Month: April 2018

Whose Questions Are You Answering?

We ask and answer questions every day.  When a colleague or supervisor asks about the status of a project, that’s (usually) a straightforward question deserving of a straightforward answer. That’s not the type of question that’s been on my mind in recent weeks. There are much more difficult questions that are pointing toward important — even life changing —decisions.  Should I move?  Is it time for graduate studies?  Where should we send our children to school? Am I spending my money wisely?  Should I consider a job change?  Is it time to reach out to a colleague or friend who is struggling?  What is the right response to today’s political environment?  When is the right time to retire?  How should I deal with an aging parent? Too often I find myself facing those types of questions as framed by someone else.  We are — in effect — asking and answering someone else’s questions. “Many of us are busy and anxious. We are social animals: We listen for the culturally normative thing to do among our …

Raised on Cornbread and Recollections

Earlier this month, I joined other members of the National Trust on a memorable trip from Memphis down to the Mississippi Delta.  Dr. Bill Ferris, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and one of the nation’s leading scholars on the American South, joined us and helped set the context for what we were seeing in places such as Oxford, Sumner, Indianola, and Dockery Farms.  His remarks were a masters class in the connections of place with memory, history, food, drink, literature, race, and gender. At one point, Bill noted that a relative of his liked to say that “he was raised on cornbread and recollections.”  As someone who has eaten my fair share of cornbread, often quotes my grandmother, and tells stories passed down from my father, I understood completely. We launched our journey into the Delta from Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home in Oxford.  Both the site and writer are reminders of the importance of recollections and history to life today.  Historic sites at their best are dynamic places where …

Look Up

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this little gem of a film entitled Have You Ever Really Seen the Moon?  The premise of this three-minute video is simple:  a guy wheels his telescope out into the streets and neighborhoods of Los Angeles and invites people to look at the moon.  The reactions restore faith in our ability to be awed. “What is that, bro?” a guy on a bike asks. “It’s a telescope,” says Overstreet. “Do you want to check out the moon?” The offer is made over and over to a cross section of passersby in a cross section of places across greater L.A. And one by one, they put their eyes to the viewfinder and gaze upon what they’ve looked at a million times yet never seen. Interestingly, Overstreet and Gorosh show us very little of the actual moon. No, what holds your eyes, and lifts your soul is the way these different people in different neighborhoods all respond in precisely the same way — with gasps and shouts and whispers …

A Few Words on Advice

Parker Palmer, a writer I read frequently, had the following to say about advice: “Advice-giving comes naturally to our species, and is mostly done with good intent. But in my experience, the driver behind a lot of advice has as much to do with self-interest as interest in the other’s needs — and some advice can end up doing more harm than good.”* How often do we give advice when simply presence and acknowledgement is required?  I was thinking about this after a trip last week where I visited our historic site Belle Grove and spoke with a class of graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Virginia.  We found ourselves in a very good conversation about how we should “hear, understand, and honor” diverse stories from our past and present at both places.  Presence and acknowledgement are being used effectively at Belle Grove in the response to diverse perspectives and stories.  At UVA, there was a back-and-forth with the students around hearing, listening, and engagement. One of the students suggested that we change …

Sometimes the Only Way is the Long One

During a 2013 vacation where each family member chose an activity close-to-home for us to share, my wife’s selection was a day at a local retreat center.*  Upon arrival, I was pleased to see that the center had created a labyrinth in the woods.  Labyrinths have come to have a special place in my heart.  A dear friend of our family who died in his early 20s was memorialized with a labyrinth designed for people of all physical abilities.  Andrew had spent the majority of his life in a wheelchair, but that never constrained his spirit. Back at the retreat center, “walking the labyrinth” became my activity for the morning. I was reminded of this recently while re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful book Wanderlust:  A History of Walking.  An early chapter is titled “Labyrinths and Cadillacs: Walking Into the Land of the Symbolic.” (I told you it was a wonderful book!)  Solnit, who describes herself as “having been raised as nothing in particular by a lapsed Catholic and a nonpracticing Jew,” found herself walking the labyrinth …