מאמרים והוצאה לאור

דף בית רשימת הזנות הפרשנות של לארד על קהילה וקונסנסוס

רשימת הזנות

Laird's Commentary on Community and Consensus
For 25+ years I’ve been a community networker & group process consultant. I believe that people today are starved for community—for a greater sense of belonging and connection—and I’ve dedicated my life to making available as widely as possible the tools and inspiration of cooperative living. I’m on the road half the time teaching groups consensus, meeting facilitation, and how to work with conflict. This blog is a collection of my observations and musings along the way.

  • Celebrating Without Sound
    Yesterday Susan and I celebrated the third anniversary of our getting together. On a balmy day in Duluth, our Saturday began by heading over to Vanilla Bean, a restaurant in the Mount Royal neighborhood to catch the Argentina-France game—the opening match among the survivors of group play in the quadrennial madness known as World Cup soccer. We knew it might be Leo Messi's last World Cup game and we didn't want to miss him and his magic left foot.

    We were the only ones in the restaurant interested in that particular form of entertainment to accompany breakfast—in my case, corned beef hash and a Bloody Mary (start the day off right, I say). I could tell right away that the poor bartender had no idea where to find World Cup amongst the plethora of cable TV options. He dutifully clicked through all the obscure music channels in the 1900s before finally finding the game on channel 11: Fox Sports. (Who knows why he didn't start with the low numbers?)

    It was an exciting game with several goals and several lead changes. Although Messi didn't score he set up two of Argentina's three goals, and it was fun to watch. Not wanting to push any of the locals off their feed, we watched with the sound off, as often happens at bars and restaurants.

    Next it was on to Home Depot, where we scored some light bulbs and a couple of foam paint brushes to apply polyurethane to the quarter round we're installing in the living room and dining room, accompanying our newly refinished hardwood floors. Although the house is still outgassing VOCs from the poly varnish, the odors are dispersing and we'll start moving everything back tomorrow.

    For our evening entertainment we started by catching the 7:00 pm showing of Won't You Be My Neighbor at Zinema, Duluth's indie movie house. It was a biopic of Fred Rogers (Mr Roger's Neighborhood). It's hard to imagine anyone who lived their life in a less Trumpian manner, and it was a refreshing antidote to the incivility and boorish behavior of our President.

    We had thought we might enjoy an anniversary dinner one block further down Superior St at Sound, a restaurant that was featured in the Taste Section of last Thursday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune. We were excited to try out the small plate specialties of their creative chef. Imagine our confusion, however, when we got to the restaurant and it didn't appear to be open. Instead, there was a sign indicating that would-be patrons might walk down a block and enter on Michigan St. 

    Following the instructions, we found ourselves in the basement, where the Rathskeller operated as a bar and bistro, with well-upholstered chairs sitting comfortably underneath brick arches and low lighting. When we asked about Sound, the waitress told us it had recently closed. Oops! I guess the newspaper review was a little out of date (but at least it explained why we were having trouble making a reservation).

    Now what? Well, the basement ambience was appealing on a muggy night so we decided to have a drink. The shelves lining the back wall were obviously well stocked and the gregarious bartender looked like he enjoyed a challenge so Susan requested a Canton (two parts bourbon, one part ginger liqueur, and the juice of half a lemon) and I asked for a Boulevardier. I earned a bit of street cred by pointing out where the bartender could find his bottle of ginger liqueur (two to the left of the Galliano), and then walking him through how to make my drink (a Negroni, substituting Woodford Reserve bourbon for Bombay Sapphire gin). When he garnished my drink with a maraschino cherry, I commented that it looked like he was using Luxardo cherries—at which point he queried, "Who are you?"

    After a pause I said, "Someone who likes to drink"—to which everyone at the bar broke out in cheers. We knew were in the right place. 

    Who needed Sound? We were making our own music in the catacombs of Duluth.

  • Freis Farm, Take Five
    I'm just back from five days in Chicago with three generations of Schaubs—the direct descendants of my parents, Bob & Val. For the fifth time in 29 years—1989, 1991, 1994, 2010, and 2018—we gathered from all over the US for a family reunion at a farm near Wilmington IL.  

    While my Dad died in 1989 (just months after the first iteration of our Freis Farm reunions) and my Mom followed 14 years later, the tradition continues. There were 41 of us this time. Participants hailed from Fairhope AL, Seattle WA, Clearwater FL, Duluth MN, Las Vegas NV, Provo UT, San Antonio TX, Galveston TX, Shreveport LA, La Grange IL, Iowa City IA, Los Angeles CA, and St Louis MO. Interestingly we sorted about equally into three age groups: 12 silverbacks; 16 in the middle (from late 20s to early 40s); and 13 kiddos—Bob & Val's great grandchildren. 

    It was quite the extravaganza. Fortunately, we dodged the global warming bullet. Though local temperatures were in the 90s and steamy the week before, a rain front stormed through Monday and the mercury fell 30 degrees (now where did I put that hoodie?) and stayed temperate all weekend. Whew. (In fact, when Susan checked the weather at home on Friday we were amused and amazed to discover that Duluth was 10 degrees warmer than Kankakee, an occurrence that may be rarer than reunions.

    Because it had been eight years since the last gathering of the clan, the youngsters (aged 10 years to 8 months) hardly knew each other, but they got over that in about 10 minutes, bonding into a pack a free-ranging imps. Fortunately, they never learned to hotwire the ATV.

    Every adult took a turn with food prep and clean-up, so that it never fell too heavily on anyone's shoulders, and the late-night carousers (especially after the late-night poker game broke up) more or less kept pace with the leftovers, so we never ran out of refrigerator capacity.

    While conversations were all over the place (there was a lot to catch up on), we studiously avoided the third rail of national politics. While most Schauber Jobbers (yes, that's how we refer to ourselves) are appalled by the boorish, divisive behavior of our President, who knows who might have been seduced by buoyant economic numbers—never mind that the piper will have to be paid for our runaway national deficit, and there's something about tax breaks for the rich that make me want to throw up.

    Our reunions have now straddled a generation. Thinking back to the first one in 1989 (when the Berlin Wall came down—incidentally, the Schaubs have now been holding reunions longer than the Berlin Wall was up), my siblings and I were the middle generation then and today's parents were yesterday's rugrats. The wheel turns.

    Freis Farm is owned by my brother-in-law, Dan Cooke, and his two sisters. Though no one has lived there since his grandparents passed away decades ago, it's a working farm and the house and yard are maintained as a retreat facility and rural getaway conveniently located about an hour south of Chicago. One of Dan's nieces got married there the week before the reunion—and suffered through the brutal heat that we were lucky enough to miss.

    One of the beauties of Freis Farm is the myriad configuration of social spaces into which a large group can sort itself. The living room was big enough for a monster game of Schaub-themed Jeopardy Friday night, and doubled as an assembly pad for Lego fantasies by junior engineers during Thursday's inclement weather. There is a small television room that accommodated World Cup soccer viewing, and a porch that allowed for side conversations that were protected from both weather and pass-through foot traffic.

    Outdoors there is a screened-in gazebo (wired for sound), an open-air viewing deck that overlooked the rain-swollen creek (and doubled as an impromptu cigar lounge), a grilling scene in front of the garage, plus plenty of grass space for whiffle ball, croquet, horseshoes, bean bag toss, and tiki torch beer bottle frisbee (for those who needed encouragement to consume malted beverages). Some even found time to pick ripe Montmorency cherries and make a couple of pies.

    It was a good time for all.

  • Gnostic Imaging
    I was at St Luke's Hospital yesterday for my monthly check-up with my oncologist. When I stepped up to registration (so I could get outfitted with one of those nifty plastic wrist bands that help staff make sure I'm the right "Laird Schaub"), I was surprised to see a display of full-color tri-folds on the counter that advertised "Gnostic Imaging." 

    Say what? They've got CT scans for detecting esoteric, spiritual knowledge? What will they think of next! It's one thing, I thought, for a hospital to be on the cutting edge of medical research; it's all together something else to be dancing with the Wu Li masters. And I was very curious how that intersected with treating cancer.

    For a minute or two, my mind started flowing in all manner of creative directions, trying to make sense of what I'd seen. Then I adjusted my stance and discovered that a box a facial tissues had been obscuring the left-hand margin of the flyer, which actually read, "Diagnostic Imaging." Oh. My bad.
    • • •
    But then again, what if I had read it right the first time? Wouldn't that be an interesting East-meets-West kind of Hippocractic amalgamation? And why not on the cancer ward—where the veil between this life and whatever is next tends to thin out precipitously. Who's to say what kind of knowledge is most needed when one is close to transition?

    Further, why not offer one-stop shopping for all your medical inquiries? For the most part modalities come in their own boxes (or edifices, in the case of hospitals) and don't tend to play well with others. Western medicine here; Chinese medicine there; Ayurvedic in this corner; Ayahuasca in that corner; over the counter on this side; over the rainbow on the other side; snake handlers in the sub-basement; and bats in the belfry.

    It's not just what science or your spirit guide tells you should have the inside track on our attention: it's what you have faith in. And that's a highly personal decision. 

    What I know—having lived through being close to death 28 months ago when my cancer was first diagnosed (and imaged at St Luke's, thank you)—is that a positive attitude and a strong support network make a difference. While those intangible factors are not definitive (optimists die, too, after all), my oncologist in Duluth and my hematologist at Mayo Clinic (who are both all in on Western medicine), freely acknowledge that attitude impacts outcomes for reasons that defy quantification. 

    Hmm. Maybe there are no accidents. Maybe St Luke's should be offering gnostic counseling, offering a menu of medical approaches, rather than one-size-fits-all. They could think of it as hedging their bets, catering to the patient's proclivities, rather than trying to direct them. Just a thought.

    Isn't it amusing what kind of insights can be triggered by standing in just the wrong place at the right time? Life tends to be a lot more interesting if you're paying attention.

  • Facilitating Outliers
    As a professional facilitator one of my most difficult tasks is working with individuals who are out of step with the rest of the group and feel strongly about the validity of their views.

    Even though I do my best to make sure that everyone is heard, when there is little to no resonance with the outlier's views it is depressingly common for them to claim that I have been biased in how I facilitated the conversation—that if I hadn't skewed things there would have been more support for their ideas. (Actually their thinking proceeds in reverse: the fact that the group didn't respond well to their thinking is evidence, in their eyes, that I must have skewed things, because that's a more palatable explanation then that the group heard what they had to say and the earth didn't move.)

    While I try to be careful to make sure that outliers have been heard (by giving back a summary of what they said until they report that I got it), a complicating factor is that I'm an active facilitator, who will rein in repetition, redirect off-topic comments, and name any disturbance in The Force. Commonly enough outliers have had a lifetime to perfect their craft and they don't particularly appreciate my cramping their style (for example, by limiting their opportunity to repeat their views, or by not allowing them to hijack the topic on the table to flog their agenda). They will conflate my active management of the conversation with my being biased. When they are the main ones acting out, it may look like I'm picking on them. Never mind that I told them up front how I would facilitate and got their explicit buy-in to do so. 

    [Caution: This pattern does not obtain with all who find themselves in a minority position: I am only describing the dynamics when it does.]

    Because we're talking about humans, it's typically more attractive to blame others for what's not working than to look in the mirror. So it's not surprising that it plays out this way—yet awareness of the pattern doesn't make it any more fun being the object of the outlier's frustration. 

    Another way this plays out for the outlier is this: I've been acting this way consistently and I never got push back about my behavior until you (Laird) showed up. Because you are the different element, the problem is you. You can follow how they got there, but this simplistic analysis neglects to take into account how group members may have been cowed by the outlier's behavior, to the point that they're reluctant to voice objections—either about their views or their delivery. Many people in cooperative groups are conflict averse and will choose to suffer in silence rather than risk being in the outlier's crosshairs. I'm not saying this is a good thing, but it happens.

    Ironically, I could be the outlier's best friend in being heard—precisely because I'm neutral on the issues and see it as my job to make sure that everyone's views are being taken into account. This tends to be of little solace, however, when the outlier's perspective is not persuasive. When I summarize responses and the preponderance of opinion slants away from the outlier's position, the outlier may question the validity of my summary—rather than to reflect on what they may have missed in their analysis.

    In the extreme, the outlier may know ahead of time that their position on a key issue is not widely shared and will strategically choose to skip the meeting at which that issue is discussed and then weigh in after the fact, expecting their late input to be honored—even though they have completely sidestepped the concomitant responsibility to listen respectfully to the views of others. Essentially they want their views taken seriously but haven't extended the same courtesy to others. This goes over about as well as a turd in the punch bowl.

    As a facilitator, I'm caught among a handful of imperatives: a) protecting everyone's right to be heard on the topic at hand; b) calling people on their behavior when it's out of alignment with the group's process agreements; c) naming what's happening, even when it's painful or awkward; and d) trying to see that no one feels isolated, even when no one else agrees with their position. If the outlier takes the view that calling them on coloring outside the lines is a personal attack and will only accept agreement as evidence of support, it can be damn near impossible to deliver on all four imperatives.

    Unfortunately, an outlier with their heels dug in comes across as someone who is both holding the group back and doing so in pursuit of a personal agenda. A double whammy. That is, they are not generally perceived as having the group's best interest at heart—which may or not be the case. It is a common error in logic for people (independent of whether they are in the majority or alone in their perspective) to think: I know that I'm thinking of what's best for the group; therefore those who think differently may be doing so for suspect reasons. What's missing here is that reasonable people can disagree about what's best for the group. In fact, in my experience, it's rare that people don't have a way to tie their views to common values. Typically, they have an novel way of interpreting common values, or may be emphasizing one at the expense of another, but there's almost always some legitimacy to their position.

    I have often pondered what this might look like from the outlier's point of view. It amazes me how commonly outliers come across as unshakable in the worthiness of their position—even in the face of overwhelming evidence that no one (or very few) are persuaded by their thinking. How does that work? Do they really believe that they alone can see the truth? That everyone else is shallow in their thinking or misguided in their analysis? While it's a possibility, I have rarely seen it play out that way. It's much more likely that the outlier is off about something than that everyone else is, yet it doesn't appear that that even occurs to them as a possibility, and that seems off. How can you agree that the best interests of the group is paramount and not consider that possibility (even to the point of feeling threatened or disrespected when I suggest it)?

    I know If have to speak up about what I see (I can't let the threat of awkwardness stop me from doing my job), yet I'm still working to find better ways for that to land well with outliers. It's a tough nut.

  • Ramping Up in Duluth
    Last weekend Susan and I got an invitation to visit Bob and Lois, retired UMD professionals who live along the North Shore, overlooking Lake Superior. At a recent party Lois casually revealed that they had ramps on their property and Susan's ears pricked up. 

    Ramps are wild leeks that possess a semi-mythical reputation among foodie wildcrafters. While, for some reason, they are particularly associated with West Virginia, their range is fairly extensive: all over the Eastern US and the Midwest. Part of the appeal is that their season is remarkably short—like that of morels. You have about 10-14 days to harvest them at peak flavor and minimal woodiness. Plus you have to know where to find them. 

    Susan and I wasted no time in setting up a date to journey up to Bob & Lois' (with bucket, shovel, and gloves in the back seat) to see what we could harvest, not knowing what we'd find. After a delightful drive along the shore of Lake Superior en route, we pulled into their driveway and were pleasantly surprised when Bob revealed that every green thing we could see on the forest floor behind their house was a ramp. Yikes! We'd hit a gold mine. 

    Here's a fair image of what we found in situ:


    We'd arrived worried about the possibility of taking too much of a precious resource (greedy gourmands that we are), only to discover it was like a weed at their location—take as much as you want.
    In no time at all we'd harvest three clumps, which yielded about six cups of cleaned product—more than enough for a delicious pot of ramp-potato soup. Yum. As an adult I've come to love the challenge of eating your zip code, and this ramp discovery nurtured my values as well as my palate. A perfect fit.

    Though the cleaning took far longer than the harvesting, it was worth it. Next year we'll go for more. And no, we're not going to give you Bob & Lois' last name or the address where they live. Find your own gold mine.