I was lucky to attend the TED conference this past week, where there are always some unexpected sources of wisdom and insight. If you had asked me to name the most likely source of connection and de-partisanship to be encountered during the gathering, I would not have guessed Frank Luntz, policial advisor and commentator. But there he was, talking about the gaps between what we say and what others hear, and offering specific advice for language that is less divisive and dismissive.
One of his notes was about the language of sustainability, so of course I was all ears. Sustainable business and investing endeavors have long been held back by our own language, by creating a jumble of competing terms, individually imperfect and collectively confusing. Just like many others, I prefer my own special quirky terms like resilience and regeneration — but our marketing team has dismissed these wonky and hard-to-say options – understandably so. They don’t yet have the zing of the “er’s” that Luntz suggested:
These are all more inspiring and connective terms than sustainable, he concludes – and we can see why. Who wants the status quo? Who wants “do no harm,” when our aspirations are so much higher than that? As he spoke I was reminded of a dear friend and mentor, who advised me years ago to avoid preaching sermons or pitching ideas, and instead to “throw a better party!” Do something so obviously awesome, she said, that everyone will want to join in. No words required.
So, dear friends, let’s think, what’s our “er”?
As many of us gather with friends and family this weekend,
Let’s speak in words that can be heard.
Let’s listen for what’s really being said.
* On a somewhat related note, I was hosted recently by Patrick O’Shaughnessey for his podcast, Invest Like the Best. Patrick is an unusual and generous interviewer, thoughtfully prepared and truly curious, and his podcast is consistently thought-provoking. You can find our conversation here: http://investorfieldguide.com/collins/
It’s rare that a blurry photo makes the front pages, but this week’s first image of a black hole did just that. For anyone who has not thought about black holes since Astro101, these photos seem to turn myth into reality.
More accurately, they show that it’s possible to see something that can’t be directly observed.
There are several non-astronomical observations we can take from this amazing photo:
* The image is not of the black hole, really, but of its shadow. I’ve been working lately on trying to measure topics that don’t fit neatly into spreadsheets – things like equity, motivation, purpose. We can measure the shadow that these elements cast – and their opposites – even if we can’t see the direct view.
* Initially, researchers thought they’d have to build a giant new telescope to generate these images, which meant years of extra expense and effort. But by coordinating existing telescopes, computers, and researchers all over the world, the image was possible without all that wait (and weight). We might not always need the shiny new object to do something extraordinary.
* When you zoom out, the image is even more incredible. What looks like a fuzzy dot up close is actually embedded in a giant sea of sparks. Even this enormous, intensely powerful thing – almost the size of our entire solar system – is part of a larger whole.
Dear friends, wherever you are tonight, look up! Imagine those sparks, and that shadow —- so far away, and yet now they’ve been seen.
What else might we see together?
Photos from NASA and the Chandra Observatory.
It’s a funny phrase, and apt: we don’t make attention, or do attention, we pay attention. It often feels like a cost.
When we are called to pay attention, it’s because our focus is elsewhere. Pay attention to the algebra lesson, because we are daydreaming out the spring window. Pay attention to our calendar, because we are already late for the next meeting.
These smaller calls to attention can be irritating, because they live on the surface. But when we pay attention to paying attention, some bigger calls arise.
We can pay attention to the question that we’re too quick to answer, because it pokes at an overwhelming topic that we’d rather make tidy. We can pay attention to the friend who is not quite herself, because something unspoken is pulling her off-center. We can pay attention to the first flower on the first branch that is finally blooming in the spring, knowing that it harkens so much glory to come.
This attention that we’re paying, it’s not a cost.
It’s an investment.
This week I was lucky to attend a public conversation between three of my heroes: Terry Tempest Williams, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Richard Powers. They spoke of loss and belonging, of isolation and reconnection. They spoke of mosses and rocks and trees, and afterwards I went to visit a very special tree nearby, and I felt both worse and better.
The topic of language kept arising, and with it the idea that our current language is more precise than we know, and also wholly inadequate. Take bewilderment, for example: there’s a root of re-wild-ing in there, of wandering without a map. Or remember: Re. Member. To put back together.
Robin was asked about the magnificent verb puhpowee, from the Potawatomi language. It means, “the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.” Have you ever heard a more glorious word? There are verbs in this language for sap rising, for buds unfurling… seventy percent verbs, whereas English is mostly nouns.
Dear friends, where are the places that our words can’t reach? A honeybee in flight is different from a bird in flight. The cutting of a century-old tree is different from the cutting of an onion.
When we see something that needs a new word, let’s consider it deeply. Somewhere, there is a word. Let’s remember.
* Many of you will recognize these three as some of my very favorite authors, including among their many publications The Hour of Land, Braiding Sweetgrass, and The Overstory. They were all friends with W.S. Merwin, too, so, wow.
I’ve always had a fraught relationship with Thoreau, who seemed to require harsh critique and dismissal in his writing before finding glimmers of hope and truth and love. But a friend once gently noted that this might be as much due to my reading as to Thoreau’s writing, and lo and behold, that’s true.
My first reading of the passage above, inspired by this week’s terrific equinox/full moon combination, was a negative one. It spoke to me of unfulfilled dreams, of the practical overwhelming the magnificent, of Thoreau’s own “quiet desperation,” of giving up.
It also speaks to turning fanciful explorations into something real, and useful and durable. It might even say that there is nothing real and durable that does not also contain magnificent dreams.
Both can be true, of course. The moon is a hunk of debris that orbits around our planet. It is also the celestial object that lights our nights, shifts our seas, and inspires our hearts and minds.
Both a woodshed and a bridge to eternity.
Dear friends, today let’s look up!
See the divine dreams that live in our woodsheds.