In our busy, goal-oriented lives it is all too easy to put on our blinkers so we can focus on tasks or goals, or to raise our everyday defenses so we don’t risk making ourselves vulnerable. It is easy to approach a business meeting with a particular agenda in mind and miss the opportunity to experience the unexpected, to catch glimpses occasionally offered into vulnerability, beauty and wonder. I was fortunate recently that the heavens aligned and I was open to a moment as rare and beautiful as Venus in the crescent moon – metaphorically an opportunity for great wisdom.
The nature of my business allows me to complete very high-value projects (retraining tax credits) for my clients without spending much time at their office, so when I recently reengaged with the new CFO of a long-time client, we worked by email and phone and through her staff; it was not until I drove to her home county to close out the project with the State Technical College that I met her for the first time. I had found her pleasant to work with and was looking forward to going out for lunch, but nothing prepared me for our conversation.
My client’s CFO has a young family and her stay-at-home husband’s passion, she told me, is to found a not-for-profit with the purpose of enabling neighborhoods to form and act as real communities and engage in the world as such. This excited me since I firmly believe that one of the greatest challenges our society faces is the loss of local community and am disturbed that our public focus is on what I believe should be secondary concerns – money and jobs (I wrote about this in a blog post, Focus on Jobs).
And this is where I experienced my first blast of wisdom. It turns out that my lunch partner and her husband have such a profound belief in the value and power of community that they have put aside EVERY Thursday night to host a neighborhood pot-luck dinner at their house. That’s right: they have a standing open invitation EVERY Thursday night to everyone in the neighborhood; and this couple have committed that come what may, they will be at home to host the gathering. I find this an extraordinary idea and a remarkable commitment and I want to evangelize it. I have experienced the wonder of hospitality to strangers first hand with synagogues and Jewish families (notably at Shabbat), and with Muslim families and communities (especially at close-of-day iftar during Ramadan and on my trip to Turkey), and know in my gut that a neighborhood pot-luck is a wonderful gift to the world. I was blown away by my companion’s insight and by her extraordinary and beautiful personal commitment to community building.
We moved on to talk about living authentically: about buying fair-trade coffee and chocolate before it was fashionable; about making the life decisions to align work with home and family values; about living within walking distance of the kids’ school and the shops and actually walking to them.
Driving back to my client’s office we started talking about schools; my companion observed that many white, middle-class families waffle and make incoherent excuses for living in the suburbs when the reality is they don’t want their kids going to the mixed-race schools of the city. I said something about privilege (another topic about which I am passionate and have written recently in The Devil’s Greatest Trick and America Catching Fire?) and was jerked bolt upright by the fierce passion in my companion’s riposte. “We don’t like to talk about our privilege, do we Gareth?” she said.
Ordinary words but with super-ordinary meaning and extra-ordinary passion. Wow!
I was profoundly blessed this day by unexpected wisdom which has sat with me for a week and is still echoing loudly. It was a day of great joy and hope that might have changed my life and has certainly given me things to do. I’d like to ask you to take action on this as well: see if you can take to your next business lunch one less idea of what you want to accomplish; take a few minutes to look closely at your privilege when you pass judgment; and consider working in your neighborhood towards establish a weekly potluck dinner invitation. I am certainly going to work on all of these myself.