A Meditation on Seeing the Good

This week I had the privilege and honor of representing our faith community, Sandy Spring Friends Meeting, at an interfaith Unity Service of Giving Thanks in Olney, Maryland. The following is the brief meditation I shared on behalf of our Quaker community. I hope you enjoy it and find it uplifting for this holiday season:

Worship in the Quaker tradition is often misunderstood and misinterpreted as being “silent.” It is far from that. Historians often identify Quakerism as being “Christian mysticism.” Certainly the mysticism part fits, though Christians are not the only ones who participate in Quaker worship and community at Sandy Spring.

Many Quakers prefer to think of the worship experience as “waiting worship” rather than “silent worship.” Outwardly, waiting worship appears to be silent, though, inwardly, it is anything but. In fact, it is filled with the work of reflective listening for the voice of God to speak to us and discerning whether the Spirit of God is moving us to share aloud what we’ve heard. To guide our reflection, we often use “queries.” A query is a reflective question that focuses our listening and discernment.

Rather than speak for five minutes, I’d like to use some of my time to offer a query for Thanksgiving and an opportunity for you to experience a minute or so of waiting worship.

The query is one that speaks to the challenge of living in this time. It is simply this: How are we to give thanks in the midst of tempestuous times that have too much terror and tragedy for us, our children, and our families?

Please take the next minute to reflect on this question in waiting worship.

I wish I could offer an answer to that question for you, me, and all those we hold dear. These are indeed challenging times and it seems we are regularly facing the realities of terror and tragedy in our nation, our communities, our neighborhoods, and even our places of worship.

I am reminded, however, of another who faced horrific things at the hands of his own brothers. I am referring to Joseph, the son of Jacob, whom God called Israel. Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery, yet rose to a level of trust and authority among those who purchased him. From this position, Joseph showed compassion toward his brothers in their time of need. When Joseph’s father died, his brother’s knew they needed to make peace with Joseph after all the evil they had done to him. So they humbly went to see Joseph.  

Genesis 50:19-20 tells us Joseph warmly received his brothers and said to them: “Don’t be afraid. Am I God? You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today.”

Perhaps we can give thanks in these difficult times because, as Joseph understood, the good was yet to come.

May we all, in this Thanksgiving season, have the insight, hope, faith, and vision to see the good that is coming.

Be greater, do good, each and everyday….change forward!

Tom Klaus

A Word to the Wise & a Caution to Fools

lao-tzu-bronzeToday is Thursday, November 8, 2018. The Mid-Term Elections in the U.S. came and went two days ago. (Woo Hoo!) Of course, there are winners and losers. To the winners – those who have been elected to lead us at the community, county, state, and national levels – remember that ancient wisdom is often the best advice. So consider the words of Lao-Tzu about leadership from the Tao-Te Ching:

To lead people, walk beside them…

As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence.

The next best, the people honor and praise.

The next, the people fear;

and the next, the people hate…

When the best leader’s work is done the people say,

We did it ourselves!

 

And so I ask you…whether you won election this time or are planning already for your next run…what kind of leader do you plan to be? 

I hope you will…be greater, do good, everyday, and always change forward!

Tom

Noses On!

It’s that time again! May 24th is the day! To be exact, it is Red Nose Day, one of my favorite charity events! For this one day a lot of media and public attention is given to the cause of ending childhood poverty. Since it was launched in 2015, Red Nose Day has raised more than $100 million dollars to impact the lives of nearly 9 million children.

Here’s what I love about Red Nose Day…

HOPE Buffalo is a movement in Buffalo, NY in support of adolescent health and wellness. HOPE stands for health, opportunity, prevention, and the three “E’s” of education, equity, and empowerment. The staff and volunteers see the impact of poverty everyday on the lives of young people. Last year they joined the call to don the Red Nose. They look great, don’t they?

First, it attacks a root cause – poverty. I’ve been working in human services, public health, and social change for my entire career. Within these domains there are many issues that adversely affect children which can be traced back to a common factor – children and their families living at or near chronic poverty. Red Nose Day is an attempt to address poverty by supporting programs and initiatives that keep children safe, healthy, and educated. These efforts do more than simply meet an immediate need for children. The myriad acts of kindness associated with helping also address the poverty of hope that children and families living in chronic poverty experience. You can make a difference by spending as little as $1 to buy a Red Nose at Walgreens or Duane Reade stores. If you would like to do more and give more, become a member of my fundraising team at A Nose for Tenacious Change.

Okay, isn’t this the cutest Red Noser you’ve ever seen? A couple of years ago a colleague got a nose for herself and for her son. You can just see this photo being featured in a graduation montage in a few years, right?

Secondly, it animates important ethical and spiritual values in my life. For me these are informed, with neither apology nor arrogance, by Christian Quaker spirituality. They come specifically from the teaching of the disciple Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 to 46, a selection the Common English Bible calls “Judgment of the nations,” an intriguing title during these times. Most people already know this passage because one small phrase – “the least of these” – is frequently quoted in the context of explaining why we should care about others. If you have never read the whole section to get the full context and story, you may wish to do so. Though you may not share my faith, you may find we share the ethic.

Howard Macy’s “Red Nose Training Manual.” Download it today and get started!

Thirdly, wearing a red nose is fun and a great way to brighten the day of others! Don’t forget…to celebrate Red Nose Day you need, of course, a red nose. May 24th is just around the corner and you don’t want to be the only one with a naked nose do you? Okay, I understand the doubt and I can hear that voice in your head right now asking, “Yeah, but…what do I do once I put the nose on?” Good news! My friend Howard Macy (professor emeritus, philosopher, theologian, a wicked trumpet player, and a fellow Red Nose aficionado) is the author of the Red-Nose Manifesto which you will find in his Red Nose Training Manual, a masterpiece which might have won the Nobel Prize in literature if the Swedes had not cancelled it this year. (Sorry Howard.) To get started, simply download Howard’s brief, easy-to-read book (lots of illustrations) and follow the instructions. From Training Phase Moves to Intermediate Moves to Advanced Moves, Howard will lead you by the Red Nose to the point where you will be proudly sporting it wherever you can. Here is one of his Advanced Moves that I have used before, “When teaching or leading a group, slip the nose on subtly while looking away, then turn around and continue to lead.” If that seems too daunting, how about this Intermediate Move: “Slip on the nose when you’re stuck in traffic. Smile broadly, sing with the radio.” If you are Red Nose virgin and even a semi-public appearance seems way too much to you, try this Training Phase Move by yourself: “Slip the nose on when you’re tempted to feel disrespected or seriously important.” Personally, I have no less than eight red noses – including one in my backpack for Red Nose emergencies when I travel. (Fair warning: I’ll be working in San Luis Obispo, California this year on Red Nose Day. Ha!)

As much fun as I have with my array of red noses, especially on Red Nose Day, the cause is a serious one and the need is great. I do not often ask people to contribute to something, but I am making that ask today. My life’s work has been to try to make this world a better place for all – including “the least of these.” The mission of Tenacious Change is to animate and equip people, organizations, and communities to lead change for the greater good. Participating in Red Nose Day is one small thing each of us can do for the greater good. I would be honored to have you on my Red Nose Day team at A Nose for Tenacious Change. Thanks!

Remember…Be Greater, Do Good, Everyday. Put on a Red Nose and Change Forward!

Tom

Click here to join A Nose for Tenacious Change at Red Nose Day. And thank you!

 

Just 1 Story – Episode 2 Is Airing!

Episode 2 of Just 1 Story is now available and airing. It is titled “The Pay-It-Forward Mentor.” This episode tells the story of a man whose career and life was transformed by a chance meeting. Just 1 Story features stories of defining moments and personal leadership in the lives of people. Do you have a story that has defined your life and work? If so, consider sharing it in the second season of Just 1 Story. Click here to learn more about how you can share your story in the Just 1 Story podcast.

Inspiration from Saskatechewan

Four years ago I worked with the Prevention Institute of Saskatchewan to help leadership and staff establish a province-wide community of practice. The community of practice was originally set up for people and organizations working in the field of adolescent sexual health.

Of course, adolescent sexual health is one of those issues that is impacted by many other adolescent issues: healthy relationships, substance use, bullying, body image, gender norms, etc. As a result, groups with a secondary or even tertiary focus on adolescent sexual health benefit as well.

Hardly a week passes that I do not receive something new on the list serve from a member of this community of practice. I learn about resources, upcoming training, funding opportunities, and other useful bits of information. Sometimes I even get something that is just downright inspiring.

Recently I got a link to a music video produced by young people who are part of the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan. It is a well done video with a powerful message of hope for First Nation youth. Take about 4 minutes and 36 seconds to watch it, listen to it, and feel inspired by these young people.

A community of practice can be done in a way that is so complicated and time intensive that nobody benefits and, eventually, nobody participates. Alternatively, it can done simply and effectively so it will increasingly attract new participants and remain relevant to the needs of the participants. This community of practice from Saskatchewan seems to have evolved into the latter rather than the former. Congratulations to the Prevention Institute of Saskatchewan. Kudos to the Kawacatoose First Nation youth for a powerful, inspiring video.

Be greater. Do good. Everyday. Change forward!

Tom Klaus

Doing Good Everyday in South Texas

Rural Texas, like the rest of rural America, is often overlooked by the rest of the country. Like my native state of Iowa, much of rural America is viewed as “flyover” country, and of little importance because it thought to be occupied mostly by livestock and farm fields. What a sadly mistaken…and, frankly, ignorant…understanding of rural America. 

Fortunately, groups like the Community Action Corporation of South Texas (CACOST) know better. CACOST serves an extraordinarily large part of the state – 16 counties that cover the entire southern tip of the state. For the past several months I’ve been working with CACOST on the implementation evaluation of its teen pregnancy prevention initiative, the South Texas Teen Leadership and Development Program (STTLD). Sadly, this is one of 80+ programs of the Office of Adolescent Health Teen Pregnancy Prevention program that is going away due to significant budget cuts under the current administration. STTLD serves a very rural part of Texas with some of the highest rates of teen births in the state and the U.S. It is a significant loss to the youth, families, schools and communities it serves. But what does it matter? Isn’t it just all livestock and fields down here, anyway? Does any good thing come from rural America? (Read with a “sigh” and eye roll for effect.)

For the past several months I’ve been reviewing the weekly facilitator logs that

20180223_121317
With STTLD Facilitators in Corpus Christi

document the work of the STTLD program facilitators. These facilitators conduct approximately 50 classroom programs each week, for at least 25 weeks in the school year. Now, let’s do the numbers and see if they are seeing anyone other than livestock. 50 classrooms X an average classroom size of, say 20 (to be conservative, since we know there are few if any people in rural America), equals: 1,000. Now it is true that the STTLD facilitators have to travel large distances to see 1,000 students a week but there are still at least 1,000 students in rural South Texas who will lose the program on June 30th unless something changes.

Each year the leadership of CACOST sponsors a board and staff leadership retreat in Corpus Christi. About 125 to 150 board and leadership staff attend. This is only about a fourth of the number of all CACOST employees in all positions. This is the second year I’ve had the privilege to attend this meeting. Last year I did a plenary session that focused on the poverty of hope experienced by too many people in our country. I was asked back this year to do the closing keynote on working more effectively together. I have come to understand the value and appeal of the meeting to board and staff…it feels like a family reunion and it is wonderful!

While I was here, I also did interviews and focus groups with the STLLD leadership and staff as part my evaluation work with CACOST. The STTLD leadership and the leadership of CACOST are doing everything they can to continue the program because they know how important it is to the youth and communities they serve. What impresses me most about CACOST is that the organization and its leadership are intentional about keeping the people they serve foremost in their thoughts and plans.

Case in point…yesterday several CACOST staff led the retreat in a very complex yet

20180223_153037
The Zuppot Family – Zenobia, Xander, Zeke & Zola

powerful poverty simulation. I was assigned the role of being a disabled grandpa (Zeke), with diabetes, who was raising his two young grandchildren (Xander and Zenobia) with his wife, Zola, who did not speak very good English. Zeke’s disability kept him from working and Zola had a low wage job. Our grandchildren came to us from a daughter who was incarcerated on a drug distribution charge. One of our grandkids, Xander, dealt with ADHD. His medication requirements and Zeke’s need for insulin, meant the family faced a pretty big monthly prescription bill plus the regular monthly expenses. It was a moving simulation for people in the room as they experienced a full range of emotions including, embarrassment, shame, frustration, anger, and hopelessness. Several were moved to tears. In debriefing the experience, it was clear that it was a powerful tool for helping CACOST board and staff experience, or re-experience, what it is to live without enough resources or opportunity.

Organizations like CACOST are critical to the survival of families in rural America. But is that all they deserve…to simply survive? I don’t think so. Neither does CACOST or the other Community Action Agencies that were created in the 1960’s as part of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” I have the privilege of currently working with CACOST and another Community Action Agency in San Luis Obispo, CA. I’m very proud to be associated with these two organizations and to be helping them to achieve the greater good in their service areas. They both know it is not about helping their clients just survive poverty, but to thrive and rise. Both CACOST and the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo are being impacted by the cuts in teen pregnancy prevention at the Office of Adolescent Health. Even worse, the youth they serve are those that suffer. Both organizations know all too well what happens when we fail to invest in the future of our country and care for those in greatest need. We must never forget…poverty is not a choice. That is the lesson we learned again in the simulation yesterday.

On a personal note…I had a wonderful surprise today when I finished the keynote for

Tom with Nisa and Megan
Tom with Nisa (on the left, who actually owns my books) and her colleague, Megan

CACOST. A young CACOST staff member, at the urging of her colleague, approached me for a selfie. Now, I’d like to tell you that I get that request a lot, but I don’t. So, I asked, “Of course…but why?” The young woman replied, “I’ve got two of your books. I heard you speak last year but it was only this morning that I realized you were they same person that wrote those books. They were recommended to me by a professor in a counseling class I took and I found them incredibly helpful both professionally and personally.”

Okay, I was shocked speechless. Both books were written over 25 years ago and I had no idea any even still existed…except on my shelves. I was really honored and moved by her request. Thank you Nisa and Megan for making my day!

If you’d like to join Nisa as an owner of these books, you can still find them on Amazon: If Your Parent Drinks Too Much and Counseling Helpsheets, co-authored with my good friend, G. Lamar Roth. I cannot vouch for their condition…I’m still stunned they are available.

Be greater. Do good. Everyday. Change Forward!

Tom Klaus

 

An Invitation to the WWJD Redux Project

Uh…oh…my inner researcher has been awakened!!! You are invited to participate in the WWJD Redux Project.  

In addition to my consulting work at Tenacioius Change, I also do occasional research on topics related to leadership. The WWJD Redux Project is a new project related to the topic of ethical and moral leadership. I am conducting this informal study for a possible article or other publication.

If you have a clear memory of the 1990s (though there was much to forget), you may remember that the initials “WWJD” referred to the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” It entered American pop culture and “went viral” as a way to motivate Evangelical Christians, particularly youth, to “do the right thing” which was, in general, to demonstrate the love of Jesus through their actions and behaviors. As most things that make their way into American pop culture, the question became hackneyed, cliched, and even parodied. Still, it came to represent an acknowledgment of the need for a higher ethical and moral standard for people. You can find a brief, interesting article on the origins of the term here.

The WWJD Redux Project seeks to learn how people are answering that question with regard to President Donald Trump.

You can participate in four simple steps.

Decide to participate. Anyone with an opinion can participate. Feel free to share this invitation with anyone else you like. (For your convenience, use the social media 

Read John Pavlovitz’s brief blog titled, “White Evangelicals, This is Why People are Through With You.

Reflect on these two questions:

  1. After reading and thinking about Pavlovitz’s blog, where are you at in this moment?
  2. Still thinking about Pavlovitz’s blog, what WOULD Jesus do in this time?   

Respond. You have two ways to respond. You can make a private response or enter into a public dialogue with others. Of course, you can do both, if you like. 

  • To make a Private Response: Follow this link to a private response form in my Survey Monkey account.
  • To engage in Public Dialogue: Go to my posts on the Tenacious Change Facebook page (if needed search for the post titled “WWJD Redux Project Dialogue”). Then reply to the post there. If you participate in the public dialogue, please be civil and respectful. This means no cussin’, no spittin’, no name callin’, no wedgies, and no noogies – virtual or real. If you do choose the public dialogue option,  at the start of your post, please tell us how you religiously self-identify using one of these four options: 1) Evangelical Christian; 2) Christian; 3) No identification; and, 4) Other – then explain what the other is.

Finally, thanks to my friend and colleague, Mark Holmgren who inspired this project with a link to John Pavlovitz on Facebook. 

I hope you take a few minutes to read Pavlovitz’s blog and participate. 

Thanks for your consideration and remember to be greater, by doing good, everyday. Change forward!

Tom Klaus

The (Mostly) Certitudes of Change

All things considered, I prefer sameness in my personal life. Okay, actually I more than prefer it. I really like the comfort of my personal routine when I am at home. 

I get up and go to bed at the same times everyday; I eat the same breakfast each morning (baked oatmeal – be sure to ask me for my recipe); I have used the same bar soap, shampoo, and other personal products for years; I have had the same haircut for years (of course, having little hair poses certain limitations); I walk our dogs at the same times every day; when my clothes wear out, I replace them with the same brands in as close to the same style as I can find; and my work day follows the same pattern as much as possible when I’m not traveling for work – I do research and writing in the morning, meetings and calls in the afternoon.

Despite this love of routine, I have come to appreciate there are many facets of change, whether it is personal or group change.

Both have been and continue to be areas of focus in my work – from developing leaders, to organizational change to community development. In recent months I found myself thinking nearly nonstop about change as I was coming up with a name for a new initiative I started piloting and rolling out at the first of this year – Tenacious Change Approach℠.

One mostly certitude of change is that even when we say “yes” to change with our mouths and bests intentions, we can say “no” to it with our hearts. We outwardly go along with it and yet we may inwardly resist the change. At the personal level, even when we know a change would be good and we decide to do it, the change does not automatically happen. For many years I weighed at least 75 pounds more than was healthy for me. I knew I needed to lose weight and made several decisions to do so. However, it was not until I had a crisis with weight induced sleep apnea that my internal “no” became a “yes” and I made the change.

In a group setting, whether it is a team, organization, or community-wide change initiative, we outwardly comply with the change – maybe even enthusiastically support it – but, then, we can work quietly behind the scenes to slow the change or even prevent it. We can even be unaware of our own passive resistance.

Resistance to change, whether merely passive or passive aggressive, is frustrating though it is not a form of evil. It is a characteristic of humanity.

Let’s be honest…what do we humans really love about change? That’s right, pretty much nothing. I know…we act like we love it, especially in our professional worlds. Why? Because we want to appear innovative, original, experimental, inventive, cutting-edge, forward-looking, state-of-the-art, trend-setting, pioneering, Bohemian, groundbreaking, trailblazing, revolutionary, unorthodox, unconventional, offbeat, cool, avant garde…yada, yada, yada. Yet, when we peel away all of that feigned love of change we are human creatures of habit. This is another one of the mostly certitudes of change.

Change is inevitable, regardless of how we feel about it. This is beyond being a mostly certitude of change…it is a certitude. We cannot stop change or, as one of my favorite musicals puts it, “you can’t stop the beat.” We only deceive ourselves if we think change will not occur simply because we do not want it.


If change is inevitable, what choices remain? We can choose to do nothing and let the change unfold without our participation. In that case, we will likely be swept along in whatever direction the change moves things – for good or for ill. If we do not like the change, we can complain about it but that will be too little, too late, and quite annoying to everyone around us.

We can choose to respond pro-actively to change. This choice opens other choices to us. First, we can choose the type of change we want. Our basic choices are evolution (gradual developmental advancement) or devolution (gradual degeneration of advances). Then, we can choose to anticipate it, facilitate it, manage it, and prepare for it to happen again.

To anticipate change is to do some forecasting to imagine what the future holds and then decide what change is most needed. To facilitate it is to take an active role, often in collaboration with others, in deciding the strategies and tactics that will initiate change and move it forward. To manage it is to institutionalize the change which occurs to prevent things from slipping back to the way they were before the change. To prepare for it to happen again is to begin the process all over again. Why? Because change is continuous, which is a another certitude of change.  

Change is inevitable and it is constant, regardless of how strongly we resist it. Our role lies in choosing the type of change that occurs and in how we assist it.

To be a Change Agent is to be an active participant in change. Even though I like routine in my daily life, my spirituality and ethic compels me to be a Change Agent to make our world a better place for all. As we close out 2017 and prepare to boldly begin a new year, I have a wish for all of us. I wish for us to be active participants in changing our worlds – whether neighborhoods, communities, states, or whole countries – to be places where everyone, can feel welcome, accepted, heard, respected, cared for, and loved. 

Be greater. Do Good. Everyday. Change Forward!

Tom

Moment by Moment Awareness

This week finds me in Vancouver, BC attending my fifth Tamarack Institute Community Change Institute. For the fourth time, I’ve been honored to facilitate a Learning Lab. Yesterday our Learning Lab co-created a story (actually, more like a poem) about our experience together. It is wonderfully profound and simultaneously simple, making it terrifically elegant. It is titled “Moment by Moment Awareness.” What do you think?

I woke up.

I stopped taking notes.

I heard things I wasn’t listening for before.

It became clear.

Process is the most important.

Process is where the work is done.

Be greater. Do good. Everyday.

Tom Klaus

The Challenge of Competing Ideas

“Would you have sex with a person whom you knew for certain had AIDS and your only protection was a condom?” That was not a question I had expected, though I had responded to plenty of difficult questions in the preceding three hours of the meeting. For two years I had been piloting a sexuality education curriculum to prepare it for wider dissemination and replication in public schools. My visit to the rural Midwestern community on this winter evening was to meet with the curriculum committee of a local school considering adoption of the program. When I arrived at the school, I learned the meeting was to be held in a large multi-purpose room that served as both a theater and cafeteria. This seemed an odd location for a committee that was typically comprised of less than a dozen people. As I walked into the room, I realized it was not a committee meeting after all, but a community meeting and up to 200 people were expected. My mind raced to understand what this could mean.

I took a walk through the empty hallways of the school to center myself, focus my thoughts, and calm my nerves. I had not prepared for 200. I did not have nearly enough handouts. I could not understand why someone at the school had not given me advanced notice. I puzzled why so many people were expected to attend a committee meeting that even the official members probably skipped as often as possible. The knot in my stomach told me this was not going to be a good evening and that I had better remain calm and focused. I resolved to keep my comments and answers short, simple, and embellished with only a touch of gentle humor to convey friendliness. Walking back toward the meeting room I passed a large group of people huddled in the corner of the school’s main lobby, busily taking notes, and listening intently to the instructions of a man who was obviously in charge. He would be, as I would shortly learn, the first inquisitor of the evening.

A single member of the curriculum committee finally greeted me. I never did meet the other members.

By the time my host escorted me to the podium at the front the room had nearly filled to capacity. The leader of the group in the lobby was seated in the middle of the front row, surrounded by his followers, directly in front of the podium. My host briefly introduced me. I delivered a 15-minute opening presentation as requested and then invited questions.

The man from the lobby rose and asked in a booming voice, “Do you believe in moral absolutes?” and then smiled broadly, while his followers murmured their approval. I breathed deeply, remembered to smile, and said quite simply and very succinctly, “Yes.” For half an eternity, we simply looked at one other, smiling. Slowly, his face began to flush and his feet shuffled uneasily. Finally, he nervously turned to his followers for guidance, his confidence and certainty quickly dissipating. He mumbled something and hastily sat down, even as others in his group leapt to their feet and began shouting their questions at me as if to protect and defend their leader. Some of the questions were about the curriculum, some were about me, and many were philosophical and even theological. Thus, the evening began and continued for more than 3 hours until a man in the last row of chairs stood up and asked: “Would you have sex with a person whom you knew for certain had AIDS and your only protection was a condom?”

I smiled, thanked him for his question, and said, with a touch of humor to diffuse a tense situation, “I don’t think my spouse would appreciate me having sex with another person.” The man exploded in rage. He jumped up and screamed, “I asked you a question and I demand an answer! Would you have sex with a person whom you knew for certain had AIDS and your only protection was a condom?!?” All eyes flashed toward him, then shifted back toward me to see what I would do. I stood silent for a moment to quell my fear and compose myself. Finally, I calmly replied, “I’m sorry, I don’t believe that is an appropriate question.” All eyes turned back to him and throughout the room I could hear the whispered pleas from embarrassed community members for him to, “Sit down and shut up.”

Mercifully, the meeting was soon over…but the evening was not.

As the meeting was breaking up I was gathering my wits and materials. A woman strode up, stood in front me, glared into my face, and said, “I cannot believe you were ever a minister of the Gospel.” I was stunned and did not respond, so she moved closer and repeated it louder. I still did not know what to say so she came even closer and yelled it at me. I finally managed to mumble, “Thank you for your comment,” turned quickly, and started walking for the door.

Just before I reached the door, a man ran into me…hard…knocking all the materials out of my hands onto the floor. I was shocked to see he was a priest. I bent down to pick up the materials, keeping one eye on my “assailant.” To my surprise, the priest bent down and started helping me pick up the material. As we were both bent over, our heads close together in the gathering work, he whispered to me: “I really appreciate what you are doing and support it. I just wanted you to know I can’t say so publicly.” He handed me the last paper he collected, straightened up, and walked out the door.

The drive home was nearly 200 miles in the middle of the night over frozen roads, and I would finally get home at 4:00 AM. I never once feared for falling asleep as I intently watched the road ahead of me, and wondered what kind of place I had been where I would be accosted by a priest, just so he could speak to me. I nervously watched the rearview mirror for fast approaching headlights on the isolated rural highways.

It was months before I would sleep well again, even in the security of my own home.

As I drove home my mind tried to make sense of the evening. I also tried to make sense of my career move barely two years before. I had moved from a career in religious work to social services, where I was put in charge of piloting and replicating a teen pregnancy prevention program. I wondered if I had made the right move and if this kind of thing was going to be a regular part of the job. Even more, I wondered if I should stay with it. I did. Now, more than two decades later, and many similar community meetings, I am still in the field, as are numerous other veterans of the conflict over sexuality education on both, or many, sides. Since that winter evening I have wanted to more fully understand why and how we provide leadership amid such conflict.Peace and Conflict

This true story was featured in the opening pages of my doctoral dissertation, which was completed in 2013 after years of living the intractable conflict over sexuality education in public schools. It is a battle for public support and funding that still rages today, having originated in Chicago in 1913.

When I completed the study, I promised everyone who participated that I would share a summary with them. If you are interested in reading it, you can find it here and are welcome to download it free of charge.

The study focused on the intractable conflict over sexuality education in public schools. However, the “lessons learned” in the study can be applied wherever competing ideologies keep people from working together for a greater good. Have we not seen this competition in many community change coalitions, collaborations, and collective impact initiatives? Of course, it happens regularly in politics, leading to the infamous gridlock that hobbles any administration and legislature from leading and governing.

I am not offering this summary because it has all the answers. I am offering it because it may have some insights that are timely, especially for those of us who live in the United States. Indeed, it raises some important issues and questions if we are going to find a way to work together – regardless of our cause and despite our differences.

Be greater, do good, everyday.

Tom