“Seeing the Earth from a distance has changed my perception. The pity of it is that so far the view...has been the exclusive property of a handful of test pilots...rather than the world leaders who need this new perspective...or the poets who might communicate it to them.” (Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins.)
Awe. Humility. Respect. Over and over, astronauts have tried to convey to us in words how their minds and hearts have opened to a larger truth.
Let’s come down to earth, some details: The tree Hura crepitans, one species amid over 60,000 other species and reaching over 165 feet tall in rain forest jungles. It is determined to kill whoever comes close to it. Deadly thorns all over, lethally caustic saps, seed pods shooting out toxic seeds in terrifying explosions. Still, early 18th century nobility showing off status liked to keep an immature seed pod on their writing desks, where it served as a box to hold ink-blotting sand.
Earth, more details: Roses without thorns. Mints without scent. After volcanoes spewed up the Hawaiian Islands, seeds and insects landed on barren lava, having arrived by wind, wings, or waves. These life forms eked out a living. Few competitors. No predators. Early colonizers weren’t about to expend energy on defenses for which they had no need. Eventually voyaging canoes and, later, ships and airplanes arrived, and with them innumerable species far more aggressive in their quest to survive, including humans. Hawai’i’s endemic species are vulnerable, to the max, even the few that remain today.
Are the Hawaiian rose and the jungle tree the same or different? It's all about perspective. “I am more vulnerable than I thought, and much stronger than I ever imagined,” write Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. Hura crepitans knows no other way of being than aggression and defensiveness. Way more inconspicuous, turned inward, Hawai’i’s species ensured survival by skimping on superfluous traits. Both species just want one thing, and they have been geniuses at it.
We haven’t strayed far as humans. And yes, leaders are humans. We want our genes’ survival as much as the survival of our organizations. Many of us may recognize bits and pieces of ourselves in the sandbox tree, more so than in the defenseless rose or mint. (Ahem…I do for sure!) Really. We invest vast amounts of resources in maintaining our defenses. We isolate ourselves in the false belief that this will keep us safe. We hold on. Vulnerability, we believe, is lethal. We are hardwired this way. Our older nervous system believes that we are still in the jungle. Everything is a a massive threat. We scan for danger. We build emotional fortresses.
But we have also evolved in recognition of mutual dependency. We need others to survive. A dilemma. So some of us attack aggressively, in frightened bids to connect and meet these needs. Occasionally we show up as mints. But when we as humans live mostly on the side of sandbox trees, in reaching out we fell ill at ease. We are lonely like hell.
To counteract our fear, we create rules. Rules are meant to keep us safe and protected even while we connect with each other. Clever, yes? Rules are clear, we think. They are certain. They give structure to the unknown. We do not have to investigate if there is another truth. But rules that originally meant to serve us may not be appropriate today. When we tend to enforce a rule, just to remain on the safe side, we discover that the rule begins ruling us.
A bit like the character in Startrek, who said something along these lines: ”Sorry I can't hear you over the sound of how right I am.” My rule, which is right, softens the pain of brokenness and fear, it softens the vague uneasy recognition that we merely have a false sense of safety, that we are a bit lonely.
Sometimes, when we are honest, we feel quite uneasy with the rules. But still we think that if we just play by them anyways, at least we fit in. It will work out. And then we will really be safe! But in an ambiguous world, this is not the truth. Like habits we do not question, rules freeze movement. We constrict. And when we constrict, we cut ourselves off from life. We need perspective to see this. A wider and deeper view of the truth of our humanity. An invitation to deep leadership.
Only belonging gives us safety. Nothing less will do. “Fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I've discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them,” writes Brene Brown, who specializes in research about vulnerability and belonging. “Belonging is something else entirely—it's showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are,”
How do I show up for you to feel safe, for us to create good work together, for trust to build, for vision to scale and find form? How can we belong, alone and together, in a clean clear space, a spaciousness where we explore, collaborate, create, and thrive? How can I love you in a culture where we do not speak openly of love, not in leadership and not in the work place? How can we be together with awareness and skill, in our strengths and vulnerabilities at once? It is simply a matter of perspective. Altitude. Imagining myself in your shoes, traveling your journey. What is your jungle like? How is your little rock of lava in the sun? Toss out a rule perhaps. The wider, wiser, spacious view.
A bit more like the roses and the mints, then. Vulnerable, real, humble. That is us too. Uncovering the infinite possibilities of our potential when we are no longer afraid of our experience. Looking up to a blood moon and feeling that awe. Dropping the superfluous. Author and illustrator Maira Kalman once said in an interview, ”The world offers so many different things that are really incomprehensible. So the take that you have on it, of course, is what happens with the rest of the day.” Perspective is intimate. It’s raw. It is fiercely compassionate. “Who are you?” we can ask. “I see you,” we can say, “we are safe together.” We can listen. Because story is love. Perspective sets aside dichotomy. In a space of innovation, creativity, productivity, shared purpose can unfold. Magic happens.
Thank you as always for reading. For the February 2019 newsletter with a link to this article, click here. Or simply subscribe with the button below. And if you are willing to be bold with perspective - right now, for that matter, with a lot of joy, radically human - contact me for a deeper conversation. Thank you, Sophia.