Invite and nourish the art of the possible

How ARE you…really?

I ask myself that question and I can honestly only answer for this moment because these days are so roller-coasterish. While that may have always been the reality, it feels like 2020 has taught me some valuable lessons about attachment—to things I thought I knew and trusted; to the way I wanted things to be; to things I witness unfolding around me; even to things like work, breath, and life itself.

A phrase from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five has been rolling around in my head—feeling “unstuck in time.” I guess that’s how I might characterize my navigation through this year. It has always felt that at any given moment I was occupying multiple dimensions in time.

Sounds like I’ve lost it, right?!

This morning, I found my way to the recorded video of the lone session I missed live during the Cooperrider Center’s Positive Pivot in October. During this session, guest speaker Cathy Royal was talking about how she uses multiple tools, including appreciative inquiry, to support and enhance her work in social justice. She introduced this simple graphic. 


Bam. My head instantly exploded. 

There it was. A simple graphic metaphor for how I’ve been feeling about witnessing (and living) my own being “unstuck” in 2020.

I choose to allow a daily bombardment of breaking news—much of it bad or at least straining credulity. The year has also served up some dramatic stories of the long historical tail of so many social ills, inviting me into active dismantling of the myths served up from the well-oiled machinery of white, dominant culture. This year has invited me off the intellectual sidelines and to humbly explore the historical context of inequities pointed at black, indigenous, people of color. And yet at the same time, my schooling, my training, and my battered psyche have been pulling me toward conversations intending to co-construct a better version of a shared future. Appreciative inquiry’s anticipatory principle at work. 

Cathy’s graphic is the perfect frame for what I believe is my calling. It reflects what I have been attempting to do through my work: invite and nourish the art of the possible.

It is the balanced intention to honor the best of the past, stay fully present to this moment (perhaps my spiritual quest?), and invite those who show up to imagine the best of what might be ahead. Where those intentions overlap holds the seeds of possibility. Whether the lens through which we explore those seeds is philanthropy, the human dynamics of teaming, growth and development of the organization, redirecting the generative role of the board, and/or the individual’s potential for impact, my stance seems to be the same. 

Spot the glowing embers of possibility; blow on them as long as I can; and protect the early sparks of imagination and “combustion.”

2021 is gearing up to be another leg in the marathon with plenty of mixed signals. We’ll likely have many factors that depress our hopes even as we experience the rapid acceleration stemming from pent-up hope and promise. Likely, we’ll be whipsawed by yet another year of unpredictability.

So I will have my focus be on celebrating and expanding Cathy’s frame…and in so doing, celebrate and expand whatever positive possibility arises. For each downward tug from any of these three dimensions of time, I will invite the “and.” I will choose to use language, to ask questions, to reinforce attitudes, and to reinforce the people who are leaning into positive possibility. 


With the enormous price we’re paying in 2020, help me reframe this as a sober down payment on the future that is trying to emerge.

What better future are you trying to coax into being?