I’ve been reading a lot of newspapers lately, and it’s messing with my emotional balance. Seems like all the news is hard — people doing terrible things to others, rampant poverty, and violence beyond measure. It all feels quite bleak, and I’ve been carrying some of that bleakness with me.
And then I look outside my window here in Uptown Oakland. I see merchants with their wares, people going to work, delivery people going about their business, and bicyclists in their bright jackets whizzing along the street. When I really listen in, I realize that this town I love so very much is just fine. Yes, we have many troubles, and we also have so many more gifts. Our young people are brilliant poets and thinkers. We have beautiful public art that honors our ancestors, our museum is vibrant and reflects the city, and our food — have mercy!
It is so easy to get lost in the story of degradation — to only pay attention to what’s going wrong. Cynics thrive on this. It’s not hip or “progressive” to notice what’s working — too often we’re so busy deconstructing the latest egregious act of the _____-industrial complex, that we can miss much of the sweetness around us.
Yes, there was a break-in in my neighborhood last week. We also had a potluck and shared gardening tools. Someone’s dog shat under my tree again, but my neighbor’s annuals are in full glorious bloom. It’s all true, and how I feel about my neighborhood has everything to do with what I’m choosing to see and pay attention to.
I’m not foolish, so I lock my doors. And I’m extremely concerned with how many of our young men of color are dying in our streets. My heart breaks every time I hear of another life lost to violence. I don’t want to paint a false picture of sweetness and light, but it’s also true that Lake Merritt, one of Oakland’s jewels, is being lovingly restored and is breathtakingly beautiful. I’m aware of Rockwood alums working to change the story here in Oakland — creating systems of restorative justice, green jobs, dreaming up new immigration policy, insuring that domestic workers are treated with respect. Many wonderful things are happening daily, but I doubt I’ll read about them in the daily news.
As a leader in my organization, how I show up and what I bring to work each day has a strong impact on those around me. I could work full time only seeing what’s wrong, and that would have devastating consequences on how it feels to be here. I could also work full time seeing only the “good” things, and that would make me unreliable. To keep my heart and mind on what is marvelous about Rockwood while acknowledging our raggedy bits is a deep responsibility, and I’ve found it works best when I pay more attention to what people are doing well than what’s not perfect. I’ve found that a 4 to 1 ratio is just about right.
What are you paying attention to? Leadership is about how we have an impact on others, so I invite you to take a look around and notice the folks who depend on you. What kind of “field” are you creating?
Does anything need adjusting? What might you pay attention to in order to create the world you want? I really believe that happiness is part of my responsibility as a leader, and that the attitude I bring to every moment deeply impacts how our organization will function.
So maybe it’s time to take a break from the news. The world will carry on just fine if I’m not aware of every little awful event. Maybe it’s time I go down to the lake, or visit the museum, or listen to some poets. I’ll bet the people who depend on me would thank me for it.
What might you do? What might you see? How might that transform the world? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
From my heart to yours.