Power and Paradox

SHELBURNE – In the early eighties, I developed and led leadership workshops for government employees. “The Paradox of Managing Change” and my support for Madeleine Kunin’s gubernatorial campaign in Vermont got me on Reagan’s blacklist. Madeleine won the election, and I was prohibited from working with federal employees.

Is change dangerous? It depends on how and who you ask.

At the time, I was a certified visionary leadership teacher with Innovation Associates Inc. in Framingham, Mass. Charlie Kiefer, Peter Senge, and Robert Fritz, the three principals of the company, taught me to use a rubber band to demonstrate the tension between current reality and vision. They referred to the energy in a stretched rubber band as structural tension, a playful but heady, adult concept.

Twenty years later, I adapted structural tension for young children. I gave kids wide rubber bands with their names on them so they could watch themselves stretch while exploring what I rebranded as “creative tension.”

They discovered that to stretch and grow, they needed to name the way things are and the way things could be. I preempted some little-boy energy and shot my own rubber band outside our circle. “What do I have now?” I asked. A child confidently proclaimed, “Nothing. You’ve lost your power!” I couldn’t have said it better.

The child’s mom later told me that her son wanted to put his rubber band in his treasure box so he wouldn’t lose his power. A week later, their house burned to the ground. They lost everything. The boy was devastated—then he got a new rubber band with his name on it in the mail. At least his power was restored, thanks to some graceful mischief. He is now a college graduate and could probably solve all my computer conundrums.

As a nation and as a species, we spend most of our time arguing about what current reality is, not to mention what our visions are for what could be. Our learning edges are in the middle of what we perceive as reality and positive possibility. Unless we simultaneously hold a common understanding of current reality and a shared vision for the future, the essence of paradox, we lose our power to create what we want individually and collectively. Let’s listen and talk together about what is closest to our hearts. That is where we discover our common ground.

Place your hand over your heart and feel the power within. Share it compassionately with friends and strangers. This important and powerful work is within your reach.

(“Trish Passmore Alley holds an MBA in Organizational Development and Behavior. A published author and poet, her career has included teaching at the collegiate level, owning several small businesses in manufacturing, engineering, and retail, and founding and operating three social profits in Greensboro, A published author and poet, she posts brief, monthly blogs at gracefulmischief.com/. She now lives in Shelburne.)

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