Category Archives: Book reflections

Sabbath – Wayne Muller

I finally got around to reading this amazing book – a must read for leaders, those who seek the spiritual, the busy people…let’s go with everyone!

A “successful” life has become a violent enterprise. We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their  limits; war on our children, because we cannot find enough time to be with them when they are hurt and afraid, and need our company; war on our spirit, because we are too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us; war on our communities, because we are fearfully
protecting what we have, and do not feel safe enough to be kind and generous, we cannot take the time to place our feet on the ground and allow it to feed us, to taste its blessings and give thanks.

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When the Mass begins in a cathedral, the space is transformed the instant the first prayer is offered. The space is not different, but the time has been transformed. When monks enter an ashram or monastery and sit in silence, only when the bell is rung does the meditation begin. The space may be the same, but the time is consecrated by the mindfulness that arises in the striking of the bell. When Muslims are called to prayer five times each day, all work ceases, and all the ancient words, spoken aloud for centuries, rise like fragrance to the skies. Just so, during Sabbath the Jews, by keeping sacred rest, could maintain their spiritual ground wherever they were, even in protracted exile from their own country. It was not Israel that kept the Sabbath, it is said, but the Sabbath kept Israel.
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If we forget to rest we will work too hard and forget our more tender mercies, forget those we love, forget our children and our natural wonder. God says: Please, don’t. It is a waste of a tremendous gift I have given you. If you knew the value of your life, you would not waste a single breath. So I give you this commandment: Remember to rest. This is not a lifestyle suggestion, but a commandment—as important as not stealing, not murdering, or not lying. Remember to play and bless and make love and eat with those you love, and take comfort, easy and long, in this gift of sacred rest.

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All Jesus’ teaching seems to hinge on this singular truth concerning the nature of life: It is all right. Do not worry about tomorrow. I have come that you might have life abundantly. Be not afraid. Over and over, in parable, story and example, he insists that regardless how it goes for us, we are cared for, we are safe, we are all right. There is a light of the world, a kingdom of heaven inside us that will bear us up, regardless of our sorrow, fear, or loss. Do not wait to enjoy the harvest of your life; you are already blessed. The kingdom of God is already here. It is within you and among you.

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Our reluctance to rest—our belief that our joy and delight may somehow steal from the poor, or add to the sorrows of those who suffer—is a dangerous and corrosive myth, because it creates the illusion that service to others is a painful and dreary thing. Jesus says there will always be opportunities to be kind and generous. Just as there is a time for everything under heaven, so is there a time for nourishment and joy, especially among those who would serve.

But we must ask this question: What if we are not going anywhere? What if we are simply living and growing within an ever-deepening cycle of rhythms, perhaps getting wiser, perhaps learning to be kind, and hopefully passing whatever we have learned to our children? What if our life, roughhewn from the stuff of creation, orbits around a God who never ceases to create new beginnings? What if our life is simply a time when we are blessed with both sadness and joy, health and disease, courage and fear—and all the while we work, pray, and love, knowing that the promised land we seek is already present in the very gift of life itself, the inestimable privilege of a human birth? What if this single human life is itself the jewel in the lotus, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price? What if all the way to heaven is
heaven? Sabbath challenges the theology of progress by reminding us that we are already and always on sacred ground.
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When we move too fast we shield ourselves from the actual experience of suffering; we see only its outward manifestations and appearances. In our frantic craving for relief, we try to make the appearance of suffering go away. But we risk eradicating the symptoms without ever understanding the disease.

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According to Henri Nouwen, Jesus’ three temptations were these:
To be useful. To be important. And to be powerful. Useful, important, and powerful—are not these the attributes that still tempt every one of us who seek to do good in the world?

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The word humility, like the word human, comes from ‘humus’, or ‘earth’. We are most human when we do no great things. We are not so important; we are simply dust and spirit—at best, loving midwives, participants in a process much larger than we. If we are quiet and listen and feel how things move., perhaps we will be wise enough to put our hands on what waits to be born and bless it with kindness and care. But in the end, we are granted the tremendous blessing of knowing that we do very little at all by ourselves.

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Crucial Conversations – Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler

Two graphics from the book which I found helpful:

CC model

Summary model

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Moral Courage – Rushworth Kidder

A few points I pulled out of this excellent book:

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What, then, is moral courage? It can be defined as the quality of mind and spirit that enables one to face up to ethical challenges firmly and confidently, without flinching or retreating. It is a “quality of mind” as well as “spirit” because, like all ethical endeavours, it partakes of both the rational and the intuitional capacities, both left-brain and right-brain activity, both the processes of intellectual discourse and the feelings of rightness and wrongness inherent in each individual.

  • It enables us to face up to problems—not necessarily to resolve them, and certainly not to promise that we will master them, but to address them squarely, frontally, and with determination.
  • It requires action that is both “firmly” persistent and “confidently” assured that its tools—the moral, mental, and emotional elements of argumentation and persuasion—are sound enough to weather serious resistance.
  • Finally, it requires us to act “without flinching or retreating” in the face of persuasions, from the subtle to the violent, that make us want to turn tail and run.

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Step 4: Understand the Risks I
Understanding risk involves the contemplation of possible outcomes…Have I adequately assessed the dangers involved both in acting and in failing to act? Am I clear on the moral hazards, even if the situation involves physical hazard as well?  Do I have a clear picture of the three principal challenges — solving ambiguity, exposure, and loss—inherent in any situation

Ambiguity.

Am I willing to face up to the ambiguity and confusion that surrounds this problem? Can I penetrate its mysteries without being baffled, duped, or mentally overwhelmed? If I fear I could be wrong about the facts, does that
prevent me from moving forward? Or do I have that tolerance  for ambiguity, that confidence in my ability to figure things out, which is essential to moral courage? Can I distinguish persistent firmness in the face of wrongdoing from true moral courage in the face of right-versus-right dilemmas?

Exposure.

Do I recognize the fear of exposure that can inhibit moral courage? Am I willing to make myself vulnerable for the sake of achieving some higher good? Do I acknowledge that by acting with moral courage, I may be thrust into a highly visible leadership role—whether I want it or not? Or am I hoping I can hide and still make a difference? Have I got the focus and stamina to weather the exposure that frequently accompanies morally courageous acts?

Loss.

Do I grasp the peril to my income and position—as well as to personal relationships and public reputation—that may be involved here? Is this the hill I want to die on? Have I underestimated the risk, so that I might lose everything to no avail and be accused of foolishness? Or have I overestimated the risk, so that what I think to be courageous has very little risk at all, leaving me open to charges of mere bluster and bravado? Do I understand that moral courage shines most brightly when the stakes are highest?

 

State of the World Forum Values

IMG_1219

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Creative schools – Ken Robinson

This one is a must read for educators…and politicians making educational decisions too!

 

“If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it. If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does.

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The students who feel alienated by current systems of standardization and testing may walk out the door, and it’s left to them and others to pay the price in unemployment benefits and other social programs. These problems are not accidental by-products of standardized education; they are a structural feature of these systems. They were designed to process people according to particular conceptions of talent and economic need and were bound to produce winners and losers in just those terms. And they do. Many of these “externalities” could be avoided if education genuinely gave all students the same opportunities to explore their real capabilities and create their best lives.

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Education is really improved only when we understand that it too is a living system and that people thrive in certain conditions and not in others. The four principles of organic farming translate directly to the sorts of education we urgently need to cukivate. Paraphrased for education they might be:

  • Health. Organic education promotes the development and wellbeing of the whole student, intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially.
  • Ecology. Organic education recognizes the vital interdependence of all of these aspects of development, within each student and the community as a whole.
  • Fairness. Organic education cultivates the individual talents and
    potential of all students, whatever their circumstances, and respects the roles and responsibilities of those who work with them.
  • Care. Organic education creates optimum conditions for students.

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A few years ago I bought a new car. It took a long time. Once I’d decided on the model, I was offered an endless series of choices to customize it to my personal tastes and needs: colour, fabrics, sound systems, number of doors, engine size and so on. It was like filling out a tax return. I asked the salesman how many versions of this car there actually were. He didn’t know but guessed that mine would be unique, just like all the others he’d sold. In contrast, I got my first car when I was twenty-three. Back then, there was only one question: “Do you want it or not?”

Nowadays, we take for granted that we can personalize just about anything, from the apps on our smart phones, to the clothes we wear, to our pages on Facebook. The same is true of health care. As technology and the understanding of biology continue to develop, the medicines you take will become ever more tailored to your individual body type. This process of personalization seems to be everywhere, but it has yet to take root in education. This is ironic, because it is in education that personalization is most urgently needed. So what does that mean? It means:

  • Recognizing that intelligence is diverse and multifaceted
  • Enabling students to pursue their particular interests strengths
  • Adapting the schedule to the different rates at which students learn
  • Assessing students in ways that support their personal progress and achievement

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Great teachers are the heart of great schools. In their various roles, they fulfil three essential purposes for students:

  • Inspiration: They inspire their students with their own passion for their disciplines and to achieve at their highest levels within them.
  • Confidence: They help their students to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to become confident, independent learners who can continue to develop their understanding and expertise.
  • Creativity: They enable their students to experiment, inquire, ask questions, and develop the skills and disposition of original thinking.

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In planning the school curriculum, I much prefer the idea of disciplines. A discipline is a mixture of theory and practice. Mathematics, for example, is a combination of methods and processes and of proposition knowledge. The student is not only learning about mathematics, but also how to do mathematics. The same is true of disciplines that involve physical skills and the control of materials and tools, including music, art, design, engineering, technology, theatre, dance, and the rest.

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Andreas Schleicher is director for education and skills and special adviser on education policy to the secretary-general at the OECD. “The world economy no longer pays you for what you know; Google knows everything,” he told me. “The world economy pays you for what you can do with what you know. If you want to learn if someone can think scientifically or translate a real-world problem into a mathematical context, those things are harder to assess, but they’re also more important in today’s world. We see a rapid decline in the demand for routine cognitive skills in our world and the kinds of things that are easy to test and easy to teach are also the kinds of things that are easy to digitize, automate, and outsource.”

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conditions for growth

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The principal – Michael Fullan

While I have been devouring books for my Goodreads challenge of reading a book every fortnight, I haven’t been able to catch up my notes. Here are a few choice insights from Michael Fullan’s book “The Principal”. More book related inspirations shortly.

On effective principals

“The more effective principals were those who defined their role as facilitators of teacher success rather than instructional leaders. They provided teachers with the resources they needed to build social capital—time, space, and staffing—to make the informal and formal connections possible.”

On accountability

“Capacity building is to accountability what finance is to accounting. Finance is about how people organize and invest their assets; if you have only) accounting, you are merely keeping careful records while you go out of business! In the same way, there is more to accountability) than measuring results; you need also to develop peoples capacity achieve the results. Extreme pressure without capacity results in dysfunctional behaviour.”

Top 5 principal actions leading to results

1. Establishing goals and expectations
2. Resourcing strategically
3. Ensuring quality teaching
4. Leading teacher learning and development
5. Ensuring an orderly and safe environment

The ‘right and wrong of change’

Fullan - change

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Supporting executive wellbeing and the third way

When I have a little more time (ironic!) I’ll post a reflection on Dr Adam Fraser’s book ‘The Third Space’. It is a wonderful look at how we can be more present in all of our roles.

For the moment, consider this idea below and a youtube summary of his work.

 

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Thoreau’s ‘Walden’

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours – Henry Thoreau

I have the author of this post to thank for encouraging me to read Thoreau’s Walden. In short, it is an author’s reflections on an extended period of time when he escaped the life of the town to live sustainably in a self-built shack in the American woods. Amongst the extended ruminations on the perfection that is nature one finds pointed criticism of times not too far removed from our own.

Thoreau’s basic premise runs that humanity spends a great deal of time in the business of gaining material possessions and undertaking societal niceties that simply create more work. This is a thought that I have reflected on frequently – particularly in the context of the trapped nature of the materially well off.

One innocently enough seeks to have a place to rest their head and thuspurchases a home. With the nature of housing prices the home buyer needs to maintain a significant job for a significant period of years in order to pay off his humble abode in which he lays his head. It seemingly does not take long for a simple longing for an innocent pleasure to lock us into lives we never sought nor want.

I find it sad indeed that while I completed this book some weeks ago I have only found the time to review my notes today. Rereading sections was a perfect centreing act to remind myself of the dangers of living life at too fast a speed. Walden is a beautiful invitation to stop the madness that we have committed ourselves to. Do not expect answers from Walden but significant encouragement to question.

You can access the full text at Project Gutenberg. I have not individually referenced quotes due to the difference between the many editions and the easy task of performing a text search on Gutenberg for interested parties.

Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave….Most of the stone a nation hammers goes toward its tomb only. It buries itself alive. As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.

Be sure that you give the poor the aid they most need, though it be your example which leaves them far behind. If you give money, spend yourself with it, and do not merely abandon it to them. We make curious mistakes sometimes…There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. It is the pious slave-breeder devoting the proceeds of every tenth slave to buy a Sunday’s liberty for the rest. Some show their kindness to the poor by employing them in their kitchens. Would they not be kinder if they employed themselves there? You boast of spending a tenth part of your income in charity; maybe you should spend the nine tenths so, and done with it.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow. As for work, we haven’t any of any consequence.

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will. Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows.

…wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run “amok” against society; but I preferred that society should run “amok” against me, it being the desperate party.

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favour in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

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