Sunday, September 21, 2008

Conversation Recap for September 21, 2008

We opened with a check-in, sixteen of us assembling at the start time, and a half dozen more shortly thereafter.

Today we heard Sid’s story, part two. In the ensuing discussion participants turned to the topic of code words in today’s USA. Several noted examples of things they have heard lately, in conversations, in media coverage of the election, and in the advertisements of candidates for office. For example, the McCain campaign featured a speech by him where he said the election was between a party that put country first and a party that put Obama first. The implication of less than full patriotism invites the listener to fill in for themselves the meaning of the other position. We noted several examples of people latching on to any old reason, any will do, to justify to themselves a refusal to vote for an African American. Very few people now feel comfortable saying it directly. It is all code words now. A more explicit ad was the one that featured Obama and Fannie Mae chair Tom Raines, with scrolls of “financial fraud” and other bad things running across the screen…. so we see these two black men followed by a white woman who sounds a bit intimidated. Come on, now—how many of the public know who Raines is? Why was it Raines instead of any other leader of the other organizations involved in the financial scandal, all of whom are white? This is a rather deliberate juxtaposition of black and white. One can use code words to make the point. And that is being done.

One participant offered a way to cope. If you or someone you know is not registered to vote, help them do so, help them get to the polls or to fill in their ballot.

We welcomed the return of Rosalind, who is back from her half-year stay in Texas. Participants said warm things—we notice he many contributions of people more easily, perhaps, when we stare at the empty space they filled. The expressions of appreciation ended with Patti LaBelle’s you are my friend (it’s on her “The Best of Patti LaBelle” cd).

This week the topic is leadership, in general and right here in the Conversation. Next week we are going to continue the discussion of leadership in an electoral context, so stay tuned.

For example, people noted the contributions made by Rosalind, and the connections we find regularly. Bringing people together is the product of work.

One way to think about leadership here is to compare understandings of the role of facilitator. One can see a facilitator as a neutral consultant who comes into an organization to bring them to a new place. In the Conversation, our facilitator is an insider, who is anything but neutral.

One participant noted the idea of neutrality, and suggested it is largely a myth that masks positions on issues.

What is leadership, who are leaders, what do they do? Dexter offered this definition to begin with: Having a vision which includes goals, connecting the reality we are in, and figuring out how to get to those goals. So essential tasks will include identifying and managing the steps needed to get to those goals.

Many participants in the Conversation do that, or elements of it, all the kind. And here we assemble, week after week, and people have stepped into many leadership roles in The Conversation.

One book Dexter relied upon for the analysis of leadership is by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge. (They have written several books on this and related concepts.) They list many qualities of leaders, and here is a list of some of the big ones: Honesty, forward looking, competence, inspiration, intelligence. That honesty is a big one—it speaks to a relationship that requires a certain quality that is internal, something that has to do with a person’s character. This gets us on grounds that are hard to judge. Something a little different from character is from the Greek ethos. It occurs when the group, for instance, recognizes a person as honest. It is a connection between group and leader. The members of the group recognize the leader is not there to exploit them, that he or she is guided by the best interests of the group members.

One participant told us about a book by Drew Westen, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.” He was interviewed on Bill Moyers, which you can visit at His analysis goes to a widespread preference or emotional engagement by candidates rather than the details of policy proposals.

Dexter noted three skills needed by leaders: The ability to develop oneself, the ability to deploy one’s own strengths and weaknesses, the ability to facilitate or develop the abilities of other.

The elements noted in the previous two paragraphs serve as tensions in our politics. One of the qualities commonly noted about the President of the United States, for example, is that he is not a man given to self-doubt, not someone who revisits past decisions to examine whether things are going well. By the qualities noted in the Kouzes and Posner approach, this is trouble. How much trouble? Consider the following:

Leadership practices, a list of the top nine:
1. Learning all the time
2. Listening (and, attentive listening is not something that occurs naturally for most of us)
3. Discipline (in part, understanding what one can and can not do because of the responsibilities of leadership)
4. Reflection
5. Compassion
6. Action
7. Take account of time, manage it well
8. Persistence
9. Attitude—understand what attitude communicates to people.

One participant noted our efforts to understand the political choices of our fellow citizens. Personal experience, and he is a person that listens, leads him to conclude that a very large number of people, maybe 2/3, are ready to take the step and recognize the need for large scale changes. Our fears that racism will produce a 10 or 20 point advantage to McCain may not be right. We might not understand the common sense of others very well.

We will see.

One participant noted that in the list of leadership skills, several items are comparatively passive, being a member of a group, being with people.

Some Conversation members attended a Courage and Renewal workshop yesterday. One reported on a discussion of the ways love and power interconnect. This echoed the earlier observations about ethos, the other-regardingness that comes from the connections among people. By the way, this workshop was brought to Tacoma by the actions of one of our participants.

One participant noted that the Conversation can move from valuing these qualities of leadership to learning how to deploy them—some of it might be each of us focusing on what elements we want to develop. Some of it might be in the programming decisions we make.

One participant described different levels of leadership—influence within organizations can come from people who are not titular heads of anything. Others can understand the intensity of commitment or other qualities among other members of their group, and willingly confer leadership authority on those people.

One participant described a new word, multicentricism—it means, many centers moving, all in a single direction. Acting on a challenge from a leader, she coined it to refer to the many backgrounds, circles in which we travel, knowledge and skills, cultural endowments, and so on, that can be drawn together in the pursuit of a task. Take a look at it from the other side—we have picked up from our cultural endowments many forms of weaponry, and our diversity can be a toolbox of ways to not get along with each other. Several Conversation members regularly work in their jobs finding ways to work with others and develop the toolbox of cooperation.
Two participants had a letter published in the News Tribune this week. It spoke to issues we discussed today.

One participant noted that the qualities exercised in one political campaign now is really at odds with the qualities needed to govern. The campaign is earnestly developing a distortion, an image that is patently at odds with the truth.

One participant noted that he holds on to “church” because it is one of the best working models of community groups that regularly meet and identify people who can express qualities of leadership. Following that, people around let a person know they are in a position to provide some leadership. In church, you learn if you can sing.

SoJust needs folks, Saturday Oct 4, to assist with the program—at the kids’ zone, greeters and program handlers, a presence in the various rooms in use (such as being at a table where folks are writing letters to elected officials), food patrol, and cleanup (Setup starts at 10, the event starts at 2, cleanup starts at 6 pm).

Seattle Bioneers are having a gathering Oct. 17-19, see it at

Sept. 26, at Kings’ Books, 7pm, Mazda Majidi will speak on the situation in the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

Time to register for the Achievement Gap summit II, Oct 18.