It’s been six months since I’ve posted here—a result of increasing busyness—but a recent Coro Fellows graduation touched me in a surprising way and brings me to pass it forward. I didn’t expect a lesson on gratitude from a Benedictine brother, but that is what we all received.
But before I go into that, let me share some context. Coro is an organization that prepares twelve young people a year for cross sector, transformational leadership through a nine month immersive experience in six internships, a group project, an individual project, and weekly seminars to make more systemic sense out of the metropolitan area public life. I was Chairman of the Board last year before having to step down due to the passing of my wife Susan. I was a Fellow in LA in 1965, and was on the staff of Coro in San Francisco from 1969-77 when I formed my consulting company. I owe much of my perspective on organizational development to this organization.
Dani Pietro, (third from the left above) a young woman in the program, was my intern at The Grove helping research a new idea we are hatching, so I was especially interested in attending her graduation. The fellows are all potential leaders in public affairs, businesses, labor, community groups, and media. The themes at the graduation are often about the challenges our society faces and how much young leaders are needed to face them. But this year came to that message by a different path.
One of Dani’s colleagues in the program is a good friend of Brother David Steindl-Rast and had invited him to meet with the Fellows. They subsequently invited him to be their graduation speaker. I hope this is a sign of the times.
He is a soft-spoken man who choses his words carefully. He was born in Vienna in 1926, so he is nearly 88. “I want to share with you some advice from Dag Hammarskjöld, the former UN Secretary-General,” he began after some congratulatory remarks. “To the past, say thanks, to the future say yes!” He went on to say that he wanted to talk about three things—real success, creativity, and service. “They are all rooted in gratitude, in saying thanks. And they lead to saying yes,” he said.
He had my attention. Gratitude, as you would know from earlier posts, has been a theme for me since Susan passed away last year. It’s been the doorway forward, past the grief, past the sadness. I understand gratitude as a personal experience. But what is the brother saying to this public affairs group?
The essence of gratitude he explained is to be grateful for the free gift of the present moment.
Life serves us up abundant opportunities for gratitude if you look at it this way, since every moment is following by another, and another, and another—all offering opportunities. If you are open and grateful for just what is served up, then you are trusting life. This is faith, he explained. And it gives us one surprise after another. “If it is alive it is surprising.” This is real success.
Surprise and Creativity
This last six months has been one surprise after the other, I thought. I’ve been surprised at how much energy I have to work and how much more adventurous my ideas are about what needs to be done. I’ve faced my greatest fear.
I’m surprised at how involved our Grove team has become in the business, having taken the lead during my support of Susan, and how well we are doing this year. I’m surprised that we are growing again, having two new senior consultants —Gisele Chow and Gisela Wendling—and how great it feels to have real culture knowledge of Asia and Europe on our team. I’m surprised at how many people all over the world are communicating that they are coming to collaboration with new hopefulness because of The Grove and its tools. I’m surprised how rich this spring feels even in the midst of severe drought. Nature persists in the face of everything.
“So real success is being grateful for what comes to you, every moment, every day, and much of what comes can be a surprise,” Brother Steindl-Rast continued. “Creativity, the second quality I hope you connect with, comes when you are open to surprise,” he said. “In fact, real creativity comes when you love the failures.” Truly creative people learn from the failures and embrace them as much as what works. Both things that work and things that don’t present opportunities. “Look for the opportunities in the present moment. Be open to life,” he said.
He moved to his third hope for the Fellows talking about service. “When you are open to life you realize you are part of a greater scheme of things. You respond to opportunities. You go do it,” he said. This leads to a sense that we belong together. Saying yes to life is saying yes to belonging. “Say yes to that belonging,” he said, “say yes to grateful living.” Out of a sense of belonging we serve each other and people who need support and help. This orientation extends openness to life to sharing with others.
At this point Brother Steindl-Rast began to explore the implications of his message and pose some wishes to the Fellows. “We wish you grateful living,” he continued, speaking for all us now. “We wish you would be revolutionaries in this, for the world can’t go on like we are now. We need to revolutionize the idea of revolution.” I held my breath a little. What was he going to say now? This is political talk in a context of Coro’s fierce bi-partisanship and cross-sectoral ecumenicity. But in a very wonderful argument he painted a picture of what revolutionizing revolution would look like.
He began by describing the norm of what success means to many. Successful people and even successful traditional revolutionaries, he said, are often those who are coming from a sense of disconnection, getting to the top of things and then spending a lot of time defending that position. “This old pattern is based in violence, competition and greed,” he said. It can’t continue. We are destroying ourselves.
“What we need is new pattern based on peace, cooperation and sharing,” he concluded. Instead of pyramids, we need networks. In fact we need networks of networks that replace competition with cooperation, violence with peace, and greed with sharing.
This brother speaks my mind. I hope he speaks the minds of the new Fellows Coro is graduating.