“The Road to Abilene”

An idea for Labor Day weekend….

The week just passed, I was involved in three Zoom meetings.  Another is scheduled for Labor Day.  In my world, Zoom seems to have become the paradigm for the future.

Yesterday I got to thinking back to a film I had seen at some staff workshop way back in the 1980s.  I couldn’t remember the exact name, but it was about a road to somewhere, and a parable of how we humans get stuck in stupidity (my interpretation).

I kept thinking about the film, in the way I think about things, and finally, about 5 p.m., “Bingo”.  “The Road to Abilene” was resurrected.

I found several renditions on YouTube, not the film itself, but the one that seemed most pertinent was “The Abilene Paradox“, an actual two hour workshop in 1981 conducted by  Jerry Harvey, the PhD who’d coined the phrase.  “The Road to Abilene”, is based on a real family story.  Harvey was a professor at George Washington University, and most likely the venue for this talk was Washington D.C.  (If you have trouble accessing, at YouTube search “Abilene Paradox, Dr. Jerry Harvey, 1981”)

As I write, I’ve watched only the first 40 minutes, but I’ll do the entire two hours this weekend.  It is well worth the time.

At minimum, watch the first 20 minutes, and watch it in context with the world you inhabit today, right now.  You can frame it anyway you want, but watch it as if you were sitting in that auditorium today, in 2020, facing a national election in less than two months.  You will relate to it, I can assure you.

Have a good day.

POSTNOTE:  When I watched the actual film (on a 16mm reel to reel).   I was teacher union staff during particularly turbulent times in the teacher union movement.  It was half a lifetime ago for me.  I’m now 80.

This week, these were the Zoom calls:

Monday, helping a friend by watching him practice his very first Zoom talk, which he’ll present on Zoom next Monday night.  This first one was just he and I.

Wednesday, a one hour Zoom with seven people, from Vice-President candidate Kamala Harris, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, MN Lt Governor Peggy Flanagan to four grass roots folks: a lady who’s a parent; two MN state legislators, a child advocate in special education; and a Service Employees Union leader.  The topic was the 2020-21 school year in the age of Covid-19: safety, schedules, technology and child care (as I recall).  It had the usual imperfection anyone who’s zoomed has come to expect, and there’s only so much that can be done in 45 minutes.  This is new.  But it was very much worth the time, and I’m grateful I learned about it.

The session opened with the words: “Kindness, Empathy and Humility”, and the participants reflected these words.

Thursday, was a regular organization meeting of a group I’ve been part of for years, who’s had to put on the shelf in-person meetings for an indeterminate, and possibly permanent time.

At the Thursday meeting, one of the “youngsters” proposed that all of us watch a movie on-line on our special interest focus, and let the rest know within a week.  Abilene will be my choice, though on Thursday I had not even thought of the topic at the time.

POSTNOTE 2:  August, 2020 (see archive) was my “politics month”.

This month I’m going to endeavor to publish no more than one political theme per week, this being the first.  I would suggest the last two September posts, which were not posted until the end of the month are worth your time. (Trusting In Dishonest Times, 8/30, and School Opening, 8/31.)

Labor Day, I have a family recollection: Uncle Vincent’s Onions.

There won’t be regular reminders, but if you’re an off-and-on reader, something will likely motivate me to write a couple of times a week.  Just call up the archive by the current month.

We’re in troubled times.  Do your best (often, times of crisis bring out the best.)

COMMENTS (more at end of post.)

from Brian: Dick,  yes we saw that film at the Univ. of Houston in a management class.  I remember it well!

from Annelee: Annelee Woodstrom grew up in Adolf Hitler’s Germany and has lived in rural Minnesota for almost 75 years.  Her book, War Child, and two others, remain available and are excellent and from the heart primers on how life was for a young person who grew up in tyranny.  I comment at the end of her words:

Sep 5: “Dick, I am really pensive lately, when I think about our children , grand- and great-grandchildren’s future.
What are we leaving behind? Presently, the country is torn asunder, will we heal in time? I  have seen and lived much.
I am almost glad that I am nearing the end of my life. Today I thought of Uncle Pepp and what he told me in 1945.
  You find the article beginning on third paragraph, page 122, WAR CHILD
  If you read it, and want to add anything, feel free to do so.”
Earlier, Sep 5: “Dick,
I read your blog on the Road to Abilene, it got me thinking:
You know I live in a community of many Trump supporters. I feel we are somewhat ahead of 2018 because we state our differences when we discuss Trump vs. Biden.
However, we haven’t learned to listen to each other and try to reach a meeting point.
It is most evident when one looks at the demonstration that presently destroy our cities, and reach a point of no return.  [Dick: see my comments at end of this letter]
The “Black Lives Matter” organization  feels they have a cause and they must fight for it until they win.
If it takes destruction to make a point, so be it! We need to defund our police force, we need to have committees that select who protects us.
Surely these are valid points, but those actions at the demonstration have so far offered no resolution.
What I offer, let us speak not as Democrat or Republican, let us speak as human beings.
I offer my Uncle Pepp’s analysis of humanity:…….. (I just take some of his reflections, opinions that apply to our time
as well  as they did in 1945.
“We learn a lot in a lifetime, but no one in the world learns about keeping peace. every time there is a war, they say it is for
some cause and then it will bring peace forever. The human species is the dumbest species there is. For thousands of years they have fought, maimed and killed each other for one cause or another.”
Uncle Pepp’s eyes bored into mine, “ You think this war is the last war?  Anneliese, don’t mind my laughing. Someday you may have a son who will get his draft notice to fight in another war. Again, they’ll  promise you. ‘This is the last of all wars.’
On the other side there is a mother who will have to send her son for the same reason.  To stop war!
What we have not yet learned is the simple truth: Wars lay the seeds and breed another more horrible war than the ones before.”
Uncle Pepp came close to me,” maybe you will make it through this war.  You will if you are lucky and have say about it.”
He kissed me on the forehead , “Now go and do come back..”
It is hard to brlieve that was 75 years ago. 
I am thinking: how much have we learned since, and how much has changed?
At my count, America has been in five major wars, and smaller skirmishes.”
Dick in response Sep. 6:  Annelee, you and I have known each other for 17 years, and we’ve been to your town in northwest Minnesota quite a number of times.  I feel I know your community quite well – a county seat of 1,700 people surrounded by rich farmland.  As you know, your community would be strong “Trump country”, though as you also know, you and many (but not enough) will and have voted Democrat in the past, and will again.  .
I also know well the city, Minneapolis,  that was visited by violence in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25.  Where he died is a half mile from where your son worked for an entire career.  Your son knew and respected the character of this neighborhood far better than I could know directly.  He was there every day..
And, of course, you grew up in small town Germany from your birth till age 20.
There is, of course, a great disconnect between small town and city, geographic distance and all the rest.  I wonder how to make an equivalence that is understandable in your town.
Just for thought: imagine your towns business district, in both Minnesota and earlier in Germany.  Just visualize it.
Consider that on a late spring night the entire business district was attacked by some unknown people with many buildings destroyed and many more damaged.  Many people were masked. It is unknown to this day who the perpetrators actually were, though this is coming to be known in bits and pieces.  It does not appear to be the neighbors who live in the neighborhood.
Imagine further what I saw in this neighborhood from the day after the violence to this day.  None of the homes within the community – at least none to my knowledge – were touched by the violence.  These are the same people who depended on the businesses that were torched and vandalized.  These were ordinary working people such as live on your own street today.
The violence after May 25 was directed at businesses that served the community.  It makes absolutely no sense that the residents of those homes would destroy their own business district.
It would be like saying that your town was attacked by someone, and the businesses were destroyed, and none of your homes were touched by the violence.
It is just a thought: whoever did the violence after May 25 may well not have been even an active part of groups like Black Lives Matter.  These were others from elsewhere much more involved.
Just a thought.
3 replies
  1. norman hanson
    norman hanson says:

    Ah yes, I do remember that film, that is, “The Road to Abilene”, very well from some training that I received when working for the MInnesota Department of Health. As I recall, folks ended up in Abilene where none of them wanted to be simply because no one was strong enough to tell the others why they did not want to go there or something to that effect!

  2. Leila Whitinger
    Leila Whitinger says:

    Dick, I was in attendance during the staff meeting you just mentioned. At the time, I remember wondering why nobody mentioned that they really weren’t interested in piling into the car and going all of the way to Abilene. Everyone assumed that everyone else wanted to go, even though nobody did. Even now, it is hard for me to think of a situation where that would happen in my family or circle of friends. It was a demonstration of how a concern about hurting someone’s feelings can have a totally opposite effect. It certainly stressed the importance of honest communications,

  3. Leila Habashi
    Leila Habashi says:

    If one acknowledges that Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by police violence and systemic racism, then saying Black Lives Matter would not threaten the idea that “Isn’t my safety important too.?” Every life is valuable, but not everyone’s lives are in danger due to their skin color. So Black lives should matter as much as white lives.


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