Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Contribution III:

Performance

Landmark Wisdom Developmental Course On Contribution, Grand Ballroom, Sofitel San Francisco Bay, Redwood City, California, USA

September 21, 2013



"The source of what people do and what they don't do is that people's actions are in a naturally, necessarily directly connected dance with the way the circumstances on which and in which they are performing occur  (show up) for them."
 ... 
"What contribution are you willing to acknowledge?" ... Landmark Wisdom Developmental Course On Contribution
This essay, Contribution III: Performance, is the third in a trilogy on Contribution:
  1. Contribution: Surrender
  2. Contribution II: Happiness
  3. Contribution III: Performance
in that order.

It is also the fourteenth in an open group inspired by Landmark Programs: I am indebted to JoAnne Bangs and to Brian Regnier and to Helen Gilhooly and to Mark Spirtos and to the participants in the Landmark Wisdom Developmental Course On Contribution who inspired this conversation.




Foreword To The Contribution Trilogy:

Unlike the other essays in this Conversations For Transformation internet series, I've left the three which comprise this Contribution trilogy deliberately rough cut, jaggedly hewn, unpolished. Although their inquiries are completely started, they're far from over. Actually they're entry points only - diving boards, if you will.

My intention to offer them here in their raw naked states like this, isn't to make finished reference materials available. Rather it's to invite you to join me in an ongoing inquiry into what contribution is ie into what contribution looks like  in the subject areas of each of the three essays: surrender, happiness, performance.

Notice "contribution" as I articulate it here, could have a triple implication. It could be the contribution I make to another. It could be the contribution another makes to me. It could be the contribution another makes to another.



What is performance?

As soon as I started down the road of this inquiry, it became obvious to me there are various areas of life into which I've categorized (and therefore fragmented) performance. The next thing I noticed is there may or may not be much overlap between these areas. The third thing I noticed is each of these areas are extremely loosely defined. In point of fact, what I saw is I have very little certainty when it comes to saying what performance is - clearly I don't look to distinguish it often, if at all. It soon became obvious "What is performance?" isn't a practiced inquiry for me.

So, starting from the top (in other words, starting somewhat naïvely), here's my ante:  there's performance as in performing artists, there's performance as in actors - not to mention there's performance as in street artists, performance as in musicians, and others. There's performance as in job performance, there's job performance as in attaining sales quotas, for example. There's performance as in athletic and sports performance. There's performance as in running faster, as in jumping higher, as in winning more games. There's more. But it doesn't serve this inquiry to merely list all the areas into which I've loosely categorized performance. I simply wish to make the point that until now, I've categorized performance into various areas, without any rigor.

Slowly, as if brightened by an epiphany, my thoughts turn to performance as action. When I'm in action, then I'm performing - that much seems clear. Could it be that's all it is?

Now, "Could it be that's all it is?" doesn't trivialize this inquiry. Rather it's "Could this be it?" ... as in "Is performance simply action?". Could it be performers (performing artists, actors, street artists, musicians, salespeople, athletes, sportsmen et al) are simply being in action?  Could it be that simple? If performance is simply being in action, then the access to performance - across the board, in all endeavors - is breaking through whatever it is we do, knowingly or unknowingly, which keeps us from or denies us the possibility of  being in action.

Actually that's not bad (as a conclusion, anyway) - for a first take. Being in action is clearly something performing artists, actors, street artists, musicians, salespeople, athletes, and sportsmen et al have in common. It's something each of them in their own way, demonstrate. But what about the possibility of performance in endeavors which aren't quite so active - or at least which don't appear  to be quite so active? What's the possibility of performance then? Does demonstrating being in action as evidence of performance fit the endeavors of a writer, for example? Does writing and being a writer demonstrate the possibility of performance? Or does what I do writing these Conversations For Transformation either not qualify for the distinction performance, or does it simply disallow it entirely? In other words, can we consider writing to be an action sport  worthy of the distinction performance?

Hmmm ... I get the feeling this inquiry is moving towards something pertinent, towards something profound ... but I'm not yet sure what. Because if writing can be considered to be an action sport (and if performance by definition is being in in action) then we can extend the definition of performance to include many, many more of life's endeavors which don't (on the surface, at least) involve vigorous action, yet may still be deemed "active". And where there's action, the distinction performance applies like a possibility.

As I delve deeper into this, I see writing does have action: moving the pen on the paper - or the fingers on the keyboard, as the case (and the preference) may be. There's certainly action going on in the composition of each piece. As I get closer to it ... whatever it  is ... I see it hardly matters if we define the action of writing to be the thinking  which creates the prose (which in my case, it isn't) or the looking into the space  to see what's already there, then transcribing that (which in my case, it is). What emerges, however, is a way of looking at action at a very fundamental level which goes far beyond the context of performing artists, actors, street artists, musicians, salespeople, athletes, or sportsmen et al. Indeed, it looks like it doesn't even require that context for it to be valid.

So: what action is there in (the act of) writing which fits this performance distinction? Once we flesh it out, it will expand the possibility of performance dramatically to include any  of life's endeavors, including those which aren't (on the surface, at least) patently active, in a way which is accessible, quantifiable, useful, and pragmatic.

This is Werner Erhard: "The source of what people do and what they don't do is that people's actions are in a naturally, necessarily directly connected dance with the way the circumstances on which and in which they are performing occur  (show up) for them.". What knowingly or unknowingly (and if the truth be told, it's mostly it's unknowingly) keeps us from or denies us the possibility of being in action (that is to say which denies us the possibility of performance) is not owning / not being responsible for the way the circumstances on which and in which we're performing, occur (show up).

<aside>

If you're not (yet) familiar with Werner's work, what Werner's saying here and this particular conversation about the source of what people do (which is to say, the source of peoples' actions and how it relates to performance), may take two or even three readings to get a toehold.

Our trouble is we try to meet a new idea with understanding  when the best and the most appropriate way to meet a new idea is to simply sit with it in our laps - like a hot brick. Listen what Werner's saying. Listen it again. Then listen it again. Let it speak to you. If it says something useful, then keep it: it's yours. And if it doesn't, then discard it immediately.

Anything Werner says, is a place to stand  and look. Don't believe it as "the truth". The truth believed, as Werner himself says, is a lie.

<un-aside>

It's very subtle - and when you get it, it will turn your life around. It's not "... being responsible for the circumstances on which and in which we're performing ...", although even if that were  it, it would be useful - very, very  useful. Rather it's "... being responsible for the way  the circumstances on which and in which we're performing occur (show up)".

Listen: circumstances are circumstances. They are what they are, they aren't what they aren't, and arguably over them, we have not much say. But the way  the circumstances occur / show up  for us, over that  we have a lot  of say. This, this say we have in the way the circumstances occur / show up for us, is the realm of the possibility of performance. This is the start of a conversation, the start of an inquiry into performance.

Ultimately we have say in the way our circumstances occur / show up for us. The impact this has on performance is truly profound, powerful. Making this distinction available is contribution.



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