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Center for Enlightened Leadership

Welcome to the eighth issue of The Lens. In each issue of The Lens we will feature one of the spiritual principles of leadership. In this issue we focus on The Principle of Hope.

Zig Ziglar is a legend in the field of motivation and personal development. His new book Inspiration...365 Days a Year, features an inspirational quote for each day of the year and breathtaking nature photos throughout.

- Stephen L. Sokolow, Executive Director




Hope’s Many Faces

The Alchemy of Laughter

Empowering the Learner

Retirement — Twilight or Dawn?

The Prospect of Hope and Empowerment in the Aftermath of a Violent Crime

Finding Hope

Life’s About Feeling Good


Faith, Hope, and Charity

Letters to the Editor
From Our Readers



  Dr. Paul. D. Houston
  Dr. Paul D. Houston
Founding Partner

 I got a GPS for Christmas a year or so ago. It’s a remarkable little machine. You tell it where you want to go, and it tells you how to get there. I like that. In my dealings with others I am often told “where” to go, but rarely told how to make the journey! But back to the GPS…

A few months ago I made a cross-country trip. Had my music for inspiration, my books on tape for mind-improvement, and my GPS to help me get there. Now here’s one problem with a GPS: you have to know exactly where you want to go to be able to program it. You can’t be too vague. That’s a real problem for me because I have spent most of my life creating success out of being vague. When you are in a leadership position you can’t be too precise about where you are headed—there are too many intervening (and unpredictable) variables that can alter your journey. So you set out on a general course (“we’re heading west to the mountains” or “we’re going to raise student achievement for those at the bottom”) and then help folks start on the journey. But that won’t work for a GPS. You can’t just say “I want to go to Pecos, Texas”—you have to provide a street number.

Now that state of affairs is fine if you know exactly where you’re going. But since I had never been to Pecos and knew no one there, I had to find a destination (pick a motel, give the address) and hope that would get me there. So one big lesson is that to get someplace in particular, sometimes it’s necessary to move a bit on the scale from “vague” to “exact.”

Another problem I have is that I possess an uncanny sense of direction. It’s as if I have a magnet in my head that gives me true north, so I can often feel the direction I need to go. I don’t always know the best route—hence the need for a GPS—but I can pretty much tell if I’m headed the right way. It is so strong that if I’m following a GPS I will sometimes disagree with its directions. (If it feels counterintuitive I have learned to go with the GPS because it usually brings you around, but it’s hard when you know you want to go west and the machine is telling you to go north. But when you have a strong will, and are faced with outer guidance, sometimes it becomes necessary to surrender to the guidance rather than following our will.

I have been told by a mystic that I am a “psychic navigator,” in that I have a gift that others often do not possess. Now we’ve all heard that men will rarely stop and ask for directions, but imagine how hard it is to ride along with a psychic navigator. “Hey, I don’t need your stinking directions! I’m a psychic navigator—I listen to the cosmos.” (Is it just me, or did that sound a little like George W. Bush? Scary.)

I was also told that my navigational skills work in time as well as space, and the reason I became a leader is that I know what’s going to happen before it does and can guide others toward the outcome I perceive. Well, I can’t claim this with any certainty, but I have on many occasions “sensed” the way something would turn out long before it happened. The best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell calls this “blinking,” which is the subconscious application of long-won expertise. At minimum, I think it’s having the ability to go inward, quiet the mind, and allow the instincts we were all given to sense the right direction. But I detour…

Another problem is that the GPS knows “theoretically” how the trip should go but it doesn’t always know that things have changed. Sometimes a road is closed and you have to detour, or maybe you just need to get to a restroom. Whenever you alter your planned route, a lady’s voice pipes up saying “Recalculating”—and pretty quickly she gives you an alternative route to your destination. But I swear that the more you make changes to the original route, the more aggravated the voice sounds. Now I realize that the voice is computerized and therefore isn’t supposed to have emotions, but every time I did something that caused her to have to recalculate, I felt as if she sounded more and more perturbed. It was as if she was thinking, “I’ve told this bozo a dozen times already how to get there and he keeps screwing it up and making me work harder. Why didn’t he pay attention in the first place?”

My GPS experience has made me think (again) about how we live our lives. Fortunately for us, the deity, in whatever form we chose to think of him or her, has laid out a route for our lives. We have been given spiritual principles to follow. Every time we vary from the route, it causes a recalculation to occur. I’m grateful that the deity has a better attitude than that lady in my GPS. The deity is patient and forgiving—often more patient and forgiving to us than we are to ourselves.

Recalculations are just a part of life. I call them “do-overs.” I don’t know about you, but I mess up—a lot. I have to back-track and go around, or take an entirely different route. When you think about it, life is just one big detour. One of my favorite jokes of all time is, “Do you know how to make God laugh? Tell him you have a plan.” See, the best plans are the ones that God makes for us. Call it what you will—your calling, your destiny, your sacred contract, whatever. We can never really know the exact destination. Like me, God can be a little vague. We just have to take the journey believing that our destiny will reveal itself as we go forward, and knowing that the journey will require a lot of patience and forgiveness. Now if I could just get that GPS lady to understand that…


Hope’s Many Faces

  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
Executive Director and Founding Partner

 Hope is really interesting. It comes in so many forms—and has such an amazing reach—that it is truly archetypal, which is another way of saying that the power of hope is inscribed in the inherent patterns and potentialities of our being.

Hope is contagious. Hopeful people engender hope in others, which in turn engenders hope in others, and so on. Hope is so many things that it’s hard to know where to begin. For hope is a point of view, a way of being, a way of seeing, a power, a principle, a feeling—and, ultimately, a choice. Hope and its countervailing partner, Fear, are intertwined in such a way that while one is in focus the other is always lurking.

Our economy is depressed, and the fallout is causing grave consequences for individuals, families, communities, and institutions in both the public and private sectors. My dear departed friend Muska Mosston used to say that there is no escape from the vicissitudes of life. Well, the vicissitudes are raging and life’s challenges abound. At such times it is easy to worry and be fearful. While this is understandable, it is not only counterproductive, it can be destructive. I am among those who subscribe to the notion that where attention goes, energy flows. If you pay attention to what is worrying you and what you are afraid of, that’s what grows stronger. If, on the other hand, you pay attention to the hopeful possibilities that exist within all circumstances, that’s what will gain strength over time.

In an earlier issue of this newsletter, I noted that Barack Obama embodies many of the spiritual principles of leadership that Paul Houston and I write about. One of those is Hope. President Obama not only wrote a book called The Audacity of Hope, he exudes hope as a way of being, a way of seeing, and a way of leading. We can learn about Hope from Barack Obama. He is the poster boy for The Principle of Hope. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he stands tall and lays out a vision of a brighter future and a better day. He sees the challenges clearly but does not let fear cloud his vision for how we are to overcome the difficulties and hardships we are confronting. He’s not just putting on a happy face. He’s not sitting back and wishing for some miraculous hand to save us. Instead, he is looking for and finding the silver lining that exists within every dark cloud. The silver lining is to see the opportunity to change and grow—individually and as a people—to meet the challenges that confront us.

President Obama is helping us move away from ego, which is often fear based, and focus on the common good, which is more often hope based. As leaders, the more we emulate our president, the more we will engender hope. We have a responsibility not only to engender hope but to nourish and support it. Hope is not an end in and of itself; instead, it is a means to create a better reality. As we achieve benchmarks and more elements of our desired future, it is important to appreciate the role played by hope in the process. It is important to remember that every success or milestone was once a hope or even a dream, which is just hope by another name.

I want to be clear that hope is not about being a Pollyanna or wearing rose-colored glasses. At different times our lives are punctuated with significant difficulties and challenges in our careers, family life, and relationships. And there are times when despite our best efforts things simply don’t work out. But sometimes we throw in the towel or give up too soon because we lose hope. I encourage you to err on the side of holding on to hope too long rather than yielding too soon. To me, hope is about not giving up, especially on the things that are truly important to you. When you are in despair or about to throw in the towel on something, give yourself some time and space before doing so. At the very least, do not make such judgments when your emotions are running hot. Often, after you’ve cooled down, gotten some rest, and are refreshed, you can see some possibilities that you couldn’t see when you were in the midst of a firestorm or setback.

We all have what I and others call a lower self and an enlightened higher self, which you can think of as different states of consciousness. The lower self is ego based and self-centered while the higher self focuses on others and can see the larger picture. When you are in a lower state of consciousness, hope becomes elusive. That’s why it’s important to center yourself and give yourself the time and space to see the hopeful possibilities embedded in virtually all circumstances.

Hope actually is a power in the sense that hopeful thinking, hopeful attitudes, and hopeful actions have real effects. Hope generates a type of energy field. You recognize it when you’re in its presence. The other day I was listening to the musical score from the movie Titanic—in particular, the theme song, “My Heart Will Go On.” As I let the music wash over me, I felt my heart open; it was the sound of hope, and my heart and imagination soared. So despite the daily drumbeat of bad news, my spirit was soaring and full of hope.

Imagine our wine glasses clicking in friendship. I offer this toast: Health, Happiness, and Hope. Together, let us remember that hope is always waiting in the wings, hoping we will choose her.


The Alchemy of Laughter

  Adam Sokolow
  Adam Sokolow
Senior Advisor

Who was the greatest Jew who ever lived? Was it Abraham, Moses, or maybe King Solomon? What about Maimonides or Nachmanides? Could it be Karl Marx, the Baron Rothschild, Einstein, Heisenberg, Oppenheimer, Bernstein, or perhaps Menachem Begin? Well, for me the greatest Jew is Mel Brooks—he gave me the real secret, the only way I can live sanely in this seemingly insane world…humor!

I heard Mel Brooks say in an interview that he’s always angry, but he gets even with his humor. Who in their right mind wouldn’t be angry these days? Ponder these scenes drawn from events during the past eight years through the eyes of someone like Mel Brooks:

• Slightly off center on the world stage one could imagine O.J. Simpson in his football uniform licking the blood off the knife he just used to cut his wife’s throat.

• George Bush caught on camera like a deer in the headlights, unable to decide whether it’s more important to keep reading a story to schoolchildren or to attend to more pressing matters, as when he learned that terrorists had just flown a plane into the World Trade Center.

• Bernie Madoff topping the criminal list of the Guinness Book of World Records by almost single-handedly stealing 50 billion dollars (enough money to give a million kids each a $50,000 college scholarship or to build a new sports complex in every state of the union).

• And in the background, swinging like demented angels on ropes from on high, there are Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Bill O’Reilly—gesticulating and singing at the top of their voices: “We speak for God, be afraid, be very afraid, or you’re all under arrest.”

At the southern tip of Manhattan in New York City stands the Statue of Liberty, one of the most potent symbols of our great nation. Lady Justice wears a blindfold, but that doesn’t mean she can’t see what’s going on. She’s impartial, not indifferent; sometimes the only way she can balance her scales is to encourage us to soar above the fray on the wings of laughter. Not belly-rolling, knee-slapping laughter—no, this is serious business that demands high humor. Full-circle laughter, where you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry, and you have the moral courage to choose the former. Laughter that sets you free from the horrors you see around you. The laughter of the child who knows no boundaries, who can walk out of any situation only to return later with remedies and solutions. Laughter that protects the psyche; laughter that protects the soul. Laughter that proclaims that the sun will rise again on another day. And on this new day, and each new day, we can start afresh—renewed and uncorrupted by those who through hatred, hubris, and greed are trying to turn our sacred world upside-down.

Mel Brooks is the greatest Jew because he is a modern-day minstrel who exposes all the tragedy for what it really is: a comic opera being played out on the world stage by really bad actors. In the spiritual alchemy of his humor, I invite everyone to laugh along with me and sing the theme song from his hit Broadway show The Producers, “It’s Springtime for Hitler and Germany.”


  Domenico Piazza
  Domenico Piazza
Senior Associate

 Imagine the apprentice taking her first steps toward mastery. She has, we hope, sufficient exposure to the tools of the trade as well as a body of knowledge on which she will depend as she begins the work. At her side but sufficiently apart to allow her to make decisions is her mentor. The mentor’s role has subtly changed as the apprenticeship has evolved. Earlier, there was a need for the mentor to be more directive, to demonstrate the proper approach, and to review exemplars that represent high levels of expertise. Now, it is time for the fledgling learner to take greater ownership of her work. The student must now practice mastery by examining, revising, reediting, and refining her work. It becomes clearer that responsibility for one’s work cannot be assigned to another, not even the master.

If we use the ageless model of apprenticeships as a frame of reference for empowered learning, we begin to see what we may have forgotten about the way the human brain works best. Teachers are often tempted to micromanage students at every stage along the mastery trail. While it’s important for intensive teacher engagement to establish personal meaning for students and provide new knowledge, the proven approach we know from the apprentice model is that the mentor must begin to step back, while remaining keenly aware of each student’s progress.

BIKE RIDING 101. Teaching a child to ride a bicycle provides a good analogy for the power and efficiency of the apprenticeship approach. Parents intuitively spend little time talking about riding a bike as they prepare their child for the activity. Most parents move directly to the experience. Pick the child up, place him or her on the seat, grab the back of the seat, and push. These are the natural first steps. The child’s feet flail about searching for a good grip on the pedals; hands begin jerking the handlebars to gain control. Parents plunge straightaway into providing experience coupled with support and encouragement. We do not let go until enough mastery is achieved to allow the student to safely go it alone. At this point (also naturally), the parent jogs along close enough to intervene if danger should arise, but far enough away to allow the natural feedback from the experience to do its work in the student’s brain.

The feedback loop, so called by physicists, provides moment-by-moment information needed by the learner to continue toward mastery. As the rider begins to veer too close to the road, natural feedback powerfully insists upon a reaction in the opposite direction. The child pulls the bike away from the road. If the feedback is unheeded or mishandled, the result is immediately evident. The mentor’s role here might be simply a show of confidence as the child tries again. Some brief advice might also be appropriate, but our innate sense of what is required tells us that getting back on the bike is the best instruction. We assess, but do not judge this work in progress because we understand that mastery has not yet been reached. Think of how often teachers prematurely judge performance when support and more opportunities are needed to perfect the work. You’re not there yet might be a more appropriate way to view this stage. The true mentor understands that experience and workability are powerful instructors and that excessive meddling can actually slow down the process or, worse, create resistance in the learner.

In a chapter titled “The Biology of Compassion” in his book, Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman explores the subject of creating a “secure base” from which our partners and children can take on the world. He writes:

"We provide a secure base whenever we come to our partner’s emotional rescue, by helping them to solve a vexing problem, soothing them, or simply being present and listening. Once we feel a relationship offers us a secure base, our energies are freer to tackle challenges." (p. 210)

Goleman quotes researcher John Bowlby, who observes, “…all of us, from the cradle to the grave, are happiest when life offers us a series of excursions, long or short, from a secure base.”

I believe this has implications for the art of empowered leadership. As with all our relationships, our roles shift to achieve attunement with others. At the point when learners need to try out their stuff and make adjustments in their work, the teacher’s role is such that it resists taking control and, instead, uses the apprentice model of natural feedback Did you get the result you hoped for? What do you need to get the result? What needs to be refined or simply done differently? How will you know when you’ve gotten the desired results? On page 212 Goleman calls uninvited intervention a violation of the cardinal rule for providing a secure base: “…intervene only when asked to or when it is absolutely necessary. Letting a partner venture forth in his or her own way is a quiet vote of confidence; the more we try to control, the more we tacitly undermine that vote. Intervention hampers exploration” (my emphasis).

Helping individuals to assess their own work, make effective changes, and reach a predetermined objective requires that teachers employ two different perspectives: empathy and systems thinking. Simon Baron-Cohen has defined each in his illuminating book The Essential Difference. Coaching focuses on these two ways of operating in the world. Each serves us and is an active ingredient in the apprentice model of guiding the learner to higher levels of competency. Our aim should be to develop both skill sets in order to empower the student to be sufficient in self-assessment.

Baron-Cohen goes on to define empathizing as “the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to them with an appropriate emotion” (p. 2). Certainly this skill is essential to establish the trusting relationship necessary to be an effective leader, coach, or team member. According to Baron-Cohen, “Systemizing is the drive to analyze, explore, and construct a system. The systemizer intuitively figures out how things work, or extracts the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system. This is done in order to understand and predict the system, or invent a new one” (p. 3).

As students examine their work with the intention of refining it, a systematic approach that assures the accuracy of information or function will serve them well. One tool that may prove useful here is the presence of some sort of rubric that serves as a descriptor of intention. Teachers can consciously help students develop both perspectives as they produce work about which they can be proud.

Imagining the teacher as mentor and the student as apprentice sets up an effective and brain-compatible dynamic for empowering the learner.


Retirement — Twilight or Dawn?

  Christa Metzger
  Christa Metzger
Guest Contributor

The lights and shadows are the same. The golden clouds in a pink and orange sky might indicate the beginning, or the ending, of a day. Retirement is often referred to as the beginning of the “twilight years.” Steve Sokolow likes to refer to it as “pension activated,” and some euphemize it as their “post-professional” life. What will this time of your life be for you: a sunset before the dark night, or the sunrise of a new day?

Perhaps you’re still so busy with your job that you haven’t given it much thought, except perhaps in terms of financial planning. Maybe you’ll skip this article because you don’t even want to think about it now, at the zenith of your career. You might be afraid to face the issues that will arise for you when that time comes. I’ve also known some school administrators who counted the days and hours before they could retire and “enjoy” life—golf, travel, play with grandchildren, and taste the glorious freedom from schedules and obligations.

Whatever your current view is on this topic, barring a less fortunate life event, you will some day face your own post-professional time—your golden age! And then, ready or not, a whole new set of challenges will face you. For those of us whose existence and purpose in life was totally identified with our careers, who truly enjoyed serving in our leadership roles, the big questions written across the colored sky might be these: What is the meaning of my life now? Who am I without my job? How can I be of any value to myself and to others? What is still left undone in my life? What dreams and aspirations can I still pursue?

You are fortunate if you have already faced such questions. Perhaps a major crisis drove you to search your inner landscape, to discover who you really are—not just the part of you defined by your job. C. G. Jung writes about the search for meaning that often begins in the second half of life. If you have not faced such fundamental life questions before “retirement,” that transition, the loss of your professional career, will most certainly lead you into “the dark woods where the straight way is lost” (to paraphrase Dante).

After more than 30 years as a school principal, district superintendent, and professor of future educational administrators, I have now been retired for about two years. I want to share some thoughts with you about what it’s been like for me. I hope that you’ll reflect on how you might get ready for this “twilight” of your life, and how you might make it your “dawn” of a new day.

A few weeks after my post-professional life began, I wrote some reflections titled, “How do I know I’m retired?” Here are some that might make you smile:

• My calendar looks empty.

• I can choose to delete e-mails inviting me to workshops, seminars, meetings, and events.

• I can sleep through the night—my brain doesn’t have enough to work on.

• I can choose not to set my alarm clock.

• I have time for a 20-minute meditation each morning.

• I have time to exercise without squeezing it in at odd hours.

• I have time to add clip art to e-mail and to actually open the attachments that people send.

• I have time to read the morning paper.

• I can write a letter to the editor on an issue I read about in the paper

• Some evenings I have “nothing” to do—and that’s really scary!

• I don’t have to put on makeup and a suit every morning.

• I think six months ahead to plan trips.

• I am lining up projects that I want to do.

• I have time to write this!

What are some gifts and challenges that you might face in your post-professional life? Here are some areas where you’ll want to be prepared for adjustments.

TIME. This will be a special gift to use wisely. Life will slow down and become simple, moving you from “doing” to “being.” You’ll wonder how you had “time” to do all you did in your professional life, and you’ll have precious time to set new priorities.

FREEDOM. You’ll have options and choices that reflect your own priorities. You may miss the stability of schedules and obligations to others. This may result in emptiness and drive you to search for meaningful ways to fill your life.

CHANGE. Your professional life as you know it will end. You’ll lose your past identity and may feel disoriented before making a new beginning. You’ll explore your interior life, your inner landscape, to discover who you really are. What are all the parts of you beyond your professional persona?

PERSONAL GROWTH. Taking care of yourself in all dimensions of being—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—has always been important to you as a leader. In retirement, the habits you have developed will serve you well—or you may have to pay more attention to how you nurture yourself.

THOUGHTS. You’ll have less to think about in terms of the kind of “cause-effect” reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making that you have been accustomed to, especially as these affect others. It’s a time to “think” more holistically, consulting with your heart, your intuition, your spirit, your soul.

HEALTH and AGING. Your physical and mental health will take a central place as you focus on the realities of your life cycle and confront your own mortality.

CONNECTIONS. You will lose friends and workplace relationships. Building new connections with others, with nature, and with your inner divine will become imperative to your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Retirement, or whatever you may choose to call it—post-professional life or pension-activated life—has many gifts, challenges, and opportunities for which you can prepare now. By reflecting on issues such as those discussed above, your twilight years will become the dawn of a new beginning that will illumine the rest of your life. I wish you much success in your journey!

PART 1 of two parts


The Prospect of Hope and Empowerment in the Aftermath of a Violent Crime

  Bea Mah Holland

Bea Mah Holland
Founding Partner and Executive Coach

In April 2007, my first cousin’s only child, Stephanie, was brutally murdered in Edmonton, Canada. The ferocity of the crime was horrific, but the circumstances were equally unbearable: the murderer was her husband’s brother, and her father was the one to find the body. I wrote about this awful incident in an earlier CFEL article (October 2007) and its impact on Stephanie’s family and community.

In March 2009, I received a call from my cousin Doug, Stephanie’s father, asking me to join him in addressing the court to make Victim Impact Statements (VIS). In attendance in the courtroom were the judge, the convicted murderer, legal representatives, members of the family and the press, and interested members of the public. The verdict had been reached in February: second-degree murder and aggravated assault; sentencing was to follow. The purpose of VIS statements was to serve as a cathartic and healing process for the family, and to present the overall continuing impact on the family to the judge for her consideration in sentencing.

Doug presented his Victim Impact Statement first, which was both a tribute to Stephanie and an indictment of the murderer and his actions. Consumed by his profound loss, Doug has been profoundly affected and has put his life on hold. My statement also dealt with the overwhelming loss and its effects on family and community. I pointed out how all of us are living a life sentence of never-ending grief, and that if the length of the sentence matched the extent of pain and suffering endured by Stephanie and her family and friends, the murderer’s sentence would be forever.

Is there anything we can glean from this savage murder in terms of hope and empowerment? Is such a resolution even possible, given this situation of a relative’s brutal murder? Stephanie was a human resources professional who believed deeply in delivering help and compassion to people in need. She was dedicated to growth, and to positivity. Her life was about joy, appreciation, gratitude, fun, peace—and, above all, love. But the system failed Stephanie: the restraining order, the help needed by the perpetrator, the overloaded systems, etc.

What would Stephanie want in the aftermath of her death? She would want her family to move on in life, to choose not to stay victimized, and to grow out of this horror. To see the return of the fun-loving, engaged, and adventurous clan. To not forget her, but to live a joyful life in her memory and as a tribute to her. To live with hope and with a future.

My hope is that Stephanie’s murder will raise the awareness of people enough to mobilize the community. This tragedy is surely a wake-up call to radically and systematically transform the fragmented and sometimes well-defended silos of service into an effective, integrated system that can coherently and sensibly prevent senseless acts of violence.


Finding Hope

  Claire Sheff-Kohn

Claire Sheff-Kohn
Senior Associate and Mentor

In Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus tricked the gods, stole the sacred fire, and gave it to humans. As part of his plan to avenge this act, Zeus asked the god Hephaestus to create Pandora, the first woman on earth, and to bestow her with the gifts of beauty and goodness. Among the many other gifts the gods gave Pandora was a mysterious box in which Zeus had trapped the spirits of the air, earth, sea, and underworld, and which was accompanied by a directive to her not to open it. She was sent to be the wife of Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus, who accepted her gladly despite having been warned by his brother not to take anything from Zeus. Well, we all know that Pandora could not resist peeking into the box, and when she opened it, she let loose all the evils of the world—“plagues for the body and sorrows for the mind.” Pandora tried to close the box, but it was too late. Only Hope—the one good spirit in the box—was left behind to comfort humankind.

"Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. If life is to be sustained, hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded, trust impaired."—Erik Erikson

When our “confidence is wounded,” and our “trust impaired,” where are we to find the hope that Erik Erikson says must remain to sustain us? In these times, when there is little good news in the present, let alone on the horizon, how do we hold out hope that we can take action to positively affect our lives or the lives of others?

Personally, I look to Doris, my “ninety-something” friend. Doris refers to me as her “young friend”; at my age (61), I find this charming and reassuring. Through Doris, I have discovered that “young” has little to do with age and that hope is a state of mind. I recently received one of Doris’ handwritten notes, in which she told “three true stories.” She also included one of her poems, which I will get to in a moment. First, let’s start with the stories:

Recently, another one of Doris’ “young friends” brought her flowers, changed a ceiling light bulb for her, and took her to a local restaurant for lunch (prime rib, one of Doris’ favorites). While there, Doris read to her friend the six new poems she had written. Her friend was thanking her for the performance when a woman from an adjacent table approached Doris and also thanked her for the reading, telling her it ought to have been videotaped. This gave Doris great joy, reinforcing her desire to publish her second volume of poetry, since she has completed 20 new poems in the past year.

Around the same time, Doris was outside shoveling snow on her walkway. A man stopped his car, took the shovel from Doris, and completed the snow removal. As Doris noted, he wasn’t even a neighbor; he was a passer-by. This unselfish act of a total stranger touched her and raised her spirits immeasurably.

Doris has a cadre of young friends, whom she has collected over the years at a variety of events and volunteer activities in which she has been involved. I met her more than 10 years ago at a League of Women Voters gathering. Knowing that I was the superintendent of the local school district, she approached me, and I immediately was impressed with her vitality, genuine interest in others and their opinions, and her overall vibe of being “with it” despite her somewhat advanced age. Anyway, another of Doris’ young friends brought her two plants around the same time as the friend described in the first story above. Doris crowed, “Five new plants in a week!” The joy she takes from the simplest acts of generosity and kindness should be a lesson for those who have taken millions in bonuses at the taxpayers’ expense.

Now, about Doris’ poetry: In 1995 Doris self-published a volume of her verses titled A Creative Experience. With the 20 new poems she has written this year, she plans on publishing a second volume. In “Summing It Up,” one of the poems to be included, Doris describes how she is only “half here” because of failing sight, hearing, and mobility, but that her “love of friends is whole,” and that her “wonder at the kindness and achievements of others is off the charts.” She ends her poem with: “Life is a miracle from beginning to end—if we endure.” I find enormous hope in her sentiments and the words she uses to capture them.

But what about those of you who don’t have a Doris? Where do you find hope? You could check out Gain Hope, Dr. Anthony Scioli’s website, where he talks about his research on hope, includes a “hope test,” and describes an upcoming book he is co-authoring with another psychologist. He sums it up with, “Our message is a simple one—hope matters. In fact, it can be argued that the most profound expressions of the human spirit derive from hope.” I agree.


Life's About Feeling Good

  Kathleen Alfiero

Kathleen Alfiero

I am beyond hopeful…in fact, I believe.

Recently I heard the scientist and spiritual leader Gregg Braden say, “Assume the feelings of your wish fulfilled.” How great is that? Gregg says that even the most conservative scientists and spiritual leaders are acknowledging that our beliefs create our reality and that our feelings are the language of our conscious selves.

We draw to ourselves the things that we are wanting when we feel good thinking about those things before they come. Many of us have believed that we will feel good only when we get what we want, but that’s not how it works. Feeling good before the manifestations of our desires allows the people, resources, and improvements we are looking for to present themselves!

How do we get to feelings of hope if we are fearful, depressed, worried, or focused on what our current situation is instead of on what is coming? I’ve learned that reaching for a better thought brings me some relief. I begin to feel a little better. When I continue to think thoughts that make me feel better—no matter what I’ve been feeling—I eventually feel hopeful. Believing that all is well makes things happen.

One of my wishes involves a building on the waterfront in Portland, Maine—a 17,000-square-foot building with magnificent ocean views of Casco Bay. I believe that this building will someday become the Center for Positive Media. I can see and feel it, and it’s magnificent! This building is currently owned by my husband’s family business. Many years ago, he and his family made a plan to sell this building in 2009. Their timeline opens the door to my dreams. When I think about the Center, I feel the way I think I will feel on opening day: joyful and exuberant! The many wonderful people I’ve met along the way surround me. Friends and relatives are celebrating this amazing day with me!

How is this dream coming into being? It helps that I believe that the Center for Positive Media will one day exist in Portland, Maine. I am allowing the people, resources, and opportunities to show up. I move forward each day without having to know how to do it, who will be involved, or when it will happen. I choose to take action only when I’m inspired to. I’m noticing that I feel good when I’m making phone calls, writing plans, and meeting with people. I’m having fun! I’m done believing in struggle. Although I know I will always experience contrasts in my life, I see them as gifts in disguise that I call to myself to help me get clear about what I want. (I’m learning to embrace the uncomfortable times, which is really something!)

Here’s the story I tell:

The Center for Positive Media is a gorgeous facility with a television studio, a conversation center, a video production learning center, an art gallery, and glorious spaces where amazing and talented people who share a passion and appreciation for the benefits of positive media work every day. In my story, we are all creating media projects and programs that inspire people to be the best they can be. We are sharing good news and heartwarming stories on television and radio about how extraordinary we all are. The Center is hosting conversations that lead to positive changes in education and in healthcare. Works of art from children all over the world are on display. Students are creating film and video projects at the learning center.

Everyone knows that they matter.

Five years ago, when I was in Chicago at a gala event, I bid $75 at a silent auction and won two hours of prominent architect Neil Frankel’s time and expertise. My hope was to have him redesign the waterfront building into a state-of-the art multimedia center.

Two months after returning from Chicago, I called Neil to talk with him about my dream project and to let him know that I was eager to collect on my winnings. Neil informed me that he was a part-time professor at the University of Milwaukee School of Architecture and that four of his top senior students had lost their independent project for the semester the day before. He asked if I would like them to consider taking on my project. Of course I said “Yes!”

Two days later, Neil called me and said, “Your project was accepted. Let’s get started!” Four wonderful students paid their own travel expenses to Portland to survey the building. Five months later the design for the Center for Positive Media was complete. These brilliant students presented me with a full-scale model, posters, renderings, and a virtual tour to preview. Stunning!

I am willing to live my life with clarity, focus, ease, and grace. This is the answer I gave to a question Maria Nemeth asked me recently. Maria is a new friend who offered to support me with her expertise and love. She is one of those people who just showed up! Other people and resources keep coming. My cousin called to say a check to help with seed money for this project is in the mail. Wonderful things keep on happening….

I believe!



  Maybeth Conway
  Maybeth Conway
Senior Associate

I send you this reflection from the snow-covered mountains of Vermont, where I’m privileged to join the Benedictine monks of the Weston Priory in the public components of their daily ritual. This intriguing group of holy men lives modestly in a magnificent pastoral setting deep in the Green Mountains, where they create a life that centers on prayer, manual work, and hospitality. They organize their community around the 1,500-year-old Rule of Saint Benedict. In part, their mission is “to create a community of fraternal love and service, to be persons of prayer, celebrating faith in worship, silence, and reflection…” (With the Gospel as our Guide, p.1).

As a guest and beneficiary of their gracious hospitality, I welcome the opportunity to retreat from the current assaults of nations warring, the stock market tumbling, politicians wrangling, and our globe warming. For just a few days, I enter this peaceful sanctuary, making an effort to follow the very first element of St. Benedict’s Rule that beckons each of us to “listen with the ear of your heart.”

Silence is not my strongest suit. Nor do I find it easy to maintain open receptivity in sustained wordless meditation. So, at one point, my restless mind wanders to the potential of quiet listening as a leadership skill. With some sadness, I realize that I’ve had very little experience with leaders whom I’d describe as quiet listeners—and I certainly can’t claim this ability as one of my own dominant traits. So I find myself wondering what an empowered leader might potentially hear in moments of attentive silence:

  • Might she hear the anxiety that is an unavoidable element of the change process?
  • Might he hear a germinating kernel of inspired creativity?
  • Might she hear a gentle compliment amidst the common litany of complaints?
  • Might he hear a truly constructive criticism that could improve his effectiveness?
  • Might she hear the tentative insights of the young?
  • Might he hear the soft, sage counsel of the old?
  • Might she hear the whispered plea of a timid soul in need?
  • Might he hear the monotonous repetition of stagnant thinking that needs to be challenged?
  • Might she hear the treachery of subtle prejudice?
  • Might he hear a welcome invitation to greater equality?
  • Might she hear a sincere request for more opportunities for quiet reflection?
  • Might he hear, and feel deep within, the restorative purity of silence?

Soon I shall return to so-called civilization. Past experience warns me that, if I’m not careful, the peaceful insights of this brief monastic interlude will melt away as quickly as our early spring snow. I intend to try to keep the silent spirit flowing. I invite you to join me. May each of us learn to “listen with the ear of our heart.”



Faith, Hope, and Charity

  Robert W. Cole

Robert W. Cole
Managing Editor
and Senior Associate

The other night I had a long, long dream; it seemed to last for hours. Somehow, astoundingly, I was a preacher of some sort who was called upon, without any preparation, to speak to a group of young people. Now, in the real, non-dream world, I am a preparer, not by any means an extemporaneous speaker (though I once taught speech). Speak, on almost anything, with no advance warning? Not me. But this dream-me, I remember vividly, walked down a curving flight of stairs and launched into a rambling, inspiring (I fancied) sermon on the relation between Faith and Hope. I’m still amazed that: 1) I dreamt all those high-minded thoughts, 2) I preached as inspiringly and persuasively as I did in my dream, and 3) I remembered, upon waking, a lot of what I had said.

What I said in my role as dreamland pastor is not unique to me and my rudimentary remembering of the Testaments. But it stays with me nonetheless, and as a result I’m passing it along here, just in case it might be meant to serve a purpose in this Earth-school. In thinking (and thinking) about it since I awoke, I’ve discovered a connection between my dream and the role of a leader.

To begin, then: I preached that Hope is a good thing, and that it can carry us through dark times. But Hope alone is fragile, seeming sometimes like a candle holding off the darkness. Hope is strengthened immeasurably by the presence of Faith. Hope in the absence of Faith can feel futile. Believing has the power to give rise to Hope, even when no external signs give much reason for hope.

I spoke too of Charity (and I think I arrived at this place in my dream simply because of the old song about “faith, hope, and charity”—rather than, as a more learned scholar might, through any association with Paul’s epistles or early Christian martyrs). In my dream-sermon I defined Charity as giving without thought of personal benefit. Charity thus defined is, to me, a little miracle, because it has the power to create Hope where none might have existed before, and is thus equivalent to creating something out of nothing. Charity is an act of love. That’s a miracle, and the spiritual equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.

One of the saddest human states, I preached, is that of hopelessness, when a person has become so beleaguered, so beaten down by adverse circumstances that he or she sees no earthly way out of that dark place. The key words in the previous sentence are “no earthly way.” When there seems to be no earthly way out of our troubles, still Hope may arise from the belief that change for the better is possible—through Faith, in other words.

This, happily, brings me to a lesson for leaders. We Americans are slogging through some of the darkest days we have faced in many decades. Last fall, ending the longest and most unrelievedly awful eight years I can remember, we elected as our new President a man who, quite simply, offered us Hope. Barack Obama held out to us the promise of change that we could believe in. He lifted our vision out of the moral murk and showed us possibilities that many of us had lost sight of. Now comes the hard part, of course. Dreaming a new vision is far different than making that dream come alive. But human beings have been known to stretch themselves to their utmost, and beyond, when their leaders engage the divine power of Faith and Hope.


Let’s have a conversation. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll really see one another—and learn wondrous new things about ourselves, and pass those precious learnings along to others. Send your stories—300-600 words, please—to literacy@mindspring.com.


Letters to the Editor
From Our Readers

I truly was impressed when I read through the past issues of the LENS and believe it will benefit many of my “friends, colleagues and former students” – and others whose lives they will touch. I know that some of those students are school administrators themselves by now.
- Christa Metzger, Arapahoe, North Carolina

I really enjoy reading your spiritual articles in The Lens.
- Christina Seix Dow, Princeton, New Jersey


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