My 9/11 Reflections

Like many other American churches, on Sunday, September 11, 2011, my home church Grace Episcopal cathedral of Topeka will hold a 9/11 memorial service. Unlike most churches, for our service we have invited the Topeka Islamic Center, and Temple Beth Shalom to join us. In 2001 these three faith communities joined for a prayer service. I am so proud of our parish for this inclusive approach. Imagine, Christians, Jews and Muslims praying together in Topeka Kansas.

It reminds me that the terrorist of 9/11 didn’t do what they did because they were Arabs, nor because they were Muslim. They did what they did because they “knew the truth,” with such certainty that anyone who disagreed with them was not only wrong, but evil, and if evil, worthy of death.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols also knew the truth.

Several years ago, I wrote and created a “live” John Brown performance. After 9-11 I quit doing it because I realized that the only difference between John Brown and the 9-11 terrorists was the name they called their God, and the cause they believed in. I had seen John Brown as a hero because I agree that slavery is evil. But I realized that like John Brown, the 9-11 terrorists believed their acts were justified because they believed  what they saw as Western Imperialism is evil. They also believed they were doing God’s will. Basically the people we should fear are not Muslims, or for that matter Christians, but anybody who is so convinced they are right they believe those who disagree with them are evil; that the end justifies any means.

So are we to accept injustice in the world and do nothing? absolutely not. Dr. Martin Luther King tells how to deal with injustice in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” If you haven’t read it, you should. If you have read it, read it again.

Final thought: September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. The following Saturday a Senior Class performance was scheduled. Several people asked me if I would cancel it. I didn’t for three reasons.

  •  One: “The show must go on;”
  • Two: I felt that cancelling the show was what the terrorists would have wanted. They wanted to disturb us and interrupt our lives. I was unwilling to give them that victory.
  • Thee: Laughter heals

We had a small house, and there were almost as many people on stage as in the house. But we laughed. Oh how we laughed. Take that terrorists!

Laugh is not my middle name, but my first  name.

Finally, I truly believe every thing I have written here is true. If you disagree with me, more power to you. I may be wrong.


Hall of Fame, Me? . . . Yeah, Me!

Last Saturday was a very good day for me. Started off with a visit to Topeka’s Farmers Market then a nice motorcycle ride. Along the way I stopped to see if another biker, who was stopped by the side of the road needed help. He didn’t, but I recognized the riders as my cousin Tom and his wife, Debbie. They invited me to lunch at Lake Perry. Home for a nap then on to Topeka Civic Theatre and Academy, for the annual awards night, where I was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I consider it quite an honor!

But, as they say in the infomercials, “Wait, there’s more!” After the program, as I was meeting friends and receiving congratulations, I saw Jeff Kready. Jeff and I were in To Kill A Mockingbird in 1995. He played Jem to my Atticus. He grew up to be a professional actor appearing in Broadway shows. Jeff hugged me and congratulated me and then said the most amazing thing. He told me that he had learned so much about acting from watching me! Me! Imagine.

I may never be able to put my hat on again!

As Soon as I figure out how, I will add “Member of Topeka Civic Theatre’s Hall of Fame,” and “Acting coach to the stars,” to my resume. Yeah, right!

Other good news: You may remember my post about Sheriff Richard Barta’s classy apology. I emailed him thanking him for the good example and included a link to the posts. I got a very kind email back, inviting me to meet him in person. I will visit him tomorrow.

Not bad, huh?

True Apology: A Class Act

A story in this mornings’s Topeka Capitol Journal started me thinking about apology. In my mediation and conflict resolution training, I talk about apology a lot, and one of my favorite quotes is “A true apology involves an exchange of power and shame.”( I’m sorry I have been unable to find who said it, if you know please let me know.) Because of this, it is very difficult for an insecure person to apologize. A true apology makes you vulnerable.

A few months ago, Virgil Peck, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives suggested, he insists in jest, that we should shoot “illegal aliens” from helicopters like we do wild hogs. Under pressure from his party he issued this “apology”: “My statements yesterday were regrettable. Please accept my apology.” Does that sound like an apology to you?

But some public figures are capable of a true apology, and that brings us back to the story in today’s Capitol Journal. Shawnee County Sheriff Dick Barta had publicly criticized the Shawnee County Commission for cutting his budget. Here is his apology:

“Last night I got around to reading the article in the Cap Journal — it caused me a sleepless night. Particularly the headline that states Sheriff: Public Safety Not a Priority For County.  While it’s okay to express my dissatisfaction and frustration in the privacy of the 4 walls in my office (Lord knows I do that enough), to vent my opinion to the media was wrong — nothing good comes from this.

“My actions lacked discipline, were unprofessional and clearly violated our Mission Statement. For this I apologize to you, the citizens and the Commissioners.  (As a 65 year-old, you would think I would know better).”

Now that, my friends, is an apology! I was so impressed, I made it the topic of the blog you are reading and also made a brief video on You Tube.

Thank you, Sheriff Barta for suggesting today’s blog topic and for an example of a true apology I can use in future mediation and conflict resolution trainings.


More on stories

A couple of weeks ago I posted about how important and powerful stories are, and suggested the story spine as a way to build your story. Today I’d like to talk about another story development exercise, but to do so, I want to try out some new technology. I want to see if my “tell me who you are, and get a freebie” technique works. So, let’s help each other. Go to my website, click on the “Color/Advance freebie,” and you will receive a pdf with a very useful exercise you can use to develop your story. I will find out if my new toy works, and I’ll have your name and address in case I decide to send you some mail. Oh, and if you don’t want my mail, just say so. I hate spam as much as you do.

Improv Q & A

I recently received an email from Paul Z Jackson, President of the Applied Improvisation Network. In it he sets out in Q & A format,a succinct description of what improv based training is all about. For your information, I’m reprinting it here:

Paul Z Jackson Interview

I was interviewed by a magazine journalist recently. Here are her questions, along with my (slightly edited) answers.

What’s the one key improv skill which could help anyone perform better at work?

The key improv skill is called ‘yes…and’, which means accepting and building. The accepting part depends on listening carefully so you are clear what’s being offered. Then – assuming you choose to accept (‘Yes’) – you build on that offer (‘And’), so that all the people in the conversation are constructing something useful together.

How does improv help you switch off the feeling of being self-conscious and help you access your creative self? What can you do to make this happen in everyday situations?

Improv helps you access your creativity by removing a lot of the fear of being wrong. You get more confident to have a go, and see your contribution as a low-risk experiment. A good tip for everyday is to listen for what you can agree with in what others are saying, and respond positively by building on those parts of the conversation. Conversation is turn-taking, and you can choose how to play your turns.

How is improv important in neutralising fear/anxiety? What tricks can you use to mimic that in a work situation?

Improv is not really about tricks or even removing feelings of self-consciousness. It’s about applying some of the on-stage skills used so brilliantly by performers in shows like ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’ to everyday situations in which we interact with other people.

Thank  you Paul!

Success and Responsibility

Just a couple of things on my mind this morning. Let’s take them in chronological order:

First the community building excercise for the incoming MPH students at The University of Kansas Medical Center was an unqualified success! At the end of the session, I heard one student remark, “I have been on campus for three months, and this is the first time I feel like I belong here.” Of course, in addition to accomplishing our goal of creating a sense of community, we all had fun. Yours truly most of all.

Sunday was my son Glenn’s birthday celebration, and as is our custom, the entire family went out to eat at the restaurant of his choosing. Our server was a very pleasant young woman, but when the food arrived, one order was missing. When I called it to her attention, she said, “My fault, I failed to put it in. I will get it in right away.” Wow! “My fault, I failed to put it in!” Not, “The kitchen messed up your order,” or “Someone else must have picked it up.” “My fault.” I was very impressed.

At laugh2learn, we include accepting and celebrating failure as an essential part of being successful. Acknowledging a mistake and taking responsibility for it, goes hand in hand with accepting failure. I was very impressed with our server, and although the service was less than perfect she earned a healthy tip.

Did The Ancient Hebrews Have Improv Training

This morning  at Grace Cathedral the lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures was about Moses and Pharaoh’s Daughter. I have recorded a little video on You Tube in case you would rather listen to than read the story. 

According the the Hebrew Scripture, when the Hebrews in Egypt started to become too powerful, Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all of the male children born to the Hebrew women. The midwives wouldn’t do it. When Pharaoh discovered that there were many male children among he Hebrews he called the midwives to ask why. They responded that the Hebrew women were so strong and healthy that by the time a midwife could get to them, the baby was already born.

Still concerned with the proliferation of male Hebrews, Pharaoh ordered that all the male children born to Hebrew women should be thrown into the Nile. When Moses was born, his mother built a little basket of papyrus and put the baby in it and hid it in some reeds in the river. She sent her daughter to watch and see what happened. It just so happened that Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe at that very spot in the river. (Think Moses’ mother didn’t know that?) When Pharoah’s daughter saw the baby in the basket, she decided to keep it as her own.

Seeing this, Moses’ sister ran to the Egyptian Princess and offered to find a nurse for the baby. When the Princess assented, Moses sister ran and got her mother to be the nurse.

Pretty clever. Now, not only did Moses’ mother save her child’s life, she got to raise him and, got paid to do so.

After service a friend and I were talking about the story and he remarked on how often in the stories in the Hebrew Scripture people seem to be able to think on their feet quickly. In this story the Midwive’s  quick thinking saved them from Pharaoh’s wrath, and Moses’ sisters quick thinking allowd Moses’ mother to raise her own child.

It made me wonder if the Hebrews had some improv training. One of the goals of improv training is to help you learn to think quickly on your feet. If you would like to learn how to react quickly, improv training is available, among other places, at Laugh2Learn. And remember if  you don’t get what you want from a Laugh2Learn training, it’s free.