Goldilocks Earthlings and the Mega-Earth

“Nature will do what she wants despite earthling theorists,” said Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at MIT who commented on the Kepler discovery, as reported in The Washington Post today.

Scientists are surprised to have discovered a huge rocky planet much larger than they thought possible without becoming gaseous. It is so many times larger than earth that the old ’super earth’ designation doesn’t work– it’s a mega-earth. The comparison to earth is made because of the rocky surface and because it exists in what the Post writer, Joel Achenbach, calls a “Goldilocks zone” and what the scientists call a “habitable zone”. That is an area not too close to its star to burn and yet close enough for warmth.

I remember Goldilocks as a young villain with blond curls taking advantage of the victim bears, thus turning the table (and chairs and porridge bowls) on many classic stories. And I began thinking of us earthlings on our habitable zone earth as perhaps being a little like Goldilocks. Most of us don’t just enjoy our Sunday stroll in the forest. We want to see what we can make of the situation, how can the earth serve us. And we don’t always think about or care about the consequences. I’m sure that Mr. Achenbach used the Goldilocks reference simply to emphasize a zone that is just right– like the bears’ porridge that she finally ate– not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

I wonder, though, if he hasn’t brought us greater meaning than he intended. In seeking things to be just right, what have we Goldilocks earthlings tossed aside, broken or disrupted?

Back to science, and understanding the rarity of habitable planets in habitable zones in the cosmos, I am pausing for more than a moment of gratitude and awe that Nature did what she wanted and that we are here on this beautiful planet Earth. Able to theorize and able to be surprised with wonder.

Add comment June 3rd, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

Or, Strangers on a Plane.
In this case, I was the stranger. It was a return flight from a business trip. I had an aisle seat (my preference). Our row was full. We were three women sitting there shoulder to shoulder. Midway through the flight the apparently happy composed woman in the middle seat started to cry silently. I noticed some silent nose blowing and silent wiping of eyes. A pause. Then silent sobbing.

At the same time that I was amazed at her mastery of silent crying I felt moved to extend myself to her. I said very quietly, “Can I help?” So quietly she could have pretended not to hear me. She could have given a nonverbal cue to me to ignore her. Instead she spoke. She said, “I’m going to get a divorce next week.” And then she told me more while I listened sympathetically. She had quite a story. I made a few “coaching” observations. And finally she became calm and composed again.

The woman was very grateful to me and thanked me many times. Frankly I was a little surprised. Often we don’t know what to do when we see distress. There is concern for the person. Will the person react negatively to an offer to assist? Does the person want to be left alone? And, then, are we worried a bit that we will be rebuffed? or that the need will take more than we have to give? That is, we worry for our own emotional safety, too. There is clutter around embarrassment or attributed embarrassment, shame and guilt.

In this case, we were there shoulder to shoulder and would be for another hour. I followed my physical and emotional response and reached out. And I did it in a way that did not assume I was in a position to help. In fact, I didn’t believe I could help except to show human kindness. I did it with an inquiry, leaving her in control of acknowledging me and letting me know if there was a way that I could help her. And it turns out, there was. I remain glad that I chose those words. And will remember them for the future. I had given her the gift of being present for her.

I was rewarded with a quiet taxi ride home with a driver who had no need to talk or listen. When asked, he said he would be working until 3 AM. It had been a very long day for me. My seat mate was now with her daughter who is living in this area. And I was arriving at 11 or so to my welcoming home.

Add comment May 10th, 2014

Many people watched the Oscars Sunday night, the Academy Awards, the Hollywood prom. Among the glittering artists in the audience, we got to see a pizza guy delivering 3 large pizzas, dressed in his own uniform. Can you imagine having such an opportunity drop in your lap? It might have been my favorite part of the night.

I’m sure it didn’t look like much of an opportunity at first to Edgar Martirosyan, the owner of Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizzeria in West Hollywood, who doesn’t usually deliver the pizza. it was a busy night and everyone was out when he got the call. So he delivered himself.

I think he could have said the delivery would take longer and waited for one of his regular deliverers to get back. He could have let the customer go elsewhere if his timing was not acceptable. But he didn’t do those things. He stepped out of his normal role and willingly agreed that he could get the pizzas to the caller. Then when he got there and Ellen DeGeneres said to follow her he could have balked and asked to hand her the pizzas. But again he went willingly and was surprised to find himself on stage and in front of the dazzling audience as well as on television worldwide. That is an opportunity for which he could never have planned.

I wonder how open we are to situations that arise. How spontaneous can we be in response to someone’s need or a role that suddenly opens up? Might some of us even have expected a hoax on that very busy night? Or wondered if it was really worthwhile? Stepping out of our comfort zone and out of our plan can appear risky or a distraction at best.

Openness, courage, and curiosity will all help us respond in the moment in ways that can turn a fluke into an opportunity. I’m waiting for my phone call from Ms. DeGeneres.

By the way, Mr. Martirosyan left with a $1,000 tip, $400 from actors and $600 from Ms. DeGeneres, and a story to tell for quite some time.

Add comment March 5th, 2014

A Constructive “No” as Positive Response

My grandson, not yet 2, says “Yes” and “No”, and many other words and phrases. He is clear in the moment about knowing he does not want something, like a particular food or putting on his coat and he clearly says “no”. At other times he is clear he does want to go for a walk or read a book and he clearly says “yes.” And sometimes he doesn’t answer, he simply does what he is moved to do at that time.

Adults seem to have lost their way with “yes” and “no.” They say “yes” or nod agreement without qualification to something that they do not really want or do not feel competent to handle on top of everything else. And they are afraid of the word “no”. Afraid of hurting someone’s feelings because “no” sounds like a rejection of someone. Afraid they will be in trouble with a power figure if they say no. Afraid that something important will go undone if they say no. I suspect everyone can add to that list of fears.

Admittedly, in my grandson’s world choices are a little simpler than in adult situations. Go for a walk or play with a truck? Yes to one and no to the other. Or no to both. The nuance of “I’d like to play with a truck for a while and then put on my coat and go for a walk” tends to escape the child.

In adult relationships, whether in work or some other aspect of life, nuances are everything. Why then are we tempted into simple “yes” and “no” one word responses? One of my coaching clients was recently in a predicament arising from this basic interpretation. We talked together about the range of meaning and consequences present in the situation. A wholehearted “yes” can create a result that you know is bad for everyone involved, a result that was not foreseen by the manager or friend who suggested the course of action. Many feelings of being overwhelmed can be traced to too many unqualified yeses. Saying “no” with depth is being true to oneself and fair to others. If we really want success for everyone, shouldn’t we share our knowledge and judgment about the dynamics that are operating in the situation under discussion? That’s what a constructive “No” is. It affirms the positive intention of the suggestion and sheds light on the various factors involved, proposing an alternative, saying yes to this and no to that because the other would be so much more effective.

A constructive no, or a constructive yes for that matter, is so much healthier for the people involved and for an organization. Today’s organizations need to be more nimble than ever because they exist in environments that are rapidly changing and they must keep pace. The old industrial model of organizations no longer serves and the one-way communication of that model also does not serve. Organizations are often dealing with complex issues, one aspect of which is that no one person can know everything about the issue. We need the knowledge and judgment of all members of the team to continue to get to good decisions made in time for continual adjustment.

On a personal level, a simple yes or no is just not enough information. Not enough information for someone to understand what you mean. Isn’t shared meaning a goal for most of us? I had a friend who was Chinese who taught me that the Chinese first acknowledge the person, then deal with the idea. Yes to the person, then yes or no to the idea, thus addressing the fear of rejecting someone. Taking time to really understand what you are being asked, asking clarifying questions to be sure you understand, then responding thoughtfully is constructive. Replying from your whole self is a gift to the other person.

Add comment February 11th, 2014

Singing Together– another metaphor

Last night I had the joy of seeing with a friend a performance of EDITH with Jil Aigrot: 50th Anniversary of Piaf’s Death. It was at Lisner Auditorium. Ms. Aigrot’s vocal ability and warm, round, clear tones are a wonderful tribute to the great songstress, Edith Piaf. I was transported, despite my poor command of French. She did something that completely captured the audience. After singing the well-known La Vie En Rose from the stage, she came into the audience, walking up and down aisles and singing it in English. She then got the whole audience singing, asking us to sing whether we knew the words or not, so there were many “ah-ahs” and “la-las”. She joined only occasionally with a phrase, emphasizing a transition or subtly keeping us in tune, while she continued walking the aisles.

We sounded remarkably good. And, I dare say, we all loved it. We became part of the music, part of creating this beauty.

I am going to skip the very tempting discussion of the universality of music and go to the human desire to be part of things, part of creating, part of beauty (however the individual defines beauty). I ask leaders (leaders of all sorts) how are you enrolling people in creating that new campaign, that product, that service that moves toward your vision? Ms. Aigrot’s activity highlights some things for me:

1- Walk around. I believe it was in the 90’s there was a popular idea called Management by Walking Around. It is important to connect with people and to see them in some way in order to connect. I have coached managers who have such intense schedules of meetings and production that they struggle to find time to just walk around and talk to people. Those who manage people in distant locations have an even greater challenge, and their situation is increasingly common.

2- Explicitly invite people in. Of course we would not have begun singing without the invitation, even urging, but in organizations many leaders feel that it should be understood that people should come forward with ideas. There is conditioning in some organizations that is as strong as audience conditioning.

3- Make it safe. Ms. Aigrot said “even if you don’t know the words”. Coming forward can feel risky. A new idea enacted is a risk. We need to expect some failure and even celebrate it because that means we are trying new things. A timid idea is seldom a great idea. A bold idea where it is allowed will invite support and fine tuning from others so it can become great.

4- Don’t walk away. Be sure that people who have been freed to create something on their own, know that you are there for support and feedback as appropriate. You can be available to sing that transition with them.

People generally want to be part of the process. When they are invited to participate in visualizing, creating, and fine-tuning the mechanisms for change, they will all be singing from the same sheet of music. And mostly on-key.

Add comment November 4th, 2013

Positive Environments for Thriving

Everyone “oohs” and “aahs” over a new baby, marvels at the tiny miracle and wants to cuddle and protect the child. I have had reason to revisit this with the arrival of my precious and brand new granddaughter. She was fresh from a very secure environment and is now two weeks old.

I was thinking that a child’s life is usually a combination of being cared for and being allowed to explore and push boundaries. We who have parented know we can’t protect our children from everything even though we would like to. And learning has to involve letting new things into our sphere. Then as adults we often let any notion of caring and safety for ourselves go out the window. I have coached leaders who are barraged by demands all day, careen from meeting to meeting, have a tough late drive home and then need to be there for families and community commitments. Adults are often in hostile environments. I find myself asking questions like, “how do you take care of yourself?” “how do you refresh?” “what would your day be like if you took some specific time to breathe?”

Cellular biology is telling us something pretty amazing. Change in a cell occurs because of its intelligent membrane that reacts to its environment and differentially chooses what to let in. While the nucleus with its DNA chain might predispose the cell to certain structures and behaviors, new behavior is the province of the cellular membrane. With humans being composed of many many cells, this is a very new insight into the nature-nurture debate. That debate seemed to some people to have been settled with the discovery of DNA and the further human genome project that identified its components. From the cellular scientists it seems we are more than the biology we were born with. Every part of our body is responding and changing every day.

So why do we want to spend so much time in hostile environments? How could we change if we had some pleasing environments for interaction? Would we not be healthier and happier if we had some of that protecting that we showered on the new baby?

These ideas are also known to positive psychology and to brain science. My new learning is yet more impetus to take care of myself. Here’s my starting list for modifying one’s environment:
+ Create a spot of beauty at home and at work so you can absorb it for some little time every day. It might be as small as a picture. It might be a view out a window. It might be a corner of a room.
+ Be careful of angry and anxious inputs from controllable sources- limit exposure to screaming people on television and radio.
+ Get outdoors- notice the sky, the blades of grass coming up through cracks in the sidewalk, the way the air smells after a rain, the different shades of green on the nearby trees.
+ Learn to breathe deeply and remind yourself to go there when you become tense or circumstances are troubling (and that includes when driving a car in unpleasant traffic).
+ Listen to music.
+ Spend time with a child.
+ Limit time with acquaintances who are negative and angry.
+ Spend time with people who cause you to smile.
+ Hug someone.

Add comment October 14th, 2013

Seasonal Openings and Continuity

I experienced a wonderful sense of quiet power and continuity when I visited the Indian Circle at Potomac Overlook Park in Arlington. Yes, the park at its edge does look out over the river. The Indian Circle Garden is in the interior of the park. There is a post at each major compass point in a circle and a tree in the center of those compass points in middle of a planted area. A path leads from the tree, through the plants to each post for North, East, West and South.

I stood next to the tree with my back to it and faced each direction in turn, trying to sense its power. Closing my eyes as I faced North I thought of North as the point we steer by, the point that gives direction and meaning and I felt it giving direction to me and my life. I felt a strong pull. I then faced East, thinking of it as new light and Spring. I felt freshness and possibility and new life. I then faced South, thinking of it as Summer and flourishing. I felt warmth and intense light and fullness. I then faced West, thinking of autumn. The first thing I felt was that I carried with me the directional pull of North, the new possibilities of East, the warmth and flourishing of Summer. I experienced Autumn with amazing fullness because I carried all the others with me, feeling a basking in the softer light of autumn and an overflowing, a happiness to share.

Being in the autumn of my life, this experience was very personal. I reflected that I have not lost all the strengths that the other seasons have to offer but am now in a new fullness with new capacity, perhaps less exuberant yet lively in a more complete way.

My garden is a little less philosophical, I admit. While a few plants are now in flower after waiting all summer for this moment, others are beginning to fade. And leaves are already falling from the willow oaks, although they will wait until December to assume their wintry stark beauty. The Farmer’s Market continues to bring us the earth’s bounty.

A friend of mine just today quoted Walt Whitman, and it is apropos here:

“Youth, large, lusty, loving—–youth full of
grace, force, fascination.
Do you know that Old Age may come after
You with equal grace, force, fascination?”

I am happy to see this as a time of richness.

Add comment September 6th, 2013

Connecting to the Earth

The UN has honored American Indian traditions and called on elders to help with global issues of usage of water and other earth resources. I learned of this through a write-up and video of Grandmother Mona Polacca, who serves on several United Nations committees on indigenous people’s issues. And I found the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers who gathered in Stockholm a few days ago.

The Hopi promise to the Creator to take care of the natural elements of water, earth, fire and air, like that of many Indian Nations, prompts them to observe principles such as “you only take from the earth what you need” and “you take from the earth with respect”. Their respect and stewardship would allow the earth to keep producing what people need and want to use. The United Nations recognizes this wisdom and puts it to use.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the “NY Times” reported on July 13th that the sequestration has adversely affected American Indians on reservations. With unemployment as high as 85% at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, an area as large as Connecticut, services are desperately needed and sequestration has hit them hard. While many programs to support the poor were spared from sequestration, programs to support American Indians were not. Is this the breaking of more promises to the Indian nations? see “Pain on the Reservation

Since childhood I have felt a deep connection to the earth. It must have started with my parents who lived in relation to the earth even when we were city dwellers, with food gardening and drives and walks in the country. My dad enjoyed hunting and fishing but only for what we would eat at the dinner table. When in third grade I discovered the American Indian books in the school library, I found a philosophical and lifestyle support for what I felt, and that year I eagerly devoured every such book they had.

Now a grandmother myself, I am still learning from Mother Nature and look forward to the lessons to come. To support others in their listening journey I created a moutnain workshop retreat coming up August 9-11 entitled “Nature Dialogue: Translating Nature’s Voice Into Personal Action”. (Early bird pricing until Wednesday.) at Kayser Ridge, Berkeley Springs, WV
I will be sharing some of my own listening and learning.

Add comment July 15th, 2013

Conflict Competence

Conflict is a natural part of life. Think how bored you would be if everyone thought and felt exactly the same things. Okay, I admit there are moments when I wish for that, too. But when I let my full brain kick in again I realize that we would have very little that’s new if we didn’t have conflict. Maybe it’s time to stop dreading it and start facing it with our best skills.

There are many great sources of information on the subject. And all of them advise us to start with ourselves. Understand what we are really feeling and what we want from a situation. Then acknowledge that the other person has genuine feelings and wants in the situation and they might be different from ours. These first two steps involve emotional intelligence.

Sometimes we are able to reach agreement even if it is to something different than our start point. Sometimes it is something better– something we would not have thought of without the other perspective.

And sometimes we part with our differences. I hope in that case we have a better understanding of the basis for each interest and can anticipate how we will proceed. For the latter situation, William Ury’s “The Power of a Positive No” is valuable.

I like “Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader,” by Runde and Flanagan, for the notion that in order to thrive an organization must become conflict competent.

Conflict at its best is the stuff of creativity. If we can remain curious in conflict situations, rather than entrenched, the inquiry process can lead us into new learning and surprising new paths.

Add comment May 11th, 2013

Dialogue When It Counts

I use TIME as a structure for exploring and remembering the elements that can lead to real dialogue when it is important to have the conversation or emotions run high around it. TIME is appropriate because it takes time to have a meaningful conversation and the word reminds us to pause, consider and explore how to reset.

T= TRUTH. One needs to find one’s own truth in a situation by examining the emotions that have come up around it and by revisiting the experience and testing one’s conclusions.

I= INTENTION. Being clear about one’s intention entering into it can help one stay in dialogue and not become sidetracked or high-jacked. It will be strongest if it includes an intention of safety for both parties.

M= MONITOR the dialogue. Use known structures, elements and emotional intelligence to both speak one’s truth and listen for the other’s needs.

E= EXPLORE mutual meaning. Stay attuned to differences in perspective and opportunities for shared understanding, even creating new possibilities.

To these we can add:
D= DECIDE together what happens next.

I am presenting a workshop Friday morning, March 8, 2013 in Arlington. George Mason University’s registration

Powerful Communications- Dialogue When It Counts - Copy

Add comment March 4th, 2013

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