The conversational nature of reality

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Poetry is one of our most vivid channels for empathy. It helps us reckon with the human experience and figure out how to live among each other. It grapples with unanswerable questions and, in all its forms—lauded and richly-awarded books, ferocious spoken word performances, beloved songs and historic speeches—it rallies our attention.

That's why Tim and I love poetry so much. We bring it into the room when we work—we create it together, and use it to reflect on shared work. It helps frame those days when we bring disparate, sometimes clashing people together to share in good work and develop strategies and action—challenging, but deeply gratifying. Poetry helps us sum up why the effort is worth celebrating, regardless of the mess or imperfection we encounter along the way.

Tim and I often talk about holding both soulful and strategic elements in our work—the way forward is filled with complexities, engineering, design, and logistics, but that 'left-brain' also needs depth and meaning. Similarly, we can't let substance be overwhelmed by right-brain feelings of epiphany or transformation. Powerful revelations have to lead somewhere.

 ON BEING is a Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. A conversation about the big questions of meaning in 21st century lives and endeavors—spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, and the arts. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Hosted by Krista Tippett.

ON BEING is a Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. A conversation about the big questions of meaning in 21st century lives and endeavors—spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, and the arts. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Hosted by Krista Tippett.

Recently, the excellent ON BEING podcast featured an interview with poet David Whyte, who brings this kind of soulfulness to corporate America and leadership development. I was inspired by so, so, so many things in this particular podcast—especially the poem Sweet Darkness. Whyte hits on something I see in our work—the problem that the language we currently have isn't large enough to hold the transformation needed by a world in flux. We need new language—sometimes poetic language—to move into new action.

Whyte speaks to the need to be vulnerable in our leadership:

First of all, one of the powerful dynamics of leadership is being visible. One of the vulnerabilities of being visible is that when you’re visible, you can be seen. And when you can be seen, you can be touched. And when you can be touched, you can be hurt.
So all of us have these elaborate ways of looking as if we’re showing up and not showing up. Except in an organizational setting, it has tremendous consequences on other people’s lives. We’ve all worked in organizations where someone is sitting there at a crossroads or nexus in the organization. They’re there, but they’re not there. And because of that, they’re blocking everything that’s trying to come through their particular portal. So one of the dynamics you have to get over with is this idea that you can occupy a position of responsibility, that you can have a courageous conversation without being vulnerable.

Brilliant and essential listening. Poetry is the container that makes vulnerability possible. It's a place for the left-brain and the right-brain to pause, consider one another, and get to work. Click below to listen or read the transcript. Wonderful stuff.

 
 DAVID WHYTE is an Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. His books include  The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America ,  River Flow: New & Selected Poems , and  Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.  Photo by Nicol Ragland.

DAVID WHYTE is an Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. His books include The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate AmericaRiver Flow: New & Selected Poems, and Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. Photo by Nicol Ragland.