Category Archives: Text Talk

Over the Hump

I’m pretty convinced I won’t do today’s session justice. Partially because it’s getting late and I lose brain cells once the sun goes down, and partially because we had a double session today.

We began at 8:30 a.m. as usual. Our morning focus was equality and social welfare. We dissected some pretty powerful pieces including The Communist Manifesto, The Second Sex, and far and away my favorite of the series, MLK’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail.

Notably today also featured poetry, fiction and writings from women. The latter had been sorely lacking  and frustrated me during my preparations last month. I appreciate reading texts from the canon, and I think there are ways to pair “classic” texts with more modern viewpoints.

But I digress.

Our discussion of Simone de Beauvoir’s piece, The Second Sex, was a pivotal one, as it was our first woman author and she was unapologetic in her stance. Our group is an amazingly diverse one, and the women especially represent a wide cross section of view points. Two things stood out to me in her piece. One was her discussion of “freedom of maternity.” I find that brilliant phrasing and it engendered quite a few comments. The other was her discussion of woman finding herself:

What woman essentially lacks today for doing great things is forgetfulness of herself; but to forget oneself it is first of all necessary to be firmly assured that now and for the future one has found oneself. Newly come into the world of men, poorly seconded by them, woman is still too busily occupied to search for herself.  

Once we concluded that piece, we moved into into MLK’s powerful yet less well known masterpiece. It’s a brilliant document in many regards, but my favorite sections were his rationale for the Negro’s legitimate and avoidable impatience, and his profound disappointment with the white moderate. Wrote MLK:

Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was "well timed" according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never."

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All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will.

The work is parts rebuttal, documentation, poetry and provocation. If you’ve lived this long and have never read it, now is the time.

After lunch and a short break, we reconvened. The afternoon’s session on community included a poem, The Moose, which at first held little to no meaning for most of us. Through dialogue and reflection we unlocked the deeper meaning and then joked there would be a moose outside waiting for us at the end of our session.

As luck would have it, no moose were nearby, but we did (rather unexpectedly) see a family of elk! In the poem, a moose appears from the woods and inspires joy and wonderment. In real life, the elk did the same.

I spy a family of elk!
I spy a family of elk!

We closed the evening with fellowship and dinner.

And such was the beginning of the end of our time. Tomorrow is our last full day. Friday, we meet once more, dine and away.


Read the next post in the Aspen Seminar series.

Three Poisons

The past couple of days and today especially, my thoughts have turned to the three poisons. They are a subject of daily inquiry as I reflect upon what is good and how to create more of it in society.

In Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are greed, anger and foolishness. In brief, greed is the desire for excess – more than one’s share, to the detriment of others. Anger is grounded in ego. It’s the distorted belief (and behavior) that one is better than others, and is often brought on by lack of self-confidence.  Foolishness is ignorance of the true nature of oneself.  It’s unawareness or disbelief in the potential for enlightenment.

Aspen-Meadows-Resort_711428_imageI believe all of what ails society can be traced to one or more of these poisons. Today’s session was on property and efficiency, and featured writings from Plato, Locke, Khaldūn and Bolívar. For various reasons, Bolívar’s Angostura Address was the most impactful for me.  Two lines from his fiery speech:

Hence, legislators, your task is all the more difficult in that you have to reform men perverted by the illusions of error and unhealthy desire. <and>
…purify the corrupted aspects of our republic, denouncing ingratitude, selfishness, coldness of affection for the country, idleness and negligence on the part of citizens, and condemn the causes of corruption and pernicious examples...

In both cases I see the three poisons alluded to as corrupting influences. He seeks to provide an antidote through the reformation of government.

The seminar method of discussing these texts is an interesting one.  Each of the participants pulls out very different things as inspiring, or problematic or food for thought. Our constant task is to make sense of what we’re reading and discern the lessons for leadership locked within.

Tomorrow we continue with a double session. More to come.


Read the next post in the Aspen Seminar series.

Toklat

This morning in Aspen, Colorado.
This morning in Aspen, Colorado.

Today’s readings investigated individual rights and liberty. We had two sessions – one in the morning and one in the evening. In the morning we tackled Aristotle, Rousseau, Sumner and the Declaration of Independence.

We discussed the Aristotelian notions of place in society, including the positionality of slaves and masters. We wondered what Rousseau meant by free when he wrote of forcing a man to be free who refuses to obey the general will. We debated the merits of the Declaration of Independence, from the use of the language to its call to action. We closed with The Challenge of Facts, a clearly written document that, among other things, seems to indulge in victim blaming.

I like the ways the facilitators ask framing questions. What would Hobbs say about this? What might Aristotle say to that? These sorts of questions challenge us to reconsider old understandings and bridge the new ones.

After some down time, we ventured up the mountain to a cabin called Toklat. There we enjoyed a discussion of Melville’s Billy Budd, closing the night wondering what Captain Vere could’ve or should’ve done differently. It’s an interesting exercise to imagine how we’d be better or different leaders under similar circumstances. I think that’s the key, really. The ability to imagine different outcomes keeps us youthful and agile.


Read the next post in the Aspen Seminar series.

First Full Day

And so concludes the first full day of the Aspen Seminar. I’ve done a few group events over the years, but this one is the first one where such significant bonding occurs so quickly. We’ve had a few meals together and several hours of pointed conversation, and that’s been enough for individuals to connect while the whole group creates its own personality. It’s fascinating really.

The view from breakfast.
The view from breakfast.

Today’s session was on human nature. Our readings included Aristotle, Hobbs and Darwin. We discussed each text to understand what the authors said, whether or not we agree with their argument, and how we can apply the text to our leadership contexts.

At one point I talked about the importance of cultivating the potential inherent in each individual. My point echoed a key idea in Nichiren’s cherry, plum, peach, damson teaching. In brief, each plant is valuable in its own right, and need not strive to mask its uniqueness nor work to be like another plant in order to reach its full potential.

Our inquiry was essentially: what is the inherent quality of humans? Before a corrupting influence, who are we and how do we behave? The essence of the oak tree is contained within the acorn. An acorn is never going to be something else other than an oak tree, although circumstances can prevent it from growing or hamper it from reaching its full potential.

Your leadership style rests in part on what you believe to be true about human nature. Like Mencius, I believe humans are inherently good. The leader’s role, then, is recognizing the potential we each have, and cultivating it. Of course not everyone agrees with this, and again it’s the disagreement that makes the Conversation worthy to take place.

Today was a full day. Tomorrow, we meet again.


Read the next post in the Aspen Seminar series.