Category Archives: Learning Together

Looking Life’s Choice Points In the Eye

My happy smile belies the deep, and often disturbing, learning our group was fortunate enough to confront together.

“If you have the choice between something very safe and a ticket to India, take the ticket,” the psychic said earnestly meeting my eyes across the table. It would be several months later when the email announcing The Berkana Institute’s first Learning Journey to India arrived in my email box.

I called my partner at the time and was taken aback when he said, “We can’t go. We’re attending the conference in Hawaii then.” I hung up the phone and stared at the screen uncomfortably. Partnering had been an age-old challenge for me, but that it hadn’t even occurred to me that “we” would be going to India sat heavy in the pit of my stomach. My mind flashed to the Santa Fe psychic’s instructions tucked in the blue suede diary at home.

I knew in that moment that I would not be going to Hawaii and sat face-to-face with the enormity of unraveling this choice required. I watched our partnership, which had been on shaky ground for months, slither off like the third cobra in a mating dance.

Choosing India, a place I had never really been drawn to, would prove to be a messy, complicated choice. Yet I knew in my heart that carrying on with life as it was would exact an even greater wing-clipping toll.

Our Indian hosts planned a grass-roots leadership journey that began in Mumbai, a city the size of NYC and LA combined, and included a rural village home stay.

I set off for India in Feb. 2006 in spite of my father’s worry and my mother’s tears. And, so began the learning, or more accurately the unlearning, that I couldn’t begin to comprehend in that moment.

Fourteen years later, and especially in these times of COVID-19, I feel deeply grateful for the rewiring of my life and world view that began at my desk that day. I don’t know how I found the courage and faith to follow my truth. Perhaps, it was because deep down I knew it was the only way forward.

With gratitude,


“What’s Your Motto?”

Time for Butterflies . . .

This question posed at one of the recent Democratic primary debates stuck with me.  Upon hearing it, images of two of the nearly century-old homes we owned previously popped in to my head.  As anyone who has a history of tending older homes knows, these beautiful, complicated dwellings almost always come with gorgeous woodwork, old world charm and a seemingly endless list of of repair and remodeling possibilities.

Leave each home better than we found it” became our motto.  Had we possessed unlimited resources, we could have spent thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and literally years, returning these historic homes to their former glory.  However, for us, cost WAS a factor, as were time and life constraints.  These real-world considerations required that we get creative, think outside the box, prioritize and make decisions that worked for the home, the neighborhood, and us.

Reflecting on the images of those homes, I realized that my motto is to leave a situation a little — or a lot — better than I found it.  Born into white, over-privileged circumstances in the 1950s, I was raised to believe that with sound choices and hard work, I could make a difference.  Only years later would I come to understand that not everyone had the advantage to be born into such optimistic and upwardly mobile circumstances.  To believe that she or he or they can affect change and leave a situation better than they found it.

Still, it’s my motto and I’m sticking to it even as I admit that there are times when I fall short or that others believe – and rightly so — that I’ve fallen short.  It’s a motto that I hope increasing numbers of people will claim.  Humankind’s capacity to create separates us from other species on the planet.  While we don’t always use this miracle of a gift to the best advantage for ourselves, for one another and for the planet, it is still a gift within our reach.

Regardless of your motto, may we be butterflies for betterment in these swiftly changing times,


“Teach People How to Treat You”

Teaching people how to treat us frees us to be who we truly are and opens the possibility for genuine connection . . .

Early in my career, a wise and far more worldly colleague leaned over and advised, “you have to teach people how to treat you.”  Given societal norms, organizational structures, power dynamics, and my conceptual, flexible, yet fiery tendencies, this would prove to be no easy feat. 

I was clumsy enough at “teaching people how to treat me” that I once hung up on my largest client who was loudly and angrily addressing an error that had occurred.  After listening for what seemed like a very long time without being given any opportunity to respond, I warned, “I am hanging up now” and returned the phone to the cradle.  Shocked, the client immediately called my supervisor, who immediately called me into the office and said that, while he understood how frustrating the situation must have been, if it happened again, I would “be out.”

Clarity Makes All the Difference . . .

Now, in my second, wiser and more compassionate and confident half of life, it has become decidedly easier to be clear with myself about:

  • my goals and values and how, where and under what circumstances I will invest my time, energy and resources,
  • how I will treat people and the way I want to and expect to be treated,
  • when my needs are not being met and how I will handle such situations,
  • boundary violations and their consequences,
  • how I will handle untenable or unfulfilling situations.

It took me many years to learn NOT to assume or ascribe any particular standards of behavior or sets of values to people based on accomplishments, status, or positional power.  I also learned that “trusting” we were on the same page in haste or for any other reason was likely to have an undesirable outcome. 

I have come to appreciate that the time it takes for people to teach me how to treat them and vice versa is well worth the investment.  A good first step is asking how they prefer to receive information and what pace of work they prefer.  From there we can move to more complex topics like navigating conflict, change, diversity, and ambiguity.  These conversations require my full attention and require that I process the information on a mental, physical, emotional and spiritual level.  I’ve learned that when something doesn’t feel quite right and I have even the slightest reservation, it’s best to step back and assess.   

This sculpture reminds me to take the time needed to see situations clearly . . .

Gaining clarity on preferences, values and all-to-often unspoken agreements allows both parties to 1) experience the process of engaging with one another and 2) to ascertain if this is a relationship that it makes sense to forge and invest in.  Should we decide through this mutually-instructive process, that one or both of us has reservations, we can jointly decide how to address them or if it is best to move in a different direction at this time.

Teach me how to treat you.  I want to learn.  And, I will teach you, too.