Not So “Good Enough” – On the need for competitive compensation & benefits in government

Let’s assume for a moment that you are an entrepreneur. Or the CEO of an existing successful business. What are your goals going forward for the next year? Five years? Ten years?
What about the people you want to attract, and recruit to come work for you? What knowledge, skills, and abilities do you want them to have? Are “average” performers good enough?  
What kinds of things can you, or should you, try to offer prospective employees in order to both compete with other employers, and to assure you have the very best chance of success and of meeting your customers’ expectations (recalling and paraphrasing the words of Peter Drucker, that the only reason an organization exists, is to meet its customers’ expectations)?
In the private sector, firms from Costco to Google offer competitive wages and benefits. While people sometimes complain about the cost of a latte at Starbucks, it is important to note that Starbucks is a rare employer in providing health insurance to part-time employees. They also provide free four-year tuition to get a bachelors degree through a partnership with Arizona State University. Companies like 3M and Gore encourage innovation, giving employees the incentive to use some of their work time to explore innovative ideas.  
What then, should be the practice of government, with regard to compensation, career advancement, and benefits? I have heard some argue that government has no market share issues since it is a monopoly, and that there are no shareholders to please (for those who think shareholder value is the primary concern in an economic market). My response is that Congress is the driver of “market share” decisions for government. If customers- citizens- are unhappy with government service, then agency funding will be cut or even eliminated. There are, in fact, powerful incentives for government to do its best for us all.
With regard to compensation, career advancement, and benefits, government has long been at a disadvantage. Salaries for many jobs, have never been comparable to those of the private sector. Significant advantages in government recruiting have come from comparative job security, advancement based both on adequate performance and seniority, and a very good package pension and health benefits portable (not for free, it is important to note) into retirement under most circumstances.  
So if we recognize that government needs to be competitive to attract, hire, and retain great employees, why would an administration propose significant cuts in both compensation and benefits? A business short on funds might have to do “more with less” and let people go. Government has the responsibility to deliver the goods and services citizens make clear they need and want. From defense, to interstate highways, to safe food and drugs.  
Why, we must ask of our leaders, would they propose significantly damaging the government’s ability to recruit, hire, and retain competent, capable, and willing employees? The possible coherent narratives to explain this all seem to suggest an intention counter to building a highly effective and stable workforce. 

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It’s The Berries: Emergent Bias and the LUX of Response Capacity

It’s The Berries: Emergent Bias, and the LUX of Response Capacity
Bruce Waltuck

(C) 2017 All Rights Reserved
“It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.” – attributed to Will Rogers
Strawberries are a true wonder of nature. Beautifully shaded by broad leafy foliage, the red fruit is free to ripen comfortably in clusters of red deliciousness. The conditions in the fields influence the exact maturation of each plant and berry. The soil, sun, and water. The late frosts and heavy rains. The heat and humidity. The winds and insects. 
At Honey Brook Organic Farm, like other farms growing strawberries, the fields are carefully tended. Raised rows wrapped in heat-retaining black plastic. Irrigation of the fields when needed rain doesn’t come. Then, with time and the working of nature, the berries come. Whitish-green, turning deep and bright red. Sweet and luscious. 
But nature treats strawberries like life treats people. The berries ripen at different rates. Even on the same clusters of the same plants. From day to day, the plants will offer their subtly hidden ready treasures for the picking. 
The fields at Honey Brook Organic Farm are wide and deep. Dozens of rows of strawberry plants, that seem to stretch out longer than a football field. Shareholders in the farm’s Community-Supported Agriculture program wait for the word that it is time for picking. It is time to look and find each member’s share for that week. Maybe a quart. Maybe more, if nature has been kind that week. 
Each day, the farm’s field crew note which rows have the best picking. Members have a day for their picking. Given small cartons and bags for their respective shares, each person or family group set off to find their ripe red treasure. 
But where to look? A quick scan of the field shows the collective thinking. Most members are clustered in the rows farthest from the check-in tent, and to the far end of the rows. Does this make sense? To the average member, the answer would be yes. If you ask, the rationale comes quickly. The presumption is that the near ends of the allotted rows must have been picked over already. These folks assume that those who came before them must have been just a bit lazier, and less inclined to walk the long rows to the presumed better picking. So the flock flows to the far parts of the field. They do return with a wonderful harvest of lush ripe berries. 
But. What if… the “conventional wisdom” is wrong? Over the past five years, I’ve learned that the “wisdom of the crowd” wasn’t so wise.” While it might be easier to fill a quart box in a shorter distance at the back of a row, it was easy to find plenty of perfect strawberries at the near end of the closest rows. It simply took a bit of easy searching. I rarely have to go more than about 25-30 feet down a row to fill my multiple quarts with fabulous fruit. My total time in the field is always less than the folks walking way out and down the rows. 
In the framework about the dynamics of disruptive experience that I developed with Denise Easton, we found four principal domains influencing our actions and outcomes. Three of the four FLUX domains particularly influence our response in the face of this “conventional wisdom” and the emergent pattern of crowd behavior. 
In this case, we can see the LUX- the light of a better response and outcome:
L– LEARNING. What can we actually find out about the picking in the field? Can we ask other members where they have looked? Where they found the best picking? Can we ask the farm staff what they may know about where to look? What if no one has any new or different information for us?
U– UNDERSTANDING. When we see the crowd out in the field (and there were over 40 people there in the far parts of the field when I was there filling four quarts up front on my own last week), what does it mean to us? Are we likely to assume through implicit or confirmation bias, that the crowd is right? Or do we think that different Understanding is possible- and might be correct? What if our sense of what we observe is constrained by what we think we understand?
X– EXPLORING. Are we willing and able to try something different than the rest of the crowd? In this case, it takes little time and effort to search under the wide green foliage at the near end of the rows, and see what ripe gems are there for the picking. If we are right, we will fill our baskets more quickly. If we are wrong, we will have invested little time and effort. A longer walk to join the crowd is still possible. A failed exploration of a promising possibility is ok. Our efforts will be rewarded with useful Learning and Understanding. 
This is the way of building better Response Capacity. Our Experience influences our Expectations, and in turn, our Engagement with the world. We can copy the crowd, or we can observe, inquire, act, and achieve better outcomes. 
Now, where’s the whipped cream?

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Don’t Be Messin’ With My Pepe: Food, Change, and Respectful Dialogue

The Open Table site published a blog post about restaurants that have re-imagined a classic simple dish of Italian cuisine.  Like many dishes, Cacio e Pepe was born of the simple, cheap, and readily available ingredients and methods in its native Italy.  Strands of pasta dressed simply with fresh ground pepper and some grated cheese, Cacio e Pepe has been a staple of both Italian families and chefs for generations.

But today…  A “what if…” answered by chefs armed with creative minds and molecular gastronomic technologies, resulted in a stormy response.  Most of the comments were a combination of defensive, critical, and angry.  All because some chefs dared to experiment and explore what might be possible within the recipe for a plate of food.

The strong and at times angrily critical responses are revealing.  Not only of the strength of people’s preference for tradition, but of the ways some people feel it is appropriate and necessary to attack those daring to be different.  

For me, as both a facilitator of dialogue and a restaurant reviewer since the early 1980s, the overwhelmingly critical responses were both challenge and opportunity.  I posted a  comment asking why people felt compelled and ok to be so angry and harsh in their criticism of those compelled to experiment with a simple food recipe. The responses I got both underscored people’s powerful attachment to the traditions of their families and cultures of origin, and their seeming unwillingness to approve of new explorers.

This is a challenge– perhaps THE challenge of our time. I replied that our restaurants, and our museums would be very different, and very boring places, if chefs and artists were not allowed to deviate from ancient accepted norms.

Change can be difficult.  We learn to love and revere our traditions.  They comfort and reassure us.  The new and the different- perhaps especially when cloaked by the names from our past- may feel confusing and even threatening.  We may deride and dismiss the explorations of possibility as looking “like something the cat spit up” (as one poster did, in response to the pictured cheese foam), more as a defense of our own limited preferences, than as a reasoned critique of the new.

If we have such difficulty being open to reimagining Cacio e Pepe, how much harder is it to engage in respectful analysis and dialogue about the great issues of the day that impact and even threaten us in our world?  Can we respect our traditions, respect our values, and also engage with the new and possible?

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Sigh-metrical:  challenges & opportunities in achieving better outcomes

I believe there is a fundamental piece missing in **** as with other benchmark and assessment frameworks. The challenge and opportunity are as I have described in my presentation “The Problem With Problems” which can be found on my Slideshare page.  

Organizations need to understand and acknowledge that not all problems and systems are the same. The approach to understanding and improving outcomes in each domain must therefore be optimal for that type. This directly applies not only to how we act towards each type of challenge, but how we set goals and measures to assess the impact of our actions.  

The three principal types of metrics that I advise are:

1) Counts- How many? How much? How fast? At what cost? These observations of a process in action are fairly easy to define, and easy to measure. Depending on the nature of the underlying system and situation, these metrics may be able to easily drive further improvements, or may be part of more dynamical systems- those that are simultaneously affecting and being affected by the people and things they interact with. These metrics commonly reflect systems in which both Best Practice and Expert Practice offer highly reliable solutions for taking action towards better outcomes.

2) Qualities- How well? As the former acting head of SAMHSA once said to me, “we can tell the rate of underage drinking or prescription drug abuse in a place, but we can not answer ‘what is the health of that place?'” These qualitative measures are directly and deeply interconnected with the ways that people make sense of the world, and thereby form beliefs and intentions. For public organizations, such things are directly expressed in strategic plans and stated objectives. As we have said before, we can answer how quickly we fix the potholes, but it is harder to answer how well our roads are designed to move people easily and safely. These metrics may be bound up in the context and culture of an organization, making the use of imported Best Practice and Expert Practice challenging.

3) Values- How much are we “walking our talk?” As we encounter the most uncertain and ambiguous situations, we must learn to acknowledge that no one knows a solution at this time; that in fact solutions are not now knowable. We are not excused from acting to achieve desired outcomes, but we can not know in advance what will be the consequences of any action we undertake. In such cases, we must not presume to know how and why things are happening. Rather, we must identify the things that are most important to us in our own organization- our core values and operating principles. Metrics in dealing with such challenges and systems should assess the extent to which people in the organization acted in accordance with their express and shared values and operating principles. This goes hand-in-hand with devoting some portion of resources to multiple explorations of promising ideas for achieving desired outcomes in this most difficult set of challenges. Insofar as a particular organization experiences and makes sense of its environment in its own unique way, this is a space of emerging good practices. We try and we learn. We adapt and keep what is working (taking us towards our objectives) and stop what is not working (if we can).  

Given these realities of organizational life and dynamics, I believe there are clear implications for anyone seeking to establish a sustainable and useful framework of performance measurement. An organization that can both inform its stakeholders of these concepts, and create a metrics framework based on this knowledge, can be well-positioned to influence wide-spread adoption and practice.

I look forward to talking more about this.

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Integrated Improvement: adopting a “both…and…” mindset for org improvement

Tomorrow I am having the latest in a series of conversations with people who, like me, have had lengthy and successful careers in managing government agencies.  We will be talking about the challenges right now in crafting new narratives of mission and strategy.  New lenses of core values, and operating principles.  New ways to define the results of coordinated action.

In 2009, while working with a consulting firm in Virginia, I developed my own framework for what I called Integrated Improvement.  A way of understanding and using a “both. . . and. . . ” mindset for engaging different types of challenges.

Below is the set of questions I first posed for any manager and employee (we are looking at the Federal government, but frankly this applies to any organization):

As you shape an agenda, I would offer several questions that may be useful:
How can managers and employees best coordinate thinking and action to achieve objectives?
How can managers and employees best distinguish between challenges that are complicated (where experts can offer reliable solutions), and complex challenges whose ambiguity and uncertainty make solutions presently unknowable?
How can managers and employees best define appropriate measures of action and outcome for complicated, and complex challenges, respectively?
In an era of relative chaos, where meaning and response is unclear to many, and the status quo is in doubt, how can managers and employees best create shared meaning and purpose for effective coordinated action?

AND. . .  Below is the response I sent to my colleagues, when one, a person strongly rooted in the use of “best practice” global measures,  seemed to question the notion of complexity in my framework:
It is not merely my belief, but I believe it is science fact, that systems and challenges are not all the same, and that there are both optimal patterns of response for each type, and optimal forms of metrics and assessment. The biggest cause of failed change and improvement initiatives is the treatment of challenges for which no solution is now known or knowable, and acting as if some expert knew a reliable and predictable way to solve it.  
The single best source I would put in the hands of every person, is the book “Developmental Evaluation” by Michael Quinn Patton. A short valuable reference is the award-winning 2007 HBR article “A Leader’s Framework For Decision-Making.” 
This is not about persuading people that complexity is real, and must be treated differently than complicated technical stuff. It is as real as the sun and the moon. Best practice and expert practice are critical in the domains of the known and knowable solution. Emergent and novel practice are what we experience when we act into the uncertainty and ambiguity of other stuff. The reluctance to act knowing that failure is possible or even likely, hampers true adaptive capacity and success.  
Constructing a coherent narrative and shared purpose is the first task of an organization. Who are we, and what are we here to do? Why it is important, and how we will do it, follows next. Then. . . Yes. . . How do we measure the impact of what we have done. Developing a global set of measures is possible. But it is my clear belief that this must take into consideration the realities of different types of situations. To ignore the reality is to program for failure.

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It Costs to Cross the Bridge: the foundations of respectful dialogue

The following is published here, in response to a blog post from the well-known wroter/thinker on leadership and change, Jesse Lyn Stoner.  My great appreciation to Jesse for her daily insights, and for her asking me to put my FB comment on her blog.  My expanded reply and comments are below.

Jesse, thank you for asking me to post my comment originally from FB on this, to your blog. The original brief comment is below, followed by some further comments on this topic:
My FB Comment:
Yes, And. . . Is dialogue contingent on a sufficient commonality of language and thought? Are shared knowledge, understanding, and rationality fundamental criteria, without which respectful, generative dialogue can not exist?
Additional Comment:
My belief is that dialogue is indeed contingent on a minimum level of shared language, and some minimum level of shared rational thought, with the capacity to listen, learn, unlearn, and relearn. Since the Brexit vote, and now with the American campaign/election, I believe a fundamental shift has occurred in our societies. To me, it appears that a significant mass of citizens have accepted a dominant narrative counter to that of the prior status quo. In this counter-narrative, many see themselves as victims of the “system” – the prior socio-political status quo. The power of this (arguably false in my view) counter-narrative has been so strong as to make many people act contrary to the values and beliefs they have historically espoused. The result has been a tumble over the edge from the presumed stability of our status quo, into a time-space of comparative chaos. A time in which multiple new narratives are competing to make sense to a new critical mass of people. If and when that happens, we may again have a basis for generative civil discourse. In the meantime, I believe we are seeing a retreat to a tribal/guild sort of affinity clustering- people finding those of similar mind and values, with whom to associate and act.
So. . . for dialogue, my concern is that absent a sufficent basis in fact- and shared-values thought/action, respectful dialogue may not be possible. I have personally experienced this with some of my own family members. My greater concern is that new dialogue may require a shared experience of a catastrophic nature, to sufficently catalyze new sense-making.  
Thanks and I look forward to your further thoughts!

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Let It Go: A Frozen Federal workforce isn’t the answer

For years we have heard some politicians complaining about government being “too big” and wanting to make it smaller. 
Have you ever once heard anyone say we need RIGHT-SIZED government?
What does this mean?
Private businesses decide what they are going to do. Then they decide how they will do it. They get the right technology and people to efficiently and effectively get it done. 
Government is no different, except. . . 
We don’t really have an open dialogue about what products and services we need or want from government. Congress does that by passing laws. 
We don’t really have an open dialogue about how we’ll pay for the government we have. Congress does that by passing appropriations bills. 
What government does do, is set performance objectives in annual plans; measure results; and publish all this so everyone can see how things are going. And like private business, most agencies meet their goals. A few are working to improve, like the VA. Some exceed their gials and are excellent. 
We wouldn’t expect a private business to achieve its goals without sufficient people, and then responsibly hold those people accountable for doing their jobs. Government is the same. 
Arbitrary claims of “waste” and arbitrary hiring freezes only achieve two things. They diminish our confidence in government without valid evidence. And they diminish government’s capacity to achieve their mission. That hurts us all. 
Can we support RIGHT-SIZED government that works well for everyone?

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Status Unquo: presumptions, tribalism, and emergence

I have been writing for months that both Brexit and the deep divide in America reflect the end of one “status quo.” I believe that the emergence of a critical mass of citizens unwilling or unable to inquire, question their beliefs, learn, and adapt, has resulted in these folks adopting a new narrative. A narrative that is arguably false, but nonetheless powerful. A narrative of victimization by “them” and “other,” that can only be set right by elevating authoritarian leaders, and diminishing “otherness.” The very significant differences between this new narrative, and the prior dominant narrative, have broken the agreements and patterns of civil discourse. The presumption of relative stability for the existing status quo contributed to that status quo being less resilient and robust than expected, and susceptible to major disruption. We have gone over the Cynefin cliff from the relative stability of the old status quo, into a new time of chaos.  
So, in this chaos, I believe people will – already are, I think – forming tribal or guild-like affiliations and networks. Over time, these clusters and networks will put out their own new and revised narratives. Pockets of coherence will emerge. With luck, a new narrative will emerge that is sufficiently compelling and resonant, that a new set of agreements will form for a new and far-reaching civil discourse. But when, how, and if. . . are not knowable.
So what do we do right now? I take some comfort in advice I got from Margaret Wheatley way back in 2002. She told me then – fourteen years ago – that she saw troubling signs on the horizon. She said she would “look for fellow tellers of the new story.” Put another way, what do we believe? What are our core values? What is our purpose? Who shares in our values and intentions?
The status quo for here and now becomes seeking our tribe, and doing the work we believe in, with the people and resources we have here and now- the core of the Asset-Based Community Development approach.  
As I wrote five years ago after a retreat on a mountain ridge with a group of remarkable people,
“We journey alone, together.”

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DonT and Lucifer: into the next circle of chaos

Bill Eggers is a well-known and very successful reasearcher and writer on government improvement.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Bill several times over the past few years.  This morning Bill commented on the content and style of last night’s Republican Convention.  Among other things, Bill noted that former candidate Ben Carson had mentioned Lucifer in his remarks.  

Personally, I have not watched any news coverage, debates, or the convention this year.  This marks a significant change for me.  I was eight years old in 1960, and remember watching the remarkable Kennedy-Nixon debates, and the conventions that followed.  I had been an avid follower of presidential campaigns. Until this year.

Following is my first reply to Bill Eggers’ post.  This reflects my current thinking about the underlying FLUX dynamics that are dramatically disrupting the status quo of our capacity for civil discourse:

Bill, I completely agree with your comment and analysis. What I see behind all of this is the same dynamic as in the UK Brexit vote. I believe that we have a critical mass of citizens today, whose opinions are primarily informed not by facts and data where available, but by the opinions and rhetoric of others. The same internet that puts the knowledge of the world in our hands, also gives us the immediate access to false narratives, false claims, and false hopes. We have seen a division not only in belief and ideology, but in the ability to “learn, unlearn, and relearn.” We see this manifested in DJT’s awful/brilliant refusal to acknowledge facts, or his own lies.  

And so, we see the consequences, in the breakdown of the framework of civil discourse. The inability to be compassionate, curious, and courageous in hearing the ideas of others, and the inability to enter into respectful dialogue. We have fallen over the cliff of complacency about the stability of the status quo, into a period of chaos. A new coherence and order will eventually emerge, but when and how are unknowable (see the oft-ignored little catastrophe cusp in the Cynefin framework on this). 
From unknowing, unlearning people, it is easy to craft narratives of fear and blame. The arguably false narrative that ascribes some evil intent to “them” (as if there WAS some coordinated plot), in which some wrongs have been perpetrated upon the people. Wrongs that these people believe can, and will, be set right by a Nietzsche “uber-mensch.” A perfect storm to give us DonT and Lucifer.

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From “I AM” to “We ARE” – All Relating to Each

Last February I attended a wonderful concert near St. Augustine, Florida. The concert was with the legendary country-rock-bluegrass musician and singer Marty Stuart, and his band, the aptly-named Fabulous Superlatives. Each of these musical artists brought incredible skill to their playing of guitars, bass, and drums. Each got the spotlight in solo songs. Together, they blended their voices on moving a capella gospel numbers.  
It was evident from remarks I heard among audience members before and during the show, that many were of a particular religious and political perspective. Their values and beliefs did not necessarily match my own, or those of other segments of the audience.  
Back then, before Brexit, before the FBI Director’s address to the nation about emails and servers, and before divisive tweets that may have been anti-Semitic, I listened to the great music that filled the concert hall. The theater was itself a made-over church, on an isolated strip of land along the thin barrier island separating the sea from the bay. The particular symbolism of all of this was heightened by Marty Stuart’s most recent album, from which the evening’s show drew heavily. A double-album set called “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.” The rollicking raucous profane songs, and the hushed reverential sacred songs. Both equally important to Marty Stuart and his band.
As I sat in the audience, and listened to the strongly-held views of some, about God and politics, I couldn’t help but think about the different divisions in this place at this time. A former church, now a pop music haven. In a place by itself, between the land and the deep ocean. With an audience that might well find itself split between one side of belief, and another.
In that experience, I realized what could help people reach across the divides that separate them. In the music of Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, people found a common space of appreciation. Not necessarily a space of full agreement. But a space in which everyone present could, and would, cheer for every beautiful note.
What would happen, I wondered, if the people in that audience, were all taken after the show, to a large room with close concentric circles of chairs. Maybe some coffee and cookies. And the simple directive to sit together in circle, and talk with one another about the show they just experienced.
“Music expresses that which can not be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent.” – Victor Hugo
About a week ago, in the midst of the chaos following the Brexit vote, I saw a show on television. It was a performance of Beethoven’s famous 9th Symphony. An astonishing creation, whose complex harmonies and countervailing melodies were composed by the composer when he was deaf. The words put to music in the last movement, “alle menschen werden bruders…” All sentient beings might become as brothers.”  
What would happen, I wondered again, if that audience who came to hear Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, came together to hear Beethoven’s 9th Symphony? What would happen after, if they came to the place with the circles of chairs, some cookies and coffee, and just shared with one another what it all meant to them?
We know that the varied dynamics of our lived experience– what we call FLUX — shape how we feel, what we learn and understand, and how much we are willing and able to expand our exploration of the possible. We have also learned that at the social level- in our communities, organizations, and societies – that our ability to navigate the rough currents of significantly disruptive experience, depends greatly on our ability to negotiate meaning and coordinate action together. This was the lesson of those trapped in the Mann Gulch fire, and those trapped in the World Trade Center on 9/11. The Two Questions we seek to answer every moment of our lives: “What does this mean?” and “What will I/we do about it?”
When we are FLUXed at the social level- in our communities, organizations, and societies – we may temporarily lose our ability to respond together. We may disagree on what is happening, and what to do together about it. At the worst, our complacency and presumption of stability in the world around us goes over the edge into chaos. We don’t know what is happening. Some of us think it means one thing. Others have a totally different interpretation.  
At the worst, we lose not only a reasonable consensus about meaning and action, but we lose the ability to engage with one another in respectful dialogue. This is the lesson of Brexit, of America’s current political discourse, and over the past days as I write this, of the response to white police officers apprehending and killing black citizens in Louisiana and Minnesota.
What happens when we lose the ability to sit with coffee and cookies, in circles together, and respectfully share what we think is going on, or what to do about it? What happens when the beliefs and expectations of many, are informed by opinion, where fact is available? When the same internet that puts the knowledge of the world in our hand, also amplifies ignorance?
We are seeing the breaking of the rules of civil discourse. The consequences of FLUX at its most socially catastrophic. How can we help every person be compassionate, caring, and courageous in their curiosity? How can we help every person manage their feelings so they can learn, understand, expand, and explore new possibilities for successful outcomes together?
What if I. . . AM? What if we shared the experiences of Art and Music, and sat together to talk about what it meant to us? How would that feel? What would we learn? What would we understand? What could we then explore. . . together?

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