Tag Archives: straus institute

Warm (-ing up to) Embrace

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“Loving your enemies . . . Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this demand is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes it is love that will save our world and civilization; love even for our enemies.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I war privileged to hear Yale professor and prominent theologian, Miroslav Volf, speak in March, and although late to the party I just finished his most famous book, Exclusion & Embrace.  It was in a sense required reading since I teach a course in the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law titled, Apology, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation—topics that are at the heart of his book.

Full disclosure: I am not an idiot—unless you are simply comparing me and Mirsolav Volf that is.  I understood a good number of the words he used in the book but most of the time was intellectually flailing and gasping for air.  He is brilliant.  Which is why I was particularly intrigued to read such a brilliant mind analyze the components of a hug.

Exclusion & Embrace addresses our fractured “us vs. them” world where exclusion is coin of the realm and presents the image of embrace as a theological counter—almost literally.  Volf properly discloses that an embrace is too intimate for some cultures and not intimate enough for others but that he is interested in the metaphor more than the actual practice.  And then he breaks a hug down into four distinct parts that led me to imagine a Sesame Street song: First, you open your arms; then, you wait; then, you close your arms; then, you open your arms again.

You may not have analyzed the components of a hug before, but stick with me here…

To open the arms indicates a desire for the other and an invitation to come into personal space that I have created for you.  To wait is an act of vulnerability that refuses the path of force and respects the autonomy of the other.  To close the arms—the actual embrace—is a tender and reciprocal act of shared space.  And to open the arms again is a sign of release and respect that provides both the freedom and independence to leave—and to return again.

Okay, this is great for your spouse or kids or friends.  For them, I’m a hugger.  But what about the people you despise (unfairly assuming that the latter isn’t your spouse or kids or friends)?

To put down the weapon and open-armed invite those you despise into your intimate space is almost unthinkable.

To go one further and silently, vulnerably, allow your enemy the choice to either accept or attack—both choices are hard to stomach.

To then actually and tenderly embrace the despicable is a simply nauseating thought.

And then to release the enemy as friend?

I’m glad that Volf is super smart because he would be up a creek if he needed to raise a following or lead a team or run for office.  Nobody is going to want to do this.  Being right and feeling proud and getting even are going to be way more popular than seeking reconciliation.

But being right and feeling proud and getting even sure produce an enormous supply of ugly.  I, for one, am interested in any alternative that leads to a true and lasting peace—even if it does sound like awfully hard work and more than a little loony tunes.

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Invisible Places

jailLike any good American, I went to jail the day after Christmas.  Well, maybe it was a strange thing to do.  My youngest daughter, a college sophomore, crawled out of bed on a Monday morning to join me because she just might share my unconventional approach to interesting holiday activities.  But you have to give us the “interesting” at least.  When our host asked his colleague at the beginning of our tour if an older gentleman escorted past us was the murder suspect, we were pretty sure we weren’t returning gifts to Macy’s.

The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law has conducted conflict resolution trainings for the LAPD over the past couple of years—a most important work to be sure.  As a result, several officers have enrolled as students in our Master of Dispute Resolution program, including the officer that commands the particular LAPD jail that we visited.  In our interactions at Pepperdine, he offered to give me a tour, and I jumped at the opportunity.

The jail we visited is one of several that process and hold arrestees for a couple of days until their court appearances, which means that all manner of folks pass through, from benign offenders to death row convicts.  We saw everything.  On the lighter side, we played with the equipment, tried on riot gear, held a Taser, and posed for smiling pictures behind bars knowing we were free to leave.  On the sobering side, we saw the padded cells and the strip search rooms, but more poignantly the prisoners who were not free to leave: the voices yelling for attention; the disembodied hands sticking out from behind the bars, one my daughter saw mimicking a gun; faces behind the glass that embarrassingly felt like zoo exhibits, including the bloodied face of a man booked for assault with a weapon who looked like he lost the assault.

I didn’t feel like saying Happy Holidays very often.  I was impressed by the professionalism of the staff.  I felt, almost surprisingly, a measure of pride in being an American, what with the processed turkey dinner served on Christmas as opposed to the regular fare, the prominent posting of prisoner rights throughout the complex, the attention to cleaning the facility (despite the horrid smell by the shower in the men’s block), and the detailed cataloging of the personal items of the prisoners.  Gary Haugen taught me that the developing world rarely needs better laws, just (non-corrupt) law enforcement, and I was pleased to see a place led by an officer dedicated to enforcing the law with integrity.  But, still.  A jail is intentionally not a happy place to be, which was psychologically jarring on the day after Christmas.

Our world is full of unsettling, invisible places.  There are things we would rather not see, but we don’t have to travel far to find them.  We just don’t hang out in jails very often.  We rarely visit hospitals or nursing homes.  We avoid the homeless and hungry and lonely and stay away from poverty-stricken parts of town.  Heck, there are parts of ourselves we choose to ignore.  If we don’t look, I guess we can pretend these places don’t exist, which I’m fairly positive is a less than healthy approach.

In the women’s block of the jail, we met a young female correctional officer completing the probationary portion of her new job.  She was impressive in uniform, professionalism, and personality.  We instantly liked her.  She is also twenty years old, basically the same age as my daughter.  This young officer sees (and does) things in her work every day that I would rather not think about very often, if at all.  We learned that the LAPD desperately needs more female officers like this, and it struck me that the world must need lots of public servants in lots of invisible places.

I am humbled by those already there.

In 2017, I intend to spend more time in invisible places.  The tourist spots are just too crowded anyway.

What Is Your Potential, and How Do You Get There?

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My second post comes early this week because my friend, Tim, died, and I am heartbroken.  His sweet wife, Peggy, called with the tragic news this morning.  It is such a sad day.

Tim and I were close and shared many deep conversations.  For me, this made him special, but from Tim’s perspective, it made me one of hundreds if not thousands of people who felt close to him.  Tim had a way of creating space for deep, meaningful conversations, and all who responded to his invitation to “pull up a chair” helplessly found themselves baring their souls to this kind, sweet man.

Tim’s favorite part of his job was counseling people, mostly students, and I was privileged to be his office neighbor for the past four months.  Today, several grieving souls made a pilgrimage to the place where they shared their deepest fears and greatest dreams to a man full of wisdom and love.

Last week, Tim popped his head in my office with a new idea.  He shared that his typical approach to counseling students had always been to ask about their goals and dreams, which led to all sorts of meaningful moments.  But he had a new idea.  He asked what I thought about a new approach that asks students about their potential instead of their dreams.  He thought that just might be the better approach.

I’m not sure what I loved more, the idea itself, or the fact that this counseling maestro never stopped refining his craft.  Well, what I loved more was him.

Today, after absorbing the shocking phone call and then sharing the news with his loving colleagues, I walked into Tim’s office just to feel his presence.  I breathed in the spirit of the room and silently took in the sights of the pictures and books and stacks of work waiting for him this Monday morning.  And in that moment I noticed a little sticky note on the side of his computer monitor with the following notes: Reaching your potential – What is it?  How to get there?

I am sad that Tim won’t be able to work this new approach like a street magician, but from this day forward I will use these questions with students to tap into the magic that was Tim Pownall.  I am honored that he left me this final gift to use for good before moving on.

 

First Day, Fresh Start

After four wonderful years as Dean of Students at Pepperdine School of Law, I am transitioning to a completely new position as Dean of Graduate Programs.  I am still at the law school, same wonderful people, but new office, new role, and new adventures.  My new job involves joining forces with the amazing team at the world-renowned Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution as we design, market, and deliver new non-JD programs while continuing to expand the reach of the Institute’s world class dispute resolution program.

Any sadness over leaving such a great job is relieved because my friend, Steve Schultz, will be a rock star successor and allow me to focus on the excitement of the new opportunity.  (I just hope that the students wait to dance until my back is turned!)  I am particularly excited by my new role because the Straus Institute drew me to Pepperdine in the first place, and the opportunity to join the day-to-day work of the Straus family is really a dream come true.  Blessed are the peacemakers.

In the dizzying swirl of activity as I attempt to absorb massive information for the new role and hand off the responsibilities of the fading role, I can test an old trick that I have recommended to many along the way.  Here’s the trick: When cynicism starts to settle in at work and you start to think snippy thoughts about everyone and everything… (Wait, I’m not alone here, right?  This has happened to me once or twice in the past quarter century.)  Anyway, when you notice that teensy bit of bitterness about your work, that why-try-because-who-really-cares-and-I-sure-don’t-anymore sort of fun mood that your colleagues find so endearing, my trick is to imagine that it is suddenly your first day on the job.

Go ahead.  Give it a shot.  Imagine it is your first day.

What do you do?

What you don’t do on your first day is think “well that will never work because so-and-so, blah, blah, blah…”  No, on your first day you have no idea what will work.  Instead, what you do is take a good look around and size up your new colleagues, resources, and surroundings and imagine the possibilities before you.  It is a somewhat scary but always exhilarating time.  Who knows what might come?

I am once again embarking on a fresh start, and just as I remembered, it is a pretty great/queasy feeling, so I think my old trick is still a good one.  If you are in a rut in your present circumstances, you don’t have to quit an old job and start a new one to get the benefit of a fresh start.  Starting to look up simply requires an active imagination.

Starting With Me

“All my life, I’ve always wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific.” – Lily Tomlin

Of all its strong selling points, my initial attraction to Pepperdine University School of Law was its Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. I recently had the opportunity to be a student again and enroll in the Straus Institute’s twenty-eighth annual Professional Skills Program. It is always good to spend time around peacemakers.

It takes two thoughts to explain my passion in life: peace, and justice. If I just said peace, it might imply a desire to get along at the expense of addressing the injustice around us, but if I just said justice, it might imply that we make things “right” with no attention to reconciliation. The subtitle of my blog—inspiring positive change—imagines positive change as peace and justice working in concert.

This is why I love where I work. Pepperdine Law pursues justice, and its Straus Institute reminds us to simultaneously pursue peace.

This may also explain why I have no hair. How does one simultaneously pursue these two lofty goals that often seem diametrically opposed to one another?

The answer I believe lies in Gandhi’s observation, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him . . . . We need not wait to see what others do.” Or, if you prefer a negative framing, Tolstoy said, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”

If I want the world to love and respect each other while making real progress—and I do—then instead of primarily focusing my energies on changing people who I may never influence, I should change myself toward this noble dream.

Soren Kierkegaard reportedly once told a parable about ducks. The ducks waddled to a duck church where they sat in duck pews, sang duck songs, prayed duck prayers, and heard a duck preacher say: “Ducks! You have wings, and with wings you can fly.  Fly, ducks fly!” The ducks all quacked, “Amen!” and then got up and waddled home.

For all our blustery talk about the state of the world, things begin to look up when I change me.