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  • Writer's pictureStephen

I recently chatted with a few friends about the ways it seems like we can feel the tensions in the air right now. People having such strong differences of opinion about so many topics, but everyone feeling like it's their right to express their views and opinions without any type of restraint or hindrance.

I also attended a virtual conversation between a Palestinian individual and a Jewish individual, both of whom are working to lead organizations working for peace in the Middle East. Going into it, I wondered how much tension there would be and if the conversation would unfold with any hostility because of it. Thankfully, people were very respectful and actually engaged with a great deal of compassion and empathy. It was a very powerful conversation!

I think part of the reason it went so well was because the hosts of the conversation set the stage with some powerful agreements at the beginning. After reaching out to the organizers, they kindly shared the source of those agreements with me as being from Parker Palmer and his organization, the Center for Courage and Renewal. They actually call them the Circle of Trust Touchstones.

I was so impressed with the agreements and saw so many places where they could be applied, I want to share them with you here in a slightly edited version. I think you will see the power of these agreements and immediately begin to see places where they may be applied in your life and relationships.

Give and receive welcome. People learn best in hospitable spaces. In this circle we support each other's learning by giving and receiving hospitality. What is offered in the circle is by invitation, not demand. This is not a "share or die " event! Do whatever your soul calls for, and know that you do it with our support. Your soul knows your needs better than we do. No fixing, saving, advising or correcting. This is one of the hardest guidelines for those of us who like to "help." But it is vital to welcoming the soul, to making space for the inner teacher. Learn to respond to others with honest, open questions... instead of counsel or corrections. With such questions, we help "hear each other into deeper speech." Be present as fully as possible. Be here with your doubts, fears and failings as well as your convictions, joys and successes, your listening as well as your speaking. Speak your truth in ways that respect other people's truth. Our views of reality may differ, but speaking one's truth in a Circle of Trust does not mean interpreting, correcting or debating what others say. Speak from your center to the center of the circle, using "I" statements, trusting people to do their own sifting and winnowing. When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, "I wonder what brought them to this belief?" "I wonder what they're feeling right now?" "I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?" Set aside judgment to listen to others—and to yourself-more deeply. Trust and learn from the silence. Silence is a gift in our noisy world, and a way of knowing in itself. Treat silence as a member of the group. After someone has spoken, take time to reflect without immediately filling the space with words. Attend to your own inner teacher. We learn from others, of course. But as we explore poems, stories, questions and silence in a Circle of Trust, we have a special opportunity to learn from within. So pay close attention to your own reactions and responses, to your most important teacher. Observe deep confidentiality. A Circle of Trust depends on knowing that whatever we say will remain with the people to whom we choose to say it - whether in small groups or in the large circle and will never be passed on to others without our explicit permission.

Which of these ideas resonates the most with you today? What are some ways you could apply these practices? If you're serving in a leadership role, how might these help you in developing your team?

Here's to embracing these agreements this week!

Be Well, Stephen

Center was created to support individuals and teams so they can live from their Purposeful Center. We specialize in professional coaching and leadership development and we’d love to support you! Click on our Services page to book a free consultation.

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  • Writer's pictureStephen

I don't know if you are familiar with the self-understanding tool known as The Enneagram, but I have started to study and learn more about it in recent months. One of the things I appreciate about it, is its acknowledgement toward an orientation of time. Basically, it recognizes that there are three orientations of time - the past, the present, and the future. Now I know that doesn't really seem like a huge insight, but what it sees is that most people have a tendency toward one of those as their default mode of thinking. In other words, some people tend to mostly view the world through a past orientation - looking at life through what has already happened. Some people tend to have a present view of time - looking at life in this moment and thinking about what they can do right now. And some people tend to view the world through a future lens - thinking mostly about what is coming or could be happening out in front of them.

No one only views their lives through their singular lens, but if we can determine our primary orientation to time, it can help us know ourselves and our tendencies more clearly so we don't get stuck into exaggerated patterns of thinking. Some illustrations to help.


People who have a default orientation of time toward the past have the great benefit of quickly learning from the past - from both positive and negative experiences. A Past-Oriented individual can easily learn from their mistakes and their victories, echoing the words of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, "We live life forward, but we understand it backward." However, past-oriented people can also get stuck in the past, and when they do it can create lots of opportunities for regret to surface in their lives. If they aren't careful, those regrets can pile up and lead to a significant amount of despair.


People who have a default orientation of time toward the future can be some of the most strategic thinkers in the world. They have the amazing ability to see lots of possibilities and potential outcomes, and can help make critical decisions for today based on all of those options. And while their forward view of time can be very strategic, if future-oriented people get stuck in tomorrow-land, they open themselves up to significant amounts of worry and anxiety. They can get caught up in all the possibilities of what could be, creating a sense of paralysis in the present.


People who have a default orientation of time toward the present have an uncanny ability to live with a sense of calm and peace. Their gift is the ability to easily let go of the regret of the past and surrender the anxiety of tomorrow, and just be present in this moment. But, people with a present-orientation can also get stuck there, which limits their ability to learn from the past and to think strategically about the future. They can be so caught up in the now that they can't reflect and learn or project and choose wisely.

Hopefully, it's easy to see that each of the orientations to time have their own strengths and challenges. As we become more aware of our own primary default view we can better recognize when we are falling into the pitfalls of that perspective, and move toward drawing on the strengths of all of the views in a more balanced approach.

Which perspective is your default? Do you recognize the ways in which you tend to fall into its traps? How much are you drawing on the strength of your own perspective, and what would it look like if you also embraced the strengths of the other perspectives too?

Here's to being people this week who learn from yesterday, are peaceful today, and are strategic about tomorrow!

Be Well,


Center was created to support individuals and teams so they can live from their Purposeful Center. We specialize in professional coaching and leadership development and we’d love to support you! Click on our Services page to book a free consultation.

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  • Writer's pictureStephen

During several recent meetings, I found myself revisiting an important lesson that has helped me on many occasions - being willing and able to embrace paradox in my life.

The basic idea of a paradox is when two things seem to be in contradiction or in opposition to each other, but can actually still be true at the same time. In the classic area of philosophy, paradox is used as a tool of reasoning. In this regard, you might hear examples like "It was the beginning of the end" or "If I know one thing, it's that I know nothing." However, most of us don't live in the world of philosophical ideas, but a willingness to embrace paradox can still be valuable because it can help us move past simple, binary thinking.

Binary thinking is actually critical to our growth and development when we are young, but as we get more mature, it's important that we recognize growing levels of complexity and even paradox. For example, I can both love my partner and be really mad at them at the same time. If I am stuck in binary thinking, then I can't be frustrated and love them at the same time.

When we bring this into the workplace or leadership environment, it's easy to see how embracing paradox through both/and thinking vs either/or thinking can be helpful. For example, I can acknowledge that it's possible for someone to have achieved a certain level of expertise AND still be able to learn and grow, vs getting stuck in a space where they are either competent OR they aren't. Additionally, it's possible to be frustrated by some of the systems that are in place AND still believe in the mission of what we are working to accomplish, vs thinking we are either fully on board with the organization OR we aren't.

When we embrace the either/or binary way of thinking, we create fictional limits that aren't very helpful. But, when we embrace the both/and paradoxical way of thinking, we create more freedom and room to live into nuance, balance and complexity.

What areas of your life are the most difficult to embrace the paradox of both/and? In what ways would you need to adjust your thinking to shift from a binary approach to one that is more nuanced? How might that create more freedom for you and for others?

Here's to embracing paradox this week!

Be Well, Stephen

Center was created to support individuals and teams so they can live from their Purposeful Center. We specialize in professional coaching and leadership development and we’d love to support you! Click on our Services page to book a free consultation.

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