Prairie View

Monday, January 21, 2019

Renting an Idea

I believe I made a passing reference to "renting" an idea in a post where I mentioned Shane having spoken at church on a Wednesday evening around New Year Day.  He suggested that we consider this in connection with New Year Resolutions.*

When we rent an idea rather than owning it, we are acknowledging that committing to the idea may need to be reconsidered at some point.  This may be needed because of new evidence, changing circumstances, or different priorities, etc.  In other words, we go into a situation already knowing that we may need to move at some point to a new place in our thinking.

If we own an idea, parting with it becomes difficult.  We've made a big investment in it, for one thing.  We might feel a sense of failure at not having been able to maintain the responsibilities of ownership.  We might feel that we've betrayed a cause by forsaking it.  We might have to admit that we made a poor choice in "buying" the idea to start with.  At this point--when parting with an idea seems necessary, humility,  confession, and apology are in order, but doubling down in ownership of the idea is the most instinctive response.   

I suspect that being German (and Amish Mennonite?) nudges us toward trying to own every idea that occurs to us--at least if we think it's been properly vetted and if it seems logical.  We lean toward wanting more than enough, in plenty of time. This allows us to feel good about such virtuous-sounding things as being prepared and exercising good stewardship.  Nevertheless, this tendency can probably sometimes be a detriment to us. We would do well to balance this German "owning" tendency with other wise approaches--like the Japanese "renting" one (just enough, just in time). 

To be sure, some ideas really do call for ownership from the beginning.  I see almost all of the commitments involved in a life of faith as being in this category.  For the sake of working well with others, most other commitments should probably be rented rather than owned--initially at least. 


If you've reflected enough on the above ideas to ponder what they mean for you, you're probably already making some kind of owning/renting decision--regarding how you will engage ideas, going forward.  Just so you know, it's OK with me if you choose to rent for now.  As long as you understand the terms of the rental agreement and have signed on the dotted line, you're good to go.  If you decide to buy later, you can do so, using money that you're collecting now in your "experience bank."

*I can never figure out how to write this properly.  What we usually say is New Years Resolutions, but neither plural nor possessive seems right.  Any help?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Leadership and Politics

Nothing in the Leadership Reno County (LRC) class was even remotely suggestive of political advocacy, but I snagged one insight on politics and leadership that made me want to say "Yes!  Exactly!"  (See the previous post for a longer explanation of LRC.)

In explaining the differences between adaptive and technical approaches to problem-solving, Lynette said something like this: "The promises you hear in political campaigns almost always reflect a technical approach to problem-solving." So  what was so insightful about that? 

Just this:  Every time a politician does this, she or he is demonstrating that s/he is not remotely prepared to lead effectively.  Offering technical solutions in situations that call for adaptive approaches is predicative of chaos-in-the-making, with that sand-in-the-gears problem grinding on interminably.  Political grandstanding just got even more distasteful to me. 

I hate it that on the rare occasions when a political figure attempts to lead "adaptively" s/he is inviting accusations of being detached or cerebral or indecisive--just not able to get anything done.  Coalition-building is adaptive work involving very tough, slow going, but the results are more lasting, more peaceable, more orderly, and better all around for the stakeholders than would be the case with alternative ways of working.  Once elected, an office holder using positional authority to force technical solutions is offering something inferior and ineffective. 

One of the authors of the slim little volume that serves as a textbook for the LRC class is Ed O'Malley.  His name sounded vaguely familiar, but I didn't know why till I read the Wikipedia entry under his name.  It turns out that he was a candidate for Kansas governor in the 2018 election.  He dropped out fairly early in the race, however, when he determined that funds were not adequate to continue.

I wondered where a person with O'Malley's understanding of how leadership works would fall on the political spectrum.  Centrist Republican it is.   That sounds about right--or at least as right as Centrist Democrat. 

I'm a little sorry that we didn't get a chance to see what a governor of O'Malley's sensibilities would do for the people of Kansas.  But then, he might have learned what many principled individuals before him discovered when they pursued political office:  1)  Winning an election is almost impossible.  2)  Leading effectively, once elected, is almost impossible.


 Only those who knew Steve Graber will understand why I'm reminded of him right now.  I learned just now (from Hiromi's dentist!) that he died about a year and a half ago in Manhattan, where the family had moved when they left our area.  Steve had cancer. 

Steve was a Christian homeschool dad who practiced law.  At one point he unsuccessfully sought political office.  Our paths first crossed because of 4H, and our family and others spent a good bit of time with their family. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

First Tidbits From LRC

Last week's two-day retreat with the Leadership Reno County (LRC) class was as stretching and interesting as I hoped it would be, and, at times, as awkward as I was afraid it would be.  I'm not sure how much I'm really supposed to share outside the group about what happens inside the group.  I do know that confidentiality is in order in relation to others in the group--not their identity though.  Otherwise they would not have backed each of us up to a plain door in the meeting room and come in close for a cell phone picture--with the explanation that this is for the paper.  Sigh. I'd rather fly under the radar on this venture.

Also, the organization I'm officially associated with for LRC purposes is Pilgrim Christian School--which is slightly awkward since I no longer am hired there.  Nevertheless, no other official entity made sense as fill-in information for some of the blanks on the application.  I do still serve on the curriculum committee as a volunteer, so it was not entirely a fabricated connection.  I did make clear that my main interest was really most closely tied to making life better for my neighbors in the rural area of Reno County where I live.  Being too tightly tethered to the education sector of community life would actually feel limiting to me rather than advantageous.

Essentially, the focus of this group is to develop an approach to problem solving that is skillful, inclusive, courageous, humble, and honest.  These are my words.  I can't tell you how reassuring it was to see these Biblical topics featured in the class content.  If the focus had been on "getting others to do what you want them to do,"  featuring tricky and manipulative (and disrespectful) schemes, this class would have held no appeal to me. I have no fondness for this perception of what leadership means.

What I really want to do here is just to be transparent about what I've been up to, with the freedom to share what I'm learning.  Knowing that all who read this have entered this blog space at their own initiative is reassuring to my vulnerable self, and I believe that readers do not usually come here to find something to use as ammunition against me.  Nevertheless, I'm cognizant of the fact that for an Amish Mennonite female to be enrolled in a leadership class and writing about it is not risk-free. 


For me, probably the most helpful insight to come out of interacting with the material and the facilitators and other class members was clarity about two different approaches to problem solving: 1) technical and 2) adaptive. Individual cases often call for both approaches to come into play, but being able to sort out which approach is best for which piece of a challenge is useful.  This understanding was helpful to me both in making sense of some of my past frustrations and in finding a possible path forward in the challenges that I still face. 

It's probably revealing that, although the LRC class began less than a week ago, I have already made reference to this distinction twice in communicating with others--both of them in relation to Sunday School.  Once was during class when we were talking about people in the church who "slip through the cracks" and the other was when I was working with others to find a good solution to a logistics problem that had come up.  In both of these situations, I found it helpful to recognize early on that the challenges called for adaptive approaches rather than technical ones. 

Having talked about this matter recently and the fact that I am writing about it here is probably also related to how I best internalize information--by "teaching" it to others. 


Technical challenges call for technical solutions.  Such challenges usually involve situations where everyone involved knows what is needed and a clear structure is in place for doing what is necessary.  Positional authority (which can be bestowed or acquired in various ways--by vote, appointment, manipulation, or strong-armed coercion, for example) is often incorporated into structures for dealing with technical challenges (i. e. solving the problems).  As I see it, this is as it should be, although some routes to positional authority certainly seem more commendable than others. 

The big problems occur when adaptive problems are addressed solely with technical approaches.  To quote a concept (from memory) that I heard in class:  Technical solutions may be involved in helpfully addressing adaptive challenges, but they are always insufficient.  In plain language, here's the rub:  When people with positional authority apply only technical solutions to adaptive problems, the results are not pretty.  Besides throwing sand in the gears (which limits smooth, orderly, forward motion), this way of "doing business" is predictive of fractured relationships, loss of commitment to a common purpose, and loss of peace.  In other words, the cost of this way of operating is very high. 

Let's use maintenance of a church building to illustrate how technical challenges can be helpfully addressed by technical solutions.  As an example, I'll use some details from what Grace (the wife of Lorne, our head trustee) told me on the day of the sewing last week--without a guarantee that all of them are completely factual.  As I recall, someone had noticed a problem in the plumbing system (a leak in one of bathrooms?) and had called Harold, who lives nearby and is often involved in matters related to the operation of the building.  Harold swiftly passed on the information he'd been given to Lorne, since he knew that Lorne was in the head trustee position, and dealing with matters like plumbing problems falls under Lorne's job description. 

I think Lorne must have called next on Joe, who was involved when the plumbing was originally installed for the new kitchen.  That was also when our church for the first time had a reverse osmosis (RO) system installed.  Joe went to work to address the problem, but had to turn off the RO system and could not restore its function by sewing day.  He (or someone, at least) filled several big thermos jugs with water from the RO so the sewing ladies would have this good water to drink.  I presume that he came back later to finish the repairs and restore the plumbing system to full function.  I also assume that Joe worked without pay and certainly without positional authority.  No additional church votes, elections, or appointments were needed throughout this process.  Because things got fixed by Sunday, I assume this process worked smoothly with no fractured relationships, no loss of commitment to a common purpose, and no loss of peace.   Everyone involved knew what was needed and who was in charge of seeing to getting it done, and most of the church people never even knew the problem had occurred.   Lorne's exercise of leadership through positional authority was exactly the right approach for this technical problem. 


I'll refer to Plainview Church as an example of using an adaptive approach.  Construction is underway on a new church building.  I don't know many details of how the decision was made to do this, but I do know from Grant and Clare, who attend there, that a great deal of discussion preceded the decision, and that in the end, this seemed like the best path forward.  Ellis is the one in charge of the building process at Plainview.  Without his permission, I'm going to dissect his suitability for the role he has--strictly my personal viewpoint, of course--by overlaying my thinking with the adaptive leadership approach template.

His past experience as a public school principal is undoubtedly useful.  I've never heard anyone speak of him in critical terms for how he carried out this role.  He is 67 I believe.  I know that because he was my classmate in school and everyone knew who was older and who was younger than oneself.  He was older than I.  I am extrapolating partly from having known Ellis best before we both graduated from high school, and I can no longer recall how I formed some of these impressions, but I know him personally to be a man of principle and competence, with humility, personal discipline, initiative, and moderation in evidence.  He has a great sense of humor and he used to have a contrary streak.  These characteristics undoubtedly played into his being given positional authority in a church building project (with the exception of the contrariness perhaps), no matter whether it was acquired by appointment or vote--or volunteering, for that matter. 

I think it's useful also to think about what Ellis is not, especially in relation to his adult roles.  He is not a builder.  He is not a businessman.  He is not a first-born (he is fourth in a family of five boys).  He does not have a forceful manner.  He does not flaunt whatever wealth he has. 

More on what Ellis is.  He is a farmer and landowner.  He has coached grade school sports teams.  Recently he chaired a committee that planned the first ever reunion of those who attended Elreka at any time since its beginning in 1958.  I know for a fact that he was able to bring about agreement on at least one issue that another committee member initially objected to.  He grew up in this community and married Joye, who also grew up here.  Their parental families both were both supportive members at Plainview church, but they were dissimilar in some ways. 

I think I'm right that Ellis' father was "in the lot" five times when Plainview ordained a minister (this means simply that church members nominated him--and at least one other person--five times to serve on their ministerial team, but each time someone else actually was chosen by the drawing of lots). His father also served for many years as a school board member, some of them through some tumultuous processes.  I think Ellis' father's record is relevant because it reveals the family atmosphere in which he grew up--one where his father had a public record revealing trust by his peers.  Ellis was privileged to observe how such a person behaves.

My main takeaway from all this obsession over who Ellis is or is not is that personal integrity and the ability to work well with others are absolutely primary qualifications for addressing adaptive challenges like directing a million dollar building project using donated funds.  Yet, my observation suggests that building and business experience are often mistakenly thought to be primary qualifiers for positional authority holders in a big building project.  If a building project were only a technical challenge, then granting positional authority to people who are skilled in applying technical solutions would make sense.  But a building project is so much more.  It is, in fact, in all but its final stages,  mostly an adaptive challenge that calls for adaptive approaches.

I'm still learning about adaptive approaches, and don't have a concise way of describing what is involved.  Stakeholders is one useful term that I recall.  It's another way of referring to the people who are involved in a project or are affected by it.  Stakeholders will either benefit or suffer from outcomes.  They will see in the outcomes things that reflect or betray their values.  They will feel included in the decision-making process or excluded.  They will feel affirmed or degraded.  If stakeholders have serious misgivings, they will either remain silent (or fall silent) or they will speak up and risk being ostracized for it.  Stakeholders often struggle with knowing when/how to provide input, and it can be discouraging to hear both "it's too early to decide that" and then later "it's too late to change that." 

Working across factions is another useful term related to adaptive work.  It means that no one gets to isolate themselves inside an echo chamber.  People with a variety of viewpoints will be admitted into the chamber and treated with respect while they are there.  Outcomes will be better on many fronts when this happens. 


Doing a blog post about LRC may be foolhardy because of how early we still are in the class cycle.  What this means is that I may well look back and see that what I've written here reflects a too-limited perspective.  For those kinds of inadequacies--and others, I ask for forbearance. 

Having some newly-acquired vocabulary is a real turn-on for me.  Something deep inside me responds with delight when previously dimly-sensed feelings and undefined dynamics finally stumble onto words that match them, and they can be dragged into the light of day--and examination of them can be purposeful and productive.     

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The Main Thing

I read a blog post today written by a mother of six children age eight and younger.  In it she confessed that she does things she likes--like sewing, even if her house is not orderly.  She does see to it that her children are well-fed, and she does laundry regularly.  Her children help a good bit with regular housekeeping chores.  Nothing in those revelations was the slightest bit shocking to me.  It's exactly how I lived life when I had young children.

Because I could never manage doing everything well (or even adequately at times), I remember creating a very simple mental list of priorities:  people, other living things, things.  That God and a life of faith trumped all other priorities was the understood Ultimate Priority.

When I felt the most overwhelmed, priorities needed to be determined within each main category.  For example, in the "people" category, I concentrated most on the people that I was most directly responsible for--husband and children.  Since the children were the most helpless and needy, and the most in need of nurture and training, they were at the top of the time priority list.  I don't think Hiromi felt neglected, but we didn't spend a lot of "just us" time.  On my part, I was ever so glad when he could be at home with me and our children.  I don't remember wishing to escape from my children, and he felt the same way, although his means of supporting us financially always meant working at away-from-home jobs. 

In the "other living things" category, I prioritized animals over plants. If I couldn't get water to everything, the animals came first.  If I had time for plants, I prioritized keeping them alive over making them beautiful.  Food plants generally came ahead of ornamental plants. 

Things.  Necessities over frivolities.  Simple over elaborate.  Convenience over appearance.  Inexpensive over costly.  Maintenance and repair over replacement.  Make do with what is readily available rather than reflexively acquiring something new. 

This all sounds spartan and severe, but it was also a vast canvas that invited creativity, nurtured trust in a loving Father, and rewarded me with many reminders that God is a wonderful provider.  I genuinely loved spending time at home with my children, or going away together. 


I was awarded a bachelor's degree with a major in education ten months after our wedding, but working outside our home was never the plan for me.  Having a family was the priority.  I never pined for the academic life I had left.  In many ways I wasn't a "natural" homemaker and mother, but I wanted to do both well, and I found fulfillment in delving deeply into various aspects of these roles.

If my natural instincts had been stronger, I would have had less need to read books about every homemaking and mothering task that I needed to tackle.  As it was, I amassed a library of books on a host of diverse topics and borrowed many books from the public library.   I'm sure that sharing what I was learning with my children helped cement the "lessons" in my own mind, and working and learning together brought us all pleasure.  Although the process did not always follow a smooth upward trajectory, it also had the natural effect of building competence and confidence in our boys. 

After my boys were all nearly grown, I realized one day that I could actually help others learn a great variety of skills by simply leading others in the same paths that I had followed while parenting and homeschooling.  I did just that when I taught high school classes in sewing, nutrition, food production, home environment, etc.  While I also taught more academic classes, they involved a lot more slogging on my part and on the part of the students than did these hands-on classes. 


At this stage of life, I have no regrets about having invested almost exclusively in being a parent and homemaker for about 20 years.  A job or ministry outside my home would have been second-best on a number of fronts.  Among the benefits I see are these: 

1.  I gained a deep knowledge of many segments of ordinary life that add a great deal of richness to my life now.  In retirement, I'm spending a lot of time at home again, and I love it, but I'm also free to pursue interests outside my home.

2.  When the child rearing, homeschooling days were past, I had much more to offer others outside our home than I would have if I had been locked inside a classroom, teaching for the same duration.  I was a more well-rounded person for having stayed home to engage the world from there.

3.  While I fall far short of my mother's hospitality accomplishments, I've tasted what a powerful ministry this home-based way of reaching out to others can be.  The simple act of inviting others into your living space and sharing food and friendship is focused on benefiting guests, but it's also inevitably a learning, growing experience for the host family. 

4.  Being at home together during the day made going away as a family in the evening far more doable and attractive than if the children or I had been gone all day and come home just in time to eat and get ready to go away again.  In this way, we benefited from many learning opportunities in the community.  Among them were Partridge Community Association events, Community Concerts at Memorial Hall, 4H events, involvement in a large, diverse extended family, special meetings at church--often with rich learning opportunities from speakers who had seen slices of life elsewhere or in other times--blending it with deep conviction and compassion and humility. 

5.  Our children had time to pursue individual interests and passions with fewer uniformity-inducing (and mind-numbing?) hours in a conventional classroom.  They were hardly out of grade school before they were doing a lot of real work for real income, at their own initiative, with only limited guidance and assistance from us.  They swapped out car engines, cut, sold, and delivered firewood, developed software, and did farm work, etc.  I don't see how this could have happened in a less home-centered lifestyle.  Maturity was not hurried, but neither was immaturity prolonged unnecessarily. 

6.  I didn't know then as much as I know now about the physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits of spending time in nature, but playing and working outdoors a great deal benefited all of our children enormously.  While I had some knowledge of the "dumbing down" effect on children when they spend time mostly with similar-in-age peers, I appreciate this more fully now. 

7.  For everyone in our family, making a contribution outside our home did eventually become possible.  When it did, it seemed like exactly the right thing at the right time, with the right preparation. 

8.  Our adult children have each others' backs--and ours.  They use their disparate skills and resources to benefit each of the rest of us, although their own families come first.  We're friends who love to be together.  I do not take this privilege lightly.


Perhaps one artless way to summarize what I feel that worked for me in parenting and homemaking is "keeping the main thing the main thing."  Home and family were truly the main responsibility at that stage of life, so keeping it at the center of my investment and commitment made sense. 

When the mother of six children age eight and under (one set of twins is part of this number, as is a newborn) says she sometimes ignores other duties to sew, I still see her keeping the main thing the main thing.  She does that for her family, at home with her family.  She is not sending her children away to be cared for or invested in by others while she escapes to take a job in a sewing factory.  Big difference.


The succinct language of Biblical commands* can also be applied to homemaking and child-rearing:

1.  Keep yourselves from idols (don't worship what is unworthy of your adulation, investment, or commitment)

2.  Love others as yourself and serve others before yourself.

3.  Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (KJV)

4.  Esteem others more highly than yourself.

5.  Pray without ceasing (and remember that the Good Shepherd gently leads those who are with young).

*All given here by memory, some in paraphrase.