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?
Forward Into the Past
- Sigh-metrical: challenges & opportunities in achieving better outcomes
- Integrated Improvement: adopting a “both…and…” mindset for org improvement
- It Costs to Cross the Bridge: the foundations of respectful dialogue
- Let It Go: A Frozen Federal workforce isn’t the answer
- Status Unquo: presumptions, tribalism, and emergence
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