Resilience

There’s an old saying that goes, “The only constant in the world is change.”  That may be hard for some in historic preservation to accept, but I’ve often said that our job as preservationists isn’t to block change, but instead to work to manage the type of future—and communities—we want.

Right or lefgt

Right or left

I was thinking recently about the concept of resilience when facing change.  Author Kathleen Smith has suggested that “Many people spend a great deal of time and energy trying to avoid change, but it will inevitably catch up to them.”  When building personal strategies for strengthening resilience, she begins with the Stephen Covey construct of the ”Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence”, urging us to focus on what we can control.  She also encourages her readers to check their thought patterns.

“In times of change, it’s easy for your mind to cut corners. You might see everything in black or white, or you assume the worst will occur. But if you take the time to examine your thought patterns and assess how rational they are, you might find some space to nudge your thinking towards resilience….You can also generate more positive thoughts if you take the time to remind yourself about transitions and challenges you successfully navigated in the past. Make a list of ways you’ve been resilient in your life, and consider what traits and actions might be able to see you through the current challenge. By focusing on your strengths instead of your weaknesses, you will feel more empowered to meet what lies ahead.”

There are several elements of this passage that strike me as true. I’ve seen, in myself and others, the tendency to cut corners in our thinking and focus on the “worst case scenario” when faced with change. And while the past doesn’t decide the future, we can certainly benefit when we let our present be informed by what we know from the past.

Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”  Change is inevitable.  Resilience is not.  We have to work at it to succeed — both in our communities and in our personal lives.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Be Present When Serendipity Strikes

Harp Guitar

Harp Guitar

It was a flight like dozens of others I’ve taken in the summertime: delayed, due to thunderstorms, and the prospect of climbing into bed much later than planned with an early morning wake-up on the other end.

When I finally boarded last Monday’s flight from Nashville after a day’s work on our campaign to save Music Row, it barely registered that my two seatmates had stashed guitars in the luggage bin. This was Nashville, after all. I mumbled a couple of hellos, and promptly fell into my customary power nap around take-off. Waking up thirty minutes later, I opened my laptop and started work on a project that was overdue.

Only after returning to my seat later in the flight did I exchange real conversation with the woman seated in the middle seat, between her boyfriend and me.  As I often do, I asked what type of guitar she played.  She replied, “One’s a harp guitar and the other is a flamenco guitar.”  Bing!  My mind suddenly woke up.  Harp guitars are pretty esoteric instruments, and those who play them approach their music with religious zeal.  They also tend to be very good musicians. I mentioned to her that I enjoyed the music of Stephen Bennett, a harp guitar devotee. In fact, I was listening to some of his music at that moment on my iPad.  She replied that she knew Stephen, and then seeing that the terrific guitarist and composer Alex De Grassi was next in my musical queue, she said “I’m playing with Alex next week.” She followed that by asking if I knew Tommy Emmanuel, another stellar guitarist.  I replied that I knew his music, but didn’t know him personally, upon which she handed me her headphones and played a video from a recent concert where he joined her for an impromptu—and beautiful—duet on one of her compositions.

At this point I stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m David Brown.”  She replied, “I’m Muriel Anderson.”

Oh my goodness.  I was sitting next to the woman who I’d proclaimed my love for to God and the internet, after hearing her version of the Beatles tune Day Tripper. I had wandered all over BWI airport several years ago trying to find where she was going to play in a gig promoted as BWI Live.

Muriel Anderson

Muriel Anderson

Over the last half hour of the flight we talked guitar makers (her harp guitar was built by Mike Doolin and I showed her pictures of my two Running Dog guitars by luthier Rick Davis), harp guitar festivals, historic preservation and the importance of saving Music Row, and her newest album Nightlight Daylight, which is a two-CD set with music for the morning and music for the evening.  She was pleased that Guitar Player magazine named Nightlight Daylight among the top 10 CDs of the decade but even more pleased, I think, to show me the interactive fiber-optic lighted CD cover.  (Push on the moon and the night stars come out. Very cool!)

This is a musician who has collaborated with some of the best:  the late guitarists Chet Atkins and Les Paul, for example.  Yet she was as engaging, lively, down-to-earth, and interesting in person as she came across on stage and in her music.  When I mentioned the National Trust had a hand in saving RCA Studio A in Nashville, she immediately said, “And you saved Chet’s office!”  I told Muriel that I’d had the privilege of sitting in that very office, finger-picking on a beautiful guitar owned by the man who bought the building at the 11th hour. As we were leaving I said, “I have a Gallagher guitar at home, and I bet you can guess why.”  After thinking a bit she said, “You’re a Doc Watson fan, and that was Doc’s guitar.”  Then she added, “He was my first guitar hero.”  I knew that, having read it online at some point.  He was mine as well.

I know I can be oblivious at times, but this experience reminded me—once again—of how much we need to wake up and focus on life. Not all encounters are so serendipitous or pleasurable, and yours—when they happen—will be different.  Perhaps you’ll get to meet the writer you’ve always admired, or gain an insight for work you’ve long sought but needed a serendipitous moment to find.  When it happens it can be wonderful.  Trouble is, you won’t have the chance if you don’t take your head away from the screen or out of the conversation in your head, and talk with real people.

Have a good week, and when a bit of serendipity comes your way, may you be present to receive it.

More to come…

DJB

Freedom

As Candice and I were walking back from today’s July 4th parade in Takoma Park, we overheard two women—both wearing an “I Care Do U” sticker—talking about the diversity seen in this progressive enclave from the participants of this most all-American of holidays.

There’s your medical marijuana advocates, Christian evangelicals, 9/11 truthers, Republican and Democratic candidates for county executive, the First Panamanian Marching Band of Maryland, Doggie Washerette, the MAGA (Mobsters are Governing America) PAC, all the public works vehicles (love the lawn mower guy spinning around in circles), Boy and Girl Scouts, the Intergalactic Female Motorcycle Federation, the Silver Spring Yacht Club, and the Takoma Park Lesbians and Gays all mixed together.

And don’t forget about the Reel Mower Precision Drill Team.

Keep It Reel

The Takoma Park Reel Mower Precision Drill Team “Keeping It Reel”

There’s a lot of chatter in the right wing entertainment universe these days about political correctness shutting down free speech.  But today’s experience in Takoma Park shows that this narrative about the progressives not hearing from different voices isn’t necessarily true.  Everyone had their say, everyone was treated with respect (if some were treated a bit more enthusiastically than others), and it all happened in a celebratory, civil, and often humorous way.

MAGA meets Takoma Park

MAGA meets Takoma Park

I was thinking about this as I read Dana Milbank’s column in today’s Washington Post about the battle for freedom. Milbank notes that “Every 75 years or so in our history, Americans have renewed their commitment to freedom.” The first time was our Civil War.  That was followed some 75 years later by our emergence from the Great Depression and the entrance into WWII.  Now, we are just past 75 years from that fight, and Milbank notes that much of the country now fears the loss of basic freedoms as Americans.  In a call for us to rededicate ourselves to freedom, he includes:

“Freedom from…constant attacks on women, immigrants, people of color, gay people and Muslims.

Freedom to work and live without discrimination, harassment and violence because of your gender, race or religion.

Freedom to get medical care when you or your children are sick.

Freedom to earn a living wage, to attend college or get job training, and to retire in security.

Freedom from a rigged economy in which the top 1 percent own more than the bottom 90 percent combined.

Freedom to marry whom you choose.

Freedom to make decisions about your own body.

Freedom to send your kids to school without fear for their safety.

Freedom to breathe clean air, to drink clean water, to live on a habitable planet.

Freedom to elect your leaders without the rich, or foreign governments, choosing them for you.

And freedom to speak, to protest and to publish without the threat of violence.”

We’ve never been the country we—or our founders—imagined us to be.  But we can be dedicated to freedom and continue to push toward the type of country we hope to be.

Only in Takoma Park

Celebrating – and fighting for – freedom in Takoma Park

Happy July 4th.

More to come…

DJB

 

The Value of Ritual

Do you have a morning ritual?

If you look at the Wikipedia entry on ritual, one might wonder why I’d ask the question.  Ritual is described as inflexible, where one is governed by rules, and the term is sometimes used by psychologists in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior that is seen as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorders.

That’s not my experience with ritual.  Writing in Forbes, the author Alexandra Douwes encourages millennials to establish a morning ritual.  Her reasoning is aligned with mine.

“Establishing a morning ritual, preferably one that does not involve a screen, can set the tone for your entire day.

Whether your morning ritual takes place at home or in the office, it’s important to ease into your day, and do it on your own terms. Before you let external factors such as screaming children, urgent emails, and smartphone notifications send you into a state of anxiety, start the day by focusing on the things you can control. A consistent morning ritual will put you in a proactive versus reactive state from the get-go: instead of feeling like you’re playing catch-up, you’re composed and ready to tackle whatever obstacles come your way.”

I was reminded of the importance of ritual—regular, habitual, thoughtful action—while having breakfast with a long-time friend and colleague who now serves as the Master of Emmanuel College in Cambridge.  Fiona joined me for our meal and mentioned that she’d just returned from her two-hour walk, a long-held ritual that she honored every morning, even after enduring a trans-Atlantic flight.  We spoke of how this part of her day helped clear her mind and focus on what’s really important now and in the future.

For many years, my morning ritual involved a partner: Lilly, our Sussex Spaniel.  There was never a question that we were going out for a long morning walk around 5:30, rain or shine. But I soon came to see it not as a chore, but as a daily ritual when I was free to let my mind roam. To think of the day ahead. To begin to stretch my limbs and awaken my bones.  To put me in a proactive rather than reactive state of mind.  After talking with Fiona and being reminded that I didn’t need Lilly to continue that wonderful part of my daily ritual, I’ve added it back into my life.

Lilly at Blessing of the Animals

My long-time partner in morning ritual

Rituals vary, and they should be personal.  Some people read in the quiet of the morning before stirring out of bed. Yoga practice is a key part of many morning rituals. Others play piano before facing the world. Douwes has five tips in her article for how to make a ritual that works and that sticks, and she suggests that a vacation period or a weekend may be a good time to try and begin a new ritual.  As we approach the July 4th holiday here in the U.S., consider whether something small—reading, a walk, taking the time to grind your beans and make a great cup of coffee—could help you begin the day in a proactive state.

Have a good week and enjoy the holiday.

More to come…

DJB

Think Slow

Our 15-year-old nephew—a budding musician—was in town this past weekend, so I took him to the House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park. There he could see every type of musical instrument known to humankind (plus some) and, frankly, it gave me an excuse to play a few good guitars.  Not that I don’t have good guitars at home.  Later in the day my nephew had a chance to see and play my two prized Running Dog guitars made by luthier Rick Davis.

Playing my Running Dog

Playing one of my Running Dog guitars (photo by Claire Brown)

Davis was profiled in Tim Brookes’ 2005 book Guitar:  An American Life, where the author seeks to replace a badly damaged first guitar with a hand-crafted one “for the second half of my life.”  He writes that as he nears 50 years of age, he finds an itch that can only be scratched with a new guitar.  And as Brookes notes, “Guitar makers even have a word for these baby-boomers-who-always-wanted-to-be-great-guitarists-and-now-have-the-money-to-indulge-those-dreams:  dentists.”

“Much later, after the guitar is finished, Rick will refer to ‘the eternal and infinite capacity of the consumer to confuse making a purchase with falling in love.’ I should have known better, I suppose—but then again maybe not. First guitars tend to be like first loves:  ill-chosen, unsuitable, short-lived, and unforgettable. I’m not sure I ever want to get to the point of making a rational decision about a guitar.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about decision making at key junctions of life.  Like Tim Brookes, there are some things—guitars among them—where I don’t want a rationale decision model to get in the way of my emotion. But we face many decisions that require serious thought and calculation. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize winning author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, would suggest that we let our emotions make all types of decisions where a slower, rational model should come into play.  There is a recurring theme in Kahneman’s book that “many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.”

We put too much stock in the fact that we’re confident we’re making the right choice.  We put too much stock in our emotions.

“Subjective confidence in a judgement is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that this judgement is correct.  Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it.  It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you than an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.”

When important decisions have to be made, I’m trying to take the time to step back, work through the crux of the matter, set aside emotions, and push back against a quick confidence that I’ve reached the right answer.  Thinking and decision-making—deep thinking around critical moments in your work, career, or life—requires time.

Think slow when you should, and have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Would You Rather Be the Ornithologist or the Bird?

As our recent board meeting came to a close, I’ve reflected on how we communicate at these times to trustees, colleagues, stakeholders, donors, long-time acquaintances, and new friends.  Over the course of four days, we provide written updates, make formal presentations, discuss our goals, share experiences, and—at our best—turn those opportunities for communication into meaningful, insightful stories.

Carmine Gallo notes that prominent neuroscientists “confirm what we’ve known for centuries: The human brain is wired for story. We process our world in narrative, we talk in narrative and—most important for leadership—people recall and retain information more effectively when it’s presented in the form of a story, not bullet points.”

To be effective, stories must connect on a human, emotional level.  Sometimes that requires that we break out of the “rules” to find the right point of connection. Writer Colum McCann in Letters to a Young Writer, notes that while grammar is important in writing, it isn’t the be-all and end-all when we try to communicate.  There’s more we have to get across than just grammatical structure.

“Writers feel the grammar rather than knowing it.  This comes from good reading. If you read enough, the grammar will come.  In the end it’s the language itself—the shimmyshine of it—that matters so much more than the manners the grammar police want to put upon it.”

I like the thought of the “shimmyshine” of the language serving a larger purpose.  In the same essay, McCann notes that, “On occasion we write a sentence that isn’t, in fact, correct, but it sings.  And the question is:  Would you rather be the ornithologist or the bird?”

In written or spoken words—in telling our stories—let’s strive to be the bird.

Songbird (credit: Science Daily)

Songbird (credit: Science Daily)

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

What You Know That Just Ain’t So

In the midst of the disruption and turmoil that can be found around us, I have been reminded of the quote that began with Mark Twain and then was adapted by the great Negro League pitcher and philosopher Satchel Paige:

“It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know that just ain’t so.”

We seem to be having an epidemic these days of “what you know that just ain’t so-itis.”  There are many reasons this could be the case, but an important one is that we’re bombarded with information that requires work on our part to filter and understand.  Warren Bennis has written that “adults learn best when they take charge of their own learning.  Taking charge of your own learning is a part of taking charge of your life, which is the sine qua non in becoming an integrated person.”  Consider where we get information today.  In our interconnected yet at times isolated world, we all fall into the trap of letting others tell us how to think.  It is easy to let others take charge of what we learn.

Satchel Paige

Satchel Paige

What we know should be seen as only the starting point.  Author Colum McCann suggests that writers should not write about “what you know, write toward what you want to know.”

 “In the end, of course, your first-grade teacher was correct:  we can, indeed, only write what we know.  It is logically and philosophically impossible to do otherwise.  But if we write toward what we don’t supposedly know, we will find out what we knew but weren’t yet entirely aware of.  We will have made a shotgun leap in our consciousness. We will not be stuck in the permanent backspin of me, me, me.”

In times of turmoil, it is important to focus on what you know, what you don’t know, what you want to know, and what you know that just ain’t so.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB