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My personal co-leadership philosophy

pacifica beachAs I write this post, I am on the beach in Pacifica, California. I am here to participate in my fourth California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) Transformative Leadership intensive (retreat). This program  has been beneficial for my personal transformation. It has helped me to identify and articulate my personal philosophy for leading. Although I have been a “leader”, I now consider myself to be a co-leader. I will exercise my ability to lead when the context, situation, and people need me to lead. The following is a philosophy statement that helps to explain my insistence on shifting my ways of being to show up as a co-leader rather than a “leader” (as defined by the dominant culture).

Leading is:

  • For everyone. There are no genuine leaders without willing followers. The true sign of a leader is their ability to create contexts wherein others are able to use their leadership abilities.
  • Chaotic and complex. The world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Leaders have a role to guide and lead people through chaos and complexity. To lead is to become comfortable acting without certainty. To lead is to embrace the creative possibilities of chaos.
  • Contextual and provisional. Although positional authority is often necessary to organize human endeavors, it is always important to acknowledge that commanding people is not leadership it is dominance. Genuine leadership is granted by the people being lead or organized. Positional leadership is granted in order to accomplish shared goals, or in response to a shared vision (a context). When positional power is abused, people will replace their leaders, or they will refuse to be influenced by, or follow, those with power.
  • Emergent and divergent. The ability to lead rises out of the passion and commitments of people. Leadership naturally emerges from within groups of people. Everyone has an innate ability to lead. When the context is ripe, when enough people are passionate about making a difference or changing something, leaders emerge to organize human efforts. If there is a vacuum in leadership, a leader will emerge. Leadership is also divergent. There is no right way or wrong way, no single style, no clearly defined traits or attributes of those who lead. Leaders can lead people towards destructive actions or positive constructive actions.
  • Relational, dynamic, and perichoretic. One can be commanding and controlling without being in love with people, but one cannot be a genuine leader without knowing how to form and sustain dynamic relationships. To be perichoretic (borrowed from Christian Trinitarian theology) is to be engaged in dynamic relationships that allow the unique individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that the group of people also share their lives (diversity in unity). That leading is perichoretic means a community of being is created through the act of leading. There is no separation and yet there is diversity.
  • Mysterious and mythical. There is something in human nature that creates legends and myths. Leadership rises out of mythical ways of knowing. Leading is not always logical or sensible. It is important to acknowledge the limits of our conscious thoughts, and to welcome the wisdom of our subconscious. Growing as a leader is a process of many transformations in consciousness. In the higher levels of human development, we are less attached to our ego and basic survival needs, and more concerned about the well being of all creation.

What is leadership to you?  How do you lead?  Do you prefer to follow, or to lead?  Do you have a philosophy of leading, or leadership?  Please share your comments.

 

Evolving beyond ‘pack animals’ (part two)

Jonathan Haidt wrote about the hivishness (or ‘pack animal’ nature) of human beings in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. My opinion of this book is mixed, yet Haidt’s work provides a useful perspective for understanding why conservatives and liberals have polarized mindsets.  Haidt identified six moral foundations and two of the six shed light on my questions about our need for hierarchies of authority.
1.     Liberty/oppression: the loathing of abusive authority or tyranny.
2.     Authority/subversion: respect for, and obeying authority.

To keep it brief (at the risk of oversimplification), conservatives tend to value authority over liberty – liberals value liberty over authority.  Some humans strongly prefer hierarchies, and some resist authority and prefer freedom and liberty.  In reality, these two moral foundations are balanced and integrated differently in different people.  For example: Libertarians prefer freedom from authority; many are not capable of genuine co-leadership because they will not share power.  In order to be an effective co-leader and collaborator, one needs to be willing and able to follow as well as lead, one needs to respect other co-leaders.

Haidt’s academic area is evolutionary moral psychology.  His research demonstrated that people inherit much of their moral foundation.  Humanity has evolved; as humans became increasingly social, the struggle for survival, mating and progeny depended less on physical abilities and more on social abilities. We learned not only to dominate but also to cooperate.  Domination and hierarchical forms of authority have heavily influenced some cultures and families; others have learned to value freedom, liberty, and shared power.  That is one reason we are so divided.

Some people have evolved beyond their need for a dominant alpha pack leader, some have not.

I am not sure how authority/liberty moral foundations and Haidt’s concepts of conservative and liberal correlate to this week’s partisan politics.  The Republicans could not choose one leader to deliver their response to the President’s State of the Union address; there were five responses.  What does this say about obedience to authority from conservatives?

Both political parties are divided, but the conservatives (Republicans) seem to be increasingly influenced by a libertarian energy – no government, no authority granted to positional leaders.  At the same time they are clinging to sexism, racism, and rankism.

Most of Haidt’s research for The Righteous Mind predated the emergence of the Tea Party.  The emergence of the Tea Party comes with a simultaneous anti-authoritarian, libertarian, and patriarchal energy.  Is this simply a complex push-back response to the paradigm shift in our leadership culture?  Is it a sign that even the conservatives are beginning to abandon their need for authoritarian leaders?

Please share your thoughts.

Evolving beyond ‘pack animals’ (part one)

We are in the process of integrating a six-month-old English Springer Spaniel named Micah into our family. We also have a six-year-old English Springer Spaniel named Isaiah. Isaiah spent the first six years of his life in our family with our older Sheltie (Mocha) who passed away shortly before we adopted the new puppy.

Shelties are work dogs. They instinctively herd other animals, so Mocha felt his job was to shepherd Isaiah. English Springer Spaniels (ESS) love to run freely, so the two worked out their respective household (or pack) roles. Mocha’s job was to keep Isaiah out of trouble. Whether they were on leash or off leash, Isaiah was always a step ahead of Mocha.

Mocha and Isaiah were devoted and faithful companions to each other, and to my husband and I. We often care for other family dogs managing up to five dogs at a time. There were minor conflicts between the dogs over toys, but generally they established their own roles and responsibilities, and pecking order.

We thought bringing home a new puppy of the same breed as Isaiah would help Isaiah because he was grieving the absence of his buddy, Mocha. We chose another ESS because we thought they would love to do most of the same things; run, swim, chase balls, go for walks.

Micah joins our family

Micah joins our family

I failed to understand that dogs are still instinctively hierarchical pack animals. Mocha exerted ‘authority’ over Isaiah when he was a young puppy, and then he let Isaiah develop as a ‘peer’ in the pack. When we brought a puppy home, Isaiah exhibited aggressive behavior towards Micah. I reacted as though aggression was unacceptable. I just thought they ought to be friends and play cooperatively, including sharing toys and sharing our attention. The pressure built up and within three days Isaiah attacked Micah and bit him hard enough to draw a tiny bit of blood.

Shocked and very concerned that we had made a huge mistake adopting Micah, I began to research ‘problem’ dogs. Although there is a great deal of conflicting information online about dog training, I found a book that made sense to me, The Dog Listener. The author, Jan Fennel, raises English Springer Spaniels (among many other breeds). Fennel refreshed my memory; dogs are pack animals. More important, dog packs are hierarchies. At the top of the dog hierarchy there are alpha leaders (one male, one female) with other levels of leadership for pack members. The pack survives or thrives because dogs know their role and responsibility within the pyramid.

Given my passion for non-hierarchical styles of leadership, I wanted to resist the book’s recommendation that I assert myself as the pack leader. However, when I did assert stronger leadership, I found that Isaiah and Micah became calmer and less aggressive. I also learned to acknowledge Isaiah as the ‘big’ dog and acknowledge his authority over the younger Micah. Things are going much better now.

IMG_2437Since I read the first few chapters of The Dog Listener, I have been pondering dog and human evolution. Even though I am convinced that human beings have evolved to the degree that many of us crave partnership and egalitarian organizational forms, prehistoric humans were pack animals. The bond between early humans and their dogs is older than religion or civil society and it originated because humans became beneficial alpha leaders for dogs. Dogs were better off working for packs of people than just hunting on their own.

Do human beings still need hierarchical structures? Are we still very much like our dogs, do we need to know our place in the ‘order’ of our tribe or pack? Do we need alpha leaders, and are we willing to submit to their authority in the way that wolves submit to their alpha leaders?

Please share your comments and answers to these questions. Tomorrow I will continue this inquiry.

MLK, Leadership, and Nonviolence (part two)

Would Rev. Dr. Martin Luther MLK, Jr. prefer that we celebrate his heroic leadership, or that we continue to work to end racism and all forms of economic and social injustice? Would he prefer a day named after him, or a day set aside for nonviolence and justice?

We should be uncomfortable with many of the celebrations held on MLK Day.  We should be uncomfortable with events that fail to acknowledge the complexity of the movements – civil rights, economic justice, and nonviolence (peace with justice).  We should acknowledge that MLK was a leading spokesperson for a huge movement.  We should recognize those too often nameless other leaders who risked their lives and worked for civil rights.

There are far too many myths about MLK that depict him as the sole heroic leader (The Great Man) of the movement. Many of the myths emphasize the individual at the expense of the leader-full movement. MLK was often a reluctant leader.  As one of the most visible voices of the movement, his life was nearly always at risk.  Others in the civil rights movement saw MLK as one among many “outstanding movement strategists, tacticians, ideologues, and institutional leaders” (http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/MLKweb/additional_resources/articles/charisma.htm).

MLK was one of the strongest advocates for nonviolence within the movement.  Nonviolent social change takes discipline and training, and multiple layers of leadership.  Scholars have examined the black struggle as a locally based mass movement.  Sustained protest movements arose in many southern communities in which MLK had little or no direct involvement.  MLK might prefer that this day be National Civil Rights Day, or National Nonviolence Day.

Since the first MLK Day in 1986, our understanding of leadership and the civil rights movement has evolved.  The success of the black movement came from the mobilization of hundreds or even thousands of community leaders (both black and white).  Scholars also recognize the extent to which the movement was transformed through the masses, a bottom up transformation not just the influence of a solitary heroic leader.

It leaves me pondering a few questions.

How would the complex nonviolent movement for civil rights have progressed if historians had not placed so much emphasis on MLK as THE heroic leader?  Perhaps, a greater acknowledgement of the leader-full nature of the movement may have helped to maintain the movement’s momentum.

Is it easier to suppress a movement if we strike down the solitary heroic leader?  I suspect that is the case.  I also wonder if there are lessons to be learned by examining how the civil rights movement fared after MLK’s assassination, or even after a holiday was named in his honor.

And one last question:  What did MLK want to be remembered for?

Here is a link to an excellent article about MLK that helps to answer that question.

(http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/MLKweb/additional_resources/articles/charisma.htm).

Excerpts:

When he suggested his own epitaph, he asked not to be remembered for his exceptional achievements–his Nobel Prize and other awards, his academic accomplishments; instead, he wanted to be remembered for giving his life to serve others, for trying to be right on the war question, for trying to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, for trying to love and serve humanity. “I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.” Those aspects of MLK’s life did not require charisma or other superhuman abilities.

If MLK were alive today, he would doubtless encourage those who celebrate his life to recognize their responsibility to struggle as he did for a more just and peaceful world. He would prefer that the black movement be remembered not only as the scene of his own achievements, but also as a setting that brought out extraordinary qualities in many people. If he were to return, his oratory would be unsettling and intellectually challenging rather than remembered diction and cadences. He would probably be the unpopular social critic he was on the eve of the Poor People’s Campaign rather than the object of national homage he became after his death. His basic message would be the same as it was when he was alive, for he did not bend with the changing political winds. He would talk of ending poverty and war and of building a just social order that would avoid the pitfalls of competitive capitalism and repressive communism. He would give scant comfort to those who condition their activism upon the appearance of another MLK, for he recognized the extent to which he was a product of the movement that called him to leadership.

 

MLK, Leadership, and Nonviolence (part one)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  (MLK)

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) was one of the most extraordinary communicators of modern time. More than 40 years after his death, liberals and conservatives both repeat his quotes. MLK was not a solitary leader of the civil rights movement; he was the spokesperson for the movement. His words would have been hollow had he not also been willing to embody the practices of nonviolent civil disobedience. He was willing to suffer imprisonment and even death for the cause – but he was not willing to use violence.

In March 2007, after studying MLK’s writings on nonviolence (in conjunction with a two year relationship with Pace e Bene Nonviolence Services (www.paceebene.org)), I was a participant in the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. Over 3,000 people gathered in the National Cathedral to engage in a multi-faith, multi-denominational worship service for peace and an end to the Iraq war. After a powerful service with a number of nationally recognized “preachers” we walked 3.5 miles (in the middle of a blustery cold winter snow storm) singing peace songs, drumming, and holding battery powered candles.

Like the nonviolent demonstrations of MLK, this event was carefully planned beginning months in advance. The vast majority of the participants and all of the leaders had received preliminary training in the practices and principles of nonviolence. Training included role-playing violent confrontations and spiritual practices designed to help prepare us to face violence without responding with violence.

While we walked from the National Cathedral to the White House, there were trained ‘peace-keepers’ walking along both sides of the larger group. They were leaders with considerable training who were able to defend the ‘nonviolent’ nature of the mass of people. Rabble-rousers were not allowed into the marching group. People who shouted angry words, or who were not able to maintain their composure were asked to leave. It takes a great deal of discipline to maintain the spirit of nonviolence. Nonviolent movements need to be leader-full movements.

About three hundred of us walked around the White House one time singing peace songs and praying. A prayer vigil with thousands was held the park directly across the street. Then the civil disobedience commenced. The first group of 100 people formed a circle right in front of the White House. As long as we were peacefully moving we were within the law, but as soon as we stopped on the sidewalk we were breaking a law. After several verbal warnings and at least an hour of time waiting in the freezing cold, the National Park Police handcuffed the first 100 people and hauled them into buses to be driven to the Park police station.

I was part of the second round of people arrested. After the first arrests, the police put up a yellow crime scene warning tape across the sidewalk and told us we were not allowed to cross the line. I was one of the first to cross the police line holding the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq banner. We didn’t have to wait as long to be arrested. However we did form a similar circle holding hands and singing. The woman standing next to me and holding my hand was over 80 years old.

There were so many (over 300) people arrested that night that they were not able to put us all in jail cells. We spent the night in our buses, waiting for our turn to be taken into the police stations to be finger printed, booked, and given our citations.

This occurred during the Lenten season. When I returned to Berkeley, I returned to my role as an organizer of the annual Good Friday nonviolent civil disobedience worship service (using the Christian/Catholic stations of the cross as our context). I was arrested that Good Friday (again for quietly praying) at the gate to the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear laboratory.

MLK also went to jail in Birmingham on Good Friday.

One of the lessons I have learned in my journey as a nonviolent practitioner is the pain of the “appalling silence of good people (See MLK quote at the end of this post).” The notion that we should be well behaved, and not upset those who tell us to “be patient” is one way that “good people” betray the cause of justice for the oppressed.

When I returned to seminary after my arrests, my fellow “progressive liberal” seminary students had mixed reactions and many of them could not understand my willingness to risk my future as a clergy person for something like this. “Aren’t you afraid what your Board of Ordained Ministry will say?”

Recently, I have been attempting to reconcile an old connection with a United Methodist Church. There are so many kind and compassionate people that I love who belong. However, there are leaders in the congregation who would silence my prophetic advocacy for LGBTQ folk with admonitions to be patient, and to respect the conservative point of view. For a congregation that wants to be known as the church where “all means all”… do they really only mean you are welcome if you accept their status quo?

It happens to leaders all of the time, particularly transformative leaders. You cannot be a transformative leader and protect the status quo. You cannot be a transformative leader if you are overly concerned that you might offend good patient people.

This is the lesson that we should learn from MLK’s letter from the Birmingham Jail. (Excerpts from letter)

 

“For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Quotes from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

A New Metaphor for Leadership

I wrote this poem to illustrate a metaphor for an eco-egalitarian style of co-leadership.  Since my ideas about leadership have been heavily influenced by my experience as a Christian, it is also a metaphor for spiritual leadership and a spiritual community.

 

IMG_0052
Our Garden
by Robyn Morrison

We kneel, rubbing the moist dark soil in
our weathered hands.  Earth is our source.

Enriched by life composted from seasons past.
The days are warmer.
The time for sowing seeds has come.

We turn the soil (once, twice)
noticing earth worms, uncovering potential,
bringing life giving air to what was beneath.

Rows, patches, mounds, pots —
Wondering what each plant needs;
where each will thrive.

Then — down into the soil seeds are sown.

Patience now. God is our partner.

Only God knows how to release the potential in each seed.

The Garden gathers what she needs;
crawling creatures, winged things,
winds gentle and strong, life giving water,
sunlight, people.

There are structures in our Garden that endure;
apple trees, currant bushes.
Others stay for many years;
rhubarb, asparagus.
The colorful ones come and go, here for a season, then
thrown into the compost bin.

The Garden sustains life.  She feeds us.
In return we, the Garden and her gardeners,
cultivate and tend all who gather in her midst.

Year after year;
kneeling, sowing, tending, harvesting, composting.

From soil to soil.  Life goes on.

Leading from the Fringe: Conclusion

One of the most important aspects of this new culture of co-leadership is that people will no longer have the luxury of simply being followers.  We cannot sit around waiting for leaders to appear because we probably would not follow them if they did show up.

Younger generations are restless and suspicious of hierarchical leadership, for good reason.   They prefer to be actively engaged in the causes that they care about.  However, they generally do not possess the maturity and depth of consciousness to be evolutionary co-leaders.  We must face the fact that the United States has not invested in the type and quality of education designed to create millions of thought leaders and activists prepared to address the challenges of our age.  We teach most students to follow instructions, not create new possibilities.

We also need to retrain adults, to be less dependent (they can no longer depend on their employer to provide for their needs), to be more generative (to create meaningful work), and to be more generous (we are in this together, and we need to give those who are struggling a hand up).  The most difficult kind of generosity is giving people what they need to sustain themselves.  We are threatened by this level of generosity because we have bought into the scarcity myth and we are used to playing the capitalist competition win/lose games.  We fail to see that working 50 or 60 hours a week to keep our job steals so much of the quality of our lives.  There would be enough work, and enough food and shelter to go around if we practiced an empowering kind of generosity.

This evolutionary transformation needs to begin within our selves, extending to our families and neighbors, rippling out to our workplaces and markets, impacting the way we vote, and the people we elect to represent us.  All politics are local, and global transformation begins in our local community.

The metaphor or image that I hold for this new model of leadership is the image of an ecosystem, or of a perma-culture (garden).  It is holistic and highly collaborative.  Each person contributes something to the collective well-being, even if the contribution is as ordinary as receiving love and care (our children and people with severe disabilities).

It will not be easy.  It will be the most difficult and courageous thing that human beings have ever done.  Our survival depends on it.  We did not create the web of life, we are merely strands in it.  We can be engaged in restoring the web, and creating stronger connections.  We are in this together.

It’s about money and power

Watch Elizabeth Warren School the Senate on the Keystone XL Pipeline: ‘It’s About Money and Power’

The puzzling aspect of Keystone XL is the public support.  Although public support has been declining, polls seem to indicate that the majority of the public support building the pipeline.

The truth is that there is a great deal of misinformation (or lies) about the pipeline.  I certainly don’t know the TRUTH – if there is a truth.  However, here is a link to a source that I frequently check when I suspect that the two sides to an issue are both spinning the truth ( or lying).  FactCheck.org has an article with factual information.  Check it out.  It is always wise to seek independent sources on hot political issues.

The conflict over Keystone XL is about money and power – but so are most of our political conflicts.

My opinions:

  • I would not want the Keystone XL pipeline to run through my land, my town, or anywhere near anyone that I care about…  There have been a few horrible leaks/spills with devastating consequences to land and water.
  • I live in a community (and grew up in a small town) with railroad tracks running right through town.  Although I oppose the pipeline, I don’t want the tar sands oil shipped by train through Helena.  I worry about the risk of explosions and fires.
  • I also don’t want to be on a highway with the equipment to extract the tar sands, or with oil tankers.  Imagine a multiple car accident and explosion – a nightmare.
  • I would not want my son, daughter, husband, or anyone I loved and cared about to work in the fracking or tar sands industry…  We do not know for sure the long term health impact, but we can recall the deaths and suffering caused by other industrial pollutants (coal dust, asbestos/vermiculite…)

These are all my selfish concerns.

My hopes are for clean energy and clean energy jobs.  I hope we can transform our dependence on fossil fuels in time to save the planet for my grandchildren.  Keystone XL does not deliver on my hopes and dreams.

I really do not understand public opinion on this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leading from the Fringe: Part five

Most days I don’t feel like a follower or a leader.  I feel more like a hermit studying transformative leadership and dabbling in contract work as a consultant, coach, and part time Executive Director.  Life is passing me by.  All around me, people are resigned and cynical, or they are in denial.

Our elected leaders are failing us — both parties.  Our democracy is bought and paid for by dark money and the average citizen is duped by sixty second sound bites and television commercials that are blatant lies.  Those with money and power use ‘fear’ to intimidate and divide us.  Rankism is rampant, and the less than 1% who pull the strings have the rest of the people pitted against each other.

Some liberals hate conservatives and vice versa.  Some working class white people hate immigrants, thinking that they are the cause of their economic woes, not the corporate CEO’s who are milking corporate coffers dry.  Some Christians are taught by their clergy to hate people who are different than they are, especially Lesbians, Gays, and Transgender people.

We cannot trust our leaders.  The old models of hierarchical leadership are not adequate to topple the power structure because the models depend on rankism as their means of organizing human effort.  Professors of Leadership refer to this kind of power as “legitimate” power (as if shared power was not).  Revolutions using violence and authoritarian leadership models simply replace one set of despots with new oppressors.

The truth is that everyone possesses power and our personal power is legitimate.  Granted we are oppressed in varying degrees.   I would never suggest that people who are experiencing abuse and injustice wait for changes to occur.  We do not need positional power in order to have influence.  We need relational connected collaborative movement power to make the world a better place.

Looking for another generation of heroic charismatic leaders is also not the solution to our problems.  Charismatic transformational leaders like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, and others were not able to create sustained movements with networks and layers of effective leadership.  The movements floundered after the deaths of the heroes.  The heroes had followers but they did not produce sufficient numbers of leaders to maintain the momentum of their movements.  The Egyptian uprising and other mass people powered movements, including the Occupy Movement, were not able to produce the networks of leaders and followers that were necessary to sustain their movements for social change.

About a year ago I came across an appealing concept for a new language of leadership:  evolutionary co-leadership.

“What if exercising leadership meant: venturing into the unknown, into the void, with openness and trust; sensing what is about to emerge by being present to what is; participating creatively in a wider field of knowing and doing; giving voice and energy to an evolutionary impulse; inviting self and others to cross a threshold and discover new spaces where collective creativity, intelligence, and wisdom can be expressed; and thus enabling access to the leadership potential which exists in each individual?”  (Gauthier, 2013)

How do we create this kind of leadership in sufficient quantity and in enough parts of the world so that we can deal with the challenges facing all of us?  We cannot look to a handful of leaders to get us to where we need to be in time.  It needs to be a mass movement.

Leading from the Fringe: Part four

Since I returned to Montana in 2012, our economy has been stronger than most states.  We are beneficiaries of the natural gas ‘fracking’ boom, and China’s demand for our cheap coal exports.  I remember the decades when communities in Eastern Montana were desperate for any kind of job.  They were recruiting factory cattle feed lots that other states were banning because of water and air quality concerns.  More than one community had fallen victim to fraudulent promises that if they would just build an industrial park, the corporations would come.  Like the rainmakers of the past, the con artists would come dancing into the town, in fancy suits driving expensive cars, and leave with tens of thousands of dollars of the community’s hard earned money.  Desperate for jobs, they were easy prey for the charlatans. 

Now the energy companies have come to deliver these rural communities from their decline with promises of high paying jobs and attractive royalty payments for land owners.  Worker shanty towns (mobile home parks) reminiscent of past boom times have popped up.  Schools are over-crowded, streets are falling apart, law enforcement is spread too thin.  Rapes, assaults, thefts, and murders have multiplied (increased by 32%).  Men (and a very few women) are commuting from hundreds of miles away, sometimes even from other states, sending their money back home to their family.  The communities got their high paying jobs, but they lost their sense of community and safety. 

Meanwhile in Western Montana, environmentalists and liberals are highly critical of the energy (fossil fuel) economy.  There are protests and demonstrations to end the massive numbers of coal trains, and to educate citizens about the dire environmental effects of fracking and burning coal (even if the coal is burned in China).  Many of the protesters are employed in the public sector, education, knowledge workers, or have retirement incomes.  They don’t understand the trials and tribulations of the unemployed, or the long term economic challenges facing rural communities.  It is hard to convince people in Eastern Montana that we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels when jobs in the energy sector are the only jobs they can find that will allow them to feed their children and pay their rent. 

The Montana Legislature reconvenes this week in Helena.  They only gather every other year for approximately 90 days.  I am constantly frustrated with the divisiveness of Montana’s politics.  I have worked with small business owners.  I have started and owned businesses, and borrowed money to make payroll for employees.  I have also felt the shame and marginalization of unemployment.  I know what it is like to watch the community that you grew up in, that you love, wither away with little or no hope for the future.  I understand the dilemma of knowing in my soul what is right and what is wrong, but feeling compelled to continue working in a place that does not align with my morals because I have to pay my mortgage and put food on the table. 

In my heart I know that we (liberals and conservatives) are more alike than we are different.  We care about our families, and our communities.  We are trying to make ends meet.  Some of us blame the government, others blame the poor, and some blame capitalism and corporations.  We all participate in the systems that are not working.  We are all responsible for working together to create new possibilities for a brighter future.  We have to learn how to disagree with respect and to treat people with dignity, regardless of their position in our social hierachy. 

I feel a sense of urgency to express myself as a leader through writing and public speaking.  I also fear the consequences of writing about injustice in the face of power.  And there are two competing voices in my head:  I am NOT a writer, and I should be a writer.  What if I write and no one wants to read what I have written?  Is that senseless, useless?  Should I be doing more productive things, like being a ‘real’ leader with positional authority? Should I be more concerned about my own retirement, how I am going to make ends meet?  Do I want a job, and a salary with benefits?  Or am I ready to take a risk again, and do something creative?  Can I create my own employment, and by doing so become a role model for others?