Tag Archives: Aspen Seminar

On Mission

You will not find your mission by standing still. The only way to find it is by challenging yourself in something – I would almost say it does not matter what. Then by making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally, just as wide, new horizons open up before someone walking up a hill. Little by little you will come to understand your mission. That is why it is so important to have the courage to ask yourself what it is that you should really be doing right now, at this very moment.

It is likewise important to set your sights high. The greater the tasks you chose to take on – one step at a time – the more rewarding and joyful your life will be. A person with a strong sense of mission is a source of light. For such a person, there is no darkness in the world.

– A Sense of Purpose in A Piece of Mirror by Daisaku Ikeda

Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.
Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.

Two days after my 41st birthday, I ventured to Aspen, Colorado. I had never visited the state, nor participated in a Socratic seminar. Most of the texts we digested in preparation for the week-long session were “classics,” yet foreign to me for one reason or another. In more ways than one, the experience was an education.

Although I wrote primarily of the texts and our conversations around them, I also made heartfelt connections. Several of the women stand out, and two of them left me with words of encouragement related to mission. I spoke with them separately and about very different things, yet their guidance was quite similar. Although I “know” what they shared, it was a warm nudge and a great reminder to take action. Do the work, don’t just think about it, or wonder about it. Don’t just dream it. Live it.

If you discover an idea in a moment of inspiration, that’s your story to tell. Tell it! ~Stevie Kallos

Hermana, we are in this world together to create the opportunities that matter. ~Lisette Nieves

In short we all have something to contribute – something to do. Not only that, we don’t have to walk that road alone. Allies are nearby if we are open to them.

So it’s Monday, which is a great day for beginnings. It’s time to get moving. What is your work? How will you be productive this month, this week, this day?


Here’s the round up from the series:

  • The Aspen Seminar. Things get underway this evening and I plan to document my experiences while I’m here.
  • Opening. We just concluded the opening session of the seminar. We’ll be here another six days so there’s a lot in store.
  • First Full Day. Today’s session was on human nature. Our readings included Aristotle, Hobbs and Darwin.
  • Toklat. Today’s readings investigated individual rights and liberty.
  • Three Poisons. In Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are greed, anger and foolishness.
  • Over the Hump. Our morning focus was equality and social welfare. Notably today also featured poetry, fiction and writings from women.
  • Antigone. Perhaps the highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance of Antigone.
  • Leading from Within. Today was the closing session of the Aspen Seminar.

Leading from Within

The final walk.
The final walk.

Friday seemed quite a distance from Saturday afternoon, but here we are already.

Today was the closing session of the Aspen Seminar. We discussed our final round of readings, including my second favorite of the week, In our Postmodern World, a Search for Self-Transcendence by Vaclav Havel.

After our discussions, we wrote a letter to ourselves that we can expect to receive six months hence. We wrapped up with personal reflections and thank yous, and one last lunch together.

My thoughts during the week were enhanced by the many voices in the seminar. Ultimately, however, I came to believe that my initial thinking on many things is the right way to proceed:

  1. I believe in the inherent goodness of humans.
  2. I believe society is never fixed and final. Similarly, humans are dynamic. As leaders it’s important to reflect, evolve and grow with intention.
  3. It’s important for humans to resist urges toward greed and ego, and to remember the ways in which we are interconnected.
  4. All change and forward motion begins when you lead from within.
  5. I will lead through art.

I’m notoriously bad with goodbyes, and it was a bittersweet ending. I was in the company of brilliant minds, and even though it was an immense challenge, I’m proud I rose to the occasion and grateful for the opportunity.

Thanks, Ted.

Antigone

Today was the final full day of the Aspen Seminar on Leadership, Values and the Good Society. We have a short day tomorrow and then we depart.

The theme of the day was leadership, and our readings included pieces by Machiavelli, Confucius and Plato to name a few.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance of Antigone.

Apparently it’s a tradition that participants perform the play during each seminar. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to play it straight. In fact, you’re encouraged to interpret the themes and retell the story in a novel way.

I don’t mind saying that ours was a wonderfully creative, collaborative success. We set the play in the 21st century, narrated through the lens of Nancy Grace.  It was a funny, modern take. Our moderators and the seminar coordinator were our primary audience and a great time was had by all.

Afterward, we debriefed our choices and the key ideas from the original play. We wondered what Creon could have done differently. Was Antigone principled or simply hot-headed? What, if anything, could’ve altered the course of events? Have we ever been Creon? How did we deal with an Antigone in our respective organizations?

These questions can apply to use as business or education leaders, or as leaders in our own families and communities. I think the important thing for leaders always comes back to reflection and evolution. You may not make the right decision in a given moment, but how can you learn from your actions and take another step forward?


Read the last post in the Aspen Seminar series.

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.