Thursday, June 2, 2022


Afloat on the Dead Sea, From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository ©John Norton




In May, Meridian University in California held a conference where integral practitioners shared their ways of weaving peace in their environments (business and other domains).

On the (Centre for Transformative Learning) convergence panel that I was on, were panel members from the Netherlands, India and Norway. We spoke about our methodologies, techniques, practices. Our ups and downs.

A plan was that we would each share a poem that was meaningful to us, but the conversation veered in another direction - so we never got to do that.

But a couple of weeks later I was able to share the poem that I had set aside - on a hosted-from-Russia conference (driven by Artem Mushin-Makedonskiy for the Historia Academy) on the topic of using story to change business culture,



After a long stint in big corporate life, I became a high-flying, independent   management consultant working in many countries in many sectors, addicted to success, achievement.

This period in my career was stopped short by a bout with cancer that led to 2 years of surgery and inactivity. And of course, ones’ customer base doesn’t hang around!  So before starting again I had to make use of this wake - up call. My reflections led me to move away from over-valuing position/ possessions/ power/ pleasure of the hedonistic kind/ and the seeking for perfection. And instead to begin straddling the intrinsic values of higher purpose and meaning/ other people/presence/ personhood and care for the planet. 

On this new path I discovered the value of story as a powerful potential contributor to business success - beyond being confined to a limited role in training, scenario-formation, and motivational talks by leaders. 

I saw that story was hugely underused. And over time I’ve seen story adopted in business for initiating change, uncovering meaning, building teams and a host of other areas where story-communication makes a difference.  I’ve gravitated to using story together with circle work and seen first - hand how (among other areas) corporate culture, values and artifacts, symbols and norms can be beautifully shifted by this process and the very special dynamics that come into play. 

Underlying all of this journey was a growing realisation that ultimately LOVE is the highest value, the highest virtue. Inside and outside of the business world. In 2014 I wrote: 

“Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French theologian, scientist, philosopher) 

An ignored force in the corporate world One of the ‘flights of the mind’ I’ve had for some time is the notion that the word ‘love’ will at last enter the vocabulary of the hardnosed business world”… and be practised…”… love is being authentic, not wily; being transparent and not Machiavellian; being the wearing of your heart on your sleeve rather than holding your cards close to your chest; trusting in the success that comes from setting an aspirational standard; being an example rather than outwitting an opponent; a readiness to show vulnerability. It is also about being human and realizing that the only currency that makes for sound business relationships is a capacity to discern motives that are borne of LOVE. It is about having a code or language that is based on respect, validation and ‘seeing the other’”. (Williams, G. 2014)  Being focused on the good of others and self-emptying.

The first two lines and last two lines of a Rumi poem have yielded more and more meaning for me. Maybe it will speak to you too?

The poem is called BOYANCY. (Rumi. 1995)

As we journey together in families, communities, as business colleagues or other relationships, what counts is how we freely share our experiences, feelings, information, stories. 

What counts is how we come alongside and instead of seeing through each other, we see each other through. 

What counts is that when we speak, it is to express and not to impress. 

Think companionship and think compassion – they are part of the same root word – and I fear the new world that is emerging is fast losing both. 

Love is more than ever an imperative in our polarising, dividing, fragmenting, alienating world.



Love has taken away all my practices

And filled me with poetry

Feel the motions of tenderness around you, 

the buoyancy


Love has taken away all my practices

Love cuts through complexity, masks, fears. Techniques, methodologies and processes all fall away ultimately. Love is what makes us open to being our vulnerable selves, accepting others unconditionally, accepting their differences and worldviews, working from an ethical and other-serving basis.  

Rowan Williams, theologian and poet, reminds us: “Moral courage is the capacity to act out of pressure generated from the inside rather than the outside”. (Williams, R. 2021) This inside-out way of being surely applies to the practicing of our crafts and interacting and transacting from a place of love.


And filled me with poetry 

Poetry is said to date back to thousands of years BC. Being filled with poetry  opens up a capacity to see beauty (even in imperfection), see the bigger picture, go deeply beyond words, discern truth, be able to bridge to others.

(Although far too simplistic a statement) the controversial philosopher Martin Heidegger believed that poetry was far less focused than technology on reasoned calculation, measuring, ordering, classifying, steering, manipulating. And far, far more focused on meaningful existence, experience and deeper truth. (Blitz, M 2014)) Filled in order to empty. Self-empty for others. Kenosis.


Feel the motions of tenderness around you

This line triggers for me thinking about and experiencing a calm, relaxed floating upon, being touched by, and moving with the flow of gentle waves … of love


the buoyancy

An all-round feeling of being a part of something greater than ourselves. A life force. A spirit of love which embraces, lifts and holds us up, keeps us safe, carries us through. We are immersed in love and thus continue giving love. Heaviness becomes lightness. 


That’s what the Rumi lines say to me. Your engagement with them may be different.

We live in treacherous and dangerous times, but can draw hope from this: “The great historian, Arnold Toynbee’s analyses of how great changes occur, including the building of civilizations, led him to conclude that it is spiritual forces that determine the course of history. The power of inner work and spiritual maturity should never be underestimated”. (Williams, G. et al 2022)

Is the capacity of our finite minds simply far too limited to more – than – partially - understand, appreciate and operate with infinite concepts and gifts such as love? Maybe. But we are all currently who we are because of it. 

As Alana Levandoski says: “we are here because of love, and lack of love”. 

(Find out more about her here: )

At least we can know that as we journey, the ripples of love that we bring to who we meet, what we think, feel and do, what we practice – these ripples reach out in ever-expanding circles that go where we know not.



Blitz, Mark (2014) Understanding Heidegger on Technology: On whether thinking can save us The New Atlantis 

Rumi, Jalal al-Din (1995) The Essential Rumi: translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyn, A.J. Arberry and Reynold Nicholson HarperSanFrancisco

Williams, Graham; Gargiulo, Terrence and Banhegyi, Steve. 2022. Story- Bridging:  create the connections and possibilities that build bridges. Books33, India. 2022)

Williams, Graham; Fox, Peter and Haarhoff, Dorian (2014) The Virtuosa Organisation: the importance of virtues for a successful business Knowres

Williams, Rowan (2021) Rowan Williams & Clare Martin talk about Moral Courage  Youtube



Monday, May 9, 2022

I Believe in Expensive Speech

Photo by Colin Smith. Speaker at Hyde Park Corner. February 1998



Is Free Speech Dead?
We are seeing much more censorship as Big Tech protects and pushes its desired viewpoints and algorithmically and with “false news” detectors deletes, lambastes and/or bans contrary viewpoints. 
In South Africa legislation was introduced to discourage and threaten any who might speak out against how they handle the covid-19 ‘disaster situation’, and controversial hate speech legislation is being promulgated. Peaceful protests are curtailed and carefully watched by the police.
And there is a rising tendency for people with a differing viewpoint to hastily and aggressively label others as conspiracy theorists, climate change deniers, pro-vaxers, leftists, right-wingers, Nazi sympathisers, activists and a host of derogatory and demeaning verbiage.
In the process intelligent exchanges of differing viewpoints in debate, conversation or news articles are being curtailed.  
Free speech is under threat and may be dying.
And not because as one wag says, “Without freedom of speech we wouldn’t know who the idiots are!”
I was delighted to spend time at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London when living in London some years ago. For me it was an experience of democracy, tolerance, learning (and also fun, banter and heckling and pantomime) in community.
Vincent McNabb used to walk miles to speak there and drew big crowds. He was a gentle activist who fought for opposition to what has now come to be the norm in our hurting societies, economies and environment. Unrestrained and irresponsible big business, unbridled use of technology, a rich and self-appointed “elite” and a decline of worthwhile values.
Why counter this slow death of free speech?
We need to defend what remains of participative democracy and against a clear trend towards totalitarian dictatorship in nations and in organisations they work with like the World Economic Forum, The World Health Organisation and the United Nations. Formed for laudable, worthy reasons, they have plunged into a sorry state.
We need to do this by talking! By speaking out and not shutting up. This might or might not mean avoiding the usual protest and legal routes (both increasingly powerless or under the control of the power-holders) as far as is possible. By overcoming our listlessness, our fears, and tendency to sit on the fence.
We need to keep talking out against the fast emerging new world order characterised by a dictatorship style adopted by the self-appointed "elite" (although it might be too late). So we need to become aware of what has or is being done - much earlier. Artificial Intelligence is only one of the tools to be aware of. (Bio intelligence is also referred to - linked to digitization and vaccinations, or is this really too far a mental leap to make?) Elon Musk has more knowledge and insight and credibility than I have, and says:
Only we can be the antidote to false news, misinformation, menticide, narcissistic conversationalists.
How to retaliate?
We need to do it in love, as gently as we are able- because love is what counters anger, fear. Our true nature, as all wisdom traditions teach us, is love, after all.

So often actions speak louder than words. A favourite story for me is that of Woodbine Willy’s life. He both spoke out and behaved what he espoused:
Studdert Kennedy was an army chaplain who bucked the incompetent bureaucracy that resulted in so many unnecessary First World War casualties. He refused to give safe, cosy, sermons behind the lines, and chose instead to spend his time with the common soldiers in horrific conditions in the trenches, not preaching, but just being with them, coming alongside them in their need. He’d often hand out a Woodbine cigarette and became known as Woodbine Willy. Years later when he died, his simple funeral was attended by hundreds of thousands of people. A single packet of Woodbines was placed on top of the coffin.
Mark Nepos adds his wisdom:
Campaigning for freedom of speech as an individual right, fighting against the constraints and obstacles being applied, and speaking out against what is happening to humanity, is an imperative even though there are consequences to those who do this.
However, whatever the cost, the benefits of both listening and speaking out in love – at the individual, group, community, organisation and societal levels – are greater. 
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was executed for his beliefs and opposition to Hitler’s regime, warns:
“Not to speak is to speak”.


“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly” - Mahatma Gandhi

“We need more people speaking out. This country is not overrun with rebels and free thinkers. It's overrun with sheep and conformists” - Bill Maher, contemporary comedian and political commentator

“There is only one duty, only one safe course, and that is to try to be right and not to fear to do or say what you believe to be right” - Winston Churchill

“Freedom is not a passive state, it’s an active state; freedom is not a privilege, it’s an obligation; freedom is not an end but a means to an end. Freedom is not just something we demand only of the government, but also something we must actively create within and around ourselves. Freedom is not an ornament, but a set of tools to go about building a fairer, safer and sustainable society” - Mark Heywood (Daily Maverick Editorial 26th April, 2022: South Africa, use freedom now or lose freedom tomorrow)

“The brutality of war is literally unutterable. There are no words foul and filthy enough to describe it” - Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (Woodbine Willy)



Monday, April 25, 2022



“(Astronomer Sir William) Herschel removed the speckled tent-roof from the world and exposed the immeasurable deeps of space, dim-flecked with fleets of colossal suns sailing their billion-leagued remoteness” - Mark Twain


The Reality of Isolation, Separation, Connection?

Dire Strait’s Mark Knopfler explains that their song So Far Away is about distances that have opened up between people, separated families and loved ones. Telephone (or these days, Internet) relationships were seen by him to be a joke because “they can’t work in the long term”.

 An African refugee in Sweden, in Henning Mankell’s novel The Shadow Girls: “As long as she kept her eyes closed she could imagine that she was still back in the village by the cold, clear river that spilled down the side of the mountain. But as soon as she opened her eyes she was thrown out into an empty ad unfathomable world, one in which nothing of her past remained except disjointed images of her escape”. (Mankell, H. 2012) 

Our dog Popcorn was badly abused, injured and abandoned as a pup. She is now settled in and is friendly to everyone. She tries always to be close to and rest her paw or head on one of us, a sort of dog-attachment-complex. And she definitely shows separation - anxiety if she is left behind when both Lynette and I go out.

Distance may be real or imagined, physical, relational, social, spiritual. All of these dimensions have manifested as we’ve seen the manipulation of information to create division and polarisation, connections between people broken. My co-authored, soon to be released booklet on using story-bridging to build bridges and not walls aims at teaching a process that fosters proximity instead of distance. The serious harm caused by a Draconian political imposition of masks and social distancing regulations without any valid scientific basis, in order to ‘combat’ the ‘pandemic’ prevents the closeness and touch that humans so need. It’s in our DNA. (Williams, G. 2020)

In South Africa, shamefully, the government excels at building walls and creating distance and enmity between racial and ethnic groups, in the process doing huge social and economic harm. After over a quarter of a century in power they are ratcheting up the legislation of quotas in business, sports, schooling, university and other arenas!  A newly released article by former CEO of the Institute of Race Relations in South Africa, John Kane-Berman, addresses a March 2022 paper by our Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) - a government/ statutory research agency that “advances social sciences and humanities for public use”. Their paper promotes a “view that the more a school’s racial demographics deviated from the demographic make-up of the country’s population, the more “segregated” it was. On this yardstick, even former white schools that were now predominantly black African were still “segregated”, as the desired norm for white pupils was 3.8% (their share of the total school-going population). Any excess was a case of the “hoarding of educational opportunities by the white minority and other socio-economically advantaged groups”. Kane-Berman relates a number of other shocking narratives about this sort of control of ‘overrepresentation’ - including how in 1930s Germany there was a concern about overrepresentation of Jews in schools and universities. (Kane-Berman, J. 2022) We know how those concerns played out.

Starkly contrast (in quantum physics) David Bohm’s understanding of an unbroken connection between any element of the universe and every other element over space and time (an implicate order) “… two subatomic particles that have once interacted can instantaneously ‘respond to each other's motions thousands of years later when they are light-years apart’" (The Cosmic Plenum) A whole different concept of space and time  distance.


What is real for you when it comes to this question of distance or proximity?

Spectra along which we see meaning and make choices?

So near and yet so far. A pipped-on-the-post photo finish. A miss is as good as a mile. A near-death experience. Last minute goals, tries, falls or runs that win or lose sporting matches, a war that seems distant and then imminent... Or the difference between real, perceived, imagined, desired “close to” or “far from”.  Considerations compounded and complicated by interconnected Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Social and Spiritual spectra.

A lesson that comes to us from the diversity arena is that construal level theory, a largely ignored experiential/ behavioural difference between people – where differences manifest in how individuals relate to time and space and psychological-distance gaps arise:  

  • temporal distance (past present or future focus), 
  • social distance (connection push or pull), 
  • spatial distance (physical location from face to face, next door, faraway places, ‘boardroom and garden’ situations, 
  • experiential distance (reality, perception, sensation, imagination, dreams, reverie). 

We could add more: emotional closeness to our possessions, positions, means of power, religion, friends and family... separating and distancing resulting from language - diversity and babbling…  Overcoming these gaps and enabling belonging requires us to become far more prosocial, and are complicated and magnified these days by misinformation, division, new existential threats, fragmentation and severed connections on many fronts. 

My perception of the importance of nature and beauty within nature has changed recently since moving from city to village. My awareness has been raised by ‘in your face’ nearby surrounding mountains, much starker season changes, and the obvious closeness of farm workers to the land… And I sometimes think that cities can act as magnets for the concentration of dangers, power, wrongdoing – result in more anonymity and social distance - are places where things spread more quickly and widely (disease, anarchy, plundering...) - and the country seems relatively free of these things and dynamics

A number of recent conversations have highlighted how some people are shifting their thinking regarding their career prospects in this ‘pandemic’ era. Some see benefits of being in the eye, space, ear, touching distance of others (especially bosses and opinion leaders) in a physical workplace. They see working from home as a distinct disadvantage. Others have polar-opposite perceptions.  (Both schools would do well to note that being closer to nature and outdoors is beneficial to physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual health. Being in nature helps relieve stress, gain perspective, counter brain fog, feel more human and alive)

In a parable loved by Polish-born philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and also Sigmund Freud (Austrian founder of psychoanalysis), in ice-cold weather some porcupines huddle together and strive to get close to each other to keep warm. But they also have to be far enough away from each other so that they don’t prick each other. 

Austrian - Jewish philosopher Martin Buber pointed out the challenge of living not only next to others (nebeneinander) but with each other (miteinander). (Which incidentally raises the question of who we are when we’re alone). (Stan, C.M. 2020)

Sharyn Cooke and Bert Kling (in an Ed McBain mystery novel) who have big differences on a number of diversity spectra, work at having a close, relaxed, honest and loving relationship. Kling “described intimacy as a ‘shlep’, a Yiddish word that actually meant ‘to carry, or pull, or drag, or lag behind’ but which he took to mean ‘a long haul’ as in the expression ‘Man, that was a shlep and a half!’”. Sharyn has two pillows made. One white on black and the other black on white. They read: 






Not a bad acronym for relationships. Here is a relational- closeness exercise for you: 


Decide where on the circles of connection you want to place the most important people in your life (past, present and future):


First, put a name to each of the pictures below: 


(Add workplace colleagues, subordinates, contacts, spiritual relationships if you wish. I have known people to include God in the exercise they do and often this is because of some sort of disaster that has occurred. When disaster strikes people either curse or call on God, whose relationship positioning changes - in their perspective).

Then think about why you placed these people where you have on the circles diagram. What are the elements that have made for good or bad, close or distant relationships and connections?  What has been your 'complicity' in making them work or fail? What values have determined your placement of each person?  

And then, answer ‘Where to now?’  Think about where on your circles you would want these relationships to be in future. Which relationships do you wish to deepen or to cool? And what is your plan (thinking, feeling, acting) in each case? 

(This might mean writing a letter to a relative or child you have lost touch with, making a point of going for a walk with a subordinate who you have been taking for granted, inviting a colleague to breakfast, allocating less time to unnecessary meetings, email and social media chat groups and narcissistic conversationalists – and more time to forging meaningful one on one connections chosen by you, finding out more about another’s expertise, interests and cultural rules-of-engagement, deciding to forge a strategic connection that will be good for cooperative business, examining your own hesitancies, fears, stereotyping  .... )


Collective Aspects of Distance and Proximity?

The collective behaviour of a crowd is said to be contagious, even hypnotic and thus able to overcome individual independence and self-control, so the individual adopts the (closely-knitted) crowd’s behaviour instead of being driven by his/her own values, constraints and taking of responsibility. 

Closely related to this is the group pathology called ‘fragmentation of conscious’ (which  usually applies to more drastic, extreme behaviour – as in times of war, but can be read into the positions adopted by big pharma employees, health workers, politicians and others during the ‘pandemic’).

 In his book People of the Lie, M.Scott Peck relays the My Lai incident in South Vietnam in 1968, where members of the United States Army killed 500 to 600 unarmed villagers. Years later, he was appointed by the Army Surgeon General as chairman of a committee given the task of making recommendations about undertaking psychological research–to understand and help prevent such incidents in future. The committee’s recommendations were rejected for fear of embarrassing the status quo. The organisation, the US Army, protected itself. Scott Peck explains lucidly that group pathology was at play even though each killing was an individual act. He points out that different levels, as well as different departments within a hierarchy, can experience a ‘fragmentation of conscience’, especially under conditions of stress. This ‘fragmentation of conscience’ may be motivated by fear and self-preservation and the group thinking can result in:

  • avoiding taking responsibility for what the wider organisation is doing 
  • blaming other departments, or overall policies, or ‘management’ for what is happening (Scott Peck, M. 1998)

On the other hand, convergence theory says that like-minded individuals coming together will inform and direct crowd behaviour.

It’s a sort of chicken and egg situation – what occurs first (the individual or crowd status) may not be relevant. In both positive and negative developments. And as individuals form crowds, new behaviour norms may emerge.

I’ve come to believe that coherent small - groups (for example in the social construct of circles) have the highest chance of becoming a force for wide change as the results and energy within their circle radiates or ripples outwards. Being closer to a small community is one way of being a force for good in our broken world.


 Simultaneous Proximity and Distance?


Clown fish always remain completely separate from the anemone, but a mucus on their skin prevents them being affected by the anemone’s poison. Being close physically they are protected from predators, feed off anemone food. The anemone is kept clean as the clown fish remove and eat parasites. 

Team members at work may not like each other, may not be close to each other, but by not distancing themselves are able to jointly get results to mutual benefit – as is the case of a machine gunner and ammunition belt feeder who together face a common enemy.

Relational/ ego boundaries although variable, are necessary in all relationships – close or distant.


The Art of Life?

Accomplished mathematician Michael (from the Hebrew ‘who is like God’ or ‘gift from God') Behrens (of medieval origin - comprised of ‘bear’ plus ‘resilient’ plus ‘strong and brave’)  lives in the Hawaiian jungle. 

What ideas do you glean from his story (The Art of Life) with regard to distance and proximity (place, things, people, nature, being…)

For many it may be the realisation that much of what we might wish to be in terms of living a simple, purer life could be (to borrow from the Roger Daltry song) Just A Dream Away. And for some it may come down to that line from a challenging hymn that flies in the face of Arthur Scopenhauer’s thinking: “Nearer my God to thee” no matter what?



Cosmic Plenim, The    Bohm’s Gnosis: The Implicate Order 

Hamilton, Rebecca (2015) Bridging Psychological distance March 2015 HBR

Kane – Berman, John (2022) The anti-semitic origins of diversity and racial “representation” Daily Friend 25 April, 2022

Mankell, Henning (2012) The Shadow Girls Harvill Secker, London

Scott Peck, Morgan M.D. (1998) People of the Lie: the hope for healing human evil Touchstone

Stan, Corina M. (2020) Philosophies of Distance and Proximity: Who Are We When We’re Alone? July 9th, 2020

Williams, Graham (2020) Are we losing touch? Storytelling in Business Blog, 15th July, 2020