Stop by Sometime

An excerpt from the book So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World

By Margaret Wheatley, 2012

Earlier I called attention to how distracted we are, how our communication habits have deteriorated into texts and by-appointment-only phone calls. Here, I want to describe some truly radical behaviors for us warriors* focused on how we communicate, fully aware of how much courage is required to do these thing. We need to pick up the phone and call each other for no reason; we need to drop in on each other; we need to find time to visit with one another in person.

Why am I advocating such courageous acts? Simply because we have to create strong support for ourselves and each other. We know we can’t persevere alone, we know we need each other, but we may disregard what this means for our communications. As warriors, we can expect to be criticized, ignored, mocked, dismissed, invisible–this list should feel familiar by now. And we see the world differently than most; we can’t share what we’re seeing or feeling with many people. And most people, even those close to us, don’t care about what we’re doing. Loneliness is built into the warrior’s job description–it’s unavoidable.

Years ago, when I was working for the Army Chief of Staff, Gordon Sullivan, he introduced me to the essence of warriorship by reading me a letter, written at the end of the Civil War. It was a personal letter from General Sherman to General Grant, describing the reasons for their victory. General Sherman wrote: “I always knew you thought of me and that if I got in a tight place, you would come, if alive.” I have yearned for this unequivocal support and have read this letter to many groups to encourage us to be more available to each other. We need to know that we’re here for each other, that this is not a casual promise, that we won’t ever let distraction keep us from each other. With my close colleagues, we pledge our support in today’s terms: “If I see your name come up on my phone, I’ll take the call.” Not quite as stirring, but enough. I’ve worked with groups that have done the same–they put everyone’s phone number (not emails) on speed dial with the pledge to answer immediately.

Let me suggest that we practice even greater bravery and drop in on colleagues or accost them wherever we see them. How else can we pierce through the distracted, superficial nature of communication? You’ll worry that you’re disturbing them. Of course you are. But you’re worth it, you’re offering the chance for a connection, a good old-fashioned conversation (not networking). In my own experience, after the first minute of wondering how long you’re going to stand there, people settle in and begin to relish the opportunity to talk. Everyone is experiencing at least some distress and disconnect these days, and often it’s more serious than that. A conversation in which at least one person is actively working to be present and stay calm (that would be you) is most welcome these days. We respond to any opportunity that makes us feel less alone. We humans really miss each other.

Through such a simple act as surprising someone with a conversation, we’re demonstrating our faith as warriors for the human spirit. Beneath the façade of every distracted person there is compassion and intelligence waiting to break through the clutter of everyday life. Even if the individual doesn’t know this, we do. The work of warriors is to remember who we are as humans, and to make it possible for many people to rediscover how it feels to be fully human. We plunge open-hearted into this world of confusion, aggression and greed, inviting challenge, practicing discernment, accepting uncertainty, coping with despair and exhaustion. And from it all, we find rich lives overflowing with meaning and purpose because the human spirit is worth the struggle.

* The term “warrior” in this context is used to refer to “warriors of the human spirit”– those people brave enough to refrain from adding to the fear and aggression of this time. Those who chose not to meet aggression with aggression and to consciously choose to stay out of fear and support others to do the same, to quell the anxiety and anger that erupts so reflexively and choose  peace.