THE BLOG

A Potter Confronts Clay

03/20/2013 10:41 am ET | Updated May 20, 2013

Confrontation -- to oppose, attack, resist, undermine.

To Confront -- to engage straight-forwardly and authentically.

In America, perhaps in the world, we are ineffective, unskilled and unprepared to confront the future we have in front of us.

This is not news.

So what would empower us to confront what needs to get confronted? We can start with confronting "confronting" itself -- what is it that we most fundamentally need to confront?

Background: Consider, as the authors, Steve Zaffron and David Logan make abundantly clear in their ground breaking book, Three Laws of Performance, that the future we have in front of us is more of the past. It is what the authors call "a default future." And, our ability to have ideas for the future far outpaces our ability to "i.n.v.e.n.t." actions to fulfill these innovative ideas. What actions? There are only two kinds of actions a human being can take:

  1. Human beings can move their physical body. This is called movement.
  2. They can use language, communicate and generate conversations. They can speak, listen, employ and invent words, numbers and pictures to communicate.

Contrary, perhaps, to many of our John Wayne movies, the key actions we engage in are communication. Our physical movements are largely guided by what we say, and think, and mean in language (words, numbers, pictures, sounds, touch). What we accomplish in life and what we fulfill in life is through language. What we say to ourselves ... our self-talk ... and to each other. Words, numbers and pictures can ultimately conceive, imagine and invent anything (as a possibility). However, as Zaffron and Logan point out throughout The Three Laws of Performance, our future becomes filled with our past -- largely unwittingly and automatically. It becomes what the authors call a "default future." We put our time-honored practices and our received wisdoms, our beliefs and notions, or "sacred truths" in the future ... without regard to the fact that it is we ourselves who are putting our past in our future. God doesn't, history doesn't, life doesn't -- we do- unwittingly, perhaps -- automatically, almost continuously.

Without seeing the past as the past, it then becomes the "default future." Without the ability to see and catch ourselves doing that, the future gets filled up, reducing us to an automatic reaction to these very "truths" we put in the future to guide us. What innovation in thought, word and deed we can and do bring to the party, gets displaced.

This has been going on for quite a while, un-addressed, and ineffectively confronted. Why? Why don't we/can't we confront -- now -- what obviously needs to be confronted?

Most of us confuse "confronting" with "confrontation," and that may be why we are ineffective with it. A confrontation, as the term suggests, is to oppose, defend as in a war or a fight, or in certain kinds of arguments, some kinds of conflicts, certain kinds of strikes and protests. To "confront" is not the same as a "confrontation." To genuinely confront is simply to speak and listen in a particular way: to speak, listen, engage, inquire, authentically and straightforwardly; to see, to discover, to see what is actually there, to uncover and face facts, separate from our reaction.

Its opposite is to avoid, hide or pretend.

Consider: A Potter Confronts Clay. The potter is fully, genuinely, creatively engaged in, "What is possible with this clay?" Far from coercing, threatening, or attacking the clay, one could say that a masterful potter inquires and wonders in what way will the clay shape his or her hand and shape his or her heart. A masterful potter is authentically and straightforwardly engaged in what can be created, in what is possible, what is now.

What if the heart of life is the ability to confront it? To confront any aspect of it at any time, with anyone? To be straight, clear, engaged, straightforward regarding whatever it is that shows up? What if that's the heart of courage and at the heart of leadership? What if someone, someone who has confronted this stuff called "confronting," is able to look at the short, mid- and long-term impacts of what we're doing today, without flinching? And they can true up to a future, a future of what can be, wants to be, perhaps must be -- rather than merely defaulting to the lure of what has gone before?

The issues that we need to face, to confront, today as a country will get faced. They're unavoidable and inescapable -- whether by the Democrats or the Republicans or by some alternative that hasn't yet emerged.

(For example, Blair Henry, a lawyer and expert in climate change, proposes a people's Constitutional Convention to extricate our governmental processes from what may not work: unlimited lobbying; "limitless" PACS; endless budget deficits; and long term, un-interrupted incumbency. See The People's Convention)

Consider: Most everyone recognizes that our education system is not delivering on the investment we're making. It's not just tests. It's the ability of people to be inventive. It's the ability of people to take relevant action. It's the ability of the schools to deliver a curriculum for and of actual life experience, relevant to the world, and its world of action, its demand for innovation and re-invention ... the world as it is currently operating, and will be, rather than what we may have wished it to be.

Try on: There is no one who thinks that we're really gonna physically round up and mass deport 11,000,000 illegal aliens. Legislation that works, McCain's as one example, has been on the table for years to secure the borders; provide an amnesty that needs to get earned; and provide a real and broad swath of seasonal worker permits that would essentially move our entire nation into workability. That will happen. One asks: when? And, who?

Notice: No one thinks that fossil fuels are sustainable forever and very few of us are mystified enough to not see the connection between massive and steep carbon dioxide increases and global heat now rising, and rising, and rising. (since 1750, decisively beyond anything over the last 400,000 years.) See the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC); and The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In 2012 we are at a 400 ppm (parts per million) atmospheric carbon concentration, whereas for the previous 400,000 years we have oscillated between 180 and 300 ppm. H-m-m-m.

Think: What showed up, began and started to become massive around 1750?

Now: No one really thinks that we will never raise taxes and no one really thinks that we won't have to cut spending. Both things must happen. And will happen. To pretend otherwise is just to forestall what we need to do, i.e., to confront the reality we now face.

And there are very few people who think our politics is uncorrupted by money -- gads, and gads, and gads of money -- seeking to get its way -- like the well-managed hissy fit of a two-year old.

Whether we confront our serious challenges effectively, straightforwardly and authentically, or we continue to ignore them, is our call, our say. This will come down to what you and I, individually and collaboratively, as citizens, say and do ... first.

Our current political leaders simply have not been leading. They are not, currently, equipped to actually lead, authentically. (See "Leading the United States: 3 Perspectives", "Winners, Opportunists, and Hustlers" and "Choose!" of the Huffington Post.)

Candidly, our leaders are following: specifically, they are following their ideologies, their circumstances, their reactions, their addictions to merely winning. WE must lead them, and lead them by being able to confront, articulate, stand for and generate what they are, quite apparently, unwilling to or unable to.

Now.

A potter confronts clay.