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Personal Notes

From time to time in this blog space, I reveal my personal thoughts on leadership, relationships, or the compelling issues facing families and organizations. Today, I offer three short reflections.

In COVID-19 Lockdown

My mom, 99, sits alone, occasionally standing to shuffle with her walker.

I think back on my lifetime around her, enough time to see her gifts and flaws. Enough emotional distance to appreciate her good will and to forgive the imperfections of her parenting.

I listen to her on the phone. Currently, that’s all I can do to be present to her – listen. She’s locked down in an assisted living facility, and has no physical contact with people outside the building. A stubbornly positive person throughout her life, she now moves back and forth between serenity and depression.

Though physical challenges and anxiety beset her days, she plugs forward by reading, painting, praying, and initiating phone calls with family and friends.

Mom’s mortality seems never far from her awareness. She speaks expectantly: “This will likely be my last birthday” or “I probably will never see Judith again.”

Her situation gets me wondering about the mixed bag of living a long life, and about the regrets and joys I will carry in my own bag. If I live into my 80’s and 90’s, what will I do with my time? I think I’ll be able to forgive myself for all my stupid mistakes and nutty decisions, but I can’t know for sure.

Somewhere, there’s a sweet spot between leading a full life and an acceptance of death.

I don’t know where it is.


Common Arrogance

With mixed success, I try to live this poignant motto:

“There’s the way you see it, there’s the way I see it, and there’s the way it is.”

The phrase was used by pioneering psychiatrist Murray Bowen to invite his students to:

  • Acknowledge the difference between perception and reality,

  • Consider the awareness limits of any one individual or group,

  • Recognize blind spots in self and others,

  • Avoid taking simplistic positions that polarize, and ignore complexity,

  • Seek understanding of different points of view by acquiring facts about context and background

In the most compelling issues of the present time – the political process, racial inequity, climate change, and growing income disparity, to name a few – Bowen’s saying descends like a cool breeze on a hot summer day.

How long will it take for me to really get that my view is not necessarily the way it is?

That no matter how right I think I am, there are facts I cannot see?

A chronic challenge for me is how to respond to others who believe they have a corner on the truth.

It’s hard to resist setting them straight.

Because, in my own mind, it is I who have a corner on the truth.

It’s humbling, if not terrifying, to see myself demonstrating what I abhor about others.


God and Politics

I hate to see the Divine being referenced on the floors of Congress, particularly when promoting any form of “God agrees with me.” I also wince when political opinions are preached – or hinted at – from the pulpit, as if a present-day Jesus would surely register as a Republican or Democrat.

The role of faith – including the Bible – is to inform, not to dictate.

I don’t believe there is one “right” religion, or any one “right” political party or viewpoint.

Growing up as a Catholic, I observed that almost all Catholics pick and choose. For example, conservative Catholics typically side with the Church in denouncing abortion and same-sex marriage, while defying Church teaching by favoring capital punishment and laizzez-faire capitalism.

Liberal Catholics tend toward the exact reverse, violating church teaching by supporting abortion rights and same-sex marriage, while joining the Church in condemning capital punishment and any free-market capitalism that advantages the rich and disadvantages the poor.

Even bishops, cardinals, and the Pope pick and choose. And if Jews, Muslims, and Hindus are honest, most do the same regarding the Torah, the Koran, and the Vedic teachings.

In my view, humans have the responsibility to think for themselves, no matter what their religious dogma or political party tells them.

That independence gets tested when church and political leaders become too zealous about mixing their various versions of the truth.

To all who read this, I know that you, like me, face the daunting challenge of a stubborn pandemic, the invitation to heightened racial intelligence, and the tribal stuckness of the upcoming presidential election.

As we find our way through these coming months, I hope you are able to stay socially connected while physically distanced, and to keep a clear head to distinguish fiction from reality.

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