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Cora, we cannot possibly do Petrushka this weekend with only four violas at the last rehearsal.At least come to the second half!No, she said.I have a coaching session tonight.There was no coach in sight, and the young women did not even have their instruments unpacked.I said sarcastically, Doesn’t look like a coaching session to me! and stormed off.Cora arrived at the end of the rehearsal and said coldly, I’ve decided to resign from the orchestra.I will not be abused like that.Here was yet another problem thrust in my lap.Now I was really sunk.Our second best violist had just quit—no time to find a new one.I went over it in my mind several times, thinking what could I do, what were my options?As I frequently do on such occasions, I presented the problem to Roz and asked for her help.She said, If you absolutely have to have Cora back in the orchestra for this concert, you have very little room to move.In that case you will have to persuade her to return, and since you are a master of persuasion, you don’t need my help for that.If you are really angry and want a little revenge, you could even try to get her back for this one concert, and then fire her afterward. She smiled, testing me, but I was in no mood for humor.She went on, But if you can imagine letting her go, you have some other options.Why should I have to play the concert without Cora!She owes it to me to see this concert through!—and then I clutched.I can’t get anyone else to play the Stravinsky, the performance is in only two days.After a while I tried on the other scenario—eight violists, all who wanted to be there, all playing their hearts out.Now that I was no longer deeply submerged in the absolute necessity to have her back, I felt more open to hearing whatever Roz had to say.I can see that I don’t absolutely need Cora, and I don’t feel like persuading her or putting pressure on her to return, I told her.I’m willing to risk that she won’t come back.What, then, are my other options?And Roz said, You can always grace yourself with responsibility for anything that happens in your life.You can always find within yourself the source of any problem you have.But that’s ridiculous! I protested.I couldn’t have stopped her from walking out, and anyway I have too many things to think about, I can’t be responsible for everything every player does.I have a concert to prepare..Hold on, she said, I’m not suggesting you blame yourself instead of Cora.This is a way of thinking that has nothing to do with blame at all. And she went on to explain the distinction.I saw a completely new possibility and went to my desk to begin a letter.Cora had been a member of the Friday class, so she knew about the formulation of giving an A and writing a letter dated the following May.October 6Dear Cora,I’ve decided to write you a letter like the one I asked each person in the Friday class to write to explain why they got an A this year.May 18Dear Cora,I got my A because I finally broke the cycle of lashing out at people when they didn’t do exactly what I wanted them to do.I came to see that when I got angry with people or became sarcastic, it was like wiping them out, and our relationship never fully recovered.It was hard for me to get that what I wanted was not necessarily what they wanted.For example, if we were preparing an important and difficult concert and players didn’t come to a rehearsal or came late, I would be disappointed and angry because I thought that they should care as much about the project as I did and let nothing stand in the way of being there.Now I see that in a volunteer orchestra whose players have many other commitments, I cannot assume that everyone’s priorities are exactly the same as mine.I have come to realize that people will do what they want to do—which means that sometimes they will come to rehearsals and sometimes they won’t—and I must respect their decisions.I know now that while I will do what I can to see that every chair is filled, I will accept the fact that this will not always be the case.I have also realized that someone who stands up to me and is unwilling to accept abusive behavior is more of an ally than someone who goes along with it, either out of fear or resignation.As a result of this breakthrough, I have a happier life, and so do the people with whom I interact.Even the music sounds better.Thank you, Cora, for being brave enough to guide me to this realization.I have known it for a while, but last night I really got it, that it is more important to make this breakthrough than to persuade, cajole, threaten, bribe, or charm you back into the orchestra.I have come to respect and appreciate you deeply.Best Wishes,BenPeople with whom I have shared this letter invariably ask me two questions.The first is, of course, What did Cora do when she got the letter? In one sense that question might mean, Did your strategy work? because after all we would prefer to get our way as well as have good relationships—we don’t really want to have to choose between the two.All sorts of situations that can be interpreted as crises of scarcity continually occur in the various orchestras I conduct, but now I recognize the specter of need and frustration as it appears.And I remember Cora.Once you have a new distinction, you have it forever.You can take almost anything and turn it into a strategy.Yet, from the way I felt, the lightness and wholeness, my complete lack of attachment to the outcome—I know it wasn’t.The perception of dependency arouses fear and leads to repeated breakdowns between us, which become the basis for the appearance of barriers and problems throughout life.So, in everyday life, when bad things happen, we have a spectrum of response that includes guilt, blame, regret, helplessness or resignation, the sense of injustice, righteousness, and anger.But each of these responses actually takes us on a detour, into an eddy or a whirlpool, away from what we might call the living stream.Two 100 Percents Make a WholeA man discovers his wife is having an affair and is devastated, because she did it and because she lied.In his pain, his response is to withdraw, get angry, blame, and reassess his choice of mate.She has become the liar, the abuser, the stranger, and he struggles over whether he can and should treat her as someone he can talk to or whether she deserves to remain the enemy.He gets his friends on his side.Meanwhile things move ahead, and life passes him by.If he were to adopt the practice of being the board, he would start by asking himself the question, How did this get on the board that I am? and if he is disciplined enough to stay in the game and not revert to the fault model, he will see something new that will empower him.If he looks long and deep enough, he will be able to tell the story with such understanding and, yes, compassion that a new world will open up for him.This was the one thing that was not supposed to happen.He had made every attempt to let his wife know that infidelity was something he could not tolerate.And furthermore, they both agreed that honesty was the rock foundation of their relationship.But, he asks himself, why was betrayal such an issue before it happened?Why had he made such a point of it?He thinks of plenty of minor examples of betrayal in his life, starting as far back as when his mother left him at kindergarten in spite of his highly vocal objections.In fact, he realizes, one of the initial reasons he was attracted to the woman he married was that she seemed like a person who was not likely to oppose or betray him.She was accommodating and sensitive to his needs.He trusted her 100 percent.When they fought, as he presumed all couples do, she accused him of not valuing her work.This was true—he realized—he was not really that interested in her marketing job.Yet he did his best to listen.He felt that, by being a good provider and caretaker, he was all one could ask for in a husband.In this moment of reflection, he noticed how resolute he had been in dismissing her independent experiences and desires.Does this mean that by ignoring things that were important to her he drove his wife to having an affair?That it was his fault? No, certainly not, and furthermore, it is not the game we are playing.Can he claim total responsibility for the breakdown that occurred in their relationship?How might the same story look from his wife’s point of view, if she were to adopt the practice of being the board?Instead of justifying her actions by blaming him for not taking her seriously nor giving her the attention she deserved, she asks herself, How did it happen on the board that I am that I did the very thing I promised—and really believed—I would never do?Perhaps she starts by acknowledging that she has never had an easy time balancing responsiveness and independence.Her formative years were riddled with guilt.Only when she had proven her loyalty and devotion to her mother, who had selfishly held on to her, had she felt free to live her own life.She realizes she had not been able to contemplate that there might be a legitimate concern for the marriage in, for instance, her husband’s resistance to her attending law school.She could only understand it as a kind of selfishness from which she had eventually to escape.She now realizes that between her total surrender to accommodating her husband and her growing need to escape, there had been little room for real partnership.So, should she feel that the problem in the marriage was all her fault? No, that is not the game we are playing.Can she claim full responsibility for a breakdown in their partnership?Absolutely, as can he.What can these two do?Of course he loves me.I had her in a vise grip.My first step is to apologize and see if there is anything left to build.Together, they come up with new distinctions.It is a context in which two people build the life they want together.In the practice of being the board, you are not concerned that the other person examine her own assumptions.You see that the stumbling blocks that stand in your way are part of you, not her, and only you can remove them.Moreover, once you embark on the practice, you may find yourself relinquishing your claim for fairness or justice in favor of the riches that an intimate relationship can offer.You name yourself as the instrument to make all your relationships into effective partnerships.Imagine how profoundly trustworthy you would be to the people who work for you if they felt no problem could arise between you that you were not prepared to own.Imagine how much incentive they would have to cooperate if they knew they could count on you to clear the pathways for accomplishment.This practice launches you on a soaring journey of transformation and development with others, a completely different route than the one of managing relationships to avoid conflict.It calls for courage and compassion.King’s vision spoke to that which is fundamental to any human being, the theme that unites and uplifts the people on the street, the privileged in the suburbs, and the politicians in office.He demonstrated with body and soul that dreaming can make a difference.We are simply seeking to bring into full realization the American dream—a dream yet unfulfilled.It is to have the courage and persistence to distinguish the downward spiral from the radiant realm of possibility in the face of any challenge.As a species we are exquisitely suited to thrive in an environment of threat where resources are scarce, but not always ready to reap the benefits of harmony, peace, and plenty.Our perceptual apparatus is structured to alert us to real and imagined dangers everywhere.Yet we do have the capacity to override the hidden assumptions of peril that give us the world we see.We can open a window on a world where all is sound, our creative powers are formidable, and unseen threads connect us all.Leadership is a relationship that brings this possibility to others and to the world, from any chair, in any role.This kind of leader is not necessarily the strongest member of the pack—the one best suited to fend off the enemy and gather in resources—as our old definitions of leadership sometimes had it.The leader of possibility invigorates the lines of affiliation and compassion from person to person in the face of the tyranny of fear.This new leader carries the distinction that it is the framework of fear and scarcity, not scarcity itself, that promotes divisions between people.He asserts that we can create the conditions for the emergence of anything that is missing.We are living in the land of our dreams.This leader calls upon our passion rather than our fear.She is the relentless architect of the possibility that human beings can be.How do we reliably bring forth possibility in this context and take to our wings?It is about restructuring meanings, creating visions, and establishing environments where possibility is spoken—where the buoyant force of possibility overcomes the pull of the downward spiral.Enter the territory.Embody the new distinction in such a way that it becomes the framework for life around you.Keep distinguishing what is on the track and what is off the track of your framework for possibility.Here is a story in which a leader creates a framework for the possibility of learning to live with differences.A New Children’s StoryA little girl in second grade underwent chemotherapy for leukemia.When she returned to school, she wore a scarf to hide the fact that she had lost all her hair.But some of the children pulled it off, and in their nervousness laughed and made fun of her.The little girl was mortified and that afternoon begged her mother not to make her go back to school.Her mother tried to encourage her, saying, The other children will get used to it, and anyway your hair will grow in again soon.The next morning, when their teacher walked in to class, all the children were sitting in their seats, some still tittering about the girl who had no hair, while she shrank into her chair.Good morning, children, the teacher said, smiling warmly in her familiar way of greeting them.She took off her coat and scarf.Her head was completely shaved.After that, a rash of children begged their parents to let them cut their hair.And when a child came to class with short hair, newly bobbed, all the children laughed merrily—not out of fear—but out of the joy of the game.And everybody’s hair grew back at the same time.The teacher distinguished baldness as possibility—a fashion statement, an act of choice, a game to play, an opportunity for solidarity and connection.No one was made wrong.There was nothing to fix.And the new statement was more compelling to the children than their fearful imaginings because it provided a whole field of play.In the realm of possibility, there is no division between ideas and action, mind and body, dream and reality.Leaders who become their vision often seem uncommonly brave to the rest of us.Whether from the middle of the action, or from the sidelines, they are a conduit for carrying the vision forward.It is said that when the King looked out the window of the palace and saw the Nazi flag with its swastika flying over the roofs of the government buildings, he called for a meeting with the commander of the occupying forces.The King requested the flag be removed.The Nazi officer refused.King Christian walked a few feet away, and spent some moments in thought.He approached the officer once more.And what will you do if I send a soldier to take it down?

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