#341 – Dick Bernard: Part 11. King of the Hill.

NOTE: This series began on February 17, 2011, and at the beginning I had no plans to continue it to its current extent. I can envision at least one more post before I conclude this thread. Please check back.
When I was a kid in North Dakota, winter offered new and different opportunities for play.
One of these occurred when a snowplow (or a blizzard) created a neat and brand new snow hill.
The town gang of kids would gather and vie to see who could get to the top of the hill and stay there longest.
It was always a futile exercise. Somebody would reach the top and the rest would be out to throw him off his perch. In the end there might be a succession of temporary winners, all destined to lose.
That’s the metaphor which comes to mind with the temporary ascendancy of the Tea Party mentality in Washington and in many state houses. “We won, and we’ll do what we want.” Of course, this is a fool’s declaration.
Winner’s can easily set themselves up to lose the next round. Gov Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans, with the active support of the very rich, have seized the hill but now have to contend with the vexatious task of staying on top. Already there are some things they didn’t anticipate; and there are other things ahead that they likely weren’t expecting either.
Staying on top of the hill permanently is impossible.
While generalizations are always dangerous, I’ve noted that the political conversation in this country very much follows what I’d call the lawyer and litigation model. I respect the profession of law. But the system is set up for one party to win, and the other to lose. Law is an adversary system. Yes, negotiating differences might be tried, but legal bargaining is basically a game of secrets.
Some enlightened lawyers – still a tiny percentage of the whole – have established an entirely new branch of law which leads for open and honest adjudication of differences of even the most contentious divorces. But the general political rule at this moment in our history is not resolution. It is what we see in Wisconsin and other places. One party considers itself to have “won”, and is wasting no time to do all the winning that it can. Given our immense and complex society, sooner or later it will lose, and perhaps lose more convincingly than it won in the first place. Then the abuse cycle begins anew as the battered minority seeks to get revenge.
Abraham Lincoln so famously said at another time and in another situation: “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
That speech, June 16, 1858, was prophetic.
There needs to be a national conversation, in millions of bits and pieces. In times like this, however, national conversations seem wimpy and useless, as they doubtless did when the clouds of Civil War faced the U.S. in Lincoln’s day.
I opt to try.
A place to begin thinking about this business of rational conversation is a new book, “The Art of Convening” by Craig and Patricia Neal and Cynthia Wold.
The book is newly published. Check it out, read it, and try out its principles in your own settings. The Minneapolis’ group website is
In the situation we are in, the only solution is for us to be “on the court”, and not in the stands as, simply, “spectators”. By chance, researching this piece, I came across a quote that seems to fit our current national disruption and divide: “technique without compassion is a menace. Compassion without technique is a mess. Karl Llewellyn.” Seems to sum it up for me….

Patricia and Craig Neal and Cynthia Wold March 2, 2011, St. Paul MN

#327 – Dick Bernard: Part 3. The Canyon of 60 Abandon, and More Ways to Communicate Less

In November, 1998, I was very actively contemplating retirement, and I attended a conference of the National Education Association (NEA) in the Houston area.
We were at a nice resort hotel, but the weather was – to put it mildly – awful. By the time we left we were shuttled around in large trucks due to flooding on the resort grounds.
Despite the memorable weather, what was truly memorable for me happened at the conference, where a presenter I’d never heard of, Michael Meade, gave a workshop entitled “The Canyon of 60 Abandon”. To the accompaniment of his own powerful drumming, he told the story of a society where the old were retired at age 60, then banished to a far distant Canyon, no more to be part of the society.
One family violated the rules, and hid their elder under the porch. In his myth, Meade said the King called for a competition, with a large prize going to the winner. The family with the hidden elder utilized the elders accumulated wisdom, solved the puzzle and won the prize.
In 1998 I was, truly, wondering what if anything lay beyond the long career I was finishing. Fourteen months later I did retire, and found out. And today, eleven years later, I am still finding out.
There is, indeed, a “Canyon of 60 Abandon”, but out in that Canyon, I have learned, there are huge numbers of incredibly talented people whose wisdom seems largely to go unused because…. Well, I don’t know the specifics of why. This deserves conversation.
Then there is the very matter of conversation.
Conversation between elder and younger (which seems to be defined as who is “working” or of employable age, versus who is not) is more complicated now than it has ever been. For a long time, I’ve been observing that there are “more ways to communicate less“. First evidence of that comes in a September, 2002, item I wrote for public school administrators and school public relations people.
In February, 2004, for the same audience, I enumerated some communications methods I’d seen discussed in 1991; along with an updated personal list of newer communications mediums as I knew media in 2004.
Unknown to me in 2004, because they were either just beginning or unknown to anyone, were communication methods very much in vogue today: Facebook (beginning Feb. 2004, regular messages restricted to about 420 characters); YouTube (2005, 10 minutes maximum. I use YouTube earlier in this column); and Twitter (2006, messages restricted to 144 characters). For someone from my generation, accustomed to letters to the editor (perhaps 200 word maximum) or newspaper columns (probably 600 words – this entry is almost exactly 600 words), to even communicate with someone from my children and grandchildrens generation can be dicey even if you live close by and can visit in person, which is seldom the case these days.
We have to figure out how to not only talk to each other, but how to listen, and to truly value each other.
In Michael Meade’s mythical society, the throwaway elders represented a big cost to that society; in today’s remaining society, the very real “Canyon” between youngers and the others has to be reduced.
We also need to sort out how we make societal decisions these days which seem premised solely on the Power Bargaining model: he or she who has the strongest ‘whatever’ wins, and the rest lose.
It is not much of a recipe for the long term success of our society and, indeed, world. In a world of winners over losers, everybody loses.
I close with a recent and current Facebook entry of an upcoming event. I plan to attend, and to buy the book as well.
Related posts Feb. 6, Feb. 7, and Feb. 10.