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.”*

Advice

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 our name to the “National Trust for Historic Engagement!”  I immediately warmed to the idea, as I like the thought of engaging the past with the present.  Much of our traditional way of telling and interpreting history has to do with the self-interest of the interpreter, as opposed to interest in the other’s needs, much less the true story.

You may think these Monday posts fall into the “giving advice” category, which could lead you to see this entire commentary as self-contradictory.  However, I appreciate the way one of my colleagues responded, when she wrote that with her passion for personal growth it was meaningful “to be invited to pause on something so grounding.”  That’s exactly the intent: as an invitation at the beginning of the work week to pause and reflect.  If I’m doling out advice in the future (which I’ll occasionally do), I hope I can now stop and think first about whose interest is driving the conversation.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

* At the risk of giving you advice, I recommend this post by Palmer — a regular writer for Krista Tippett’s On Being project — where he recounts the story of a friend who had been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and the well-meaning advice received from others.

We Shine a Light on the Past to Live more Abundantly Now

This week at the National Trust, we are preparing to host the 2017 PastForward national preservation conference in Chicago.  Long-time colleagues and new friends who care about the past and the places that bring that past into the present will gather from all across the country.  I suspect that we’ll share thoughts that challenge the conventional wisdom, offer support for a broader understanding of the American story, and come away with a new appreciation for the work that takes place by preservationists and by those who don’t (yet) identify as preservationists.

Why do these people gathering this week in Chicago care about the past?  And what’s with that name, PastForward?

In a recent conversation that included Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed, (The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family), journalist and author Krista Tippett summed up the answer to those questions with her opening line:  “In life, in families, we shine a light on the past to live more abundantly now.”

I think that’s a great summation of why so many of us will gather this week at PastForward.  William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”  In that same spirit, I am of the belief that preservation isn’t about the past.  It’s about the continuum of past, present, and future. And we shine a light on all aspects of our past in order to understand “so many paradoxes and so many dilemmas”—to use a phrase by Gordon-Reed—that exist in our country and in ourselves.

Past Forward 2017

PastForward 2017 in Chicago

That’s what I hope we can bring “forward” this week:  an approach to understanding the past that helps us live more abundantly today.  And if you cannot be with us in Chicago, please be sure to check out the live-streaming of several of the TrustLive sessions (think TED talks for preservation with some amazing speakers).

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

Cultivating a (Wise) Sense of Humor

Becoming Wise

Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett

We are made by what would break us.  In every life, inexplicable things happen.

It is difficult to respond to these challenges, but I’ve noted before that we learn to walk by falling down. The beginning of wisdom often results from “the dramatic and more ordinary moments where what has gone wrong becomes an opening to more of yourself and part of your gift to the world.”

Those words were written by Krista Tippett, the Peabody Award-winning broadcaster of On Being and a 2014 recipient of the National Humanities Medal from President ObamaShe has published a new work based in part on her years of conversation with poets, scientists, philosophers, theologians, and activists.  Becoming Wise:  An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, is a thoughtful book, full of insight. Tippett indicates she wrote about wisdom because “one of its qualities…is about joining inner life with our outer presence in the world. The litmus test of wisdom is the imprint it makes on the world around it…”

In this new work, Tippett writes about one perhaps surprising aspect of a wise life.

“I have yet to meet a wise person who doesn’t know how to find some joy even in the midst of what is hard, and to smile and laugh easily, including at oneself.  A sense of humor is high on my list of virtues, in interplay with humility and compassion and a capacity to change when that is the right thing to do.  It’s one of those virtues that softens us for all the others….There is a science helping us to see a sense of humor in the brain as an expression of creativity, making unlikely connections, and leaning into them with joy.”

I like the idea of making unlikely connections in the brain, and then “leaning into them with joy.”  A sense of humor doesn’t always revolve around a back-slapping joke, although I enjoy those as much as anyone.  But a wise sense of humor can be as complex as delighting in paradox and as simple as a smile in the voice. It is not cynical, but instead might be described as generous or nourishing.  I am certainly nurtured by those colleagues and friends who are wise.  Consider reaching out and telling someone with a generous sense of humor how much you appreciate their wisdom!  You’ll both have a good week.

More to come…

DJB