or she doesn't?
  • How can you help him or her discover it?
  • Is there a person you know that you think needs a lift to get his or her life back on track?
  • What can you do to help that person?
"At times our light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." - Dr. Albert Schweitzer
"In 1967, I had a conversation with Martin Luther King, Jr., at an educational conference. An African American had just presented a paper entitled, if I remember correctly, 'First, Teach Them To Read.' King leaned over to me and said, 'First, teach them to believe in themselves.'" - John W. Gardner
"If we wish to succeed in helping someone reach a particular goal we must first find out where he is now and start from there. If we cannot do this, we merely delude ourselves into believing that we can help others. Before we can help someone, we must know more than he does, but most of all, we must understand what he understands. If we cannot do that, our knowing more will not help. If we nonetheless wish to show how much we know, it is only because we are vain and arrogant, and our true goal is to be admired, not to help others. All genuine helpfulness starts with humility before we wish to help, so we must understand that helping is not a wish to dominate but a wish to serve. If we cannot do this, neither can we help anyone." - Soren Kierkegaard

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