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September 12, 2008

Uncomfortable Essay #1 and Foreword to the Peace and Justice Community: Back to the basics.

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Environment, Sustainability
Global Cooperation

Dick Bernard
Woodbury MN
Published on the web
September 12 thru December 31, 2008

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Dick Bernard’s Venturing
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Uncomfortable Essays
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A Brief Foreword:

The writer of these brief Essays claims no extraordinary expertise.

At the same time, I have the benefit of accumulated experience of 27 years as a teacher’s union staff member, where much of my job involved local organizing, seven years as an active participant and sometime leader in the Peace and Justice community of Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and assorted other organizing experiences gained in over 50 years as an adult member of our society.

My experience includes three years (2005-2007) as President of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers www.mapm.org, active involvement in the Peace Island Conference in St. Paul Sep 2-3, 2008, and a large assortment of volunteer roles beginning in college in the 1950s.

Intended audience for these brief writing are leaders and activists in the general area of Peace and Justice, though the writings have universal application to any endeavor which depends on volunteers for its existence. The purpose of the Essays is to make observations which in turn will hopefully cause thought and conversation among the readers. There could be many more essays. I elected to stop at ten.

My ideal for use of these Essays is that they would become part of group dialogues in diverse settings, and perhaps be translated into, at minimum, some experiments in new ways of organizing.

The topics of the Uncomfortable Essays, including the date they were published on the web, is as follows:
#1 – Back to the Basics: How about “Each One Reach Two”? (Sep 12, 2008)
#2 – More on “Each One Reach Two (Sep 30, 2008)
#3 – Taking a Look at “Power” (Oct 15, 2008)
#4 – More Ways to Communicate Less (Nov 9, 2008)
#5 – The Curse of Cooperation? (Nov 22, 2008)
#6 – Money: Time to Shift a Paradigm (Dec 8, 2008)
#7 – “Overcoming the Fear of Success” (Dec 22, 2008)
#8 – Grappling with “the Truth” (Dec 25, 2008)
#9 – Death (Dec 29, 2008)
#10 – Life (Dec 31, 2008)

Feedback, including responses, or additions, to these essays is solicited. Interested persons can submit materials for publication as additional Uncomfortable Essays. Check the Website occasionally to see if there are new entries.

Dick Bernard
PO Box 25441
Woodbury MN 55125
651-334-5744 (leave message)
(Dick Bernard’s Venturing)
Uncomfortable Essay #1: Back to the Basics

I call this, and the next several Venturing entries, "Uncomfortable Essays", since they might seem a bit against the grain of prevaling wisdom. They are observations, not conclusions, and invitations to consideration and discussion within the diverse communities that make up what I call the "Peace and Justice Community".


My most recent blog entry at this space was published eight months ago. There is a reason for this. A major conference, Peace Island, caused the investment of a huge amount of time and mental and emotional effort by, at times, nine people. I was one of the nine. The conference, held September 2-3 in St. Paul, was a success. Over 400 people registered for all or part of the conference, and all had an opportunity to hear a seeming endless parade of nearly 30highly accomplished speakers and presentors. Peace Island Conference, and Peace Island Picnic the next day, lived up to their names: they were peaceful islands.

The hard work of preparing for Peace Island Conference, plus reflection as I completed three years as President of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers at the end of 2007, cause me to think of observations I have of the peace and justice movement over the seven years of my active involvement. I come from a career as an organizer (though I never thought of myself as such), and out of this experience I learned some things. It occurs to me that there are some disconnects between current organizing behaviors within this movement which tend to dampen the possibilities of long-term success. Following is my first observation.

Peace Island was a successful, stand-alone, traditional, conference. It speaks for itself through over 400 people who were there and can tell its story through their own perceptions.

A month earlier, August 1-9, totally separate from Peace Island and the traditonal movement leadership, a dozen of us tried an experiment of base-up organizing: "Each one reach two". The experiment was in complete contrast to the usual ways of contemporary organizing, and it failed for a number of reasons...but its elements, described below, are well grounded and waiting to be tried again in various other settings. Its general methods seem to me to be the key to future success. (More detailed information: Dick(underscore)BernardATmsn.com).

"Back to the basics: “Each one reach two”: "Going against the grain".
The world in which most of us grew up and live in is hierarchical, with power and control going to those at the top of endless ‘pyramids’ of almost all organizations, no matter how modest in size, no matter the issue. Somebody always is said to "lead". Also, most of us learn competition from the cradle on. Winners are celebrated. Losers, well…. At the basic level, in events as Peace Island, participation is voluntary, and passive, and encouraged only to a point: at the event a product is presented for consumption. There is a big payoff to participants -- the ‘audience’ -- in that they can hold someone else – usually a small group – accountable. They have no ownership beyond the price of admission. There is not even an obligation to attend, much less carry the event back to their own worlds.

On the leader side, moderating the power of being in control of the agenda, there are many downsides. For instance, failure is seen as the leaders fault. If you’re reading this, you know of what I speak, probably from experience. You are likely a leader.

Today, also, we live in an environment where the ways of communicating have exploded, while at the same time we can ever more easily isolate ourselves. (Think caller ID, unread e-mails, and on and on and on.) Kids talk in text-message; most people of my generation (I'm 68) are unfamiliar with the mechanics, much less the language of text-messaging. In effect, and in reality, we have more ways to communicate less.

It is this organizers opinion that organizing needs to get back to the bare basics practiced from time immemorial. Here is a simple proposal to be re-perfected by practice: “Each one, reach two”.

The concept is simple: say you have a passion, something important to you. Find two, yes, only two, who share your passion; and invite them personally to enroll two people they know, and so on. The first and second steps are crucial. In this model, the next two share responsibility and thus become part owner of the ultimate outcome. Carrying this model forward, thirteen layers out, there would be 4096 enrolled, each who become and can remain part of a simple communications network. No one needs to truly connect with more than two. This way there is much less exhaustion and anger “at the top”, and the "top" is more diffuse - leadership is shared. There is less need for fliers, paid ads, raising money…this is very simply person-to-person communications…the most basic of human interactions. Is it easy? No. Messy? Can be, but doesn't have to be.

In "Each one reach two" every person has responsiblity as a leader...but only of two.
We need to get back to this and other basics.

The solution? You. Each one reach two. How about you becoming one of those two, practicing and passing on this idea to others?"

Dick Bernard
651-334-5744 (leave a message. If you wish a call-back, clearly leave your phone number.)

A pertinent quotation from Joseph Jaworsky's "Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership" 1996 (still available and a great read)

On Servant Leadership: "When [Robert K.] Greenleaf wrote Servant Leadership, he "enetered" through Hermann Hesse's Journey to the East, an autobiographical account of one man's journey in search of enlightenment. Along the way, the narrator's loyal servant, Leo, sustains him through many trials. Years later, when the man finds the esoteric society he is seeking, he discovers that Leo is its leader --to the servant is the leader, and leadership is exercised through service." Peter Senge in the Introduction to the book.

September 30, 2008

Uncomfortable Essay #2 - More on "Each One Reach Two"

A week after posting Uncomfortable Essay #1, I was at a meeting and the chair, who had read the Essay, invited me to talk about it with the group of 14 in the circle. I was taken aback by the invitation to, essentially, 'defend my thesis', a 'pop quiz' on my idea! Likely, most of the people had not yet read the piece, and since the time available was short, I did what I could. Perhaps the rest of this essay will fill in some of the blanks I left open at the meeting. But it was very important that the leader encourage the conversation, and ask me to talk further about what I meant about "Each One Reach Two". So, Lowell, I publicly thank you for the uncomfortable opportunity! And I urge many other such conversations.

September 30, 2008, I had my usual bi-weekly coffee with two great friends of long-standing. During our conversation the critical issue of the upcoming election was discussed, and the responsibiity we each have to get in contact with others about the importance of casting an informed vote on Nov. 4. It was a "Reach Two" moment, to urge my friends to pass the word to others, and urge their friends to do the same. (My friends will read this, and can tell me if I made my point clearly that day).

Later I did a little calculation. What if my friends got my message pass the word "to cast an informed vote Nov. 4", and the next day each one of them did reach two more; and the next day each of the four reached two more with the simple message, and so on? What would result?

If by some wild chance this day by day enrollment of "Each One Reach Two" continued, a few days before the end of October 2008, EVERY voting age citizen of the United States would have received the message - well over 200,000,000, All that was necessary was to truly "reach [and enroll] two" of their friends in the task. Just think of the conversations that could begin from that small takeoff point, one reaching two, September 30, 2008.

If this seems impossible, do the math: 2x2=4, 4x2=8, 8x2=16 and so on. Truly great results are possible if people put their passion and their energy to the task.

So, if it is possible to have such outstanding results by simply enrolling two people, why was the initial experiment described in Uncomfortable Essay #1 a failure? (*)

Acknowledging that there are a list of possible reasons why the experiment failed, here are a couple of strong possibilities that are very important, at least from my point of view.

1) Everyone in our experiment group of a dozen August 1-9, 2008 was a 'leader' in his or her own right. But a specific request was made of each of these leaders: that they enroll only two people, not three, not ten...only two. There were no news releases, and only a single quarter sheet flier to be passed personally, hand to hand, to two people. It was an outside the box venture for us - something we weren't accustomed to doing. I suppose the idea originated with me, but I can't recall ever having done an activity like this myself. Some organizing rules were changed.

2) Probably even more problematic in this exercise is that the two people each of us were to recruit for the activity were given a responsibility to enroll two others, and to pass along the responsibility to them, in turn, to enroll two more. In the dominant model I have seen in play in our organizations, this delegation of leadership is a strategy that is simply not used. The people recruited to attend events have only a passive role in the success of the activity: they come, or they don't.

It is probably true that it has always been a part of the human condition that few people lead, and the rest follow, and while the followers may grumble, they are inwardly glad that someone has elected to come forward to tell them what to do. This is, unfortunately, a recipe for certain failure. Leaders cannot do it all; leaders are fallible people. Strong leaders can as easily create disasters, as successes.

If my thesis is at all true, "Each One Reach Two" is a manageable and trainable export of leadership skills, and of sharing of responsibility of leadership, and we are missing the boat if we do not at least try to put it into practice.

We could accomplish amazing good November 4 if a few of the roughly 500 people who are learning about this essay this week would actually try Each One Reach Two between now and election day 2008.

In my opinion, the essential future of organizing for success in Peace and Justice and related activities is making owners(leaders) out of our consumers, and thus sharing leadership responsibility much more broadly than is currently the case.

(*) - (NOTE: The August 1-9 activity involved a silent meditation for a two hour time period during open hours at a well known Church. There were no rules for what to meditate about, nor how to go about meditating, nor any risk at all...only to be there for two hours on a single day.)

Uncomfortable Essay #3, on A Different Look at "Power", at this space on or about October 8, 2008.

A sidenote on what is possible if a committed individual really takes on a task. There are endless similar stories, but read on and be inspired.

A month or so ago, a first-time visitor to http://www.amillioncopies.info felt moved to write the following: "You begin your [About A Million Copies] with "A million ordinary women, men, and children in a million places at a million times have made a million differences in their communities and in their world." In March of 1982, my father, a farmer, met with a retired Methodist minister to discuss how they could participate in providing food for starving people around the world. They, along with 20 others, eventually formed the WHET-Force (World Hunger Ecumenical Task Force) and spearheaded a drive to send one million bushels of grain to Poland. Three Iowa Farmers, including my father, and a Catholic Priest, traveled to Poland where they saw long lines of people waiting for small amounts of food due to their severely crippled poultry industry hardhit by Poland's economic conditions at that time. [To make a] Long story--short: There were problems but on February 14, 1983, 5 million pounds of soybean concentrate and 80,000 bushels of corn were shipped to Poland and on May 1, thousands more bushels of corn were sent to get the Polish poultry industry back on its feet. A simple conversation between two people started a mission in another area of the world because somebody cared."

About September 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Dick Bernard Venturing in September 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2008 is the previous archive.

October 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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